Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

My Viola Collection 2018

On 7th June 2007 I went to Sugarloaf Lane Nursery and bought a few plants. One of these was an Alpine Viola called Papilio. I love Violas and this was to be the first of many. They are such a versatile plant and look good in individual pots or mixed containers as well as in rockeries, gravel gardens and borders. I have listed below the varieties that I have in my garden at present. The genus Viola is a very interesting group of plants. I am not so keen on the larger pansy type of flower but prefer those bred from the Lutea and Cornuta. I have ordered my 2018 treasures from The Wildegoose Nursery.

The Bouts viola collection was established in 1978 by Mark and Stephanie Roberts of Bouts Cottage Nursery. In 2011 they retired and Jack and Laura Willgoss took over creating Wildegoose Nursery. I cant wait to visit and collect my plants. They are situated close to Ludlow, one of our favourite places to visit.

Viola hybrids, as the name suggests, have parentage that is somewhat diverse and they can be striped and splashed, bicoloured or the image of simplicity itself in pure hues of white, yellow, pink, mauve, purple and black. Many are scented too

Tips from the Wildegoose Website:- For your Violas to flourish, they need a good depth of soil for their roots to spread into. So if planting in a pot go for something at least 12” (30cm) deep and use a proprietary brand of potting compost. If planting in the open ground, make sure the soil is well cultivated, weed free and ensure you incorporate plenty of organic matter. Violas need regular deadheading to maintain their long season of flowering and they benefit from a light trim and tidy in July if appearing leggy. Cut back to within 2 inches from the base in early autumn to encourage fresh new basal growth and to deter pests from overwintering in their crowns. www.wildegoosenursery.co.uk

Viola is the name of a genus containing about 500 different species. Most of the violas cultivated in gardens are grown as annuals or short lived perennials, however, many will self-seed and give you years of delight. Violas are as at home in woodland settings as they are filling crevices in rock walls. 

 

Viola cornuta is a species that originates in the meadows of the Pyranees and has long stems to hold their purple, honey scented flowers high enough above the surrounding grasses, to attract the attention of passing insects. The flowers of Viola cornuta have characteristically narrow elongated petals that are so delicate, yet these are remarkably hardy robust little plants. They are often recommended for ground cover, as they happily spread to make large flowering clumps under shrubs. Viola lutea, also known as the mountain pansy, is a species of violet that grows in Europe, from the British Isles to the Balkans. I prefer hybrids of these two as they are so delicate

If growing in pots use a good quality general purpose compost and incorporate grit or perlite to aide drainage through the winter. You can also add slow release fertiliser to the compost or give them a liquid feed every two to three weeks to give them a boost. Feed first with a balanced feed for healthy plant growth and once well established switch to a tomato feed to encourage more flowers.

Violas are cool weather plants. Although they thrive in full sun it’s light and not heat that they require. Cooler autumn and spring temperatures are ideal. Higher temperatures can be off-set with mulch and diligent watering. Enrich the soil with leaf mould or well-rotted organic matter such as manure added to the flower bed in the spring.

Most of today’s violas are derived from Viola odorata, the Sweet Violet. Sweet violets are true perennials. If you’re lucky you’ll find them in fields and lawns and you can recognise them by their sweet scent and deep violet color. Most of us has found Viola tricolor commonly called Johnny Jump Up, a self-seeding perennial with tiny flowers of purple, yellow and white.

During the summer cleistogamous flowers without petals produce seeds, which are flung outward by mechanical ejection from the three-parted seed capsules. Cleistogamy is a type of automatic self-pollination of certain plants that can propagate by using non-opening, self-pollinating flowers. Especially well known in peanuts, peas, and beans, this behaviour is most widespread in the grass family. However, the largest genus of cleistogamous plants is actually the Viola. Although Violas self seed freely they are also easy to start from seed at home. Violas need darkness to germinate so cover the seeds completely. Direct sowing is another method when the weather is a bit warmer.

Alternatively they can be propagated with cuttings. You can take a cutting in August, snipping off a shoot around 5 cm long cut off at leaf node. Nip off flowers and buds on the shoot and all but three leaves. Dip into a rooting hormone and plant into a pot of compost. Water in, place outside, and roots will start to grow within 18 days and you’ll have a whole new viola plant.

Viola Papilio – A lovely vigorous perennial alpine plant producing marbled textured flowers with purple blending with white and a yellow eye above clumps of dark green, heart shaped foliage. This fragrant plant flowered from mid spring to autumn giving me lots of pleasure. It has come back year after year and seeded itself here and there. They do get leggy in Summer so cut them back and they will regrow from the base. They self seed profusely around the mother plant.

