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Garden Diary Update: Hollyhocks and Chives

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I have just looked at our garden diary to refresh my memory for this garden blog post, only to be faced with a dreadful fact. Not to beat about the bush (no pun intended) I see that we haven’t written a single garden entry since December 2015. Haphazard we may often be at diary keeping, but eight months of no entries is hitting a new low even for us. As it happens, this hasn’t been our most industrious gardening season, but even so, you would be forgiven for thinking that we’ve done nowt this year to judge by the accusingly blank pages. Dear reader and garden lover, I promise you that we were not entirely idle this year; merely not as active in the compost as we usually like to be.

After a spring in which we didn’t manage to get any flower or vegetable seeds sown, we decided that this season we would effectively mark time. It was to be a year of maintaining, improving, dividing and re-planting before making fresh plans for next spring. There was even a foolish plan to clean and re-varnish the garden furniture. I have to confess directly that I have never even picked up a piece of sand paper. I have however, lifted and divided a patch of chives and attempted to do the same to some badly placed hollyhocks. The chives were very accommodating and fell in with my wishes, whereas the hollyhocks fought back resiliently. It may have been a mistake to attempt to move and divide them, but I initially planted them in the front of a border, where they are also struggling for headroom because of spreading tree branches. In short, to get the best out of the plants, a move was required.

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I raised hollyhock (Antwerp Mixed) seedlings in 2010 and bedded out the young plants the following year. The Mr Fothergill’s seed packet promised a variety of shades in pink and yellow flowers but I think I only ever had one pink shade, which was not robust and subsequently died. The single yellow shade is pretty and the flowers seem to be attractive to bees so I am anxious to keep hold of my home raised progeny. I decided to cut the stems down as far as possible, so that it would be easier to dig out the roots. At this stage of growth, I am not even sure whether I am trying to lift one large plant or multiple smaller ones. I encountered problems when starting to dig a trench around the hollyhock, when I found it hard to distinguish which roots belonged and which were spreading hedge roots. Either way, after much digging I could not find a way to release the plant(s) without damage. The result of my attempted hollyhock moving is that the original plants remain exactly where they were last year, having stubbornly refused to let go. They have even flowered, though admittedly not profusely.

Thus, I still have my original hollyhock in situ for another season, with the prospect of much more digging and disentangling of roots if I am ever going to move it. On the plus side, I now have several small plants from the off cuts, two of which I have settled into a spare patch in the border (suitably near the rear). All I can say is that hollyhocks are certainly tough customers and born survivors. This must be good news for our local bee population, along with the fact that my chives are proliferating madly and likely to take over the remainder of the garden. Bees seem to love the chive flowers so I never bother to remove them, as I believe you are supposed to do, so you have better flavour in the leaves. I have re-planted most of the divided chives in odd spaces that need filling. While doing that, I cut down many of the plants and have chopped and frozen chives leaves to use during the winter. We love doing scrambled eggs with chives; they are also nice in egg mayonnaise.

That’s all for now on the garden front; I still need to plant out a couple more hollyhock off-cuts and the remainder of the chive roots. I have made a gallery of what is growing now and will offer another garden update soon (I hope!).

How does your garden grow?


Strawberries in the Garden

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I’m in garden diary mode again this week for my latest contribution to Curiously, Creatively and I thought I would give an overview of what we’ve been up to in the garden this season. We have had our share (possibly more than our fair share) of slug related horticultural disasters but we are also shaping up for some successes too. The one thing that we can’t stop growing is the weeds, but then I suppose everyone has that problem. We decided not to use weed killer so it’s a labour intensive activity to keep everything under some semblance of control.

Now, you wouldn’t have noticed me slipping out for a while, but I popped out to run the mower over the grass at the front and back of the house (just in case the fine weather breaks tomorrow). Consequently I am feeling very pleased with myself and have a pleasant glow of virtuousness. It won’t last long however because I’m already spotting the bits I have missed in my sprint over the lawn. For the moment, I will refuse to dwell on my mowing technique or the lack thereof, and concentrate on the positive. One very positive thing is that the weather this evening is still warm enough to enable typing al fresco, which feels very continental indeed.

Plate of Strawberry tarts

Tea time treat…

I have just been doing a round of watering and I have picked a few more of our mini strawberries. We have a variety called ‘Sweetheart’ and strictly speaking the plants belong to my blogging partner. The seeds came in a child’s gardening kit a few years ago and we now have eight or nine plants. I think some of them have reached the stage of needing dividing now, so I need to research the best time to do this. I’m guessing early spring might be best. A strawberry plant has established itself in our bulb and wildflower patch without so much as a by your leave, but we’ve decided to leave it there as it fits in rather well.

Over the years, the main problem we have found with this type of strawberry is that the plants with their tiny fruits look very decorative, but once picked, they don’t go very far. Last year we came up with a way of solving the problem, which is really just common sense. We freeze the berries as we pick them, which is usually a small handful most days during the summer. When we have accumulated a tub full then we can make a trifle or a pudding of some sort. Most recently, we made some small strawberry starts decorated with pastry custard. I just baked some small tart cases blind and then topped them with strawberry compote, and we piped thick custard on the top when the tarts were cool. Not exactly Cordon Bleu standard, but very tasty nevertheless.

Apart from the strawberries, this week I’ve picked four of the ‘Tumbler’ tomatoes and we should have more ripening soon. After years of only having green fruit from standard varieties, we started only to grow the cherry varieties that we have more chance of ripening in an Irish summer without a green house. There are potatoes growing in bags, the ‘Blue Danube’ variety bought from a garden centre in Blessington. It’s a new sort for us so I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out. The flowers are lovely shade of lilac blue (picture to follow) and look very pretty next to the blue lobelia that grows over the side of the bay tree’s pot.

I haven’t got as far in my garden round up as I meant to do, so I’ll fill you in on our other growing projects next time. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear what you’re growing this year.

Any hints or tips for varieties to grow would be great too!


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