Northern Exposure

Triumphs and failures on a window ledge.

Autumn Planting – Spring Flowers 1 November 28, 2008

Filed under: Autumn,Colour,Flower,Spring,Weather,Winter — northernwindowgardener @ 2:05 pm
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Dwarf Tulip

Dwarf Tulip

Wandering into the garden centre in September to kill some time it became apparent that it was time to think about planting some bulbs for Spring. Box upon box of Daffodil, Narcissus and Tulip bulbs along with some more exotic varieties were stacked in every available space around the doors to the outside compound. If this is their subtle way of telling gardeners what they should be doing then I wouldn’t like to see their blatent attempts. Fortunately for this novice the sledgehammer sales technique was just what was needed. It only took another couple of visits for the message to get through.

But what to buy? Where to plant them? How would they look? Would this delay the summer planting? How come wanting to have some flowers on a window ledge had turned into something akin to learning calculus, only harder, and with less logic! It’s at moments like this that the weakest of souls can start reaching for the cut flower stall or start googling ‘artificial flowers’ with new enthusiasm.

Well, maybe that’s what will happen next year but right now (more…)


Colour November 27, 2008

Filed under: Autumn,Colour,Flower,Summer,Winter — northernwindowgardener @ 12:08 pm
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Window Boxes in Bloom

Let’s face it who doesn’t want a beautiful, flower laden window box or hanging baskets like those in this Flickr picture? OK, lots of people – but for those of us who do it can be difficult knowing just what colours to use and whether they will grow in the conditions you’ve got. It seems that everything in gardening is a bit of a compromise and so far for me, none more so than colour.

I think I convinced myself last summer that I was using a palette of reds and whites and that it would all look splendid even though I hadn’t really taken colour into consideration when I was planting. Of course once things started to flower it all looked far from planned although it was nice in its own way.

The Autumn bedding plants had a bit more thought put into them and not only are there far fewer varieties there’s also fewer colours. Red, cerise and purple Cyclamen are all planted sympathetically together and the Winter Pansies are all orange to provide a bit of brightness during the short Winter days.

It’s gone from one extreme (wide range of colours) to the other (restricted palette) and I would guess there’s a happy medium somewhere in between. Whether I can find this when the Summer comes around again and the choice of plant is expanded is another matter. And I haven’t even mentioned the surprise that awaits when the Spring bulbs start to push their way through in a few months.


Cyclamen November 26, 2008

Filed under: Autumn,Colour,Flower,Weather,Winter — northernwindowgardener @ 2:01 pm
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There’s something to be said for the limited range when it comes to picking Autumn and Winter bedding plants. At the local garden centre it was Winter Pansy or Cyclamen so both went in the basket regardless of whether there was a place in mind for them.

The mini cyclamen has proven to be my kind of plant: forgiving of shoddy watering habits, hardy enough to flourish when the winds blow and the temperatures drop, and supplying an almost constant stream of new flowers to brighten up the most miserable grey day.

The only knock I have on these hardy plants is the limited colour palette, ranging from white to purple, passing through various stages of pink and red. But given my previous scattergun choices in colour this is probably a good thing as well.

The pic on the left has the first cyclamen that were planted in mid September and having been protected by petunias that were either side of it they’ve grown quite tall compared to the others that were planted a couple of weeks later. The petunias have gone now so we’ll get to see just how hardy this one is. The others meanwhile have all flowered nicely and continue to give a bit of colour while waiting on the pansies making a reappearance.


Watering November 25, 2008

Filed under: Watering,Weather — northernwindowgardener @ 12:42 pm
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Watering CanThis is probably the thing I’ve found hardest to get right and has contributed to the failures of  a few plants by getting this wrong.

The first couple of books I looked at that mentioned watering had some pretty ambigious advice on when to water – mainly saying that you should water when it looked like you needed to. They also said that it wasn’t an exact science and you couldn’t rely on watering to a schedule. Some help that was or so I thought.

At first this seemed wrong. Surely boxes that were in similar positions could be watered on a regular schedule? Well, very quickly that idea disappeared. Local conditions clearly played their part. The amount of sun, wind and rain affected things. The type of plant affected things. The size of the box, the quantity of plants and the boxes ability to drain well affected things.

The pictures in the books and online weren’t that much of a help either. Plants that were over-watered seemed to display the same characteristics as those that were under-watered!

