I hadn’t really thought about a New Year’s resolution for 2021, apart from the one that most of us have in the forefront of our minds at the moment: test negative, stay positive. (Sent to me in a Christmas card by a friend). But as we get closer to the end of January, to move forward into the year without one seems a bit neglectful.
I was therefore interested to read about the drive to encourage people to save seed and to encourage seed saving communities to develop. One of the few upsides of the lockdowns over the past year has been a huge boost in demand for seed. The argument is that this “grow your own” revolution re-diversifies seed crops and provides more security for not only our seed supplies, but food in general.
Josie Cowgill, one of the women who works with the Stroud Community Seed Bank in Gloucestershire sums up the impact of seed-saving in the context of 2020: “It’s difficult times we are living in. We have got a pandemic, we’ve got climate change, we’ve got biodiversity loss, habitat loss and economic collapse as well. It might feel quite small, just saving beans and growing your own food, but actually I think it is really fundamental. By doing something infinitesimally small like this tiny little gesture in a tiny little group, in a tiny little country somewhere, you are working towards something that makes you feel more hopeful. It’s a positive step. I’m not saying this is a magic wand or a cure-all, but it’s a positive step.”
Former ‘Bake Off’ winner Nancy Birtwhistle claims we have been ‘brainwashed’ into believing we need harsh chemicals to clean our homes. In an interview with her, what caught my attention was the amount of plant-based materials she used. It sounds miraculous, but she swears by ivy as a laundry detergent (about 60g, cut up and put in a muslin bag, then put in the drum). “It excites me so much; my husband thinks I’m crackers. I knew in the depths of my memory something about ivy and saponin [a natural foaming detergent], so I Googled it. Conkers have it as well.” (Although we should remember that ivy can be a skin irritant for some people.) In the autumn, she collects conkers and boils them up to create a creamy laundry liquid. (Nancy Birtwhistle’s book Clean & Green is published on 21 January by Pan Macmillan £12.99).I’m prepared to give this one a try, but have visions of a ‘green’ wash in a way I did not intend.
A suggestion made by Anna has prompted me to think what we can learn from random gardening mistakes, or shall we say, unplanned activity.
I use a lot of salad vegetables and always have a variety of leaves growing to use as a base for additional ingredients. I sow a selection in various seed trays, which I then prick out and later plant into the garden. A few years ago, at the tail end of the summer, I sowed seeds into their seed trays as usual. For whatever reason, I failed to prick out and then felt it was too late to do anything much with them, so I was left with several seed trays full of fresh young seedlings. And I left them. But what happened then was that they provided me with a steady supply of cut-and-come-again salad leaves (the kind you pay a fortune for in bags in supermarkets) to enjoy through the winter. Ever since then, I use this method to provide me with small young and tasty salad leaves, throughout both the summer and winter. I do this with Mizuna, Endive, Rapa da Foglia (turnip greens), mustard, rocket as well as the usual lettuce varieties which we grow. I am sure it works equally well with chard and beetroot and members will have their own varieties to suggest here. Obviously the mild winters we have been experiencing do help, I am not sure what a sharp frost would do. Ultimately, the plants will become very rootbound, but growth in the winter slows down, so this takes a while to happen.
Trays of seedlings sown 5 September.
The usefulness of this method is also that you could do this on your kitchen windowsill, balcony, or whatever space is available.
I sowed these Zinnia seeds directly into the ground in June and replanted the thinnings and ended up with two rows. This is the first time I have ever grown Zinnias. It was old seed and I probably bought the packet at our plant sale a year or two ago for the going rate of 20p!
I reckon my success is down to beginner’s luck and the Poundland compost!!!! I have very light soil so I also added the ash from the bonfires and chicken manure pellets before I planted up the plot. As they are adjacent to my tomato plants I made sure they were watered nearly every day to encourage a good root system. Yet information online says they only need watering every five to seven days. I was warned not to get water on their leaves as they are prone to folliar diseases. They are growing adjacent to the boundary fence and I’ve had to support them when the high winds came.
There are doubles and singles, in various shades of pink and yellow. The bees love them and they are long lasting as cut flowers. They are the first plants I look at when I arrive at my allotment plot and I coo over them! Margaret grows rich, strong orange Zinnias which knock my Zinnias aside and they are simply stunning. Definitely a plant to try again next year.
As Vija’s previous blog (‘Shout out for self-seeders‘) mentions, this is the time of year when self-seeders pop up in the borders. If they are valued border plants but you just have too many, before you whip them out please think about potting some up for a future CABAHS plant sale. Although it looks like we can’t have full meetings for a while yet, we are aiming at holding a plant stall at Charlton House, probably at the end of July or early August. Just remember it’s important to identify and label any potted-up specimens very clearly, especially if it’s one that tends to be a “bit vigorous”! If you aren’t sure, do send a picture in, we have lots of expertise among our membership!
Other top self-seeders are Verbena bonariensis and Astrantia:
I have recently watched two online Lectures from Fergus Garrett. These are replacing the events which had been planned at Great Dixter. More are planned. The second lecture was on the subject of self seeders in the garden. Of course, Great Dixter uses these extensively and it was interesting to see how self seeding is managed by the team there and how much they value the contribution the self seeders make to the herbaceous borders.
I have never planted Valerian, but it pops up in random spots and this year makes a lovely splash of colour combined with Salvia ‘Jezebel’, and a Californian poppy. Forget-me-nots I have to be careful with as they are smotherers. But primroses are a joy (apart from when they get into the lawn). Tanicetum (tansy) and the grass Milium effusum (wood millet) make a lovely splash of colour in late spring and Erigeron karavinskianus (Mexican fleabane) makes itself at home in many inhospitable corners. Although I allow a large number of Pulmonaria (Lungwort) to provide an early food source for bees, these can be a problem if I am not ruthless, so they have to be thinned out when they finish flowering.
