Here in Kent it’s been a very dry and warm autumn, we seem to get a bit of rain once a month at the moment. The result, abundant flowers in the cutting beds, the house is full of blooms and there are plenty for gifts. This was a little thank-you posy for a friend. I like the purple sage leaves with the pink dahlias, cosmos and penstemon.
My summer project was to renovate an old summer house inherited from our homes previous owners. This tatty eyesore has been used as a dumping ground for my boy’s garden toys. With money earned from our garden produce honesty stall, I set about renovating and painting to create a summer haven. The result has been a complete revelation, a luxurious garden retreat that I use to relax, unwind and work in. I’m now convinced that everyone could benefit from such a sanctuary in their garden.
First of all I cleared out all the toys, invading creepers, spider’s webs and general natural mess that seems to accumulate when a shed like structure is abandoned and left to its own devices. I found some rotten and woodworm infested wood, I treated the woodworm holes with woodworm killer and luckily the rot was not too bad, I cleared the crumbly fragments away and soaked the area with wood hardener, this magic liquid soaks into the affected area and hardens the wood as it dries. I then painted the Summer House inside and out with an undercoat that was recommended by the paint shop. It was very important to use the right undercoat as the Summer House had not been painted previously, if we’d put our paint on straight away it would have been a waste soaking into the hungry dry wood, also the original wood preservative and resins would have seeped through the paint discolouring it.
When planning my summer house renovation I tried a few tester pots of dedicated shed paint but quickly decided against this option, I didn’t like the colours available and didn’t feel it provided a good quality painted wood finish, it looked like a stain or wash. I ended up selecting ‘Grey Moss’ by Little Greene Paint Co. in an oil based eggshell. It’s the same colour as our conservatory which gives continuity throughout the garden. I selected a light ‘Dove Grey’ in a water based eggshell for the interior.
Designing the interior on no budget!
The interior of the summer house required some thought as I only really had enough money for paint. A few years ago we were given two bamboo armchairs from my husband’s Grandfather’s conservatory; sadly we never really had space for them in our conservatory as its prime role as potting shed and greenhouse seems to take up all available space! They were the perfect start, to the interior design of the summer house. We found a matching bamboo and rattan table at the local auction house for £7.
I had to accept that the children still need to store their tennis rackets, cricket stumps and various balls somewhere. A compromise was required, I decided to paint a discarded wooded chest the same colour as the walls, and issued a new rule; garden toys have to fit into the box or find a new home!
As I sat musing in one of the armchairs, relaxing, whilst the boys cycled passed on their bikes and swung from the oak trees rope swing, my mind drifted, imagining myself writing and working in this peaceful environment. I needed a desk that would fit into a tight space, yet not encroach on my new tranquil haven. Eureka (it happens rarely in our household)! A folding table from IKEA, purchased for the galley kitchen table in our then London flat, never used, in its original wrapping and stored for 15 years in our various garages. It was the perfect summer house desk, with just the need of an oak stained wax, to give a little character and dull the stark untreated pine. In seconds I can move an arm chair and have my desk up in place, a dual purpose space in just over 6M².
The final decorations include a beautiful hanging lamp given to us by my Aunt and Uncle, homemade easy peasy bunting which I will detail how to make in my next posting and colourful cut flowers from the garden, that take my wonderful new summer house to another dimension.
Not only is the renovated Summer House a great place for a cuppa, it’s the perfect spot for a sundowner, cheers!
What a busy start to summer, sadly this blog has become a little neglected. I console myself with the knowledge that my third and final son starts school in September (I’m going to be cheering and clicking my heels when I leave the school gates that day). I fully intend to establish a weekly kitchen garden routine with plenty of time to blog, I do love a positive and productive plan of action.
I have not completely let the blog go, I have been taking lots of pictures so todays posting will be the story of the kitchen garden over the last few weeks told in pictures, there are triumphs, disasters, and a bit of death and destruction!
The cut flowers have been fabulous so far this year; the plants have thrived in the damp warm weather. These pictures show the amazing growth in the new cutting border in the space of just two weeks, the middle of June to the start of July.
The star cut flower players have been Salvia Vardis Oxford Blue, Cornflower Black Ball, Nicotiana Lime Green, Antirrhinum, Calendula and Sweet Williams. The Dahlias, Cosmos and Sunflowers are bushing out well ready to produce abundant blooms in the next few weeks.
