Tag Archives: gardening

Gardening jargon buster: biological control

28 Jan

Biological control: why birds beat bug sprays

“Biological control” is one of those gardening phrases that sounds really off-putting and overly-scientific for something that’s actually nice and cuddly and environmentally friendly and green and, frankly, just the kind of thing I am all about when it comes to gardening.

(It’s also, quite arguably, a lazy way of gardening, which gets my vote every time.)

For, biological control simply means that rather than using chemicals to kill any pests in your garden (eg bug sprays, slug pellets or any other sort of poison that can be employed to wipe out little critters that are harming your plants) you arrange for the pests to fall foul to a predator instead.

In one of the simplest examples of biological control, rather than killing slugs with slug pellets (that poison the slugs along with any other animals who might happen to eat them), you can just encourage birds and frogs into your garden so they eat the slugs instead.

Everyone’s a winner, right?!

Well, except the slugs, who are being taken out either way.

Frog | Wolves in London

Ribbit, ribbit, I’m just about to hop off and eat hundreds of slugs…

Encouraging natural predators is the most straightforward version of biological control (and the one I like the best).

You can use it to control pests such as slugs (which are eaten by frogs, hedgehogs or birds) or caterpillars (eaten by birds).

Controlling pests with biological control

Basically, create an environment that is pleasing to your chosen predator (a pond for frogs, for example) and wait for them to move in and start munching on their favourite foods.

A similar principle applies for other pests such as aphids, which are a tasty treat for ladybirds. It’s slightly harder to encourage ladybirds to arrive (despite those lovely wooden ladybird houses you see for sale) – so in this instance, you could actually buy some ladybirds and bring them into your garden. I kid you not, pet ladybirds are available to buy. Even better, you can buy them online.

Websites like GreenGardener (my personal fave) sell ladybirds and ladybird larvae. You order them online, wait for them to arrive by post and then release them onto the plants in the evening time, so that they don’t fly away but make a home for the night and then, with a bit of luck, have a good breakfast in the morning once they’ve got over their jet lag.

Apart from the normal kinds of predators, that you might expect to see in your garden anyway, you can also find a huge range of weird and wonderful things that are all ready to wipe out your pest problem. I have to confess, at this end of the scale, biological control is, perhaps, as odd and scientific as the name implies.

One of the more popular are nematodes, micro-organisms that live in the soil. Different types of these eat different things. Though, I use the word “eat” rather loosely, since what they really do is enter the body of the prey and destroy it from the inside out. Charming.

You can get nematodes to control a range of pests, from slugs to vine weevils. For all of them, it’s important to apply them to the soil in the right conditions (which includes both water levels and temperature) in order for them to be effective.

Then there are parasitic wasps that feed on whitefly, predatory mites for the red-spotted spider mite, midges and lacewing larvae for aphids (along with ladybirds)… …plus various others, I’m sure, that I’ve not heard of yet.

Does it work?

Does this all sound too good to be true? Well, in all honesty, that’s because it is.

The problem with biological control is that it’s not as effective as a pesticide at destroying the problem for you. Where a bug spray will probably kill every single last bug on your plant (and likely lots of bugs around your plant and other perfectly nice bugs that weren’t causing problems on your plant in the first place and perhaps a few passing honeybees too), biological controls will most likely only help to keep the problem in check. The poor old ladybird can’t eat all the aphids. And, in fact, if the predators did eat every single last one of the pests, well, they would then die out themselves as they’d have nothing to feed on. This is particularly true for pests in greenhouses.

But, my lovely gardening friends, my mantra for this (if not always in life) is moderation in all things.

Yes, there may be some pests left in your garden and, yes, you might sacrifice a few plants to them, or nibbled edges of leaves, or maybe even, shock, the odd vegetable or two. But surely, surely, it’s worth it to grow in a nice biodiverse environment, where the food chain works as it should and you know you’re not responsible for killing the lovely honeymaking bees?

And so, in summary, biological control: not the best way of eradicating pests, but definitely the nicest. And besides, who wouldn’t want a bunch of ladybirds being posted through their letterbox?

Have you tried any of these yourself? I’d love to know how you’ve got on with them, do leave me a comment and share any tips or hints.

Myself, I have a pond with some frogs that don’t seem terribly keen on eating slugs, but perhaps eat a few. I tried releasing ladybird larvae last year, and found that the ones in the greenhouse were very happy and stayed a long time, plus another little colony that set up on one of my rose bushes, but there were some plants they obviously left straight away, where the aphids remained. And I used nematodes for slugs a few years back and they certainly worked, but I am slightly unsure whether I’m okay with the side effects of lots of snails dying too…

This is the third in my garden jargon buster series. Every fortnight I work my way through the alphabet chatting about a gardening expression. Come back in two weeks to hear all about calcifuges, or check out the rest of the series here: Gardening jargon buster.

PS, I have to just point out, I didn’t take that lovely photo of the robin up at the top of the post. It’s from a free stock photo website, free images, here: robin in snow.

Alkalinity to acidity and everything in between

14 Jan

…or, why soil pH is so important

Alkaline or acid soils: a quick guide to understanding soil pH levels

Before I really started to get into gardening, I have to admit, I thought the whole soil pH thing was a bit of a nonsense.

