End of Month View – Greenhouse and growing tomatoes

Firstly a little about the weather.  It has been an amazingly hot September; with virtually no days of rain except for a thunderstorm of the night of Sunday 18th when we had 3 hours of sheet and fork lightening and about 35 cm YES that’s more than a foot of rain in two hours!!!!!  I’ll write about this in more detail in a future post at present I’m still reeling from how much soil, in the form of mud, was deposited blocking our lane and worse filling the tomb-cum-store with mud and water and lifting everything off the floor and swirling it all around as if an elephant had been in there moving stuff around randomly.

To give you some concept of how high the temperatures are: we are still sleeping without a duvet and we haven’t had the central heating on since the beginning of April.  This will probably be fatal and it will become very cold within the next few days.

For this End of Month review, hosted by Helen the Patient Gardener I have been spurred on by Janet at Plantalicious to report about my experiences with a new greenhouse and give my thoughts about growing tomatoes in the greenhouse and outside in central Italy.

The greenhouse was erected at the beginning of March and the whole summer has been a learning experience.

Erection took place on 10th March

The greenhouse was erected at the beginning of March and the whole summer has been a learning experience.  There is a reason that greenhouses are not all that common in Italy, that being that during the hot months of summer it is unbearably hot to be inside!  Any work and harvesting of crops has had to be done either early morning or late evening.  This spring was hotter than usual so that I needed to put up the shading in mid-April, and it has been up ever since.  Without every plant would have shrivelled and died.  Even now, because the sun is lower in the sky, a lot of light and heat is still keeping it hot inside; I had expected to remove the shading my mid-September.

First tomatoes, basil and lettuces planted 27th March

I decided to have two beds at the side and the end with paving, laid on sand to allow for me to change my mind (and I have).  The beds are too wide, I can’t reach to weed at the back or harvest the crops easily.  When the tomatoes come out I’ll make the existing beds narrower and in spring when I don’t need the hard standing I’ll make another beds on the other side.  Although the 7 tomato plants were enough in the greenhouse as I grow lots outside too.  Lettuces grew amazingly quickly until it became too hot in early July.

I bought some citrus trees 31st March

My plan was to beat the weather and buy plug plants as early as they were available.  Put some in the ground inside the greenhouse and pot the others on so that when it was warm enough to plant outside (end of April) they would already be well established plants.  This worked brilliantly except when I bought my first batch of tomatoes I thought I had bought 3 different varieties – Marmande precoce (means early), cherry tomatoes and pacchino which are small and plum-shaped and had a wonderful flavour (these were fabulous grown outside last year); when in reality I had bought only Marmande.  This wasn’t so bad as they certainly fruited very early inside and out and they were a lovely salad tomato which were also great in Gazpacho and pretty successful cooked.  So the lesson is that I need to ask in the shop when I buy and confirm that I’m buying what I think I am.  My supplier sells 24 varieties of tomatoes in modules so there’s little incentive to start my own seed in January and have to heat the greenhouse which would add significantly to the costs.  I may try some next year because I am interested to know if I can be successful.

Where I bought my vegetable plants

onion and other plantlets for sale

You can see in the above image that the outer trays are reused with past labels above there are onion seedlings in trays marked as tomatoes!  At least this is obviously an error.

Acanthus seedlings - found in the garden

  • Acanthus seedlings – found in the garden
  • I grew these Echinacea and Verbascum from seed I had

I busily potted up seedlings I found in the garden and sowed some seed I had plus Janet of Plantalicious sent me some Knautia, sadly only 4 germinated and these later damped off when I potted them on.

5th June – first ripe tomatoes

My method for growing the tomatoes has been modified from last year (only outside tomatoes then of course) partly because people laughed when they saw I had only allowed one stem to grow per plant – although they did admit that my tomatoes were probably healthier looking than theirs.  This year I decided to allow 3 stems to grow from each plant and only stop the leader when it ran out of space at the top of the cane.  This method produced a huge crop of excellent tomatoes, the first Marmande in the greenhouse ripened on 5th June, which was at least a month earlier than last year.  Those planted outside as much larger plants also fruited and ripened much earlier than planting small module plants directly into the ground; I had wondered whether larger plants would take longer to establish.

All growing well

7th June tomatoes and basil for lunch, the first of many lunches with these ingredients

Melons begin to take over the greenhosue 28th June

I planted melons as soon as they were available for sale in mid or late April and by the end of May several fruits had formed and the foliage was taking over the end of the greenhouse.  Those I planted outside were much slower to grow and produce the first ripe fruit.

