Gardening out the rain with a radio to hand

Wet, wet, wet! We’ve had a sharp reminder recently that this is more than the name of yesterday’s rock band.

Thursday, 21st November 2019, 5:00 pm
Primulas are thriving in the cold greenhouse.
Primulas are thriving in the cold greenhouse.

Indeed, when the heavens have opened, putting bed and border work on hold for a day, as of late, this fellow heads for the greenhouse or study, portable radio or mobile to hand, ensuring either venue has a stream of soothing background music.It’s useful to maintain a sense of humour in such situations, and tempting to go along with the day’s weather theme, playing appropriate bands and tracks; Take That (‘The Flood’), The Storm (a Danish band) and ‘Love is All Around’ spring to mind.Gardening friends and acquaintances tell me this works for them too, although our tastes may differ.I can listen to Classic FM, Yesterday in Parliament or Gardeners’ Question Time with ease whilst potting or at the computer, but find it difficult to concentrate on anything else when a Newcastle United game is broadcast live.The greenhouse is not heated but there’s relative warmth once inside. Add to this some suitable clothing and even the most sedentary of jobs is possible. We’re currently cleaning the inner glass to encourage maximum light, a factor that will increase in importance within weeks when seedlings from the first sowing emerge. Many leaves have fallen from the peach and vine but those remaining can be hand-picked, allowing a final sweep of the area. Pruning of both follows in mid-December and although it looks brutal shortening lateral (side) shoots to two or three buds, far better this than the consequences of light pruning – congested growth, which is a recipe for pest and disease problems.Meanwhile there are used pots, trays and staging to wash in the name of plant hygiene as we plan for spring. Trays, pots and overwintering plants will be moved to one side of the house so the benching they occupy can be cleared of a season’s debris and washed down with a mild disinfectant in the water. There was an era of anything goes, when potting up vegetable or bedding plants for a limited period. Using yogurt cartons, plastic and polystyrene cups was quite normal. But not now. Environmental concerns dictate in this household that black polythene pots are out because they’re not easily recycled. A new range of eco-friendly, taupe-coloured pots are about to replace them.

Despite the weather deteriorating, some greenhouse plants are still actively growing and need a daily glance to see that all’s well. Primulas and the blooms of early and late-flowering chrysanthemums, transferred from the garden recently, are examined to check they`re pest-free, e.g. the underside of their leaves could be harbouring a developing aphid colony.

Young penstemons, pinks and fuchsias, started as stem cuttings in late summer and now in first pots, are not fully frost tolerant and need monitoring. Bubble film and fleece are on standby for those nights that the forecast is extreme.

If you’ve had a continuous supply of fresh, home-grown lettuce throughout summer and enjoyed the experience, this need not cease when autumn arrives if there’s an unheated greenhouse or polytunnel facility. I sow leaf lettuce varieties into the greenhouse borders in October/November and start picking micro-leaves less than a month later. Harvesting continues throughout winter on a cut and come again basis. The following varieties are trustworthy; ‘Green Leaf Mixed’ and ‘Spicy Mixed’. The latter adds a spot of warmth to salads.

Seed and plant catalogues had been arriving thick and fast but there’d been little time to browse them until rain stopped play outdoors. So, I’m grasping any opportunity to catch up, see what`s new, and perhaps rediscover an old favourite. Speaking of which, Chiltern Seeds 2020 preview catalogue (chilternseeds.co.uk) lists Cosmos atrosanguineus ‘Black Magic’ whose flowers have the fragrance of dark chocolate. It’s a perennial that will always add interest to the summer border, with blooms of a velvety burgundy to almost black. That’s the good news. The bad is, a packet of four seeds costs an eye-watering £7.50.

Suttons (suttons.co.uk) offer a vegetable that will stop those tears, in the form of a super sweet onion. ‘Walla Walla’ is an old variety that bears the name of the United States valley in which it has been grown. It’s reasonably priced at £2.99 for a packet of 150 seeds. Described as being very mild and ideal for eating raw in salads. It can be peeled without causing your eyes to stream. We shall see!