Rugged Month

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The Anglo Saxons called the month of March Hyld monath which means stormy month, or Hraed monath which means rugged month. I rather like this, and it’s particularly true this year! We have another batch of heavy snow in Sussex that descended on us quite suddenly and a little unexpectedly. I knew some snow was forecast, but here on the coast we always take that with a pinch of salt (pardon the pun) as the sea air often melts the snow more so than inland. It wasn’t very welcome I have to say, but as always with nature, we are at it’s mercy.

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So everything sleeps for a bit longer under this snowy blanket, meaning spring will come even later

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Progress

This weekend in the blazing sunshine, I pushed on with the vegetable garden layout. I managed to make another two raised beds, on behind the original bed on the left and one running parallel to the south facing wall at the back. This latter bed will be a mixed one, with my nectarine tree, a climbing fig, as well as being used for tomatoes and squash later in the summer. At the moment it has some rose and blackcurrant cuttings that I took last autumn. I’m hoping they will take well enough for me to move and pot them up later in the summer to make some space for use as a nursery bed.

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047I’m pleased how this part of the garden is looking now, much better than it did in December with the floods, but the most important thing will be to see how much improved the system is at growing vegetables. It will be interesting to note the comparison to last year as the season progresses. I’m hoping the raised beds will speed things up a little as I noticed the clay took a long time to warm last year, so even though seeds germinated (albeit slowly) they stalled for a while and didn’t get going for quite some time. Bearing in mind we had the wettest year on record too!

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I’m waiting to get some more wood before completing the other two rectangular beds, which will altogether form a square grid with intersecting paths (as a cross). Only a few more weeks before the broad beans, parsnips and potatoes will be going in!

Seed Swapping for Biodiversity

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One of the most exciting activities in winter for a gardener and vegetable grower has to be planning the year ahead. I have pretty much bought the lion share of my seeds for this year, inevitably I have bought more than I can probably grow realistically, but who isn’t tempted to do the same! I have chosen some different companies this year such as Simpsons, The Real Seed Catalogue, Premier Seeds Direct (eBay), RP Seeds as well as from my regulars such as the Organic Gardening company, Dobies and Suttons. I also pick up seeds here and there in garden centres, this year I found some from Jamie Oliver which I thought I would give a try.

I expect most of us do the same, collecting seed from all over the country, but really is it the best thing to be doing for the biodiversity of our gardens?

When leafing through The Real Seed Catalogue, I came across this excerpt:

Why Not Save Your Own Seed?

Until recently, every gardener in the world saved their own seed. And every gardener was, therefore, a plant breeder. They simply saved the seed of the plants that did best for them, and which they liked most. Although simple, this was efficient.

Each gardener was maintaining a slightly different strain of each vegetable, and this made for a huge living genebank that was very resilient against disease or climate change. If things changed so that your cabbages didn’t do well, someone down the road had a slightly different one that would cope. This has worked very well for the past 11,000 years. That includes the Bronze Age, the building of the Pyramids, the rise and fall of all the major empires. Every year, without even thinking about it, millions of people added to the achievements of their ancestors to maintain and improve the previous years’ varieties. Because their seed was real, open-pollinated seed, every seed was a bit different, so it was widely adapted, but also adaptable – it could cope with all sorts of change.

Now, we have thrown this all away. In the past 40 years, almost all these adaptable local strains have been lost. Gardeners have forgotten how to save their own seed. They are sold hybrids, where every seed is identical, in every packet, year after year – no adaptability for different soils, or for changes in climate over time. And because these hybrid seeds are all the same in every field in every country, people have to bludgeon the environment into some sort of ‘standard’ growing medium with fertilisers and chemicals, to grow their standardised seeds.

Should the climate change, or the supply of cheap oil (to make all these chemicals) dry up, then these hybrids will do badly, and there will be no real seeds left to breed from.

Profits for the seed companies now, but disaster in the future . . . real farming is a project that has been ongoing for millennia, but now in the height of our tiny period of cheap oil, we think we know better and have turned it into just another industrial process. Peoples food should represent stored sunlight and water, but 90% of its calories come from oil these days – for the ploughing, spraying, fertiliser, transport.

When the oil runs out, who will have the real seeds that can grow without it?