Lower leaves removed to allow in more light and air

I read in an Italian gardening magazine that the foliage should be removed below the level of set fruit of the tomatoes.  I had never heard of this before but decided to experiment as with three stems per plant there were a lot of leaves and I was concerned that there wasn’t a very good circulation of air that might cause disease.

first melon of the season 10th July

another tomato salad

The only tomatoes that I grew from seed were the yellow, pear-shaped ones in the salad above.  I had been given a couple of this variety of tomato a couple of years ago and I’d saved the seed.  When they germinated I couldn’t believe just how many plants had come from just two fruits.  I didn’t think these had a great flavour but friends have disagreed and I do love them roasted along with peppers, onions, aubergines etc.  They also add a good variation in colour so I will save some seed and sow them next year.

Ready for the oven for roasted tomatoes

First picking of the San Mazzano 24th July

San Mazzano (I chose the kind that did need the side shoots removing) are certainly the best for making sauces and good too in Gazpacho but I think they are needier than the other varieties.  My soil is volcanic and so very fertile and I don’t actually feed anything apart from putting a bit of slow release fertilizer in the planting hole.  I intend mulching with manure this winter and I will try to feed at least the San Mazzano next year.  The tomato crop was enormous and there were moments during the summer when I thought I might turn into a tomato myself as I was eating so many.  I also think these would have benefited by having only two growing stems.  I have made and frozen sauce, frozen some as halves with seeds removed and dried some and put them under oil – hopefully enough to last until next year’s crop.

One variety of tomato was very disappointing Cuore del Buie (Ox heart).  They went from green to rotten (maybe I should have eaten them green); the fruits were very large but the plants weak and they succumbed to some form of blight or virus in the greenhouse and outside so I removed and burnt them.

These were the only tomatoes I grew from seed

I didn’t restrict the growth of the yellow, pear tomatoes and they have rewarded their freedom by producing a huge crop and are still fruiting well,  I’m not so keen about how untidy this is and think I might try a wigwam design of canes for these and other small tomatoes, and I’ll just tie in what I can.

Quick germinating Asclepia tuberosa

I have been collecting seeds from the garden and am beginning to sow them.  These Asclepia tuberosa germinated in 3 days.  I showed their amazing seed cases and dispersal method in an earlier post.

Festuca glauca

Secondary stems now reach the roof

The heat was a problem in that pollinating insects stopped entering the greenhouse although the door was open day and night from mid-May.  I did remember that my father used to tap the canes of his tomatoes to set the fruit and so I began doing this but not efficiently enough.

28th September, still harvesting from the secondary stems

The heat was a problem in that pollinating insects stopped entering the greenhouse although the door was open day and night from mid-May.  I did remember that my father used to tap the canes of his tomatoes to set the fruit and so I began doing this but not efficiently enough.  So the top trusses (numbers 6,7 or8) didn’t have such a large number of fruits as the lower, earlier ones had.  I decided to follow Bob Flowerdew’s recommendations and allow a couple of the lower side shoots to begin to grow and remove the original main stems as they finished fruiting.  As you see below this was quite successful although I think I might actually follow his suggestion of treating some of the earlier side shoots as cuttings and potting them on so they are ready to plant to replace the parent plant – I think they will be stronger and produce more fruit if treated in this way.

Something's eaten my basil!

Up until a week ago all the basil, whether in the greenhouse or outside, has grown almost uncontrollably, now something but I can’t see what, has almost eaten all the leaves of the greenhouse plants

Hemerocallis seedlings

Probably the last melon

Peppers are forming again

...and ripening

Purple basil and tomatoes outside

Basil - how do I stop it flowering so quickly?

Marmande precoce still producing good fruit

These yellow pear shaped, mini tomatoes have been amazingly prolific

Sorry that was rather a long post, if you’ve read this far, thank you!

I’d like to thank everyone who joined in with Garden Bloggers Foliage Day – there was a terrific response to this important feature of gardening.  I will continue posting this meme on the 22nd of each month I hope you’ll join in.

Garden Bloggers Foliage Day 22nd September

I wanted to begin this meme, which I do hope many of you will join because I think most of us underestimate the important role fulfilled by the form, texture and different colours of the foliage of the plants that fill our gardens.

When you consider it; what you actually see in the garden is probably 80% foliage and only 20% blooms.  I accept that what we see is the flowers but even then if the foliage around them is not pleasing then even the flowers won’t look their best.

