Lilies for Mothering Sunday

Cut flowers are lovely, and I’ll never say not to them (as long as they’re plastic-free and British-grown) but a single pot planted with lilies would also gladden any mother’s heart.

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Edit: Do be careful with lilies if you have cats or neighbours with cats, as the pollen is poisonous to them. Many thanks to Fran for pointing this out in the comments - I should have mentioned it in the original post.


It’s as simple as getting hold of some lily bulbs and putting them in a pot. Here’s how:

You need:

Lily bulbs: I have new favourites every year, but the milky-white, heavily scented Lilium ‘Casa Blanca’ always steals my heart.

Compost: I use a mixture of peat-free multi-purpose and John Innes No. 2.

A tall pot: My lily posts measure roughly 30cm across and are 50cm deep. This size will be perfect for tall lilies.

Sharp sand

Osmacote granules: to feed the bulb - about one handful per pot.

Method

Mix up the compost with the granules and fill the pot until you have about 15cm left to the rim. Now sprinkle in a handful of sharp sand, put the bulbs on top (I use three bulbs per pot) and bury them with more compost, leaving enough room at the tip so that when you water it won’t overflow. Water until it seeps out of the bottom of the pot, put it outside in a sunny spot and wait.

If you’ve chosen tall lilies it’s a good idea to put a pea stick next to each one to support it as it gets taller.

You should have lilies by June.

Lilies hate to be too wet, so wait until the compost is dry on top before each watering and then water thoroughly. They also sometimes get attacked by bright red lily beetles, which have brown larvae covered in their own odious poo - so revolting. Squish them on sight.

x Laetitia


Frog love: how to create the best environment for these garden friends.


Photo by  Bharathi Raja  on  Unsplash

Photo by Bharathi Raja on Unsplash

You want frogs in your garden; you really really do.

They eat insects (including mosquitos) and also slimy invertebrates (yes, slugs) and they are also unbelievably cute.

Water

The single most important feature you need is water – a pond is obviously best, but failing that, a large container filled with water and more importantly, a way in and out of it. For a container or pool, this will mean bricks fashioned in some sort of ‘step’ arrangement; for a pond, the marginal (shallower) area on the sides will do the trick.

Plants

They need pond plants to hide in-amongst, and to attract insects. Frogs actually spend most of their time on land, so adequate foliage, providing moist, shady coverage near to your pond or pool is vital.

Patience and consideration

Wait for the frogs to find you, rather than raiding another pond for frogspawn, and be careful with any chemicals you are still using and consider cutting them out – for the benefit of all nature, but particularly for frogs who drink and breathe through their skin. Avoid topping pools up with tap water, because the chlorine in it can harm frogspawn – it’s best to use a water butt, and if you must use tap water, then leave it out for a day or two to evaporate the chlorine. If you live in an area where your tap water is chloraminated, then always use rainwater.

Slowly does it!

Most importantly though (and sorry to make you wince), keep your lawn short, and check it thoroughly before you mow it.

 

x Laetitia

 

Night scented stars

Let’s speculate that there are balmy nights ahead shall we? That we will be out there, chinking glasses in the twilight. Have any of these scented plants where you’ll be sitting for instant luxurious feels.

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

First up, easy peasy stock. Use multi-purpose compost in a pot, or a well-prepared area of ground with plenty of sun and sow an eighth of an inch deep, on watered compost. Once the seedlings appear begin thinning out, tentatively at first, but then with more gusto until you have healthy, beefy little plants about 12 inches apart. Variety wise, I always go for unassuming and rather raggedy Matthiola bicornis but they all have that delicious, weighty scent.

Nicotiana alata in the border

Nicotiana alata in the border

Nicotiana is another winner, and doubly useful in the border or pots because of its height. N. alata or N. sylvestris are the loveliest in my humble opinion. Sow the tiny seed in containers indoors or buy ready-grown seedlings if you lack the space or time.

Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I’ve ordered an pergola, and I’m planning to cover it with evening scented climbers, to create layers of delicious scent. Don’t be afraid to mix them up; honeysuckle (I love evergreen ‘Halliana’) and jasmine (including trachelospermum) together is never not a good idea. Throw in a bit of chocolate scent, with some Akebia quinata (I love this ‘Amethyst’ variety) and you’re transported to heaven.

Lastly (and best) with the strongest evening scent I have ever had the pleasure of sniffing, is the table-top star Zaluzianskya ovata, of which you can order small plants, or sow in June; put it on your outside table and prepare for a long night ahead because nobody will want to leave its heady embrace.

x Laetitia

Pea shoots for children (and adults too)

Pea-shoots for your budding little gardeners

This post was originally written for Mamalina - the brilliant blog by Emma Ross. She writes about all things zero-waste and has a wonderful, no-nonsense, realistic approach to how we can each make a difference, making small (and large) meaningful changes.

You can be really pretty slapdash! All pics here by Jill Mead from my book ‘Sweet Peas for Summer’

You can be really pretty slapdash! All pics here by Jill Mead from my book ‘Sweet Peas for Summer’

 Do your kids eat salad greens? If they do, then lucky you, but if, like most of us, you’re desperate to introduce the delights and textures of raw saladings to your little refuseniks, then you could do much worse than try out this little project, Not only is it the easiest and most gratifying seed-sowing escapade for doing with little ones, but the ensuing pea-shoots are sweet and yummy, just like peas; the perfect gateway to rather more challenging raw green things.

 

You will need:

A packet of seeds. These are just dried peas, and you can get a big box really cheaply at the supermarket. If you like trying different varieties though, find a few packets from your local nursery.

A shallow, wide pot or a window-box – the more surface area the better. Obviously you can grow these in the ground too if you like.

Some peat-free multi-purpose compost

peashoots

Method:

Fill your pot with the compost so that it comes about 5cm shy of the top of the container. Water, and sprinkle the seeds all over the damp surface of the compost. The beauty of this is that you can let your child do this; the seeds can be touching each-other – no need for spacing. So make a layer of seeds, and then sprinkle over more compost, making sure there are no lumps in it. 2cm should be fine.

Water daily, and you should see action very soon. The green shoots will peep up. You may have to prod the soil down between them a bit if it raises up, or just give the pot a good water and the compost should break up and sink down.

Harvest whenever you think the shoots taste best. I like them to have a few curly tendrils attached because they look pretty. You can either snip them just above the compost, or pull the whole lot up, wash and serve with seed attached. 

chuck them in!

chuck them in!

Even if your kids still hate greens after this, your sense of achievement should not be dampened one iota: you will still have introduced them to the joys of watching something grow from seed, and that’ll be with them for life, so keep that smug face ON!

xx Laetitia

Spring container care

Do you have permanent pot plants that look like they might be in need of a boost? You might be noticing yellowing leaves, or simply that the plant hasn’t grown as you’d hoped or expected. If so, then now is a good time to consider re-potting it.

container care

Containerised plants sitting in the same compost for more than a two or three years are likely to be needing extra nutrients that (unlike their friends in the flower bed) they cannot access. You can of course provide this with a liquid fertiliser, once the danger of frost has passed, but new compost is a better solution, not only improving the soil structure, but also giving you the opportunity to inspect the roots of the plant and give it a larger pot if necessary.

Begin with long-term plantings as they are always in most need. Remove each plant from its container. If the roots are starting to spiral around the outside of the root-ball then it’s time for a larger pot; if not, then remove old excess soil and replant in the original container.

Ensure that the hole in the bottom of the container doesn’t get blocked up by compost by putting a crock over it, and fill with new compost. I use John Innes number 2 for pretty much everything that isn’t temporary. Gently tease out the roots by giving the root-ball a good rub, and re-plant carefully, making very sure that you’re getting the soil properly into the gap between the sides of the pot and the root-ball. This is time consuming work, so if you really cannot face it then top-dressing is an acceptable interim measure until next year, removing the top two inches of soil and replacing it with new. Even this small gesture will be rewarded with happier, revitalised plants.

x Laetitia

How to deter foxes

I used to be a benign person, and then foxes entered my garden, ripping bits of it up, and pooing everywhere. My Rotter and I have turned into Boggis Bunce and Bean all rolled into one, plotting obsessively to thwart them. Success has been gradual but sure, with our cunning plan.

