Posts Tagged ‘Flower Garden’

I hope you don’t mind but I thought I’d share a few of my favourite pictures from last year which certainly restore my faith in this wonderful English climate.

Click the picture for a large version.

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

10 Pictures To Restore Your Faith In The English Weather

Best Wishes,


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Well it’s been quite a month at Blackbirds!

We’ve seen rain, hail, fog, mist and now we are basking in the most wonderful summer sunshine. It’s played havoc with the garden with the roses in a pretty poor state and the herbaceous borders beaten into submission, but nature has still provided for us.

We have a steady supply of tasty fresh produce which is pretty much down to all the rain we’ve had for the last few weeks, which of course we’ve been collecting in readiness for dry days ahead.

I’ve expanded my collection of water butts by using some redundant chemical barrels which my brother in law very kindly gave me, that otherwise be dumped in landfill, so I’m pretty pleased about that.

Cut flower garden update

With all the recent sunshine and warm weather it really has done me proud. I’m so pleased with the results and most definitely will be having another go next year.  To think this all came pretty much from a few packets of seed in the Spring.

The dahlias are definitely the success story, proud and majestic as they stand guard over the flower garden.

Dahlias like plenty of water so as well as regular watering try add a layer of mulch when the plants have established and they will repay your efforts a hundred times with the most beautiful looking flowers. Once established they require little maintenance other than some decent supports and regular dead heading.

To get the bigger blooms I nip out the two buds on each side of the main central bud leaving the larger one to develop.

This does two things. All the energy goes into to the one bud producing a larger flower, and the stems grow longer making for a really impressive cut flower.

My sweet peas were a bit slow to get started but now they appear to be making up for lost time.

I did experiment this year as I wanted to find out if there was any difference between sowing the seeds in October or the Spring. Have to say the results aren’t that conclusive. The October sowing have produced flowers much sooner than the Spring sowing, however the Spring plants appear stronger and I suspect will produce better flowers in the long run. I’ll know more next month which is typically the best month for sweet peas at Blackbirds.

Don’t think I’ll need those fruit boxes his year.

Not everything in the garden is a success this year. Unfortunately the fruit trees are looking a bit sorry. Last year we had a bumper crop of apples, pears and plums along with just about everyone else in the country, but we’ll be lucky to harvest a few apples, maybe a handful of plums and perhaps the odd pear.

I think it’s down to a wet and windy Spring as many of my fellow gardeners have told me similar stories.

Willow it ever grow?

Hmmm a bit disappointing to be honest with my willow.  I thought willow was a fast grower?

I’ve kept them watered and top dressed with a good layer of mulch, but the stems I planted back in the Spring seem to be taking for ever to grow away.

Also the leaves are looking a little yellow which suggest a shortage of magnesium which is probably down to my chalky soil. I’m not going to panic though as I’ll give them a light sprinkling of Epsom salts. (Magnesium in a box)

In a few weeks they should green up again and start to move, finger crossed

By the way if you plan to use epsom salts in your garden remember to keep it off the leaves if at all possible or the granules will likely scorch the plant, and always water thoroughly afterwards.

Every cloud has a silver lining

Even the grey ones that have plagued the British Isles for the last few months! Most of my vegetables have done really well, that is apart from my potato crop which has just been struck with blight. I didn’t panic as my dad always told me if your potatoes have blight simply cut off the tops and burn them. Then on a dry day dig up the potatoes and leave them on the surface for a day to dry off. Then store them in a large paper sack (I use the chicken feed bags) and leave in a dry cold place. Seems to work.

Blight is a fungal disease which is carried in the air, which makes it really difficult to control.  I’m thinking it’s probably down to the warm damp weather we had throughout May and June. Hasn’t put me off growing potatoes as I still managed a fairly decent crop of Charlotte.

