The Secret Garden

This year I have been trying to tame the next section of garden by the drivebank overlooking the barn, this is where I moved the kiwi vine to over the winter.  I have been calling this The Secret Garden in my mind.  It is not particularly hidden (although it will be more secluded once mature), it is just that almost all the plants in here have edible parts, although are normally grown as ornamentals in the UK.  Steven Barstow has coined the word ‘edimentals’ for these sorts of plants.

secret garden to tables
View from Garden end

I had already forked over the area and mulched it with cardboard at the same time as I planted out the kiwi vine.  One of my neighbours has lots of lovely hosta, which I had been admiring and they very kindly gave me several big clumps of it, together with what I think may be Elecampane (Inula helenium), and ladies mantle.  I have put most of the hosta in this area, there are at least two different varieties – one with quite blue leaves.  Hopefully it won’t be too dry for it.  I also planted out some of my Aralia cordata, which I had grown from seed, and my sechuan pepper (from a danish cutting), some Lady Boothby Fuchsia (from cuttings), some golden current (from cuttings) and my strawberry tree (bought as a plant). I also planted some hardy geraniums around the base of the strawberry tree.  These were grown from seed from chiltern seeds: .  It was supposed to be a mixed pack, but only two varieties seem to have made it – a small white flowered one and a small purple flowered one.  The rest of the geraniums were planted on the drivebank.

hosta shoots
Variegated Hosta shoots in spring

I  also got some hedging Sea buckthorne plants this spring, and have planted a number of these along the top of the bank above the barn, as well as in various places in the tree field.  Hopefully these will form a protective barrier as well as fixing nitrogen, and maybe producing fruit in the future.  They should grow fairly quickly, but I will probably cut them back fairly often to keep them bushy, assuming they do OK.

These plantings are all mostly doing fine.  The Aralia seems to be suffering a bit from slug damage.   There were three little plants, and I think one has not made it, one is OK and the other will probably be OK.  The Hosta doesn’t seem to have suffered too badly from slug damage so far.  One of the clumps is starting to flower, and they are all looking pretty healthy.  The kiwi is not looking great, but has some new growth, so may well make it.  The proof will be if it comes back into life next year!  Unfortunately the sechuan pepper plant was broken by some strong north winds we had – I did not stake it since it was so tiny.  It has sprouted below the broken point so I have removed the top part of the stem and stuck it in adjacent in the hope that this may form a new plant too.  So far the strawberry tree is looking very happy.  One of the sea buckthorne hasn’t made it, but the others look pretty happy.  I may replace the failed sea buckthorne with a female good fruiting variety if the others do well in the next couple of years.

secret garden path
Remulched secret garden

The weeds had been poking through the cardboard, so I have been going back over with some fresh cardboard, pulling out the nettles, docken and grasses that are a bit persistent.  Hopefully I can weaken them enough that they don’t come back next year.  I need to have more ground cover plants to stop the weeds seeding back in again (remember  rule #2)  The chilean plum yew plants I have are still a bit small for planting out yet I think, but could also be planted out next year.  I have also thickly covered the main path through to the front garden (it comes out where I have the dog tooth violet and solomon’s seal plants growing) with old newspaper and wood chippings/bark.  I still need to complete another ramp down to the barn and build a retaining wall to tidy up the join to the drivebank, however there is a Landrover parked rather long term just in the way at the moment, so this may have to wait till next year.

 

Polytunnel Update

dotty caterpillar
Dotty caterpillar – not a silver y

Things seem to have been a bit slow in the polytunnel – It’s been a bit cooler and damper but I haven’t been out there much – just a bit of watering and thinning out the grapes.  The main excitement is the number of happy caterpillars I seem to have.  There are several large ones that I see in there: A bright green one, a dull browny coloured one, a dotty one with a waist stripe and one with stripes that match the stalks on the fat hen as it goes to seed.   I think most of them belong to  the silver y moth which I do see in there quite often.  They don’t seem to be doing too much damage:  They quite like the Yacon, but prefer the fat hen to the olive tree.  There are a few holes in the squash leaves but nothing the plants can’t shake off.

silver y moth
Silver y moth in polytunnel

Something has eaten part through one of my dahlia stalks – I think it is probably a slug.  they don’t tend to be too much a problem these days for established plants, but I do get a few helping themselves to my seedlings in pots by the polytunnel door.  The dahlia I grew from seed, which I am quite proud of myself for.  They have lovely dark coloured leaves, and are just starting to form buds.  The seeds are some of those that came from the Hardy Plant Society annual selection.  I had pretty good germination from most of those – probably because they were so fresh.  Dahlia tubers are theoretically edible, although apparently they vary a great deal as to tastiness!  I’m tempted to get some from Lubera who have selected a range of better tasting ones.  You get the flowers and then the tubers to eat, and can replant again for next year.  I have tried some raw a while ago now, and wasn’t particularly impressed, but then you wouldn’t eat a potato raw either would you?  I’ve mounded up the soil around the stem in the hope that it will re-root like a cutting.  There does seem to be another shoot coming from below the damage, but I may lose the flowers of that plant.