Sure, I was aware that such things as soil tests existed and that every intro to every gardening book I looked at recommended you go and test your soil but, honestly, I thought, what’s the point? It seemed a little bit earnest and overly-diligent to head out there, digging up a sample, and checking to see if the liquid turned red or green. (This much I could remember from chemistry lessons at school red = acid, green = alkaline.)

I had the soil I had, there was not much I could do about it, and I just went ahead and planted whatever plants I wanted in whatever spot in the garden I thought would look nice. Of course, with this approach, quite a few of them died really rather quickly indeed.

I also thought (very vaguely, if I thought about it at all, which wasn’t really much) that acid soil would surely be bad for plants (who wants acid, right?) and alkaline probably better and neutral best of all.

Well, needless to say, everything I had assumed turned out to be wrong when I was forced to actually pay attention to soil pH in one of my horticulture classes last year.

The pH scale

As I – very vaguely – remembered from Chemistry GCSE, the pH scale goes from 1-14. 1 is the most acidic and 14 the most alkaline. Neutral is right there in the middle at 7.

Most soils, though, tend to be slightly on the acidic side, around 6.5 in pH if you’re interested in the numbers. And, in fact, a broader range of plants prefer to be in slightly acidic soil.

When it comes to plants, the pH scale to look at is between (approximately) 4.5 and 7.5, very few plants able to survive outside those two extremes. The majority of plant species tend to thrive in soils between 6 and 7.

Interestingly, soil also tends to get more acidic over time. (Due to a number of reasons, but broadly because the alkaline nutrients are leached from the soil and because rainfall itself is slightly acidic…)

So, if you’re gardening a plot for a long time, you’ll probably want to re-check the soil pH after a few years and see if it’s altered at all.

Different plants for different places

But the most important thing I learnt was that some plants really do need to be in the right acidity / alkalinity of soil in order to survive.

Certain plants really dislike being planted in soil that’s too alkaline as it means they’re unable to take up the nutrients they need to survive. These are called calcifuges (which translates as lime haters. Lime = alkaline soil.) The most common examples are rhododendrons. If they’re planted in soil conditions that aren’t right, they will grow more slowly, perhaps become stunted, may not flower well, and often will have yellowing leaves, and ultimately will just give up the ghost and die.

There’s a whole lot to say about calcifuges, actually, so I’m going to be coming back to them in their own article in a few weeks, once we get to letter C.

Other plants may grow okay in alkaline soil but become more likely to get diseases, such as potatoes which tend to get potato scab if the soil they’re in isn’t acidic enough.

At the other end of the scale, some plants fare badly if the soil is too acidic. Plants such as saxifrages are a great example. Clematis and viburnums are other commonly-grown plants that prefer alkaline soils.

And then there are certain veg that are more prone to get diseases in heavily acid soils. Brassicas (that’s your cabbages, Brussel sprouts and so on) tend to get a disease called club root if they’re in soil that’s too acidic.

 What to do

So, bearing all this in mind, what can you do?

Firstly, go out and do a soil test. Honestly. I finally did one and found that my soil is basically slightly on the acidic side, which is great.

Once you know what your soil type is (and do check in different places as it might vary across your garden) then you can assess plants before you buy them to see if they’re likely to flourish.

The RHS plant finder online is a great resource for finding out info on plants and I always check here before buying anything.

There is such a huge variety of plants out there, that you should be able to find ones that you love which will thrive in the soil conditions you have. And this, by far, is the easiest way to go about things, rather than spending lots of money and time trying to alter the soil that you’ve got…

Altering soil pH

That said, what if your soil is really at an extreme end of the scale and you long for a greater choice of plants? Or you’re growing veg and you don’t want your cabbages to succumb to club root and your potatoes to scab.

Fret not! It is possible to alter soil pH, but is something of a faff. (That’s the technical gardening term for it, of course…)

My first option would be to grow plants in containers if I wanted a plant that needed a different soil type. For veg, you could add top soil into raised beds, or grow fruit bushes in pots to cater to their diverse but exacting needs.

Blueberries are a classic example of a plant that needs specific soil (very acidic in this case), and therefore grows perfectly well in pots if your soil isn’t suitable.

Just buy the right compost, fill up the containers and grow in your new (perfect!) conditions.

If you desperately want to change whole flowerbeds, though, or your soil is so very acidic / alkaline that it’s not feasible to grow many plants in it, you can change the pH by adding either lime or sulphur to make it more alkaline / acidic respectively.

This takes time, so you’ll need to work on the soil over a period of months, adding whichever you’re using at the rate recommended on the packet, and then keep on carrying out a soil test until you get the desired result.

But, even then, it’s not possible to sit back and enjoy it forever – soil will naturally try and return to the state it wants to be in: its make up determined by the bedrock underneath it, which will continue to break down and deposit the same minerals back into the soil. So if you live above a huge section of chalk, any attempt to make your soil more acidic will be an ongoing one.

So, an overall recap on soil pH would be: life is so very much easier if you learn to love what you’ve got. Perfect advice for almost everything really.

Phew, this post ended up far longer than I expected and I feel as if I’ve only scratched the surface of everything I could say on soil pH! If you’ve any questions, do drop me a comment below and I’ll do what I can to answer it.

Otherwise, do come back again in a fortnight when I’ll be wittering at length talking intelligently about biological control (and why ladybirds are so awesome)…

Related articles:

  • This is the first post in my new fortnightly series, a gardening jargon buster, where I’ll be going through an A to Z of gardening terms.

