The Greenhouse Year – April

I thought I’d join Helen at Patient gardener this month with an update on the greenhouse.

The broad beans I planted in late November or early December have gown tall (maybe too tall) and have beans!  In March when the weather was much hotter than now I worried that no pollinators would live long enough in the heat to actually pollinate the flowers.  There must have been enough as the beans are forming quite low down so are presumably the first flowers from March.  My husband love broad beans (I’m not so keen) and he thinks my lack of success in the past is because I have been trying hard enough because I don’t want to eat them!  He likes them raw served pecorino cheese and salami, a classic antipasto in this area.  He also like them cooked in young tender pods and that really needs for them to be home-grown as the farmers want them to be bigger, so with tough pods.

I am pleased with my experiment to grow carrots in a pot.  Again I sowed these in November I think.  I rather stupidly sowed them into my own compost without first letting the weed seed germinate so I am sure I disturbed and even weeded out some of the carrots.  They are certainly the best carrots I’ve ever grown as I’ve always had stony soil and that’s not good for any root vegetables.  I’ll post an image of the carrots when I pull some for the kitchen next week.

Seed production has been erratic.  I sowed various things before I went to England in March, I had the hot tray in the house but then at the last moment was worried it might start a fire so I switched it off.  When I returned, nothing had germinated so I moved the tray out into the greenhouse but this was a big mistake!  It was so hot during the day, the seeds all cooked I think.  Just a couple of Thai basil seedlings and 4 black climbing beans.  When it was cooler in March I persevered in the greenhouse but I am sure the vast difference between day and night-time temperatures was still not what the seeds needed.  So on Monday this week, I started again!  I bought the heat tray back onto a indoors windowsill and already I have climbing beans, sweet corn (lots of sweet corn) and rainbow chard germinated and a little more Thai Basil is slowly pushing up.  So result!  I don’t really want the seed trays inside so I will have to think of some other idea for next year.

Lots of rainbow chard

I bought most of the tomatoes as small plugs from my local supplier and potted them on.  They are now waiting to go outside.  I had planted outside at this time last year but this year is COLD!  We’ve even had a slight frost so they have to wait a little longer – it would be silly to lose them now.

Especially as one has fruit already!

These I grew from saved seed. They are small yellow pear-shaped and look lovely in roasted summer vegetables. They’ll soon catch up with the other plants.

The zucchini are also getting very large; if they get to big they won’t transplant so well.

So I’m hoping for some warmer weather next week so that the greenhouse can be emptied of all the plants that need to be outside.

Don’t forget GBFoliageD on Sunday 22nd!  Share your beautiful spring/autumn foliage.  Is there a plant they you love for its foliage when most people grow it for flowers? Just do the post and leave a comment on mine.

2011.11.30 End of Month View, November

Thanks to Helen, the Patient Gardener for organising this meme, I think it is the one I enjoy reading more than any other because everyone approaches it from a different angle.

Unbelievably the weather has remained spring-like all this month.  The mornings are chilly, and there is always heavy dew, a good thing as there hasn’t been much rain, a couple of showers and that’s it.  Some mornings the dew has looked like frost but no plants show any signs of frost damage.  I am still picking strawberries not many but it is lovely to have them at this time of year.  This is the first time I’ve ever grown strawberries as in England we lived near a pick-your-own and it never seemed worth the space to grow them.  In Italy they are only available in the shops for a relatively short time.  I didn’t even expect a great crop this year but I’ve been amazed at the quantity and quality of fruit.

I still have some peppers growing outside and they still ripening slowly.

Peppers in the vegetable garden

The two grafted plants in the greenhouse didn’t produce all that well during the summer, I think it was too hot and probably they needed even more water than I gave them.  Now they have grown to over one and a half metres and have lots of peppers that are ripening well.  They are larger and more ‘meaty’ than during summer.  A couple of weeks again when I was listening to the podcast of Gardeners Question Time it was mentioned that a trail is being done to find out if peppers will over winter in a cold greenhouse during the British winter, this has encouraged me to think that I will try to grow these two plants as perennials.  The programme suggested that during the coldest weather the plants would need to be cut back to the thick, almost woody, main stem.  As the grafted plants should have a large established root system now, I am hoping that if they do survive the winter, the root system will be better at taking up all the water available and that they will produce more even during the very high temperatures of July and August.  The plants are covered in fruit and I have pinched out the all the growing shoots and picked off the top flowers hoping that all the fruit will ripen.  I will let you know how they progress.

I mentioned some time ago that I wanted to plant some fruit trees in an area that is outside the fence in a zone protected from the north winds by the slope of the land and a tuffo ‘cliff’ – I’m not sure what you’d call it really; the perennial weeds were removed and it was all ready to plant when the flood from the surrounding field engulfed the area in a layer of mud.  This occurred in September and the ground is still very damp.  After the flood lots more creeping grass (gramigna) grew as the farmer had spread seed to grow to feed his sheep!  So last week I went and chose some trees.  I wanted to try some peaches and was, as usual, pleasantly surprised by the variety on offer at my local supplier.  I opted for three peaches which should fruit in July, September and October; I chose late flowering and fruiting varieties as having tasted those available in the shops these later varieties have a more interesting flavour and the late flowering should mean that they won’t be damaged by a late frost as has happened repeatedly with an Apricot that I planted in the vegetable garden as quite a large specimen and that I intend removing.  I also planted a cherry.  I want to try and grow the peaches as espaliers but I couldn’t buy whips so will have to try and prune the small trees as best I can – any advice would be very gratefully received.

