potager for vegetables and cut flowers

Our ornamental potager at Toddington Manor is growing away now, after dire weather for the first six weeks or so. This is Rachaels (our WRAGS trainee) project this year, to design a planting plan, which was colour themed with rich purple and reds, along with creamy white cut flowers such as ammi major, antirhinuums, helianthus 'Vanilla Ice' and wonderfully scented sweet peas - 'Beaujolais' and 'Mrs Collier'.

Earlier on May 2nd, we organised a workday for the WFGA (Womens Farm and Gardens Association) to plant and sow our potager. Members pay a small fee to attend the workday, and have chance to be taught new skills, we manage to complete the sowing and planting in one day, and we all enjoy the cakes! The gardeners had started sowing seeds back in March in the greenhouse so a few plants have a head start before being planted out in modules. Others were sown direct into the prepared soil.

Rain followed the following day, and was followed by cold wet horrible weather for the next two weeks - not great conditions for seeds to germinate. The plants sat and sulked also, until the sun came out, and for four weeks, baked dry under the relentless hot sunshine.

Now... I know gardeners tend to moan about the weather (it is never quite right!) but it has been extremely unusual this year. The result is that a few seeds didn't make it, so have been resown and to add insult to injury, a rabbit seems to have made its way into the walled garden, and is enjoying the lettuce...

But nature has its own way of dealing with these trials, and although, as the photo shows, it is a little bare in places, it will catch up and be as beautiful as it was last year. The sweet peas , mange tout (the curiously named 'Ezethas Krombek Blauwschok'), ammi major , euphorbia oblongata are all flowering well, and as I write this, the vase of sweet peas smell wonderful!

Growing tomato plants

This year we have made time to grow a few indoor crops in our Victorian greenhouse and vinery, including Cantaloupe melons (Blenheim Orange), Ridge cucumbers (Marketmore) and 3 different varieties of Tomatoes (Gardeners Delight, Sakura F1 and Brandywine)

We sowed our Tomatoes on 6th March in a heated propagator, by 21st March they were ready to prick out into larger, individual pots.

The trick with tomatoes is to keep them moving itno a bigger pot as soon as the roots have filled the pot - without letting them get potbound.

Three pot sizes later.... and they also needed tying in to a cane, to stop them falling over. We create a neat figure of eight using string, and not too tight as the stem will expand as the plant grows.

All our varieties are cordon tomatoes or indeterminate, which means the main shoot will continue to grow - given its own way. However, the growing tips will be pinched out after a certain number of fruit trusses have formed depending upon whether it is growing in the greenhouse, vinery or outside.

With this type of tomato, the side shoots need removing so growth is directed into the developing fruit, not excess foliage. At the axil of each leaf the tiny shoot is just pinched out with my fingers. If you miss one, it will get quite large quite quickly, so be sure to keep a eye on them!

As they need watering most days in the warm weather it is easy to look along the stem each time to see if any need removing - and you enjoy that lovely scent of tomatoes each time it is bruised - takes me back to my childhood each and every time!

Constant watering is best - they dont like being either waterlogged or too dry, but a little every day ensures the fruit will not be prone to splitting. Also, we spray a few whitefly with insecticidal soft soap on the tips.

10th of May, so about 2 months after they were first sown, the first exciting tiny green tomatoes are developing now - we now start feeding every two weeks with a high potash feed to ensure the best quality crop.

Plenty of high temperatures and sunshine means the fruit grow quickly and start to ripen, the first to turn red is Sakura F1, and looks like Gardeners Delight will be next, all by the 8th June. Picked fresh and warm from the plant, a quick wipe on my sleeve - I really should just check if they are fully ripe yet!!!

Paeony 'Duchess de Nemours'

One of our many Paeonies, the white cultivar 'Duchesse de Nemours' just opening in the morning sunlight.

Geranium magnificum and Paeony

You can't get a more sumptious combination than this!

Iris Sibirica 'White Swirl'

A wonderful clear white, with a hint of yellow at the base. This iris prefers
damp soil and some shade.

Angelica archangelica

Angelica archangelica flowerheads add a lovely structural element to the herbaceous borders

Garden Open Day

Our Annual Garden Open Day was a great success, with over 600 visitors to the garden. The weather was how you would describe as 'changeable' with a few short, sharp showers for good measure, but spells of welcome sunshine too. Still too nippy for the end of May though!

As we have had awful weather for the last two weeks - very cold and wet, the flowers that are usually looking great were still tight in bud, but the hostas, alliums and bluebells were looking perfect (if I dont say so myself!)

As all 5 gardeners were helping on the advice desk and selling plants we had propagated ourselves, we were able to sneak out for a visit to the other gardens in Toddington that were open on the same day. The ones we managed to visit really were quite varied and different, and in each one, there were ideas that could inspire other gardeners, be it how to deal with a difficult shady spot, awkward levels, tiny spaces or recycling in the garden - gardeners are the most inventive people out there, I am sure.

Fascinating Tales from the past

On the open day we had the pleasure of meeting two very interesting people. First was a gentleman, who introduced himself as the grandson of a previous Head Gardener, Horatio Plumb who worked at Toddington Manor for Colonial Skinner in 1914. Unfortunately he did not have any photos of Horatio at the manor (that would have been wonderful to see) but is was very interesting to talk with somebody who has direct links with the history of the manor. It would have been SO interesting to talk to Horatio him self - I bet a few things have changed since he was Head Gardener! (I wonder what he would of thought of a female in charge?!)

Then a lovely lady introduced herself as a evacuee in the Second world War, who arrived with her mother and 5 brothers and sisters to spend the duration of the war in the safety of the country, while bombs were being dropped on London. Again, a lot of changes have happened, but the memories were fascinating to hear.

It is great for people to make the effort to revisit the Manor that have a place in their family history, and to hear their stories.