Tag Archives: nature

Snooping around allotments in February

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The weekend was rather sunny and at my parents’ allotments things were starting to stir.

I was staying with my parents last weekend and I took the opportunity to have a good old snoop around their allotments yet again! I last visited their plot properly in November and established that being a nosey gardener is in my nature.

There was a lot of activity, people barrowing compost and wood chippings, constructing paths and building structures. Jobs like that are very popular at this time of year with allotmenters and gardeners alike because there’s so many bare areas that you can tend to, unlike in the summer where they could be overgrown with foliage, flowers and weeds.

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There was still an abundance of kale and it’s looking like the stuff at RHS Harlow Carr with the pickings gone from the bottom leaving young leaves at the top of long stalks. It is still my No.1 favourite veg that I have never grown!! Can’t wait to start sowing it soon.
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A rare sighting of me, still obsessed with kale!

I also made a beeline for last year’s allotment winner, lots of neat bare beds but I was impressed by the quality of the veg she’s still got growing and looking so healthy.

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The cabbage man has eaten the majority of his giant crop but a few remain, still looking impressive.

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I also noticed a huge net box! Plus, one that is still covering carrots from last year and I spied some seedlings in a greenhouse – could they be monster leeks and onions!

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It was nice to spend time at my folks allotments and I sensed a really good vibe among the allotmenteers. I’m looking forward to visiting again and seeing what happens over the next few months.

This weekend has been grey and slightly snowy so far and I’ve had to dig the indoors today! I’ve finally been able to catch up Monty Don’s French Gardens series that Wellywoman reminded me of in her recent post. The Gourmet Garden episode was of particular interest to me because it covers the topic of my latest challenge, which is to more carefully buy food products that I can trace the source of.

Hope you’re enjoying your weekend and have had better weather than me. Have you been spending more time outside in your gardens lately?


How do your products grow?

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During my trip to Amsterdam last year I visited the Botanical Gardens and took some photos of a display in their main greenhouse. It was probably created for children and I didn’t think too much about it at the time, other than how cool the plants looked in the colourful packaging. Now though, I’m really beginning to think more and more about the food I eat and I feel it’s not what I eat that’s important, it’s about where my food comes from.

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During the summer (and for as long as I can make my growing season last) I love the fact that I’m eating my own veg. However, I don’t think I’ve fully understood why I love it so much, until now.

Is it the satisfaction I feel from the actual growing act itself, is it the superior flavour, is it the money saving, is it the convenience of having food to hand and not needing to go to the shop, is it the environmental benefits such as providing a haven for bees and other wildlife, or is it all of these things?

It’s definitely all of these things but the biggest thing for me right now is that I know the origin of that food.

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I can’t grow everything I eat though and I’m becoming more and more into the idea of changing my buying habits and choosing food and products that I can trace back to a source that I feel happy about. This will mean cutting down on trips to the supermarket in favour of local producers. It will also affect where I choose to eat out, so cafés and restaurants will have to be carefully selected. This will be a big shift for me as eating out is one of my favourite pastimes and I don’t have a local high street with small retailers.

I’m excited about changing my buying habits but this is going to be a massive challenge.

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Don’t get me wrong, I do try to consciously buy good food from local sellers and markets already but I wouldn’t say that accounts for even 30% of my weekly shopping in the months that I don’t have a big harvest of my own. So, I’m busy googling local farm shops and researching like mad in the hope that I’ll be able to change and support the people who grow food for the same reasons that I do. I’m also working out how I can have a lot more crops available all year round.

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This weekend whilst walking in North Yorkshire I noticed a pub in Malham offering ‘money off vouchers’ in exchange for any surplus home grown produce. I don’t think there’s a shortage of veg and flowers in this area so I can only assume that being able to tell customers that their products have been locally sourced is a big plus point.

Do you choose to buy food from local producers because you want to know where it originates from? Do you ‘grow your own’ for any of these reasons?

 

Ideas and inspiration from garden visits

harlow_carr_alpine_greenhouse_viewWhen I renewed my RHS membership last year I made a vow to visit Harlow Carr at least once a month. This isn’t just so I can have a nice wander and a treat from Betty’s but it means that I can pay far more attention to what they’re doing each month and come away with some good ideas.

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I find Harlow Carr really inspirational and contrary to popular belief I do feel you can get ideas to take back to your own gardens and veggie patches. For example, their alpine greenhouse has always inspired me to keep my own little alpine area and get more involved with alpine plants. I also joined the Alpine Garden Society last year as a result of a growing interest that stemmed from Harlow Carr.

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The neatness of their veg planting is something I also aspire to achieving and with my new row markers that I got for Christmas I have no excuse!

