Sunday, June 29, 2008
Sunday, June 22, 2008
I came across this lot yesterday when we took a walk in the park to enjoy the longest evening of the year. The temperatures had suddenly shot up - we went from 13°C last Saturday to 31°C this - a ridiculous difference which left us all gasping for air like beached goldfish. So it was a relief to get out in the evening when the sun went down and a slight breeze picked up.
In the park, the lavender was in full bloom and the bees had clearly decided to work the nightshift to make the most of it. There were loads of them, all of different kinds - encouraging given all the recent tales of colony collapse disorder. I tried to convince a few of them to stay still long enough for me to get a close up, but they weren't having any and I came home with about thirty photos of a purple blur with a brown and yellow blob somewhere in the middle.
But it was glorious, and so was the smell. Lavender looks best in a mass, which is why I've always shied away from having it on the balcony. But I'm starting to wonder whether next year it wouldn't be worth dedicating one of the larger containers to it.
I think this was Lavandula latifolia, but I'm not 100% sure. There is a hybrid, known as Lavandin, of Lavandula latifolia and Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender) and it may have been that.
Lavender likes a moderately poor and well-drained soil - too much water will result in root rot. It's originally a Mediterranean plant and loves the sun, but many varieties are hardy in much cooler temperatures - like Britain for instance. It was introduced to Britain by the Romans, who used it to perfume their baths - hence the name, which derives from the Latin lavare, meaning to wash.
And if this has started you thinking, like me, that maybe you do have room for a lavender bush somewhere, just find a friendly neighbour who already has some. It's propagated easily by cuttings, taken at the end of the summer. Check out this article from the RHS site which explains how.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Many of you will already know Blotanical - the social networking site dedicated to gardening and garden blogs. It's a site where I spend a lot of time, and which has not only increased the number of visitors to the Balcony Garden, but which has also put me in touch with a number of people who I now think of as "virtual friends". So I was really pleased when Stuart Robinson, who runs the site, agreed to do answer a few questions about how Blotanical started and is likely to develop. Well, OK - they were more than a few. So I'm even more grateful. Thanks Stuart!
How was Blotanical born? What gave you the idea ? Did you envisage it developing as it has from the beginning or has it taken you by surprise?
Blotanical was around for a while before it really took off. I remember registering, but then forgetting all about it for a time. And then suddenly everyone was talking about it and participating. What was the tipping point, do you think?
Two things really. The first was when Susan did a review of Blotanical through GardenRant. The review was well recieved and we picked up a few new garden bloggers who seemed to desire the same things I did (ie. being part of a community rather than just blogging solo). The second tipping point was when some people started accusing Blotanical of being too competitive. While it was never my intention to make Blotanical a competitive site, there did need to be some way of rewarding those who participated more regularly. Some people took umbrage against this and while I thought it may have been our downfall instead it became one of finest moments. Many bloggers stood up for Blotanical and we came out better for it.
I know that outside Blotanical you have a “real” job and a family. You also run a couple of blogs. How much of your time do the sites take up? And how much time is left for gardening? :)
Gardening? What's that? Yer, I don't get a lot of time to get out into the garden but that is mostly due to our current winter. Spring should see me out there more often and sleeping far less than the 5 hours I enjoy now. How much time does the sites take up? Basically I spend 2- 3 nights per week on them plus blogging time from 6-7:30 every morning (except Sunday - I, and the family, need a break) plus Wednesday's get pretty much a full day. I work 4 days per week as a Business Manager at a local Private College.
There are been lots of technical teething problems with the site recently which you always seem to remedy very quickly. Do you have a technical background? Where does the software for the site come from? Do you write it yourself or use ready-made packages?
Blotanical is a social networking site, and as such is fuelled by active member participation. But in the past it’s seemed to me that that sometimes leads to people feeling that they “own” the site and have the right to control the way it develops. Has that been a problem for you? How do you draw the very fine line between giving people what they want and staying in control?
Interesting question Sue. For whatever reason some bloggers do take it upon themselves to share their frustrations regarding Blotanical and it's not always helpful. I can understand the frustration and wish that everything always worked all the time. Alas, it seems that life here on the web imitates life in general - sometimes the power does go out. Keeping members happy is my main goal with Blotanical so I'm always keen to get constructive feedback and here suggestions as inevitably it will make the site far better. But in the end, I've come to realise that you can't please everybody and some people just can't be pleased.
At the moment, one of the nicest things about the site is that the number of active members is small enough that everyone feels they know each other. But the list of members is growing daily. Do you foresee a point where the number of people participating will change the personality of the site? What would be the advantages and dangers?
I would hate to see the MySpace mentality creep in where some people had lists of Faved members totally 10,000+. In reality, we can only cope with networks of friends in the tens and twenties so a limit of 100 should be sufficient. I would hope that these communities would grow on Blotanical and make every member feel connected. Gardeners in the Blotanical community should always be able to forge inclusive relationships despite the growth of the site. My goals are to find better ways to highlight these types of relationships within Blotanical.
You’re constantly adding features and improvements to Blotanical. What’s in the pipeline for the near future?
I can't reveal too much but the Forums are soon to be completed (they've gone on hold while the Picks problems were being sorted out), the Blotanicals our own Garden Blogger awards are set to explode on 1 September and the Reviews facility is already well under way.
And how would you like to see the site develop in the next 5 or 10 years? Will there come a point where you say "OK, that's it. From now on it just ticks over and I move on to something else" ? Could you see yourself getting burnt out and fed up with it?
I certainly hope not. I love creating this site and I see a huge future ahead for Blotanical and for those who hang around long enough to see it unfold. I would love to be doing this full-time and am planning ahead to see this happen.
