2011 Month by Month

December 2011

It’s this time of year we are told to tidy up the garden. Cut back the dead flower heads and so on. However they provide winter protection to insects, both desired and undesirable. The dead flower heads provide food for seed eaters. This year I decided to leave everything, michaelmas daisies, nigella, hollyhocks and cosmos mostly. And this month, I’ve noticed several times pairs of goldfinches eating the michaelmas daisy seeds and the cosmos flower seedheads.

Goldfinches on cosmos seed heads in December

Goldfinches on cosmos seed heads in December

This has convinced me that tidying up is not a great idea and next year everything will be left for the birds.


22 November 2011

Finally a frost sufficiently hard to kill off the dahlia flowers. I cut them down to ground level and covered with about 6 inches of compost – an experiment to see if they survive the winter.

Dahlias still going strong 18 November 2011

Dahlias still going strong 18 November 2011

Still several plants flowering 18 November.

October 2011

13 October, everything still flowering, wondering whether 21st will be the same day we had a really hard frost in 2010.

September 2011

XXXL dahlias from Thompson & Morgan are receiving lots of complimentary remarks. Pity they don’t have anything for the bees. Intend to move the penstemons closer together. Another job for this month is to put in the tulips.

21 August 2011

Gerbera being overgrown by a rampant hollyhock August 2011

Gerbera being overgrown by a rampant hollyhock August 2011

A hollyhock has appeared unexpectedly where I planted the pretty orange hardy gerbera so there will be some digging up next month and planting next to the wall. I have several other hollyhocks grown from seed that are said to be rust resistant so they can all go together.

20 August 2011

Gerbera under attack 21 August 2011

Gerbera under attack 21 August 2011

One of the hardy gerberas has been attacked and as there seem to be no signs of regrowth it will probably be dug up soon.

Large dahlias T&M XXXL 20 August 2011

Large dahlias T&M XXXL 20 August 2011

The large dahlias are now well established and blooming strongly.

15 August 2011

I found slugs, large ones, climbing the dahlias and have a solution for removing them. Use rubber gloves like those the forensic personnel on crime scenes use – they give a sensitive touch, are lightweight, and I can pick up slugs and squash cabbage white eggs without feeling too sick! I used them to earth up the leeks with compost by hand, easier than using a spade or trowel. The robin kept me company and I forgot my aching back.

Our first step in urban greening – I planted the thyme seedlings, sown in 28 May, in the central gravel area of the car standing. It will be interesting to see how the plants develop in such an impoverished growing environment.

Gravel area to be planted with thyme seedlings

Gravel area to be planted with thyme seedlings

Our first step in urban greening – I planted the thyme seedlings, sown in 28 May, in the central gravel area of the car standing. It will be interesting to see how the plants develop in such an impoverished growing environment. Here’s a picture taken today before the seedlings were put in. I’d include the picture showing the planted seedlings but really they are hardly visible. Will take an image once they have grown.

The hardy gerberas plug plants have grown well although not many flowers per plant. I can only find four out of the five I planted, I think one has been overgrown by the large dahlias.

From experience plants seem to be able cope with this, I’ll make sure anything overpowering the plant will be sorted at the end of the season.

Hardy gerbera pale yellow

Hardy gerbera

The Gladioli has grown to more than 5 ft, now that’s a bit extreme … I will look for some that grow a little shorter for next year. One or two nasturtiums have appeared, much to John’s dismay. He really hates it when they attract the blackfly, although at the moment none are to be seen. I’ve transplanted them to the back garden.

Watering from water butt

Watering from water butt

Everything is really showing the positive effects of the extra rain water. I’m emptying the water butts regularly, whether or not the ground seems to need it. As long as I don’t flood the flowerbeds I think it will work well. Certainly the plants next to the front wall are growing and looking very robust whereas before they were very weak and weedy.

So was the rain diversion experiment a success? It took a long time to plan and we had to adjust things as the system was created, but all in all it has been worth it. I still have to adjust one or two things – an extra tap needed at the back, and I won’t be diverting the bath water via the seeper hose. It just takes too long and doesn’t flow easily. I’ll pump it out using a hose. I have added a tap to the end of the hose so I can start/stop it when and where I want.