My fuchsia berry plant is looking a lot more happy now.  It is in the ground and has a fairly respectable shoot.  Hopefully it is getting it’s roots down to survive there overwinter.  I have pinched off the tip, since in it’s pot last year it grew a bit leggy and tended to droop down with the weight of the fruit – yes they were quite sweet and nice.  My outside fuchsia that came with the house also has quite nice berries.  You have to get them when they are ripe, or they taste more peppery than sweet.  The downside is that they tend to ripen gradually, so there are a few for a nibble but not enough for much of a meal.  I should propagate the bush a bit though, since it would be quite good as a boundary shrub.  It’s a bit late this year – maybe I’ll take some hardwood cuttings overwinter and see how they get on.  The fuchsia berry is supposed to be a bit more tender.  I did try taking some softwood cutting last year, but none of them took – I’ll maybe try again next year, assuming it survives the winter again.

polytunnel plants aug
Miscellaneous polytunnel plants – Yacon at front with oca between, physalis and squash behind

The Yacon seem to be doing pretty well.  I haven’t fed them barring the initial planting with compost, but have tried to give them plenty of water – probably still not as much as they want.  The single plant I put outside in the tea garden extension is also looking pretty good – the warmer start to the summer was probably to it’s liking.  I’m growing Oca for the first time this year (thanks Frances!)  I’ve put two in the polytunnel and one outside.  So far I would say that they don’t like it too hot.  The one outside seemed to do much better than the ones in the tunnel initially when we had all that hot weather.  More recently it’s been a bit cooler and less sunny, and the ones inside have cheered up a bit – a little leggy perhaps.  All three plants look lush and green at the moment.  Apparently they don’t make tubers until the days get shorter, which for us will be at the end of September or so.  At that point the extra protection of the tunnel may pay off, since it should hold off a light frost or two.  I’ve never eaten them so I won’t comment on that yet.

There are flowers starting to develop on my physalis – golden berry, and a few flowers on the courgette.  Those really haven’t done so well this year, but then I generally don’t have gluts to complain of!  The sharks fin melon is climbing well – almost to the roof with buds forming.  The japanese squash has delightful silver splashed leaves which are quite pretty, and again shows promise of buds.  The mashua isn’t looking too good still.  I think the hot weather was definitely not to it’s liking.  They are still really small and hardly starting to climb at all.  Some of the other plants will probably be too late to come to anything. For example the achocha, which I said last year needed a longer season didn’t get planted out early enough again.  Tomatillo and peppers I sowed for the sake of it, but really didn’t look after them enough to get much from them.  The plants are alive, but that’s about all one can say about them.  My sweet potato plants seem to be doing well.  I hope I’ve given them enough water.  When I grew them in our polytunnel in Solihull I think that was the main problem there.  They do have lovely dark coloured leaves, a bit like an ornamental bindweed.  I’ve just let them scramble over the ground, although they would climb given a framework.

drunk flies
Drunk flies on outside Alice bramble

The bramble has not done so well this year as previous years.  As I mentioned in a previous post I’ve had a lot of flies eating the berries (Alice outside remains a complete wash out!).  The flies get so drunk that you can put your finger right next to them without them all flying off.  I’ve still had quite a few berries – enough to make a batch of bramble and apple jelly (clear jelly not jam with bits in), but nowhere as many as previous years.  The bramble and kiwi look very precarious also.  I had to cut some of the support ties for the kiwi at the start of the year, and haven’t got round to replacing them properly.  I had used old tights – the legs make pretty good strong soft bindings.  unfortunately the weight of the vine had made them go thin, and they were cutting in to the trunk quite a lot.  It was actually difficult to extract them as the kiwi was growing around them.  I have started to use strips of pond liner (plenty of that left from around the mice holes!)  This seems to stay more ribbon-like so doesn’t cut in.  It’s a bit more difficult to tie in a knot (especially when supporting a heavy trunk with your third hand!), but seems to be kind to the plants and lasts pretty well.  Tyre inner tubes are also pretty good, but I’m not sure whether they will have the same light resistance as pond liner.