Some people have intimated that Blotanical might just be like other startups where they sell for millions after 2 years. Even if I was offered this I wouldn't take it because I treasure this as my 'baby' and look forward to seeing it all grown up and doing well - and I think this will probablt take 5-10 years at least.
What's the nicest thing that anyone has ever said to you about the site, or the nicest thing that's ever happened?
I think the loveliest thing is seeing these wonderful bloggers who support the site even when their traffic has halved or more because of some problem that we're having. These are the bloggers that I want to hang around with because they're patient and understanding. I hope Blotanical gets more and more of these people come on board but I'm thankful for those who are already here. They make Blotanical the site that it will become.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Wow, are we late this year. I've just checked back to last year's June GBD post and the first photo was plumbago in full bloom. But today, although it's healthy and green,there's not a bud in sight. Hardly surprising when the temperature outside is 16°C (61°F) at 3pm and it's been raining almost uninterruptedly for the last ten weeks. They say it's all due to La Nina, but whatever it is, it's playing havoc on the balcony, with everything doing well but weeks behind schedule. We harvested the first japanese loquats from the trees in the condominium garden around about May 20 last year too, and they were delicious. This year they finally ripened this week and were completely insipid.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Time for a few updates ...
Bill and Ben are both happy and healthy, and have both grown noticeably since you first saw them two weeks ago. But differences are starting to emerge.
Bill and Ben are the marigolds who are taking part in my crocks/no crocks experiment, to see if drainage material at the bottom of the pots helps or hinders the plants. At the beginning of the experiment both of them were roughly the same size, although Bill (crocks) already had a very small flower bud. Now, after two weeks of continuing equal treatment, Bill is flowering and a second bud is forming. But Ben (no crocks) is not far behind in terms of flowers, with a well-formed bud not far from blooming, and is visibly larger (though the photo doesn't show it well).
So at the moment "no crocks" seems to be winning. We'll see how things go on ...
I've had less success however with my Sunflower in a Can experiment. On the left you can see what it looked like back in April.
And on the right, here's what it looks like now.
I think I've finally identified what is wrong with my hollyhocks and mandevilla. I suspect it's downy mildew. The mandevilla doesn't seem too bad, but there's no sign of flowers. On the hollyhocks I'm still losing lower leaves , but not at a rate that is damaging the plants, which are continuing to flower. I now have two pink and two white, and four or five more in bud. I suspect that may be what's attacking the leaves of my beans too. Anybody know a remedy, apart from chemical spraying? Can't seem to find much on the web.
And finally, the dinosaur eggs. Thank you to everyone who left comments on that post, but it was clear that a lot of you didn't really believe in them. Well, you doubting Thomases, they've hatched. Click here to see ...
Monday, June 09, 2008
Welcome to Colditz.
But one of my neighbours has proved that you can have a garden even in the most limited amount of space. The windows in the photo above are on the right as you face the front door. Here's the identical view to the left.
What a difference a few flowers make.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
I have a sneaky weakness for petunias and surfinias. They must be the only real rival to pelargoniums for the title of the ultimate balcony plant. Stick 'em in a container, give them the right amount of tender loving care and they'll grow, and bloom, and grow and bloom all summer.
This year though, I have to admit that I've gone a bit over the top. It all started back in April when I saw that petunias had started to come back into the garden centres, and immediately started buying. I hadn't seen ordinary petunias for a couple of years, as surfinias had become so poular here that they'd pushed them right out of the garden centres. This year, I thought, I'd go for petunias, just for a change.
But then the surfinias started appearing too, and I couldn't resist. Especially when I saw this yellow one which did so well for me a couple of years back. So I now have far more than I ever intended. And guess what - I don't care a bit.
Surfinias are a Japanese invention. Back in the mid-1990s two Japanese companies - Suntory (better known for whisky) and Kirin (better known for beer) - each developed a variety of trailing petunia. Suntory's was known as surfinia and was propagated from cuttings, while Kirin's was propagated from seed and went under the name of Wave petunias. They became immensely popular, to the detriment of the upright varieties, but now, if our local market is anything to go by, ordinary petunias seem to be making a come-back.
An enormous number of new varieties of petunia (of whatever type) are produced each year - anything up to a thousand - so don't be surprised if you've never seen exactly the ones I have here. They're sun-lovers, and extremely thirsty - when it's really hot you'll need to water them a couple of times a day. But they're fairly resistant. When they get thirsty they flop immediately and look exceptionally pathetic. But a drink soon puts them back on their feet.
If they have a disadvantage, it's that they need constant dead-heading. They bloom copiously, but the blooms don't last long. And they're sticky- yerk.
But they're so lovely it's worth it. Bloom on, babies.
Saturday, June 07, 2008
So how is the Balcony Kitchen Garden coming on? Well, mixed. The salad leaves have been a bit of a disaster. They were doing well, and then suddenly collapsed - I couldn't work out why. But other things are coming on well. The courgettes are in flower, and the beans are coming on nicely - they're growing visibly each day. Something is attacking the leaves, but doesn't seem to be affecting the beans themselves. So very soon I think we'll be eating our very first home-grown veg.
Monday, June 02, 2008
There's quite a lot of wildlife in the park - I've posted about it before - but I always thought it was confined to birds, a few mammals and some smaller reptiles. But these eggs were clearly on a different scale. Diplodocus maybe? Or triceratops? Surely the local authorities wouldn't allow raptors to nest in a public park?
There was no sign of the parents - probably hiding in the depths of the woods. Maybe dinosaurs don't look after their nests too much.