6 August 2011

Drumstick Primula, grown from Thompson & Morgan seed

Drumstick Primula, grown from Thompson & Morgan seed

The plant showing the most progress since the watering has increased is the Drumstick Primula. It has an attractive delicate flower and I’m pleased it has taken off. Growing anything from seed that does well is always heartwarming.

4 August 2011

Rained yesterday and today. Used rain butt water to wash car … the butt filled up again later with the rain. Felt exceptionally worthy! Bath water went onto those plants nearest the house that always suffer from lack of moisture. Rain was diverted from the roof as well. Hoping the ground will be sufficiently moist for the next few weeks.

2 August 2011

Used all the rain water from the butt as it seems we are due for some rain tomorrow. Might as well get as much as I can.

Pulled up some foxgloves, marigolds and poppies to make way for more green/white aquilegia. Tied up the gladioli which is in the wrong place – it is bright orange/red and it’s next to a blue red dahlia, I think they clash so will move it next year.

Seed heads from the massive limes in vicarage garden are everywhere so I’ve used them as a mulch on the garden.

29 July 2011

Bressingham Azure Rush geranium

Bressingham Azure Rush geranium

Removed the poor flowering pink violet and replaced with the Bressingham Azure Rush which hugs the ground and won’t take over as much space as the other geraniums.

28 July 2011

My visit to Thompson & Morgan for a press event was very interesting. We heard of 33 new plants they have introduced and had a look at the plants in situ. There were some I really really want for the front garden … we were given enough packets of the new plants to try them out next year*. The seeds themselves will be available on the Thompson & Morgan website by September.

*I have duplicate packets of seeds from the day and if you would like a packet just send a stamped addressed envelope with either veg or flower on the back and I will send a packet or two. Address: Our Front Garden, 50 Parkway, Welwyn Garden City, Herts AL8 6HH. First come first served!

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

Two plants we were given were the Verbascum Blue Lagoon and Clementine a gold flower.

Verbascum Clementine

Verbascum Clementine

They will look absolutely gorgeous next to one another. They spread about 12 inches and grow about 30 inches tall. They can go in the place I used for the delphiniums that were so cruelly eaten by slugs.

We were also given a massive dahlia, named XXXL, I have planted it already and wonder how it will get on. I will take photos as soon as flowers appear.

Moonflower dahlia Very poor growth

Moonflower dahlia Very poor growth

I hope it will do much better than those I bought in May which have not done very well at all. I guess the weather is the culprit but after the two previous hugely successful years it is disappointing to see them languish. Do I dig them up, or leave them. I’ve left them for the time being but might put something in their place soon. At this time of year it’s difficult to fill big spaces. Next year I could grow some plants specially for this eventuality … possibly cosmos in pots.

22 July 2011

Am having to buy another 30 metres of seeper hose to use in the back garden. It’s amazing how much I seem to need. I bought a watering system years ago but never used it and am hoping I can link it up to my new system and water the patio pots, which would be extremely useful as my current very unreliable watering procedure does them no good at all.

20 July 2011

Am gradually removing the second year foxgloves and replacing with poppies. Now the plants are getting double rations of rain they are beginning to grow and expand. May have to contemplate dividing some plants in the autumn as a result!

19 July 2011

The watering system for the front garden using rain from the roof has been rejigged and we can now run off the bath water more easily than before.

One aspect of using the rain water was forgotten – a build up of small black bits in the piping after just two days was a surprise. So we have now added a nylon netting filter at ground level. I als0 forgot we needed an inlet for water from the water butt, remedied in a trice with a T joint.

In the back garden the watering system is somewhat more ad hoc, designed on the hoof. The result is an interesting mix of garden hose and seeper hose, T joints, elbow joints, end stops, and channels dug under paving stones and a very tiring job it was too. Lots of stops for cups of coffee and reflection – always a good idea when the hose fights with me like a rearing snake, the brambles go through my gloves and I can’t get the paving slabs back as they were. But then a tame robin comes and serenades me in the hedge and hops around looking for the goodies I have disturbed and all the angst is forgotten.

