samedi 17 avril 2010

Water water water!

It's been warm today, sunny, blue skies.  Lovely day for lazing (or working) in the garden.  Don't forget to water though, your plants, particularly those in pots, will be thirsty after a day like today.  Once a plant begins to wilt, it's growth rate has already begun to slow down.  Some do's and dont's of watering:-

DO water at the end of the day, preferably when the sun has gone (or is about to go) down.  If you water during the day, the plant will not benefit from it's drink as it's likely to be drunk too quickly and evaporate.  Also, water droplets on leaves might magnify the sun's rays and burn the plant.

DON'T water plants at a rate that causes puddling on the soil surface.  This leads to run-off and erodes the soil.

DO use a gentle spray not a harsh jet if you have a hosepipe.

DO water regularly, especially in the plant's first year.

DO create a saucer shaped dip around each plant stem to hold water and avoid run-off.

jeudi 15 avril 2010

Let's talk about Tomatoes!

April is rush hour for fruit and vegetable growers. One of the favourite crops that are easy to grow are tomatoes. I grow cherry tomatoes because my family love them and it saves us money. It is very satisfying to see you child reaching out and picking a ripe tomato that you have grown and popping it in his mouth.

Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) are annual plants which means that they only last for a season. There are three types - indeterminate (mid size, non bushy), shorter (semi determinate) types and the bush (determinate) types. Tomatoes are best grown at 21 - 24° and do not grow well under 16°. They do not tolerate frost and need a lot of light. In UK, most tomatoes are grown in greenhouses but in France, they are easily grown outside with no cover. The beauty of tomatoes is that they are easily grown in containers.

If you are growing from seed, sow 6 - 8 seeds in a 8 - 10cm pot using a general purpose compost or one specifically for tomatoes/fruit and veg. Good drainage is important as waterlogging is a prime reason for seed failure. Seive the compost to get rid of large lumps. Place the seeds individually on the compost surface, allowing plenty of space between them. Lightly cover the seeds with seived compost and water well and gently. Prick out (gently remove) the plants when they have their first set of 'true' leaves and place each seedling in a 9cm pot alone, slightly deeper than before. Once the last frost has passed, you can plant them outside in a grow bag, the ground or a large pot.

My wise neigbour tells me not to waste my time with tomato seeds. He buys in young plants from the garden centre. When buying, avoid leggy plants. Plug plants should have perky leaves and not look yellow or dry. Pinch off the lower leaves as they are often first to develop fungal problems. Pot them up straight away, each in a 9cm pot or a window box. Water regularly.

Lots of gardeners grow tomatoes in the ground so the plants are slightly less dependent on you to water them. Or you can use a growing bag where the roots can spread out. Or large pots. Don't overcrowd your plants - they need good air circulation. Water plants regularly and check the compost daily. Pinch out the top of cordon varieties after five to six trusses (clumps) of fruit have formed. Plant outside once the threat of frost has passed.

Planting in a growing bag - loosen the compost in the bag after making a slit down the length so the roots can grow easily. Gently remove the young plant from its pot and plant. You might want to plant a marigold in with each tomato. It is said that marigold roots benefit the tomatoes and their smell deters whitefly. Add a cane or stake to support and water daily. Growing in a grow bag prevents plants from being infected by soil-borne diseases.

Planting in a large pot - This allows you to move them around or drop them off with a neigbour who'll kindly take on the watering task if you're going on holiday! Use a 1.1 litre container, place some crocks in the bottom, fill with compost, add a cane to support and remove sideshoots as they appear to keep the energy going into the top of plant and fruit production.

Feeding - tomatoes like a good feed which maximises the crop. Wait until the fruits have started to form and use a specially formulated tomato fertiliser. Don't overfeed, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Reccomended tomatoes
Cordon: Dombito (beefsteak), Gardener's Delight (cherry), Golden Sunrise (yellow), Mirabelle, Olivade, Shirley (medium round), Sun Baby, Tigerella

Bush - Alfresco, Plumito, Tumbler, Sleaford Abundance, Rornado, Totem

Pick fruits as they ripen, which is around 7-8 weeks after they are planted. Cordon types can be harvested 10-12 weeks after planting. Tomatoes freeze well.