I thought it was, perhaps, a German variety.

An amusing addendum to the purchase of the above is the labels, some of which were handwritten, obviously incorrectly copying the English Red Haven and changing it to Rhedaven!

The intention is to put up posts and wires to train the peach trees

What else is happening?  Well, despite the mild, warm, sunny days most of the plants know that winter is approaching and their leaves have changed colour or they have dropped.  The wisteria is still hanging on but only just.  There seem to be more leaves that have changed colour this year rather than just losing their leaves, this must be a result of the long, slow, gentle change from summer to autumn to winter.

Wisteria leaves against a blue sky

Walking around the garden today it was the light that I found so enjoyable – the sun is so high in the sky in comparison to in England, for me it made the day seem like a day in September or May; it was so pleasantly warm and the sky such an intense blue I just wanted to soak in the moment.

Rosa Westerland’s sunny colour seems to sum up the warmth of the day.

Even though the Gaura was still blooming in the circular rose bed I decided the time had come to free the roses from the heavy growth that was choking them.  The small seedlings I had left in the bed last year had grown dramatically, instead of a small root system there were tuber-like, hand-sized roots with a huge capacity to store nutriments and water.  Many of these I’ve potted up; someone will surely want them next year, many I’ve moved onto the slope where due to the hot spring some of the small seedlings I’d moved there last autumn hadn’t survived the summer; I’m more hopeful that these larger plants will establish during winter and will be able to withstand the drought next year.  It is nice to see the rose bushes again and they will surely benefit from the light and air; I really must keep the remaining Gaura in check and not allow them to choke everything else next year – perhaps the Chelsea chop will slow them down.   A Pennisetum villosum had seeded into the edge of the bed and is now a full sized plant, I need to move it elsewhere but I’m not quite sure where.

R. Sophie's Perpetual struggling through the Gaura before clearing the bed

The bed looks very bare but at least the roses can now breathe!

The garden reveals its treasures in a relaxed way, the days make you want to linger and search for all that is changing.  My last image is an Arbutus – its shiny, evergreen leaves combining with the ‘strawberry’ fruit and white flowers to attract a still-active bumble bee, it is a different variety than I usually see in the garden.

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.

March – End of Month View

March has had so many flowers beginning to bloom, so much work done, so much growth on everything telling me spring really is here now and even if there are any more cold days the progress of the plants is now unstoppable.

Those of you who have been following my end of month reviews will know that I have been concentrating on the slope or bank which I planted last autumn with mainly plants that had self-seeded in the rest of the garden.  Interestingly in March’s issue of Gardenia (the Italian Gardening magazine I subscribe to) there was an article about designing a border with just plants that would self-seed; this would mean that the planting wouldn’t actually be static but change over time as plants died and new seedlings grew in slightly different places.  All the plants I’d used were mentioned and there was a list of others that I will consider using too.

The Gaura and Stipa are filling out very fast and of course the Verbena bonarienis can’t be stopped!  Artemisia pontica that was planted with the Muscari to hide their leaves when they finish flowering is emerging from the soil – I’m amazed so much is growing as only tiny pieces with a little root were taken directly from the parent plants in the Large Island Bed.  It is a bit of a thug; the underground runners spread very quickly through a border, I may remove it from the Island (if I can) and just let it colonise the slope where its ground cover properties will be most useful.  I will continue to give updates with photos of the slope as spring and summer progresses.

The stream of Muscari looking down the slope

...and up the slope

As not so much is happening on the slope I thought I’d give you a taste of the Tulips which may be my favourite flower (if it isn’t Wisteria).  With the warm weather this week many of the tulips have stated to flower, next week I’ll post more with their names and where they are in the garden but for now just enjoy!

Clematis armandii and Tulip Negrita, with the about to flower Wisteria in the background

Last year's T. Negrita reflowering as well as first time around

Water Lilly type

I expect I’ll be blogging almost every day with Tulips and, I hope, Wisteria during April.

Next to the warm brick pillars the wisteria is nearly fully out - you can smell the perfume.

A shame I won't see these flower

Looking accross the garden from the drive

A big thank you to Helen, the Patient Gardener for thinking up the idea of this meme and keeping it up (and reminding me it was the end of the month by posting her review last night).  Visit her and see what’s happening in other bloggers’ gardens.

And finally, next month for the end of month review my intention is to tell you about a part of the garden I’ve never even mentioned before – an area outside the garden proper that has always been abandoned – it is covered with brambles, weed trees and is where the fox likes to dig his holes.   I want to make a little orchard here as it is protected from the north wind by the tuffo block.

It is also where there is an Etruscan tomb with a domus leading to it

……and also where the stone blocks that our house is built from were cut.

