Monday, 31 January 2011

Spring Heralds

I love the fact that I live in the northern temperate zone of the world where the seasons follow one another in perpetual change. How could I ever live without first snowdrops in Spring, abundance of life in Summer, burst of colours in Autumn and peaceful white in Winter? I am a person who loves changes. That's why I often rearrange the furniture and change the colours of the rooms in my house and in the garden as well.
The winter is not over yet but the first heralds of Springs already arrived. The first snowdrops in my garden started to flower at the end of December. Hellebore appeared a week ago. 
Tough the winter in continental climate should be cold, years back we experience milder weather than it is supposed to be. Is it global warming? That's hard to tell. Certainly, the climate changes; winters are milder, summers very hot and dry. The weather often goes to the extremes - strong wind (often swirling like a tornado) comes more often. Summer is either very dry or it is raining for a month. The temperature in July may drop down to 5°C. Or, it may rise up to 19°C in January, as it was just a few weeks ago. Now is cold again with frost and fog in the morning. I am sure it confuses the plants just as it confuses us.


Forsythia buds are ready to burst into flowers as soon as the weather become warm. I brought a few branches into house and the flowers opened. Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is already flowering for two weeks. Narcissus leaves appear from the ground. In a few weeks, crocuses, tulips, grape hyacinths and other bulbs will sprout and say: 'the Spring is coming soon'.

Jasminum nudiflorum under the snow...

Monday, 24 January 2011

African Violets

African violets is a common name for popular and much loved house plant Saitpaulia ionantha. My violets happily flower almost constantly on the western window sill. They really need not much care. If you provide the necessary growing conditions for them, they will last for years.

African violet is a herbaceous perennial from the family Gesneriaceae.  As it comes from Africa, it cannot  survive outside in my climate and is grown as house plant. It needs neutral to slightly acid soil, moderate watering and warmth. The leaves are shiny and hairy and don't like to be wet. Plants also don't like standing in the water. There are cultivars with ruffled petals and leaves. Flower colours range from blue, pink, and white. There are cultivars with double coloured or variegated flowers. 
Some of my African violets needed transplanting so I did it.

Well, this is NOT a representative specimen!

Actually, there are tree plants in this pot produced from a leaf cutting but I neglected them. The central part was keeping rather well whereas side plants suffered. I discarded the weakest plant and re-potted the two into new pots. Division of the plants must be done with care because the leaves are somewhat brittle (tough it doesn't look so).

African violets are easily propagated from leaf cuttings. Simply insert the leaf into regular planting soil. The ending of the leaf should touch the ground. The first leaves appear after six to eight weeks.

The leaves are hairy and shiny.

African violets on my window sill.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Vegetable Garden Plan

A part of vegetable garden in 2007... creative chaos

After a few weeks of calculating what, where and when, I finally came up with a rough(!) vegetable garden plan. I say rough, 'cause I am always ready for changes....

I have eight vegetable beds divided by old brick paths. I made the paths for two reasons: to keep the weeds under control and to be able to walk around in rainy weather. It is not big vegetable garden but it suits my needs. I grow vegetables for immediate consummation and not for winter stock and pickles. I mix cultures and rotate crops. Some vegetables will be sown/planted as early crop, the other follow after I harvest the first one. For years the gardening season stretches out well into Autumn because the weather is warm enough to sow and plant the second crop.

My vegetable list:

1. Pea 'American Wonder' an heirloom variety, early crop. Peas germinate at 5 - 8 °C and can be sown in March. The crop will be ready to harvest by the end of June when the temperatures rises. Sweet peas likes cooler weather. I have already prepared the branches which will be used as climbing support.
2. Brussels Sprout will follow the peas on the same bed. Cabbages and co. are hungry crops and they need fertile soil. Peas is sown as green manure prior to planting Brussels Sprout. I will also use the dead pea stems as mulch for Brussels' Sprouts.
3. Carrot in rows alternate with onion.
4. Spring Onion in rows alternate with carrot. (I buy small bulbs) I plant it consequently every week to prolong cropping period.
5. Lettuce (early and late varieties) sown between the carrots and onion, and on the edges of the beds.
7. Radicchio will be sown in June as late and winter crop.
8. Parsley; sow in June.
9. Red pepper needs sunny spot and a very fertile soil. I will plant Nasturtiums underneath to keep the soil moist. I sow the seeds  indoors. Young plants go on site in June.
10. Swiss Chard; sow April and August.
11. Tomatoes  are always planted on the same place because they fertilize themselves very well. The seeds will be sown indoors in March. Seedlings go out in May/June.
Vrtlarica (click to see her wonderful gardening blog) and I have exchanged some vegetable seeds. She sent me the following tomato varieties: 'Roma', 'Amish Paste', 'Black Krim', 'Super Marmande' and 'Brandywine Pink'. I will probably buy some more varieties e.g. cherry tomatoes on the market in May.
Tomatoes will be surrounded with celery and Zinnia.
12. Celery. I will plant self blanching variety 'Galaxy' and green 'Victoria'.
13. Celeriac;  I will buy the plants on the market.
14. Zucchini (courgettes); tree  plants are enough. I will plant them near the climbing bean. Can be sown indoors and then transplanted in the garden for earlier crop.
15. Beetroot, tree rows.
16.Climbing beans.  Sowing starts in May because they love warmth. I have 'Dolcio del Metro' variety, with 45 cm long pods ( also known as asparagus bean). I will buy some other varieties with yellow pods. They need support.
17. Dwarf french bean 'Berggold'; this variety has stringless yellow 'pencil' pods.
18. Kohlrabi will be planted all over the garden to fill the gaps.
19. Kale comes as the second crop. Will be sown in May for winter harvest. I have two varieties, 'Dwarf Green Curled' and 'Black Tuscany'. 'Black Tuscany' looks so good that I will probably put a few in the flower borders as well!
20. Potatoes. Since I have no place for them in the garden, I will grow them in the bags. I plan three to four growing bags which need only 2 square meters of place.

Well, that's about it! I also have some perennial vegetables in the garden like rhubarb and asparagus. There are six red currant shrubs at the end of it and, of course, a range of herbs: thyme, rosemary, lovage, oregano, sage, mint, lemon balm... Nasturtiums, Zinnia and Tagetes (marigold) are also mixed with vegetables for protection from nematodes in the ground, flying insects and slugs...

A part of vegetable garden in Spring, 2009.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The First Seedlings

To my great surprise Rudbeckia has already germinated! This is what some bottom heat can do. I sowed Rudbeckia so early because it may take one to four months for seeds to germinate. At least so is suggested on the seed sachet. But, being placed on the radiator and having enough light (the days were sunny) the germination was rather quick. It took them only a week to grow three centimeters high and form a pair of leaves. They will be transplanted into individual pots when they develop the next pair of leaves and became large enough to handle. I moved them away from the radiator and placed in a cooler conditions (on the room temperature).
I am going to try tapping the seedlings. They say the seedlings (not only Rudbeckia, but all of them) grow stronger if you lightly tap the top of them with fingers every day.

Friday, 14 January 2011

What Eyes Cannot See

Using 'macro' and 'super macro' mode on camera reveals details that our eyes cannot see. Touring my garden, I noticed that plants, even dead and dry, reveal their beauty... (click on images to enlarge)

Hydrangea dry flowers
 look like the lace.

Echinacea, the seeds are gone...

Hibiscus syriacus capsules

Solidago (goldenrod)

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Sowing Verbena, Rudbeckia and Digitalis

Before sowing the seeds of these three plants I had to wash thoroughly the sowing trays. This task is very important if you are using the trays from the last year. In order to prevent diseases like rot or wilt, the trays and pots have to be disinfected before sowing or planting. My trays stood in a water solution of chlorine bleach for half an hour.

Make 1:10 solution. It has a funny smell so make sure you do the chlorine solution outside to avoid chlorine vapour inhalation and spreading the stench around the house. Put in the trays and leave for 15 - 30 minutes.
Wash the trays after soaking with lots of water. After that you can fill them in with sowing compost.
I cut the trays to a size to suit the plastic covers I have. Besides, there was not so many seeds in a sachets. So, each tray has 30 cells x 2 seeds each. If all of the seeds germinate there will be more plants than I need.

Verbena hastata 'Pink Spires' (HP) needs to be sown on the surface of slightly firmed, moist compost. I put two to three seeds into each cell, and covered it with some compost. The seeds need to be watered and sealed into a plastic bag to keep the moisture in. Instead of sealing into a plastic bag I put plastic container as cover to the tray. The seeds usually take up to 30 days to germinate but germination can be erratic. There is no need to water the tray anymore because Verbena germinates in almost dry conditions.

Rudbeckia amplexicaulis (Cone Flower, HHP) and Digitalis x mertonensis 'Summer King' (HB) are sown the same way as Verbena. All of three need light to germinate so I covered them only lightly with compost and placed them on the radiator beneath the window.
Rudbeckia germinates rather long; it can take 1 - 4 months.
As for January sowing, that's all. I will be starting "real" sowing at the end of February. Depending on the weather, it might be possibile to do it outdoors as well. Sometimes we have early Spring here.