Photo by  Maurice Schalker  on  Unsplash

Photo by Maurice Schalker on Unsplash

Before I begin. I would like to make it clear that although I dislike foxes and do not want them in my garden, I wish them no harm!

How to deter foxes from your garden

1. Switch things up.

Foxes are neophobes; any changes freak them out, so make this your number one weapon. Move things about regularly…pots, garden furniture. They don’t like it and will often avoid changing environments in favour of places that are undisturbed….this is a marvellous excuse to be out in the garden faffing around as much as possible!

2. Keep things clean

Obviously remove any and all sources of food from the garden. Clean up any windfalls daily, and secure bin lids with bricks or clips. Use an enclosed compost bin if possible, and clean up really well if you eat outside.

3. Create noise

Our other strategy is sound. We leave Radio 4 on in the shed all night long, and something called a ‘Zennox barking dog alarm’ which imitates a German Shepherd whenever it detects movement.

4. Sprinkle deterrents

We are dousing and sprinkling areas of the garden every few days with a combination a synthetic animal scent called ‘Scoot’, and lashings of Tabasco sauce. The trick is to keep changing tack, so the foxes never get used to any one thing.

5. Squirt them

The most successful strategy when used in addition to the above, has been a contraption called the ‘Home Defence Scarecrow’, which squirts a strong jet of water out whenever it senses any movement. Using all of these methods together has reduced scat by a good 80%.


Stay sly my friends, and you will prevail.


x Laetitia

Book review: The Flower Garden by Clare Foster and Sabina Ruber

This book landed on my doormat at a time when I was researching for a piece on veg that you can grow in your boarders, and I had to set it aside and not allow myself to peek at it, for fear of being torn away from the job in hand.

Gypsophila ‘Kermesine’ by Sabina Ruber

Gypsophila ‘Kermesine’ by Sabina Ruber


The truth is, I am a flower person, through and through. I WANT to grow veg, and I DO, but nothing comes close to sowing and growing flowers. As regular readers of this blog will know, my problem (some might call it my USP) is lack of time, and this is why I regularly eschew sowing my own flowers and buy them as tiny plugs.

This book though, reminds me of the reasons why I DO sow a few flowers every year, despite not having a huge amount of time to give them…, not just because it saves me money, but because the authors are right, you learn SO much more about gardening and your plants by raising them from seed.

All the pretty things

All the pretty things

Clare Foster, Garden Editor at House and Garden Magazine, together with Sabina Ruber, acclaimed flower and garden photographer, began an exciting project back in 2012; to grow as many annual flowers from seed as they could. I love that Clare got stymied in this endeavour, as life got in the way while she moved house, and yet she began again…this somehow speaks to me - the real-life stuff…the things that don’t go to plan. It didn’t matter though…she picked up and carried on, and this glory of a book was born.

The flower garden: how to grow flowers from seed

Clare has divided it up into seven sections; Cottage garden favourites, Filigree Fillers, Bold and Beautiful, Sweetly Scented, Exotic beauties, Edible flowers and herbs, and Bee-Friendly flowers. This makes it incredibly easy to choose which flowers to have a go at sowing, particularly if you suffer from option paralysis…the hardest part is always choosing what to grow. She has also marked ‘easy’ plants (i.e. nigella) with a special symbol - so that’s another way you could pick, if you’re a beginner.

aquilegia

There is also a beautifully comprehensive, NON-SCARY section on sowing and growing. Gardening is so full of grey areas, and there are MANY different ways of doing the same thing, so I am drawn to advice that is instructional but doesn’t get too technical. Intuitiveness is key in gardening. We simply need a springboard for starting off, and this is a very good one.

sowing seeds

The last part of the book contains some ideas on how to use your flowers - how to make a sweet pea arch, for example, and how to create your own cutting patch. These are simple, one-page inspiration hits that appeal to me, as a time-pressed person, and obviously come naturally to Clare as a magazine editor.