5 July 2011

The Papaver Summer Breeze poppies are being attacked by slugs, so I’m afraid some slug grains have had to be sprinkled around the surviving plants. The slug pellets I use are based on ferric phosphate and used correctly do not pose a threat to children and pets. The slugs seem to hide away once they have ingested the pellets and I can only hope hedgehogs, frogs and birds don’t find them. I must investigate this.

The pansies are beginning to flower, one is yellow, others are orange, should all be orange ….

The dahlias are really not doing well at all, weak, small flowers, attacked by bugs and slugs

25 June 2011

Poppies all needed slug pellets – I had forgotten to do that before I planted them out and three were grazed down to the ground.

Overall plants are at last beginning to make good growth although the dahlias are not really doing very well at all. Must not put them in so early next year perhaps.

The pansies I put in two weeks ago have been ravaged by something that leaves holes in the leaves. No sign of any flowers yet.

Papaver Summer Breeze

Papaver Summer Breeze

I finally planted some of my favourite poppies Papaver Summer Breeze*. They had grown good root systems in the multi seed trays bought at B&Q – I’ll use them in future instead of open trays to avoid transplant shock.  I didn’t really hold out much hope of success initially, they were so tiny, so I’ve been very pleased with the germination rate.

Orientalis Poppy - Fruit Punch

Orientalis Poppy - Fruit Punch

The same goes for the other poppies, Orientalis, Fruit Punch*, that will grow to between 2.5 and 3 ft. As I’ve never grown these before I’m going to grow half of them in large pots and plant them out next year and the rest direct into the garden this summer in case they suffer from unexpected problems like slugs, or bugs.

31 May 2011
At last I am reusing the bath water via a pump connected to a seeper hose.

I found the seeper hose very difficult to stop kinking. It’s made from recycled rubber tyres and is very stiff. I had to unwind it and lay it flat on the path before I could lay it down on the garden, really needed someone else to help me but I managed.

Once the flow started, using the Water Green pump I purchased from The Organic Gardening Catalogue, the hose looked as if it was sweating. It took at least 45 minutes to reach the end of the hose which is about 30 metres long. I laid it so it switches back twice and is said to reach 30 centimetres either side of itself so it should water the whole of the garden. Although it takes up to 4 hours to empty the bath it is so much easier than using a hose and much more efficient as it is targetting a specific area and reusing the bath water.

29 May 2011
Finally planted the three Moonfire dahlias, had to remove a couple of rather stunted foxgloves to make space. Each dahlia had a litre of water using the milk containers with the Supa Drippa taps, so they should be ok for a week.

Received some two year old manure from friends that will be spread liberally over the front and back garden asap.

28 May 2011
Nothing is really making much growth due to the drought. There are far more brown areas than I would expect at this time of year.

General view, still too much brown though

However, the targetted watering is working well and everything has survived so far. Putting in the cosmos gives me three more watering sites to add to the list, but I love them so the effort will be worth it. My seedling cosmos are too leggy to go out yet, wonder if they will ever be ready!

The everlasting sweet peas are eager to leave their pots so I’ll plant them this weekend. I’ll have to decide where to put the three Moonfire dahlias, difficult to decide because as soon as rain has soaked the soil the plants will all get active and there will be fights for space. I may have to remove some of the foxgloves which can go into the back garden.

Early May

Most of the wallflowers have been cut right back. One of the geraniums has been moved to the back garden, it’s a very leggy plant and I’ll replace it with a more compact plant from Bressingham Blooms. Five Forever Daisy Gerberas plug plants from Thompson & Morgan have been planted. The Bergenis have been deheaded, they are so useful for providing colour in early spring and the large leaves have a strong character.

The tree peony has grown apace and I’m hoping there will be a bloom or two this year.

I’m in the process of pruning the cotoneaster horizontalis. I discovered this plant is on the  non-native invasive list – see the PlantLife website, so  I’ve decided to ring the trunk to kill it but leave the framework to support a white everlasting sweetpea. Well that’s the plan.