 

Viola Sororia Freckles – Quite unlike any other variety, Viola Sororia Freckles bears violet, speckled flowers from spring to summer. The unusual blooms are carried above neat clumps of heart shaped foliage. This memorable Violet will self-seed freely, dotting its offspring around the garden to provide welcome surprises the following spring. Perfect for growing in containers, rockeries or planted into crevices between paving. My garden now has lots of this very giving hardy perennial plant.

Viola Sororia Albiflora – The white wood violet. A new one to me last year. Purchased as a young plant from Websters of Wollaston. The flowers of this form are white except for delicate violet lines radiating from the throat of the flower. There is no noticeable scent. They flower for about six weeks from mid to late spring according to the weather. The root system consists of thick, horizontally branched rhizomes with a tendency to form vegetative colonies. As they are woodland plants they prefer dappled shade. Update 26th April 2018 – This plant is once again preparing to throw up a wonderful display of white Violas. I was worried about its survival as we have had a very hard, long winter and I have in fact lost a few of my favourite violas. However, today I found the original plant covered in new buds. I am hopeful of late seedlings appearing too.
Following our visit to Wildegoose Nursery I now have six new Violas in my collection. Viola Lindsay, Viola Raven, Viola Josie, Viola Aspasia, Viola Aletha and Viola Olive Edwards. Pictured below are Raven And Aspasia.

Trying Second Early Salad Potato Jazzy and Old Favourite Maris Piper 2018

It’s well into April and we are only just starting our potatoes. First Into the allotment were some Maris Piper bought from Lidl. 20 seed potatoes were put into the allotment on 1st April, after chitting at home. We have another 12 waiting to go in. Maris Piper are a Main Crop popular English potato grown since the 60s, They are purple flowered and are one of the most well known and most popular varieties on sale today. More Maris Piper potatoes are grown than any other variety in the UK. This variety has a golden skin and creamy white flesh with a fluffy texture.  This makes it a versatile all rounder, great for chips and roast potatoes, but also good for mash and wedges. Update 22nd April and the last 12 Maris Piper have been planted at the allotment.

Today we bought Second Early Salad Potato  Jazzy. This is new to us and looks very good. 29 seed potatoes cost £3.99 from Highdown Nursery  in Sugarloaf Lane, Norton. The producers guarantee 35 potatoes per plant when grown in an 8 litre bag. However there are reports of up to 80 potatoes per plant. The small waxy tubers are said to be more versatile than Charlotte with good flavour. Good for boiling, mash, roasting or steaming, this new second early variety has been awarded an RHS AGM for its superb garden performance. Second early crops can be harvested approximately 13 weeks from planting when the foliage begins to turn yellow and die back. The first single potato was planted into a black flower bucket on 18th April. Two more black buckets prepared today Friday 27th April.

Plant potato crops from March. Prior to planting, chit the seed potatoes by setting them out in a cool, bright position to allow them to sprout. When growing in the ground avoid planting in soil where potatoes have grown for two years in succession to reduce the risk of disease. Prepare the planting area in a sheltered position in full sun on moist well drained soil. Dig in plenty of well rotted manure. Place the seed potatoes 4″ deep.  When shoots reach 8″ earth up the soil around the shoots leaving just a few cm of green growth showing. Repeat this process after a further as required.

Where space is limited, try growing potatoes in potato bags on the patio.

  • Fill an 8 litre potato bag to just below the top of the bag with good quality compost mixed with some well rotted manure.
  • Carefully plunge a single chitted potato tuber into the compost with the shoots pointing upwards at a depth of 5″ from the soil surface.
  • Place the bags in a sunny position and water regularly to keep the compost moist.

 

Rob and I have been watching a chap on YouTube whose channel is called ‘Home Grown Veg’. He recommends growing potatoes in plastic shopping carriers inside black cut flower buckets. We are definitely having a go at this this year.

  • Making sure that the containers are clean and have sufficient drainage holes fill the carrier bag, which should be inside the bucket, one third full of multi purpose compost.
  • Put one seed potato in and fill the bucket up to one inch from the top.
  • Water well at this stage.
  • Leave in a draught free sheltered place outdoors for ten weeks.
  • After ten weeks, lift the carrier bag, roll down the sides, the soil should hold together by the roots, then harvest what potatoes you can find.
  • lower the bag back into the pot.
  • Repeat this at 13 weeks.
  • The third lift will probably be the last one.
  • Remember to keep the used compost, revitalising it with fish, blood and bone, and use the same bag and pot to grow some leeks in the same way.