Gardening jargon buster

13 Jan

Gardening jargon buster | Wolves in LondonI’m a fairly recent convert to gardening. In my teens and early 20s, I had no appreciation of the joys to be found digging and watering, planting bulbs and pulling weeds and generally pootling around with a cup of tea in hand, looking at what’s going on in your little patch of land.

When I bought my first flat with a garden, about a decade ago, a little spark of interest was born. I bought a few plants online chosen for their attractive-looking flowers (almost certainly completely unsuitable for where I lived) and stuck them in the ground and forgot about them. Then wondered why almost everything died and anything that was alive didn’t flower as it was supposed to.

From then on, I started to pay proper attention and slowly, slowly, bit by bit, have started to understand how and why things grow.

In the early finding-things-out-myself days, it seemed as if there was some special code language attached to gardening; odd-sounding jargon abounding whenever I had a problem to solve or read a gardening book or magazine.

In all honesty, it wasn’t until I took a course in horticulture a few years ago, that I really started to understand what some of these phrases were all about.

As I’m just starting out on another course in 2015 (this time in garden design, about which I am supersupersuper excited) I thought it might be a nice time to run a little series on the blog.

Now, I wouldn’t in the slightest like you to think that I think I’m any sort of gardening expert. (Nor would I like you to see my actual garden, right now, which is a pretty ugly mess of half-planted beds, grass that needed a decent mow back in the summertime, and the world’s biggest and ugliest greenhouse…)

However, as I’m learning new things every week, I thought it might be quite fun to share a gardening jargon buster. Once a fortnight throughout the year, I’ll be working my way through the alphabet, sharing a few thoughts and tips on various gardening terms.

I’m picking the ones I hadn’t heard of before, or ones that always confused me, or, sometimes, just things I find especially interesting. (It’s possible I am the only person in the country who is so utterly fascinated by the concept of dehiscent seeds.)

So, if you’re interested in that sort of thing, then please do check in here on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month and I will (hopefully!) get all the way from A to Z by the time 2016 swings around.

I’m kicking off the alphabet tomorrow with an A for alkalinity and acidity (aka soil pH). Something that is actually quite weirdly fascinating once you dig into it a little (‘arf ‘arf, pun intended…)

I’ll keep this page as a contents page, adding links to each article as I publish them, so do bookmark this if you just want to come back in a few months and see a bunch of articles all at once.

So, then, til tomorrow!

The jargon buster index:

A: Alkalinity to acidity; understanding soil pH levels

B: Biological control: why birds beat bug sprays

Grow, forage, cook: planning a kitchen garden (part two)

22 Oct

More musings on things to plan now for the kitchen garden of your dreams next year. If you missed the first part, check it out here: Planning a kitchen garden, part one.

Planning a kitchen garden | Wolves in London

Veg and scaffolding planks: two fine ingredients for a kitchen garden…

Positioning your plot

If you’re in the enviable position of having a selection as to where you grow your veg, fruit and herbs, I’m pretty jealous!

In my garden, there is one suitable space only, a bed at the back, on the south side, which used to be full of rhododendrons, but is now empty. My kitchen garden will go there. End of story.

But if you’ve got a choice, either because you’re re-planning your whole garden, or you’ve got a selection of different places you could give over to food, then there are a few things to think about first.

Veg and fruit (generally) requires a lot of sunlight to ripen fully. So pick a sunny spot. This is especially true for fruits like grapes, which need sunlight to produce the sugars that make them taste so nice in the first place. You also want to avoid winds, which could damage the young plants, put off pollinating insects or blow the fruits right off the plants. Frost pockets (areas that are colder than the rest of your garden, for example because they’re in a small dip where cold air settles) should also be avoided. But that’s pretty obvious.

Speaking of pollinating insects, these are pretty essential for anything that produces fruits (this includes beans, peas and so on), which makes sunny sheltered spots the best.

Finally, think about the amenities you’ll need. One of the reasons my watering schedule was so crappy this past year was that the builders pulled out our water pipes that fed the tap at the bottom of the garden. (I only realised this once they’d left and it was a bit late to sort out…) This means I need to fill up the watering can from the tap at the other end of the garden and schlep it down to all the veg. Okay, this is literally a journey of 20ft or so, but it makes a surprisingly huge difference. This year, a water butt is going in to collect rainwater off the greenhouse roof and provide me with a much easier tap to use.

Of course, you don’t have to actually put aside a dedicated bed if you don’t have the space or inclination. Lots of plants can just be grown in regular flower beds, along with your other blooms, and many can look pretty attractive too. Purple kale or rainbow chard makes a good border plant; asparagus tips can pop up in a border before the rest of the plants really get started and a close proximity of flowers and veg helps all those lovely bees come and pollinate for you.

Making a planting plan

Oooh, this is the bit I just love! The expectation, the hopes, the dreams. Yes, I think I’ll put some lovely borlotti beans in there, oooh, let’s have some low growing strawberries there etc etc, as you drool from the mouth in anticipation of the next year’s bounty and imagine how you’ll need to phone your veg box delivery company and cancel the box because you just have so much food to eat…

I tend to draw up a rough plan on the back of envelope before I order my seeds, working out what will go there and how much I can realistically fit in. This (theoretically) prevents you massively over-ordering on the seeds, though I still manage it every year.

