Drivebank revisited

drivebank from top aur 19
Drivebank in August

Well, I’m back safely.  The drivebank planting is now approaching the end of it’s first season growth, so I thought I’d do an update on how it is getting on.  Generally I’m pretty pleased.  I think most of the perennial plants have at least established OK.  I lost the Philadelphus, thanks to Dougie (bless him!) using it as a toy and pulling it out and chewing it, but the other shrubs seem OK.  The Elaeagnus look a bit bare – I think they lost a few leaves in the wind, which is a bit disappointing.  I thought they would be reasonably wind resistant.  The Escallonia of course is looking lush, and the Gaultheria is also doing well – just flowering and with small berries at the moment.  I have quite a few babies of this that came from cuttings I took back in the spring which are doing quite well too.    The variegated laurel, like the Elaeagnus, has lost a few leaves, but otherwise seems OK.  I’ve poked in a few cuttings from one of my murtillo (Myrtus Ugni)  in the hope that a slightly warmer spot may incline it to ripen fruit.  The bushes in the tea garden grow and flower well, but the fruit never seems to come to much, and I’d really like to try making jelly with this!  The fruit smell divine and taste like sherbert strawberries, incredible!  They are quite small and pippy though, so I think jelly will be more successful than jam.

murtilo fruit
Developing murtillo berries

At least one of the broom are doing very well, having put on quite a bit of growth this year.  Fingers crossed it survives the damp winter ahead.  I’m wondering whether to plant some of this down the hill in the patch with ash trees that don’t seem to be doing very well.  It is a native plant (I’ve seen it growing on the island), the bees love the flowers, it is a nitrogen fixer and tolerates dry soil, so should be OK where the soil is a bit shallow there.  Broom does in fact need it well drained, so won’t grow happily just anywhere here.

I was a bit disappointed with the lack of germination from the seeds I broadcast.  I was hoping to get a bit more coverage and blooms from the Calendula, but there were only a few came up early on and then some stragglers at the tail end of the season.  These are still blooming now, but rather sparse.  They all seemed to be different colours and forms too, whereas I thought I was expecting just single orange flowers from the packet.  There was more coverage from the unknown buckwheat, but these aren’t particularly colourful examples; I will leave the debris overwinter to protect the soil a little bit.  There seem to be one or two of the other herby things I broadcast, I’m not sure whether they are chervil or caraway or coriander, a bit tiny to pick the leaves from.   Maybe more will come up next year.

Initially I got quite a good coverage from the bittercress weed plants, which I just left to get on with it – they are too tiny to be a problem in my opinion.  I do try and take out the buttercup, docken and nettle seedlings and the various grasses that seem to have come back either through missed roots, or seeds.  The buttercups and docken are the worst, because the leaves come off, leaving the roots intact.  Sometimes I left them, but generally I tried to lever them out, because chances are they will regrow.  I pulled the leaves off the weeds and scattered them on the soil to create a bit of mulch, although this was pretty ineffective – actually the weeds were much less prolific than I was expecting, although I don’t suppose I have seen the last of them!  In fact, the bittercress seem to be making a second coming now in the cool of the autumn.

autumn bank
Looking a bit bare in October

A few things I planted to climb and/or spread, all of which are pretty tiny still.  I seem to have mixed up the Lathyrus linifolius and Lathyrus tuberosa when planting them.  I don’t expect this will matter too much, although the L. tuberosa should become a much taller plant, so may (hopefully?) be a bit much where I was expecting the smaller L. linifolius to be growing.  The Akebia again is very tiny, but is alive and looks healthy enough.  Hopefully it will survive the winter and do better year on year, to climb the sycamore.  The wild strawberry I planted at the top under the tree, is spreading enthusiastically.  I think this is supposed to be a better fruiting form that I bought from someone (I can’t remember where now).  No fruit yet, but maybe next year….