mardi 13 avril 2010

Before and after balcony

Here's a 'before and after' balcony that I worked on. It's in 12th arr in Paris. The client is a good waterer and will take care of the plants but wanted some inspiration, something easy to care for, colour and something scented. I provided plants that liked the sunny position, would fill out the planter and also give some height for privacy. Plus they are all evergreen or semi-evergreen so the planter remains green throughout the winter. I 'saved' a rosemary that was already there, hoping that it would like it's new friends - it smelled lovely in the sunshine. The neon purple flowers will grow over the side and along the planter in time, the choiysa should just be about to flower (and smell lovely) The cistus (low plants) will have white flowers in summer. I also planted freesia bulbs for colour and scent in the summer.

mercredi 7 avril 2010

Favourite plants - clematis armandii

Clematis are a group of more than 200 species of evergreen or deciduous, mainly semi-woody to woody, twining leaf-climbers and woody-based herbaceous perennials from the North and South hemispheres.

Clematis are largely grown for their abundant flowers. Climbing species can be used to clothe a wall, arbour, trellis or pergola. They can also be grown over large shrubs or small trees.

Clematis armandii are vigorous, evergreen, early-flowering climbers which bear saucer-shaped, scented white flowers, 5cm across in early spring.

Early-flowering species of clematis bear flowers on the previous year's shoots in winter and early spring. They prefer a sheltered, sunny site with well-drained soil. They are fully hardy to frost hardy.

I planted a clematis armandii a few years ago and hoped it would climb over an arch in the garden. It had a very few flowers in the first year and this year it's full of flowers which smell lovely as I pass under the arch. One year I thought it was dying as a lot of leaves turned a burnt brown/black colour. I think that was due to underwatering as it was a very hot year. Those leaves have now dropped off so it's looking a bit lopsided. After the flowers have bloomed (it doesn't last very long), the new shoots grow directly from what was the middle of the flowers and fresh tender leaves appear on the shoots. I'm hoping this year, as we have plenty of flowers, that we'll have plenty of new shoots that I can train carefully (without breaking them) around the arch to cover the side where the leaves died.

Why do I like this plant? It's evergreeen so it provides some colour in the garden and over the arch in the winter. The flowers are splendid and smell lovely, just as the daffodils are going brown so it adds a new focus point in the garden. It covers any structure to finally make a living arch. And it doesn't seem so hard to look after either.

mardi 6 avril 2010

Chairs to lust over

I made the mistake of buying a copy of Elle Decoration recently. I say a mistake because reading it always makes me totally jealous of other people's houses and dissatisfied with my own (not a nice feeling). But it does have some good ideas and is a great magazine for product reference and I love drooling over it.

Fermob, the creators of garden furniture were advertising their range of LUXEMBOURG chairs. I'm not sure if I agree that the chairs are 'émouvante' but they are timeless and classy and maybe, yes, they do bring back good memories of the Luxembourg Gardens. They even have a Luxembourg table and chairs for kids! Click on the 'private persons' (dontcha love the bad translation?) and see their range of metal chairs, benches and tables in deep pinks, greens, browns, purples, silver, reds and blacks and my favourite, a deep sky blue (Fjord Blue) which would be lovely in a lush green garden. I'd imagine that the chairs are pretty sturdy as the ones in the Jardins de Luxembourg are left out in all weathers. There are 24 colours to choose from in many ranges. And prices? To give you an idea, the double Luxembourg lounger goes for 411 Euros.

vendredi 2 avril 2010

In Praise of Elderly Gentlemen

There's not much new in gardening, it's all pretty much been done before and for thousands and thousands of years human beings have been sustaining themselves and making their environments beautiful with plants and vegetables.

Which is why I love elderly gentlemen! My generation are lucky enough not to have lived through any major wars taking place in their country, we don't know rationing and growing your own through absolute necessity. Most of us in Europe grow because we can and because we like to do it. Mabye this will change? But for the moment, we are living alongside another generation of gardeners - ones that HAD to garden to survive and eat healthy food. Such as my neigbour who, unlike me, has converted his whole garden into a potager (vegetable garden). He grows throughout the year and has a large array of crops - fruit and vegetables. Also he grows flowers that his wife cuts for the house (did you know that cut flowers are the worst offenders in terms of chemical usage and some have a huge carbon footprint?) He has lots of herbs useful for cooking and grows some flowers that help protect his crops such as marigolds that can fend off bugs and so on.