Ticking away in my head are plans for a new large ornamental border at the top of our lawn, it will incorporate roses I moved from a traditional (old fashioned) border I grassed over in Spring. I understand that Salvias possess many complementary qualities for roses, reducing risk of disease and encouraging strong healthy plants. This has sparked a new passion for me, Hardy Salvias, beautiful sophisticated blooms which just seem to go on and on. Here are a few of my current favourites and maybe the odd Penstemon and Dianthus. I do try very hard to keep this blog focussed on the kitchen garden, but, these are a bit special and can’t be missed!
Compared with the cut flowers the vegetable plot has not felt so productive. Like many we’ve suffered terrible slug problems. I started going out in the evening and cutting the slimy vermin in half, this seemed to have no impact. Our slug population was enormous thanks to the mild winter and wet spring/early summer their perfect climate, slug paradise was then achieved by feasting on the sumptuous delicacies that were being planted out and germinating from my directly sown seeds. Sadly the only viable solution was slug pellets followed by crack of dawn trips to the kitchen garden to collect up the poisoned slugs before the birds got to them. It worked; I filled flower pot after flower pot with dead slugs – YUK! But thankfully the vegetable plants are starting to recover and begin their productive romp. My main gripe which has made me very grumpy has been the lack of salad leaves, I now live in hope that the seeds will develop and I’ll soon be able to pick my lunch again on a daily basis.
I make the vegetable patch feel and sound worse than it is, we’re not going hungry. We’ve been cropping Mangetout, Courgettes, a few French Beans and Tomatoes, Peas, Broadbeans and enjoyed some delicious Artichoke suppers. I’ve harvested the garlic and will plant out the winter cabbages in their place during the coming weeks.
There is definite hope for the kitchen garden, bumper crops will be on their way, it’s just been a tricky start to year and I do miss my salad leaves.
In our home cut flowers are as important as pictures on the wall. They bring a room to life with their colour and scent. Buying from a florist is beyond our budget and more reasonably priced supermarket flowers are generally shipped from Africa, have no scent and are often only available in insipid colours. The solution? We grow our own cut flowers, filling our home with beautiful blooms for most of the year for very little money. Most flowers ideal for cutting are ‘cut and come again’, the more you cut the more they flower!
Let me inspire you to sow a few seeds or plant a tuber so you can cut your own flowers this year.
With the help of my all time ‘Top 3 Cut Flowers’:
No. 3 Sunflowers
Who can argue with the likes of Monet and Van Gogh immortalizing vases of Sunflowers on canvas. A beautiful bunch of Sunflowers brings the warmth and richness of high summer into our homes. Even on a wet gloomy English Summer day! Easy to grow, they are often the seed of choice for schools. There are lots of Sunflower varieties ideal for cutting. Once the lead stem and flower is cut, it will induce growth, putting out multiple side shoots and flowers.
How to grow
Sow seed March to May in pots, not directly in the ground. They will germinate fine directly sown, but, slugs love baby Sunflower plants! Pop one seed into a medium sized pot, allowing sufficient space for growth. The Sunflower stem needs to establish a strong pencil sized thickness to survive slug attacks. Choose a sunny position and plant out in mid May after the last frosts. Hammer in a tall stake or sturdy cane next to each plant; they will need regular tying in to prevent the stem being damaged on a windy day. Six plants will provide you with armfuls of flowers through summer to the first frosts.
Sunflowers look fabulous in a vase on their own or mix with other statuesque flowers. They can also be used as the star performers in a bouquet.
Recommended varieties to grow
Earth Walker, Red Sun, Valentine and Deep Red
No. 2 Cosmos
A cottage garden essential and the hardest working annual in the garden. A bunch of Cosmos on the kitchen table is the epitome of produce from an English country garden. This delicate looking stunner is a flower straight from a child’s imagination, depicted in their drawings. Easy to grow and available in white or any shade of pink.
Cosmos are half hardy annuals so it’s best to sow them under glass or on a window sill. Sprinkle a few seeds into a pot of seed compost and cover with a thin layer of the same compost. I sow double the number of seeds I need. Most will germinate. It’s all too easy to sow too many ending up wasting seedlings and seed that can be used the following year. Once the seedlings start to get their first set of true leaves pot them on into individual pots where they’ll thrive. Plant out after the first frosts choosing a sunny site. Stake or secure a pea netting framework over them to provide a supporting structure when they’re large plants. Keep well watered through the summer and you’ll be rewarded with bountiful flowers.
I love a big bunch of Cosmos on the kitchen table. They also look beautiful in a posy with other cottage garden flowers.
