A blog about my garden and my obession with growing super-colourful flowers and foliage...read it here and at....
June 28th 2018 #suninmymorning #strangeyearsofar #threeseasonsinthreemonths
At the moment, each and every day brings a super-sunny morning in the garden, and as I wander through and water with a slow-running hose, I’ve been reflecting on what a strange old year it’s been so far.
A late lingering winter didn’t finally become spring until well into April, but then the season seemed to turned to high-summer in the blink of an eye. Across the garden plants were super-charged by the hot weather into incredibly rapid growth, and May quickly became a month of unseasonably early blooms: sweet peas and lupins suddenly went into fifth gear; mid-summer bedding plants like Mesembryanthemums couldn’t stop pumpimg out daisies, and roses raced into full bloom a full month in advance. Now even dahlias, my late summer floral stalwarts that don’t usually kick off flowering until early August, have started their show.
My water troughs are all empty, and temperatures have now been regularly kicking around summer maximums for weeks. This is the hottest, sunniest, and driest May and June I can remember. #isthisthenewnormal #straighttohighsummer
Maybe more extreme weather events and seasons that somehow don’t seem to stick to the traditional order of play is going to be the norm. I just hope the plants can keep up and cope with the heat and don’t hit #fullonfloralexhaustion too early.
Some of the more tender plants we grow will revel in this heat and sun however, and there's potential for a truly bumper year. I have high hopes for a good tomato harvest and dahlias, cannnas, zinnias and sunflowers for months.
The experimental direct sowings of annuals I made in my raised box beds in mid April have been rather overwhlemed by a sea of young Cosmos. Seeds that shed onto the soil last year from some super floriferous plants of a variety called ‘Dazzler’.
So far the results are mixed with Californian and Opium poppies fighting their way through, and just the odd chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum carinatum) and Nemesia vying for my attention. It will be interesting to see how these mini annual fairy-flower meadows evolve in the coming months….
March 29th 2018 #loveyourgreenhouse #mygabrielash #greenhousememories
This strangely cold and lingering winter weather means that I’m kicking off my gardening year much later than I can ever remember. It has almost got me thinking that maybe I’m losing my #gardeningmojo
However finally, right bang at the end of March, light blue skies are slowly spreading above me and those soul-warming moments of spring sunshine are becoming more frequent.
It’s coaxing me out into my patch, and into my greenhouses.
At this time of year, that smell and sensation when I enter in, is hard to describe. The feeling is so complex, so very important to me as a gardener and a happy human being. I feel both grounded, and quietly content, and also excited and alive when I’m in that space.
Such special memories flood my mind: my granddad carefully taking his geranium cuttings; my dad sloshing cans of feed around his tomatoes, the colourful sight of my first full tray of Coleus seedlings with their tiny technicolour leaves.
To be inside a greenhouse feels like I’m fulfilling a very important, deep need. I’m in my natural habitat. It’s completely right on a myriad of sensory levels. It’s the joy of being free to focus on the little things that I find so soothing and satisfying. Thoughts about what I might want or I don’t have just dissappear, and instead it’s as if my greenhouse is almost reminding me that true happiness lies inside.
On a bright spring morning I can’t help but remember again that joy and beauty have always been here, all around me. So as I sow my first seeds (a super attractive Italian tomato variety called ‘Pomodoro Astro’), I’m going to start my growing season with a warm little note to myself and to you too for the year ahead…
Let’s get gardening, let’s get happy and let’s make some new #greenhousememories
February 15th 2018 #FebruaryFrustrations to #FlowerPoweredFebruary
I find February quite a funny time of year. Luckily it’s the shortest month and, on the whole, it’s over in a flash. However on the coldest, greyest days, it can all get a bit frustrating.
I’m itching to rush into my greenhouses and get the new gardening year well into first gear, but I have to hold my nerve. Now is the time to be patient. I’ve learnt over the years that, as much as I want everything to start growing, the gardening groove is totally dependent upon the weather. At the moment it is still a rough and tumble mix of very windy, wintery days. Only the bravest snowdrops and hellebores want to raise their heads in my slightly soggy South Cheshire patch.