Put the tallest plants in the middle of the beds (or the side furthest from the sun) so they don’t overshadow the others. Check the distances needed between the plants (all seed packet info should have this) so you can figure out how many plants per row and how many rows you can fit in.

Think about planting certain things in succession – lettuce can be replanted throughout the year so you always have fresh crops, radishes can be planted in between slower growing crops like cabbage. Maximise your space, but don’t over-ram it. On the whole, plants spaced closer together will grow smaller but potentially more uniformly. This can actually be desirable, if you’re after tiny little baby carrots, for example, but try and make it intentional, rather than a by product of over-planting. (Ha! She says optimistically. I am a terrible one for overplanting because I just want one more little delicious plant in there please…)

Buying seeds

Sure, you could pop down to your local DIY shop and pick up any number of veg seeds these days, but the real specialities tend to be online or in garden centres. I tend to buy a lot from the James Wong selection at Suttons seeds, because I just can’t resist the allure of weird things like cucamelons; a fair bit from Sarah Raven because I just can’t resist the allure of such delightfully styled aspirational gardening and then some heritage seeds from Crocus, which is the online gardening shop I tend to buy most of my plants from. (It’s definitely not the cheapest, but I have never had a duff plant from them and they have some amazing free planting plans for inspiration too…)

There are lots more specialist providers of weird and wonderful things as well, or of course you can use seed you’ve saved yourself (I wrote more about that a few weeks ago: saving seeds) or have blagged from friends.

So, I think that pretty much concludes most of my pearls of wisdom on Autumn planning for a kitchen garden: choose a plot, prep your soil, pore over the seed catalogues, order some things and then feet up until the start of next year when you can begin to stick them in the ground / pots.

I’ve really been enjoying writing some of these gardening posts for the Grow, forage, cook series with Laura. I do hope you’ve been enjoying reading them too! I’d love it if you felt like leaving me a comment and letting me know what you think. It’s a bit of a departure from my usual craft / general life waffle…

Next week, Laura will be rounding up our favourite pics / recipes / blog posts that have been tagged #growforagecook on Twitter or instagram, so do keep on sharing your bakes, makes, preserves, or anything else you’re up to. As the colder weather settles in, my thoughts are turning towards pickling and preserving. But more on that, perhaps, another time…

In the garden: October

10 Oct

Surrounded by cobwebs, the last of the flowers are just clinging on out in the garden at the moment.

Garden cobweb | Wolves in London

A teeny tiny feather caught in a cobweb

Elated by the sunshine, I took a trip out this morning to photograph the few remaining splashes of colour, to try and hold onto them for as long as possible before the garden takes on its winter coat of unbroken green.

Actually, I love all the different shades of green you can find in a verdant garden, but I would like to add a little more colour as well.

I’m currently agonising over whether to cut down a rather large, browning, overgrown conifer that’s moping about next to our pond and planting some dogwood in its place: Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ (you can see some in my post about trees / shrubs with winter colour from the start of the year). The idea is, the bright red stems in the winter would reflect in the pond and bring a bit of cheer (and contrast) to the otherwise green vistas. (Ha! I’m not sure you can actually use the word “vista” if the total distance you can see is probably about 20ft…)

I had just started to write a lengthy essay explaining to you the pros and cons of the decision, but have deleted the six paragraphs on the grounds that it’s not wildly exciting reading.

Anyway, back to what’s actually there at the moment…

The two pink rose bushes continue to bloom: they deserve an award for outstanding longevity as I think they’ve both been in flower for around six months now.

Pink rose | Wolves in London

This rose must surely be one of the last?

Rose | Wolves in London

I prefer these, less formal, roses…

Meanwhile, my new Rosa rugosa hedge has been making the most glorious red hips.

Rosehip | Wolves in London

Peekaboo

In an equally impressive display, my perennial sweetpea is still (still!) putting out flowers. For the last month or so, I’ve been thinking every bloom I see is the last, only for another to appear a few days later…

Sweet pea | Wolves in London

Incidentally, if anyone knows by looking what type of sweet pea this is, do let me know. I no longer remember what I sowed…

In the back garden, there are lots of bright Hesperantha coccinea by the pond. (More usual name? Not a clue, I’m afraid…) I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of red flowers in the garden, but somehow, once the main summer has passed and we’re into autumn, my opinion changes completely and I am delighted to see such rich colours.

Hesperantha coccinea | Wolves in London

So cheerful

Behind them, my Japanese maple is still looking a little unhealthy, but has managed to put out lots of lovely purpley/red seed pods. What glorious colours!

Acer | Wolves in London

Ignore the brown, curling leaves and just look at the seeds…

And my lovely pink daisies have just put out a second bloom…

Erigeron | Wolves in London

I thought these were over, but some more just appeared

Finally, I just can’t resist sharing this photo of my little photographic assistant. He’s been given use of Daddy’s old camera and has spent much of the past few weeks in poses fairly similar to this one.

I asked him, “Are you taking a photo of Mummy?” and he looked at me quizzically, as if that would be a very odd thing to do, and said, “No! Taking photo of dis plant…” The apples don’t fall far from the tree, eh…

Toddler photographing | Wolves in London

Gardener, cleaner, photographer extraordinaire…

Grow, forage, cook: saving seeds (and free seed envelope template)

19 Sep
Vintage style seed envelopes: free download | Wolves in London

Seed collecting: like foraging in your own garden…

Far be it from me to deny the joys of veg gardening (of which there are many, even in years of disappointing harvest) but I have to confess that one of my absolute favourite benefits of growing your own is the chance to get something for nothing.