bee on oregano
Bee on oregano

All the perennial herbs have established well.  The little oregano plant was a mass of blooms which the bees really appreciated earlier in the year.  Again, it seems to be having a second wind with another batch of flowers now. The marjorum (unknown) from the polytunnel has been fine.  The lavender bloomed quite late.  This is a pity in a way, because it leaves it too late to take cuttings after it has bloomed.  I will have to take a few in the spring, and hope that I still get the flowers.  These are on tall stems, and I think the plant has the potential to get a bit big.  It doesn’t matter too much if it overhangs the steps a bit.  The sage also seems fine.  I left the main plant in a pot, which I have brought in to the polytunnel to keep it drier over the winter.  There were several smaller plants that I had grown from cuttings which I tucked in at the top of the main wall.  These I hope will be well enough drained to overwinter outside OK.   The chives as expected have been fine, they went in a bit late for flowers, but should look good next year.  I may get some other clumping alliums to go with them, as they generally seem to do OK here.  The little rosemary seems to be fine, and again at the top of the wall should be OK to overwinter.

drivebank flowers
Yellow Daylily, White lily and red dahlia

I have been quite pleased with most of the perennials I planted out.  The daylillies, which had never a flower in three years in the shop planters, have bloomed quite happily on and off this summer.  Indeed they still seem to have buds coming now!  The dahlia have bloomed quite well, with simple red daisies and dark foliage.  Also from the shop planters are the tall lillies.  These all seem to have white flowers, whereas the shorter ones left in the shop planters are yellow.  This is not quite the mix I was expecting, but the shop flowers match my icecream flag nicely.  The various campanula seem to be growing bigger now than they did in the summer, which is a bit unexpected.  Maybe they would prefer somewhere a bit more shady.  I did tuck some in by the pea wigwam in the front garden (which turned out too shady for peas) so they may do better there.  All I can say for the asparagus and artichoke is that they seem to be alive still.  Hopefully they are established enough to come back next year.  There is no sign of the nerines, which should be in flower just now, so I may have lost those.

Slightly tender plants include the salt bush, Atriplex canescens, which I grew from seed.  It still looks a bit small, but reasonably OK.  The leaves make quite a nice salad leaf with a salty juicy crunch.  The bush needs to get quite a bit bigger before it is useful for eating though!  The little Trachycarpus is forming new leaves.  This will be a slow growing plant I expect.  There is one I donated to Glendale Estate house, Hamera lodge, when I didn’t realise the uses of it, which is still only about eighteen inches tall after 8 years or so.  Admitedly they planted it in a rather shady spot I think, so it could have done better.  I’ve just agreed to look after the gardens there as well (excepting the lawn mowing) which should be fun!  It has a large walled garden, which has been virtually unmanaged for several decades, but has a few apple trees and a lot of potential.

herbs and steps
Strawberry steps catching the late afternoon sun

I have been very pleased with my “strawberry steps”.  I planted out some white alpine strawberry plants, which I had grown from saved seed (originally a James Wong seed grown plant).  The white strawberries are supposed to be less likely to be taken by birds, but still have a lovely sweet strawberry taste when properly ripe – they go suddenly bigger and paler, but it can be a subtle change.  These have bulked out nicely and ripened some fruit.  Next year they should do even better, and give a nice coverage to the steps.  Since the steps are a bit narrow, being made of curb stones I had dug up from the pedestrian gate path, it is a bit difficult not to step on the strawberries when ascending the steps.  Some of the sedum seeds I sowed there have also germinated.  I’ll have to decide whether to transplant those, or to leave them in situ.

All in all a pretty good first season.  My task next year is to finish off the wall around the corner by the barn, with more steps or a ramp for access there, and maybe continue above the steps to the pathway by the willow fedge.





