Saturday 27 April 2019

My garden in April

The tap is turned off 

Anemone nemorosa
To propagate the anemone I dug it out of the water and teased the woody rhizomes apart and slit them in in appropriate places

April opened with the lower garden under water. Seriously so. The tap had been turned off two weeks earlier and I was desperately anxious for the then persistent drying winds to evaporate it away. Until a few days ago the dry wind persisted. 
It’s like that here  - its wet for an eternity and suddenly it seems it won’t rain ever again. Sods law!
My pond levels are now seriously low and I have needed to water the azaleas and rhododendrons at the top of my garden and the turf is turning brown.
Actually it is still very wet at the bottom and although cold soil has held things back my moisture loving plants are now romping away. At the top it is now seriously parched.

Last week Brenda watered the 'acid garden'
When we moved in we made this our acid border but later discovered azaleas and rhododendrons grew better where it was wetter.
We love the 'borrowed landscape' from Cathi's cherries next door 

Its been cold but not seriously so. I have not had decent camellias for years and have started to regard them as glossy leaved ‘structural’ plants. Their fat flowers buds annually are destroyed by frost as soon as they open. Not so this year and they have been a joy. So too pieris with undamaged flowers and pink and red leaves. 

No frost damage this year
No frosted Dicentra spectabilis and the tulip long lasted six weeks

You win some and lose some. That is the pleasure of gardening. 

Each year I walk a tightrope with tomatoes when I sow them too early. Not as soon as some amateurs I know. It was the last week in March. I sow them in the warmth of the house and immediately the first seedling appears they go on my lightest warm windowsill. Two weeks later they need to go into my unheated greenhouse.

Germinated on bright sunny window sill in my soil/char compost
I never cover with plastic or glass and you might correctly imagine
the recycled compost has just been scraped off the bench (you can see from the weeds) 17 seeds sown, 17 healthily germinated. No damping off.

Unusual for me,  I pricked out into small pots
....just as well as they needed another week of nights in the frost free garage

My greenhouse is a very old leaky structure and those damned winds persisted even at nights. For the first ten days I had to park the single seed tray in my frost free garage each night. After planting I had to rely on covering nightly with nightly newspaper and four of my plants failed to make it. I sowed some more Shirley in a seed tray in the greenhouse during this recent warm spell to replace the four casualties

Bits and bobs

Self sown honesty fills up my corners
Self sown hardy annuals 
I reported last year on my grassless meadow! Now it is in its third year I have not sown any seed at all. At the end of March the self sown seed germinated densely like mustard and cress - they just loved the then very wet well drained soil

My dwarf tulips have been  in my gravel garden twelve years now
I just love my Dicentra formosa alba
Cathi's grass verge in its fourth year
Regular readers will know I regard Cathi's garden as my own and they might have wondered how the verge is getting along

As I write today it is raining - the first for six weeks, and I am in heaven

Sunday 21 April 2019

Lightening my Spring bulb load - plastic tubs and Autumn leaves reduce heavy lifting

PeterWilliams's gold standard 
As I write this, there is a colourful display of bulbs outside our conservatory window. Its not for want of Brenda constantly reminding me how Peter’s display is so superior. This year I have taken the challenge and splashed out on a sequence of bold displays of snowdrops, narcissus, tulips and (yet to flower) lilies. The snowdrops came out of the ground and I splurged seventy pounds on 150 Tète a Tète daffodils, 200 tulips and 36 lilies from Parker’s Wholesale.

Heavy containers
Lugging large tubs backwards and forwards palls as a gardener gets older. We have plenty of fairly large hardware containers but they aren’t half heavy and to challenge Peter I need very large ones. These days I am prepared to go plastic They are so much lighter and nowadays so much improved and quite tasteful. I purchased two huge ones, perhaps forty litres and four more not much smaller. For the lilies I made do with my existing smaller hardware tubs.
I still had the problem that my soil/char compost is rather heavy.
Some gardeners bulk up their large pots and economise on compost with light polystyrene granules at the base. I hate this practice and of course my homemade compost is free.
At bulb planting time I have copious Autumn leaves. Why not pack them under the compost? I hope the pictures show that this was very successful and the bulb roots penetrated quickly and densely - a large water reserve unlike horrid polystyrene.
I can report the method worked superbly well. As expected there was slight  shrinkage by Spring but not such you would notice.
I think that this method would also work for Summer bedding but continuing leaf shrinkage would be too severe for long term planting without further refreshing.

Follow my efforts in pictures
Large plastic pot two thirds filled with fresh Autumn leaves
Although plastic pots filled with light compost can be too light and top heavy not with large low containers. Yaramila multi-nutrient fertiliser has been mixed in - improvements to current years flowering will be small but will help make strong bulbs for next year.

