19 November 2009

in my cups

Growing up the wall at the front of the garden is a Cobaea scandens, The Cup and Saucer Vine (turn an open flower upside down and the name does make sense). This was grown from seed three years ago and has over-wintered with no added protection ever since. Introduced from Brazil it is tender and rarely survives the winter outside, it is usually grown as an annual when, sown in early May, it will quickly grow to twenty feet and be covered with flowers in a few summer months. Here as the weather warms in spring, despite being cut back by cold and by me, the plant re-grows rampantly to cover the whole wall and send strangely rubbery vines twenty feet up into neighbouring trees. I am glad it is held in check by the winter, it must be an awful weed in the tropics.

It has a long season of flower and continues until the weather is grim enough to damage the buds. The flowers are interesting in all stages of growth, from the first origami buds,
that swell to open,
first soft luminous green
then porcelain shell shades
until the colour deepens
and it finishes dark and dusky.

The funereal shade of the mature flower doesn't really stand out in the garden and, despite being continually in flower, there is never a great mass of them out at any one time. I much prefer the white colour variant 'Alba'. I grew this from seed last year and it was much nicer, its green to white progression of bells stood out from a distance and looked fantastic intermingling with the small flowered white clematis 'Summer Snow' (one of my favourite Clematis). Despite my favour it turned up it's toes in the cold and promptly died. Which is often the way of it.

18 November 2009


For the past few months there has been a flock of house sparrows visiting the garden daily and they are usually seen busy on the feeders. The flock has numbered up to 20 individuals, the most I've seen at once here. The only nesting site locally is, I think, at Odhams Walk, Longacre, and this does make them vulnerable to disturbance - I have written in support of the Odhams residents attempts to encourage these lovely birds and to try and protect the dense ivy growth where they nest (ivy does make building managers nervous). I do hope some decide to cross Shaftesbury Avenue permanently and use the nestboxes at the Phoenix this spring. It seems only fair payment after all the seed they've gone through.

15 November 2009

holiness - of a sort

In the 'greenhouse' are a few pots of various succulents and cactus that have languished unwatered on the top shelf in far too much shade and they all look rather unhappy. They are waiting patiently for the new building and prime positions on the brightest windowsills but this will be awhile yet. I am sure they will survive stunted as they are until moved to better growing conditions but in the meantime one of the stockplants, mother to numerous plant sale cuttings, is is definitely making its presence felt in my kitchen.

Stapelia grandiflora is one of the South African carrion flowers and the family is adapted to grow in arid scrubland with seasonal rainfall. I collected the seed for this twenty years ago in Zimbabwe at the top of Victoria Falls, they have extremely rapid germination and were up in 24 hours, and have kept a piece of this same plant growing since then. It grows as low spreading clumps of angular stems and in very well drained compost is easy to grow. It is happy dry from October until late April but when in active growth does like regular watering. Like all succulents it must never sit in water or the roots will rapidly rot. After growing all summer the new stems will slowly develop enormous swollen flower buds. They swell to bursting point and pop open into great hairy starfish flowers over six inches across. These have an aroma of decaying meat, not overpowering but very pervasive, and an antelope-corpse-bumholey-ness that flies cannot resist. The mimicry is so convincing that flies will lay their eggs on the petals. These are doomed to shrivel unhatched as each flower only lasts a couple of days or so before withering.

Strange and stinky but I do rather like them.

13 November 2009

clucking leaves

In the churchyard next door there are a lot of leaves - an awful lot of leaves. These are being swept up, bagged up and thrown on the dustcart as they are every year. What a waste! Every year I try to get as many as possible brought into the garden to stack till they break down to leafmould. The only problem with this is that they are all plane tree leaves, tough, leathery, slow to rot down and even the best method needs eighteen months for any success. This takes up a lot of space that we don't have to spare.

I have had fourteen dumpy ton bags stuffed with leaves stacked under the walnut tree while i thought creatively about dead leaves and hibernaculums and with my love of poultry and lacewings the answer was always going to be clucking obvious really.

Now five fat leaf chickens are home to hibernating insects.