 

Sowing A Colourful Variety of Climbing Beans for 2018

I have quite a few old favourites amongst the Runner Beans in my seed box and this year have added a few new varieties just for fun. The first seeds to be sown were Climbing Bean Yard Long. on 5th April, I have started 16 seeds in toilet roll tubes with 100% germination. These are an unusual variety of climbing bean that produce pods that grow up to 3′ in length. The pods can be harvested from when they are 1′ long and make a tasty addition to any meal. 

Climbing French Bean Cosse Violette, pictured in the header of this post, is a strong growing variety of Purple French bean that can be harvested over a long period. Sow the seeds directly outside from May- June in rows 12 ” apart. Cover the seeds lightly with soil and water them in. These plants will require support as they grow. To prolong the harvest crop the plants regularly. A fortnightly feed with a tomato type fertiliser will result in better crops. Keep well watered in dry weather. 15 Sown indoors on 11th April.

Surprise Bean from Philippines. These are beans given to me with no label and no explanation other than that they were posted from the Philippines so we will have to wait and see. Sown 17th April.

Climbing Bean Blue Lake – I have grown this variety successfully before and have been very pleased both with how prolifically it has grown and the taste of the beans  when cooked. Considered one of the gourmet varieties, these are a prolific producer defying the driest of summers, whilst remaining sugar sweet, stringless and tender with medium length beans. Excellent and easy to deep freeze. Can be grown against a trellis, on poles or up netting and require little or no maintenance. A white seeded variety. growing to 5′ or more.  Beans are hungry crops that require ample organic matter dug in prior to sowing. Sow in pots undercover in April for an earlier harvest or directly outside when all danger of frost has passed. Sown 17th April.

 

 

Breeding Miniature White Silkie Chickens 2018

I have decided to have a go at breeding Miniature Silkies and on Thursday 12th April I shall be travelling to Lincoln to collect my first family group of one cockerel and three hens. I have had experience of hatching with an incubator before but I have never kept a cockerel. I have always bought in fertile hatching eggs. I am acutely aware of the problems involved both with having a cockerel and having baby chicks who turn out to be boys. I am under no illusions and realise that although the law of averages says the hatch should be 50/50 this isn’t always the case. To add to this, although Silkies are renowned for being good mothers, I once had a silkie who ate twelve hatching eggs that I had bought from Scotland and put under her to hatch as she was broody. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I don’t have to allow live chicks. I could sell fertile eggs or eat them.

Today is 4th May and it’s the first time that I have felt able to update this post. I have had a massive setback in my plans to breed miniature Silkies. After travelling all the way to Lincoln, which is quite a jaunt from home, the Silkies on sale weren’t miniatures at all but bantams. I still bought them and they are living here in the garden. They are beautiful and I love them but I am still looking for miniatures. I may let this group breed if they are inclined to but I shall persevere in my search for miniatures. It’s a hard lesson learned. The world of show chickens do not recognise the miniature apparently so I shall have to be very careful when sourcing my group.

The Silkie is a breed of chicken named for its soft, fluffy plumage. The breed has several unusual qualities including black skin and bones, blue earlobes and five toes on each foot, whereas most chickens only have four. They are often exhibited in poultry shows and come in many colors. The Silkie comes in Large Fowl, Bantam and Miniature. After careful consideration I have decided to concentrate on pure white miniature. I have sourced some good blood lines so hope to produce some good stock.

In addition to their distinctive physical characteristics Silkies are known for their calm, friendly temperament. they are among the most docile of poultry. The hens are also exceptionally broody and care for their young well. Although they are not prolific layers themselves, laying about three eggs each week, they are often used to hatch eggs from other breeds due to their broody nature. Silkie chickens are very easy to keep as pets. They are ideal to be around children which was another reason that I chose them as the grand children love the chickens.

There is no doubt that the Silkie is a very old breed, probably of Chinese origin. It is believed by some that the Silkie dates back as far as the Chinese Han Dynasty in 206BC. The Silkie made its way westward either by  the Silk Road or by the maritime routes, maybe both. 

Their feathers lack barbicels, the hooks that hold the feathers together, which gives them their fluffy appearance. The fact that the feathers do not hold together means a Silkie cannot fly. It also means that the feathering is not waterproof so they need to keep dry.  Underneath all that fluff, the Silkie has black skin and bones. Sadly, this makes them a food delicacy in parts of the Far East. The meat is used in Chinese medicine too as it has twice as much carnitine as other chicken meat. Carnitine has anti-aging properties apparently.