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During my visit last weekend I saw them creating new pathways. Marking them out with sticks and laying black anti weed membrane down first. Another really neat job but definitely something anyone could do. They’ll no doubt weave willow between the sticks to create nice borders.

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It also gives me yet another opportunity to plug the wonder plant Kale, still looking pristine even though 2 days earlier we had the biggest snow dump of the month. Their planters of pak choi, which I first saw in November, have lasted perfectly. I’d have never thought about growing pak choi if I hadn’t seen theirs.

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I was delighted to see their pots of garlic in cold frames. Last year I struggled to get my garlic planted due to water-logging so to solve the problem I planted some in pots as a bit of an experiment, but I see they’ve done the exact same thing!

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It’s great seeing how they work and I think visiting gardens, big or small, professional or amateur is a must for any keen or budding gardener. If they can do it, so can you!

harlow_carr_strawberryOk, so I don’t know how they have a strawberry in January?

Have you ever tried doing new things as a result of a garden visit? Have you got any good tips that you picked up from a garden visit?

Forced Hyacinths – an accidental surprise

blanched_hyacinthsUntil today I had no idea that you could ‘force’ hyacinths. I know all about forcing rhubarb since I live in close proximity to the ‘Rhubarb Triangle‘ in Yorkshire, but hyacinths?

Yesterday Adam ventured into the cellar and returned with two pots of them, looking anemic and almost plastic like. What a spectacle! They were much paler yesterday than this photo above and looked totally bizarre and alien but a lack of time and battery power meant I couldn’t photograph them in all their weirdness. They’re looking a lot greener now and apparently in just a few days of being in a cool but light spot in the house they should start producing more flower buds.

It was only when I started to think about this oddity that I discovered that forcing hyacinths is actually a real practice. Keeping them in the dark to bring them on early is apparently wide known. Adam said he’d put them in the cellar for this very reason but forgot all about them and was meant to retrieve them when the tips started to show. It would seem that I’ve been in the dark about this as much as the bulbs have.

second_lot_of_vases_out_of_the_cellar_5-12-2011_thImage from http://www.hyacinthvases.org.uk/

I found a whole blog dedicated to this practice and looking at their amazing collection of antique vessels I can see why someone would want to create a display of these bulbs as soon as they could. I’ve also found tons of information online about forcing all sorts of bulbs. Here’s Monty with his little yellow trug – apparently the episode that inspired Adam to stash the bulbs in the first place. There’s even loads of people on Pinterest who are keen on collecting the lovely glass vases as well as growing the hyacinths. I’ve quickly become obsessed and even created my own board.

I love interesting plant containers and planted some bulbs in teapots a few months back. I really think these hyacinths look cool in the colourful vases. I’m inspired to create my own collection. My only problem is space! I sometimes feel like plants are taking over my life!

Have you started growing hyacinths in the dark before? Do you have any ideas about interesting ways to display bulbs?

Back from the snow and into the snow…

Well it snow surprise that we suddenly get a massive dump of the fluffy white stuff just when everyone was starting to enjoy the unusually mild winter! I’ve had a wonderful holiday in Andorra, hitting the ski slopes, where there was a slight lack of snow (but enough to ski and snowboard) and I must say that coming back was a REAL downer. Wow! If January blues aren’t hard enough add a dose of post holiday blues on top and that was me all last week. I’m finally coming out of it though and just as I thought I had nothing to write my fingers have started tapping. I thought I was going to have to change my blog to ‘dig the inside’ since all I found myself doing was vegetating in front of the TV – a very unusual activity for me.  andorra
The good news is that my seedlings have survived without me. The sweet peas are looking a little leggy though and this is when I wish I had a conservatory to put them in to give them as much light as possible. The ones I sowed in the greenhouse in November are only just coming through and are still tiny.

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The garden is looking delightful and I’m really glad I left my pots of bulbs in the greenhouse and in the cold frame. The ones planted outside are doing very well and the snow seems to enliven them unlike the violas which look a little droopy. I have no doubt that they will spring back though and I’m carefully deadheading them to give them as much growing energy as possible.

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This is a short but double whammy post because along with my updates I’ve also published the first of my ‘month by month‘ series. I’m absolutely no expert but people keep asking me what they should/could be doing in their gardens. I direct them to plenty of websites, but still they ask. So to accompany what I’m doing I’ll also post a monthly list. Please feel free to help me with this and add links to your posts.

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As well as getting back into writing I’m looking forward to catching up on reading all my favourite blogs too. I plan to make some changes to my website this month, including a list of the blogs I read and I also plan to do lots of sketching with my new kit that I won from casual casual easy thing!

