Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Hardy Geraniums – Cranesbill

This year I have bought in some Hardy Geraniums or Cranesbill. I bought them from Cranesbill Nursery in Walsall. I have never grown them in the garden before but after doing a bit of research online and finding this specialist nursery I decided that I had to have them in the garden.

Out of a very tempting variety, and with cost very much in mind, I had to choose just four plants to start my collection. My first list of must haves would have cost over a hundred pound so a bit of pruning had to be done and my list of four was ordered.

Geranium Maculatum Beth Chato

The journey to the nursery was horrendous. It was very hot, traffic was end to end and the scenery between home and the nursery was awful. However, Gary, the plantsman, was lovely. I bought four very established plants and was very happy. I think if I do order any more I shall order bare root and have them delivered.

Geranium Pratense Delft Blue Butterfly

My first choices were, Geranium Pratense Delft Blue Butterfly; Geranium Pratense Laura; Geranium Beth Chato and Geranium Versicolour.

Geranium Pratense Laura

I have a lot to learn about this rewarding genus and am looking forward to having a lot more of every variety in my garden.

A Shropshire Lad – David Austin Climbing Rose

On 20th February this year it was three years since we lost Adam and to mark the occasion Sean and I went to Ashwood Nurseries and bought a climbing Rose to put in the garden as a tribute to Adam.  A Shropshire Lad is a beautiful subtle pink rose by David Austin. A vigorous scented climbing rose with very few thorns, dark green foliage and beautiful subtle pink flowers. I have admired this rose for years and so going with Sean and buying it together in remembrance of Adam made the sad day a little easier for both of us.

A Shropshire Lad – A vigorous scented climbing rose with very few thorns, dark green foliage and beautiful subtle pink flowers.

The name is taken from A. E. Housman’s collection of poems about Shropshire published in 1896 where the David Austin rose gardens and nursery are situated.  A. E. Housman’s ashes are buried near St. Laurence’s Church in Ludlow, Shropshire. David C. H. Austin, born in Shropshire, is himself a Shropshire lad.

To add to this treat Sean also bought me another rose that I had been wanting for ages, the English Shrub Rose Queen Of Sweden. I plan to take cutting of both of these when the time is right.

Queen of Sweden – Small buds open to half-enclosed cups which eventually become wide, shallow, and upward-facing. The colour begins as soft, apricot pink, gradually changing to pure soft pink over time. It has a lovely myrrh fragrance. It forms a bushy upright shrub. It was named to commemorate the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce between Sweden and Great Britain by David Austin in 2004.

 

 

English Roses have natural, shrubby growth which makes them ideal for both rose borders and combining with other plants in mixed borders. The more compact English Roses work well in rose beds, whilst taller varieties can be trained against a post and rail fence. Most varieties will perform surprisingly well in partial shade with at least four or five hours of good sun a day. English Roses as shrubs look best when planted in groups of three or more of the same variety. They will then grow together to form one dense shrub which will provide a more continuous display and make a more definite statement in the border. David Austin.

 

 

 

Favourite Flower 2018 – Balsam Dwarf Bush

Last year I started a set of posts that I intend to continue annually. My aim is to choose a favourite flower that Ive never grown before and my choice this year is Balsam Dwarf Bush. The seeds were bought from Seekay earlier this year and sown as usual in a seed tray then transferred into 7″ pots and much to my surprise turned out to be quite large plants. I potted three of them on  into a five litre black bucket and they grew like Topsy with almost a trunk forming. The flowers were very attractive and plentiful.

Another surprise was when the seed heads began to appear. I have seen them referred to as fruits. It is now half way through September and these seeds heads are unfurling to reveal many dark brown seeds. I shall definitely have another go with these flowers next year. However, this year, as the stalk/trunk is so substantial I plan to cut them off at ground level and see what happens next Spring. The supplier described them as annual and 10″ high but in my experience they have grown to over a foot.

An annual variety of Balsam that will grow to a height of 10″. The plants produce a mass of doubled flowers that range in colour from white to pink and purple from July to Sept. Sow the seeds under glass from late Feb. Cover lightly and give a  little heat. Germination will take up to 21 days. Plant out when all risk of frost has passed. These plants will not require very much care. A little fertiliser every now and then and occasional watering will be ample.

