October stories

 

It’s been a busy start to Autumn.

Marie Curie talkLast week, Chris Young and I were at the Stamford Arts Centre to give a talk in aid of Marie Curie. I talked about the gardens and its 400 year old history and he talked about being the editor of the world’s largest garden magazine (RHS The Garden.) As you can see he knows how to hold an audience.

Strange, there were plenty of people there when I spoke….:)

Actually, it was a lovely evening, with lots of questions and the dedicated committee raised nearly £2,000 for Marie Curie. We were delighted to have been a part of it.

 

 

 

Then on to Burghley House.

Alexandra, our florist, created a stunning display in the Black and Yellow Room as part of their Shakespearean flower festival.  We represented the Hidden England Group with a floral extravaganza based on Othello. What initially seemed like a tall order became a great play to interpret and Alexandra wove meaning and pathos into her beautiful design. As the weather has been so mild, most of the flowers came from our gardens. To be working in natural materials, in an Elizabethan palace next to this extraordinary bed with its intricate embroidery, was deeply life enhancing.

Easton Walled Gardens flowers at Burghley HouseIMG_3743

flower festival at Burghley House

With all my attention focused outside the gardens this week, it was lucky the boys were still hard at it.

meadow maintenance

The meadows are now cut and are being cleared. The old season is passing and a new one arriving. The hay is bundled into a huge pile to rot down before returning to the gardens as mulch.

In the flower beds, the continuing mild weather has given our late bloomers the chance to show us what they can really do.

Perilla  The Pickery at Easton Walled Gardens

Particularly, TITHONIA!  When I posted on twitter that we had finally had success with this tender annual there was a certain amount of bemusement. ‘What’s taken you so long?’ asked @UltingWick.

Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’  (see below) likes a sheltered spot, good soil and a mild spring – none of which we could supply when we first started on the garden restoration. Building up the beds by lining them with boards to allow a greater depth of soil has had an impact throughout the gardens. We added large amounts of organic matter, repositioned our late summer plants and here is our reward.

Tithonia and Ricinus

Tithonia rotundifolia 'Torch'If these fresh colours in the borders and pickery make us feel that the season will go on forever, there are other reminders of change. This creeper (below) needs to be cut to the ground every two years or it will swamp the building. We grow it for the ephemeral display of deep red it gives us now.

Nearer to the ground, Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ is making its annual appearance in fine grass. This double flowered variety is particularly good as it tends to flop more elegantly than its single relations.

Colchicum Waterlily

The ultimate symbol of an Autumn walled garden has to be ripening pears. It’s a waiting game. One misty day they will give off that golden sweetness that tells us, and the late wasps, that they are finally ready. I will probably eat far too many and feel a bit ill. (I hope the wasps do too.)

Ripening Pears at Easton Walled Gardens

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.