So that just leaves ten bags remaining. . .

12 November 2009

alex's big banana bouquet

After the debates earlier in the year, about the aesthetics of the banana and its suitability as a garden plant, I have watched and waited. Waited for the moment the ugly flowering stems could be cut down. I'm told the flower itself has it's own phallic charms but the supporting stems go rapidly downhill, progressively shedding fibrous sheets that hang like dirty brown bandages. Two flowering stems had gone from aged to desperately decrepit and really had to go. One soft three metre stem was cut through easily at the base with a blunt weeding knife. Too easily - the sudden deadweight was very surprising and is as near to caber tossing as i've come. Vengefully I simply bent the other over till it snapped off with a succulent 'crack' like snapping giant celery. Not the ideal technique I know but very satisfying. The young stems remaining look much better with a bit of space between them and I think thinning the oldest may be the only way to make this monster any way acceptable to me.

Just acceptable.

Alex sits firmly in the banana "Yay!" camp and is deserving of a butttonhole.

Such synchronicity.

10 November 2009

wheesps and squeels

I had a conversation today. The sort i like.

lady: "i don't like wheesps!"

me: "sorry?"

lady : "the wheesps! i dont like them!"

me: "i'm sorry, i don't understand what you are saying".

lady: (with waving hands and loud buzzing) "wheesps! wheesps!"

me: "oh! wasps! yes, they can be a nuisance".

lady: "and squeels. i don't like them either!"

me (getting the picture): "yes, there's one been eating the walnuts".

A Squeel (eating conkers).

9 November 2009

pavior saviour 3

Laying the bricks is simple. They are just placed in position, knocked tight to their neighbours and gently tamped firm with a rubber mallet. For the circles they have been laid in a herringbone pattern. This looks lovely but is a nuisance to edge neatly. Small angled pieces need to be cut from bricks to fill in but using these reclaimed bricks does make this rather difficult. They are brittle and shatter to smithereens as often as not. The edges eventually were cobbled as best as could be and then a dry cement mix packed in around to set slowly as soil moisture creeps in. Each circle is raised in the middle and this has given each a gently domed finish. This looks very satisfying and will hopefully stand up to the levels of foot traffic without slumping. We shall see.

The straight path sections were laid in a simple grid pattern, also tamped into place but thankfully with little need to cut any to finish. Where the new paving meets the old the line of the bricks runs at a diagonal connecting both together very nicely. As this weathers in the join should not be noticeable at all.
To hold everything in place sand, copious amounts of sand, are brushed back and forth over the path. This works its way down into the gaps and locks it all together. Using normal sharp sand it takes a number of days for it to work right down and needs repeated sweeping back and forth. All advice says to get kiln dried sand for this which is meant to trickle down as easily as that in an hourglass. Unfortunately every building supplier I've contacted about this has no idea what I'm on about. I hate that.
Once the bricks were well firmed in I attacked any protrusions with an angle grinder to eliminate any trips and smooth off sharp edges. Very noisy and disturbing to a BBC interview being filmed in studios on Flitcroft Street. They had no qualms in demanding I stop for a couple of hours - I had no qualms in refusing (I pay my licence fee).

To finish off bed edging kerb stones were moved and reset at the path edge. They are enormously heavy and need nothing but their weight to sit firm.

The garden was closed to the public for six weeks during the repaving to a daily chorus of complaints. I think the results are worth the wait. If not I'm sure they will all be only too happy tell me.

pavior saviour 2

With the excavation completed the retaining edges had to be constructed for the circles. We used broken paving slabs for these, cemented in place and laid on edge they'll be strong enough to hold it all together and will visually connect this to other areas in the garden where this material has been used extensively. I am an intuitive bricklayer so the levels developed rather organically but should be rather suitable in this informal space (and would be nothing that an angle grinder couldn't correct)
The materials were delivered staggered over a couple of days. I am a terrible quantity surveyor and have no formulae at hand. Instead I use a 'hands apart and visualise' technique to work out what's needed so when materials arrive I always find it rather shocking. Of course it all has to be moved by hand so shocking preceeds daunting.

