Buttercups, daisies and other treasures

I love my back lawn! It looks particularly beautiful at the moment when the buttercups and daisies are shining in the sun. The flowers are a welcome bit of colour on dull days too. This afternoon I did a very quick audit of the plants that live in my lawns and found:

Buttercups (back garden only)
Lesser yellow trefoil (lots of this)
English Plantain (many more in front garden than back)
Creeping oxalis
Geum (back garden only)
Dog’s mercury
Thistle (back garden only)
Field chickweed (back garden only)
Liverwort (back garden only)
Forget-me-not (self-seeded from garden plants, back garden only)
Viola (self-seeded from garden plants, back garden only)
Various grasses
White clover (front garden only)
Self heal (front garden only)
Bittercress (front garden only)
Mind your own business (front garden only)
Common mallow (front garden only)

It was a very unscientific survey done while I drank a mug of tea – I’m not good at just sitting doing nothing. I know there are other things lurking such as birds-eye speedwell and scarlet pimpernel, but I didn’t actually spot either today. I was quite surprised by the differences between front and back lawns. I assume the different aspects account for some variations, but still it’s curious that there are so many things that only appear in one or the other.

What plants live in your lawn?


Mizuna flowers

I’ve been growing mizuna as a leaf crop for some years now. In the past I just sighed and sowed another batch when the plants started to bolt, which happens quite quickly in hot weather. But last week some impulse made me decide to nip out the flower shoots to see if I could keep the leaves going a bit longer. And a further impulse made me pop one of the shoots into my mouth just to see what it tasted like…

Then I had to kick myself for all the years I’d just written the plants off as soon as they flowered, because the flower buds are LUSH! And, even better, having nipped out the leading flower shoot, the plants are now producing lots of delicious side shoots, so they’ll be productive for a lot longer. I will make another sowing, but it’s good to know that I’ll be able to keep on harvesting tender young flower shoots until the new batch is ready.

Mizuna a very easy to grow cut-and-come-again Japanese mustard green. Like rocket, it is relatively unattractive to the wretched molluscs which usually devastate any lettuce I try to grow. With successional sowings it has a long season outdoors here in the south of England and would probably grow year-round in a polytunnel. I primarily use mizuna raw in salads, but it’s also good in stir-fries and soup.

I buy mizuna seed from the Organic Gardening Catalogue.

Garden news

The aquilegias that I grew from home-harvested seed last year are in flower! They are mostly pretty pastel variations on the parent plant’s dusky pink blooms, but I like this rich deep blue one best.

Although we’ve had some spells of sunshine, the weather continues to be quite chilly and I’m glad I was late in starting my courgette and runner bean seeds. They’ve popped up through the compost now and will hopefully be ready to plant out by the end of the month. I’m already putting them outdoors during the warmest part of the day, so they won’t need a long period of hardening off.

The garden is looking very lush with spring growth now, the rain has been good for that at least, and we haven’t had any frost lately (as far as I’m aware). There are flowers on the strawberries, blackcurrants and loganberries and buds on the raspberries. I’m picking chickweed, rocket and mizuna to eat, have a potentially decent crop of coriander leaves to come (my first success with this!) and my saved parsley seed is germinating well. I’ve eaten my first crop of radishes and planted some more. I’ve earthed up the spuds twice and they’re due for another top-up soon, though it won’t really matter if I don’t get around to it.

I still need to repot some of my fig cuttings and to give as many of them away as possible. I’ve agreed to keep the ones for the community garden for a while, but I want to reduce my watering commitments as much as I can.

I set myself a New Year resolution of only having ten pots to water this year and have failed dismally on that front. I now have more pots than when I set the goal. Oh well, I’m doing better with other resolutions! I’ll plant out the bulbs that are currently in pots and few other potted plants will be axed once they have flowered (things that are pot-bound, not doing very well and too big to repot easily). That and rehoming various things will reduce the total pot-count eventually.

I also need to rip out a lot of forget-me-not plants BEFORE they go to seed. They are very pretty at this time of year, but rather invasive. And last, but not least, I need to keep applying weedkiller (carefully and selectively) to the blasted bindweed – I let it get out of hand last year and I must be more ruthless with it this year .

It’s frustrating having to limit what I do in any one gardening session, but little and not too often achieves more in the long run than a long stint that flattens me for days.

Nature table

It was yet another a wet and stormy day at the end of the wettest April I can remember. I felt ill and weak and sick and tired of wind and rain. A boring bedrest day of deep melancholia. But late in the afternoon the skies cleared, the wind dropped and the sun came out. I opened the back door to feel the unfamiliar warmth and survey the wind damage.

In the grass near the back door I spied a piece of bright yellow lichen washed off the roof by the torrential rain. I thought of my version of The Quince Tree’s multitude of small delights and decided it was time to make another collection. Slowly and carefully because of my throbbing head and feeble energy, I took a walk round the garden collecting colourful small delights to arrange on my nature table by the back door.

