Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Let's Make it Easy - Low Maintenance Plants

I bought some Poached Egg plant seeds after talking about them a short while ago. 

Limnanthes douglasii or poached egg plants are really easy to grow and within four days of planting them out they germinated. Another three days saw their first true leaves. I think I should get a colourful show of flowers before the summer is out and hopefully they will self-seed to give us earlier plants next year.

The ease and simplicity of sowing and germinating these seeds make them an ideal choice for youngsters to build up their confidence in the garden. I remember myself when, as a child I started growing cacti and was devastated when one of them died. I got that same feeling for years as any house plant that shrivelled up I took as a failure on my part, instead of looking at it as a continual learning process. 


There are a lot of great plants children can grow other than sunflowers 

Crane's-bill, Geranium; grown for its white, pink, blue or purple saucer-shaped flowers and its dense foliage, which is great for keeping down the weeds.
Lamb's ears, grown more for its foliage than its flowers. As its name suggests, its downy leaves resemble the ears of a lamb. It can be a bit of a pest if left unattended.
Houseleek, (Sempervivum) a rosette-forming succulent that produces flowers on long stems. It is a great plant for dry areas of the garden. They grow from offsets so if a friend has one, nip a few off and replant.
Forget-me-not, pretty clusters of small flowers in either blue, white or pink. They love well-drained soil and polytunnels. They are the third biggest weed in there just behind chickweed and rogue tomatoes.
Primrose, a spring wildflower that comes in a variety of colours. Great for planting in pots and containers and divide easily.
Bellflower, 'Canterbury Bells'; a blue, white or lavender, summer-flowering plant can easily be sown from seed.
Pansy, Viola; the cheery face of the pansy is a popular choice for an abundance of both summer and winter colour.

Flower seeds could include:
Sweet pea, Marigold,Nasturtium, Cosmos,Cornflower for examo[ple. Next time you are out and about at a friends house or on a walk, collect some seeds and plant them in pots.
Herb seeds prove to be easy to germinate. And can be sown anytime in a pot on the windowsill if it’s too wet outside.
Spearmint, mint will thrive in most soils, to the extent that it can easily become a nuisance. To avoid this, try growing it in a container on the patio.
Rosemary, this pretty herb produces blue flowers and has highly-scented, needle-like leaves.
Thyme, grow thyme in a well-drained, sunny area of your garden.
Chives, For a regular supply of delicious leaves for your salads cut off the flowers before they open.
Sage, this strong-flavoured herb has grey-green leaves and spikes of blue flowers.
Oregano, planted in a sunny area of the garden, marjoram will grow as vigorously as mint. Children may recognise its taste as it's often used in pizza and pasta.
Coriander, this popular herb, frequently used in Indian cookery and salads.

Fruit and vegetables
Even if it’s too late for some vegetables to give a serious amount of produce – or any, just watching them grow can be so much fun. A runner bean will grow a foot a week.
Radish, a great starter vegetable for kids because as well as being problem-free to grow, the colourful roots are ready for eating within a month of sowing.
Lettuce, lettuces can be grown all-year-round. Simply choose from the many varieties to ensure you have a crop for every season. Once sown, seeds should begin to sprout within 12 days.
Courgette, courgettes are simply marrows harvested before they have been allowed to grow to full size. Plants get quite big so be sure to give them room.
Carrot, sow carrot seeds thinly in a sunny area of the garden and they should germinate within 17 days.
Spinach, start picking the young, tender outside leaves of the spinach as soon as they reach a reasonable size, this also encourages new growth.
Swiss chard, one of the hardier vegetables, chard to survive winter.
Beetroot, a slow starter but once seedlings start to push through it picks up speed. You could speed up germination time by soaking seeds for a few hours before planting.

There you have it. A selection of random seeds and plants we could play with in the summer. It’s not about getting a large crop or a competition winning flower display. It’s more about just getting children interested in the wonder of nature and watching things grow. We can teach them about taking cuttings next year.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Ragwort- Tansy

The fields are glowing yellow this week. Not just because the sun is shining, it’s also the time for ragwort to flower.

Tansy ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is seen as one of the most harmful plants that grow wild and if left to self-seed in its second year can take over a field in next to no time. 

Biennial Ragwort                    
Tansy ragwort is a biennial plant which means that it takes two years for it to complete its lifecycle. It grows as a ground-hugging rosette in its first year. In its second year of growth, it transitions into its mature, tall, flowering form.  Ragwort plants produce a lot of seeds which can remain viable in the soil for a few seasons.  If left to spread, it can form dense patches, either from seed or by vegetative reproduction when its roots or crown are injured and new shoots develop making it extremely hard to control.