To start sowing seeds and striking cuttings under glass is really jumping the gun by a good month for me. Even if I give pots and trays some bottom heat to encourage germination and rooting, the light levels and average air temperature in my unheated greenhouses aren’t quite ready to support good early growth.
Outside there are a few roses to be pruned, flurries of leaves to brush up, and a handful more pots to wash. However, on the whole, I’m holding back. I’m also resisting trimming and tidying too many tatty leaves. The crowns of herbaceous plants will particularly benefit from bits of scruffy foliage being left in place. These can provide the all important buds in the leaf axils and at the base of old stems with that little bit of extra protection from the chilling winds and late frosts. #notrimmingandtidying
Thankfully in this period of gardening abstinence my mind has been hi-jacked by an advance copy of my new book. #Yay, it’s finally arrived. So I’ve sort of come full circle in this past year, and my #FebruaryFrustrations have been re-placed by #FebruaryFlowerPower.
I’m busy day-dreaming; mind-wandering through colour schemes, planting displays and a florepedia of delicious blooms, all to perfect my plans for another #totalflowerfest and an utterly #flowerpoweredgarden in 2018.
Bring it on!
January 20th 2018 #JanuaryJourney
With every new year that comes, there’s a certain expectation of new starts, new beginnings, new resolutions. But for me January is always much more of a continuation of the journey through the darkest season.
Throughout Christmas and into the new year, my indoor plants have been putting on quite a show. A pink hippeastrum (amaryllis) bulb has really out done itself and sent up a first flower stem with four ginormous gramophone-horn-like blooms and now a second set of trumpets are bursting into bloom. My purple polka-dot Phalenopsis has also decided to pop all of its buds and flower its socks off.
Outside, so far this winter feels like a soggy extended autumn, with a few clusters of frosty, snowy and icy days here and there, but overall mostly wet and relatively mild.
In the front garden a first few snowdrops are already up, and the hellebores are making tentative steps towards full emergence and blooming.
More and more, I try to make the most of the milder days and there’s quite a lot I can be pootling along with under glass.
My arch enemies at this time of year are white vine weevil larva. Lots of my container plants are already on the dry side in the rain shadow of walls and fences or slightly protected under glass, so I like to implement a bit of simple cultural control to reduce down the population of grubs and stop any major losses before spring. I’m carefully knocking out pots and having a good look and root around to see what’s going on with bulbs and tuberous plants in general. Then gently potting them back into the same pot but having checked them as well for any rot, and also having aerated the soil a little bit too. I leave the milky white larvae out for the birds not far from the many little fat ball hangers I have dotted around then garden in the place of my summer hanging baskets.
New beginnings are on the horizon, as a steady flow of my favourite seed and plant catalogues have been arriving in the post. I’m busy collecting them together to take on holiday. Hopefully i’ll be drooling over them and picking new-to-me varieties to grow this coming season whilst soaking it some much needed sunshine. It’s definately one of my favourite sun-soaked and cocktail-fuelled gardening task of the year.
December 16th 2017 #DefinitiveDecember
Over the last few days, thanks to some thick flurries of snow and frosty mornings, there’s something decidedly refreshing and crisp about my garden. Its structure is laid bare, defined and highlighted by the little drifts of snowflakes or tiny icicles that adorn and clothe the greenhouses, raised beds, metal trelliswork and rusted plant supports.
The snow and frost has also sprinkled evergreens and seedheads with white fluffy magic. #itsamarshmallowworld and all rather lovely to look at.
I’m feeling quite content as just before this latest front of cold weather blew in, I managed to get almost all of my late autumn and early winter tasks done and dusted. So inside my greenhouses, the plants that I decided to tuck away for winter are all safe and snug, and I’ve got protective clear corrugated plastic across the top of my long raised dahlia bed. Hopefully this will mean the tubers, also under a thick layer of compost, are out of danger from excessive winter wet, which for me in south cheshire can be the biggest issue of the season.
