What I’m planting in April – Yorkshire Cottage Garden Seed Sowing
What I’m planting in April
The chill of March is slowly ebbing away, and we have finally put up the heated propagator. Last year, I got over excited and put it up in February – the outcome being that when the plants outgrew the propagator, it was still too cold to plant them out. So, I’ve held back a little this year and hopefully got the timing right. As always, it’s a mix of veg and flowers – I usually plant way too many things and get overwhelmed, so I’m trying to hold back this year and just keep on top of everything.
The field beans and broad beans from last month are mostly germinated, including the saved seed, so that’s exciting! A few more weeks and I’ll pop them out into the veg patch, hopefully around the end of April as it warms up.
What I’m planting in April in the heated propagator
The nights are still cold and frost is still a risk here in Yorkshire, so I’m starting a few bits off in the propagator. Last year it we tracked how much it cost to keep on, and it was negligible – this year it seems to be about 2p an hour after all of the price rises! So we’re popping it on overnight at around 21c, and the residual heat and sunlight keeps it warm through the day.
A slight cheat as I planted these in March, and they’re just peeking their little leaves above the soil. Our chillies did really well last year so this year I’ve got a few more varieties, all from Real Seeds. Last year, ‘Nigel’s Outdoor Chillies’ did excellently in the conservatory, eventually even turning red, and they’re a great versatile chilli with a medium heat, so more of those this year, alongside a hot lemon aji ‘Lemon Drop’ and ‘Kristian’ yellow chillis. I have a feeling chilli jam might be a project later in the year!
Alongside the chillis are some tomatoes – I never really have much success with them but am trying again – I think the greenhouse is slightly too shady for ripening, as even early tomatoes take until the beginning of autumn to start to redden. This year I’ve popped some optimistic ‘Moneymaker’ in, plus some ‘Latah’ early tomatoes that I saved the seed from last year’s crop. The moneymaker seeds say to plant before 2007, but they came up last year so fingers crossed!
Beans and more
I have also sown runner beans, sugarsnap peas, broccoli, sprouts and both round and stripy courgettes. Last year these mostly got eaten by the supersnails but we’ve got to keep trying hey!
Flowers in the propagator
I’m starting off some flowers too – a couple of trays of lobelia, cosmos and a few sunflowers – ‘Vanilla Ice’ from Higgeldy Garden and a nice dark red one. I’ll leave off and sow more in May. I love to sow Lobelia in trays as it’s so easy to divide and pot on – I just pull a clump of soil off with the little seedlings and pop it into a new pot. Our lobelia lasted until the first frost last year. As it grows I pot it on until in a large pot, where it spills over the sides and looks amazing. It seems to do well located around the front which is in shade until the afternoon, then full sun until sunset.
Flowers in the greenhouse
I’ve planted some sweet peas in the greenhouse too – I always find they go leggy if I plant them too early, so I’ve left them until now then they can go straight out when they’re ready! I’m sure there’s a reason for them being leggy (too little light? too much light? who knows) but they grow pretty fast planted later on so no worries. I’ve also sown calendula, brachycome, alliums, rudbeckia and foxgloves in the greenhouse, as well as a hanging basket full of red clover as a bee feeding station!
When to plant out seedlings
Here in Yorkshire, we are still getting a risk of frost and night temperatures are anything from -1c right up to 8c or 9c, so I’ll wait until the risk of frost has passed – probably the start of May to be safe. I find PlantMaps has a great last frost estimator for the UK, and I’ll leave a week or so after that. It’s worth checking the dates for your location as they vary dramatically! After plants have outgrown the propagator, I’ll put the plants into the greenhouse at night and outside during the day to acclimatise. After a few days, it’s into the ground, with some fleece if temperatures are going to drop. Mostly they’re fine, until they get eaten by snails of course.
What’s flowering in April in my UK cottage garden?