It’s worth noting though Blight can also affect tomatoes as they are basically from the same family as the potatoe, so my advice is never grow your tomatoes in the proximity of your potatoes. I only know this as I planted a few spare tomato plants 3 yards from my potato crop as I couldn’t bear to throw them away, but as soon as the potatoes were hit, the tomatoes soon followed. 😦

How to avoid vegetable glut

Every year I grow too many veggies and end up throwing a fair few onto the compost heap, but this year I’m attacking it from two angles. I’m planning to have an honesty table at the end of the lane, and I’m having a go at successional sowing .

I sow every 4-6 weeks as a rule and it’s worked really well for me. I have carrots, Beetroot and turnips at various stages of development and I plan to harvest the first of my beetroot next week. The second sowing should be ready in about 4-6 weeks, so we should have lovely beets throughout August and September and possibly into October.

I also plan to sow a couple of rows in the polytunnel towards the end of August, by which time I’ll probably starting looking like a Beetroot.

August just around the corner … it’s party time in the polytunnel!

My cucumbers (all female) are cropping well and the tomatoes are looking like they will produce a fair crop this year. Cucumbers will always wilt a little in the heat because the huge leaves expire moisture really easily, so I try to keep cucumbers well watered while it’s so hot and keep the doors of the polytunnel open day and night.

I’m growing my most favourite tomato,  Gardeners Delight, along with a few new varieties.  I’ll post more info about my tomatoes when I’ve had a chance to taste them. Each year me and the family conduct our own tomato taste test to see if we like a particular tomato and decide if we’ll grow it again, but more on that later.

Tomatoes like warmth as well as sunlight, but at this time of the year the polytunnel can reach some pretty high temperatures which can scorch the plants. To get around this I douse the paths and beds with plenty of water. It brings the humidity up and the plants seem to thrive it.

I have a little gardening round!

A few weeks ago I started advertising gardening services in the local neighbourhood and to my delight I’ve had a favourable response from the locals. Nothing too ambitious I might add, just a few half days a week which is more than enough for little old me.

I got started by writing a few basic details on a plain post card and asked a few of the local shop keepers to put it up in their window which they very kindly agreed to do for a small donation. To my absolute delight the very next day I had an inquiry!  Admittedly it’s fairly basic stuff, cutting lawns, laying a few turfs, weeding a few borders, but I love it and my customers must appreciate it as they invited me back the following week.

That was back in May and since then I’ve been to several houses, so for a little bit of effort I’m now working on other peoples gardens which is a source of great pleasure, and I get to make a few extra pennies at the same time.

Looking outside the sun is starting to set so I will sign off for now and look forward to sharing more of my gardening experiences with you very soon. 🙂

With my very best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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How To Design And Build Your Own Cut Flower Garden

I’m in the process of creating my first cut flower garden which I’d like to share so anyone thinking of doing the same can follow along. So far  I’ve been growing all sorts of Summer Annuals, Lupins and  Delphiniums from seed and taking cuttings of Chrysanthemums and Dahlias.  In case you missed the first 2 parts the links are below.

Creating a cut flower garden Part 1 – Planning

Creating a cut flower garden Part 2 – Pricking out

Over the weekend I’ve been busy planting up the beds and it’s actually starting to look more like a cut flower garden every day.

The area I’m using was mostly weeds and rubbish and not really being used for much, so I thought I’d try and turn it into something rather more pleasing on the eye, and at the same time create some scent at the bottom of the garden.

Planting Plan

As this is my first attempt I don’t have any particular planting plan in min, but I do know I’d like it to look as natural as possible, and produce as many blooms as possible in the space I have available. I’m thinking sweeping drifts of colour, nothing to uniform, growing in small compact little beds. This way I can get close to the flowers from all 4 sides and get even closer to all that gorgeous scent! But before I can enjoy any of that there’s some hard work ahead.


A couple of weeks ago I prepared 6 beds approximately 3m x 3m and dug in plenty of well rotted compost. The clever little worms have now done their stuff and worked all that compost into the soil, so now it’s time for the fun bit!

Each bed will have a mixture of annuals grown from seed in the polytunnel and an array of standard cottage garden favorites. I’m using Chrysanthemums, Dahlias and Lupins as the framework plants along with mixed varieties of Sweet Peas to create some height. For those who are regular readers of my posts you’ll know where possible I like to use hazel poles in my garden. They make great supports and give the garden a really natural organic feel.