My obsession for evergreens continues. I’ve been making impromptu stops at nurseries and garden centres to look for bargains. I’m now utterly in love with a very prickly hedgehog-like holly. So much so, I bought three.
I have also increased the range of dainty leaved ivies that I grow. Add to those some very perky Photinia ‘Little Red Robin’ and some young plants of cream and gold flecked Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Goshiki' and I’ve now got quite a little collection going on. They inspired some evergreen hanging baskets and mangers to make the front on the house that bit more welcoming and seasonal.
I also slightly gave in to my christmas-obsessed better half, and we now have a small troup of Christmas gnomes guarding our home too. Tis the season of more is more, and I think it’s safe to say, we’re channelling that wholeheartedly.
So all that’s left for me to say is have a very merry christmas, and to wish you all a colourful and totally flower-powered new year.
November 16th 2017 #NovemberNourishment
November is the month when I feel I re-tune and re-focus on the garden as a whole. The majority of the vibrant, in your face, colours of spring and summer that I'm slightly addicted to have finished. However, quite quickly, the rich and nourishing tones of autumn have replaced them.
Planted in neighbouring patches there are a number of trees that I happily borrow as they really help to frame my back garden. My favourites are the silver birches that gently turn a buttery yellow and sprinkle my paths in gold.
I find I’m really drawn in by the foliage of quite everyday plants like strawberries. It’s now that they start to transform and turn into the most amazing fiery range of burning hues. This gets me hooked on plants like Heucheras and Heucherellas, and before I know it, I’m at a well-stocked garden centre or nursery being very tempted to aquire lots of new varieties.
This year, however, evergreens are really grabbing my attention. I have an old multi-stemmed Fatsia japonica in a huge pot, right by the back door and at this time, as well as its many leaves supplying lobed #glossygreeness, it’s serving up #fluffyfairyfatsiaflowers galore. On sunny days the pollinators go mad for it’s bobbly infloresences.
In truth I’m finding many of my evergreens rather moreish. My big golden bamboos, Phyllostachys aurea, that have sulked since March when I divided one huge plant into two, have now properly perked up. They’ve finally stopped shedding their paper brown leaves and sheaths all over the drive in disgust. In addition my small troop of fastigiate Irish Yews: one planted either side of the front door and then three beside the low front wall, are starting to look promising. I see them as emerald green sentinels at the entrance of the house.
Out at the front, my flock of Miscanthus grasses are blooming better than ever, and I’ve a small sea of upright swaying seed-heads to greet visitors at the gate.
So across the garden the #totalflowerfest may have drawn to a close for now, but a #textureandevergreenflurry is happening right before my eyes.
October 31st 2017 #OctoberObsessions
October’s when I start my autumn clear up with real gusto. First I empty my little greenhouse. This year it was brushed out, and any algae mould or moss removed from the wooden staging and brickwork. Then the floor was scrubbed with hot water with some Jeyes fluid in it. My very own ‘Mr Sheen’, partner Matt, cleaned all the glass inside and out. I even jetted out the guttering with fresh water, so now it’s back to super sparkling.
I like to kick things off by making this greenhouse a temporary storage space. It’s clean and dry so I can use it as a holding area for all sorts of garden implements and materials that have been washed down and are ready for using again or storing.
I’m incredibly lucky because I have two greenhouses. This smaller one will be my ‘cold and dry plant house’ over the winter. To keep things from getting too moist inside I like to use dampcatchers and a thick dessicating layer of cat litter all around the inside edge of the floor. It’s great as slugs and snails utterly hate it, and it generally keeps everything it touches dry.
If you want the root balls of some plants like Begonias, Cannas and Dahlias to gently dry throughout the winter so they withstand cold that bit better, then my top tip is to use cheap, basic, cat litter instead of grit or gravel in the bottom of plant trays. Add a few sheets of newspaper on top and your plants are good to go. The paper will keep the cat litter clean and any excess moisture will be slowly removed. It works for me a treat.
