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for April 2009 diary entry  

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For April 2010 weather summary

Archive for previous years' diaries dating from 2007 can be accessed by clicking here

April 2010 Diary
4 April
Having just come back from our holidays we didn’t visit the plot this week. Nature is beginning to stir itself having decided that, however cold it may still be that spring has arrived and it had better get on with its business.
In the garden greenhouse the carrots sown in the trough are beginning to germinate and the broad beans are doing well. The new growth is looking very strong and healthy – but then again these are tough individuals.
Bargain perennials are beginning to grow well. Even the chocolate cosmos that I had given up on is producing a tiny shoot. Apricot 'trees' that were planted from stones are fairly large now and are beginning to leaf. Whether or not we will ever have any fruit from them remains to be seen - only time will tell. Another survivor is a pineapple sage that was overwintered in the greenhouse. As this is fairly tender I expected to lose it but has new shoots. Strawberry runners potted up last year have produced healthy looking plants and really do need to be planted out soon.
Sowing will really start in earnest from now on. Tomato, pepper and melon seeds have been sown and placed in a heated propagator on the windowsill of one of our spare bedrooms. Sweet peas, purple broccoli, Brussels sprouts, summer, autumn & red cabbage, cauliflower and leeks have been sown in the greenhouse.
A detailed list of the seeds that we have bought and the stage we are at in growing them can be found here.
Things are definitely livening up in the garden. The miniature daffodils, pansies and hellebores are putting on a show, aided and abetted by the first large flowered daffodils, species tulips and hyacinths. In the area under the magnolia tree, cowslips and wood anemones have taken over from the snowdrops, flowering before the tree leaves up and cast shade.
Garden perennials are shooting and many shrubs are beginning to flower. One disappointment is that the mahonia buds have been stripped off by the birds so few flowers there. I’ll forgive them this year as it has been tough for the poor things trying to survive the winter. The camellias on the other hand are loaded with fat buds some of which have already burst to produce semi double red flowers. The pink variety always flowers later but the abundance of buds show that it isn’t going to disappoint either. Many of the deciduous shrubs and trees are also beginning their transformation. The burning question is, “Has the tree fern survived?” Fleece has been removed from the crown which looks healthy but no emerging fronds just yet.
In spite of the fishes best efforts some frog spawn remains in the pond although the frogs have departed. I hope that they are somewhere in the garden foraging for slugs and snails. The black dots in the centre of the balls of jelly are beginning to divide and produce comma shaped blobs that will eventually – fish allowing – become tadpoles.
A pair of bluetits are busily gathering nesting material having once again chosen one of the sections of the sparrow terrace in which to set up home. I did try for a photograph but they are on red alert at the moment and I didn’t want to disturb them too much.
Houseplants are also joining in the spring display with African violets and a clivia blooming.
I wonder what has been happening on the plot?
11 April
Things are really springing into life on both the plot and in the garden. The few days of lovely weather was the trigger the plants were waiting for. It also spurred us into action.
All our potatoes have now been planted, we use the trowel method so this task isn’t as arduous as it once was and the results are equally as good without the backache of digging trenches. We planted ten different varieties so hopefully at least some will like whatever conditions summer throws at us. Click here for more information. Potato bags have been moved from the garden greenhouse to the plot greenhouse where they will remain until they are ready to be moved outside. Shoots are appearing above the surface of the compost so we should have some early pickings of new potatoes from the five bags set.
Parsnip seeds – Gladiator & Panache - were sown on the best day of the week when there was no breeze to waft the seeds away. These were sown in shallow compost trenches. The seed bed has been protected using chicken wire ‘cloches’. Foxes tend to roam the site at night and their footprints can wreak havoc on newly sown seed beds. For more information click here.
Grass paths have been mowed for the first time this year and the permanently planted fruit beds have been tidied. Lavender has been moved to form an edging around the new fruit beds. This should not only look attractive but will be much visited by bees. Not that the bees need any encouragement to visit the fruit bushes. Large queen bumble bees are already sniffing out the flowers of the gooseberry and currant bushes. Theses flowers may seem insignificant to our eyes but despite lack of colourful petals they don’t go unnoticed by the insects. Our first peacock butterflies of the year were also spotted this week.
Strawberry runners taken last year have been planted out and fill the gaps left by plants that did not survive winter. Older plants that should still have at least one more productive year have been tidied up and fed. I just hope this year they produce as good a bounty as last year. Alpine strawberries already have flowers, however a frost will soon put paid to any suggestion of fruit being set.
Autumn fruiting raspberries are producing new shoots and our Glencoe raspberry is growing well.
Most other fruit is budding and shooting so at the moment we are optimistic of a fruitful harvest. The primrose border that was planted along the base of the kiwi plants is in full flower and looks just as attractive as I hoped it would. Cowslips growing under the plum tree and daffodils are also providing splashes of colour. The large flowered daffodils which can become untidy in the garden are grown on the plot for cut flowers although this year have flowered all at once rather than providing buds for a few weeks.
Space in the garden greenhouse is gradually being filled as more and more seeds are being sown.
Seeds sown this week are:

Achillea - Flowerburst Red   

Chrysanthemum -  Rainbow

Cosmos - Cosmic Red & Versailles Palace   

Dianthus - Sonata    

Mimulus - Mystic Mix

Papaver - Cherry Glow

Rudbeckia - Kelvedon Star

Lettuce  - Great Lakes & Little Gem

Broad Beans – Bunyards Exhibition & Masterpiece Green Longpod

Tomatoes - Moneymaker, Tumbling Tom Red, Brandywine, Amish Paste,  Amish Gold, Yellow Perfection, All Blacks, Costoluto Fiorentino, Red Cherry,  Minibel &  Garden Pearl
Tomatoes seeds have been re-sown as the earlier sowings seem to have produced poor quality seedlings.
For a full list of seeds sown so far this year click here.
Earlier sown broad beans have produced some healthy plants and more seeds have been sown to try for cropping succession. Carrots sown in the trough are germinating well.
Also in the garden greenhouse the grapevine is bursting into leaf and on the plot the two grapevines planted last year have buds and so have survived their first winter.
Colour is now flooding the garden with tulip, daffodils, pansies, primroses, cowslips, wood anemones, hellebore, camellias and the magnolia all in flower. In the sunshine the sepals fell away from the magnolia buds to reveal the cup shaped flowers. This happened so quickly that it was reminiscent of a snow shower. Let’s hope that it is the nearest we get to more snow this year!
Trees and bushes that are not yet ready to flower are shooting and soon the bare branches will be fully clothed. Hostas too are pushing up new spires of growth. The new shoots giving indication of the positions of herbaceous perennials meant it was safe to tidy the flower beds. A couple of shrubs had become too large for their allotted space and so some serious pruning was carried out. As the mahonia had been robbed of its flower buds by the birds, this provided the ideal opportunity to cut it back without feeling that we were sacrificing a floral display. A sambucus nigra was less fortunate and was removed completely. We bought this after seeing it at a garden show where it was used amongst bedding plants. It looked lovely but once planted in our garden grew just like a common elder. Even cut down to the ground each year it grew about eight feet tall. Cutting it down also meant that it didn’t produce the pink flowers promised so it has had to go. We have a couple planted as cuttings on the plot which we will be able to enjoy but I do wish garden shows wouldn’t use plants inappropriately.
The space created will provide space for the perennials growing on in the greenhouse and on the plot.
Of the two plants that were giving concern, the gunnera now is showing signs of new growth. The other the tree fern hasn’t any definite signs of growth yet but the crown is still looking healthy so I am still feeling optimistic about its chances.
18 April
Time was divided this week between the garden and the plot – last year our garden was a bit neglected so our new year’s resolution is to try and not let this happen again this year.
In the garden an area under a magnolia tree which we call our spring area was cleared ready for planting up with new hellebores. A vigorous clematis – a tangutica that I grew from seed years ago - was cut back as it was in danger of swamping the shrubs growing nearby; it’s really vigorous and so needs keeping under control.
Tubs of pansies are lovely at the moment, the plants are being regularly dead headed so that they will continue flowering. Camellias too are beautiful with hardly any green leaves visible. Neither of our two camellias are subjected to morning sunshine so avoid the premature browning of flowers that can occur following frosty nights
On the plot dry weather has meant lots of watering this week. Seed beds and young fruit trees and bushes have been kept well watered. It is a critical period for fruit trees and bushes at the moment as many are flowering so the last thing they need is to suffer from a lack of water.
Disappointingly it looks as though the plum trees are unlikely to give us a good crop this year, however, the cherry tree is loaded with blossom. It has only been planted for a couple of years and not really performed to date. It looks strange as it doesn’t appear to be forming branches and blossom is growing all along the trunk and the stumpy branches growing from the top of the trunk! Night frosts have ensured that the alpine strawberry flowers haven’t produced any fruit so I hope that the cherry blossom isn’t also adversely affected.
Carrots have been sown and covered with a protective ‘tent’ of enviromesh. In the past this has proved a very effective control for carrot fly. We use the same method of sowing as for parsnips in order to try and improve the chances of successful seed germination. Peas have also been sown – in previous years we       
have sown seeds in pots for transplanting but these never have done as well as those planted directly in the soil. Along the south side of the peas we have made our first sowing of salad leaves. This combination worked well last year as the leaves receive plenty of light but do not shade the young peas.
Carrots sown in the garden greenhouse are growing really well as are the potatoes set in the bags in the plot greenhouse. The grapevine too is beginning its frantic attempt to completely fill the greenhouse.
Tomatoes sown earlier appear to be struggling so yet another batch has been sown and the trays left in a spare room so hopefully it will be third time lucky!
Seeds sown this week are:

Peas - Onward & Progress No 9

Salad Leaves - Tuscany Baby Salad Leaves, Provence Baby Salad Leaves & Mixed Sicilian Rocket Salad Mixed

Tomatoes - Garden, Pearl, Moneymaker, TumblingTom Red, Brandywine, Amish Paste, Amish Gold, Yellow Perfection, All Blacks & Costoluto Fiorentino

Peppers - Jimmy Nardellos's, Tequila Sunrise & California Wonder

Carrots - Autumn King 2, Yellowstone, Flakkee & Early Nantes 2

Squash – Potimarron.
Harmony in the garden could soon be shattered as at any time a feud could break out between a pair of blue tits and a pair of great tits that I think are trying to take up residence in the same nesting box. It’s not as if there are not other options as we have several nesting boxes but they seem not only intent on the same box but the same hole. It is one of three in the sparrow terrace.
In the pond the tadpoles are no longer visible which means that they have either ventured further into the pond or have been devoured by the fish. I keep trying to spot signs of tadpole life but as the pond liner is black any remaining will be well hidden. Unfortunately for them – this camouflage will not be effective against hungry fish.
It would also seem that the song thrush (or thrushes) that we fed during the poor weather is trying to repay us by hunting out snails. A pile of broken snail shells testify to its activities. Unfortunately no doubt plenty will survive!
Weather information for this week click here
25 April
Spring seems to have really taken hold this week with that beautiful first flush of rich green leaves. Dandelions are dotting the grass paths – they look lovely and all would be well if only they stayed in the paths but unfortunately they are not content with that and given half a chance will spread everywhere putting down the long tap roots that are so difficult to remove. I guess as children we all were tempted to blow on a dandelion ‘clock’ and release the seeds but as a gardener the flower heads are removed whenever possible to prevent the seeds from heading into the cultivated beds. Mowing the grass paths does remove most of the flower heads but then the plants seem to learn and new flowers hug very closely to the ground to avoid the attention of the mower blades! Daisies are far more restrained and accommodating.
Hellebores and foxgloves were transported from the plot and are now planted in their new permanent home in the garden. Under the magnolia is our shady area which looks lovely in spring. Being also an area close to the house the spring display lifts our spirits early in the year. Now in full flower the large magnolia leaves will soon open and cast shade over this part of the garden – it will also act as an umbrella so I will have to remember to water the new plants.
Earlier disappointment over the lack of blossom on the plum trees has abated slightly; although they may not produce a bumper harvest this year it does look as though we ought to have some plums frost permitting. Cherry blossom has also survived the frost to date. The cherry variety - Summer Sun – supposed to have good frost tolerance. Let’s hope its name is an indication of things to come. Pear trees newly planted on the plot won’t provide much of a harvest this year but the Conference pear growing in the garden is loaded with blossom. A disadvantage is that it hangs over the greenhouse and falling pears have been known to break the glass! Fruit bushes are loaded with flower and receiving constant attention from bumble bees. Earlier varieties of rhubarb are being harvested. Both alpine and large fruiting strawberries are beginning to produce flower, however the frost is ruining their attempts to produce fruit. Autumn raspberries are shooting and the newly planted earlier fruiting varieties which were causing some concern are now showing signs of life. Outdoor vines although at nothing like the stage of the one growing in the greenhouse are developing plump leaf buds.
Broad beans – Witkiem Manita – have been planted out on the plot. Last week’s sowing of salad leaves is beginning to germinate. Making sure that areas where seeds have been sown don't dry out has been a major task this week. We’re now anxiously awaiting the first signs that the parsnips have successfully germinated. Shallots, garlic and onions both autumn and spring planted are growing well.
In the plot greenhouse potato bags are filling with leaf. Carrots in the tubs in the garden greenhouse are making progress albeit slowly!
After much anticipation purple sprouting broccoli is now doing its thing and providing us with a harvest and the white sprouting variety doesn’t look to be far behind.
I’m gradually repotting all my houseplants which, as I have quite a lot, is a major occupation. So far none appear to have suffered too much but I still have to tackle the larger plants which are going to be a challenge.
At this time of year seed sowing seems to be a continual process - as well as keeping up with sowing and pricking out for the plot spring onions, radish and salad leaves have been sown in large tubs at home in the cold greenhouse. These will later be transferred outside to provide us with fresh salad material that can be picked straight from the tub – well that’s the theory anyway!
Seeds sown this week:

Radish – Mixed (in a tub in the greenhouse)

Salad Leaves - Tuscany Baby Salad Leaves, Provence Baby Salad Leaves Mixed & Sicilian Rocket Salad Mixed (sowings in open ground and tubs in the greenhouse)                    

Spring Onions - Furio &  White Lisbon (in a tub in the greenhouse)

Sweet Corn - Sweet Nugget & Tasty Gold

Courgettes- Zucchini, Jemmer & All Green Bush,                  

Cucumbers - Burpless Tasty Green

Beetroot - Sunset Mixed        

Lettuce – Mixed & Lollo Rossa  

Papaver - Ladybird        

Nemesia - Carnival Mixed

Seedlings pricked out this week:

Brussels Sprouts - Wellington

Cabbage Autumn - Kilaton

Cabbage Red - Huzaro

Broccoli - Summer Purple

Cauliflower - Kaleidoscope Mixed
Harvested this week:

Broccoli – Claret

Rhubarb – unknown variety

Mint

Leek – Giant Winter

Taken from freezer:

Blackcurrants

Blackberries
For this week's weather click here
30 April
Spring has really shown its true colour this week. What a transformation! – I’m sure that if I had managed to sit very quietly and still I would have heard the leaves and flowers bursting from their buds. Fruit trees – apple, pear, plum, gage, crab apple, cherry and quince are laden with blossom. Well maybe laden is an over exaggeration in relation to the quince as it was only planted this year and so only has about a dozen flowers but for a first season it’s a good effort.
Blueberry bushes are also full of flower and bushes that flowered earlier are setting fruit. Strawberry plants are also now producing flowers in earnest although some are still falling foul of the frosty nights. I had an exciting surprise when tidying the kiwi vines, (are they vines?). Whatever they are called they are full of flower buds. Last year we had five flowers none of which set fruit so hopefully we will have a better chance this year. Just one fully mature kiwi fruit would be such a treat! Fingers crossed.
Seeds have been very busily germinating, parsnips, carrots, peas and salad leaves sown directly in the plot are all through. It’s always such a relief to see the green shoots of parsnips and carrots pushing through as many people seem to have such trouble getting them to germinate. Salad leaves and radish sown in tubs in the greenhouse are already through.
Potatoes are also just beginning to push through the soil. Shoots of Red Duke of York are a beautiful purplish colour – I wonder if they maintain this colour as they grow large. It must be really frustrating for a potato as it just manages to burst through the soil into the light and some annoying human covers it back up again! Potatoes growing in the bags in the greenhouse are growing really well and have flower buds.
Sprouting broccoli plants - both purple and white - are now producing a constant supply of sprouts for us to enjoy. We have decided to try to freeze some so that we can enjoy broccoli after we cease to be able to pick it fresh.  Rhubarb is also in full production – some seems determined to flower in spite of our efforts to prevent this from happening!
Attention turned to the herb beds this week which were very weedy. Two large cardoons were removed using a pick axe. Although lovely each year these were battered and flattened by the wind. A couple of plants have been left in another part of the plot as the bees adore the flowers. Weeding amongst mint is a real struggle. Not only does mint form a mat of roots making weeding difficult but the scent coming from the leaves as they are bruised makes the mouth water in expectation!
Harvested this week:

Broccoli – Claret & Late White

Leek – Giant Winter

Rhubarb – unknown variety

Spring Onion – Guardsman

Mint
Pricked out:

Lettuce – Great Lakes

Tomatoes – Garden Pearl, Moneymaker, Tumbling Tom Red, Brandywine, Amish Paste, Amish Gold, Yellow Perfection & All Blacks
Potted on:

Squash – Potimarron, Crown Prince & Yellow Scallop

Cosmos – Cosmic red & Versailles Palace

For this week's weather click here