I like to use Hazel poles for my sweet peas for a more natural effect

Preparing the ground.

We garden on chalky soil in Hampshire which means we have to work in lot and lots of organic material, at the same time trying not to dig too deep so as not to turn up too stones and flints that his area is famous for.

I think we must have shifted at least a ton of flint and stones  since we started the garden 3 years ago. All of which we’ve tried to recycle around the plot, either as post ballast or foundations for the many paths in the garden.

Softwood cuttings

Spring is the perfect time of the year to take Dahlia and Chrysanthemum cuttings so if you’re also thinking of using them in your garden I have a few tips which should help improve your chances of success.

Young Chrysanthemum cuttings

Young Chrysanthemum cuttings

I’ve been taking a succession of cuttings since late March and they’ve grown into great little plants, and apart from a little compost they were free!

Success with cuttings can be a but hit or miss, but you can increase your chances of success significantly if you’re able to provide a few basic requirements. I’ve created several posts on how to easily take cuttings, so if you’re never tried before  I’d say they are definitely worth a read.

The key to success with softwood cuttings

Commercial growers provide a fine spray of water at least 15-20 times a day onto the plants and manage to achieve almost 100% success. Of course we can’t afford such a system and we’re not operating at that scale. You can buy modest little kits that do the same thing, but with a little effort and for a small investment you can make your own, and it costs a lot less than shop bought.

Rather than go into the details of a misting system now I’ll put together another post on how to be successful with softwood cuttings along with a set of plans for making your own misting system. I plan to make my own and if that goes ok we’ll produce a short video for the RG YouTube channel.

Last autumn when the dahlias finished flowering I dug them up and stored them in boxes overwintered in the polytunnel, with a little soil covering the tubers (roots) over winter. Pleased to say they survived and in April I tried my hand at taking a few cuttings.  I managed to get a few to root, but all round a pretty poor show to be honest.

Despite the lack of success with my dahlia cuttings I still have the original plants that I’m pleased to say have put on loads of healthy new growth. Dahlias grow to quite a size and do need staking. They also need lots of water throughout the season so I’ve prepared the planting holes with plenty of organic matter to help retain the moisture. I’ve also thrown in some wet straw for good measure. It will rot down eventually which will help with improving the quality of our soil.

Protect your dahlias

Slugs and snails like to eat your lovely green dahlia leaves, so you will need to guard against them. We’re lucky to have the chickens to keep our slug population under control, but the only snag is the chickens are also partial to dahlia leaves! So we have no option but to net them or they will eat the lot in one sitting.

I have to net my dahlias or the chickens will eat them in one sitting!

Dahlias grow into fairly large plants and have a tendency to block the light out from everything else around them. To avoid any problems later I’m growing the dahlias in a single plot on their own.

I have fond memories of growing dahlias as I used to enter the dahlia category at my local summer village show with my dad when I was in my early teens.


As well as the main stars of the show I’m filling in with annuals like Nigella (Love In A Mist), Cosmos, Calendula, and Brompton Stock. These are all what are typically called traditional cottage garden flowers, and they should provide plenty of cut flower material throughout the season and are really easy to sow and grow from seeds.  The seedlings I pricked out a few weeks ago have now grown into decent little plants so I planted them out over the weekend.

Newly Planted Cut Flower Garden At Blackbirds

The plants look a little sparse now but I’ve planted them with plenty of space so they have room to grow. In just a few weeks we should have quite a show, all being well. They will need to be kept watered over the next couple of weeks as the roots are fairly close to the surface and tend to dry out.

I’m planning on adding a few rose bushes into the mix, along with a few Delphiniums and Verbena, but they will have to wait until I have a few more penny’s.

Back soon,

Rural Gardener

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Planning Your Cut Flower Garden

How does the Meadow flower its bloom unfold? Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and in that freedom bold. – William Wordswort

Growing your own cut flowers

One of my many new years resolutions for the garden is to spend more time growing cut flowers. Every year I have grand plans to do bigger and better things but end up planting everything in the herbaceous borders as usual. They do just fine, but the downside is they never really get the care and attention they deserve, and are pretty much left to get on with it. Well, this year it’s going to be different as I’m planning to create a new cut flower garden at Blackbirds.