As I’ve been tidying up the back garden I’ve been cutting some of the final blooms of my #totalflowerfest and making mini arrangements for the kitchen table.
The dahlias, as ever, have been wonderful, but of all the plants I’ve grown really cheaply from seed this year, it’s the non-stop #MarvellousMarigolds that have been #GobsmackinglyGood.
Having said that the ultimate winner for #BloomingLikeThereIsNoTomorrow goes to my Cosmos ‘Dazzler’ plants. I gave up dead-heading them, but they just didn’t seem to notice or care. These girls are going to party on, right until a sharp frost hits home.
September 19th 2017 #SeptemberGardenGlory
In September I’m always tempted to start trimming back to get a proper head start on autumn, but my advice to myself is always #ResistTooMuchTidying.
I advise holding back and I would encourage anyone to do the same. Try to eek out and enjoy the colour and fading glory of the garden with its majestic seed-heads as much as you can. I’m leaving
the sunflowers for my mini flock of playful sparrows.
The #totalflowerfest has received some party gatecrashers in the form of luscious lime, marvellous magenta and decadently violet Gladioli. I’d completely forgotten I’d planted them in late May. Big pots of zingy perennial Helianthus ‘Miss Mellish’ are also late arrivers to the floral throng. So I’m happily heading into autumn with plenty of colour still bobbing around.
It’s been a bit of a mixed bag this year for my edibles. The heat in June meant lots of tasty leaves and herbs shot straight to seed, whilst some of the tomato plants in the greenhouse grew wild and wacky from fluctuating temperatures and heat stress.
Outside, however, my ‘Marketmore’ cucumbers have been a total triumph.
I’ve been busy researching what to do with my rather wonderful crop.
In honour of my late Nan Gladys, who would generally pickle pretty much anything, I have a big bowl full of stripy slices soaking in Sarsons vinegar at the bottom of the fridge.
But #JoyOfJoys, a new bottle of ‘Hendricks’, came with a mini cocktail book. I’m diligently working my way through it, making cucumber balls, spears, and thin, curly slices a go-go, not to mention experimenting with sugar syrup and cucumber purée. #deeelicious. It’s #G&Theaven. Karen Walker would be so proud. #SendForMoreGin #PlentyOfCucumbersLeftToCocktail.
The strawberries I’ve been trialing have supplied a reasonably steady crop all summer. Out of the varieties ‘Cherry Berry’, ‘Cambridge Favourite’, Mara Des Bois’, ‘Flamenco’ and pretty, pink flowered ‘Just Add Cream’ (new from Thompson & Morgan,) the latter is the most memorable. The fruits have an unusually floral fragrant taste, a bit like strawberry scented perfume that tantalises your taste buds as you tuck into each juicy berry. #JustAddACucumberG&TAndIt’sPerfection!
I’ve also got a #greenglut of tomatoes. I’m busy putting them in various bowls and then covering them with cling film to trap that all important ethylene gas that they give off as they ripen. This helps to quicken the ripening of the rest, and if you add a ripe banana too, that accelerates things even more.
‘Rosella’, a cute dark rosy-red and super-sweet cherry type, is my favourite this year.
The others I’ve grown are all colourful beefsteaks. For me they’re a bit disappointing in terms of the yield, although I’ll forgive ‘Brandy Wine’ and ‘Black Russian’ as the colour, juiciness and flavour of both are pretty orgasmic.
August 21st 2017 #AutumnalAugust
Like most gardeners at the mo, I’m just a little bit miffed with our weather. I was hoping it was going to behave itself for the remainder of the season. However August is in full flow and most days it feels like a damp and chilly autumn is almost here. #OurWeatherIsProperNutsThisYear.
I have decided it was time for a slight re-jig and I’ve been getting very jiggy-with-it, with lots of cutting back, re-positioning of pots, re-planting and, of course, LOTS of feeding and dead-heading, (although my Cosmos ‘Dazzler’ seem to keeping popping out blooms whether or not I get to them.)