There are many interesting points raised here, but the overall message I am stunned by, that we have as a culture dismissed 11,000 years of farming knowledge for ‘progress’ in the past 40 years.

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This past week, BBC Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time was broadcast from the Seedy Sunday seed swap in Brighton which is pretty local to me in Eastbourne. I was annoyed to have not heard of it, as it would have been the perfect opportunity for me to collect some locally grown seeds that have adapted to our local climate and soil conditions. We should all be doing the same, whether we garden on allotments or at home, we should swap seeds with interested neighbours for our own benefits. Perhaps if we all set up our own local seed swapping service in our local community this practise could be re-established?

But for now, I’ll be swapping seed with my mum! and who knows this may even help our bees as well.

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Shrubs for winter colour and scent

Having recently looked from my window out at the gloomy garden, I feel the poor thing desperately needs some form and colour for winter. In fact, many of the surrounding gardens are the same and there is nothing to hold you interest at all. I must remedy this this year! I’ve been looking around for ideas and have come across some beautiful shrubs that would not only provide colour but exquisite scent too. I have included two links at the end of this post for further reading. One being the RHS’s recommendations for shrubs with winter interest, the other a lovely post about a winter walk through the gardens at Anglesey Abbey which are breathtaking.

Euonymus Europaeus ‘Red Cascade’

Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’2

A relatively ordinary shrub in the summer, it’s true glory is revealed  in autumn and winter when the leaves turn a shocking pink. The branches also hold onto the orange flowers which turn to vibrant seed heads. I think it would look stunning against yellow grasses or the steel blue of euphorbia. More detail here.

Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’

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This is a hard working shrub that has many qualities I’m looking for winter scent, coloured foliage and blooms. The viburnum flowers from October to March with little frost damage. The foliage turns bronze in autumn. Would work well next to a witch hazel or Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ . Read more here.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ and Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Ruby Glow’

What prettier Christmas decoration for the garden could you have? Like shredded golden and red paper hanging candidly from bare stems, it’s almost rude in it’s showiness! The witch hazel has a stunning scent too.

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A tour through Anglesey Abbey’s Winter walk garden

RHS Winter Interest Shrubs

Taking Stock Part 1, trees, shrubs and climbers

Here are some of the plants I planted in 2012

Climbing Hydrangea, planted on the left fence, halfway down the garden, before the plum trees

climbing hydrangea

 

Clematis Triteanata Rubromarginata – trained up a plum tree to the right side halfway down the garden (gorgeous almond scent)

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Paul’s Himalayan Musk, rambling rose – trained up a plum tree to the right fence, hoping it will ramble over that too!

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Sorbus Hupenhensis Pink Pagoda, tree planted right at the bottom of the garden against the south facing brick wall

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Catalpa bignonioides aurea, or Indian Bean Tree, this is halfway down the garden to the right, which will one day be next to my summerhouse, surrounded by prairie plants

Catalpa big Aurea

 

Prunus Chocolate Ice, next to the Catalpa

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Climbing Rose Compassion, on the right west facing brick wall

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Physocarpus summer wine, in my ‘white’ border on the right side near the decking, it’s doing really well!

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Climbing Rosa Gloire de Dijon – on the right fence, near the decking under the pear tree

Gloire de dijon

A year at no.20

With all my best intentions to document my first year at no.20, it has flown by in a flash (and a flood). Never mind, there is a new year approaching which I’m hoping will herald a more relaxed time at our new home, in which I can put some of my many plans for the garden into action. I have managed to create some of the aspects I had originally planned for this year, mainly creating my vegetable bed, which is 3/4 complete. I planted some trees, moved many plants around and generally watched the garden growing to see what we had inherited. Yet still I’m very excited about my patch of green, and am brimming with anticipation of new projects.

I cannot resist quoting Tim Smit, creator of the Lost Gardens of Heligan:

‘What I’ve learnt at Heligan more than anything is the sense of those cogs of time going round where every particular part of the year has a purpose. If you were to ask me what was my favourtie time of the year it would have been spring, summer or even autumn.But now it’s the end of Jan or beginning of February when everyone’s feeling really depressed and I feel like I’ve been let in on a magnificent secret when I see the bulbs burst out of the ground, and it feels fantastically hopeful. I wish, I wish I could translate my deep pleasure in knowing that to everybody.’