August progress in tree field

bees on flowers
Common knapweed (centaurea nigra) and small bee

After a week of rain we have a sunny Sunday to leisurely wander and assess the growth this year in the tree field.  The late summer flowers are giving the busy bumblebees a help towards winter supplies.  I’ve been gathering various vetch seeds again, which I’m hoping to swap for favours.  The heath pea are just about over; the warm early summer meant I had quite a crop, and managed to harvest over an ounce of seed, with plenty that I missed to further spread into the field.  I have noticed it this year even in what I consider quite damp areas.  I think the reason it was mainly in the thinner drier areas at first was simply that these had been less well ploughed and the tubers were able to survive better.

marsh woundwort
Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris) flowers in tree field

One of the plants I got from the ART last year was Stachys palustris – marsh woundwort.  It is related to Stachys affinis – crosnes or chinese artichoke.  A native plant, it likes damp meadows and spreads by thick (edible) tubers.  As this grew, I realised it did bear a strong resemblance to a plant I have seen growing on the river bank.  A second opinion on the odour (it has a strong pungant smell, but my sense of smell is pretty poor) confirmed that I already have lots of this growing round the field.  I’m happy about this, and not sad I bought a plant I already had.  For one thing, the imported plant may be better for tubers, for another it confirmed something that might otherwise always be just suspicion.  There seems to be much more of it this year than I remember in previous years, so I may try and dig a little up this autumn and see what it tastes like (watch this space).

hairy caterpillar
Knot grass moth – acronicta rumicis on willow

I remembered seeing a particulary colourful hairy caterpillar down beside the pond.  As it turned out there were a few of the same variety there.  When going for a closer look at some aspen I thought had mildew (just downy leaves catching the sun), I found another one of these pebble prominent (Notodonta ziczac) which look like a cross between a caterpillar and a rhinocerous.

rhino caterpillar
Notodonta ziczac on Aspen

The willow cuttings that I put in this spring all seem to have taken despite the dry spring.  There is still plenty of space up near the hump at the top which is damp and relatively sheltered.  I’ll try and put some more in there since it does seem to do pretty well.

ash growth 2018
S. points out this years’ growth point on a particularly fine ash tree

This year we have seen some incredible growth on some of the ash trees.  Literally some have actually doubled in height.  Hopefully they won’t break off or die back too much.  They do seem to have a tendency to die back a few years growth in one go sometimes.  It’s not the ash dieback – that hasn’t reached us (yet).  Whether it is another fungal disease or something else I don’t know, but it is a bit frustrating.  I am hoping that by the time chalara does make it here the ash will be big enough to be useful firewood.  Certainly if they can maintain this rate of growth there is a fair chance!

We’ve started to make little pedestrian paths through the trees, just picking routes like the dog’s cut through to the pond.  This means we will be able to get up close and personal with the trees, and appreciate some different viewpoints without getting our feet too wet (assuming that we bring the mower round them at some point).  My challenge to come will be getting S. to appreciate that the seedheads are just as important as the flower stems when it comes to mowing the tracks.  I have marked the orchids with bits of stick, but these have tended to get lost over time.  Douglas does have a habit of stealing them on his way past!

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Saving and giving away

This week I’ve been sorting my seeds out. This includes the various seed packets that I have accumulated over the years, and also seeds that I have saved from some interesting plants around the holding.

I no longer grow much in the way of annual vegetables, so have put to one side quite a few seed packets that are in date (or not much out of date) to swap or give away. I’ll put a list at the end of this post for anyone that may be interested. There are a few flower seed packets as well that I have accumulated somehow – probably on the front of gardening magazines from the shop, that haven’t sold.

I also have quite a few seed packets that are so old that I doubt that there will be a very good germination rate. Sometimes these can surprise (I had good germination from rather old courgette seed this year) but more often even rather new seed fails, and I’m sure it’s not always me (i.e. dry compost, too cold etc.). The oldest seed I have is some chinese bean sprouts or mung beans that were supposed to be sown by 2001! I always meant to get round to that stir fry, but I just can’t think three days ahead when it comes to cooking! I also have a pack of “rose de berne” tomato seed, and some late purple sprouting broccoli to be sown by 2004. These and others that are less ancient, but still well out of date I have put to be used as a green manure / ground cover next spring. Probably most won’t germinate, but where I did the same around my blackcurrant bushes in the fruit area this year, I have some recognisable cabbages, rocket (going to seed, because I don’t like the taste), and leaf beet. These have grown amongst the existing seed bank of nettles, docken, chickweed and other ‘weeds’ that have been edited as I feel like. Before I mix the seed packs together, I will give my friend who is coming for a visit next week, a chance to grab any that she fancies (along with the newer seed for swaps). Actually, I gather the technique for sowing a mixture of plants is to sow each seed separately, then you get a more even distribution of each seed.