Sadly the sweet peas have had to go. The mildew looked so bad that I have cut hard back and got rid. However they’ve been glorious for two full months and given me masses of cut blooms.
As I get older my attitude to any plant coming to an early demise is, “Finally a space to grow some other little gorgeous thing that’s been sitting and waiting in a pot for weeks” rather than, “Oh
dear, what happened here?” #Ain’tNobodyGotTimeFoDat.
So I’ve popped in a few free Thunbergia alata / ‘Black-Eyed Susan’s that my mate James gave me weeks ago. #Hurrah
I’m not going to let this grey moist murkiness dampen things down one jot. The water troughs are brimming, #Yay! So let’s keep-on keepin’ on.
I’ve put my pots of Cannas all down one side of the back garden. They look like they’re having their very own Mardi-Gras parade with raucous red Dahlia ‘American Beauty’, Zinnia ‘Purple Prince’, tall shaggy tangerine Tagetes ‘Kees Orange’ and ‘Starship Pink’ Lobelia all jostling for position too. All that’s pumping lots of colour (#ToASambaBeatInMyHead), and in the greenhouse the tommies are ripening nicely and, at the back, the long raised bed of dahlias is approaching floral supernova. #ItsJumpinUpInHere.
July 26th 2017 #JoysOfJuly
It’s not often I’m lost for words, but even I'm ever-so-slightly gobsmacked at just how utterly gorgeous my garden is now. I was hoping for this cacophony of colour by mid August, so to have it already is like some sort of magical and wonderful blessing.
It’s quickly transformed into the utterly joyous flower jungle of my dreams. There’s nothing quite like it as inspiration for an early morning alarm call. I’m up and out with the sparrows, dead-heading, dunking my two gallon can into full water troughs and sloshing around like a whirling dervish.
I admit I am talking to my gorgeous blooms too sometimes. I’m just so in love with them all. Forgive me for lots of extra pics of delicious blooms, but I’m past the point of being able to help myself.
All that's needed now is a bit of judicious tying in and trimming older foliage, mixed in with a regular, generous drink of some tomato-like liquid feed to keep plants pumping out blooms for the next few months.
After such a dry spring and then record breaking heat in June, it’s no surprise that some of the incredible edibles that I mixed into the planting, like Coriander, Fennel and Chard, have bolted and gone straight to seed.
Mildew has also started to ravage my ravishing red ‘Scarlet Tunic’ and hot pink ‘Robert Uvedale’ Sweet Peas. However, even this can’t remotely dampen my spirits or detract from the #totalflowerfiesta that is at full-tilt.
I just can’t get enough of this floral fun fair happening right outside my door.
June 27th 2017 #SuperSizzlingJune
Forget flaming June, this is super flipping sizzling Scorchio! I can’t remember a mid summer this hot since 1976. That year I got myself in rather hot water when I filled up my paddling pool and threw all my teddies and soft toys in it. I was only 5 years old, and convinced they all needed to cool down.
It’s been a challenge to keep plants cool this month too and I can’t deny, I seem to forever be trying to keep up with watering in the garden on late evenings. My various water troughs, installed to collect all the rain from my greenhouses, have stayed empty, so it’s been a case of hosepipe to the rescue.
However, this incredibly hot, high-summer weather has meant that my plants are probably a good month ahead of themselves; hot pink Sweet Peas ‘Robert Uvedale’ are already going completely nuts; Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ is well into it’s stride; my Martagon lilies (and a gorgeously sumptuous, brand new variety called ‘Corsage’) are bursting their buds; even the very first heads of my ‘Harlequin’ sun-flowers and Cosmos ‘Dazzler’ are popping all over the show. Normally this is unheard of in my garden until at least mid-July.
The dahlias and marigolds are revving up nicely too, so it’s full steam ahead - the #totalflowerfest has begun and I’m #lovingeverymoment.