 

Overwintering Cabbages 2018

Overwintering cabbages

Overwintering cabbages is a method whereby spring cabbages are late summer sown. by doing this they  produce small tender cabbages or spring greens in April and May. Confusingly, late spring sowing of Durham Elf can ensure earlier crops in autumn and winter so I may try those next Spring..

Overwintering cabbages

Overwintering cabbages

To over winter cabbages sow mid July to August ¼” deep in a seed bed or in trays of seed compost. Keep moist. Transplant to their final position when plants can be easily handled which should be in about 5-6 weeks.

Allow 18” between plants. Plant firmly and water well until established. Harvest in April and May for good firm hearts.

The four varieties that I am sowing today are Durham Early, Durham Elf, First Early Market and  Offenham 2 Flower of Spring.

Update – The seeds I sowed on 13th August have not all germinated. Today 4th September I have potted on 12 First Early Market.  Nothing else was big enough to transplant but I shall leave them a little longer.

I am hoping to get these in at the allotment in the middle of October and hope to harvest in April and May 2019. They will be protected by a tunnel as we have lots of hungry pigeons down there..

 

 

Alstroemeria Flaming Star

My current stock of Alstroemeria were inherited from the previous plot holder of our allotment. They were growing like weeds, prolifically, every year getting more and more, so much so that Rob began to pull them up and destroy them. I have saved a few rooted plants and lots of seeds. The flower is available in various colours. The variety I have is the bright orange Flaming Star pictured at the top of the post and I am determined to get hold of the white variety for the garden at home too. They are very sturdy plants and can be invasive so I shall grow them in large containers.

Tip – These flowers are best obtained by buying a well rooted plant as they are difficult to germinate from seeds. Plant Alstroemeria plants in a sheltered site, in part shade or full sun, any time between May and August in good soil. All Alstroemeria like good living, so give them plenty of organic matter in the planting hole. If you have a greenhouse plant some inside too. Pot them up into generous 5 litre pots and keep them frost free. Once they start to shoot in spring, feed and water well and they’ll give you an almost continual flower harvest. Pull from the root and they will continue to flower for months.

Alstroemeria, commonly called the Peruvian lily or lily of the Incas is a genus of flowering plants in the family Alstroemeriaceae. They are all native to South America although some have become naturalised in the United States, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Madeira and the Canary Islands. Almost all of the species are restricted to one of two distinct centres of diversity, one in central Chile, the other in eastern Brazil. Species of Alstroemeria from Chile are winter-growing plants while those of Brazil are summer-growing. All are long-lived perennials except graminea, a diminutive annual from the Atacama Desert of Chile.

Alstroemeria are very versatile plants and will grow in different situations. All varieties will flower from May through to the first frosts of Autumn and will benefit from the use of a free draining soil. Shorter varieties such as Princess, Inticancha and Little Miss are ideal for the front of the border or for growing in containers. Tall Alstroemeria are good for the back of the border and will provide a continuous supply of cut flowers throughout the summer months. Inca are slightly shorter but will also give long enough stems for cut flowers are good for borders and will also thrive in large containers. Some companies sell loose Alstroemeria rhizomes which is another method of propagation..

May cause skin allergy or irritant – Having skin or eye contact with these plants could result in an allergic reaction, burning or rash.

Gaura lindheimeri – The Bride

I have finally bought some seeds of Gaura lindheimeri or Whirling Butterflies. I saw these in a garden on the estate last year and they were immediately on my wish list. The plants were a bit out of my price range so I started the hunt for some reasonably priced seeds. Today I have sown three seeds each in two ten inch pots and after a good watering Laura has put them into her greenhouse so fingers crossed. Germination could be anything from 14-28 days. I don’t expect to see any flowers this year but if I can get a couple of good plants for next year flowering I shall be happy. I bought 30 seeds from Johnsons for £2.40. Apparently Gaura is a late performer so it tends to be put into the ground too early and too small. The time to bring on your Gaura is in July as a well-grown pot plant. It is said to self seed freely and as it is also short lived I intend to let some seed fall and save some to sow myself.

Update on 12th August 2018 –  I have four healthy seedlings. All I have to do now is get them through the Winter.

Update 18th July 2019.  – Two plants have survived and are now in the garden. One in the ground and the other in a large planter. 

 

Propagate by seed in pots in a cold frame from spring to early summer or propagate by basal cuttings or softwood cuttings in spring or semi-hardwood cuttings in summer. Cut back in early Spring.

