Sowing seeds for colour next year

August 6, 2017

It is common belief that once summer comes we can relax and enjoy our garden, avoiding anything more taxing than watering and the odd bit of weeding and dead heading. The thoughts of sowing seeds may be the last thing on our minds, taking comfort in the seasonal routine of frantically planning what to grow as spring approaches. This however, can be easily avoided. Sowing perennial and biennial flower seeds now (late summer into Autumn) will not only prove less stressful next year but means that what you do sow will flower earlier and last for longer in your garden, creating the most vibrant of flower borders and hanging baskets well ahead of the rest.

 

Although a colourful garden may be the desired effect it is wise to put some thought into which colours to choose. Opting for primary colours can be a safe bet to create a plenitude of shades but seeing as there is plenty of planning time why not analyse the specific colours needed to get the most out of your outdoor space. Blue and white flowers will create a sense of distance, while pastel colours are best suited to low light conditions. Orange and red can be perfect to warm up an otherwise cool corner. Advanced thought can give your garden that je ne sais quoi with only matching furniture and lighting to worry about come spring. Calendula seeds come in a variety of eye-catching colours. Some of the varieties Kablouana and Snow Princess can be sown September, kept in a cold frame and their stunning double flowers will complement the dullest of borders early next year. With violas offering a magnificent choice of colours from red with blotch to sky blue they are a perfect choice to sow now. Other species to sow late summer are Lupins, Hardy Geraniums, Hollyhocks, Aquilegia and Verbascum. And if a Victorian cottage garden is your desired look don’t hesitate to sow some biennials seeds and overwinter until spring.  Sow outdoors Ammi Majus, Poppies, Nigella and Delphiniums to name but a few.

 

Whatever your preference, all the seeds can be sown in the same way. Half fill a tray with good quality, peat based compost. Avoid using potting compost when sowing seeds as it contains high levels of fertiliser that can damage young roots. Clean all pots and containers thoroughly as old compost can harbour diseases. Sow the seeds in rows, cover lightly with compost and water gently. Pots containing very small seeds should be surface sown and should be watered from the bottom by being left to soak only until the surface is evenly wet and then removed and allowed to drain. You may wish to cover the tray with a transparent cover for the initial stages of germination and if sowing during the summer months store the seeds in a cold frame. You may even be able to find some seeds in your current garden that have been blown from the flowers ready for harvesting. If these are gathered be sure to hang them in paper bags to dry out completely and then store them in manila envelopes until you are ready to use them. Avoid too much handling of these young seeds and maintain the key standard of hygiene when sowing.

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Garden Games fun for all the family

August 6, 2017

With purse strings tight and a family weekend at a theme park costing short of a week for two in Majorca there is no better time than to utilise our outdoor space and have some fun with garden games for all the family. I am very sure that the majority of us have fond memories of at least one particular board game. Whether the suspense of snakes and ladders or the more strategic 4 in a row is preferred these classic games cannot only strengthen basic social skills but can also provide the foundations for fond memories. With a range of educational elements they can also help children with focussed tasks, not to mention fulfilling children’s most desired way to pass the time and that is to be with you. While we all lead busy lives, garden games can enrich the time we spend with our children and satisfy their thirst for competing and learning new skills.

 

Giant Snakes and Ladders

Giant Snakes and Ladders

Without trying to avoid the rapid development of childhood treasures it is never more important to find a balance between the necessary gadgets of the digital generation and satisfaction of simple educational games that have been moulding characters for years. Timeless games such as skittles and the more sophisticated croquet can teach children basic skills that will carry them right into adulthood. Apart from sharing and taking turns these activities will provoke interaction with others that no amount of online games will provide. The strategic thinking required in chess can encourage young people to not only think more strategically but to expand their skills in problem solving. Get knotted, along with other physical games will encourage everyone to get active in the garden while having fun and will make a valuable contribution to a healthier lifestyle for children and adults alike. A range of gym equipment for all ages can also be the perfect addition to your garden to keep everybody fit and healthy. Games tables such as air hockey, pool and table tennis can encourage competitive games between pairs or even provide weeks of fun if a tournament is organised, building confidence and helping children avoid falling into the common trap of dreading school sports. Alternatively, sandpits allow younger children to explore their senses and can be therapeutic for any challenging behaviour young people may struggle with.