Yes, it is just quite possible I am a massive skinflint, but it makes me very happy to spend a pound or two on a packet of seeds and then enjoy fresh tomatoes for the entire summer months.

And saving and storing some seeds from said tomatoes to grow a full summer’s worth the following year entirely for free is enough to put a beam on your face throughout the whole of a miserable dark winter…

So it is, around this time of year, I head out into the garden and collect seeds from anything I’d like to grow again.

Honesty seed cases |Wolves in London

Honesty seed cases; remove seeds and stick in a vase for winter. Heaven

Of course, at the same time as I’m collecting seeds, I should be taking the opportunity to do a bit of weeding, sweep down the paths, get the greenhouse ready for the winter and so on and so on. But no, I find these maintenance tasks a little boring, so instead I’ve been square-eyed in front of the laptop, making some rather attractive seed envelopes to store all my seeds in.  (Even if I do say so myself.)

Free seed packet download | Wolves in London

Envelopes wot I made mesself

There’s one for fruit, one for veg and one for flowers. The images, as ever, are from the wonderful Graphics Fairy website (check it out if you’re a fan of vintage pictures). I’ve used a botanical rose illustration (of course, you’d be highly unlikely to actually harvest rose seeds, I should point out, but I just really liked the picture), this botanical pea illustration for the veg and this botanical apple illustration for fruit (again, don’t actually go collecting apple pips, not only would it take you years to get a tree, but they wouldn’t be the same as the original tree anyway).

If you’d like to make some envelopes of your own, by all means go ahead! Just click on the image below to download a pdf that contains all three templates.

[NB, On my laptop, when I click on the link it shows me the document with all the Ss missing. If yours is the same, just download and save it to your computer first and you’ll see it in all its glory. How these things happen, I do not know. Before printing, check the settings are for “actual size” and landscape…]

Free printable seed envelopes | Wolves in London

Once you’ve got the envelopes, you’ll need something to put inside them. Here’s a few pointers if you’re trying seed collecting for the first time:

Poppy seeds | Wolves in London

Poppies: the easiest seeds to collect.

  • Different plants produce seeds in different ways, requiring different harvesting techniques. The easiest to collect are those flowers that store their seeds in something akin to a salt cellar, in order to shake them out once they’re ready. Flowers like poppies, snapdragons or love-in-a-mist all do this. To collect the seeds, just shake the seedhead onto a piece of paper, or straight into the envelope, and your seeds are ready.
  • Peas and beans (including sweet peas) are also very easy to harvest. Make sure you leave a few on the plant long enough for the seed to ripen. The outer bean part will turn brown, the seeds will start to dry and shrivel up and, once ready, should be easily removed. Dry for a day or two longer on some kitchen paper to be sure they’re completely dehydrated and then store til next year.
  • For soft fruit and veg, like tomatoes, you need to wait until the fruit is ripe, which means the seed will be ready, then just mash up the fruit a bit and remove the seeds. The easiest way to do this is to put the fruit and some water into a bottle or jar and shake it well until it has separated. If necessary, leave for a few days or up to a week. Remove the seeds, dry them completely on a piece of kitchen paper and store.
  • Almost all seed should be stored in a cool and dry environment. Wrap in clingfilm to keep out the moisture, then put inside an envelope (or, of course, my lovely new seed packets!)
  • Different seeds are viable (ie capable of germination) for different amounts of time. On the whole, most seeds will do well to be used within a few years. Label the date of your seed collections so you can try and use them as soon as possible.
  • Lots of fruit / veg nowadays is grown from seeds known as F1 hybrids. I won’t go into the science of this as it’s a bit complicated, but it basically means that the resultant plant is likely to be stronger, healthier, less prone to pests and diseases and will crop uniformly and heavily. All sounds great, right? The only thing is, seeds collected from the plants grown from F1 hybrids won’t grow true to their parent. So, when you’re buying seeds, check whether it says F1 hybrid on the pack. If so, it’s probably not worth bothering collecting the seed from these plants, but better to just buy them again the following year.
  • Finally, a word of warning, certain seeds have what’s known as an inbuilt dormancy, that means they won’t germinate until certain environmental external conditions have been met. The most common of which is a drop in temperature. (In the wild, this means the seed doesn’t grow at the wrong time of year – it waits for winter to be over, for example…) It’s best to do a double check online for seeds before planting them, just to make sure you won’t need to fake the necessary environmental conditions before planting. (If you’ve stored the seed inside your centrally heated house, it won’t know that winter has been and gone, so you might need to put it into the fridge for a week or two to trick it into thinking it has…) Don’t be put off by this though, most seeds are fine to chuck straight into the ground – or a nicely prepared seed tray – but it’s definitely worth checking in advance to avoid disappointment if they don’t grow…

I hope you enjoy the seed packets. Please do share photos of any seed collecting you’re up to, or any other growing, foraging or cooking by using the hashtag #growforagecook on instagram or twitter, or just leave a comment here!

[Grow, forage, cook is a series I run with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees, where we share some of our successes (and failures) with homegrown, foraged (or just bought!) seasonal food. We’d love it if you’d join in too. Every month we publish a round-up of our favourite Grow, forage, cook captures. Check out last month’s over on Circle of Pine Trees: August round up.]