I hope you’re all doing well this January and you haven’t succumbed to the blues. What plans do you have for the rest of the month?

Month by month – gardening in January

berries_in_snowMy friends and colleagues are always asking me what they should/could be doing each month and January has been no exception. I feel slightly uncomfortable starting this new series since there’s a ton of books out there that give wonderful month by month guides to gardening and there’s some great websites too, including Gardeners World and the RHS and of course plenty of other blogs written by passionate gardeners who have brilliant advice. Please feel free to add your own tips, ideas and advice and hopefully all our friends and colleagues will benefit!

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1. When it’s cold outside and you want to be indoors check out seed catalogues and read books! Now is a good time to start thinking about what you will grow, going through your seed collection and starting to plan your garden. I’ve organised my seeds in zip lock bags, sorted by each month.

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2. Sow indoors. Not everyone has a greenhouse and not everyone can heat their greenhouse so start sowing on your windowsill. January can be really poor for light so if you really don’t have a bright or sunny spot then you don’t have to do this, most folk start in March. I’m a massive fan of starting my seeds indoors though and some things you can try are:

  • Early tomatoes such as Mr. Fothergills Red Cherry. If you have a heated propagator set them off in there now and when they start coming through we should have better light conditions. Be warned, they can be leggy if sown now though but tomatoes are very robust. If you are raring to go, then try it, better still wait until February or March. I will be sowing some end of Jan/start of Feb because I want some early varieties.
  • Autumn Leeks like the Mammoth Variety I’m growing right now.
  • Broadbeans – again, start them indoors and you will have some really strong and healthy plants to plant out in March. They will start to grow big though so be prepared to pot them on. If you haven’t got the time or space then wait and sow them direct in March.
  • You can also check out what I’ve got ‘growing on‘.

3. You can plant garlic outside but only when the ground is frost free and not waterlogged. Digging frozen or wet ground can damage your soil structure. With this current cold snap it’s probably best to wait now until March unless you’re in a blessed part of the country or the world where mildness prevails!

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4. Potter and clean things. On a crisp but frosty day take your flask of coffee (or if you’re like me your flask of Baileys Hot Chocolate or a nice tea) and potter around. Any bulbs you have in pots should be in cold frames or sheltered from bad weather, including rain, some bulbs don’t like to be waterlogged. Clean your greenhouse with hot soapy water – that’ll warm your hands! Fungus can grow in your greenhouse so it’s important to ventilate it in this weather too. Shake snow off branches and when everything is bare in the garden it’s a great time to tidy around and visualise where you will plant things and what changes you might make over the coming months.

5. Certain bits of pruning can be done now. I only know about Apples and Pairs but I never do them when it’s frosty, snowing or completely frozen like now as that can be harmful to them. So wait for the next mild spell and that would be a good time. I expect that rule applies to other trees and woody shrubs. Best to check that one!

6. Plant trees, hedging and roses. Never plant a rose where another one once was. It can lead to disease. Dogwood seems to be flavour of the month this year and it does look utterly brilliant. Again, avoid digging barerooted plants in when it’s really very cold weather. Wait for it to thaw out somewhat first. This is to protect the soil and give the plant a good start for it’s roots.

7. Feed the birds. They will be very grateful.

8. Plan your crop rotation. This is what I’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks.

9. Order your seed potatoes for chitting next month.

10. If all else fails and snow continues to fall, then go for a nice walk and take photos :)

rotten_snowy_cabbagesThis is why I don’t grow much over winter, rotten cabbages don’t look great even when covered in snow

Can you think of anything else? Please feel free to link up to your posts if you have any winter / January advice. Happy gardening!

December – a month of alpines

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For the run up to Christmas I created an alpine advent calendar on Instagram, featuring a different plant from the awesome alpine zone at RHS Harlow Carr each day. The big beastie above was the chosen one for Christmas Day because it resembled the shape of a Christmas pudding.

I’m really looking forward to the new growing season and I’ll be starting with leeks on January 1st ready for the giant leek competition. I have no idea how they’ll turn out. I’ve decided to be a bit more experimental next year with my sowing/planting out in general to see if sowing early really does make a difference.

Thanks to everyone for the kind comments over the few months that I’ve been blogging. I hope you had a great Christmas and I wish you all the best for 2013 :)

The garden diaries – an allotment retrospective

I’ve read a lot of awesome blogs this year and in fact it was reading such blogs that sparked the desire to write my own. I recently read three very cool review posts, one by Marks Veg Plot, a two-parter by out of my shed and the amazing award ceremonies by wellywoman. All are very uniquely written with a good dose of humor and I too would like to review my year in my own way.