Controlling ragwort
Tansy ragwort can be controlled manually by digging or pulling in spring and summer before they flower. Rosettes should be dug up, removing as much as the root as possible. All pulled plants could be bagged and placed in the municipal waste for recycling into compost or burned. Once plants bloom you will have about three weeks until the seeds form to take action.

Mowing is not a good control for ragwort. While it may prevent the plant from immediately producing seeds, it also stimulates additional vegetative growth. This leads to more plants and more stems per plant in the same season. Mowing is especially problematic in pastures, where it can spread the leaves, making it harder for grazing animals to avoid. Chemical control is favoured by some folk.
In the agricultural depression of the 1930s and during the Second World War, there was far more Ragwort around than there is today. There were no selective weedkillers available, so it had to be controlled either by hand-pulling or by allowing sheep to graze off the young plants, which are less poisonous. There were also many more horses in the country, working on farms or pulling delivery vans. Ragwort poisoning was a recognised disease, but not a major problem.

Ragwort types
Ragwort (Senecio Jacobea) is also known as ragweed, buachalán and buachalán buidhe. It is a common weed of Irish pastures and thrives on a wide range of soils, but competes best on lighter free draining soils where fertility is reasonably high and grazing not intensive.
There are four main types of ragwort to be found in Ireland according to An Irish Flora (1996) namely:

Common Ragwort -Senecio jacobaea - found everywhere.
Marsh Ragwort Senecio aquaticus - wet fields, marshes
Ragwort - Senecio squalidius - mainly in larger cities, rare elsewhere.
Ragwort  - Senecio erucifolius – found especially in Dublin and Meath.
All four can interbreed where both parents are found.

Ragwort – Virtues
It’s not all doom and gloom for the plant, it does have its virtues –although it’s a very divisive subject and some will disagree, especially horse owners. 

At least 30 species of insects and other invertebrates are totally dependent on ragwort as their food. Many other species of insects either eat ragwort, or require the nectar and pollen from the flowers. Ragwort is a major nectar source for many insects, including bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths. 

Make a bit of Money
Entrepreneurial youngsters can make quite a bit of money hiring their weed pulling services out to farms and large private home owners. You could make a few euro clearing areas of the plant before they go to seed. There would be a payoff for the farmer too as they would get a better price for their hay after harvesting.

Whatever the myths and scare stories about this widely disliked plant are, it’s here to stay.  It is very easy to create hysteria about ragwort, those not familiar with scientific methods can often be misled into believing that it poses a much greater threat than it does. Don’t believe everything you read – even in this article, I could be talking a load of nonsense as usual.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Lawn Alternatives

My flowerless lawn chamomile plants keep on multiplying. So much so that I have decided to turn part of my front garden into a rich, apple scented mat of greenery.

Chamomile is a great alternative to normal grass but I am finding it does have one drawback, it’s pretty submissive when other plants challenge it. Unlike regular grass which will be more or less trouble free to establish, this chamomile needs a bit of care and attention until it forms a mat on the soil. I added some well rotted horse much when I planted and am regretting the decision. It was mixed into sterilized soil and compost but the horses must have been eating a lot of weeds as the seeds are all germinating in and around the plants. It used to take five minutes to mow the grass every fortnight but so far I have spent a full day on my hands and knees weeding the tiny seedlings out of the soil. Time and labour saving the chamomile isn’t but it’s very relaxing and meditative and hopefully it’s a one off getting rid of the seedlings.  

There are other benefits to not having a lawn other than the need to cut it weekly in summer.  Grass free means reducing the need for fertilizers, not having to put up with brown patches in dry periods, no aerating, scarifying or watering is needed either. Here are some other suggestions but if my chamomile is anything to go by all we really do is substitute the job of mowing for a job of weeding, sowing and tidying. Like most things in life it’s probably best in moderation. Start with a small patch first and expand if it works. That’s what I have done with the chamomile and that’ why there are three distinct sizes of plants form the mature ones to small offsets. They should all merge together soon though I hope.

Chamomile isn’t the only plant that will cover the ground as an alternative to grass. Take the council offices in Letterkenny, their rooftop has been growing succulent sedums for years and it looks great. We can buy these sedum plants in metre rolls now so they are so easy to lay and work with. This type of plant is ideal for any dry sunny spot but you wouldn’t want the children playing football on it.
Not just a weed!  It’s surprisingly beneficial as a lawn plant. It creates nitrogen; enriching the soil and helping other plants grow stronger. The added nitrogen also means that the lawn remains green, even in dry weather. White flowering clover makes good lawn alternatives and attracts plenty of pollinators. You can also use micro clover, which is a variety with tiny leaves. It doesn’t flower but it is hardier for walking on and really low-maintenance. 