I now know that 4,600 bricks take 3 people one day to carry in and stack (with teabreaks) and that the garden is now 20 tons heavier.

Into the retaining circles tons of hardcore and finely broken slabs (broken by hand - now that's a volunteering opportunity) were laid and compacted with a vibrating plate. This is a deafening process so many thanks to the Phoenix Theatre stage door staff for supplying earplugs.
Over the top of this we spread sharp sand. Tons of the stuff. Mounded up in the middle and whacked into place the bricks - reclaimed and London - could be simply laid in place.

The straight sections of path, connecting the circles and to the compost area, would be edged with ACO Borderguard. This is a recycled plastic edging strip that just requires a compacted bed of hardcore and sand before being nailed into the ground. It is very simple to use but hard to find a supplier (the manufacturers list of suppliers appears to be made up as no one contacted had heard of it) - Screwfix do.

white delights on the water

I like autumn. Lovely things happen in autumn. The hectic days of summer have passed and the shortening day length triggers new prettiness both left and right. The colours of autumn might supposedly be limited to the reds and yellows of the changing leaves but there are white delights appearing in the ponds.

Water Hawthorn, Aponogeton distachyos, has opened the first of a long season of fragrant white waxy blooms. This South African shuts up shop for the summer dying back to a tuber, an adaption for drought in its homeland, it will happily lie dormant underwater until the cooler weather stimulates the new growth of floating paddle shaped leaves. The flowers emerge above the water as pointed, capped buds. The cap soon splits and the forked bloom extends. These are sweetly scented, supposedly like hawthorn, and each lasts for a couple of weeks. Pollinated by insects they readily set seed and this germinates freely in shallow water. They can grow in deep water, in our ponds the depth ranges from 6inches to a couple of feet and they are much more shade tolerant than water lilies, a useful attribute in shaded city gardens.
Spotted by an eagle eyed chairman in the shade of the banana are the flowers of the pondweed, Egeria densa. This is the archetypal pondweed of goldfish bowls and has long stems of whorled leaves. Growing at a rate of knots it has become established around the world as a garden escape and is classed as an invasive water plant in many countries. In our garden it has grown successfully in the shadiest of the ponds and from a small bunch added in the spring has filled the pond with great green ropes. Here it is easily controlled by pulling out any excess. Small white flowers with three delicate crumpled petals are held an inch above the surface on fine green stalks. Hardly a show but they are absolutely delightful. Chairmans like them too.

pavior saviour 1

The path at the rear of the garden has been in a state for years. Loosely laid twenty years ago it had become increasingly crazy paving as the cellar rubble beneath had settled and the trees have grown undermining roots. Some minor repairs had been carried out last year on the worst trip hazards but it has only been luck that teeth and hips have not been broken here. For wheelchair users it has been a bone-rattling roller coaster route so replacement has been long overdue and with the funding in the bank there was no more putting it off.
First the existing path was ripped up. Part of me likes this bit, the rest becomes increasingly anxious as the scale of destruction is revealed (i have in the past few years 'destroyed' the garden piece by piece - there is always the worry that it won't go back together - of course this doesn't stop me). All the old slabs will be reused for something interesting, in the meantime they are stacked outside the office. At this point it was suggested we could dig out the dead willow tree by hand - the trunk is three feet thick (as i must be) - after half a day it became glaringly apparent we could not. I am re-committed to not being led astray by the bright ideas of others.
Of course there is flexibility to any plan, what looks right on paper can actually be so wrong, so a general outline that can be adapted is needed. The initial design had the path ending at the wildlife pond at the back of the garden. When marked out on the ground this revealed a rather unnerving finish teetering on the pond edge so with a paint spray, a piece of string and a cane an alternate design was walked out. There is a lot to be said for working it out this way.

The new layout would connect two circular paved areas with straight sections of path. Easily marked out, less easily dug. To ensure that the new paving will last we put extra effort in to preparing suitable foundations. An incredible amount of material was dug out as the whole area was excavated down to a foot depth - or to the 'carpark' level (the car park the site once was remains just beneath). Thanks to Doug, Graham, Ollie, Garrad and Peter for just keeping at it till done.