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My Hesperides Garden.

Spring is springing

Last week for GBBD there were quite a few flowers in the garden but apart from Arabis nothing was actually bursting with flower.  Even the Muscari that were all up somehow looked like they weren’t sure if they really wanted to be out yet, as these still look at the back of the house which in shade for a lot of the day during winter, are now standing tall.

Muscari in the shade, still very small

These in the triangular rose bed are much taller, I pruned back a pale pink Penstemon to be able to see them better.

Those under the olives I thought would be invisible because we haven’t cut the grass yet have grown taller than the grass.  I love these bulbs under the olives and would like to plant other things but because of the danger of fire we have to cut the wild flowers and grass back before summer so other things tend to get lost – I even love all the bright yellow dandelion type weeds.

There are more daffodils, but not as many as I would like

Clematis armandii had some flowers a week ago but is now completed cover.ed by starry white blooms so that you can hardly see the foliage. This is the view from the sitting room window.

Clematis armandii

I used to grow this in England but it was always ravaged by snails who seemed to think its stem and leaves were caviar.

The greenhouse is here and was erected amazingly efficiently in just 4 hours, almost more quickly than the time it took to build the foundations.  I think it looks like its always been here, the way it sits between the olives.

I have already planted 4 tomatoes (pacchino) and some lettuces – they all doubled in size during the 3 days I was away.  I also transplanted 3 of the tomatoes into pots from their modules so that hopefully they will be larger established plants by the time I can plant them outside towards the middle/end of next month.   I have also sown seeds; some basil, parsley, courgettes (all old seed so may not grow) and Swiss Chard Bright Lights (I can’t buy these here as plug plants so I buy the seed in the UK when I’m there); they should grow well here as normal green chard is very popular.

The very first seeds I sowed were Knautia Macedonia sent to me by Janet at Plantalicious.

Strawberry bed

I planted 30 strawberry plants (bare rooted) on 9th March; you can hardly see them in the photo as they were quite small.  Now the leaves are growing well and they stand above the nasty black plastic.

Where you can see the black irrigation pipes I’ve now sown some dwarf beans.

End of the Month Review, January 2011

Realistically I have done very little in the garden this month.  I did prune all the Wisteria on the pillars around the terrace and also the roses there too.  The vegetable garden is tidy and waiting for better weather to plant the onions I bought (I’m hoping they haven’t dried out since I bought them.  I may have already mentioned that the garlic I planted at the beginning of the month are all shooting but all have pushed up out of the soil just as the book said they would if they were planted at the new moon (and that was exactly when I planted them).  Note to self – check the book before you plant rather than just after!  I hope it won’t make too much difference to them.  A winter crop I’ve been thrilled with is Broccoli – The first main heads were excellent but what has surprised me is that they have continued to produce secondary and 3rd, 4th and I think even 5th heads, I will plant even more next year as they are one of my favourite vegetables and also make a great sauce for pasta and delicious risotto.

My exciting news is that I’ve decided to buy a greenhouse (known as a serra in Italian.  Because gardening is not the hobby here as it is in the UK it has not been easy to find information about greenhouses at all and even more difficult to actually see one before committing to buying!  On Saturday I saw a display model and was impressed with the quality.  I think they are more expensive here because so few are sold but I’m looking forward now to ordering and having this useful addition to the garden.  My main use will be to over winter Lemon plants (I don’t have them yet) that I want for the terrace – the perfume of lemon flowers and the joy of picking my own lemons will be wonderful.  I will also look for some limes as they are difficult to buy here and essential when cooking Thai curries. I also want to extend the season for peppers and aubergines and maybe tomatoes.  It will also give me the opportunity to grow some plants from seed – for varieties that I can’t buy as plug plants.  Again another ingredient of Thai recipes Holy Basil is one of the plants I’d like to grow and maybe Lemon grass too.

I’d also like to experiment some different flowers for cutting – but I’ll have to be patient and see what the possibilities are.

At present I don’t grow Pelargoniums but they are something that would flower in mid-summer when most other things are in summer dormancy because of the heat.  In reality I don’t need a greenhouse for this as everyone here usually just puts the plants in a dry place, a garage or cellar, and leaves them until spring when though the plants normally look rather sad will shoot and many cuttings can be taken to produce new plants and the ‘mother’ plant can be coaxed back to healthy growth with some food and water!  I only have somewhere that is too damp so the plants would rot off, so that’s my reason for not growing them now.

The extreme cold we had in December (minus 7 at least) may have killed the Agapanthus I have planted in the left hand border.  I like the Agapanthus a lot so when I get the greenhouse I can plant some up in pots then over winter them safely.  I’m going to have to decide whether I want to maintain it frost free – I will be re-reading Janet’s (at Plantalicious) comments on this subject.  I don’t want to heat it unless we put up a solar panel which may be a good option as there is always lots of sun even when it is cold.

As always thanks to Helen at Patient Gardener for hosting the End of Month review.

I will be returning to the ‘slope’ but nothing has changed since planting in October and November.  As there are no obvious other new areas I’ll try to give you more details about the existing beds and borders.  Sorry no photos either today.