Free seed packet download | Wolves in London

Ode to a broad bean

12 Sep

unappetising broad bean | Wolves in London

Oh green broad bean, oh green broad bean, you’re really rather small.
Oh green broad bean, oh green broad bean, you’re hardly there at all.
Oh solitary green broad bean, I still like you a lot(ty),
Though you hardly bear comparison to last year’s fine borlotti.

Your skin is wan, your colour’s dull, your seeds just number three,
Your black and speckled blotches are as ugly as can be –
And if I, famished from the day, and ready for to sup,
Picked you to feast upon, why bean, you wouldn’t fill me up!

Yet even with these many faults, upon you I heap praise
And I sing about your glory til the ending of your days.
For in one aspect you stand tall: a bean above all others
And so it is you still remain, far longer than your brothers.
Yes, beany, you’ve escaped the fate their sad short lives curtails;
You haven’t yet been eaten by our many slugs and snails.

Single broad bean | Wolves in London

P.S. Yes, I probably should get out more…

Garden moodboard: September

8 Sep

It’s quite possible, looking at this month’s moodboard, that my love for white flowers might be getting a little out-of-hand. But what white flowers they are!

September garden moodboard | Wolves in London

September delights from the garden

Along the bottom row there is a white cosmos (‘Purity’), with a small daisyish flower next to it, followed by Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus, a current obsession of mine). Above them in the top left is a glorious anemone, just below that is a nicotiana and to the right and slightly above, a self-seeded snapdragon.

Oh yeah, there are some other non-white flowers too, but really, who cares so much about them???

Anemone Honorine Jobert | Wolves in London

Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

I think this stunning anemone is my favourite of all. I planted it a few years ago in the front garden, back when we removed the giant cactus. It has a little struggle at the start of the summer each year, when I think it’s not going to make it against its battle with the slugs and snails, and I see everyone else’s anemones in full flower, while mine looks a little sickly but then, a few weeks later, tentative little shoots and buds appear and around now the flowers are looking wonderful.

Hesperantha coccinea | Wolves in London

Same flower, new name

I’ve shown you this Hesperantha coccinea before, but it’s changed its name since then. It used to be called Schizostylis coccinea, but for some reason unknown to me, that changed. A rose by any other name, etc etc… I’ve only had a few of these by the pond so far this year, last year there was a veritable forest of them, so we’ll wait and see what happens later in the season.

Rosa rugosa rose hips | Wolves in London

Hip to be a rose…

Also autumnally-coloured, these are the rose hips from my new Rosa rugosa hedge. I think rugosa hips are good for eating, so I shall definitely be trying some culinary experimentations with these later on this year. (Not these actual hips in the photograph, of course. I don’t think they would last that long…)

Nigella | Wolves in London

So frothy!

Along with a mass of seed heads (on the bottom right of the main picture) my nigella has also put out a few more tiny little flowers in the last week. It’s nice to have a little bit more blue out there. On the left of this photo is some campanula, which has struggled on throughout the summer, producing the odd flower here and there. I really need to figure out something else to plant alongside it to cover up its rather unattractive leggy stems. (And, be still my beating heart, the lovely Erigeron is on the right of this pic again…)

Nicotiana | Wolves in London

Yeah, okay, it’s a looking a little blotchy

This photo doesn’t do my nicotiana any real favours (especially with those odd brown blotchy bits on the flower) but I’ve not photographed it yet this summer, despite its almost constant flowering. It wilts almost immediately after being picked (and often throughout the day on hot days) but looks and smells utterly wonderful around twilight. I don’t know what type of nicotiana this is (it looks just like ‘Lime green’ except for the fact it’s not, obviously, lime green) so if anyone knows, do drop me a comment. I bought five plants from the garden centre back at the start of the summer and they’ve just kept on going ever since…

Salvia seascape | Wolves in London

Salvia seascape

Finally, woohooo, a little bit of new colour. I grew some of these salvia seascapes from seed this year. They’re mixed colours and actually all the other plants are white, but this one is just starting to put out some blue flowers. In retrospect, I slightly regret cutting it down just to take its photo — but I think there were a few more flower spikes coming up on the same plant.

So there we have it, the joys of September. I’m thinking this might be one of my last monthly garden moodboards; for the time being at least. I feel as if I might be reaching the end of my range-of-plants-photographed-against-white-background capabilities. I’ve been joining in with Karin and Asa for just over a year now and have thoroughly enjoyed watching my little garden progress, but, at least until I do a major planting session anyway, I feel as if I’m now getting to a point of repetition in plant photography… Anyway, I’m not making any definite decisions, but we’ll see how the mood takes me in October. It may well be time for pastures new though. (Pastures such as Grow, forage, cook for example!)

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Grow, forage, cook: a disappointing harvest

4 Sep

As August has bid us farewell and summer has melted into the season of mellow fruitfulness, I’ve started to feel a little bit of a fraud.

It’s been great to see so many of you joining in with our Grow, forage, cook series; Laura posted what we hope will be the first of many round ups of some of your mouth-watering photos and recipes last week: August round up.

I am practically salivating onto my keyboard at the sight of all the wonderful jams, pies, salads and other delights, made from homegrown or foraged foods.

I, on the other hand, a founder of this wonderful series have not, I confess, been out day after day picking the bounty of my garden.