Beautiful cobaea scandens in a vase -  How to sow cobaea scandens

Beautiful cobaea scandens in a vase - How to sow cobaea scandens

This book had me at hello with its GOLDEN spine and utterly stunning photographs. Sabina Ruber’s close ups are mesmerising, but the thing that sets this one apart is the fact that it’s NOT encyclopaedic. It’s obvious that every single plant here has been sown and grown by the authors, tried and tested. I love the fact that they stipulate specific cultivars, and that each one is photographed. What an absolutely gorgeous, useful book; I think it’s only a matter of time before its pages are crinkled and smeared with compost.

Highly recommended.

The Flower Garden by Clare Foster and Sabina Ruber is out next month

x Laetitia

How to sow Cobaea scandens (cup and saucer vine)

Cobaea scandens (cup and saucer vine) is hands down my favourite annual climber and I sow some every year, not really knowing where they’re going to go, but safe in the knowledge that they’ll go somewhere, and I’ll love them to bits. If you’re looking for an easy-to-grow climber that looks fabulous, this is the one for you.

Cobaea scandens growing up a willow tipi

Cobaea scandens growing up a willow tipi

Here’s a pic of me in my nighty inside a tipi full of this wonderful plant. Bit silly but we made this pic to underline the fact that if you stand still long enough this plant would probably climb all over you quite happily. I used to grow it in my kitchen, letting it climb the walls up towards a skylight..so yes, it’s perfectly happy in a pot.

This is one of those plants whose seeds are large enough to make sowing a double joy. The other reason I love them is that they are self-clinging, meaning I can be super-lazy and let them bomb off up whatever I give them to climb without worrying about tying in.

Here’s a how-to video I did for Cobaea five years ago, and nothing has changed in the way I do it. Two things I do forget to mention (because videoing yourself is a bit befuddling) is that I SOAK the seeds for a few hours before planting, and I put these little pots inside a tray with a plastic lid (as with most seeds) to keep the atmosphere humid and aid germination

Have fun with these!

x Laetitia

I write a little newsletter once a week, which is much more personal than my blog, and charts all of my five minute endeavours each day. People say it inspires them to get out in the garden. People also say it makes them feel better about NOT getting out into the garden. Anyway, you can sign up below if you think it might appeal, or just email me with your email address and I’ll add you to the list.



Bulb protection techniques


Protecting bulbs from squirrels, cats and kids

Bamboo cloches

In gardening, as in life, abundance is everything, so the idea that some of your bulbs may come under attack, whether from squirrels, mice or foxes is rather a good thing, because you will deliberately plant more than you may think you need.

This may be the best course of action for the wider garden, where a lost tulip or two won’t necessarily cause much gnashing of teeth. But what of your precious pots, lovingly filled with exquisite beauties, sitting there, prone to vandalism?

Begin with a cloche. I like bamboo ones, which, pushed tightly over pots, keep undesirables out and (I think) look beautiful. The largest one (linked above) can be jammed even over my 60cm diameter pots. It’s important to remember that these will wear over time. They become darker of course, with exposure to wet and sun, and eventually the bamboo will become brittle. This is fine by me, but its something to bear in mind before buying. Crocus also stocks similar ones here. They are less useful in the ground, as they don’t really jam into the earth properly. If you want something for your veg patch, then these are both beautiful and brilliant. I had some on loan for a while to try out and they were amazing.

Secondly, Tabasco, sprinkled liberally around the edges of the pot actually does work. It’s a faff because you have to keep re-applying, and take obvious precautions by keeping the containers well away from children.

Some gardeners actually place all their pots in a wire cage (a rabbit run would do) until the plants have emerged.

I’ve had anecdotal evidence that baby powder, sprinkled liberally over the top of the compost is an effective deterrent, although again, I think you’d have to be sure to reapply after every rain shower.

