mini gardeners

inspiring gardening projects for children


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A blast from the past

the ladybird book of garden flowers

When I was growing up, everybody had Ladybird books. The fairy tales were my favourites, particularly Rumplestiltskin and the Princess & the Pea, and I can still picture the distinctive illustrations all these years later.

I can’t remember whether I ever had the Ladybird Book of Garden Flowers but in a fit of nostalgia, I ordered an old copy for myself recently.

And it’s amazing how much horticultural detail is crammed into this little book; descriptions of flowering plants with their relevant plant family and the type of soil they thrive in. No gimmicky cartoon characters in sight, just dated but strangely appealing illustrations.

ladybird book of garden flowers

I love the way the book is written in a slightly formal prose as befits a book first published in 1960. I think my version must have been published around 1973, because there is a decimal price on the back cover and it refers to over 330 ladybird titles – see here for a quick guide on how to date old ladybird books.

Let me leave you with a little gem from the introduction:

I know you will enjoy growing flowers once you start, because there is no more satisfactory hobby.”

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Off with its head! (The short life of a rhubarb flower)

rhubarb flower

Our rhubarb has flowered for the first time. We spotted the huge flower bud a week or so ago and had the sharpened secateurs at the ready. Conventional wisdom dictates that it must be decapitated immediately otherwise the plant will be weakened by the energy required for seed production and hence be less productive.

But we were curious. And the huge flower bud has been pushed skywards on one of the thickest flower stalks we’ve ever seen and a flower resembling mini red cauliflowers looks set to emerge. (The photo above was taken on a phone so it’s not as clear as it might be.)

Flowering can be a response to rhubarb undergoing some sort of stress; too cold, too hot, not enough water, starved of nutrients. Anything that potentially shortens its lifespan so it sends up a flower to reproduce. I suspect that in our case the flowering is likely to be due to the plant maturing. We inherited the rhubarb when we took on the allotment so I have no idea how old it is or even what cultivar it is.

So perhaps it’s time to think about dividing the rhubarb crowns next winter to rejuvenate them. In the meantime, the flower stalk is on the compost heap.


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Easter Holidays

easter holidays

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, involving the consumption of huge amounts of chocolate. Here’s a quick round-up of the horticultural highlights.

Flower arranging. Not one of my strengths.

flower arranging tulips

But I think the tulips are colourful enough to make up for the lack of artistic arrangement.

A seed sowing extravaganza.

sowing seeds

We’re working on the spelling.

sowing spinach seeds

New plant purchases. This one is a sedum with gorgeous blue-green leaves.

sedum

Currently in a pot on the patio table so I can see it every time I walk past the window.

Preparation for our potato/tomato grafting experiment. The potato rootstock is coming along nicely:

potato plant in a pot for grafting

Although I’ve just realised I should have removed all but one shoot from the potato – a job for tomorrow.

And last but certainly not least: a gift from my daughters.

sempervivums

A collection of sempervivums from the highly recommended http://www.sempsbypost.co.uk.


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Have you ever …… dissected a daffodil?

issecting a daffodil flower

Pulling flowers apart is the sort of behaviour that’s usually frowned upon. But this time it’s for a good cause; learning a little bit about flower anatomy. You don’t need to sacrifice a daffodil in its prime either, one slightly past its best works just fine. And there are no tools required apart from your own hands – we managed to tear this flower apart without scissors or knives.

Start by locating the spathe – it’s a bit like a brown paper bag just under the flower:

daffodil dissection - the spathe

The spathe protects the flower bud. It splits as the petals grow and emerge, as illustrated below:

daffodil petals emerging from the spathe

Remove the spathe, then take a good look at the petals:

daffodil petals

Our daffodil had 6 petals. When you’ve removed the petals you should be left with the cup or corona:

daffodil corona

Rip the corona lengthways then peel it away from the flower stem.  A little bit of pollen may be released as you do this.

dissecting a daffodil

Then you can remove six stamens (the male part of the flower’s reproductive system). Each stamen consists of an anther which contains the pollen grains, supported by a stalk called a filament.

daffodil dissection, showing stamens

This should leave you with the female reproductive parts; collectively known as the pistil (or carpel).

daffodil pistil, showing stigma, style & ovary

The stigma receives the pollen and a pollen tube grows down the style so that the ovules (egg cells) inside the ovary can be fertilised.

It’s fairly easy to use a thumbnail to prise the ovary apart, as in the picture above.

If all that has whetted your appetite, this link has a comprehensive summary of the structure and function of flowers.

And one final note, always supervise children when dissecting daffodil flowers. Although the daffodil is a common flower, all parts of the plant can cause illness if eaten.


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A Sunny Weekend in Pictures

delphinium seedling

Autumn sown delphinium seedlings enjoying the sun.

succulent leaf cuttings

Succulent leaf cuttings, allowed outside for the first time.

foxgloves

Foxgloves putting on good growth. Hoping for a good flower display this year.

crocus flowers

Striped crocus flowers.

chionodoxa

Chionodoxa, otherwise known as glory-of-the-snow. No snow here as temperatures topped 18C.

patterned leaves

Beautifully patterned leaves.

willow mushroom sculptures

Giant mushrooms. Hope your weekend was warm and sunny.


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Gearing up for spring

Spring must be just around the corner because there are signs everywhere. Flowers of Euphorbia characias subs. wulfenii are poised, ready to unfurl:

Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfeniiThe perennial wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles’ Mauve’) has started to flower:

Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve'In fact, it only stopped flowering in November so this is a star performer that is in flower for 10 months of the year. I planted three of these last year following my daughters’ complaints that we didn’t have enough flowers in the garden, and they’ve filled out nicely despite a fair amount of neglect. The only downside as far as I can tell is that it’s a short-lived perennial so I must investigate the best time to take cuttings.

Potatoes are chitting:

chitting first early potatoes

I only bother chitting first earlies to give them a head start; second earlies and maincrop get thrown in the soil with no preparation and it seems to work fine.

And the first sweet peas are starting to appear:

sweet pea seedlings

These were planted in mid January and were sat in a plastic greenhouse outside until the high winds forced them outside on the patio, where they’ve been ever since. We soaked the seeds in water overnight prior to planting and germination rates have been good.

We’re growing:

‘Matucana’ – one of my favourite sweet peas that has been in cultivation for hundreds of years. It has slightly smaller flowers than some of the more modern types but they have the most amazing fragrance.

‘Blue Velvet’ – chosen for its large, ruffled deep blue flowers.

‘Air Warden’ – this one has scarlet flowers and it supposed to be very prolific (although I haven’t yet grown a sweet pea that isn’t prolific).

We’ll sow some more sweet peas later this week because in March we’ll be busy sowing lots of flowers and vegetables for the allotment, school garden and pots on the patio.


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A Garden to Banish the January Blues

I’ll be the first to admit that our garden doesn’t look its best in winter.

There’s a bit of structural form (a few trees and some raised beds) and a tiny bit of colour from the plants that still have leaves. But it’s predominantly a mass of soggy lawn and bare stems.

So yesterday we took ourselves off to a garden that has been designed to shine at this time of year; the Winter Garden in Battersea Park.

And we were rewarded with an abundance of flowers on a cold, bright January day:

Hamamelis (witch hazel) flowers in winter

Chaenomeles (japanese quince) flowers in winter

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