I consider myself very lucky to have plenty of space to indulge my favourite pastime, but you can also grow cut flowers in the smallest of spaces. In the past I’ve grown chrysanthemums, and sweet peas in pots. Just make sure you plant nice and deep in the pot and don’t let the roots dry out. Sweet Peas in particular hate to dry out, so my advice is to keep them well watered, or add moisture retaining gel to the compost.

How do I plan for a cut flower garden?

On large projects I like to design a little plan on paper first. I find it helps if you have an idea of what you’re trying to achieve before starting too much heavy lifting!  I also like to take a few photos of the space, and print them out so I can doodle a few ideas. I tend to print in black and white as it helps me to focus on the colours of the planting rather than the surrounding area.

The area I’m planning to use is in what we call the kitchen garden. One half is dedicated to growing vegetables and the other had the chickens on it until we moved them last year. So I have a sizeable piece of rough ground that is well manured (thanks to the chucks) that with some work should make a beautiful cut flower garden.

Plan to turn this into a gorgeous scented cut flower garden

Hard to believe now, but this will become a beautiful scented cut flower garden later this year.

On a separate note, it’s not recommend to keep chickens in the same place for too long, or they can develop problems with their feet, which in turn is passed around the rest of the flock.

When is the ideal time to start a cut flower garden?

As with most of my garden projects I find the best time is late winter or early Spring. The weather tends to be a little kinder to you, and the ground is a bit easier to work. Also a lot of the cut flower varieties like sweet peas and chrysanthemums grow through the Spring and early Summer flowering in the latter half of the summer when the sun is at its peak, so best to start the prep well in advance.

So I’m going to do all the ground work over the next few weeks and then start planting out in early April, Can’t wait!

I’ve been using the spare ground as a holding bed for various plants I’ve inherited from friends and family over the last 2 seasons, so they’re going to have to be moved before I can start planting.

Although there is nothing to stop you moving plants at anytime in the year now is a good time as it’s the dormant period and most plants are still hibernating, but in a few weeks they’ll start to put on new growth, so best to move them now.

Ideas for a layout

We went to visit the Eden Project last summer where they had the most amazing looking veg beds that looked like giant moon crescents. If you ever have an opportunity to visit the Eden project then I urge you to go. Along with the gardens at Heligan it’s one of the most inspirational places I’ve ever been.

For my cut flower garden I’m going to create 4 small beds in sort of parterre style, pretty much like the kitchen garden really. I’m going for a little symmetry to give this area of the garden a sense of balance.

Planning to turn this into a beautiful scented cut flower garden

I plan to create more flower beds so this whole area is filled with all sorts of scented varieties, if I can keep the girls off that is!

Inspiration for the layout came from Monty Don’s garden at Longmeadow, which is another of my favourites. Planning the garden around a series of rooms creates interest and encourages discovery. Hidcote in Oxfordshire is a another fine example of creating secret gardens within gardens, definitely worth a visit if your in the area.

What shall I plant in my new cut flower garden?

Well they say the start is everything, so now I’ve finally got around to making a start I guess I’m going to need to start thinking about what I’m going to plant. Apart from the usual suspects I’ve really no idea what to plant, so would really appreciate any suggestions.

My list so far …

Sweet Peas, Chrysanthemums, Dahlias, Bush Roses and night scented Stock.

Not much of a list as you can see.

Next time…
I’ll be putting the finishing touches to the beds and starting to prepare the ground ready for the plants. I should have my planting plan finished by then which I’ll share with everyone.

Best wishes


Take me to Part 2.

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Sweet Peas, the heady scent of summer

Sweet Peas, the heady scent of summer

Hi again.

Firstly thanks to everyone for your emails, it’s great to hear all about your garden stories and I promise I will respond to every one personally.