We are often gardening at the same time. He's interested in my (feeble next to his achievements) efforts and he drip feeds me all sorts of useful information, tips and history of the area. I was bemoaning the poor soil quality. He said, what do you expect? This was once the flood plain of the Marne river, it's sandy and not so great quality soil, you need to dig some heavy mixture into it so it'll retain the moisture. Now for me, the Marne is a few of streets away, but that was after they built the barrages to control the flooding.....I don't like to grill him, but I am always really grateful when he ventures an opinion and he's always right! He built a little wooden frame near to our shared hedge and planted a vine on it so the children could see how a vine grows until one day in September, he met us at the door and said in a serious voice 'it's time for the vendage' so the children were delighted to pick the grapes that they had seen develop.

You might not have a fabulous neigbour like Monsieur Voisin but there are loads of elderly gentlemen ready and willing to impart valuable advice if you look for them. I thank the Portugese chap who was kind enough to advise me to throw out the tomato plants from my shopping basket in Truffaut, and to wait another week or so. As he says 'one frost and kaput' (followed by cutting of throat gesture). I'm going to wait a couple of weeks for my tomato plants in fact.

So next time you're in the garden or the garden centre, dare to speak to that elderly gentleman hovering over the aubergines and basil seeds. He's not a pervert (probably), he's a novice gardener's living bible!

jeudi 1 avril 2010

Growing in Containers Part 2

How exciting this time of year is! Everything is flashy pinks and neon yellows with luminous new green growth everywhere. Take a look around you as you walk, see how the plants are literally springing to life. How marvellous is all that?

OK, so now you've chosen your pots (and maybe you've purchased them) and they are sitting there waiting to be filled and look gorgeous.

Maybe you've chosen your plants too? More of that later this week....In the meantime, here's some tips as to HOW to plant in your pots:

1. Don't wait too long! Once you've purchased your plants they should really be safely installed in their new home, nicely moist and watererd within a few days. They will dry out and die if you leave them too long. We've all been there haven't we?

2. Choose the right soil: there are 2 main types of potting compost: loam-based which have sterilized, quality soil or loam as their main ingredient and loamless composts which contain no soil and are usually based on a peat substitute or peat.

Loam based: Free draining, good aeration and structure which encourages root development. Steady supply of nutrients, less prone to waterlogging and dry out more slowly.

Loamless: relatively clean to use, light-weight and generally less expensive. Need careful watering because although the surface might seem dry, below may be moist already. Don't provide such a firm roothold as loam based composts. Not very suitable for long-term container gardening.

Also it's worth mentioning Ericaceous composts which are specially used for plants that thrive on neutral to acid soils such as rhododendrons. They have a very low ph.

Most garden centres have a range of potting composts produced specifically for containers (bacs, pots).

3. Planting a shrub or plant in a container:

Scrub out your container if it's been used already to ensure there is no vestige of disease or maladie in it.

Soak your plants in a container of water so they are thoroughly wet.

Place a layer of clean crocks (pieces of broken terracotta or pottery to help drainage), pieces of polystyrene or some special webbing that allows water to pass through and then on top little drainage balls or gravel in the base of a container with drainage holes.

'Comb' out the plant's roots very gently with your fingers or a small garden fork so there are some free from soil and the plant's 'pot' shape has disappeared a little. This will help the roots establish themselves in their new home. Try not to tug or break the roots.

Add some compost on top of your crocks or balls and put your plant into the pot adjusting the compost level so the soil level of the plant is at the correct height for the pot. Don't plant too low in a pot or the plant will always be on tiptoes looking out for light! Don't plant too high as when you water, the water might tip out over the top.

Add some slow release fertilizer granules on the compost and mix.

Take the plant out of the water, pour water in the bottom layer of compost so there's a little pool and place the plant in the pool. That helps to avoid getting air bubbles in the roots and helps them establish themselves.

Centre your plant and turn it the way it looks best to you. Hold the plant carefully and fill in with compost.

Pat down the compost so the plant is firmly anchored and add a little more compost.

Water water water.....especially in the first year, making sure the plant is not waterlogged obviously.

Here's a picture of an English pub garden where they've gone a bit overboard with the busy lizzy containers. Happy planting!