The bulbs are just about to break into full riotous colour – hyacinths are out and filling the air with a wonderful smell, the daffodils are nodding in the breeze, and tulips are just about opening! There are fat bumblebees buzzing around the blackcurrant bush, and the pond plants are shining yellow joyous faces above the wriggling tadpoles. Pansies are bobbing about too, and my favourite primrose is absolutely beautiful with its dusky pink flowers. The dandelions are just coming into flower – I leave them all for the bees, and make jam from the flowers, too. I think I might do a future post about why dandelions are so great!
I’d love to know what’s flowering in your garden, or out and about where you live? If you’re in the southern hemisphere, is autumn in full swing now or are flowers and leaves hanging on?
Birdsong and bulbs
Wow February, you’ve treated us here today in the UK. The early mist gave way to bright blue skies and the first warm sunshine of the year. The birds have been in full voice, blue tits popping in and out the next box, and I flung open the shed door to attempt to burn off some of the layer of winter mildew that has inevitably settled on every surface.
I put the lemon tree outside to sit in the sun and opened every single window as wide as it would go to let the fresh air clear out the cottage. Best of all, the sun has worked its way just high enough to shine on my favourite sitting spot. Spring is really coming along! I love to think of these days as full of birdsong and bulbs, as little green shoots begin to pop up and feathered friends begin to seek out nest locations. The magpies are beginning to tentatively return to their nest from last year – roosting on the branch just below, hopping in and straight out, playing around and around. I hope they’ll stay there again this year.
I know there will be frost to come, and the forecast shows rain for the days ahead. But this one day gives me a much-needed lift, a glimpse of longer, warmer and brighter days ahead. I’ve pottered around the garden a little this morning, cutting back last year’s teasel heads, scattering the remaining seeds on the cobbles for the birds.
The bright days lift my mood massively. I find myself dragged down by the endless grey of UK winter – at first a novelty, but after a few months it becomes a weight. I think everyone feels it, somehow – the explosion of joy that a sunny day brings in winter is quite fun to be a part of. People out and about walking, gathering, having a chat, exchanging pleasantries as they pass on the pavement or towpath. The buzz of distant DIY power tools echoing down the valley as soon as the sun comes out, even if it’s still in the low single figures. One or two bright days in the middle of the seemingly endless grey is such a treat here!
So today, I try and get as much washing done as possible to hang in the sunlight. I wipe windows and feel an urge to move the furniture around (my favourite thing to do) and generally come out of hibernation a little. Do you feel this in spring, too? We’re still part of this big, ever shifting wheel. We feel the seasons change, even now, even if we forget those parts of us long hidden.
With tea in hand, I head out to enjoy the last few rays of sunshine, and hope for more tomorrow.
Greenhouse Clear Out and Tidy
I’ve been putting off clearing out the greenhouse for months. Actually months is a lie, it must be at least a year and possibly (probably) even more. But last weekend, the great greenhouse clear out and tidy finally happened, so I thought I’d take a few photos to document it along the way.
I must say, I did hardly any of the actual clearing out (or putting back in), that job was valiantly undertaken by Mr GF, who bravely wrangled the resident huge angry spiders to a new home (round the corner of the house). I don’t mind a distant spid, but when they’re massive and waving their hairy legs at you in rage after being ousted from their favourite tea-towel I come over all wibbly.
Here’s a few shameful before pictures. Over the last few months/years, the organisation I had at the beginning went to pot and I ended up just shoving everything wherever it would fit. I’m terrible for keeping garden bits to ‘make something out of’ in the future, which almost never actually happens. This time we unearthed a hessian sack, two empty compost bags, an entire bucket full of plastic bottles cut in half (no idea), a couple of glass windows, endless seed trays and pots, a jar containing a marble and a bit of wire (also no idea) and handfuls of wooden coffee stirrers liberated to write plant names on (we kept those!). Originally I had some baskets and drawers found in charity shops for all the bits, organised in themes, but the bottom drawers had become spider hotels and I had avoided them ever since.
We decided the best way to go about it would be to remove everything, then jig around as we needed before replacing everything that we wanted to go back in. Mr. GF removed and I wiped plant pots, organised tubs, cleaned tools and once everything was out, washed down the whole inside of the greenhouse with warm water and a good squirt of Dr. Bronners. We ripped off any tired masking tape and duct tape, but left the bits that were still sticking the panels together effectively – I’ve found this is the best way to stop the panels disappearing down the valley in the winter winds. I’ve taped the inside and outside and yes, it looks terrible, but it works!
