Not only do I have limited space on my roof terrace but I also have to balance the needs of a non-gardening husband who actually wants to sit out with a book and a glass of wine occasionally! A ray or two of sunshine and visiting family and friends descend (or should that be ascend?) and also want to spread themselves. Therefore there is a little battle going on over just how many pots and plants I should have out there - people or plants first? No contest!
I was therefore intrigued to see an advertisment for Earthboxes (www.earthbox.co.uk), a US idea which 'guarantees' easy veg growing, self-waters AND are on wheels so can be moved out of the way when visitors arrive and wheeled back into the sun when they are gone. It's basically a plastic trough on wheels but with a cover that you make slits in, a 'magic' fertiliser and a self-watering base. How many holes you make depends on what you are growing - instructions come with it.
So, here goes, I've bought two and I think I'm going to try my 'Moneymaker' tomatoes in one and beans in the other. You're allowed sixteen slits for beans so I may do a pick 'n mix (or mix 'n pick hopefully!) of my 'Purple Teepee' seedlings and my dwarf runners, 'Hestia'.
If anyone has any experience or suggestions, do let me know!
I've just read a piece about protecting apple blossom in April but it's made me a little worried. I have planted two apple trees this year in pots - James Grieve as a pollinator and my absolute favourite Discovery. It seems to me that it's only worth growing apples that have a very short season and are difficult to find in the shops if you can only have two trees on dwarf rooting stock.
My fear is though that they won't pollinate because I never see bees or even small birds up on the roof. Don't they like flying five floors up? I try and grow plenty of plants to attract them but it is early in the season. When I had a little peach tree, I hand pollinated it with a soft brush. Should I be doing the same thing with my apple trees? My column plum tree only seems to have about three fruits developing as well. It's all very worrying.
Instead of gardening yesterday, spent the day listening to four Chelsea medal winners and watching slides of beautiful if unobtainable garden dreams. One of them was Carol Klein who I've been a fan of for more years than I can remember. With Carol, what you see on tv is just how she is, no front just years of plant-growing expertise. Completely different was Tom Stuart Smith whose gardens I have adored at Chelsea and rightly has won several gold medals - as Jinnie Blom wittily said when he was late, 'he's probably at home polishing his medals' - well, she does share an office with him so that's ok!
They were are so much more inspiring than the dreadful tv gardeners we've got at the moment (Carol excepted). I mourn for Gardeners' World. No serious gardener I know can bear to watch it now - they make so many mistakes! Still I suppose with this obsession with 'youf', we're not the target audience any more.
Tom has some astoundingly original ideas that I came away quite depressed that I couldn't put any of them into practice on my tiny roof garden. But then actually I can. More repetition and fluidity in the long border would help. When you're trying to grow flowers, fruit and veg in a small space it really is hard to avoid a 'bitty' look. I can't afford the luxury of tall clipped trees and topiary statues but I can encourage wildlife with my green (and blue and red and yellow) roof and I know they'd all approve of that.
So today was back to work and it is non-stop at the moment. Most frustrating and then satisfying was setting up the new water feature (photo to follow). Various seedlings potted on. And I have planted out the beans but don't worry they will be well cossetted at night!
The weather in London has been unseasonably warm for April - up to 21/70 degrees some days. I have a makeshift watering system rounding round the edges of my roof garden to reach the largest tubs. All the smaller pots and seedlings, etc, I water myself so I can keep an eye on them morning and evening. I gave the system a bit of an overhaul last weekend so was feeling rather pleased with myself. Pride, etc... Stopping to admire Hosta 'Sum and Substance' this evening looking healthy and un-slug eaten (those copper slug rings are working perhaps?) I noticed something lying in the folds of the leaves: little twigs from my mimosa/acacia which was a mophead of yellow recently. But oh, dear, looking up I saw that it has dried out even though it is in the biggest pot on the roof and is supposed to be drip-watered regularly. A hasty hosing hopefully will save it - it's come through snow and drought before so should be ok.