Having been unsatisfied with the results of sticking a finger into the soil to check (having no frame of reference to judge how damp the soil was) and (more…)


Ivy Ivy Ivy November 24, 2008

Filed under: Autumn,Cuttings — northernwindowgardener @ 12:58 pm
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Ivy Vines

Ivy Vines

The Lobelia were supposed to neatly trail and spread over the edge to provide colour and help mask the harsh look of the plastic terracotta windox boxes. Alas only one plant really took (late November and still going strong!) and they never quite lived up to expectations.

As a late season alternative Ivy seemed to be worth a try. The same ability to spread and trail albeit without the attractive flowers of the Lobelia. Rather than go crazy and plant them everywhere I decided on getting one good quality specimen from the garden centre and seeing how it worked out.

Well the answer is that it took hold immediately and is clearly forgiving of my ham fisted attempts to get the watering levels right. Even with the wind blowing it around on occasion it has held firm and provides exactly the type of shape and cover that it was intended to. And the variegated leaves gives the Ivy a more interesting look.

I was aware that Ivy was supposedly simple to take cuttings from, so, never one to miss out on an opportunity to try something new, I duly searched the net for a good guide (link to RHS page at the bottom) and armed with the trusty secateurs trimmed off a couple of vines.

Following the guide I made a whole bunch of internodal cuttings and planted them into compost contained in some peat pots I had to hand. Hopefully in a few days or weeks they’ll have rooted and be strong enough to consider planting out – although I wonder if the weather will be just too cold for them to be planted. Of course it might not work at all and I’ll be back to buying them but there’s nothing lost in having a bit of a try.

Royal Horticultural Society page on propogating Ivy from cuttings.


Conditions November 23, 2008

Filed under: Autumn,Summer,Uncategorized,Weather,Winter — northernwindowgardener @ 10:46 am
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It wasn’t until trying to grow things in windox boxes that I appreciated just how many factors need to be taken into consideration. Soil, drainage, sun position, season, watering, prevailing wind, type of plant, pruning/deadheading and the time available are all some that immediately come to mind and that’s to say nothing of colour schemes and looks. It’s a lot for the novice gardener to think about.

Naivity helped a lot to start with. A wide range of plants were purchased from garden centres and planted with a best guess as to how they would perform. Once the boxes were out the reality of sun/shade and wind/rain became particularly clear. One position gets sun only in the early morning and only on the longer days of the year. At this time of the year (late November) it hasn’t seen the sun in a couple of months and might be lucky if it does before late Spring. The lazy Autumn sun just doesn’t get above the surrounding houses until mid morning and then scoots behind the building, never to return.

Likewise the wind, everything from a warm breeze to a bone-chilling gale, was something I really didn’t consider before planting. In fact I think I may have written a note saying that a couple of boxes were unlikely to get any wind at all! How wrong I was! More than any other factor the strength of the wind, and its capacity to detroy any plant above six inches has played a large part in my selection of Spring bulbs and will do again when the time comes to look at Summer bedding plants.

Books and internet pages can offer a bit of help but there’s no substitute for on-the-job learning to get to grips with the local conditions. Here’s hoping this experience gets put to good use by next year.


Weekend Work November 22, 2008

Filed under: Autumn,Flower,Weather,Winter — northernwindowgardener @ 10:44 am
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Time for a real tidy up this weekend. It’s turned cold again and the forecast is for low temps to dominate and probably the first real frost. Not sure if this means it’s a good or bad time to trim back the straggly Pansies and Violas but it’s the only time available. What’s the worst that could happen! (don’t answer!)

Cleaned away a lot of rotten leaves and brutally trimmed anything that looked like it was going to get seriously knocked about in the wind. It’s nice and calm today but for the last couple of weeks it’s been gusty for at least two or three days and everything was getting knocked around.

The Winter Pansies that were put in four weeks ago are starting to fill out so they all got tied individually to a stake made from a trimmed garden cane. In my limited experience this has helped younger plants to stay in one piece when the winds come. The Pansies that were planted last week really are the runt of the litter and still look terrible – good chance they were left too long inside and won’t make it through any really cold spell.

Swapped two boxes (Shelly and Ed) around mainly for ornamental reasons and we’ll see how the cyclamen do in the really shady spot. Other than that everthing else was in good shape and hopefully they’ll just need basic care for the next month or so.