Recommended varieties to grow
Cosmos Purity, Cosmos Bipinnatus ‘Rubenza’, Cosmos Bipinnatus ‘Dazzler’ and Cosmos ‘Double Click Cranberries’
No. 1 Dahlias
I’m a bit potty about Dahlias. Every year I always sneak a few new varieties into my potting shed! These beauties are the stars of the ball. They come in many different shapes, sizes and colours and they all put a great big smile on my face. A single £2.50 tuber will reward you will with masses of flowers from early summer to the first frosts for years. Sadly they’ve acquired a high maintenance reputation which I would like to dispel.
How to grow
Make sure the tubers you buy are firm and not squishy. March to April plant them in a 3 litre plastic pot. After a few weeks they’ll start to shoot. If you get more than 5 or 6 shoots, remove them giving space for the others to develop into a bushy plant (removed shoots make successful cuttings). By mid May after the last frosts you’ll have a strong bushy plant ready to put out. Choose a sunny site for them and build a sturdy frame (I use hazel stakes) around the Dahlia to protect from wind damage. Once they start flowering keep picking. Letting flowers go to seed will halt flower production. After the first frosts cut the Dahlias back and cover with a thick 20 cm mulch (rotted manure, wood chip or anything that will help insulate the tuber over winter). Come Spring reduce the level of mulch and feed. As the soil starts to warm Dahlia shoots will emerge again. This low maintenance Dahlia method has worked for me during the coldest of Kent winters.
Stunning as single stems in a small vase or bottle. Group together, or use in a mixed arrangement.
Recommended varieties to grow
All of them!
Sunflowers are fabulous cut and come again flowers. Every time you cut a sunflower, its main stem will produce off shoots with more flowers. This year I’ve grown two of my favourites, ‘Red Sun’ and ‘Earth Walker’. Both have been producing flowers from July and will continue until the first frosts. I sow the sunflowers under glass in April in larger 13cm pots, this gives them space to grow and their stems to develop and thicken, making them a less appealing slug victim . I’ve lost too many young succulent sunflowers to slugs in the past. It’s heart breaking to see their stems chopped in half after a slugs night time assault. I plant them out after the frosts, and keep them well fed and watered. They’re an essential in my cut flower border, my little rays of sunshine of a very wet and dank Kent day.
This mornings harvest
Courgettes, mini cucumbers, tomatoes, beetroot, runner beans, French beans, salad leaves, cosmos and dahlias, all producing a hearty crop on a daily basis. Apart from the beetroot, they’re all cut and come again crops, so the more I harvest the more they’ll produce. They just need a good daily water and occasional feed.
The cabbage white butterflies have found my purple sprouting broccoli for the second time this year; sadly the caterpillars have caused far more damage on this occasion, munching their way through several of the plants. They’re all about to be re-homed in the compost heap.
It’s been a great month, gorgeous weather, armfuls of cut flowers, delicious vegetables and soft fruit. I’m just going to let the pictures tell the tale this month.
Tomato ‘Sungold’, the sweetest and best cherry tomato, ever!Tomato ‘Black Krim’ – a lovely colour, hearty flavour and my favourite beefsteak tomato Tomato ‘Pomodoro’ – another gorgeous beefsteak tomato, growing with basilMini cucumbers, my first year of growing cucumbers, a huge hit with the kidsA tomato jungle!
The Vegetable patchThe courgettes and pumpkin bed is no-where to be seen!Green courgetteYellow courgetteCut and come again salad, a lunch time essentialRunner bean flowers, I forgot to take the picture before picking!A pumpkin, sown from last years halloween pumpkins, I only need three, one for each child. I think we’ll end up with lots more!Onions, seed 39p from Lidl, sown direct. My best crop ever.For some reason we only got one pear last year, the tree is laden this yearBorlotti beans, they’ll be left to dry and saved for winter stews
The cut flower bordersMalope, a lovely long vase life, and when the petals drop you’re left with stunning acid green budsCosmos ‘Purity’ – my top cut flower, long stems and keeps flowering all seasonCosmos ‘Rubenza’ – a stunning colourCalendula – Another must have cut flowerCentaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’, corn flower, unlike the blue variety this dark colour doesn’t fadeClary, the pink and blue varieties are both very useful in flower arrangementsDahlia – the queens and princesses of the cut flower worldDahlia, one more day and it will be perfect for cutting
Today is the last day of pre-school before the summer holidays for my youngest. It’s a fabulous nursery, based on a farm and run by a lovely group of teachers. I have just picked some flowers from my cutting border and popped them in jam jars, to say thank you for the wonderful year my sons had with them.