 

Croquet Set

Croquet Sets

These oversized activities will not only add a contemporary look to any lawn or terrace but can also add a fun twist to any garden party. Some would argue that the humble board game has played an intricate role in the development of society and that the rise of social media could have a detrimental effect on the structure of social relationships as we know them. Croquet in fact was one of the first opportunities for women to play outdoor games with men, with tight croquet offering the perfect opportunity for the ball to be hit into the bushes and team mates to search for it together. So why not abandon the tweets for one weekend and invite some friends over for some good wholesome fun….you never know who you might meet while searching for that ball!

Secrets of a Lovely Lawn

June 20, 2017

As with anything planted from seed preparation and maintenance is key in producing a beautiful lawn. Sowing lawn seed is not only more cost effective than turf but it also offers a wide variety of mixtures. From woodland grass seed for heavy shaded areas to Formal lawn and greens for the more delicate plots you are sure to find a mixture to suit your needs. Choose a lawn mixture such as back lawn for family spaces. The rye grass in the mixture will help it grow in more hardwearing areas. Growing lawn seed will also allow you to cover small spaces in your garden to make sure areas such as corners and slopes are evenly spread with lush grass.

Grass seed and lawn seed mixtures

Front lawn seed

Sow grass seed anytime from late summer to mid autumn. Skim and level the soil making sure it is free from weeds and stones. Walk on the soil to firm it down and then rake it again to a fine level finish before lightly raking in a granular fertilizer. Wait 2 – 3 days before sowing the grass seed into marked areas. Shake the box of lawn seed before scattering the seeds in one direction and then the opposite direction to make sure all areas are covered. Once covered with lawn seed, lightly rake over the area and water well. It is important to stretch some netting over the top to protect the lawn seed from birds and be sure not to let the new lawn dry out. Keep any weeds away and when the new grass had grown about 2 inches high cut it with a mower. Rake up the clippings after the first few cuts but there is no need to continue, as the clippings will recycle nutrients into the soil.

To maintain your new lawn and help defend it against weeds, disease and any unwanted insects it is vital to keep it watered, fed and regularly mowed. If using sprinklers during the summer months it is important to use them regularly as inconsistent watering can cause your lawn to become stressed and damaged. Water your lawn early in the morning to allow the grass to dry during the day. Water deeply to encourage root growth and leave an empty jar within reach of the sprinklers to measure the amount of water used. When an inch of water is collected it is time to turn off the water. Feed a lawn twice a year with a lawn fertilizer high in nitrogen and mow it little and often to help it to maintain moisture throughout the year. Try not to cut your grass seed too short and repair mowers regularly as dull blades can damage grass. Rather than treating the whole lawn with weed killer, treat weeds directly.

As your lawn matures it will become more accustomed to its location and surroundings and will flourish. Maintaining each simple step discussed will mean you can enjoy your garden with pride, knowing you have enriched the soil, sown the lawn seed and maintained your lovely lawn to produce grass that is always greener on your side of the fence.

Vegetable Container Gardening

May 5, 2017

There is absolutely no argument that home grown vegetables taste better than anything you can buy in the shops, and that includes organic produce and that bought at farmers’ markets and farm shops. It isn’t just about freshness; there is the taste of satisfaction that you get when you have grown something yourself, especially if you have raised it from seed.

Swiss Chard Container

Swiss Chard Container

You don’t have to be a very experienced gardener to grow vegetables from seed and you certainly don’t need an enormous plot. Lots of people make the mistake of taking on an allotment and getting disheartened with the amount of work they have let themselves in for. If time is tight or you just want to treat yourself occasionally with something home grown, there is nothing wrong with trying vegetable container gardening, on the patio or even along the path, if space is really in short supply.

One of the top tips for anyone raising plants from seed is to read the packet carefully. All seeds in Nicky’s Nursery will give you all the information you need to help you achieve success. With vegetables in particular you can get details on when to sow and whether you can start seeds off indoors or sow them directly where they are to grow; when the vegetables will be ready to harvest; and, perhaps most importantly when trying out vegetable container gardening, how big they will grow. Although it is possible to grow runner beans in a container, supporting them can be tricky as the plants can get heavier than the pot. If you have access to some real terracotta pots of a decent size, that is a real help as they won’t tip over so quickly and they also don’t tend to make the roots as hot as plastic pots will.