22 June 2009

in my bouquet (outdoors only)

Have a look at these!  

The Regal Lilies (Lilium regale) have survived the bashing of footballs and the gnawing of beetles and opened their magnificent fragrant trumpets.  They were some of the first bulbs planted five years ago in a self indulgent moment and I didn't expect much success, the garden's dry and big exciting buds get snapped off all too often by bored selfish fingers.  They are growing in clayey brick rubble and have received little additional care since being planted with a dollop of compost in each planting hole.  They are plagued with lily beetle each year and we try and squash as many as we can - Alex is an effective beetle squasher with now seriously impaired karma - and this is obviously an adequate control.  The dry soil probably helps with slugs and snails, both notorious lily eaters.  Despite my low expectations they have flowered each year atop tall stems and fill the garden with dangerously rich perfume.  

Sometimes they get stolen and I rage against the world for a while.  I recover.

Up close these are majestic flowers but it is at a distance when I think the big trumpet heads hovering over smaller bedfellows look so good , and they need that bit of distance. 
That scent!  

Too much!  

20 June 2009

not in my bouquet - 2

The banana has flowered.  
I am unimpressed.  This is widely known and a source of amusement. I haven't been able to find many redeeming features after growing this plant for 3years.  The initial excitement of the rapid growth to fifteen feet from an eight-inch baby sucker and its enormous ribbed leaf blades soon waned and I now know better.  The leaves get ripped to tatters with the gentlest breath of wind, the tatters hanging on till turning brown to compliment the tatty dead bits remaining from the winter. From October to May it has sat as tatty as a tatty thing can look and that is a long time to be tatty - fifteen foot of tattiness too.  So now it has flowered - mustard and brown - yum!

To avoid the eight messy months of messiness this really is a plant best not grown by yourself.  Just admire it (if you must) at the height of its warm season best in someone else's garden.  

Like mine.

(thanks to malcolm for the photos - my camera couldn't cope with such ugliness)

not in my bouquet - 1

The Tulip tree (Liriodenron tulipifera) towering at the south end is in full bloom.  Usually this goes unnoticed even though the flowers are large and plentiful as they are a foliage matching shade of green - the orange flashes on the reverse make them no more noticeable.  The strong winds this week have brought some of the flowers down to ground level.  Interesting as they are I can't say they excite me.  Its autumn butter-yellow display does.
This tree has grown enormous in the 25years since planting but it is not particularly happy here.  The leaves show clear signs of nutrient deficiency with dark veins and pale areas.  Hopefully the soil improvements taking place beneath will help with the problem  

This odd bloom is on one of the Pitcher plants (Sarracenia hybrids) growing in one of the ponds - another interesting but not inspiring flower.  These are carnivorous plants and have adapted leaves like upright trumpets that trap insects.  Insects are attracted into the leaves interior only to be unable to escape up the slippery waxy walls.  Downwards pointing hairs guide them further into the leaf where they drown and are digested in a small pool of enzyme rich liquid.  Like all carnivorous plants they are adapted to grow in nutrient poor soils and gain additional nutrient from their catch.  They are hardy enough to grow out of doors but have struggled to make any headway in the hard water of the pond and, ironically, from constant attacks by insects.  It seems the Aphids will have their revenge.

19 June 2009

St Josephs mini-meadow

Back at St Joe's for the first time in ages.  The radish and peas have grown well, the radish flowering and setting a good crop of edible pods (too late for the crunchy roots?  eat the pods instead), the peas have just started and a good number of fat pods are hanging ready.