You may have realised by now that this isn’t going to be an amazing transformation! Definitely no bunting here. Our greenhouse is pretty functional and is never going to be one of those Instagram-perfect glass houses with a sofa in and fairy lights! It’s full of worms, mud and spiders, and it leaks water through the roof moss into an old mushroom tray. I think if we had a posh greenhouse it would just blow away in the wind anyway so there’s no point!
Anyway, back to the job in hand. After Mr GF had cleared everything out, there was loads more room to move around. After whirling around inside for a bit in excitement, we decided to move the big pallet shelves to the side and keep one of the old sets of grey shelves (you can spot them in one of the photos above), but remove everything else. The shelves were really useful – originally part of those small stand-up greenhouses with see through plastic covers. I’d found them years ago in the Wilkos sale for £2 each and after a few years use the plastic had given up, but the shelves are still in great condition.
A quick sweep up and it was time to move around! Luckily, the pallet shelves and the grey shelves were the perfect fit for one side of the greenhouse.
We made these pallet shelves out of some spare wood. They are just two half-pallets, one at either side, joined by a length of wood along the back. The ‘shelves’ are just planks of wood balanced into the spaces in the pallets, so we can move them around as we need. Sturdy and easy to disassemble if needed! After moving the shelves the greenhouse seemed much bigger, mainly as we can now get the the back of the greenhouse. It’s strange how just moving one thing can make it seem so much larger!
After much tea, it was time to put everything back in. We cleared out anything expired, and donated the excess of plant pots to friends and to freecycle, keeping a few of each size. My pile of ‘projects that will never happen’ was sorted and recycled, although we kept the hessian coffee sack for future use – they’re great for hanging basket linings. I organised the baskets, using one for tools, one for garden twine etc, and one for plant food. Mr. GF has a basket for his carnivorous plant things too. We brought the geraniums in from the garden, and put back the physalis (we’ve had 3 so far from it this year and very delicious they are too!) and the avocado-or-mango (we can’t remember which).
I have a wooden fruit tray from the local veg shop that I kept a variety of gardening related crap in, now it’s nice and organised! I balanced it on four pebbles to escape the water that leaks through the roof. And talking of that, I replaced the mushroom tray with a larger one, underneath where it leaks through the roof. There’s moss and it drips lovely filtered rainwater into the tray, which is then used to water the plants! I should probably fix it but I quite like it. The potting table is made from spare wood and the marble from our old fire surround!
The two big tubs are where we keep the bird food. Nice and mouse-proof, and they keep everything dry as well. We hammered a nail in to hang the riddle from, and the bags of compost fit nicely under the bench once more!
It’s been so nice to be able to actually get into the greenhouse now. It’s made such a difference clearing stuff out, and you know when you’ve been meaning to do something for ages then the relief you feel when you actually get round to it is immense. It’s a lovely little spot now and I’ve found myself popping in to talk to the geraniums, grab some bird food, or just perch on the edge of the pallet shelves and listen to the rain on the roof. I’m sure the spiders are moving back in as we speak, but it’s so much easier to find what I’m looking for now, and after getting rid of the excess mess my head is a lot clearer too. It’ll never win any Pinterest award for aesthetics but it’s an unapologetic working greenhouse, and now I can actually work in it, that’s more than enough for me.
Happy gardening, all 🙂
The Garden Project: Beginning
We’ve lived in our cottage for a decade this year. When we moved in our garden was clipped and manicured and mown, and we promptly set about doing absolutely nothing to keep it like that. As we learned more about the decimation of wildlife by the overuse of pesticides and the loss of habitat (Dave Goulson’s ‘The Garden Jungle‘ is a great read about this), we made a conscious choice to stop fighting to keep things ‘perfect’, and in a way, created our own kind of perfect.