I’m waiting for the pansies to mature and the Victorian lobelia to arrive to use as edging. Wish we had some rain, would make a big difference. The thick mulch has kept the earth damp and most of the plants are holding their own.

Late April 2011

Well, the dahlias have taken a hit from the very cold nights and one has badly burned leaves.  At least they survived. Interestingly a dahlia I omitted to dig up, near the house wall, has survived and is growing well. Won’t know which variety until it flowers as the label has disappeared. I’ll wait for a few weeks before putting out the other dahlias.

April 23, 2011
Have taken a chance and planted out three dahlia plants, all Preston Park, that grew so well last year. Sadly the tubers I dried and dusted with yellow sulphur last October were forgotten and when I opened the box this spring they were all rotten – one even had a resident very large slug! I couldn’t have dried the tubers out well enough. I’ll try again this year, but don’t have much confidence. Anyway I bought new rooted cuttings this year of Preston Park and Moonfire, the two most successful plants we had last year. Next year I’m going to grow from seed, to save money, just for the challenge! which means lots of different ones to try.

Everything is looking ok, the thick mulch makes such a difference, it conserves moisture very effectively, I haven’t had to water anything other than the dahlias when I put them in.

I have five gerbera to plant out but am not sure of the flower colour of each plant. Until I find out they will have to stay under glass. I don’t want to have clashing colours.

April 19, 2011
David Austin’s english roses are the very epitome of an English country garden, a gardening style so many strive for. But David Austin’s roses fit in most places and we have planted a climbing rose by our front door.

We chose Malvern Hills, a small double flower, yellow to cream. It should contrast well with the orange bricks.

It is important to erect a sturdy trellis if you are training your rose up a wall, with space behind it to allow for tying in.

The Austin roses are ideal for flower arrangements, luscious and wonderful pastel colours, they really are reminiscent of the old Dutch Masters’ paintings. And the scent! Again you can choose from wonderfully rich fragrances, it took us ages to make our choice from the 800 available.

The English Roses written by David Austin contains chapters on each of the major rose sections with full description of each variety and additional chapters on using roses in the garden and their cultivation. Lavishly illustrated with colour photographs that show individual varieties and roses in garden situations. This really is an excellent book designed for both enthusiast and well as beginners.

Details of a Gift Pack, gift vouchers and all about their roses on www.davidaustinroses.com.

April 18, 2011

Everything is looking good even though we have had no rain for so long. The colour contrasts that work well are the dark red tulips and the cowslips, white hellebore that are now green and bronze heuchera, red tulips and the blue muscari.

The Thompson & Morgan wallflowers Orange Bedder that I grew from seed last year are doing really well. They give great blobs of colour in areas that would otherwise be bare while waiting for the dahlias to go in once all danger of frost is over. At £1.69 for a packet of 230 seeds its a real bargain – they are easy to grow too.

My next job is to work out a way of watering the garden using rain water and a seeper hose. At the moment I use the bath water but would really like a more streamlined method.

April 1, 2011
The magnolia stellata is still blooming and sending a heady scent out so when we open the front door we get wonderful wafts of perfume. We have had a lot of admiring remarks.

The snowdrops we ordered from Tweedbank Bulbs arrived and are now planted underneath the magnolia to give the bare earth some interest in early spring. We dug the holes, put in some grit and compost and covered them up with the existing soil which is a bit claggy. The three white lupins we bought from B&Q – £2.99 each, were planted with a liberal dressing of slug deterrent. Hope it works, last year all the delphiniums were eaten by slugs despite the deterrent, so we are not hopeful but optimistic!

We tidied up generally removing some forget me nots, an ailing hellebore and pulling up some straggly wallflowers. We’ll soon have to look at the dahlias stored in the garage and think about which ones to keep and where to plant them.

March 25, 2011

Magnolia stellata

The magnolia stellata is in fully bloom and its strong scent is noticeable as you pass by.

A couple of tulips are out and more are imminent. We love tulips and want to add more for next year.


March 17, 2011

Of the three hellebore plants planted two years ago one is growing well with the most beautiful white blooms.