Parsley – gone to seed in polytunnel

I have managed to save quite a few seeds from various plants this year. Mainly from local native plants which I hope will also prove desirable as swaps. This year I have tried something slightly different. As well as drying as best I could in a warmish dry place for a few days (usually on a windowsill, although I gather too hot and light is not a good idea), I have sealed the dry seeds in a foil ziplock packet together with some rice grains that have been oven dried. The rice is supposed to act as a non toxic dessicant (like silica gel – which is now considered a baddie I gather) which will hopefully give the seeds a longer shelf life. The advantage of the foil bags is that they keep the seeds dark as well as dry. The disadvantage is that you can’t see the contents without opening the bag. I’ve run out of the foil bags now anyway, so the some of my saved seeds will go into normal polythene ziplock bags.

I’ve crossed out the seed which has already been spoken for.

Seed for swaps:

Various commercial packets. Some opened. I haven’t put details against them, since with the power of the internet, you should be able to find out what the makers say:

Asparagus “argenteuil early”

Asparagus “connovers collossal”

Beta vulgaris – “sea beet”. British native, seems to grow OK for me, but I think I have enough seedlings now

Carrot “nantes 5”

Radish “kulata cema”

Rocket “wild rocket”

Lettuce “little gem”

Swiss chard “bright lights” – pretty colours, but I get loads of self sown perpetual spinach, and I don’t like the stems of chard.

Tomatillo – I wasn’t that keen on them to be honest, and I don’t think I’ll get round to trying them before the seed gets old again

Physalis peruviana: cape gooseberry “golden berry” I seem to have two packs, so one spare.


Coriander “cilantro” for leaf production

Kale “curly scarlet”

Kale “nero di toscana”

Celeriac “monarch”

Broccoli “autumn green calabrese”

Mustard spinach “komatsuna tarasan”

Cauliflower “all the year round”

Cauliflower “romanesco natalino”

Turnip “petrowski”

Saved seed from Skye:


Plain leaved parsley – went to seed in polytunnel.

Leaf beet / perpetual spinach – sows itself everywhere now!

Good king henry – british native perennial. I only have one plant, but it appear to have set seed. Now it is established it appears to be thriving on neglect – wet, windy, acid soil. I love it!

Hyacintha non scripta – british bluebell. Native perennial – seed from the tree field.

Myrrhis odorata – sweet cicely. Lovely anise scented foliage perennial.

Conopodium majus – pignut. Native forage food – grows happily here in grass like a miniature cow parsley.

Rumex acetosa subsp. acetosa – common sorrel. Native forage food, acid refreshing leaves. Beware can be a nuisance weed, but I love it. Seed gathered from the holding.

Lathyrus pratensis – meadow vetchling. Yellow flowered perennial vetch. Seed gathered from the holding.

Vicia cracca – tufted vetch. Vetch with plumes of blue flowers. Seed gathered from the holding.

Lathyrus linifolius – heath pea see previous post here. Seed gathered from the holding.

Rubus fructicosus – bramble: polytunnel blackberry. I don’t know what variety this is. Probably a seedling off a Solihull plant, but it appears to be an early fruiter since it also will crop outside in a good year. Seed may not come true, but there is no other bramble close, so it must be a self cross. Prickly and vigorous and delicious!

Stellaria media – chickweed. We eat it raw in salads, or sometimes wilted as a hot vegetable. It is often quite large and lush in leaf, I’m not sure whether this is unusual, but if you fancy some weed seeds let me know.