You might feel that you don’t want to make too much of an outlay on your vegetable container gardening project, in case you don’t like it (although you will, that is almost a guarantee!) and in that case you can look around the house and garden for containers. One brilliant way to vegetable garden on the cheap is to use supermarket ‘lifetime’ carrier bags, with drainage holes punched in. Be careful to choose the ones which form a square bottom, for stability, but this way you not only have a container for a few pence, but you can also move lighter crops around by lifting by the handles. They are ideal for carrots (for a bit of fun try crème de lite pale yellow carrots or cosmic purple); beetroot, leeks, celery and a host of other vegetables where you might want to sow just a few at a time.

You will soon find you are hooked on vegetable container gardening and next year you can try all sorts of exciting things to perk up your plate – try chillies, herbs, and marrows or branch out into kohlrabi, chicory or the tiniest of baby new potatoes; all much nicer than from the shops and cheaper too.

Growing Beetroot seed varieties

April 4, 2017

Grow your own beetroot from seeds, beetroot pretty much divides the nation into those who can scarcely go
a day without it and those who would only eat it if it was the last thing in
the fridge. There are strains in Nicky’s Nursery’s range that might make us one
nation again – who could resist white beetroot which doesn’t bleed when cut;
all the gorgeousness without the mess! If you fancy growing some beetroot seed,
try this one – its name is Albina Ice.

Beetroot Albina Ice

Apart from the colour, the other thing that puts people of beetroot
sometimes is that the ones in the shops are so old and woody that they don’t
present very well, even if they are cooked for ages. Even if blitzed down into
soup, these old beetroot have very stringy fibres and they also develop a very
earthy taste which few people find very pleasant to eat. If you sow beetroot
seeds in batches, you can always have tiny little baby vegetables to make your
favourite dishes with and there is nothing nicer than a salad made with freshly
pulled salad leaves, radishes fresh from the ground and some really small,
tender beetroot. A simple vinaigrette binds them all together and it is
delicious.

If you want to have some fun with beetroot seeds, why not mix some
varieties which may take guests by surprise. Along with the white Albina Ice,
there is the amber coloured Burpees Golden and the striped Chioggia, which look
not unlike a red onion when sliced, with concentric rings of red and white.
Arranged on a plate and drizzled with dressing, they look amazing and would
convert the most dedicated beetroot-phobe. And if you still aren’t converted to
loving this fabulous root, you can even cook the leaves like spinach or use
young ones in a salad.

Beetroot Burpees Golden

When it comes to sowing beetroot seeds, it pays to soak them in water
for a while before planting because it just softens the seed that little bit
and makes germination more reliable. If you sow in batches, you will have
beetroot all year long and if you like pickles, then this, with onion, has to
be the vegetable for you. You can go the whole hog and make a beetroot
pickle which goes well with any cold meat or cheese or you can keep it simple
and just pickle cooked beetroot in vinegar. The great thing about pickled
beetroot is that it is ready almost at once, so there is none of the waiting
that you have to go through with onions, cucumbers and the like.

Goji Berries – Wolfberry seeds a Superfood

April 4, 2017

Goji Berries – Chinese Wolfberry

Goji berries – Goji Berry superfood seeds – also called wolfberry have become very fashionable in
recent years after being named as a vital part of various celebrities’
‘miracle’ diets. Although this excitement has largely died down, they are  still considered by many a ‘superfood’ as
they contain a large proportion of elements which may prove to be useful in
helping with a variety of conditions such as macular degeneration of the retina
and also various auto immune diseases and cardiovascular problems. What is
definitely true is that they taste good and they are relatively easy to grow,
although as they are woody perennials you might find you have to wait a year or
so until you get a decent crop.

When you get your Goji berry seeds – Nicky’s Nursery has them in stock
– you will need to start them off inside in the autumn and bring them on until
you are able to plant them out in the spring when the ground has warmed up.
Goji berries are related to the potato and tomato but unlike them they form
woody stems and can grow up to 3 metres tall. You need to take this into
account when you plant them and also choose somewhere reasonably sheltered,
because a plant this size isn’t something you will want to be moving around too
much. The berries are carried in groups and grow to around a centimetre long.
In the UK you can expect them to ripen any time from the end of July but they
can take much longer, depending on the weather and whereabouts in the country they
are being grown.