A few tips from my own experience:
- Be patient, do not discard the trays too early, the seed still might germinate after a long time waiting.
- Avoid watering the trays too much 'cause the seed might rot.
- Some bottom heat helps germination but do not place it on hot radiators!
- Always put a label with a plant name in pots and trays. Putting a date is handy too to controll the period of germination.

HP - hardy perennial
HHP - half hardy perennial
HB - hardy biennial

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Click the Link

I put here some links to my favourites gardening web sites. You might be interested to take a look at them too.

Allotment Growing
Vegetable Expert

Decora   (Croatia, perennials)
T&M   (worldwide, seed)
Bugenvila (Croatia, Mediterranean plants)
Virag Roses (Croatia, roses)
Jelitto (perennial seeds, worldwide)

Backyard Gardener
The English Garden (magazine)
Flower Gardening
Moj Cvijet (Croatian gardening magazine)
Encyclopaedia of Vines
Gardener's World
Mein schoener Garten (magazine)

David Austen Roses

Thursday, 6 January 2011

And the Three Wise Men Came...

They appeared this morning as an addition to the nativity scene...

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Sowing Liriodendron

For years I have been trying to raise the Tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipfera from seeds. It is a beautiful tree form the Magnoliaceae family, native to eastern parts of USA. It has interesting leaves and unusually coloured greenish-yellow tulip like flowers (hence the name). It is quite popular for use in horticulture.

Young tulip trees in the town.

Nine new trees are planted in a row near hospital building. There are also three older trees in the park. All of them bare seeds regularly but I never found any seedling underneath. Maybe because seeds get raked in autumn or seedlings are being cut off when the mowing season starts. The most probable cause is low germination rate of the seed.
The seeds are clustered around the flower axis and have a wing so, clearly, they are distributed by wind.

Anyway, persistent as I am, I have sown some seeds again. One tray of seeds stands on normal room temperature and light. Another ten seeds are placed in compost in an egg crate, watered and covered to keep the moisture.

Egg crates are good for starting seeds. As soon as plant develops the first pair of true leaves, they need to be transplanted in individual pots.
I placed the egg crate in another plastic container and then on the kitchen radiator (not so hot). Some bottom heath usually helps germination.

winged seeds

Some say it takes up to 25 (!) years for the seed raised trees to flower while the other claim eight years. The tree is supposed to grow relatively fast. Let's see if I am of better luck this time!

Sunday, 2 January 2011


A new bunch of snowdrops appeared under the snow...

Cocooning? No, I don't mean caterpillars, I mean me, or us! I am sure you are doing the same in these long, dark evenings and nights - read, watch TV or make garden plans like me, all wrapped in the warm blanket...
I've just heard a long term weather forecast. The January will be still cold but, as they called it on TV, "pre-spring" will already be here in February! I am so eager to start the next gardening season.
I think I can handle one more month of cocooning. Last ten days were freezing cold. There is not much snow around and I don't like it. Snow cover protect the plants from coldness but, as I could see trough the window, they are doing well. The lawn is full of mole mounds and all the evergreen shrubs look somewhat frozen. They will recover, as they always do.

Sort out the seeds...
January is perfect for planing the following garden season. I have already sorted out the vegetable and flower seeds from the last season, made the sowing shedule, and decided what will be sown inside and what directly in open site. Now I know what I got and which seed I still need to buy.
I have a brand new notebook which will serve as this year garden diary. I have been writing down the tasks I plan to realise this season. For example, make new compost bins or paint the bench. So far, there are thirteen tasks on the list but, I am sure I think of some more.
The three books are constantly somewhere at reach of my hands, all of them being about organic gardening. They were a very good investment in my gardening library. I am keep coming back to them all the time.

These are: Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening  by group of authors, all members of HDRA - the organic organisation; Bio-garden by Marie-Luise Kreuter and, Vegetable Growing Month by Month by John Harrison.

All  the books are down to earth, full of useful tips and advices because the authors are practical gardeners and know from their own experience what are talking about.
John Harrison is a popular vegetable grower in Britain and has his own web site Allotment Vegetable Growing - worth visiting it! If you'd like to read the articles such as "what to do in the garden now" click here and scroll down, there are links for each month of the year.

Marie Luise Kreuter was a very popular gardening author in Germany. This particular book is being edited for years and always sold out.This is actually 24th edition of the book.

I also checked out the pot plants overwintering in the cellar. I haven't so much space around the house where they would receive more light but, to my surprise, they are keeping rather well. I cut down Oleanders last winter pretty severely to get more bushy plants. By now, they developed new branches and the leaves look nicely green and healthy. I give the plants a good portion of water every two weeks. As soon as it became warm outside, they go out. Once they are out, all I have to do in early Spring is frost protection.