I’d like to explain with images of my garden why I think we should take more time choosing plants not only on the basis of their flower colour, how long they flower for, and their perfume (hopefully); but the overall effect of the foliage: it’s texture; the detail for the leaves, and its colour.  Sometimes foliage colour can make or break a planting combination and if the foliage colour does harmonise or contrast with the flowers it can make the flowers themselves look muddy.

I’m going to begin with what is one of my favourite parts of my garden.  This is the Left Hand Border, the section nearest the house.  I think it looks good at almost all times of year.

If you look at the photo, you’ll see that actually probably more than 80% is green,  Yes there are some flowers – two kind of Sedum are flowering  now and the ever present Verbena (ground-cover) has has some blooms but for the rest it is the texture and colour of the foliage that make this an interesting angle of the garden.  Beginning on the LHS is a pomegranate, next to this in the back ground is a bay hedge (so always green and a sense form, a great background plant) in front of this is Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’, then Sedum Matrona, then Festuca glauca ( this is a signature plant in the garden, always planted in three’s I some them in every border), by the side of this in the foreground is the Verbena.  Then a tree which was in the garden when we purchased the property with next to it the broad leaves of a Canna, They are usually taller than this; to the front are the strappy leaves of Agapanthus still with their seed heads.  Next are a Choisya ternate and then a Melia with large palmate leaves.  Looking from a different angle the foliage is even more important to the composition.

No flowers here at all

Behind this, the linking plant being the Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ is a small area devoted to box balls, grasses and a Teucrium also shaped into a ball and some thyme that naturally form a globe .

The Verbena bonarienis is a self seed, I'll be removing this

At the end of the LHB is a large white Mulberry, it has grown a lot in the last 4 years and it now castes quite a lot of shade.  Here texture and form reign, although at this moment the Acanthus are at their worst.  The old foliage is yellow and crisp and the flower stem brittle, but I can see the new growth that will make this area green all winter.  Hostas thrive here; as long as they have shade they don’t mind if it is quite dry, there  are fewer slugs and snails if it is dry, of course.

Hosta add so much form and light with their variegated leaves

Hosta, Anemone 'Honerine Jubert', Solomon's Seal, with large Canna leaves and again the bay hedge

At last the anemones are beginning to grow, they have struggled in this position but now there is more shade they are managing to clump up and even flower, I love the leaves especially contrasting with the shiny Canna that I grow just for the foliage the flowers on this variety are pretty insignificant.

Messy, too many different plants with not enough difference between them.

Moving on to the back border, I’m struggling here to achieve the look I want.  Here there are too many different grasses mixed together badly.  If texture and form are the main features then I think there need to be big blocks of the same plant, this is true of all planting really but with flowers you can get away with some smaller points of interest.  I need to work on this border; I want it to be mainly grasses with just a few other plants to add variety with some solid form.  There are two walnut trees; I am aware that they interfere with the growth or other shrubs but seem not to impede the growth of grasses.

A little further along, past the fig tree I am very pleased with the planting I did this spring.  There are two varieties of Miscanthus; M. sin Gracillimus and M. sin Graziella.  In front of these are 5 Pennisetum ‘Little Bunny’.  This border is irrigated once a week and it is worth noting that these Little Bunnies are thriving whereas some others planted just across the path, but in a bed that isn’t irrigated are struggling.  I intend moving my unhappy Bunnies to where there is some irrigation and a little shade in the back border.

As most of the foliage will continue for long periods I’m not going to talk about all that’s giving me pleasure this month, if you’d like to see a few of the silver leaved plants that are still sparkling in the sunshine please click on the image below.

Large Island

Please leave a comment with a link to your post about foliage and thank you so much for joining in.

There is another post about foliage by Pam @ Digging the day after GBBD; I know that for many of us 2 posts in 2 days is hard so hopefully spacing it like this will work well.  If you linked to Pam’s digging I am happy that you link back to the same post but maybe you should say so that other visitors will know that they’ve read it before.

September GBBD

Carol at Maydreamsgarden hosts this brilliant meme that shows what is in bloom in gardens around the world on the 15th of the month.  When you’ve finished looking at what’s flowering in my Hesperides Garden do visit Carol to see other seasons, other flowers and other ideas; why not join in?  It is fun to see how some plants are present everywhere and others only appear in one or two places.

For me it helps me know which plants flower together and exactly how long they flower for.  This is so helpful when deciding if a plant is worth the space it is allocated.  As water is at such a premium here it also helps to know what effect the weather is having on flowering etc.  So while I find GBBD really interesting I try to always join in because it is good discipline for me.