The garden has really started to relax into itself once more. Clover began to grow through the gravel driveway. Couch grass is taking over. The lawn grows wild, mown maybe twice a year. About three years ago, we noticed the insect population was flourishing – more ladybirds, moths, beetles, flying things and crawling things were returning.
Frogs croak away to each other in the pond. Wasps lived in the attic for a year and we left them to it (although slightly regrettable, as we are still finding bits of them in the water tank). The next year, and every year since, tree bumblebees have lived in the other side. Bats flit around in summer and mice live in the garden walls.
It’s been amazing and rewarding to see nature coming back. We haven’t used a pesticide for years now, and seeing the return of insects, followed by bigger animals – hedgehogs, foxes, badgers, a cheeky squirrel – is one of the best feelings. We have an ongoing large housing development being built right next to the garden, and although it has been silent since the start of lockdown, building will recommence imminently. I worry for the animals that have made their homes in the abandoned site -shrews, voles, the badgers, even a herd of deer – so want to make our little patch of land as wildlife-friendly as possible.
A lot of people would call our garden a mess. There are piles of stones and logs, leaves everywhere, grasses left long through the winter, mining bees nesting in mud. However, wandering round with a brew in my hand, I’d say it’s more ‘interesting’. There’s always something to look at, even now in January.
However, we do want to make some changes this year. The couch grass is running rampant, and we have a pile for the skip that has been home to some spiders for the last few years – but the bags of rubble and old pipework really need to disappear. I’m also excited to grow more flowers, sort out a shady area, and maximise the sunny spots. This bit by the shed has become a dumping ground for the remnant of all the house DIY we have been doing.
Believe it or not, under the grass is a gravel driveway! This area gets really boggy since the new building behind us has stripped all the natural drainage away from the field. The plan is to plant ferns, foxgloves, hostas and other shady plants as this area only gets sun in June around midsummer. We will probably re-gravel the driveway due to the poor drainage.
I love all the piles of logs we have dotted around. Something definitely lives in here, but I didn’t want to disturb whatever it is! We’ve heard it snuffling a few times. Maybe it’s the hedgehog?
A thin strip of ‘field’ we have adjoins houses in front, and still has our hastily erected fence, consisting of a few bits of wood and some straggly hornbeams. This means there is hardly any privacy, and I don’t like going in that part of the garden. We will re-fence this and open it up to the rest of the garden, increasing space.
The veg patch has been okay for the last few years but not overly productive. We dug up the existing crazy paving, however we discovered an old road underneath which meant we had to make it into a raised bed. We’ve been filling it with compost for the last few years and this year we’re going to increase the height, too.
We made the edges from old sleepers we found hanging round the garden (there were lots of exciting things left when we moved in). We’ve found that there are a few things that grow well, mainly potatoes and field beans, but the amount of slugs and super-snails means a lot gets eaten. You name it, we’ve tried it. Copper, fluff, garlic spray… Last year we had beer traps, which seemed the most effective thing so far…
Here you can see where the couch grass is really taking over. Everywhere! It’s fine but means other plants can’t really get started. Next to the veg patch is self-sown marjoram which the bees absolutely love, so we’ll keep those there (plus it’s useful for cooking). I half-heartedly started putting cardboard down for the weeds but gave up after two bits, so excuse those! I’ll finish it off soon I’m sure!
This part of the garden is very windy and exposed as we’re on the side of a valley, plus in the summer it’s sunny, getting heat and light from mid morning right through to sunset. Self-seeded borage grows at the edge or the raised bed which keeps the wind off a little, and feeds the bees! There is both blue and white borage, no idea where it came from, but it is welcome, if a little thuggish.
Our plan is to have a nice area for sitting out that’s more private, as the houses in front look straight into the garden. We would also like to have even more insect-friendly flowers and a better veg-growing season! We’re going to plant more of the things we know will grow, and maybe try some containers. Any tips appreciated, especially friendly slug-busting tips! Even the hedgehog and frogs can’t keep them at bay.
So this is the beginning of the garden project plans for this year – I will update regularly as we plod along, tidying up whilst making room for wildlife to thrive, and hopefully growing some flowers and food, too.