Echium Plantagineum White Bedder – Viper’s Bugloss

Echium or Viper’s Bugloss – This pretty flowering plant came here from the Mediterranean. Its flowers are a great food source for beneficial insects. Grown easily from seed they will give masses of pure white bell like flower clusters along stems covered with bristly grey hairs. Bees and butterflies love this bountiful white flowered bloomer. I have loosened the soil in the border and scattered a few of these seeds today.

It is recommended to sow Echium seeds directly outdoors once frost danger has passed. In a prepared seedbed with loosened soil that is free of weeds. Scatter the seeds on gravelly soil. Keep area moist until germination occurs. Deadhead regularly to encourage more flowers. At the end of the season allow seed heads to form and collect some for next year. Viper’s Bugloss will re-seed itself for next year. It is recommended to wear gloves when handling Echium plants as it can be a skin irritant.

This is a beautiful variety that produces clusters of bell shaped white flowers from June – Sept and reaches a height of Appx 12″

If indoor sowing is preferred:-

Sow seeds thinly onto the surface of a good quality moistened seed compost at min 18 deg C Mar – April

Lightly cover the seed with fine compost or vermiculite to just cover the seed.

Once large enough to handle the young plants can be transplanted into either 3″ pots or tray cells

A fortnightly feed with a potash based fertiliser, Tomato fertiliser, will encourage good growth and plenty of flowers.

Transplant to final position once all risk of frost has passed

 

Growing Armeria Maritima – Sea Thrift From Saved Seeds

In October 2016 I bought 72 tiny perennials from Thompson and Morgan. I had the job of growing them on to become useful plants for the garden. Amongst them were three tiny Thrift plants. They came on beautifully and I was able to collect some tiny fluffy seed heads in Autumn 2017. Today, 7th April 2018, I am sowing the seeds onto some damp compost and hoping for more of these pretty little plants to put around the pond. I have read that they need cold and that they may take quite a while to germinate.

Thrift or Sea Pink is too well known to need much description other than saying it is one of the most perfect, perennial, hardy rockery or border edge plants. Tufts of tiny pointy leaves form the base for long stems bearing pink fragrant flowers which appear over a long period during spring and summer. Seeds can be sown at any time but are best sown in winter or early spring to benefit from a cold spell in the wet compost to break their dormancy. Cover seeds very thinly with sand or fine grit. If the seeds do not come up within 6 to 12 weeks the damp seed tray can be given cold treatment in a fridge for about four weeks. They may still take very many months to appear though.

Growing Cleome From Seed for 2018 Colour

Today I sowed seeds of Cleome Spinosa indoors in moist compost. I have white Helen Campbell, Violet Queen and Rose Queen and hope to have all of these striking plants in the back of the borders this year. Although I have put some seeds to start indoors my main plan is to sow the seeds directly into the garden at the end of this month and in early May. Last year was the first time that I grew Cleome and I was blown away by the beauty of the spidery flowers. I only had Violet Queen last year and regretted not having the other colours. Another thing I plan to do this year is to pinch out the central shoot. This happened accidentally last year when the first tall spike snapped off in a strong wind and I was amazed at how many new flower heads grew as a result. Another advantage of this plant is  how easy it is to collect seeds. Last Autumn I scattered quite a lot of seeds, saved from the Violet Queen, around the garden so I am hopeful of new seedlings come May.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am hoping that I will never need to sow any more seeds as if this years plants self seed as they should this tropical looking herbaceous plant will become a permanent feature of my summer borders. As this flower is extremely attractive to beneficial insects I shall tell Rob to get some going at the allotment too. Grow Cleome in groups rather that rows or make a big splash of colour with container grown plants.

Nasturtium Jewel of Africa – Tropaeolum

Although last year I grew these seeds from a direct sowing and they performed really well, I have decided to pop some into a plastic egg box today as the weather is extremely cold for the time of year. They are Tropaeolum Jewel Of Africa from Seekay and at 99p for a hundred seeds a good buy. Another plus is that they self seed and so, unless you fancy a different variety, you don’t have to buy seeds more than once. This is a tall growing variety of Nasturtium that produces an abundance of mixed coloured flowers held clear above very attractive variegated foliage. An easy to grow variety that gives a mass of colour.  Eventual height eight feet. This plant caught me by surprise last year by how high it climbed. Laura rigged up a bit of a frame for it by the shed and it romped away. Leaves and flowers are supposed to be edible but I have never risked it. Apparently the flowers and leaves add a peppery taste to salads and are a great garnish. Update 9th April 2018 – These seeds went in on 1st April and are showing through now on the 9th.

Sow seeds in April in cells or pots and cover lightly with compost.

Germinate best with a little heat and should take 10 days.

Harden off prior to planting out after all risk of frost has passed.

