Six on Saturday: 24 Apr 2021: Tulips and Tomatoes

‘Can you all get in an orderly line please?’, I feel like saying to all the seedlings that are clamouring to be potted on, and particularly to the 19 tomato plants, which have demanded a lot of my time and attention this week. All of them had to be potted on, staked and tied in, but after doing about fifteen of the them, I got fed up and decided to plonk four straight into the veg bed where they can frankly take their chances. I’ve been kind enough to give them a fleece covering at night, making a sort of makeshift greenhouse. Despite giving quite a few away, I still have too many – I am reminded of that each evening when I have to bring them all in after hardening off on the sunny terrace during the day. Phew…

Well, apart from feeling tomatoed out, I’ve really enjoyed the glorious spring weather we’ve been having, although it’s been so dry, it won’t be long before the water butt is empty. I’ve even had to get the hosepipe out to water the veg bed. Is this a sign of what’s to come as our planet warms up and spring is over by April? I’m increasingly thinking about which plants will survive best in these conditions, and try to focus more on drought-tolerant species that won’t need constant watering (the dahlias definitely don’t fit into this category).

Right, let’s do Six on Saturday:

1 Tomatoes. You’ve heard my complaints! So here are a few images of potting on, hardening off, greenhouse contraptions and all that other ritualistic stuff.

2 Tulips. They’ve been putting on quite a show. I haven’t chosen subtle, soft tones this year, it’s all loud and energising this year, and unapologetically cheerful. Here are the lily-flowered tulips Aladdin.

3 Tulips in the vibrant border. Here I’ve planted a drift of the old Dutch variety ‘Dillenburg’ which is flowering at the same time as Geum ‘Scarlet Tempest’. There are also some magenta ‘Barcelona’ tulips to add even more zing, but they are only just coming into flower.

4 Tulipa ‘Dream Touch’. These are more sophisticated! I like the shape and there’s the subtlest white border to the very tips of the petals that gives them a good outline, especially against the gravel of the new path.

5 Pollinator border. I’ve sowed lots of cheerful annuals here. It’s a sunny south-facing small border right by the front door, but the soil isn’t deep, there are pipes and other obstacles lurking underneath, so it’s been a tricky planting site. After reading more about bumblebees and other pollinators, who face an uncertain future as their traditional habitats disappear, I’ve planted nectar and pollen-rich selection including Phacelia, Calendula, Nasturtium, corn flowers, poppies and French marigolds. Let’s see what comes up! The trellis is to keep our feline friends off.

6 Honesty and forget-me-nots. Along the sunny side of the front path, Honesty, Lunaria annua, is in flower. I’ve also just added in five Hesperis matronalis, or sweet rocket, or even dame’s rocket, which I think will blend in well with this naturalistic planting and is another great plant for pollinators, plus it smells nice in the evening (the clue is in the name: Hesperis is the Greek word for evening).

It promises to be another lovely day. Potting on is the big priority right now: lettuces and some annuals sown earlier, Cosmos, Cleome, Larkspur and Coreopsis all need dealing with. It’s a really busy time for gardeners right now, but let’s all take a moment to sit back and peruse the multitude of Six on Saturday posts over at the Propagator’s site – the perfect excuse to put the kettle on.

Chaos theory in the garden

How much chaos is tolerable in the garden, and to what extent should we strive for order and its accompanying neatness? I’ve been thinking about this recently as I wonder just how many exuberant nasturtiums and calendulas I should weed out of my veg plot. When romantic tumbling cottage garden charm becomes untidy, is it time to be ruthless?

Colourful chaos – there are veg in there somewhere!

Ordered rows of veg and flowers can be both extremely practical and visually appealing, like well-turned out units on a military parade. Each veg group occupies its own space, and as a whole the crisp, clean lines exude efficiency and pride. Weeding and harvesting is easier, and there is less competition for space and light.

A stray calendula provides a resting spot for a colourful visitor.

There are no military parades in my plot this year, it’s more like an improvised demonstration of unruly students. A bit messy for sure. The amazing thing is that the veg still pull through, mingling with the flowers and popping up cheerfully yet haphazardly here and there.

Broccoli pops up!

There’s something lovely about seeing the veg like this, mixed in with everything else. You start seeing them as plants in their own right, with beautiful leaves, striking forms and interesting fruit. The grey-blue brocoli pictured here is a wonderful contrast to the greener growth around it. It has a strong presence and its flower head is not only edible but interesting, like a sedum.

Sweetcorn going strong.

One of the biggest stars for me this year has been the sweetcorn. I have just seven plants, grown from seed. They look as statuesque and handsome as any bamboo, and mine are just starting to show their feathery flower-heads. Beneath them is a magnificent courgette with massive marbled leaves, a great contrast with the tall, straight stems of the corn.

Courgette and corn combo.

Apart from the interesting effects of mixing the veg up with other plants and flowers, there’s also the value to wildlife. This year I planted some colourful varieties of echinacea and some salvia right by my veg area, and the bees and butterflies love them. The borage was also a huge hit with the bees, though it did get out of hand and sadly I had to pull a lot of it out. Perhaps it’s just a bit too unruly for a small space, and next year I should try to plan a separate borage patch nearby.

Echinacea and butterfly
The bees loved the salvia, backed by day lilies.
A dwarf sunflower – there is almost always a bee in here!

So overall, I’ve embraced a bit of chaos in my garden this year. The veg are still coming on strong, the flowers are doing their thing and the insects are definitely at home. It would be a good idea to keep a few straight lines in for paths and tidy up the edging, but apart from that I think I prefer my unruly students to the neat parades of veg, disciplined as they are.