Despite Laura’s kind words about my gardening prowess, back when we launched this series a month ago, this year has been my least successful when it comes to growing food.

Homegrown apples | Wolves in London

Apples from my tree: about the only edible thing in my garden right now

There was the excellent plum bounty, to be sure, and the apple trees have produced a small but steady supply of really delicious apples (though nowhere near the apple glut we had the first year we moved in). The brambles at the bottom of the garden by the greenhouse have been nothing if not prolific.

But, to the production of these delicious fruits I have assisted but a little. Yes, I did prune and thin the apple and plum trees earlier in the year (I recall the rather worrying incident of a heavily pregnant lady swaying atop a rickety ladder fairly well). And when it comes to the brambles, well, I have actually spent quite a lot of time and effort trying to eradicate them, so far completely unsuccessfully.

But everything that I have actually tried to grow has been an unmitigated failure.

Come take a stroll with me, if you will, and see if you can spot the problem…

Horrible courgette | Wolves in London

Erm, what can I say, this looks utterly vile

Now, I hope you’re not eating anything when you take a look at the photo of my single courgette. Yes, this limp (I am restraining from using the word “flaccid”) nibbled, part yellow specimen is the solitary courgette produced from my courgette plant. Appetiising? Not so much. Everyone, but everyone growing courgettes has the September “what the hell am I going to do with all these courgettes?” quandary. Everyone, that is, but me, who knows perfectly well that this sad looking specimen is headed straight for the wormery. The slug damage inflicted is just too great for any recovery now.

A few steps over and you find this glorious prize winning aubergine.

aubergine flower | Wolves in London

Yes, it’s really pretty, but can you turn into into baba ganoush?

What’s that you say? Just a tiny little flower? Oh. Yes. So it is.

Though the plant has put out about 30 flowers this year, not a single one has produced a fruit. I don’t know whether it’s lack of germination, or lack of water at a crucial time or just lack of luck, but this is the best I’ve got from the aubergine plant…

I can’t even show you a photo of my purple sprouting broccoli plants, veg that I have grown in previous years and eaten with delight for the whole of the winter months. I lost them all a few months ago to caterpillars. Overnight.

The broad beans are certainly more successful because they have, gasp, produced one whole entire almost certainly edible bean. Hurrah! This is he.

Broad bean | Wolves in London

Granted, the slugs might have a harder time if I actually weeded around my poor bean plant

Hot on the success of my lovely borlottis last year, I planted half borlottis and half broad beans. I cared for them, nurtured them from seed, watered and loved them in the greenhouse and, in May, certain the last frost was over, I planted them out into a specially prepared patch in the garden. There were 24 plants in total.

Two weeks later there were three.

Now, there is just the one, with this single bean hanging from its stem.

Slugs. Bloody slugs again.

Even the cucamelons, something I declared both prolific and fail-safe after my first attempt growing them last year, are struggling on, pitifully, producing a few fruits but mostly dying down.

Cucamelon | Wolves in London

Awww, I never tire of their cuteness!

The problem with it all, of course, is lack of time. I never use chemical bug killers or computerised sprinkling systems because of environmental / sustainability issues. But hand slug-removal and hand watering are only good if you actually *get out into the garden and do it*. This summer, what with one thing or another (thing one: a toddler, thing two: a baby) free time has been slightly on the rare side and the poor garden has rather suffered as a result.

The one hope for any sort of real harvest I have are my beetroot, which succumbed in a big way to some sort of fungal disease a month back (the result, I am certain, of letting the sproglet be in charge of watering them, which will have bounced the fungal spores all over the place. Never water from above in the middle of the day, I know that, of course, but the sproglet loves watering the garden so much that I feel exceedingly mean to deny his enjoyment…) At one point they had not a single green healthy leaf among them. Now, amazingly, a pleasing resurgence and they look as if they might yet produce some decent roots for eating.

 

Beetroot | Wolves in London

Sunkissed and, astonishingly, still alive, hurrah!

So the verdict from my garden this year. Pests: 1; Sabrina: 0.

I’d love to end on a deep philosophical note about how gardening isn’t just about the end result, but also the pleasure of time outdoors, taking a moment out of your life, yadda yadda yadda < insert appropriate homily here> but, you know what, I really wanted to actually grow something to eat this year and I am pretty miffed at the sorry show.

So please, keep your pictures coming so I can live vicariously through your gardening successes! Tag your photos #growforagecook on instagram, tweet us your blog posts (to @circleofpines or @wolvesinlondon) or just leave a comment below.

Meanwhile, over here in slug city, my love of stocking the larder won’t be thwarted (Autumn time to me = permanent eye-watering vinegar aromas in the house as I pickle / chutnify everything I can get my hands on…) But if it’s not made from plums, apples or blackberries, it’ll be from the veg box this year, not the fruits of manual labour.

Ah well, seed catalogues have been circled and next year’s planning has already begun…

A peek in the garden

7 Aug

I thought it was high time to take you for another little stroll round my garden and a photographic browse of what’s going on outside in August.

I’m thinking about my garden pretty much non-stop at the moment, planning what changes I want to make for next year. Which plants need to be dug up and moved. Which new plants I want to buy. Which of the beds should be dedicated to what.

So – amongst all the looking forward – it’s nice to take a little break to remember what’s there right now.