Each week at work we have an ‘agile retrospective’ where we look back on the week and discuss the good, the bad and the things that we weren’t quite so sure about. So, I’ll do the same. I’m interested in looking back at this post next year and seeing what changes, improvements or planting disasters I may have had, after all keeping a record is what a blog was originally all about – a web log.

The good
pears
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Fruit – gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, redcurrant, apples and pears. All were exceptional. I think they liked the rain (unlike me who did not).

Flowers – all germinated well and flowered for a long time.

  • My Pelargoniums at home in a hanging basket are still going for it?! The others are covered in fleece and being stored in the greenhouse. Before I had my greenhouse I used to stash them under a hedge.
  • I grew tons of Marigolds, inspired by my wedding in India. They flowered prolifically.
  • Adam sowed Rudbeckia and it was exceptional, even the plants we salvaged later in the year continued to flourish until they were killed by frost.
  • Sedums were amazing, as was Eggplant (when is Eggplant never good?) Alpines, Lupins were incredible, my Jasmine is lovely right now, Clematis, Roses, Skimmia Japonica…you name it, the flowering plants and shrubs have been amazing.

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Peppers – the best being the big red ones that were given to me as seedlings from Michaela, who sows them early.

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Chilies – an abundance of chilies and some are still growing in my kitchen.

IMG_20121021_151728The final tomato harvest above – 9 weeks ago!

Tomatoes – tasted the best ever and I’ve been growing the same variety (passed on to me from my mother) for the last 10 years. I can only assume that I saved the very best seeds from last year, which incidentally lived on a piece of brown paper floating around my kitchen until spring and are really lucky to have survived. I still have tomatoes left from the final harvest which I took 9 weeks ago.

  • Broccoli – the best variety I’ve ever grown. I will be doubling up on the crop for next year. The plants were also easy to pull out unlike some broccoli varieties which grow, what I can only describe as, tree trunks.
  • Sprouts – withstood the onslaught from the cabbage whites and were grown in adequate numbers to be a tasty treat, rather than frozen wasted mush.
  • Carrots – grown in tubs, covered with fleece to stave off the dreaded carrot root fly. A small round variety. Very nice.
  • Onions – every year I buy onion sets from Wilkos and every year they perform. They last me until the following year’s crop is ready and I really enjoy plaiting them. Home grown onions are leagues ahead of the ones you normally buy in terms of flavor and juiciness.

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Beans – given to me by my friend Alice. Her parents (she calls them the bods) donated the seeds from their garden in Selby, Yorkshire. All my fellow allotmenteers had poor beans whereas the Selby beans triumphed and were a monumental spectacle in my front raised bed. Thanks ‘bods’.

The Bad
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  • Squash – I had 10 plants, only 2 grew and the specimens were poor.
  • Courgette – normally I have marrows galore because I can’t eat my bountiful crop fast enough, this year I had one lousy courgette? It was perfectly formed and tasted great but I really missed having more. Major disappointment.
  • Potatoes – my first and only poor crop in 9 years of growing them. A couple of spuds even had blight. Worried for next year.
  • Cauliflower – germinated fine, disappeared just fine. Don’t know what happened?
  • Peas – shriveled, withered and died. Another first in 9 years.
  • Sweat Peas – a poor show.
  • Cacti – none germinated.
  • Parsnips – did not germinate.

The ?
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  • Garlic – it grew but it was quite small. Tastes great and far better than anything I buy but I feel it could have been better. Not a total disappointment.
  • Pumpkin – one tiny one. Last year’s was a monster? Still cute though and good for a decoration.
  • Nasturtiums – I love them and they weren’t too great this year but they produced a lot of seeds, so hopefully next year will be better.
  • Cucumbers – I forgot to sow them?!
  • Avocado – I brought a stone/seed home from Cyprus and it’s growing. I fear it might be growing into a big tree though. No idea what to expect.

As an added bonus, the downright ugly

slug_monsterMonsterous Slugs, pictured here (sorry it’s blurry) stuck to a large piece of slate gravel. Even Adam wouldn’t completely touch the critter.

I really don’t want to see these beasts again next year!

I hope you had a good year in your gardens. If you have written a review blog post or enjoyed reading one elsewhere please feel free to add your link, or add a comment about your year :)

The Allotment in December – what’s happenin?

frozen_allotmentIt’s a bit grim up north

Last week we had freezing rain and a day that never seemed to get light, 9am seemed more like midnight, it was dreary. During this spell I visited the allotment before work to check that I’d properly fleeced everything in the greenhouse.

