How does your garden grow?

I'm on a voyage of discovery in my first garden.
It's mostly about the veggies at the moment but I'm also discovering lots about flowers and other plants - quite often the hard way and always on a very tight budget.
But this blog is not just about my garden, it's about all the things I see and discover in Sussex and beyond and I would love to hear from you too.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

BBC Sussex: Gardening phone-in

You can listen to today's Dig It gardening phone-in programme on i-Player. Host Joe Talbot fields questions for Steve Bradley and tree expert Geoff Peach, who explains to one caller why her 12-year-old magnolia has never flowered.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Autumn colour

The autumn leaves are putting on a spectacular show this year. Too bad that some visitor gardens are due to close for the winter this weekend.
In the valley beyond our hedge I can see cherry, tupelo and acer, among others, turning seemingly unnatural shades of purple, red, orange and yellow. There are many other colourful trees, although I don't know all their proper names.
Even my favourite, the swamp cypress, which I had wrongly assumed to be evergreen, is now turning brown. Upon further investigation, I have learned that it is one of only a few deciduous conifers found growing in Britain. It's good to know but I'm not sure how that information is ever going to be useful to me unless it comes up in a quiz.
Meanwhile, just so I don't spend my whole time gazing up at the trees, the cyclamen are out too, providing a colourful carpet in the woodland gardens. This noticable change in the seasons has got me thinking about what I need to be doing in my own plot before winter sets in.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Fruit trees: Pleaching to the converted

Until a few weeks ago I had dispelled the idea of growing fruit in my garden.
Soft fruit would get picked off by birds and mice and there simply isn't enough room for an apple or pear tree... or is there?
On a recent visit to the Kent Life Museum near Maidstone I noticed their farmhouse garden had a low step-over hedge of dwarf apple trees, which set me thinking about my own garden.
I had already learned about pleaching and espalier from my in-house experts and wondered if dwarf trees could be trained between the posts that support a railway sleeper retaining wall.
I consulted my wiser and green-fingered other half and, to my delight, he agreed it would be a fine idea.
An early visit to a nursery taught me that there are grades of root stock which determine the size of the tree. The M27, I have learned, is not just the motorway running from Sussex to Hampshire, it is also the most dwarfing of apple rootstocks and grows to about 2 metres. It might also come as no surprise to learn that the M25, on the other hand, is very vigorous and produces a large tree.
As when driving, I think I'll avoid the M25 for now.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Harlequin ladybird invasion

Thankfully, my swarming ladybirds have almost gone and many who managed to sneak into the porch while the door was open have taken up residence in the corner above my back door.
I sent my photos to the UK Ladybird Survey who identified the bugs as the invasive harlequin species.
Helen Roy at the UK Ladybird Survey said: "We do not recommend killing any ladybirds and although this is partly because of the risk of native species being misidentified as harlequins, also any that are killed will unfortunately make very little difference to the population."
Ms Roy urged me to record the sightings and upload photos using the survey's online forms. Apparently the invasive species has been found as far north as Orkney but high numbers found in
Battersea, Clapham and Chelsea suggest some could have arrived via Eurostar or with vegetables sold at Covent Garden.
According to the survey website, harlequins have been known to damage late summer ripening fruit, such as pears, and get among grape harvests, tainting the wine that is produced.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Ladybird land

Oh my goodness! Has anyone else got thousands of ladybirds in their garden?
I am starting to become concerned, especially after finding stories about swarming ladybirds from previous years. There certainly aren't as many as in the BBC report about Norfolk last year but the weather is warm so I guess the numbers could still increase.
I have emailed the UK Ladybird Survey to find out if they are interested in the goings on here.
I have also downloaded their ladybird identification sheet to see whether any of the bugs are the invasive harlequin variety but it's pretty difficult to tell.
I've just been out in the garden to take photos and try and have a closer look at which species are out there but after opening the door for just a few seconds, I now have dozens of them in the house.
They are also landing on me all the time and I ended up coming back inside because I was spending the whole time picking them off.
I just hope it doesn't get worse - it's making me itch!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Tidying up the vegetable patch

With all the rain and cold weather recently, I have been viewing my vegetable patch mainly from the comfort of my living room.
Peering through the window, I could see that the weeds were thriving and the lettuces were starting to turn brown.
Thanks to a change in the weather today, I managed to blitz the plot, pulling out all the weeds and tired looking plants. I thinned out the remaining lettuces, harvesting two - one for me and one for my neighbour, and pulled out some of the spinach that had turned yellow.
I am still picking beans off the dwarf French bean plants, although the smaller fruits are starting to wither. I guess, after all their success, they are finally to come to the end of their season.
While I was tidying up, I also scoured the plants for slugs and snails, and whenever I found one, I had fun seeing how far I could fling it across the garden.
Most ended up beyond the shed.
I also pulled my first beetroot from the ground today, making room for the others to grow. The next task is to find out the best way to use or preserve them.
There are still lots of ladybirds in the garden - I assume it's a result of the warm weather because they seem to be settling on the sunny side of the house.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Swarming ladybirds

Ladybirds are a cherished friend of the gardener - they munch the greenflies and blackflies that wreck our crops.
I am very lucky in my new garden because I have plenty of ladybirds of all varieties so my salad crops have been bug free.
However, in the last week or so, I have noticed a marked increase in the number of ladybirds, with many flying into the house.
With a little research on the internet, I have read that they can "swarm" in the autumn.
Last August, ITN reported that millions of the insects swarmed in Somerset and Norfolk, where cars were covered in a "thick carpet" of ladybirds.
As it is already October, I'm hoping I won't have a ladybug plague of my own but I'm intrigued to know what's going on.