Just half an hour of gentle focused activity transformed a miserable lost-to-illness day into one with a small, but intensely happy memory of achieving something creative. The wind and rain returned that night and wrecked my careful arrangement, but that’s OK – what is really important is the process of doing, not the end result.

The pictures don’t begin to convey the sheer pleasure I experienced that afternoon, so, if you haven’t wandered round your garden collecting “treasures” recently, please, do make time to create your own nature table (or whatever you like to call it) soon…

Bees in the wall

I was sitting in the sun planting primulas in a pot last April when I heard a cheeping sound nearby. A baby bird? Where? It sounded just like a peeping nestling, but eventually I realised that the noise was coming from the wall! It was a bee! Cheeping! And apparently digging a hole in the mortar! On the ground under the hole was a good teaspoonful of fresh mortar dust.

Naturally my interest was piqued so I popped indoors to consult my friend Google and deduced that it was a mason bee. The Wiki entry for mason bees says that they don’t excavate their nests, but the bees that occupied the hole in the picture this year and last have most definitely have deepened the hole and pushed the crumbled mortar out onto the step below. Once I started watching the bees I realised that there were perhaps half a dozen of them busy nearby.

It’s a great pleasure and privilege to be able to observe a wild creature at close quarters and I’m grateful that my neighbours are happy to share their home with bees. Sadly this year there have been fewer bees than last – at least one fell prey to a spider which built it’s sticky trap under the neighbour’s meter box. T destroyed the spider’s web when he saw a bee trapped in it, but who knows how many more of our lovely black bees the spider ate?

I tried really hard to catch a snap of the bee as she came out of the hole, but what you see above is the best I managed. It got a bit tiring standing in the hot sun with the camera poised, watching and listening for the sign that she was about to fly out. I mostly hit the shutter fractionally too late, but sometimes I was too quick. This is my best shot and you can just see that it’s a bee emerging from a hole in a wall. Can’t you?

The hole is several inches deep – I shone a torch in to get a good look. On one occasion I could see the gleaming lining of pollen and nectar. When the bee had finished laying her eggs she neatly walled them up with a mixture of tiny bits of leaf debris and mud. It was fascinating to see the bee nipping off bits of dried leaf and flying back to the nest with them. While I was watching she always flew out of the hole towards the north, whether this was because of some kind of instinct or because I was standing to the south I don’t know.

Thanks to Hunter’s Mason Bees for this useful article about the lifecycle of mason bees. Does anyone have bees in their walls? Or experience of using a manufactured bee box for solitary bees? I wonder if they actually get used or are just a gimmick for the gullible…

Fig tree cuttings – a success story

Aren’t they looking good? These three were started off indoors last October and are well ahead of the outdoor cuttings I set at the same time. I started hardening them off last week and eventually they will stay outdoors all year round.

The outdoor cuttings have also started to sprout and it looks as though I’ll end up with at least eight young fig trees. Two or three will go to the community garden and one into my own garden. I’ll be giving the rest away to neighbours in the hope of reinvigorating the local fig growing tradition. I may even do some guerilla planting in suitable corners of public land so people can forage the fruit in future years. The more food we grow locally, the better in my opinion.

The parent trees are in the Tarring Fig Garden which date back to around 1745, if not earlier, and were once quite a tourist attraction with a tea room for visitors. Sadly most of the fig garden was lost to new housing in the last century, but the few remaining trees are protected and can be visited by the public once a year.

I thought it would make a nice link between past and present to have some descendents of the original Tarring figs in the new community garden. The current owners agreed and kindly gave me the cuttings. Having successfully produced more young trees than I need, I’ve expanded my ambitions and hope to encourage more people to grow a fig tree or two.

I haven’t actually grown any figs of my own yet, but I have a small tree in a pot that my brother gave me at Christmas and that will hopefully provide me with my first crop this year. It already has a number of fruit buds, so fingers crossed for clement weather!

Spring visitor

As Colour it Green says the weather at this time of year is a bit of a battle between winter and summer. We’ve had a lot of amazingly warm foretaste-of-summer days in my part of southern England this March. The warmth has brought welcome visitors to the garden and clothed early flowering shrubs and trees with blossom.

Blue skies, blossom and sunshine lift winter- weary spirits, but with a drought and hosepipe ban in view, wet days are welcome too. At the moment my garden soil is in wonderfully workable condition and bit by bit I’m getting things tidied up ready for spring planting. The bigger of the two raised beds is almost finished – I just need to feed the raspberry canes with a dressing of blood, fish and bonemeal and apply a nice thick mulch of grass clippings.

The second raised bed needs a final clearance, then I’ll pop some radishes in the space the courgette plant will occupy later in the season, with a few sprouted supermarket Charlotte spuds to fill up the spare corners. Runner beans will go in a large container and I’ll also have a few pots with herbs and saladings, but I’m transferring as many potted shrubs as I can into the garden to reduce the amount of watering I have to do in the summer.