You can email me at nancy at p6resthome dot co dot uk. First come first served, no guarantees, but I’ve done my best at identification and cleaning.  I’ll try and update this list as the seed goes. UK enquiries only at this stage (unless you have some astragalus crassicarpus – ground plum seeds for my perennial poytunnel project, in which case we might come to an agreement…).

Bitter vetch = Heath pea = cairmeal = Lathyrus Linifolius

vetch by river jun 13
Heath pea and bluebells

As I was looking up the growth habits of the various legumes that grow wild on the holding here I came across some interesting information about bitter vetch: Lathyrus linifolius. It is a perennial also known as heath pea, and in the gaelic: cairmeal, or corra-meille. As I said before, it’s one of the earliest vetch to flower, coming into bloom during May, but still with flowers to come now in early July. The little bright pink pea flowers fade to blue or beige. As the tiny pea pods ripen, they first swell then shrink a little and turn black before splitting and spiralling the tiny seeds away. The seeds are very tiny, and probably mildly poisonous – a paralysis disease can result from eating significant quantities of other lathyrus seeds unless properly treated, for example leached in water, so I wouldn’t try them.

In bloom and mature pods

As a legume, the Heath pea should form relationships with nitrogen fixing bacteria in the soil, so adding to the soil fertility as the plant grows and dies. I was thinking of saving the seed from this and the other native vetches to see whether they would be any use as nitrogen fixing ground covers. Winter tares (Vicia sativa) is sold as an overwintering green manure crop, although it is suggested that it doesn’t like acid soil. Well as I know these vetch grow locally, logically they would make a possible alternative. Anyway, interest seems to have been sparked in Heath pea when the tubers were found by Brian Moffat during an archaeological dig of a twelfth century monastery at Soutra Aisle. His research paper proposed that the monks were using the tubers medicinally. Apparently before potatoes the cairmeal tubers were dug and dried against famine in the Highlands. The tiny tubers were alleged to save people from hunger and enable great feats of endurance, possibly being used by Roman soldiers during battle. I found various online references to this including PFAF, and my Scots Herbal book by Tess Darwin also refers to this. The tubers are said to be sweet like licorice (which is also a legume of course) and were also used to make a drink that prevented hangovers! There were several articles in the mainstream press, including the Mail and the Telegraph, although none caught my eye at the time, the possibility of a Scottish slimming aid being pretty newsworthy. It seems that there has been a bit of research going on in Scotland since. The only paper I could subsequently find online however, found no significant difference in weight change between rats fed the vetch tubers and various controls ( I only could read the summary, so there may be more significant information in the rest of the article. There is also an entrepreneurial chap in Reading, who appears to be growing and selling seeds and tubers online (under the bitter-vetch tag). He (I think I’m assuming that!) gives a little information about the growing habit of the vetch: a single tuber grows the first year, if left, it bulbs up in subsequent years, and more tubers grow. The plant can be propagated from these secondary tubers as well as from the seed. Weight loss apart, I would be interested in trying the tubers. I’d come across Lathyrus tuberosa, which has larger tubers, but was put off by the fact it is described by several people as being ‘attractive to slugs’. It also prefers more alkaline soils so wouldn’t do so well here presumably. However, I know that Heath pea likes it here, although I would say it appears to prefer the slightly drier soils, possibly because it is slightly small so has less competition from more vigorous plants. I haven’t noticed slugs eating it particularly. It happily grows in grass, but presumably would grow better with less competition.

Heath pea tuber dug up in July

I couldn’t resist digging this tuber and have planted it in the fruit area amongst my root crops which are due for digging in autumn.  There appear to be little tubers (or possibly bacteria nodules I suppose?) on the roots close to the main tuber already.  I’ve collected some seed from various plants around the holding, and will try sowing some as green manures (and in pots -why not?) this autumn. If it’s edible, palatable, feeds the soil and grows well, what’s not to like? There may be some scope to increase tuber size to make it more worthwhile as a crop, but as a gourmet snack it is still interesting!