tomatoes aug 12018
Promising tomato trusses

The tomatoes have done really well – lots of lovely trusses have set nicely.  None are ripening yet, but I remain hopeful for a reasonable harvest in the end – so far looking like my best yet here.  Some of the plants have dark spots developing on the older leaves, which I think is a sign of nutrient deficiency.  I probably haven’t fed them enough – just a bucket of comfrey tea between them when I can remember to do it!  It’s actually also the same comfrey residue – so there’s probably not much nutrient left in it.  I should have some time off later this week so will try and cut some fresh comfrey leaves then.

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Slug Protection Test.

black slug

All gardeners in Britain have problems with slugs and snails.  Here on Skye, because the soil has little lime, the snails are quite small and less of a problem, but the slugs can be massive!  The weather is almost constantly damp – Skye is not called the Misty Isle for no good reason!  The slugs are particularly a problem with seedlings, and new transplants.  The former being young and juicy and the latter somehow more attractive in the stress of establishing themselves.  I also find new growth of some perennials always munched – I’ve never dared trying Hosta for that reason (although they are on my list of interesting edibles perennials to try).  I am going to describe here an experiment I ran a few years ago to evaluate possible slug protection schemes for young plants.  There were only three things I tried, all barrier methods.

1) A substantial ring of eggshells.egg shell barrier

The theory is either the dryness or the sharpness of the egg shells are uncomfortable for the slugs. It happened that I had been saving my egg shells for some time so had a largish quantity of broken shells that had been oven dried.

2) A copper barrier.

Either the ‘taste’ of the copper or possibly an electric shock from some sort of battery effect are supposed to stop the slugs in their tracks. I had found in my previous garden in Solihull that the only way to keep my seedlings safe was to have them on a scaffolding frame table, so I was quite hopeful of this – the copper I used in the form of readily available (if a bit expensive) adhesive tape, stuck to the rim of a cut down large diameter plastic plant pot. This was then pushed a little into the soil around the vulnerable plant so that there were no gaps for the slugs to crawl through, and the wind was less likely to blow it out. I guess the collars were about 2 and a half inches tall and pushed in by about an inch.

pot collars
Cut down plant pots for barriers
copper collar barrier
Copper collar around plant

3) A physical barrier or wall.

This barrier was the same cut down plant pots as above, but without the tape.

victims on trial

The victims or sacrificial plants I used were lupins (I had bought the seed as tree lupin but that’s another story!) I had a quantity of these ready to plant out and previous experience had suggested that they are delicious to slugs. I planted out the plants in two different areas of the garden – some in my ‘dog resistant garden’ (our elder dog Douglas liked to help with the gardening when he was younger), the others in the fruit garden which had been mulched with cardboard. The dog resistant garden is quite shady, so both areas were pretty much slug heaven. Different plants had different slug treatments in both areas.

 

drg area 2 before
Plants at start in dog resistant garden
different protections before
Plants at start in fruit garden

Results.

slug deterrent trials after #7
Dog resistant garden trial after three weeks
slug deterent trials after
Fruit garden trial after three weeks

The results were both interesting and not quite what I was expecting. The eggshell barrier turned out to be pretty useless. Less than three weeks later none of these transplants survived. The plants with collars faired much better; most of these seedlings had no damage at three weeks. Interestingly the copper tape did not seem to add a great deal more to the effectiveness of the plant pot collars. Even at about 6 weeks the transplants with collars were doing well. The main issues appear to be bridging the collar with leaves and sticks, or them being displaced by excited cats etc.

At 6 weeks it is amazing how the chickweed within the collars are growing away, whilst there is no sign of these weeds in the unprotected areas! The lupins in the fruit garden didn’t do so well in the longer term – I had planted them amongst comfrey, which I use as a living mulch amongst the fruit bushes. Unfortunately these proceded to mulch and smother most of the lupins as well!

slug deterents after
Dog resistant garden at 6 weeks – note weed growth inside collar

In conclusion: a barrier of a cut down plant pot collar with or without copper tape can be a quick, cheap and effective means of protection for vulnerable plants.  I now almost routinely plant out new transplants with a collar.  It also makes them easier to spot in the garden.  The results are not 100% effective, but do make a significant difference.