The children planted some tomato and chilli plants in the veg cage to grow on - they may not get any fruit before the summer holidays but they will be waiting them when they return.  The uncaged half of the planter was planted with a mixture of wildflower plants and the area scattered with seed.  We planted ox-eye daisy, red campion, black medic, wild strawberry, dog violet, bloody dock and pendulous sedge.  I hope these are tough enough to grow here, the planter is smack bang in the middle of the playground and is in the thick of it come playtime.
Fingers crossed!

appearance of the king

This is the first King Stropharia toadstool to appear since the wood chip mulch on the new South End beds was innoculated with fungus-impregnated dowels last year.  I couldn't be sure if this had been successful until now as all the action takes place below ground.  The fungal mycelium first grow to spread through the substrate during establishment.  It breaks down the dead woody material using the stored energy to grow. When established and conditions are right it sends up a fruiting body - the toadstool - to spread its spores.  As the wood chip is broken down the nutrients locked up in it are released into the soil becoming available for plants to use and a host of invertebrates feed on fungi so I am pleased this has been successful. I will top up the bed with woody material and hopefully the colony will go on from year to year.    
The toadstools are edible but I didn't take the bite from this one - glistening trails said the boneless had been ravenously feasting throughout the night.  Good luck to them!

17 June 2009

orf wiv 'is 'ed!

The movement caught my eye.  A small buzzzy ball spinning this way and that outside the office across the ground.  A wasp, hunting, had pounced on a fly.  The fly did it's best to escape - it took a long minute for the wasp to get a good hold but finally firmly clasped the fly was carried to a horehound leaf where the end was brutal but quick.  

A few deft chews and the fly was neatly decapitated.

Wasps raise their young on a meaty diet and are efficient predators of other insects.  They feed on a wide range of crop pests, particularly caterpillars, and are an integral part of a natural balance in the garden and I do not kill them. 

Small insects are carried back to the nest whole but large insects are butchered in situ and flown back in pieces (so are prawns at a cockle stall). In early and mid-summer they are busy hunting to keep up with the demands of their brood and are too busy to be chasing after sweet things.  It is later in the summer when the larvae have grown that, unnoccupied, they become a nuisance.  Then they seek out sugary things like coke, jam and over-ripe plums - sweet, exciting, slightly fermented and intoxicating.  Then bored and drunk and bad tempered they will be out and about with stinging to be done.  

Only if they come after me then shall I kill them.  

Maybe I will chew their heads off.  

shiny green fat thighs

Shiny green is on trend in the garden this summer.  Fat-legged Beetles are iridescent green on the ox-eyes, feeding on pollen and nectar and looking for mates.  The males have bulging muscle-mary thighs - they don't hop or jump or do fancy mating dances so why these are so enlarged is a mystery - and these make them easy to identify. They can also be bronze, copper or violet but the ones here are green.
The females have dainty legs and fatter abdomens.  This one is feeding from a Geranium flower (already occupied by a White Faced Bee).  The larvae feed inside the stems of Spanish Broom (Spartium) and Thistles (Cirsium).  There are plenty of thistles for them - I like thistles, I like beetles, so it's a good combination.
More glossy green nibbling away in the garden, and seen for the first time this year, is the Mint Beetle. They are ravenous devourers of mint and related plant species.  I love their chubbiness and beautiful metallic green - they sparkle like scattered gems - and their shy shuffling retreat beneath the leaves when they see you coming is charming (the larvae are less charming - like the similar Lily and Rosemary beetles the grubs cloth themselves with camouflage coats smeared of their own shit).  I will probably curse them once they breed like rabbits and completely devour some ' related plant species' that I like but for now the mint's dusty drabness does get a pleasing bit of glitter.

15 June 2009

London Open Squares Weekend

The Open Squares Weekend is a great opportunity to show off the work we do and to earn few pounds for the charity. Going by previous years we expected a stream of visitors and a fine gaggle of Committee 'plus' turned out to help - Alex, Jane, Graziella, Angela, Peter, Elizabeth, Michael, Ray, Shyamal - thankfully long gone are the days of event chaos with leaky kettles, no hands and frayed tempers.  The gates opened at ten and though visitor numbers were less than last year the stream was steady.
We had the marquee up so I was happy in the shade with the plant sale.  The open days are always scorchers and I wilt quickly in the sun but undercover selling plants propagated in the garden and answering garden questions is a pleasure.  