After tulips were planted
A quarter filled with my soil/char compost after leaves' sinkage. All the pots permanently outside on standing area until displayed. Tulips deliberately planted late at the end of November. Early planting gives too much time for accidents and has no merit.

Root system on early September planted daffodils
On the other hand early planting and time to make a healthy root system is essential for daffodils (And many Spring bulbs, especially hyacinths). At this stage I had not acquired the final display containers.
On the same day I planted the tulips I plunged the knocked out pots of daffodils into their containers prepared the same as the tulips

Change of plan - bulbs plunged again!

Several weeks later management intervened! Brenda insisted that this hardware  container must be planted. I did have two spare large plastic tubs and invited her to do it herself. Already the under leaves were flush with new roots and there would be inevitable damage.

The snowdrops were first in the display
These are the heavy pots we find so difficult. Perhaps I should have lifted a more generous filling of snowdrops?

Daffodils and Corydalis flexuosa
On a whim I tried one daffodil pot with corydalis. Failure, the daffs completely outgrew them. They might as well not have been there.

The early daffodils did really well
Now in the display area the tulips sprouted in early February
I write now at the end of my Spring bulb season and my bulbs have surpassed our wildest expectations. Brenda shuffles the bulbs around to make lovely large displays outside our (live in) conservatory windows and they have given us much joy from mid January to mid mid April.
In particular the tulips have been a revelation. Their colours are so bright and strong and massed together are firm and free standing despite persistent windy conditions and some stood high on a table.
I tend to think of tulips as rapidly going over on warm Spring or early Summer days. Not these (yet). Each of my six varieties have elegantly merged their continuity to give us six weeks of continuous flowers and as I look out today on Easter Sunday all massed together still make a fine display. No single variety has give us less than a month’s strong flower.
It has been unusually windy and dehydrating  and through the last month they have needed generous watering  every three to five  days. Many new gardeners overlook this - it applies to tub planting but not in the ground.
As to sinkage of the underlying Autumn leaves, after a small initial drop it has  been barely discernible and a slightly deeper rim completely disguised by strong leaves gives room to water.

Enjoy the tulips

The one at the top was first to flower
Corydalis flexuosa was a little late this year and as ever thrived on its own

Peter's tulips
I popped down the road to view the opposition. Thank you Peter Williams for your very fine pictures

With Pete's help our owl has now flown to the top of the wall
I must try harder

Wednesday 10 April 2019

More on hot composting

Ready to go
Picking up on Peter

I think Peter Williams’ recent article on hot composting was a major contribution to the literature on making garden compost and what you do with it. It was a long article and some of its content is worthy of further examination - in particular to answer any digs at my own methods. These of course are just part of the friendly rivalry between us.
You might have twigged that the John McEnroe quote ‘you cannot be serious’ in Peter's title was my own repost to the very idea of all that effort. I have teased before that some gardeners live to make compost.
Regular readers will know that although I do not usually make garden compost I do recycle all my organic matter - whether by letting weeds desiccate on the surface, letting leaves and debris lie, mulch mowing, burying small prunings and newspaper, and burning waste wood to make charcoal. 

Unlike Peter, for me, nothing goes in the municipal green bin.I was surprised that Peter claims to put weeds in the said bin. The truth is that his weed control is nearly as good as my own.(In some cases it is my own - I have an arrangement that he does handyman work for Brenda and in return I spray parts of his garden). It is probably only perennial weed from distant fringes that Peter so cycles.

Look how hot it got
Peter’s own figures of the very high temperatures achieved in his heap is evidence that all weed seeds will be killed - such as grass seed inevitable in his mowings - and other than perennial weeds he could safely include weeds when making compost.
He did mention to me that the only weed seed that emerges from the compost he makes are those blown in on the wind

Peter made an aside about how in natural woodland an organic layer forms and goes on to explain that this does not happen in gardener’s soils which are mixed by cultivation. To an extent organic layers might develop in his own wood when he mulches on the surface. He mischievously suggests that less mixing might occur in my own no dig garden.
I adamantly declare that my huge population of earthworms ensures this is not so and for me this is a very good thing (His own acid soil might reduce worm populations)

Readers might be aware that in some natural landscapes, especially in the USA, introduction of earthworms is a very bad thing. In such places native vegetation better survives in undisturbed unmixed soil.

