Monthly Archives: October 2012

Winter over the horizon

The garden has turned. What looked, until a few days ago, still green and alive has now gone over into yellows, ochres and browns. Light levels have been low for several days, because of the season, but also because of the persistently dingy weather: layer upon layer of weak cloud, mist, drizzle. This has finally put paid to any thoughts of a bright autumnal bloom. Winter is on its way, and the best we can do it to keep ahead of its onward march. 

Sunday was a busy day in the garden at home, starting the winter preparations. I moved lots of things into the – currently unheated – greenhouse. This is as much about stopping them getting too wet for the moment as it is about protecting them from the cold: we have only had one frost, and that a mild one, so far.

Pots of Agapanthus, which never did very well this year, have been safely stowed and mulched with potting grit. Likewise, pots of herbs – parsely, thyme, sweet marjoram and sorrel – which will provide some green on the plate in coming months. 

A few weeks ago I sowed Watercress seeds in a large pot which does not have drainage holes, and compost which remains permanently damp. They have done very well indeed, and offer a nice peppery garnish for meals and sandwiches. What I failed to do was to follow-up with a second, successional, sowing, so the crop will not last for ever. But that makes it all the tastier for now.

I have also brought lots of small perennials under cover. These have been grown variously from seed, cuttings and plugs, and are stock for next year’s plantings. But they are vulnerable to getting too cold and wet if left outdoors. Keeping them in the greenhouse allows me to keep an eye on them all in one place, and to keep the watered but not too damp. 

Finally, some lovely Pelargoniums (courtesy of Sarah Raven’s nursery) have been brought in for protection. They didn’t flower all that much in this, their first, season, but have grown into handsome plants, and I look forward to a good display next year, They are ‘Venetian-flowered’ types – Lord Bute, Mystery and April Hamilton – rich and velvety in hue. 

Sweet Peas, sowed in root-trainers a couple of weeks ago, are doing well under glass. I pinched the tops out to promote sturdier growth, especially as the light fades and they might straggle upwards otherwise.

On Friday I received a packet of plugs – Hollyhock Alcea Halo Mixed – on trial from Thompson and Morgan. I potted them out into a home-made compost/vermiculite mixture, and they are having a few days outdoors for now while they get established. I have grown these before myself, but it will be good to watch more carefully and precisely how they get on. I am, after all, duty-bound to report back on their progress to the ever-helpful Marilyn at T&M.

Allotment-wise, I have sown a mixed Green Manure on some of the raised beds: the first time I have tried this. As of last week, it was showing good growth, although so were the weeds – couch grass being the worst and most persistent offender. A load of well-rotted compost arrived too, so that it being applied to the empty beds after I have cleared them and given them a thorough hand-weed. It’s lovely warm and rich stuff, from a supplier I’d not used before – and he gives a discount to members of the local Allotment Association to boot.

Finally for today, I am thrilled to see that Monty Don’s first book – The Prickotty Bush – is to be reissued in December by Harvill Press. In her interview with the Don a couple of years ago Kate Kellaway described it as one of her favourite gardening books, and ripe for a reprint – well her wish has come true! And for me, as well as offering the delight of reading more of the Don’s excellent prose on winter evenings, it will complete my collection of his published works.

New phones for old

A mobile phone is fairly essential for someone self-employed and out and about a lot. I had been getting on fine with my Nokia handset, especially as it had a proper keyboard. However, the lure of getting apps onto my phone proved too much, and I have upgraded (sic – phone company speak) to a Samsung smartphone. 

The two apps I really wanted to get hold of were:
(1) Birdtrack which allows me to record bird sightings on the hoof, and upload them to the BTO – so not only can I keep records of my own, but I can – in a tiny way – contribute to ornithological research along the way.

(2) Instagram. I know everyone’s dog is using this, and has been for months, but it does please me that I can take quirky retro-styled photographs and upload them to Twitter so easily. What is the appeal of a picture that looks as though it had been taken 35 years ago and then left pinned to a noticeboard ever since? I don’t know, but there is one…

Paper Camera is also good fun – again, why one needs to produce Warhol-esque images at the press of a button beats me, but there is a guilty joy to be had. Quirky avatars being not the least of it…

However, I have also loaded some plant/gardening apps which I didn’t even know about – Garden Mentor is not infallible, and nor is it a comprehensive database, but it is useful enough to be going on with. If the developers keep adding content to it, it could become a really useful tool. Will the RHS follow suit with a really top-notch Android app?

I can’t quite get on with face recognition either. Sometimes it works brilliantly, and life feels like ‘World of Wonder’ magazine said (in 1971) it would be in 2012. Other times the bloody thing doesn’t know who I am at all, blanks me completely and resorts to some weird finger-waving procedure to unlock itself. I swear it’s all in the expression – if I look wide-eyed and slightly pleading, the phone responds: if I adopt a more assertive, nay surly, look it doesn’t want to know. Now I’ve put it that way, I can sympathise…

One perennial problem, of course, is that gardening means mucky hands, which don’t go well with a shiny new smartphone!

Right, have to go and do the school run now. Speak soon.