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It was foggy on the plot and as I looked around all I saw was mess and all the jobs that need doing. I also saw that the frost was killing off my flowers, which have been very confused until now. I love frosty mornings but I must admit that morning was quite grim!
allotment_december_thawedIt’s still a bit grim up north

Only a few days later and the big freeze has gone! Today was much milder and it seems strange to think that we’re only a week away from Christmas. I wanted to take these photos of the allotment so I can start recording it through the months ahead. So much of it is really untidy and I have a lot of general chores to do. To be perfectly honest, I could be growing more but I prefer to grow just enough and then clear out the veg beds over winter and concentrate on bulbs and planning for the following year. Today I noticed a lot of rotting vegetables in the other plots and I’m glad I’m not in that position. However, I really do wish that I’d grown kale and I wish I still had leeks and broccoli left but I’ve eaten it, leaving me with only three sprout plants, just enough for Christmas dinner!

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Rather embarrassingly untidy plot

my_sproutsThese are up next for the chop

I aim to start January with a bang and aside from sowing leeks for the giant leek competition I’ve got involved in, I will also start sowing peppers. The best peppers I had this year were ones that fellow allotmenteer Michaela gave me. I know she starts sowing them early at home and I think that’s why she is such a rock star at growing veg. She doesn’t wait until the spring, she gets a good head start. I’ll definitely have my leeks in a heated propagator to get them going for the competition. If you have any tips for growing ‘mammoths’ I would be most grateful. I usually grow them close together to keep them small so this is going to be a real challenge!

What do you do this time of year and what are your thoughts on starting off seeds at home before the spring?

Fancy a Pot of Spring Bulbs?

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I was over the moon when I started my new gardening blog because Spalding Plant & Bulb Co. accepted me into their bloggers club.

As a welcome gift Spalding sent me 100 spring bulbs. They recently arrived and strangely enough I’m feeling rather guilty at accepting them? It seems I much prefer to share the love and give things away in the hope that budding gardeners or keen readers will benefit, after all gardening is my passion and I just love it when others find enjoyment in it too. Anyway, it got me thinking about what to do. Should I just give these bulbs away? But I’m already giving away some seeds. Then a flash of inspiration from Pinterest and suddenly I’m thinking about teapots and Christmas presents! Yes, there’s the answer. A teapot or other unusual vessels and nice pots will be given to family and friends as Christmas presents pre-planted with Spalding spring bulbs! After a shopping therapy trip to Leeds I returned with a selection of interesting items including a classic Wedgwood milk jug. All guilty feelings have now gone.

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Then a few days ago I received another email from Spalding asking me to take part in their challenge to pick 5 of their bulbs that I think would make a lovely Spring patio tub display. On further inspection of the fabulous bulbs they sent me, they seem like the perfect bulbs already.

My 100 bulbs consist of:
Mixed Iris, Mixed Darwin Hybrid Tulips, Grape Hyacinths – my absolute favourite bulbs of all time and one of the first I ever grew in my little garden 10 years ago, Tete-a-Tete Daffodils (which must have sold out on Spalding but they have a wide selection of very interesting Daffodil varieties left), Mixed Anemones and Mixed Alliums – again, these must have gone but check this out for an unusual Allium!

So this is how I’ve planted them up – the little Wedgwood jug and the Greek teapot simply contain the Anemones and the terracotta teapot is planted up with the Tete-a-Tete and the Mixed Iris.pot5

Thinking specifically about the patio tub, I have omitted the Anemone’s and used the remaining 5 varieties from my 100 spring bulbs pack. Now this is somewhat of a challenge because these bulbs won’t all come up and flower at the same time. Either a problem, or an opportunity. I see this as the latter, a way to keep a container of bulbs in bloom for longer. So I planted two large terracotta containers with Grape Hyacinth round the edges interspersed with Tete-a-Tete but with those flowing in towards the middle and the Iris, which will throw up greenery but flower later, then the Alliums and Tulips as the primadonna flowers in the middle. Now I predict that the Tete-a-Tete will come up first with a flash of greenery, if I look after them and keep them partly shaded then before they fade the Grape Hyacinth should follow suit along with the Tulips. If I’d planted the Grape Hyacinths earlier though these would be up now because they’re already confused and coming up in my garden. The Iris and Alliums will be the last to flower. I think the combination of colours will look great and I think my pots will last me right up until the end of July. What do you guys think?

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I really enjoy planting bulbs as you will know if you read my recent night planting post. So, thank you Spalding for the lovely gift. All the bulbs are absolute beauties and I can’t wait to see them flower. I just need some ribbons now and to choose who I will give them to….although now I’ve planted them I’ve got rather fond of the pots and think they would look great in my garden. Hmm? Can I keep them? ;)

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