Wildflower meadow
There are hundreds of wildflower meadow seed mixes available. They make a great lawn alternative in areas like front gardens. You’ll need to spend a bit of time keeping tap rooted weeds off the site for a while. You could colour co-ordinate the display and even intersperse the seeds in an axisting lawn if it’s poor quality gound (the wilflowers will prefer this as there’s less competition)
Creeping thyme
Creeping thyme is a great choice for sunny spots and releases a rich scent when you walk on it. The purple flowers also look stunning in summer and you can get other colours too. Sow creeping thyme from seed or buy plug plants and let it spread. It is really low-maintenance and can also be used to fill gaps and cracks in the patio.
Eco lawn
These seed mixes are ideal if you don’t want to get rid of grass entirely. They use hardy, slow-growing ryegrass and fescue that will only need mowing once a month or less.
They are widely available in America and slowly making an appearance here. Eco lawns are perfect if you still want to have grass, especially if you want a hardy lawn that children can play on.
Moss is a cool alternative if you have a shady, wet spot. Moss plugs can be bought but I doubt there’s any shortage around Inishowen.
Mind your own business
This is a creeping perennial It’s a great lawn alternative because it has rich green colour and needs little maintenance. But it is invasive and only suitable for enclosed spaces where it can’t get out of hand. It tolerates shade and sun and should be sown from seed.
Corsican mint
This is a low-growing and heavily fragrant alternative. It grows happily in full sun or partial shade, but can rot in wet conditions. Like all mints, Mentha requienii is invasive and spreads quickly, so only plant it in enclosed spaces.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Edimentals - A Fine 'Blend'

How do you like the words Brexit, Jedward, brunch, chillax and mansplaining?  These new words formed by fusing together parts of existing words are known as blends. Some are more popular than others as there will probably at least one word above that makes your skin crawl.

They used to be called portmanteau words, but this term isn't used as much nowadays. Blends are very common in the English language and account for a very large number of the new words added to encyclopaedias each year. Blends are not strictly the same as ‘compounds’, which are made by joining whole words together, rather than parts of words. Examples include website, housemate, keyboard, makeup, lawnmower, pitchfork, bluebell and motorbike.

More well-established blends include guesstimate, motel, fanzine, and shopaholic; among the more recent coinages are affluenza, infotainment, botnet, and labradoodle. 

The gardening world doesn’t escape the fusing of words either, take the broccoflower , tomacco, peacherine and the latest buzzword is taking the word edible and ornamental to make ‘Edimentals’ which translates into decorative plants you can eat. 

Edimentals fall into a couple of categories. We can have leafy ornamentals that can be used in salads such as young hostas and nasturtium leaves but this week I want to concentrate on edible flowers.
 It’s the time of year when we are spoilt for choice with colour. 

The first plants that spring to mind are the pansies and violas all members of the violet family. The leaves are added to soups and stews and the petals can be candied and used as a cake decoration adding sugar and eggwhite. Angelia flowers can be used in the same way.

Borage is next on the list. The leaves can be eaten (as long as you don’t mind hairs) but it’s the flowers that have more versatility. They can be candied like the violets and also eaten straight from the plant. They look great individually frozen in ice cubes too and taken out on hot sunny days to add to the drinks on the patio table.

Daylilies - although you have to be fast getting them because as their name implies, they are not around for long.

For a huge show, how about adding hollyhock flowers to a salad? They can be nearly the size of a side plate so really make a statement. Flower buds can be added to stews.

The weedlike Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) is a very versatile plant with not only the flower but the whole plant being edible. The young shoots are eaten like asparagus and the roots cooked up like parsnips make a great talking point at lunchtime.

Chrysanthamum flowers are edible and make a fine drink and let’s not forget nasturtiums for edible leaves and seeds.

You can keep the spread of forget me nots down by eating their flowers and begonias and daisies can be nibbled too. If you are lucky enough to have St Johns wort in the garden, these flowers can be added to salads and made into herbal remedies.

Clover flowers are good if you have that growing in the lawn and coltsfoot flowers are edible if you have them growing on newly disturbed patches of ground. Lavender flowers add a touch of class in both savoury and sweet dishes and like a lot of herb flowers; sage makes a great addition to stews.
Of course please take allergies onto consideration when going around munching on the garden flowers; some of them such as chamomile flowers might cause an allergic reaction.

Scrace (Scratched the Surface- my blend)

I’ve only really scratched the surface of flowers we can eat in the garden and I can only ‘guesstimate’ the vast range available. If you have young children playing in the garden it’s always handy to know which flowers are edible so we don’t fly into a huge panic when we see a stem sticking out of some smiling teeth. 

Children’s safety is important, so much so I’ve just invented a new portmanteau word especially -  “Chifty” – Children’s Safety - You are welcome…..There’s one for the English dictionary (drops microphone and walks off the stage)

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