Also, planting your bulbs together with a couple of garlic cloves is apparently a good trick (although surely the critters would have to have dug the things up in order to be freaked out by the garlic….perhaps they can smell the stuff from above and know not to dig there…worth a go?

The most work-intensive but least visually bothersome tactic is to place bulbs inside home made wire mesh baskets. A good compromise is to use a flat piece of mesh, with holes at least 1 inch wide, and bury it just above your bulbs, curling the edges around and down so that the mesh is rammed tightly inside the pot.

If you can’t be bothered with any of this, simply planting slightly deeper than you would normally, and being obsessively careful to clean up after yourself, removing any and all evidence of bulb planting works well.

Let me know in the comments if you have any clever tricks? I’m all ears! Also love to hear your suggestions for protecting seed beds and newly-planted areas from animals - I’ll be writing something on that soon!

xx Laetitia

PS I write a newsletter once a week - it’s a bit more personal than my blog and details my five minute endeavours each day. Do take a peek if you’re interested in the full knowledge that you can always unsubscribe if you loathe it!


February: Three garden things you can practically do from bed this month

Okay okay I know I do this five minutes a day thing, but that’s because I get a kick out of it and I’m telling you honestly, that most of what I do in the garden in January and February centres around tidying away errant leaves and bringing order to my potting bench and garden shed. There’s very little actual, down-on-your-knees stuff, unless the day is exceptionally mild and I can weed without fear of my fingers turning blue.

The truth is that too much messing about in the garden can do more harm than good at this time of year, particularly if you trample all over your soil (compaction) or sow too many seeds (sure fire way to depressive anxiety), so here are a few productive but harmless things you can do this month, without even going outside.


1. Order some colour

Nicotiana with geranium in an old border of mine… photo by Jill Mead

Nicotiana with geranium in an old border of mine… photo by Jill Mead

If you’ve not yet thought carefully about how you’re going to ’style’ your garden this year, then this is a great time to sit down with the internet and make some lists of bedding plants you’d like to fill gaps in with, or seeds you’d like to sow in order to CREATE gap-fillers, (like the nicotiana in this picture) or plants for containers or hanging baskets on your terrace. Stick to one or two plants and buy a tray-full to create a generous, cohesive look. You can find my shopping list here. Same thing if you love to sow from seed; stick to one or two plants and grow lots of them. It looks better and is easier to deal with. Swear.

2. Have a little houseplant clinic

Fiddle leaf fig (probably in need of a wipe!)

Fiddle leaf fig (probably in need of a wipe!)

Check moisture levels and water if necessary (your central heating is mighty drying you know) and also wipe down any shiny leaves gently, (see pic above with LOTS of dust!) with a damp cloth. If you notice growth, then perhaps put the merest suggestion of some food into the water. Check to see if any of your plants’ roots are congested (just tip the thing out of its pot and have a look). If you see lots of roots running frantically round and round the edge of the compost, it’s probably time to go a size up.

3. Plan your chill-out zones

Very glorious recycled outdoor textiles from Weaver Green

Very glorious recycled outdoor textiles from Weaver Green

Remember last summer when you wished that table and chair was over there, to catch the evening sun, or when you could never quite enjoy sitting in your favourite spot because it was just too darn hot and you didn’t have a parasol? Now is the time to make sure this is dealt with darlings. I’m going to say it again, because I don’t think it goes in sometimes, but LOUNGING ABOUT WITH YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY HAVING PARTIES AND PICNICS OR READING GREAT BOOKS OR RUNNING ABOUT HYSTERICALLY SPRAYING EACH-OTHER WITH THE HOSE IS WHAT YOUR GARDEN IS ACTUALLY FOR! The ‘gardening’ (in my humble opinion) is the thing that makes all of that stuff possible - it is not the END, but the means to an end. So invest in those beautiful cushions, or that lovely parasol. Think about how you can put the table where you actually need it to be, and do the necessary to make that happen. 

xx Laetitia