Part of my garden includes a gravel path and a number of plants have self seeded there very generously over the years. Many of these I take out and pot on to be used in my own garden, or give away or bring to the sales table. On occasion, this has even included Phlomis and Clematis. Spotting the gems before I tread on them takes care!
In my garden, as in all gardens, there are some plants which seem not to like where they have been planted and have made their way to another spot where they feel far more comfortable. I am thinking in particular of the Plume Poppy, Macleaya microcarpa. It has completely ceased to exist in its original spot and is now doing very well a good 5 metres further along the border. In fact, it actually looks better there. Once again, I am reminded of the maxim that plants will grow well if you provide them with the conditions which they need to succeed. Alternatively, it seems they find these for themselves.
A friend of mine, quite keen on gardening, but a recent convert to properly growing due to the current situation, recently sent me a photograph of some seedlings she had received via mail order and which she had pricked out into trays. She was very proud of herself! For some reason, pricking out of seedlings I find one of the most relaxing gardening tasks. I am sure that this will differ from person to person, but there is something about the orderliness of this basic task which I find very rewarding. It also has a clearly defined beginning and end and does not require huge amounts of effort.
Some gardening jobs such as cutting back buddleia or reducing the size of an overgrown phormium can seem overwhelming by comparison. At the moment I am looking at a fig (Brown Turkey) which began life in a pot and was then moved into the part of my garden where I grow salad vegetables. It has taken off here and is clearly in its element. However, it is really getting much too big and is a complete bully, threatening to overwhelm everything else. It needs to come out. I have also realised why they do so well at the roadsides in Italy and France: there is a network of roots that stretches out well beyond the plant itself , creating a dense mat just below the surface of the soil and making it difficult for anything else to survive. While I consider precisely how I am going to remove the fig, I opt to prick out more seedlings…
“Tomatoes and Cyclamen” was painted in 1935 by Eric Ravilious.
Like the pricking out of seedlings and potting on, this painting of arrayed pots in a greenhouse brings immense satisfaction. The beauty and neatness remind me of the greenhouses at West Dean. It is something I will never achieve and can only aspire to!
The answer is NO, of course! This is a real “good do-er” of a plant and it’s in full bloom everywhere at the moment. The Latin name is Lunaria annua, but it is called Honesty, Moonwort, or Money plant. The “Moon” tag refers to the shape of the seed pods, and also the “Money” tag, because the seed cases look like silver coins. You can eat the young leaves in salad (it tastes a bit cabbage-y) and the seeds make a mustard substitute. Even the peeled roots can be eaten, and there is research into whether a fatty acid from the seeds can be used medicinally for Multiple Sclerosis.
I inherited Honesty 30 years ago, and the “common” (pretty garish) purple one comes back every year from seeds. I picked up some seeds of “Corfu Blue” from Anna last year, who in turn got them from Margaret, via the Plant Sales Table – there’s a CABAHS Membership advantage for you, working at its best! Corfu Blue are a much paler colour, rather easier on the eye. You can really see the difference in this photo:
Anna has grown the most beautiful one with purple stems this year, we must try to get seeds from her..!
I know you can get white versions too, and if you grow any others, please send in a picture, you really cannot have too much honesty!
On my kitchen table lies a medium-sized envelope crammed full of Eccremocarpus scaber seeds and their pods. Sitting at my kitchen table I can see clearly the lemon flowers from one variety and the pink flowers from the other variety sunning themselves happily on the roof of the pergola.
I am fairly new to growing Eccremocarpus and was first given a seedling of the orange-coloured variety a few years ago and another seedling last year which I planted on my south-facing fence. The seedling did not take kindly to the clay soil and hardly flowered. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t survive the winter.
However, two years ago at a rare plant fair I bought two seedlings – a pink flowering variety and a lemon flowering variety. Not having much confidence in their survival I planted both in a slightly raised bed on the rear boundary east-facing wall, which the pergola abuts. On this wall are two mature, variegated Trachelospermum jasminoides. The raised bed is extremely narrow and has received small top-ups of compost from time to time. However, I did not rate their survival due to the competition from the neighbouring climbers and the very dry conditions. How wrong I was: the Eccremocarpus seedlings just love their location; the protection the Trachelospermum provides them; the dry soil with added compost; and the baking that the flowers receive from the sun at the top of the pergola.
Eccremocarpus scaber is also known as the Chilean glory-flower or the Chilean glory creeper and was first documented in 1794. It flowers from September to May in the Southern Hemisphere. In New Zealand it is regarded as a pest. And I can see why: the envelope of seed pods on the kitchen table and the dozens of pods still remaining on the pergola to be collected is a testament to its reputation!
But I am not going to allow these climbers to reproduce again. Although they started flowering in early March last year they stopped flowering in early June and I was mystified. I was told to look for seed pods and there they were, their lanterns hanging beneath the mass of foliage. So this year I am going to religiously remove all developing seed pods so that these climbers can flower all summer.
Eccremocarpus is regarded as a perennial species but due to the UK climate they are generally grown as an exotic annual. The foliage is light green and it uses its tendrils to hook onto anything for support. I had difficulty in remembering and pronouncing the name, Eccremocarpus, but I got there in the end! I love the colours of these tubular flowers, that sparkle like jewels in the sun. They provide me with a lot of pleasure. If you grow the orange variety, you could marry it with Thunbergia, Ipomoea or Nasturtium, all of which have orange flowers.
I will be providing a huge number of free packets of seeds in the next few weeks for anyone who has the right conditions: a protected area in their garden that is light, sandy, well-drained but fertile; or a sunny plot on their windowsill or balcony.