In the front garden, everything is looking pretty happy at the moment. The verbena, as I have mentioned perhaps a million times before, is putting on as good a show this year as the last two. I’ve read that you need to replace these after about three years, so I’ll have to check on its performance next year. It flowers for months on end, but best of all the bees love it.

Bee on verbena | Wolves in London

Bzzz bzzzz bzzzz, I loooove verbena

The new wild rose hedge that we planted earlier in the year is very perky. The roses are stunning and smell delightful, but I’m equally fascinated by the way the leaves unfurl from a tightly-packed whorl…

Rosa rugosa | Wolves in London

They only last for a day or two, but the scent is just stunning…

Rose leaves unfurling | Wolves in London

Wouldn’t this be great in time lapse?

The Nectaroscordum siculum seedheads have been all but fully eaten by birds. All that is left are these spiky fronds. I plan to leave these in place all winter, I really love them. (You can see a photo of the full flower here and the seed heads pre-eating here.)

Seedhead | Wolves in London

Just one of the seed containers remaining…

The flowers are almost over on my amazing sea holly (Eryngium ‘Jos Eijking’) but its striking blue stems haven’t lost any of their colour. This is one of the plants that I’d like to move – it’s overshadowed by all the verbena and the electric blue doesn’t go well with their more mellow purple — so I think it’d look better in a bigger bed out the back. But reading up, it doesn’t like disturbance, apparently. Hmmm, might have to just see how it goes.

Eryngium 'Jos Eijking' | Wolves in London

Eryngium ‘Jos Eijking’

Moving round to the back garden…

Do you remember my obsession with Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus)? The good news is, the three plants I put into the back garden are all growing well and flowering. Hoorah! I hope they’ll colonise this stone wall nicely.

Erigeron karvinskianus | Wolves in London

Whoop whoop, welcome to my garden little daisy-like flowers

Close by, in what is to be my mixed border once I’ve planted it up this summer, the last remaining cosmos (which should have been planted at the back of the border, but for some reason I put at the front and it looks rather gigantic there next to the smaller plants.) I feel I should apologise for yet another cosmos photo, but really, how could you ever tire of photos of this lovely flower?!

Cosmos | Wolves in London

Beautiful cosmos

Just as there is a pink rose bush in the front garden that I claim as my own, but in fact belongs to a neighbour, so too in the back garden. These roses have been blooming since the spring, now, and the bush, though technically originating next door, takes up a substantial space in one of my beds. They’re unscented, but I really like the loose natural petal arrangement. So much more attractive than the traditional tightly-packed roses, in my opinion.

Pink rose | Wolves in London

Anybody know what sort of rose this is?

Over on the other side of the garden, the apples are ripening nicely on the trees, though I fear many are filled with caterpillars.

Apples | Wolves in London

Almost ready for picking, I would say

Also ripening, shockingly early, are the blackberries. The same neighbour with the lovely pink rose also has a garden that is basically 80% bramble bushes. I spend a lot of time trying to stop them taking over our garden too, but it’s something of a losing battle. Which I mind less when I am greeted by a sight such as this.

Blackberries | Wolves in London

Ready to be turned into jam…

Meanwhile, the actually intended veg is doing less well. My courgette has put out lots of male flowers, but just the one female so far. I don’t think it got pollinated, either, so I’m afraid this solo courgette is just likely to drop off sometime soon without growing further. Fingers crossed I’m wrong…

Courgette | Wolves in London

Please don’t fall off, little baby courgette

In the greenhouse, I’ve just treated myself to some gigantic trays and some capillary matting, in a quest to overcome my crappy watering schedule. My plants are consequently neatly lined up and looking rather smart despite the hot weather.

Tray of seedlings | Wolves in London

Lovingly grown from seed and not yet dead, hurrah!

On the right of the photo are Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ with lavender and Aubrieta deltoidea ‘Purple cascade’ in the front. I’ve grown far too many of the last two, I think I counted about 35 little lavender seedlings. If I grew these all to adult size and planted them out, that would pretty much take over my whole garden, ha ha. I plan a nice little lavender line to go down the side of my path in the front garden but I suspect I won’t need more than five plants to complete that. So if anyone in SE London wants some lavender, give me a shout!

Ditto for the aubrieta, which will one day soon have lovely purple flowers all over, but currently just looks like this:

Aubrieta seedling | Wolves in London

Aubrieta seedling

Also in the greenhouse, for now, are two jasmine plants: an evergreen (Trachelospermum jasminoides) and the standard jasmine (Jasminum officinale). I’d planned to grow them up a certain wall, but completely changed my mind once I got them home. They’ve been sitting here, gently baking in the summer sun for the past few months and I really must decide where I want them. In the meantime, though, the greenhouse smells amazing…

Star jasmine | Wolves in London

Lovely star jasmine

And finally, a few photos of my kalanchoe. I normally have this indoors, but I moved it outside this summer, for no real reason other than the fact we were decorating inside.

The sunlight has done it the world of good though, tinting the edges of its fat leaves a wonderful red colour. I think it’s looking more glorious than it ever has before in the ten years I’ve owned it…

Kalanchoe | Wolves in London

I love its chubby little leaves

Kalanchoe | Wolves in London

Beautiful red outlines

Phew, well that was quite a long stroll, wasn’t it? Thanks for joining me. Perhaps time for a nice cuppa and a biscuit now. Have a lovely afternoon.

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