Most Goji berries that you buy in the shops are dried, but this is to
help make them last longer, rather than because you have to eat them this way.
It is certainly a good way to preserve them – although they can be frozen – and
if you have a home desiccator it is easy. If you don’t, you can just lay them
out in a single layer on baking trays in an oven on the very lowest setting for
at least an hour, checking after forty minutes. Check on your oven’s
instructions; some have a special setting for drying foods. You can then use
them stirred into rice salads – they go really well with left over turkey and
pine nuts in a balsamic dressing – or into sweet rice dishes. Basically, you
can use them as you would dried cranberries, and you will (perhaps) be doing
yourself some good when you eat them as well.

Ornamental Chilli Pepper Uchu Cream Red

March 27, 2017

Chilli Uchu Cream Red
Capsicum annuum
A unique ornamental chilli plant that produces slim to medium sized fruit which are cream coloured ripening through to red. A two tone cream/green foliage makes this an ideal statement pot plant or patio container plant, also an excellent plant for the flower border.

Capsicum. Peppers Chilli Uchu Cream Red 10 seeds

Oriental Veg or Asian Veg

March 21, 2017

Pak Choi Bonsai

Grow your own Oriental Vegetables from seeds, if you like oriental food, you probably
cook it at home sometimes, but it is hard to get the same tangy flavours and
fresh bite of the vegetables that you get in a restaurant. Using packs of stir
fry vegetables from the supermarket are not going to get you any nearer to your
favourite flavours either. Not only are they seriously overpriced when you
consider that they are usually just a pre-chopped mixture of cabbage, onion,
mushroom and red peppers but they are also bland and often rather wilted and
stale. If you make up your own mixture you can get nearer to restaurant quality
but for real taste, crunch and variety, it is so much better to grow your own,
as well as being so much more fun.

Chinese Cabbage Wa Wa SAi

Nicky’s Nursery has one of the largest
selections of oriental vegetable seeds available anywhere and whilst you will
recognise some, others might need a little research before you try cooking with
them. Happily for the adventurous cook, not only does the website give a
description and usually a picture, there are also hints on how to cook the
various oriental vegetables on offer. Scorzonera is not known to many people,
for example, but it may be more familiar as black salsify. It is a root
vegetable which can be used as a coffee substitute but in a stir fry it gives a
nice solid crunch as well as a hard-to place earthy flavour.

Scorzonera

Some of the oriental vegetables you can
easily grow at home can be used in various ways, depending how they are sown.
For example, if you want to use them as salad leaves, or young to wilt into a
cooked dish, you should sow the seeds of komatsuna torasan (a spinach-like
leaf) thickly and harvest as soon as they are large enough. For a more
substantial vegetable, they should be sown more thinly (or thinned out) and
left to mature, when their leaves are quite strongly flavoured and can stand
alone as a vegetable, lightly stir fried with some sesame oil and the dressing
of your choice – they go particularly well with teriyaki.

Komatsuna Torasan

Komatsuna Torasan

Radishes of various kinds are a staple
oriental vegetable and you can use the root or the leaves in many dishes. Some
of the roots can be really hot and so it is always a good idea to use sparingly
at first – you can always use more next time! Rat tail radish is a fun vegetable
to grow – the pods grow above ground and can be used in a variety of dishes and
can be used raw or cooked. The plants look very unusual with their pods which
terminate in a thin tail (hence their name) and could be placed in a border if
you don’t have much room – they will certainly get a lot of attention. If you
are growing for looks as well as taste, a bed of various mustards would look
great and because they grow so fast you can keep them going all season with
careful staggered sowing. Flaming Frills is a really flamboyant mustard with
purple serrated leaves and whether you pick it really young as a salad leaf or
leave it to get a bit bigger to stir fry it (it just needs wilting for a few
seconds) it has a mild mustard flavour which enhances any dish but goes
particularly well with chicken.

Radish Rat Tails

There are loads of reasons for growing
your own oriental vegetables – the fun of seeing what they look like before
they arrived chopped up on your plate; trying new flavours and having fresh
food at your fingertips are all important, but the main one has to be cost. A
packet of seeds of an oriental vegetable mix will have up to 400 seeds in it
and will cost less than a bag of stir fry vegetables from the supermarket. It
just has to make sense to grow your own!

Siamese Dragon Mixture

Grow your own Tomatoes from Seed

March 12, 2017

Tomatoes picked straight from the plant and eaten within minutes are one
of the most amazing pleasures of growing your own – nothing comes even close to
the smell, texture and taste of a fresh tomato. When you grow your own
tomatoes from seed, there are lots of things to consider and if you are new to it, it is
well worth looking in to all the different kinds available but be warned –
there are hundreds to choose from.