A fully hardy, graceful, hazy plant with airy spikes of white, star-shaped flowers with long anthers held on slender stems from May to September. This exceptionally long-flowering perennial looks equally at home in an informal cottage-style garden or among soft grasses in a new perennial border. It is exceptionally drought-tolerant and will soak up the sun. Give it space as its wispy stems will lean over plants and pathways. Resist the temptation to cut back after the plant has flowered as it takes on beautiful autumn tints, particularly in cold weather. Cut back and divide large colonies in spring. information from Crocus.com. Can’t wait.

 

At last. My own Gaura Whirling Butterflies

A Visit From The Local Fox And A Lucky Escape

Since my last post about the Silkies there have been a few developments. On the 14th of May Scarlett, the tiniest of the Silkie bantams, decided at last to sit on her eggs. Having decided that she was in earnest  this time I duly put Day 1 on my calendar. That very same night we had a visit from the local fox and the sight that greeted me the next morning was devastating. The group are housed in a double hutch which is inside a shed. The hutch was ransacked, the roof of it on the floor, the chickens traumatised but luckily still alive. After I had collected myself together, Laura and myself emptied everything out of the shed into the garden fully expecting bad news about the eggs. However, Scarlett was clinging steadfastly on to all but one of her eggs. We were very lucky that all the fox had got away with was ten eggs that Mai had gathered together. Oscar, my brave cockerel, looked as though he had done battle for his girls and won.

The situation today, 26th May,  is that Scarlett is on day 14 , Mai is on day 2 and Snowflake, one of my Pekins is also sitting on six Silkie eggs after she went broody with a vengeance on 22nd.  I think the total count to date is 22 fertile eggs under three broodies.  Oscar is doing a sterling job of looking after his girls and all of my fears about having a cockerel in the garden have disappeared. He is not noisy, as gentle as can be and so handsome that he can do no wrong in my eyes.

Setting Up For A 2018 Hatch – White Bantam Silkies

It’s 28th April and Scarlett, the white Silkie bantam, has nine fertile eggs in the nest. I have never experienced the family set up with hatching before so I have had to do a lot of reading. I have come to the conclusion that this natural kind of breeding, with a family of pure bred chickens, is the easiest yet. I have bought fertile hatching eggs before and used an incubator or a broody hen to hatch them but this is the first time that I have let nature take its course and left it to them. All I have to provide is safe housing, clean bedding, fresh water and the correct food. Human intervention is the last thing they need. After all they were breeding long before humans domesticated them. I am much happier with this situation and Im sure the chickens are too.

My breeding group consists of Oscar, a handsome cockerel, Scarlett who is the first of the girls to go broody, Starlight and Mai. They are from a good bloodline and should produce some perfect offspring. Although Scarlett is sitting, Mai has also contributed about four eggs to the clutch. Starlight, as far as I know, hasn’t layed an egg yet.

When Scarlett first showed signs of being broody I was expecting her to sit constantly on the eggs in the nest but she was spending her days out in the garden with the others whilst gathering together quite a big clutch. In my ignorance I thought that the eggs would go off but after a bit of research I find that the fertile eggs are able to stay viable for a few weeks until the broody is ready to sit and hatch. I am excited about the prospect of chicks but have no illusions about the possibility of fertility failures as the group are all so young and this will be their first attempt.

Well it’s 4th May and although we have lots of eggs in two nests there is still no sign of either hen sitting. Update 7th May – 16 eggs back in the two nests after my Grandson Jobie decided that the girls weren’t going to sit and Nanny Chris needed to get an incubator. He conscientiously carried all the eggs into the kitchen without breaking one.  He is only five, he would say nearly six, but is very knowledgeable and is usually right about most things. However, Nanny Chris doesn’t have the money to buy an incubator and another knowledgeable chicken person said “Why would she need to sit in this weather?” currently a heatwave on Bank Holiday Monday, so I cleaned out the nest, put fresh bedding in with a sprinkle of Diatom, and placed the eggs back where they were.

Update – day 19. All the Broodies are still sitting. No sign of any pipping. Scarlett is sitting tight again after a little toilet break when she sat back on the wrong nest and her eggs went cold. I sat her back on to her eggs.

Scarlett Day 21 – still no sign of any chicks.