[All the Echium seedlings sold very quickly despite the disclaimer as to success - they have been sat in their small pots for over a year - but at 50p were thought a bargain (I wouldn't have bought them).  The Blackcurrant Sage and pots of Pheasant Grass also went well.  I was surprised that only one of the Spring Vetchlings sold, grown from seed and flowering size were a steal at a pound (more fool them - I shall use them all here instead and warm my hands on their envy next spring).]  

Busier were the sales of refreshments - tea, coffee and cake - and many visitors, tea in hand, wanted to know more about the garden, its history and its plants so we were all kept busy talking to visitors.  It is nice to meet so many people who regularly see 'proper' gardens and who are so complimentary about ours.  9 out of 10 are clear that we have the best they've seen all day, this included the founder of the Open Squares Weekend and her English Heritage companion agreed.  High praise indeed. 

Some, of course, are more challenging and leftfield.  
The Cross Slug Lady 

Me (selling a hardy geranium to somebody else): It makes a dense weed proof ground cover...
Her (overhearing and stridently butting in): It spreads like a weed and kills everything!
Me: Well it only seeds a bit and it is easily removable anyway.
Her:They are full of slugs!
Me: I don't find that, and slugs do feed the birds.
Her:There aren't any birds in my garden because the cats ate them all!!! (strides off)

I didn't make the sale.

The Heron Man

Him:Do you get herons in your ponds?
Me: I haven't seen any here but I know they are in the area. I've seen them at Regents . . .
Him: You will! Lots of them.
Me: I don't think they really like the West End...
Him: They will come here! And they will eat all your fish!!
Me: Well, they haven't been here . . .
Him: They will.  And you will have to put nets up!!!
Me:  I'm not overly worried as it . . .
Him:  Do you want all your fish to die?
Me: I'm not overly worried as it hasn't been a prob...
Him: When the heron has eaten them all then you'll be sorry!

Odd, but I considered myself warned.


and away!
This Giant Canary Isles Bugloss (Echium pinanna) sowed itself right next to the path and growing to almost block it has been an irritating bristle monster to any exposed skin brushing past.  They don't sting but the bristles can break off in the skin but it was the only one to have reached flowering size so I couldn't bear to dig it out and had expected the very cold winter to have nipped it in the bud.  

Easily grown from seed they grow in the first year an enormous rosette of rough leaves on a thick woody stem.  In their second, or third year, once they have stored enough energy and as the days begin to lengthen they rapidly grow an enormous flowering spike - the speed of growth is amazing, shooting up over two metres in two months - setting thousands of seeds before dying.  They are not very hardy and the soft early growth coincides with the coldest temperatures of winter and sometimes they just don't make it through.   But when they succeed and feeding bumblebees spiral up the column of a thousand pale blue flowers they are lovely.  

But not lovely enough to hug bare-chested - that would be very unpleasant. 

16 April 2009

the view from my office

The view from my office, well, the rest of my office.  This spring, as I have all the others since Ms. Martin donated the first plant to us, I'm admiring the Euphorbia characias.  They've spread through the garden with little help and their luminous green flowers compliment everything as everyone compliments them.  I take much credit now for how it looks and am questioned on my gardening 'secrets' but with the explosive growth at this time of year it would be hard for the garden to look anything but great.  Everything is fresh and lush and alive.
Flowering for the first time in the beds completed last year is the ornamental bramble Rubus 'Benenden', it has short lived delicate white tissue flowers and typical 'raspberry' foliage.  I grew this from a cutting rooted in a jar of water on a windowsill, it took months to root and two years to establish properly in a pot.  They make sprawling 3m shrubs eventually so it may be poorly placed - I do this alot - only time will tell but just for now it is perfect!

The improvements made to the soil when these beds were dug has made all the difference to the success of the underplanting of ferns and Brunnera.  These thrive despite the generally dry conditions.  The green lace fronds and eye-bright blue Brunnera flowers are very satisfying.  If only I could partner plants this well all over the garden. 
But, look, here I have again (saved by the frame of the camera, just along its looking a bit of a mess).  Central is a lovely silver foliaged Hellebore out of a bargain bucket unlabelled, with the strap leaves of Dianella 'Red Tas', the cut leaves of an unlabelled blue hardy Geranium, the scalloped discs of Geranium pyreniacum 'Isparta' and cut leaves of Aster laciniata.  What a nice selection of leaf shapes and shades.  Of course at flowering time they will be too close together, look desperately congested and I will be far from happy and unsure of what to do.  
Such is my gardening.   