Well, it’s at this time of the year the sweet peas are at their finest. Whenever I need a lift  I just wander down to the cut flower bed and breathe in the most amazing scent as the sweet peas perfume wafts up my nose.  Just the most heavenly scent in the world, and all from a single packet of seeds. I always think there is something quintessentially English about the Sweet Pea.

I grow my sweet peas in my garden using both the cordon method, so I have some for flower vases in the houses, and I also grow a few over the trellis near the house, so friends and family can enjoy them when we get the barbecue out.

Growing Cordon Sweet Peas

I started the seeds off in January on my window sill, then I pricked them out into 3 1/2 inch pots when they were large enough to handle, ready for planting out in the flower beds in April.  When it comes to planting out I keep a few spare plants back, just in case of any non starters.

Sweet Peas grown 3 shoots to a plant, 2 plants to a cane

Our cordon grown Sweet Peas, grown 3 shoots to a plant, 2 plants to a cane

Growing sweet peas successfully is basically down to three things in my experience:

1. Good ground preparation.

2. Removing unnecessary growth so the plants can focus all its energy on producing flowers.

3. Regular watering, which can be reduced if you mulch after watering.

Everyone has their own method for growing sweet peas, but I’ve used the same method for years, and my dad before me.

I prepare a shallow trench, or large planting hole and back fill with a good mix of compost, well rotted manure and top soil.

Like most cut flower plants, try to get the plants off to a good start by protecting the young plants from the birds with a little netting, at least until they get established.  Then, when they are about 4 inches tall pinch out the very tip of the growing point in order to encourage the plant to throw out side shoots.  It’s entirely up to you, but I restrict these  side shoots to a maximum of 3, which I let grow on and up the canes.  I then tie these into the canes and remove any additional side shoots as they appear, along with the tentacles that grow at the end of the branches.

Pinch out the side shoots so all the plants energy goes into producing flowers

Pinch out the side shoots so all the plants energy goes into producing flowers

Sounds wasteful, but I also pinch out the first few flowers to give the plants a chance to build a strong root system, and a firm structure ready for all the hard work ahead.  Not sure if has any effect, but it seems to work.

After that all I do is keep them watered (Sweet Peas hate dry soil ) and occasionally give them a feed with tomato feed. Oh and another great tip I was once given is, keep cutting the flowers, as the more you cut, the more they grow!

What a plant, and it’s most definitely in my top 5 most favorite flowers.

If you have any gardening story’s you’d like to share, please do feel free to drop me a note to as I look forward to hearing from all the other keen gardeners around the globe.

Kindest regards,


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Scented Carnations

Scented Carnations growing in the cut flower garden at Blackbirds

One flower group we really love to grow in the garden are the Carnations.

It’s such a hardy group of plants and so versatile. We plant our carnations in the borders, in pots on the patio,  and in the cut flower garden so we have a steady supply of beautifully scented flowers for the house.

They seem to be happy in pretty much any soil from what I read, but fortunately they’re happy in the dry conditions at Blackbirds. There are literally hundreds of varieties, but I have been growing the same variety for the last 15 years which flowers mainly white, but does also send out a few blooms tinged with the most gorgeous pink.

Unfortunately over time I’ve lost the name of the variety, but what I do know  is they just keep on flowering,  right through from May to  October, and beyond (if we have a mild Autumn).

Producing Large Blooms

Providing you keep picking the flowers and regularly dead head, they will keep producing good size blooms.

Pinch out the smaller buds outside the main bud

Pinch out the smaller buds outside the main bud to produce large blooms

If you want the larger single stems of blooms that you typically see in the florists, you’re going to need to pinch out the two smaller buds on either side of the main flower bud. A bit of a fiddle but worth it in the end.

Propagating Carnations

Carnations and Pinks are really easy to propagate, and once rooted will live happily through the winter with just a little protection from the worst of our winter weather. They do suffer a little frost damage, but I always grow a few extra plants, just in case.

Simply pull off a few of the side shoots that grow around the base of the plant, preferably first thing in the morning. Strip away a few of the lower leaves to leave a clear piece of stem at the base of the cutting, approximately 2 inches  in length should do it.