When I wrote August’s GBBD we hadn’t had the usual hot summer weather – the temperatures changed on 16th August!  Two weeks or scorching temperatures 38° C plus during the day and the night-time temps, only falling by about 10°C followed.  The usual September rain hasn’t arrived, morning and evenings are cooler again (25 – 27°C) but during the days it is very hot and humid.  The humidity does mean there is a little moisture in the air that the plants can make use of, but I have only moved plants I know won’t suffer without water for a while.  Sowing seeds should be good as the soil in their trays warms up quickly; Some Hemerocallis I planted straight from the seed pod have germinated, I don’t know how true to the parent they will be, but it will be interesting to find out.

Circular Rose bed, Gaura has taken over

All four types of rose in the above bed (William Shakespeare, Tradescant, Queen of Sweden and Sophie’s Perpetual) have been flowering more or less all summer.  They have irrigation three times a week.  The amount of water is a key issue.  The irrigations tube to one of the pillars around the terrace was broken for a week or so which meant that that pillar’s rose was receiving much more water then I intended.  But that is the only one of the Yellow roses to flower during August and into September so it proves to me that if I want all my roses to flower more I have to give them more water or accept that they will flower in spring, with maybe a second flush and then no more until the autumn rains arrive.

R. Tradescant

R. William Shakespeare

R. Sophie's Perpetual

R, Queen of Sweden

The cooler weather does mean that R. Mutabilis has all colours of flowers together in high summer all are crimson.

R. Mutabilis

As you’ll see if you click on the image below to see a slideshow of everything in flower there are a few surprises.  The prostrate rosemary has flowers (normally this is during winter) and although there are some flowers on the Asters they aren’t at all in full bloom yet; maybe they will be for October’s GBBD.  Have a great day wherever you are.

Look carefully at the Californian poppy, I think a yellow spider is eating a fly, I didn’t even notice it when I took the photo.

If you would like to join me on the 22nd October I’ll be posting about Foliage in the garden, a new meme I hope you’ll join in.

It’s September and Autumn is here

It is strange how from the extreme heat of mid-summer only a few days ago, now it is suddenly autumn.  This week the mornings have been noticeably fresher with dew left on the ground after the night; giving the plants some refreshment even if it hasn’t rained.  Autumn is when I can start work on the garden, moving, dividing, planting, in summer it’s too hot and even in spring I can’t guarantee that there will be rain for the plants to establish.  So I’m slowly winding up to having more time to garden when it isn’t too hot.

Looking back through my note book I read that there is much to be done.  In 2009 I noted that the new foliage of Nandino was the same as the flower colour of Iris Kent Pride; and they were the same colour at the same time so yesterday I began by lifting and dividing one patch of Iris Kent Pride which had been infested by a spreading thyme and planting them close to a Nandino where I had removed some Bergenia cordifolia that really couldn’t cope with the heat and full sun, this position should suit the Iris perfectly.

Above Iris Kent Pride and below Nandino showing its new foliage.  You can see the stoney soil quite well in these images.

The clump of Kent Pride with thyme invading it

Newly planted, with lots of space to allow for growth

I also moved some beautiful blue Iris Jane Phillips; these were in the Left hand border and had been happy to begin with but the micro-climate of this border have changed.  The mulberry has grown considerably and is creating more shade, also other plants have grown and they are also throwing more shade onto the Iris; lastly the bay hedge which I hadn’t thought was growing quickly enough I now realise has grown a lot and this too means there is more shade in the morning. So I moved half the existing clump, half of these to the drive border near a Ceonothus repans again this is a similar colour, the rest I planted near the prostrate rosemary on the slope.

While I have been lifting and replanting I have also been selecting seedlings of various plants that I have potted on for use in other parts of the garden and for clients.  Below you can see some of the many Stipa tenuissima seedlings, as I‘ve mentioned many times before these seed prolifically in the free-draining tuffo that is my soil.

1 tray of 15 stipa tenuissima

Asclepias tuberosa has been flowers for long periods during the summer but I find the seed pods and seeds dispersal nearly as interesting as the flowers.  I intend sowing these seeds as they are hardy and have a low water demand and would look better planted in larger groups.

Asclepias tuberosa flowers

seedpod just opening to reveal the seeds attached to white 'fluff' to disperse it

With the autumn come different skies and different sunsets here is yesterday evening’s show.

Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Kark Forster' in the foreground

The sky changes every second as the sun sinks, the silhouettes of the trees and shrubs seem black against the fiery sky.