But the real secret to it all looking so good?  

Child labour of course!

6 April 2009


I am often told how lovely it must be to have my job.  Often it is but life not being 'mary had a little lamb' it definitely has another side.  

Two charming little gifts left by visitors today.

The first in the compost bin.  Often veg peelings are left still wrapped in plastic bags so I check it regularly and empty them out.  Ready for surprises I do this warily so didn't get the worst this claggy little deposit had to offer.  After the surprise had passed and the air and flies had cleared I had to remind myself it could have been much worse - there will be plenty more of this through the summer and most of it won't be bagged.
This next was a first for me.  Left neatly under a bench, the 'digby jones smells the flowers' one, was this.  Some of our visitors are truly skanky!

25 March 2009

cage cobbler

I have been working with St Joseph's primary school reception class.  We've grown beansprouts in class (rather unsuccessfully) and have sown peas - "i like peas!" - and radish - "what's radish?" - in the raised planter in the playground.  This planter is smack bang in the middle of the playground and is aswamp with overexcited littluns every playtime.  To give the plants some protection from footballs and feet I suggested building a net cage.  I cobbled this together in the pouring rain. 

Sometimes I stand back afterwards and admire my construction skills.  Don't think I can this time - like many a poor workman I'm going to blame the tools.

22 March 2009

planting workshop - sprouting seeds, salad leaves and wildflower pot

The second of the St Giles - Seven Dials in Bloom planting workshops.  A day of beansprouts, salad leaves and wildflower pots.

I started with a seed sprout demonstration.  First passing round the (lidless) tubs of the various seeds to sprout; mung beans, alfalfa, mustard, peas.  I forgot how lovely seeds can feel running through young but clumsy fingers.  As a result there will be no alfalfa sprouting on windowsills this time round - whoops!  I swiftly moved onto a seedsprout rinsing demo' with impromptu chanted accompianiment from the children - "fill it up! - pour it out!".  We made up the sprout kits - plastic tub, muslin top, rubber band, seed of choice - and discovered they double as maracas!
Next came salad leaves to be sown in pots.  These will be ready to cut as baby leaves in three weeks or so.  They should re-grow to provide further crops.  There was a choice of 'spicy oriental', 'californian mix' or 'mild mix' - I wait to see how different they will be, looking at the packet photo and seeds they look to be variations of the same mustard/pak-choi mix.  Concerns over 'spicy' levels made for much discussion.  

The seeds were sown thinly over the surface of the compost and just covered with a sprinkling of compost.  To be watered from beneath when they get home (it's too messy and heavy to carry the pots otherwise).  
The wildflower plugs had been delivered the day before, beautifully packed, and were healthy and raring to grow.  Each pot was to have four plants; ox-eye daisy, red campion, betony and fox and cubs, which should give success wherever they're placed to grow, some liking full sun, others shade.  I did a full demonstration and bit of a talk.  

I am disconcerted by the serious expressions my plant talks seem to induce.  I hope it's because I am inspiring but maybe I ramble on aimlessly and it's just confusion?
I had to diplomatically fend off some 'help myself' hands from the plug trays.  At last years spring planting day lots of plants that were being given away free were grabbed by a few particularly pikey parents incapable of sharing, which offended me deeply (they stole my Geranium pyreniacum 'Bill Wallis' too  - that's a trauma).  Still somewhat embittered I now dole plants out from behind my table to keep it calm and to protect the greedy from themselves!  
The wildflowers were planted into the pots and looked really good (I'd been concerned they might be overly 'weedy').  Everyone seemed very pleased with them and, with no pictures, very  interested in what they will look like when they flower.  

A busy day with 32 people taking part.  

I reckon they'll be queueing for the next one.