Carnation plants grown from CuttingsI always dip my cuttings in an organic rooting compound to give them a fighting chance of success, then plant about 5 cuttings around the edge of a 3 inch pot. I use a basic mix of 50/50 John Innes number 3, mixed with sharp sand for my cuttings.

Water them in well and place them on a sunny window sill or in a cold frame, and in around 4-6 weeks they will have rooted, and will be ready to be potted on. I use John Innes number 2 as a base into which I add a few handfuls of sharp sand. The John Innes provides just enough nutrient until it’s time to plant out.

Above all provide good drainage as they hate sitting in wet soil.

Planting out

I prepare the ground with a little extra general garden compost and at the same time work in a few good handfuls of sharp sand.  For maximum effect I tend to plant out in groups of 3, 5 and 7 in a diamond shape. Not sure why, but the odd numbers always seem to produce a great show.

So, next time you’re thinking about what to plant in your borders, or looking for something different to fill your patio pots, do give Carnations a thought. They will repay you many times over, and of course there is always the gorgeous heady scent, a much needed tonic when you return indoors after a busy day in the garden.

Best wishes,

Rural Gardener

Best Wishes, Tania.

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Clematis Montana and Russian Vine

I’ve been shopping today …

I’ve been shopping for climbing plants to screen the nasty plastic oil tank out the front of the house. As per usual I couldn’t resist adding a couple more gems to the trolley! 🙂

I’ve always been a sucker for Clematis, or Clematis Vine as they are sometimes known, and it’s right about now I like to plant mine.

What I love about them is they are so reliable, and providing you prune them effectively, and feed them from time to time, they will reward you handsomely with all manner of  beautiful flowers.

I’ve had a fair amount of success in the past with most of the clematis plant family, Montana, Evergreen Armandii and the larger more familiar varieties.


I like to prepare a large deep hole about 3 times the size of the root ball, and prepare the ground with well rotted compost and a sprinkling of Fish Blood and Bone organic fertiliser.  The other important thing I’ve learned about growing Clematis successfully is to keep the roots cool and never let them dry out.

I tend to plant about 4 – 6 inches deeper than the top of the pot as it helps to stop the plant rocking in the wind and damaging the delicate stems. It also encourages the plant to put out a strong root system.  Finally I cover the surface of the soil with pea shingle and a couple of large stones to keep direct sunlight off the soil.


I don’t get too technical when it comes to pruning my clematis.  I give the plant a general tidy up in the Spring, removing dead or diseased branches, and then cut each stem back to approx 2 feet from the base. I give each plant a handful of bone meal and fork it into the surface, before giving the plant a good  water.  I prefer to use rainwater if I can as the water in Hampshire can be a bit hard due to the amount  of chalk in the landscape.
Russian Vine (Mile a Minute)To cover the oil tank I’ve gone for a Russian vine, otherwise known as ‘Mile a Minute’, on account of how fast it can spread. I’ve grown them in the past and they really do the trick…if you want to cover something in a hurry that is. They don’t mind being hacked back either so if (when) it gets out of hand I’ll tame it with my trusty shears!

The other 2 climbers I bought are both Clematis Montana’s. They are both fairly quick growing and are among the first of the clematis to flower, which is a bonus in
early summer. The first, ‘Pink Perfection’, will grow to a spread of  8m x 8m and has the most gorgeous pink scented flowers. The second is ‘Sunrise’, which is not so fast growing and reaches a maximum size of 5m x 5m.

They’re both going on the trellis between Blackbirds and my neighbors property, which should cover it just fine. I like to share my plants with my neighbours if I can, this way we can both enjoy the flowers and benefit from a little additional shelter (not to mention privacy).

Trellis just crying out for a Clematis Montana

Trellis just crying out for a Clematis Montana

Update – 12 June 2012

15 months later and the clematis have all established themselves and are providing the screen we were looking for. Just goes to show if you provide the right growing environment your plants should flourish.

Click to enlarge

… and the most gorgeous flowers!

Click to enlarge



Best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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