May 29th 2017 #MuchAdoAboutMay
It’s been such an unusually mild, dry May this year in my, normally cool and wet, Cheshire garden. My plants have been happily galloping away. I’ve been planting-out like there’s no tomorrow, and I’m thinking, if this continues, I’ll be reaching full-on flowery Nirvana in no time at all.
Plants like my Cosmos ‘Dazzler’ are budding up nicely and all my various Marigolds, Zinnias, upright Lobelias and Dahlias are starting to look super stocky, like they are ready to rock some serious flower-power in a few weeks time.
With the RHS Chelsea Flower Show coverage all over the telly, the end of May always feels like someone has fired the starting gun, and there’s lots of fresh, new, lush green foliage from plants like Carex elata ‘Aurea’ (Bowles' golden sedge), dreamy Alchemilla mollis and towering whorls of deep green lily leaves too.
In my patch my rather fabulous pink and cherry-red Lupins ‘My Castle’ are floral rockets that, to me, are shouting ‘Wohoo! Let’s get this party started!” We’re off and it’s just going to get better and better!
April 29th 2017 #SeaOfGreen
Where does the time go? After a few rollercoaster weeks when temperatures dipped to almost freezing and then peaked in hot summer sunshine, they have finally levelled out and a breezy mid spring is in full flow.
I'm buzzing around my garden and greenhouses like a bumbling bee.
I’m trying to keep on top of pricking out and potting on a huge amount of plants. I think it's fair to say those gin and tonics may have meant I got rather carried away so I will possibly have enough plants on my hands to plant up a garden three times the size of my own.
At the moment my priority is to get my young plants out into the fresh air so the wind can work its magic. Something called 'thigmomorphogenesis' can be really important right now if you want stocky, healthy specimens and not tall, weak, lanky, lush growth.
'Thingy-mo' (as I call it) is the plant’s response to mechanical sensation, which alters their growth patterns. In my garden it's all about exposing my young plants to the subtle effects of wind, raindrops, and the occasional brush of a passing, sniffing Jack Russell, which causes them to wave about and grow strong and sturdy.
April and May is also 'pelleted chicken manure time'. I like to sprinkle just a few around plants right now as it's that time when they're hungry for extra nitrogen and there's nothing like these stinky pellets of goodness to give plants that extra punch.
I'm itching to plant out too, but first I want to 'place' rather than 'plant' in order to get my super, flower-powered display fully colour co-ordinated in my four favourite colours – rich red, tangerine orange, golden yellow and deepest pink. That’s when the fun really starts.
March 18th 2017 #TotalFlowerFest
In the words of Karen Walker, my favourite comedy character in the sitcom "Will and Grace" - “What’s this? What’s happening? What’s going on?”
Well I’m Andy, and I’m a self-confessed, card-carrying, guilty-as-charged flower-a-holic. I live in green and gorgeous Cheshire, and this year I have, not one but, two new, rather lovely Gabriel Ash greenhouses in which to play.
In my town garden in Crewe I’m planning a floral 'smorgas-gorge' this summer. I’m delving deep into the wonderful world of growing flowers, mostly from seed, cuttings and divisions, but also the occasional bit of layering and whatever other means of propagation necessary. This year I want to cultivate and revel in my favourite blooms like never before. I'm hoping my new back garden will become an energising, flower-powered space that’s super-charged with vibrant colour.
So over the coming months, I intend to open up my back garden and share, with you, my trials, tribulations and triumphs. It’s going to be a veritable flower fantasia.
I’ve been super busy already. I’ve potted up an obscene number of dahlia tubers, sown sunflowers, sweet peas and Cosmos, divided and potted up Alstromerias, Cannas and Starship Lobelias, planted bulbs of lilies alliums and Mexican Tiger Flowers, and as soon as it warms up that little bit more, towards the beginning of April, I’ll start sowing even more tender and half-hardy blooms. Somebody stop me!
So if you fancy some fun and a bit of colour, pour yourself a large G&T and join me on my quest for a #totalflowerfest in 2017. Cheers!