Crop rotations

Most importantly, every veg plot needs to be managed on a rotational basis. This must be at least 3 yearly, preferably 4. If you start with potatoes, 

which need a well composted unlimed bed prepared the previous Autumn. You can follow on with legumes, 

peas, beans and the like, or Brassicas-Cabbage, Brocolli, etc.

 Making sure you lime a month before. Then these are followed by the Alliums, Onions, Garlic, etc.

Then comes the beets, spinach, beetroot, chard and the like. Lastly followed by the root veg, carrots, parsnips, scorzenera, salsify and others. Which don’t do well in freshly composted beds which will make them fork. They like a deep loose soil so they can grow deep down looking for nutrients.

Then you start all over again.

Lettuce, cress, parsley, rocket and coriander, can be slotted in anywhere for a fresh herb cache.

Next time we’ll concentrate on the king of all crops the humble but soo tasty new potato.


What’s flowering in May?

This month of May sees many a spectacular display, here at universeofplants it is the Rhododendrons ,Magnolia and native Bluebells, providing the greatest show.

They all thrive in ericaceous, acid soil, that is provided by a natural woodland here. The Magnolia an ancient species dating back over 20 million years, before bees even evolved, and were pollinated by beetles instead. They like a sheltered sunny or semishaded position and will tolerate all types of moist but well drained soil. The stellata originating in Japan has a lovely fragrance.

Rhododendrons only thrive in acid soil, like Camelias and the sub genus Azalea.

  • Plant in spring or early fall.
  • Most large-leaved varieties require dappled shade; avoid deep shade or full sun. A sunny spot that receives a few hours of shade is perfect.
  • Soil should be well-drained, humus-rich, moist, and acidic (pH 4.5–6).
  • Amend planting areas with ericaceous compost, peat moss, or leaf mould, if your soil is too alkaline.
  • Azaleas and Rhododendrons have shallow root systems and need moist soil and mulch to keep them from drying out. They like cool wet summers and a cold snap in winter to harden flower buds. Not a problem here!
  • Dead head after flowering to encourage more blooms.

Nothing delights you more than a walk through a Bluebell wood at this time of year, to smell the sweet heady scent of a carpet of these, takes you to another world leaving behind all worldly concerns.

Unfortunately, our native bluebell is becoming hybridized with cross pollination with the Spanish variety. These have paler flowers, broader leaves and upright stems, the flowers are arranged all around the stem and have blue anthers unlike the creamy white of our natives, they also lack that quintessential scent. Care should be taken to not introduce this variety into naturalized colonies.

Other plants in bloom are; Apples, Egremont russet

Clematis montana

Here it has clambered all over the Holly with it’s roots in deep shade underneath just how it likes it. Best not to train this over a shed or porch as it will soon take over and do damage. This one is 8-9 yrs old.

Fuschias are just coming into bloom in the woodland glade where they grow into small trees! More on these wonders next month.

Welsh poppies are ideally suited to conditions of rocky moisture provided here, they are perennial and easily self seed, with their orange to yellow papery blooms they never fail to please. They have been classified in the genus Meconopsis, the same as the famous Himalayan blue poppy,

Discovered in 1922 on the failed attempt to climb mount Everest by the Mallory team.

Another plant that loves rocky areas is the Aqualegia, it also thrives in woodland and meadows, with its characteristic spurred petals, it is in the same grouping as the Aconites: Wolfbane and Monkshood, they all produce cardiac toxins, but seemingly harmless to many bees and moths they are very intolerant of being transplanted but will set seed readily, we grow many hybrids here at universeofplants.

Gloriosa superba ‘Rothchildiana’ lily

Native to tropical Africa and Asia, this beautiful member of the lily family is a climbing tuberous rooted perennial, rising up to 2 metres, using its tendril tipped leaves to cling onto any support.and it’s flame like flower petals with wavy yellow then red edges are truly stunning. Gloriosa prefers a nice rich well drained loamy soil and is not frost tolerant, but can be grown outside in  summer in the UK. In tropical Australia it is considered invasive, causing native animal deaths. An example of the wrong plant in the wrong place!

Like many lilies, all parts of the plant are extremely poisonous if ingested, containing the chemical colchicine, minute doses of which are used in the treatment of gout. It can also cause skin irritation when handling, so use gloves. The plant produces tubers as it dies down which can be separated and re-potted, they do appear to tolerate frosts if kept outside over winter buried in a dry spot. It is the national flower of Zimbabwe.


Spring colour

The weather is beginning to warm up as the days get longer, a lot is going on in the garden, the Camellias are blooming and  brighten up a shady spot. They love acid soil with plenty of humus, take cuttings after flowering from new semi-ripe growth and place in a designated acid soil bed in dappled shade they will take many months to root.

 This japonica planted next to the Viburnum which is also flowering now, and fills the air with it’s heavy sweet scent. This variety likes acid woodland soil with good drainage, is evergreen, and thrives in deep shade.Another great prolific flowering climber is Clematis armandii, This native of China clambers up over 20 feet and produces a canopy of snow white flowers with a subtle vanilla scent, it’s long glossy leaves also have interest. It loves it’s base in deep shade under this Rhodedendron.

Another Acid loving plant in bud now is the Blueberry. It responds to a good mulch of well rotted manure in autumn.

This well known superfood, has numerous health benefits, very rich in vitamin C and K, important in skin and gum regeneration and blood clotting. High in antioxidants, known in cancer prevention and oxidative stress like exercise, helps to lower cholesterol.

Horseradish western ‘Wasabi’ superfood.

This spicy member of the Brassica family, Cabbage, radish, broccoli, etc. Is grown for its hot pungent root. It can grow up to 4.5 feet with large wide leaves, and small white flowers on spikes. It is a perennial, and needs winter dormancy. When the leaves die down the root is harvested for culinary uses, the crown can be replanted to grow again, in fact it can be quite invasive, it grows in any type of moist rich soil.

The grated peeled root, should be used immediately or kept refrigerated for a couple of weeks. Make some horseradish cream with creme fresh, lemon, salt and plenty of finely grated root, it goes great with roasts, hams, cooked veg, mash.

Add it to mayo, ketchup or mustard, to give them a kick. It’s great with smoked salmon or trout, and is an essential ingredient in Gravlax curing preserve, with salt, sugar, pepper, lemon peel, dill, grated raw beetroot, juniper berries, or whatever takes your fancy, add it to raw salmon fillet, and press in the refrigerator for a few days till cured

Really we should eat this superfood more often, make tea from the flowers for a cold or the root to loosen a dry cough. Grind up the root to a pulp and apply it sparingly to aching joints, always try a small amount first in case of sensitivity. The raw leaves also have pain relieving properties. Compounds called glucosinolates have been discovered in a much higher concentration (10X) in horseradish than other Brassicas and to have anti cancer and detoxifying properties, against harmful chemicals.

A rub made with olive oil is great for warming up cold hands and feet.