It did make me think again about the woman gardener I've been writing about today in my book. In 1897, Gertrude Jekyll called her 'the greatest of living women-gardeners'. And at one point, she had 104 - yes that's not a typo - 104 gardeners working for her.
Ellen Willmott inherited a ton of money, never married and spent her fortune on her garden at Warley Place in Essex, and one in France and one in Spain. Her passion was gardening - or more specifically plants. There are still dozens named for her or for Warley (Cerotostigma wilmottianum, for example, and of course, 'Miss Willmott's Ghost').
It took her a long time to spend all her money but she managed it. When the bank were about to foreclose, she disappeared into her garden to weed. Her beautiful garden became a ruin but it has now been taken over by the Essex Wildlife Trust. All good gardeners know about Gertrude Jekyll but few know about Ellen Willmott. How sad. But I don't think she'd have changed a minute of it.
This stopped me in my tracks today. This wisteria literally drips off the roof of this shop in Chalk Farm Road, NW1. What a marvellous way to brighten up a main road, full of traffic and pollution but does it care? Does it heck! If you're in the area, go and see it. If you're not - hope you enjoy the photo.
Having watched the Gardeners' World special recently on the depleting peat bogs, it made me more aware than ever that the horticultural industry really isn't doing as much as they could to make it obvious to us how much peat is in multi-purpose composts. Perhaps it's time for legislation that would should a percentage figure?
That said, it is still difficult to find alternatives to some things - peat pellets and peat pots, for instance. Apart from the advantage of no root disturbance, it's good not to be contributing to the plastic mountain as well. So it was with great relief that I saw that that brilliant company Lakeland are now doing coir pellets for seed growing. I haven't seen these anywhere else - they import them from France exclusively. The good news is that they work a treat and everything I've planted in them recently is growing great guns.
They sell a version for cuttings as well. This isn't quite so good. You get an extra pouch of rooting gel but apart from that they are identical to the seed pellets. The fuchsia cuttings I took a couple of weeks ago are showing no signs of rooting and I think I could have done just as well with them in a glass of water.
Whow - two postings in one day! That's because I'm so excited at having got all this underway. And also I'm excited about finding www.myfolia.com which is a great (UK?) website for gardeners across the world to list their plants, sowings, etc, etc. Do have a look. Now I'm up to speed, I've uploaded photos of my seedlings which are growing like anything in this weird mild weather we're having. The big question is - just because it feels like June, surely it is too early to plant out tender things such as my runner beans which are just romping away. I've gone for a Robin Lane Fox recommendation (White Apollo) which he recommended for containers (and also good as the white flowers don't attract the birds). I'm hardening them off in my tiny mini growing house but even so I'm going to be cautious if space allows. Still there's always time to grow some more...
Well, here it is: the permanent home I hope for the blog on my roof garden. This year marks two 'firsts'. This is the first time I've written a blog on my garden other than notes in my gardening notebook (which goes back to 1991 - another garden, another marriage, another story...)
The second 'first' is that this year is the first time I'm attempting seriously to grow a good selection of fruit and vegetables in containers on the roof. I have in the past had some limited success with a dwarf peach (no longer with us I'm afraid) and a plum tree.
This year, after many years of flower gardening, I'm joining the veg brigade with carrots, runner beans, French beans, tomatoes, chard, courgette, cucumbers, onions and more. To be honest, although I've won prizes for my previous garden and seen both gardens featured in magazines, this is completely virgin territory for me and I'm a little nervous. Added to that I'm supposed to be finishing a book on the history of women and gardening at the end of June, it's going to be a balancing act trying to fit everything in timewise.
So welcome, to the blog, stay with me as over the next few postings, I'll bring you up to date with what I'm growing from seed and how they're doing. In the meantime, if you're interested in seeing what else I have in the garden, visit my website at www.emerald-house.co.uk.