Like a light sunny position with well drained soil.

 

 

In my opinion no garden should be without Nasturtium as they carry on and on giving and the bees love them too.

 

 

Meconopsis Betonicifolia and Alba – Himalayan Blue & White Poppy 2018

I have today received fifty seeds of Meconopsis Betonicifolia from Premier seeds for another attempt to get a Himalayan blue poppy into my garden. I have bought seeds and young plants previously but have yet to see a blue poppy. This year I have bought seeds of the white variety, Alba, too. I have put the seeds in to the fridge for stratification and will leave them there for 14 days. Its 21st March today so I can sow them all on the 5th April. The blue seeds have been sown today, 8th April 2018, some on the surface of a large pot and some into the gravel garden.

A perennial poppy originating from the Himalayas, famous for its unique blue flowers. Requires a shaded cool position in moist soil in order to thrive. Can be tricky to successfully propagate and cultivate. Height: 2-3′. The seed must be stratified seed for 14-21 days in the fridge in order to break the seeds dormancy. Sow between Jan -Mar in good free draining seed compost with a high grit content covering the seed only with a finest sprinkling of compost or vermiculite. Acclimatise to outdoor conditions in late spring and plant out when a good size in a shaded position with deep, moist soil 18-24in apart. Protect from slugs and snails when young.

 

Loved both for their flowers and their seeds Poppies come from a range of families. the best known of these, Meconopsis, includes the Himalayan Blue Poppy and Welsh Poppy, while the Papavear family includes the Iceland poppy and Oriental Poppy.

There are both annual and perennial types. The perennial poppies include the Himalayan blue poppy. Plants can be grown from seed and will flourish in pots or containers as well as naturalised into the garden.

Poppy seeds do not need to be deeply planted, most varieties need light to germinate so a lightly cover at best is all that is required. Sow poppy seeds during early autumn or early spring, when germination may take place in 14 to 30 days at 70F, however the seeds will germinate erratically and should be pricked out as they become large enough to handle, individually into 3 inch pots or as groups in 5 inch pots. Poppy plants do not transplant particularly well they are very sensitive to root disturbance so be very careful when potting on or use coir cells which can be planted into the final position without disturbing the roots. Grow on until the pots are full of roots and plant into the garden or patio after the last frost. Poppies need spacing at about 12-14 inches. Most poppies prefer sun but will tolerate semi shade. Take care when watering to avoid washing away seeds or any new shoots. Misting is best.

The Hardy Himalayan Blue poppy – Meconopsis Betonicifolia is a beautiful, short-lived perennial coveted by gardeners for its striking, large blue flowers. It can reach an overall height of 1.2m and grows from a rosette of hairy, oblong leaves. Erect leafy stems are produced from the base and bear a succession of clear blue poppy like flowers 8-10cm in width with contrasting yellow stamens. It was discovered by Lt. Col. Frederick Marshman Bailey in 1912 during the course of an  exploration of the Tsangpo river gorge in Tibet. Bailey pressed a single bloom in his wallet and several weeks later sent it to David Prain, the Director of Kew Gardens.  On the evidence of this single tattered specimen Prain believed that Bailey had found an entirely new species of Asiatic poppy and named it in his honour – Meconopsis baileyi.

 

8th April 2018 I have sown seeds of Corn Poppy White Bridal Silk. These look so beautiful I hope that they will establish well in the garden. I have sown them directly into the garden. I bought the seeds from Premier Seeds. Corn Poppy Papaver Rhoeas White Bridal Silk is a new stunning introduction to the well known Red Field Corn Poppy. The pure white colour with tissue paper like petals make beautiful displays if sown in drifts. The flowers can reach 20 Inches tall. I can’t wait.

  • Surface sow sparingly in a sunny location with well drained soil from late summer to very early spring.
  • The seed needs the winter cold to break its natural dormancy.
  • For best results the variety need recently disturbed soil in order to get established.
  • Germinates in early spring as the soil warms.
  • Readily self-seeds.
  • Benefits from being cut short in late summer after seeding.

 

 

 

 

 

Broad Bean Grano Violetto

Broad bean Grano Violetto from Premier Seeds is an unusual winter hardy, early maturing Heritage variety with an excellent flavour. The freshly harvested beans are green drying to a deep violet colour. I am sowing one large pot full at home and the rest are going to the allotment. As its already March these seeds are late going in but I live in hope of a harvest of young beans at about the same time as the peas.

Broad beans probably originate from the area of the southeastern Mediterranean coast and started spreading over the entire Mediterranean area 5000 years ago. Earlier forms have relatively small seeds and are mainly found in Arabic cuisine.