Baby Tomatoes Goldrush Currant

The first consideration is how much room you have. If you have a
spacious greenhouse which you won’t want for any other growing for the whole
season, then really you can have practically any variety. For tomatoes
throughout the season, choose different varieties so that you don’t end up with
an enormous glut all at once. Also, it is a good idea to choose a few different
sizes – beefsteak tomatoes for Mediterranean salads and sandwiches (try Black
Brandywine
, a heritage dark variety which looks spectacular and tastes
wonderful); plum tomatoes for cooking; cherry style tomatoes which are ideal
for children’s snacks and finally the classic round tomatoes for salads and
general use – although it is great fun to vary it with a few unusual ones
available from Nicky’s Nursery such as egg yolk, a yellow variety the size and
colour of, yes, you’ve guessed it, an egg yolk! The packet sizes from Nicky’s
Nursery are very sensible, with 10-30 seeds depending on variety, so you won’t
be boring the neighbours with trays of unwanted tomato plants.

Tomato Black Cherry

Sweet & Juicy Tomato Black Cherry

The other thing to check before buying is whether your tomato plants
need a greenhouse or will grow outdoors. If you are new to growing tomatoes
from seed you may have come across the terms ‘determinate’ and ‘indeterminate’
and wondered what it means. It is very simple really and you will need to
consider how you will be using the fruits before you choose which you grow.
Determinate tomato plants grow not very high, usually around four feet and are
often also called ‘bush’ tomatoes. They grow and set fruit until the truss
(group of tomatoes) on the top of the plant sets, then all the fruit ripens at
once – usually over around two weeks – and then the plant dies. Indeterminate
tomatoes keep on growing and can reach quite high if you don’t pinch out the
terminal buds. The fruit sets and ripens as the plant grows and so you will keep
on getting fruit for a whole season. Most of the more unusual or heritage
strains are indeterminate and if you only intend to grow a few plants, they are
the best to choose. You can lengthen the season with determinate strains by
sowing the tomato seeds in batches, but you won’t be able to lengthen the season by
much.

Summer tastes are really encapsulated in the taste, tang, feel and smell
of a fresh tomato straight off the bush or vine and growing them from seed
could hardly be simpler, so if you only grow one vegetable plant this year,
make it a tomato.

Cucamelon – Melothria scabra seeds – baby watermelons

March 4, 2017

Cucamelon

Cucamelon seeds Melothria scabra If you have never seen or eaten a cucamelon (and the chances are that
you haven’t) then you are in for a treat. Not only are they really interesting
plants which would look good scrambling up a fence or even over an ugly shed or
garage, but the fruits look like tiny little watermelons which turn out to
taste of cucumber with a hint of lime. You can get cucamelon seeds from Nicky’s
Nursery and you can sow them now to plant outside when it gets warmer – we are
all assuming it will get warmer, sometime soon!

Melothria scabra seeds (to give these delicious fruits their full
Latin name) are reliable to grow and you can put the plants really close
together because they like to twine and twist onto other stems so will help
support themselves this way. The fruits need to be harvested when they are
about the size of a biggish grape and if you plant the cucamelon seeds indoors
now you should be harvesting them by July and they will hopefully (weather
permitting) still be going strong in September.

Cucamelon is also known by lots of other names, many taken from the
appearance of the fruits – mouse melon is perhaps the cutest, the others being
Mexican sour gherkin, Mexican miniature watermelon and Mexican sour cucumber,
so perhaps it will come as no surprise to find that they grow very freely in
Mexico. The plants can be grown a second year from the roots, but they have to
be lifted and stored like dahlias and other tubers, so most people prefer to
grow cucamelon seeds fresh every year. They aren’t hard to get going and the
yield is very high, so it is simple to just buy a new packet of seeds every
year, especially if you don’t have too much gardening experience.

You can eat them just as they come off the vine and if you like to have
drinks and nibbles outside on nice summer evenings it is really fun to pour the
drinks and then point your guests at the vines to pick their own nibbles. You
can also pickle cucamelon fruits just like gherkins or cucumbers. You can
pickle them whole if you want and they look great that way mixed with olives
when they are done, or, for a crisper result, you can cut them in half. The
main thing to remember when you pickle Melothria scabra is that you must
salt them first or they can be soggy – still delicious, though!


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