What is growing well this spring?

In the UK we’ve had the full mix of weather: sunshine and showers, prolonged heavy rain and now hot sunny days baking the garden. While the rain has put a damper on some of my plans, the garden has really benefited. Lush green growth makes everything look rich and healthy and the water butts are full!

I thought it would be nice to share what is growing well.

This post looks at three areas of the garden: the long grass; the flower borders; and the greenhouse. (As I am typing this, it is hailing outside and the cat is desperately trying to get in through the cat door. Poor thing looks a little desperate!). The photos at the end of this post were taken on a much nicer day!

But first a note on the seeds I have been sowing in the peat free pellets.

Reasonable success! Actually, for me, quite brilliant success. The bigger seeds (easier to handle) have faired better than some of the smaller ones in the peat free pellets, but in general I ended up with about 70% of the night scented stocks and more like 50% of the Cerinthe germinating and making it into the garden! I left the seedlings in the first two trays too long before potting on or planting out and so some of the seedlings were growing through each other (roots and all) but apart from that, this was a really easy thing to do to achieve no peat. I have about 10 verbena plants out of maybe 20 seeds sown although all of these are root matted together, these are destined for the long grass area. Sowing these pellets in the house worked well as I remembered to water them on the window ledge. The ones in the greenhouse have faired less well as it was less easy to keep conditions stable for the seedlings. We found some seed compost made from sheep fleece for vegetable seeds in the greenhouse, the leeks have done particularly well in this, but we also have beans and peas sown in that compost. Using trays for seeds was definitely less fiddly! I have another batch of Cerinthe and dahlias in the peat free pellets with reasonable success also. The only things that I didn’t come up are the cosmos.

The long grass

Our maintenance of this area is fairly lax. It gets cut down some time in the autumn/ early winter – just one high level rough cut. Crocus are the first things to flower in here at the start of the year occasionally with a few snowdrops followed by some small narcissi/ daffodils so the grass needs to be shorter otherwise the flowers are hidden. The highlight so far this year has been the Snakeshead Fritillary. There were definitely more flowers this year. I think that is because we don’t cut it until the end of the year, when all the seeds have dropped. A little Cox’s apple tree and a nearly dead, badly pollarded lime tree covered with ivy complete this little wild area.

The long grass with Snakeshead Fritillary seed heads and dandelions

There are various log piles of prunings and cut wood from shrubs and a couple of logs which are rotting nicely. This area is great for slow worms, beetles, caterpillars and slugs. We had lots of gatekeeper butterflies last year in the garden on the marjoram in the flower borders and their caterpillars need long grass habitat to feed in.

There have been lots of dandelions and buttercups in this patch this year. Not quite sure how I feel about that as both will continue to spread to other parts of the garden! The bees have been busy though so I think this is a win. I want to plant out the seedlings of verbena bonariensis, and calendula (common marigold) this year for summer flowers and bulbs of windflowers (anemone blanda) for next spring.

The flower borders

We have two established flower beds which are very overgrown but have some fantastic plants in. Most of which summer flowering with the occasional spring flowering bluebell and primrose in the mix. My task since we moved in has been to recondition these beds and replant where needed to extend what is in flower through the rest of the year. The highlights of these beds have been a blue geranium, Globe Thistles, Lavender, a persicaria variety and Marjoram. Since starting to thin out the plants a clump of Michaelmas Daisies have re-established themselves and I’ve uncovered two long suffering peonies which I dug out last year and potted up. I hope to put these back in the borders this year.

To the mix, I have added, more lavender, to replace woody overgrown plants, Cerinthe Major ‘purpurascens’ (Honeywort – just read a lovely description – apparently hummingbirds love it -not in the UK though!), night scented phlox, Osteospermum, Veronica, Salvias (the slugs like these a lot), Aubretia, and soon to have dahlias which I am growing from seed in peat free pellets. There are also plans for Rosemary, Hebe and Sedum to be added as I clear out more weeds!

Valerian grows where it likes across the garden and in the flower borders, the butterflies and bees love the flowers so I don’t dig it out. Buddleja, Solidago (bee balm) and something with big daisy flowers that smell revolting! also thrive across the garden. They often grow in the wrong places for my plan but they are so attractive to the bees and butterflies that I have let them alone for now too!

The greenhouse

The first thing to note is that anything that needs me to water it is living on borrowed time – things are much safer planted in the garden but I am getting better. The first couple of years this just meant a couple of cherry tomato plants, planted in grow bags. This year, in a drive to avoid peat, we have sown many more seeds in peat free coir pellets and peat free compost and we have also resisted the urge to buy new seed trays and pots choosing to reuse food trays, tubs and jars from the kitchen to fill with compost and plant in.

The tomato plants (bought from the garden centre) have expanded from two cherry tomato plants to include a ‘beef steak’ tomato and, if I can find one, a plum tomato for cooking with. Very pleased to find two peat free grow bags at B&Q this year – even if they are smaller in size than the peat versions.

One quick point: while I have mentioned products in this post I’m not trying to advertise these items, they are simply choices we have made this year, particularly in the drive to reduce our use of peat based compost.

What have you planted this year to help the garden creatures? Do share, a little encouragement and inspiration goes a long way.

Sarah x

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