A fascinating aspect of Peter’s explanation of decay is that it is not just a breakdown process but also one of building. Most raw compost ingredients as part of their complex journey becomes a bacteria, a fungus, an insect, an arthropod, a worm or whatever. Often several in turn.
I loved his Walter de la Mare quote about Miss T - everything she ate ‘turned into Miss T’ . He tells me that in his microbiology degree finals a complete paper asked him to explain the significance of the poem to the microbiologist. Oh for such subjectivity in education now rather than soulless unchallengeable objectivity

Peter correctly states that speed of decay is more rapid when the carbon/nitrogen ratio of the compost ingredients is low. Most gardeners including myself are in accord with the idea that adding nitrogen nutrient such as urine speeds decay.
I am somewhat embarrassed about this as I did a post based on very credible research that adding nitrogen fertiliser does NOT increase the speed of decay of compost ingredients such as strawy material which starts with a high carbon/nitrogen ratio ( - as opposed to getting a favourable ratio by mixing varied ingredients). Ah well you can’t win them all. No wonder we have so many gardening myths.

I have been burying newspaper for more than forty years
Peter mentions that the wide carbon/nitrogen ratio of paper and cardboard gives it an extremely low breakdown if added to a compost heap. I can certainly vouch for this and some of you will have read my post about burying reams of newspaper for long term water conservation. It hardly breaks down at all and a decade later you can still decipher the print. Be careful what you bury!

Geeky stuff

Pure pleasure
I confess to editing out Peter’s thoughtful theory about the ‘dark’ component of photosynthesis proceeding in his mowings - now quoted. His post was getting a bit long! I have not been unafraid to quote speculative stuff such as my friend Alan Warwick’s theory about how water gets to the top of very tall trees or my own sympathy with Eugene McCarthy’s suggestion that pigs might have a place in our very early ancestry. I find Peter’s hypothesis is pretty plausible. 

“Freshly mown grass cut in summer heats up surprisingly quickly and this has always intrigued me. If the grass box of even a small mower is not emptied, the temperature will rise to approximately 40 C in just a couple of hours. The same goes for grass cuttings tipped into a storage bay. The high temperature is only short lived and falls to the ambient air temperature in a day or so depending on the size of the pile. What I find intriguing is why the clippings heat so rapidly. Even accepting that the cut grass leaves will be coated in microbes, I would not expect decomposition or fermentation processes to occur so rapidly and almost without a lag phase. I have wondered whether this initial temperature rise is due, at least in part, to the ‘dark’ or enzymatic reactions of photosynthesis that must be occurring very rapidly in full light in summer. The temperature rise of stored, cut grass is noticeable lower in winter. This might simply be because the ambient temperature is lower or just perhaps, because in the dim (i.e. low intensity light), short days of winter, the ‘dark’ reactions of photosynthesis are progressing very slowly. Perhaps I will investigate this phenomenon as a small project. (As a preliminary experiment, I mowed an area of grass early this week (January) and deposited it in an empty bay. There has been a negligible temperature rise)”.

In Peter’s discussion about how he uses his compost he casts doubt about the water conservation reputation of mulching with compost. Although he works his away round to conceding that the overall effect of organic matter is to conserve water he casts doubt about the benefit of an ultimately dry layer of water absorptive stuff on the surface. In dry spells it keeps rainfall out - at least until roots grow into it, which when wet they surely will.

Even light showers filter through
I have long thought mulching is overrated for water conservation when the mulching material itself is water absorptive. I have written before how in contrast gravel, small stones or unsealed paving are superb for water conservation and repeatedly act like one way valves for water from even very light rainfall through long dry Summers."

Compost as an ingredient in compost!

I am sure this garden compost would make very fine potting compost
Apologies to our friends over the water. In English english compost has two meanings - that from a decayed heap and the stuff used as a mix!
A renowned USA scientific gardening blog professes that for reasons of hygiene the first should not be used to make the other! Absolute rubbish. (I mean the concept not the compost). Peter has no problems whatsoever with the wonderful stuff he mixes (although I did overlook he uses peat for his seed compost).
After all in Victorian times compost and compost were one and the same!

My own tomato compost is made up from homemade charcoal and soil 
If you have not read Peter’s clear thinking you must do so now. I do not propose to stop making my own seed and potting compost with my own sandy soil and often my homemade ‘charcoal’  and I will still attempt to recycle my garden debris in situ but I have suddenly become sensitive to Brenda’s constant complaint (and I am sure Peter’s private opinion) that my garden is scruffy

Those who have seen my huge herbaceous borders in Summer are shocked by the mulched debris in March
I have no problem with my buried newspaper having a wide carbon/nitrogen ratio. I don't want it to decay

If you missed Peter's article on hot composting go to it here

I was pleased about my article on nitrogen fertiliser failing to speed composting - even though it fell on deaf ears and my original source completely forgot he had ever mentioned it!

My own tour de force on mulching

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