A September Walk

At dawn this morning, mist hung in the paddocks and parkland around our little village. A white haze appeared above the trees and slowly golden rays began to slant through the branches.

September light at Easton

I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to follow the light as it hit the gardens, so I took the dogs (all four of them) and we started in the Pickery. Or we would have done. If Binky the dachshund hadn’t spotted Sue and her daughter, Laura, in the village. Binky is deeply in love with our neighbours and as the light came just right, I realised I was a dog short. Binky’s squeaky bark echoed from the village. This high pitched bark means she is overwhelmed to find someone she loves, who, in her opinion, has nothing better to do than be her best friend. So, I went back (twice) to retrieve the errant sausage dog and ‘persuade’ her to join us.

With all four dogs safely secure in the Pickery, I could focus on the flowers and take some pictures.

dahlias at Easton Walled Gardens

In the long narrow bed alongside the path through the Pickery, the dahlias looked perfect with drops of dew hanging from candy coloured flowers.

Opposite the dahlias are our two cutflower beds. The plants are raised from seed every year and this is the best time to appreciate the colours of late flowering annuals. Here you can see a profusion of Nicotianas, Cosmos, Amaranths, Zinnia and Clary. In the foreground tawny rudbeckias and a single deep pink Cleome has crept into the shot.

The Pickery in September at Easton Walled Gardens

On the other side of this grass path are our sweet pea beds. The sweet peas have stopped flowering and have run to seed. The pods have their own beauty while they hang on bleached stems. They will soon be harvested by us to be sown next year or go into packets for selling to visitors as part of the 65 varieties we offer in our  online shop.

Sweet pea pods at Easton Walled Gardens

Out of the pickery; ‘come on dogs, we are going to the Cottage Garden’.

The Pickery in Autumn Easton Walled Gardens

(Binky still wants to go back to Sue…)

In the cottage garden the three sister’s bed of beans, courgettes and corn on the cob looks wonderful but the greenhouse is a bit damp: we will need to get the airflow moving to prevent the mildew getting any worse. It’s a hard choice for greenhouse grown plants. Do we maximise warmth over airflow or spray over organic produce? There hardly seems any point to growing your own if it is covered with chemicals.

Greenhouse Easton Walled Gardens

Inside the air is very still but the tomatoes are beginning to ripen.

in the greenhouse at Easton Walled Gardens

We head out now, under the tall peach house wall and into the wider garden. Here the terraces are filled with seedheads where the goldfinches are chattering and feeding. Over 100 finches have spent the last few days feeding on the knapweed which makes me very proud as you rarely saw a single goldfinch here 10 years ago.

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The giraffes watch over us as we pass through the cedar meadow.

Giraffe at Easton Walled Gardens

We swing back across the lawns and stop at the White Space Garden to see how the colour is holding up. There have been white flowers here for six months solid. The Eleagnus in the centre holds all the different shapes and hues together in this scheme. The silvery leaves absorb any friction between plant forms. It’s very satisfying to see this come together as it was ten years in the planning (nothing happens fast around here)

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The day is getting on, so there is no time to visit the long borders, roses and orchard now. The dogs have had a good run so we head back towards the gate out of the garden. Guess who is there first? Can we go and see Sue again now, please??

Binky at the gate

 

How to grow autumn sown sweet peas

Autumn sown sweet peas from Easton Walled GardensWhy should I grow autumn sown sweet peas?

Hardy annuals, like sweet peas, will grow, flower and die in one year. By sowing in the Autumn instead of the Spring you give the plant 6 months of extra growth. By next summer they are able to sustain bigger, earlier flowers on strong stems.

You also have two seasons to sow (Autumn and Spring) to guarantee success and a longer flowering period. Flowering dates vary from year to year so a succession of sweet peas is particularly important if you plan to have your own beautiful flowers for a wedding or family celebration.

Is it more complicated than sowing in the Spring?

Yes and No.

Yes, you will have to care for your plants over winter.

No, you will have virtually indestructible plants by the time they go out into the  soil.

Ok, so you have sort of convinced me, how do I go about it?

You will need the following:

Deep pots such as roottrainers or long tom pots and some multi-purpose compost with a slow release fertiliser added (that’s included in almost all commercial composts).

A place to put your sweet peas where they will get plenty of cold but won’t be as exposed as if they were in the open garden. A porch, cold frame or unheated greenhouse is ideal.

Anything else?

Seeds obviously (which you can buy from us here). The other thing to consider is mice. They LOVE sweet peas when they are seeds or very small seedlings. Protect your pots so mice can’t get access to the seed. That could be anything from a platform with legs that are tucked underneath so the mice can’t make it past the overhang or a clear lid to cover your sweet peas (Roottrainers supply these with the pots)

Keep an eye out for slugs too by checking the base of your pots (where they love to lurk) and removing them.

When should I sow my seeds?

You can sow anytime from early October to mid November when the days allow for a long gentle germination. Push them gently into the damp but not wet compost until they are covered by about 2cms of soil.

How do I know if I am getting it right?

What you are aiming for is lots of roots and the minimum of top growth. If you see green shoots emerging slowly and gradually putting on leaves over a period of about 3 weeks you have got it right. If your plants are turning into a jungle of green you have got them too warm and they need to go somewhere cooler to slow their growth for a bit.

But how cold is too cold?

Sweet peas can withstand temperatures of about -5 at night but will not like to be frozen in their pots all day. If you overdo it and lose the top growth, chances are, if you give them some warmth they will have established enough root to sprout again.

I’ve completely overdone it and my plants look like triffids, what should I do?

Pinch out the main stem back to 2 sets of leaves with your finger and thumb to reduce the top growth and send your plants to the sin bin as detailed above. If you have had them on a windowsill or similar, be careful not to abandon them to the cold too fast. They will need hardening off. Put them outside in the day time and bring in at night for a week before leaving them out full time.

It’s Spring! My plants are busting to go out, when should I put them in the ground?

This depends a lot on where you live but once the worst frosts are over is a good time. For us in Lincolnshire this is from Mid-March onwards. A good test is to put your hand on the ground every few days and you will gradually start to feel the soil is no longer arctic. Keep an eye out for weed seedlings appearing, this is a good indicator that your plants will also put on growth in the ground.

I still have more questions, can you help?

As well as seed and roottrainers we sell Roger Parsons excellent book on Sweet Peas in our online shop. If you need help with individual problems you can send us a tweet @ewgardens.

 

 

Gardeners busy at work

The sun is shining on the gardens today and smoke drifts across the gardens from our Autumn bonfires.

The beeches in the park have turned a beautiful golden colour and the sheep grazing underneath make a bucolic picture.

We have seen the first winter frosts this week, which have caused many of our tender plants to collapse and there is an urgent need to tidy up pots and annual beds.

The dahlias can now be lifted and work is ongoing to store them safely over the winter. The tubers will sit dry and warm undercover before being planted into pots in the spring and then planted out in late May. Steve has been busy clearing a new bed beneath the Black Walnut tree in the woodland walk.

Recently, it had grown further and further over the path, its great limbs reaching down to the ground and kneeling there before shooting up again.

There are only about two weeks of the year when the sap isn’t rising in a Black Walnut, so if you perform tree surgery at the wrong time the tree will bleed to death. In late August this year we cut the limbs right back and there was a perfect space left for a new bed.

Since it was swamped with ground elder, Steve spent two and a half days days just clearing and pulling out the roots! We are going to create a winter bed here full of snowdrops and cyclamen and iris reticulata but when we can plant it depends on the ground elder. We may also have to weed several times more.