A Wet Summer’s Gardening – The Wildflower Meadow

Well this project started with a heap of sub and top soil and the threat of huge weeds developing, so what to do?

Bare Bones

Well I always wanted a wild flower meadow but assumed it had to be in grass. Just then on the tv comes Sarah Raven’s brilliant series on BBC  Bees Butterflies and Blooms. An attempt to get corporations and groups to plant insect friendly flower meadows on any available ground. The attraction to me was that the flower mixes used were colourful and with a long flowering season rather than a fantastic two week flush then green. As the series implies they were also designed to provide nectar for insects especially honey bees which are struggling everywhere due to mite and loss of habitat.

To start the project the landscaped mound was allowed to rest and throw up any weed seed on the surface.

Baking in the early summer

Now I’m an advocate of organic gardening where possible but there are instances where you have to look at the big picture and I decided that what I was trying to achieve would be too time consuming if I were to have to hand weed so out came the dreaded weed killer. This was in early Spring. Then the sun shone, and shone and shone, remember that? Well the weed was reluctant to grow and  die and time was running out for sowing the project. I decided to sow some of the mix in seed trays and then prick out to plugs,  firstly to give them a head start and secondly to give me a clue as to what they plants looked like!

I used the De Jaeger mix that Sarah had used, Pictorial Meadows Pastel Mix, some trial price Thompson and Morgan Honey Bee  mix, some very old seed in a pot from Aldi of all places! (I have no recollection of ever buying it!) and some other packets of annual wildflowers and Cosmos seed.

With the weather still unseasonable warm I decided by mid May it was now or never. I hoed off any weed missed by the weed killer but tried not to disturb too much soil to prevent another crop coming through, This meant planting those little plugs out in dried out soil, poor things. At the same time I mixed all those seeds together with a bit of sand to help with the broadcast sow,  this also helps to see where you’ve been and went for it! I readied the sprinkler, another thing I’m not happy using, and crossed my fingers. Well I used the sprinkler twice and then it rained, and rained and rained, well you know how this goes you were there! What a soggy summer! Only my ducks enjoyed it, they’re the brown and white splodges.

The Original Puddle Ducks

Only Ducks could enjoy the weather this summer

It was so wet I hardly bothered going up there to see how things were growing. The plug plants benefitted from the rain but I was convinced all the seed would have been washed down the slopes and I would end up with a ring like Friar Tucks hair around the mound! I also didn’t bother keeping the chickens out as I couldn’t think of a method of ring fencing and prayed they wouldn’t notice the mostly tiny seeds. They are determined and destructive if they choose!

Determined Chooks, There is always a way

Around mid June I noticed a fuzz of hungry looking seedlings on the front slope, the area I threw the most seed after I realised there was nowhere near enough and it was better to put it where it would have most impact. Some of the plug plants were by now well established and streaks ahead of the seedlings and starting to flower. Coming from a commercial nursery family business these were all new to me and I’m having fun/difficulty putting names to them all.

Mystery meadow flower

RHS Wisley tell me this is Clarkia

Well now it’s high summer and the meadow is flowering beautifully and I’m very pleased with it although bees seem in short supply and I have only noticed a few butterflies about too, presumably the bad weather has hit them hard.

Meadow in Bloom

The finished meadow in bloom July 2012

We have a Bumble Bee nest in the front hedge and they are loving the Cardoons that self seeded in the border outside my studio. We are calling this border Land of the Giants this year as there is also several over wintered Nicotiana “Only the Lonely” or “Sylvestris” (I forget which I planted now). Label, always Label!

Giant Cardoon Ornamental Thistles. Bumble Bee Beds

Will post more pictures as the season progresses.

Been out today to take individual photos and the meadow is buzzing with insects!  There are a couple of flowers I haven’t been able to identify from the seed packets so if anyone can help I would be grateful.


Nearly there nearly square Part 2: Of diggers and drills

So following on from the completion of the building we decided to move the fence on the south aspect further out on the drive side to add a few more feet of growing room and better access plus the fence was falling down as well. I’m not a lover of concrete posts and gravel boards but the wooden posts rot quickly and the wind really hits this side during the winter.

Then came Tim the digger man! what a star he managed to save my topsoil, bury the rubble, level the site and dig up my bay tree that had survived the hellish cold from the winter 2010/11 and I thought deserved a try. Unfortunately he was so keen to get started he did all this whilst I was out so no photos of big machinery in action.  Love a man with a big digger!  He also leveled and rolled the road stone for our ‘ car park ‘ which in turn has created a mound which I shall be sowing with wild flowers in a few weeks.

I have a plan Stan and have worked out on graph paper what I intend to grow where.  Not so much raised beds as  lower paths as I didn’t want improved drainage just to separate beds from paths.  I was keen to put down a weed membrane too as this would make life easier in the long run with weeding .  I used wood leftover from a finished project to create the beds as I wanted to recycle where possible but I didn’t want to compromise on style so I decided to paint all the different woods to tie everything together.  At this point I would recommend giving serious thought to painting pallets for compost bins, so many sides!  I’m glad I did it now but as they were the first items to be painted they were also nearly the last.

