Full of beans

shallots in the greenhouse

Chilling winds have swept through our corner of Bedfordshire, and I find myself absolutely LONGING for the balmy skies when the thermometer was peaking in the mid 20s. The veg plots and flower borders continue to romp ahead regardless, and bit by bit, my little veg patches are starting to fill up. Much to my surprise, actually.

This year, with a little family in tow, I’ve had my work cut out and my expectations for growing were low. I wanted to keep it simple, opting for tried and tested varieties of fruit and veg and minimising the amount of sowing and potting on I’d usually do… but somehow I can’t help myself when it comes to growing fruit and veg. Already, I’ve planted in new varieties of strawberries and raspberries, and with widespread discount promotions on packets of seeds, I just cannot resist.

Whether I actually get around to sowing on time, is another matter. But I’ve got further this year than I thought I would, and that’s got to be a bonus. Rich’s time has been severely limited, as he spends the majority of his waking hours stuck to a laptop or computer, furiously programming in a bid to keep us afloat whilst I’m on maternity leave. My end of the bargain is to try and keep things running, look after E as she grows and develops at an alarming rate, beat back chaos with an invisible stick, try to keep the house from descending into chaos, and try to feed us all on a budget.

So apart from Rich helping out with the odd lawn mow, it’s all down to me this year. I’ve started off the shallots in the greenhouse, waiting for the sun to warm to the soil and the risk of frost to pass before planting in situ. Shallots are one of my all-time favourite homegrown staples. I’ve also opted for some dwarf bean plug plants, as my ability to water regularly and give seedlings the TLC they deserve is limited more than usual. I am not organised, despite all the will in the world and a very real motivation to do things right, and do things well.

I’ve started a few beans up a willow obelisk, more for decorative purposes than anything really as I love the homespun potager approach to little kitchen gardens. I’ve also planted in a few nasturtiums – partly as companion plants and partly because I love their cascading haphazardness, and the delicate but boldly coloured blooms. Next on the agenda is constructing a pea harp for edible peas and scented sweet peas. It’s a bit of an ambitious task given that E will only tolerate so much time playing in the garden alongside me as I work before she starts screeching like a mini siren…but hey ho, a girl’s got to dream!

beans and willow wigwam

Inspiration from Coton Manor gardens

Magnolia - Coton Manor

The sun was out and the April skies were a sight to behold. It was a perfect spring day as we trundled our way through the rolling Northamptonshire countryside, on a visit to Coton Manor for my mum’s birthday.

The orchard at Coton Manor

The 10-acre estate is home to what is in many ways a quintessentially English country garden. Cascading woodland planting, orchards brought alive with a blooming carpet of narcissisi, wildflower meadows and bog gardens punctuated by thoughtfully placed flowing formal water features and ponds.

Cherry blossom at Coton Manor

A herb garden and rose arches, swathes of tulips, magnificent magnolias and cherries in full blossom, carefully clipped box and yew. A seemingly ancient wisteria that has woven itself into the 17th century manor house’s brickwork.

Chickns & ducks at Coton Manor

But then there’s the unexpected. Charming hens, handsome cockerels and conga lines of exotic ducks wandering about the manicured flower beds. The woven willow stag standing proudly overlooking the wildflower meadow.

Flamingoes in the pond at Coton Manor

But perhaps the most unexpected are the striking and still sleeping flamingoes in the small watercourse at the bottom of the main lawns that overlook the meadows. A total treat and little E was certainly very taken by the salmon-pink and buff-pink beauties.

Flamingoes at Coton Manor

And after perusing the gardens and stopping for a while to take in the glorious spring display under a cherry tree bursting with blossom, we took a look around the plant nursery. Whilst I wish I had an unlimited budget, sadly I had to limit myself to a few buys, amongst which were a delicate purple pelargonium/geranium and a Bowle’s purple wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa). The geranium will go at the base of the clematis I’ve planted to cover a boring and bare stretch of fencing, whilst the anemone will go under the fruit trees, and hopefully self-seed itself to help create a pretty spring display in years to come.

If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit to Coton Manor gardens. I’m looking forward to visiting again in early summer to see the grounds in its next glorious phase of flowering and fruiting.

Coton Manor visit

Some raspberry TLC for nitrogen deficiency

Yellowing leaves on raspberries

Yellowing leaves are a tell-tale sign of a nutrient deficiency

Having looked back at some photos of my Polka raspberries from last year, I think they have been suffering from a nitrogen deficiency. Not surprising, since I barely remembered to water, let alone feed, the raspberry canes all year. The tell-tale yellowing leaves didn’t have much of a trace of brown in them, which would suggest a magnesium deficiency. Rather, the pinkish hue that crept into some of the leaves made me pin the lacklustre foliage and yields on a lack of nitrogen.

Usually, I start the year off by dressing the ground around the shallow raspberry roots with some compost, followed on with fresh grass clippings to release nutrients and retain water. Having failed to do either last year, this year I need a quick fix (poultry poop, free range from friends’ pet-only homes), followed by a liberal mulching of well-rotted garden compost for a slower-release supply of nitrogen.

Raspberry plants

The raspberries looked a little healthier, but still weak, earlier in the season

If there’s a magnesium deficiency there, half a cup of Epsom salts diluted in a watering can should do the trick.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that a little bit of TLC and a boost in the right nutrients will be just the fix I’m looking for, especially as my mum is ready and waiting in the wings to collect lots of the fruit for her cake baking this year. That’s more than enough motivation in itself to get the plants back in working order!