Hellebore niger

Because hellebores are a very important pollen and nectar source in early spring bees and other pollinating insects are attracted to them in large numbers. Cross pollination occurs and the resulting seed can often produce really unappealing colours, from a dirty grey  to a dirty green. So the best plan for propagation is to split the plants.

Looking up how to do that on the web it seems that dividing the plants once the flowers have been pollinated is the best time. However as our plant has only been in the ground for two years we’ll not divide it for another year or two. Maybe we’ll look for another plant/s in the meantime. The other point to consider is to remove the seed pods before they ripen so you avoid any unwanted plants from germinating. Some people like to sow some of the seed just to discover what cross they do get, sometimes with interesting results. It is of course possible to purchase seed and/or buy plants from growers. We might just get some seed – Thompson and Morgan are selling 40 seeds for 66p! Or some bare root plants at £9.99 for 5 plants.

Some of the buds on the magnolia stellata were encouraged to emerge in the recent warm day/s. Now we’re fearful of a hard frost damaging them – you can see some flowers were caught lightly a few days ago. I think it was 2005 when the whole tree was frosted one night and it was heartbreaking to see next day the glorious display of blossom all tinged with brown. So we will just have to keep our fingers crossed, or make the decision to put a covering on if we get a forecast of frost.

February 27, 2011
Today the sun came out and suddenly the little Tete a tete were nodding their yellow heads in the gusty wind. What a contrast to last week!

Tete a Tete


The hellebore flowers are more visible and make me wish we had planted more.

Last November we gathered leaves from all directions, including a local park! and spread them over both the front and back gardens. They provide protection from frost and give the worms lots of work to do, by so doing giving the soil nutrition and lightness.

February 22, 2011
Adding a Wow Factor!

Our front garden has a most ad hoc group of plants with no semblance of tidiness or order. Although in my defence I have to say there is an element of careful selection! Up to now bedding plants haven’t played a part in the scheme of things.

However, just what do you think this plant is?

Lobelia Kathleen Mallard

It is Lobelia erinus ‘Kathleen Mallard’, an old fashioned double rosebud flower grown by the Victorians, ideal for hanging baskets, window boxes, patio containers and front bedding as it has a close knit habit and forms a perfect ball. Its height and spread is 15cm/6 inches. I fell in love with it instantly, picturing it sitting on the outside edge of the front garden.

We reckon this plant will be very popular, it is so beautiful.  Should add quite a wow factor! We’re impressed, so much so we are ordering ten plants for bedding and another ten for our hanging baskets and bedding in the back garden from Thompson & Morgan who are offering them at a really good price.

Suitable for sun or semi shade 5 jumbo plugs cost of £3.49, or 10 jumbo plugs £5.99 and will be despatched by end of April 2011.

To order some now go to the Thompson & Morgan website where you will find all the growing and other information you may need. It’s not a difficult plant to grow.


Lobelia erinus ‘Kathleen Mallard’

We have FIVE Thompson & Morgan sets of 10 jumbo plugs to give away to In Balance readers. To enter the draw send an email with Kathleen Mallard in the subject box to: editorinbalance@me.com with all your contact details by latest 31 March 2011.  We do not pass on your details to any third parties. The draw is conducted by computer selection.

February 1, 2011
A short sortie into the countryside showed plants are on the move!

Eranthis, winter aconite
Eranthis, winter aconite

Eranthis, a member of the buttercup family, known as winter aconite, were well out in a friend’s garden.

I rather like them and will get some for next year. They are available from Thompson & Morgan, my favourite plant and seed supplier.

The catkins were shaking their tails in the wind


and the snowdrops are more advanced than a couple of weeks ago.


Couldn’t resist clearing leaves away from the hellebore to look for flower buds and sure enough there were lots.

Hellebore flower buds in January

Hellebore flower buds in January

Something is nibbling them, but not badly, wonder what that might be.

A few straggly anemones have some flower buds, again rather nibbled.

Tulips through in January

Tulips through in January

The bluebells are through as are clumps of tulips.

Roll on spring!

About Val Reynolds

I publish In Balance Magazine and www.ourfrontgarden.com Contributions from other writers give breadth and insights to the magazine You can contact me at editorinbalance@me.com
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