The biggest problem was wrestling large amounts of wood on my todd! I started construction with large nails as we seemed to have lots, this idea soon changed to screws and after a trying afternoon changing and charging batteries and throwing wrecked drills against walls I had put in one screw!   A quick trip to Screwfix and I had a new drill with 3 batteries, a large amount of screws and a case of lovely drill bits and countersinking gismos, job sorted.

I now made up the first of 7 (4 x 10) ft beds and tried to place them where they looked ‘right’ I did measure for the Puresists among you but with none of the infrastructure being at right angles to each other I’m afraid the designer had a  battle with the engineer and won.  Weed membrane went down between the beds which were dug over ready for new tenants.  The first bed was the south facing fence  into which I replanted my brown turkey fig and my rhubarb along with a couple of roots of Horseradish which I’ve never grown before.

The second bed  is for herbs, positioned closest to the house for dashing to in the rain.  Into this I replanted my bay tree, sage and mint from the nursery at Meynell Langley which has a unique taste of childhood and has always been present in my garden.  I found some chives that had survived the winter in a nursery bed and some re-emerging parsley that might just produce some usable stalks before the new season plants are ready.  Parsley is a Biennial so will grow in first year of planting and flower seed and die in second year and need replacing.  I have always been on the hunt for French Tarragon as the more readily available Russian variety that tends to be more hardy in the UK doesn’t  have the same flavour, a Twitter shout-out  resulted in a find at Otter Farm.

Yes this bed is wonky, it’s to compensate for all the different angles.  Please note strategic placing of bench to catch evening sun and worn out gardener clutching White wine spritzer.

In the next installment, preparing and sowing a trial bed for the ‘metre square’ intensive veg plot.

Nearly There, Nearly Square Veg plot

For many years I have had a veg plot in our garden.  I think it was originally a dog run for the previous owners greyhounds.  However it was fenced all round and was a wonderful sun trap, out of the brisk Westerly winds we get.  It started with a few beds cut from the rough grass turf and slowly grew to accommodate the old greenhouse left by the previous owners in a very shady spot, some raspberries and  the all important shed.  Problems in design soon came to the fore, namely the ‘turf’ was old pasture and primarily twitch grass and perennial weeds whose one mission in life was to reestablish dominance in my lovingly tended beds.  I also had the added problem that we are based on the same sub strata as the long gone Hilton Gravel Pits, now a nature reserve, namely river pebbles and boulders!  Great for pebble ponds, paths and general coastal planting but not so hot for carrots, parsnips and anything you want a straight root from.  Potatoes do very well as an old friends gardening Guru husband predicted they would.  I lost count of the times I brought in a bucket of potatoes and found myself trying to peel a pebble.

Time has moved on as has priorities and health and the veg plot was all but abandoned with the onset of a building project that would see most of the plot buried under a new double garage and wood store and all the associated excavations and builders rubble.  The up side was that I could have the  plot landscaped when building was completed and access to all those lovely heat retaining South and West facing brick walls.

Here are some photos of what I started ‘again’ with, part 2 with improvements to follow.

My ‘Other’ job

Those who follow me on twitter will have heard me mention that I’ve been putting in a few hours at my part time job at my family’s nursery.  As it was also my dear Dad’s 80th Birthday this week I thought I would share a few pictures with you.

The nursery is set within the original walled garden of the Meynell Family estate between Kirk Langley and Kedleston, in fact the estate sits back to back with Kedleston Hall. My Granddad originally took over the nursery when it was still very much geared to supplying the ‘big house’ but over the years and under my Dad’s guidance it became a market garden supplying fresh salad produce and cut flowers to Derby’s wholesale market. The business expanded into bedding plants ,shrubs,and perennials all grown on the premises and we now grow innumerable varieties in every colour of the rainbow and we refill over a thousand customers hanging baskets each year so we must do something right.  Today the business is shared between my brother and my parents who both still work full time.

So the season for me starts around the end of  March and with a little luck I get to see our lovely ancient peach trees in full blossom,   the bees have to be out early to pollinate and so far its looking like we shall have fresh peaches again this year.

Beautiful meconopsis betonicifolia Himalayan Blue Poppy, one of the first shows of colours in the perennials.

The shrub area showing the original Victorian garden wall with the Gardeners cottage built into it, nothing like living over the job.

Dad’s birthday coffee break, a well earned sit down and traditional cream cake coffee break! He got lots of cards and a extraordinary meeting of the East Midlands Growers group who came for a scheduled ‘walk round’ my brothers trials garden and to wish him a happy birthday (another post I think)

Coffee breaks are usually more like this!

my two spaniels and their ‘cousins’

Today was my first day doing basket refills….

…my bench with all my plants conveniently to hand and the recycled fibre lining we use..

and my first effort of the year, hopefully I’ll remember to take another picture when it’s established in a couple of weeks.

We put over 25 plants in a standard 14″ basket, plenty of colour for the entire summer..

To sign off, I painted this little watercolour of the garden wall you can see in the above picture for my Dad for his birthday.  I had an old photo of the border full of self sown Foxgloves one of my favourite flowers..

If you want to visit the nursery here is the website, they are open 7 days a week April, May and June 8:30 to 5:00 Monday through Saturday, 10:00 to 4:00 on Sunday’s.  Say hi if your visiting, I’d say tweet me but the one downside of the beautiful location is no 3G signal.