Yes, it is that time of year when everything starts to grow; buds are bursting, flowers are opening and seeds are being sown; what’s not to like. But, and I’m sorry there is always a “but” in gardening. Death is in the air and my Attenuata is nearing the end. I don’t want to dwell on things or become all maudlin so let’s get on with it.
18th March. Things I have been doing lately:
🍟 Refreshing pot compost. One of the most common questions I get asked in Spain is “why is my potted plant not flourishing ”? And the answer invariably is, “because you have left it sitting in the same old compost for five years you bloody idiot!” Think about it, if you leave plants in the same old depleted, virus ridden compost for years at a time, it is bound to make them sad. It is a bit like me giving you one meal that is expected to last for years – you would be sad.
You need to refresh the compost in your potted plants every year and it is a very simple process. There are two ways you can do this. Firstly some plants will have outgrown their pot and it is time to move them on to a larger pot. That is fine you just replenish all of the compost. But, the majority of plants are not due for repotting, but still need new compost, so you need to do it now or it will be too late in a few weeks.
You need to start by removing any stones or other mulches that you have put on top of the soil to stop the plant from drying out. Then using a trowel dig down into the pot compost as far as you can and begin to remove as much of the old compost as possible. Now, when you do this you will invariably cut into some of the small feeder roots, but that is not a problem as these will soon regrow. But try to be careful not to damage main roots and especially try not to skin the roots as this can let in a virus.
The photo below shows one of my potted standards ready for its annual refresh. The three trug system shown in the photo was invented by me. Trug 1 to take the stone mulch. Trug 2 to take the depleted old compost. Trug 3 for the new compost. The little pot is full of granulated feed and the stool is for me because I am old. When I excitedly told Cruella (my wife) about the three trug system, she said it was the stupidest thing she had ever heard and that I was a moron.
Once you have removed as much of the old compost as you can safely do, then add in a couple of handfuls of granular long lasting feed (the blue stuff). You can then top up with some nice new compost. Try and buy the best compost you can afford and do not be tempted by cheap shop alternatives. A little tip for the house proud gardener. Once you have topped up your compost don’t be tempted to just throw your stones or mulch straight back on top. Instead sieve the stones to remove all the small bit of debris that inevitably lurk there and may harbour diseases. The first photo below shows the pot ready to be refilled, whilst the second shows my patented wheel barrow sieving process (patent applied for). Just so you know Cruella wasn’t impressed by my wheel barrow sieving system either. When I ran in to tell her she just groaned and held her head in her hands. I told her even Bill Gates had to start somewhere she said yes, but he wasn’t an idiot.
Once you are finished, stand back and enjoy your handiwork. If you listen carefully you will hear your plant sighing contentedly as it get ready to reward you with renewed vigour. The photo below shows one very contented plant.
🌱 Beginning to sow seeds. I try to grow everything from seeds or cuttings with only the occasional purchase, and even then I always take cuttings from any plant I purchase. Anyway, it is time to get going with your seed sowing. If you haven’t grown from seed before then it is very simple here in Spain. You don’t need a large greenhouse or heating etc. All you need is a simple little plastic 3 or 4 shelf greenhouse that will cost between 20-30€. Your seeds won’t be in there very long as nearly everything will need to be outside by mid to end of May.
To start you need to buy yourself a sack of good compost and some Perlite or Vermiculite. Mix the compost with the Perlite to create a nice airy free draining compost mix. Once you have your compost mix fill as many seed trays as you need. Tamp the surface down lightly and then water and leave to drain for 10 minutes. The photos below show the compost mixing process and the array of things you need to sow your seeds.
If you are using shop bought seeds then read the instructions on the packet carefully. In some cases seeds may need to be put in the freezer for a couple of nights to mimic the conditions that starts their germination in the wild. In other cases you may be advised to soak the seeds in water for 24/48 hours. But don’t get freaked out as growing from seed can be fun.
Once you have the seed trays ready then you are all set to sow your seeds using the seed sowing tool that God made specially for you. Yes, that’s right if you curl your hand palm facing upwards you will see a nice long groove down the middle of your palm. Pour your seeds into this groove and form them into a line along your palm. Then, holding your palm over the seed tray, begin moving the hand with the seeds in whilst at the same time tapping with your other hand on the outside edge of your palm. As you tap the seeds will all begin to move along your palm in a uniform line till they gradually begin to fall on the compost.
Once you have sown all your seeds then you need to cover them with compost to the depth recommended on your packet. I use a simple method to do this using a small sieve that was purchased as part of child’s beach bucket and spade set. Filling the sieve with compost I just lightly shake it over the seeds till they are covered. The last thing to do is to place your seeds in your mini greenhouse or similar. But don’t forget to open this up during the day or your seeds will bake. The first photo below shows God’s seed sowing tool in action. The second shows my little sieve. The final photo shows the mini greenhouse which will be gradually filled over the next couple of weeks. Click on each photo for a larger view.
🧹 General garden maintenance. All good gardens need a certain amount of ongoing low level maintenance. The first and probably most important is weeding. Most weeding can be effectively carried out by regularly hoeing between plants. If you hoe every couple of days you will never have weeds as you will be denying them the chance to set seed. The only exception is weeding between growing bulbs. To weed between bulbs you need to get down on your knees and get your fingers in the bulb foliage to pull out the inevitable grass that grows in between. You can usually easily distinguish between the bulb foliage and grass just by feeling as the grass will have flat blades whilst the bulb foliage will have a more rounded feel. If you don’t believe me get out there now and try it.
The second most important low level maintenance is only necessary for those of you who have gravelled areas in your garden. I am sure you have put membrane down before applying your gravel and although weeds will seldom grow through your membrane, they will certainly grow on top of your membrane if you let them. Leaves and other general garden detritus will lie as a thin layer of debris on top of your gravel and gradually mulch down to a fine tilth that is an ideal medium for weeds to grow in. To overcome this you have to regularly use a garden blower or rake to remove this layer before it gets nicely settled.
The first photo below shows my intrepid bulb weeding activity whilst the second shows my gardening equipment ready to tackle the gravel. Click on each photo for a larger view.
⚰️ Preparing for the death of the Agave Attenuata. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am currently enjoying the flowering of one of my Agave Attenuatas. Like the Swan that only sings when it is dying, the Attenuata only flowers after 20 years to promptly die. The flower stem of the Attenuata is a spectacular concoction that flowers from the base and gradually reaches to its tip over a period of a couple of months. The bees are attracted to this plant like no other. It actually drips nectar that runs down and drips off its stem. The only problem being that it then promptly dies.
I have been preparing myself for this death and have even sought grief counselling. In addition I am writing an opera to memorialise the Attenuata. I have always been a lover of Puccini so I am basing my opera on La Boheme and in particular the aria “Che Gelida Manina”. I of course play the part of Rudolfo with the Attenuata being Mimi. We duet most evenings just as the Sun is going down and I hold the Attenuata stem just as Rudolfo holds Mimi’s hand. I am proud to say there is not a dry eye in the garden. The whole garden weeps copiously at the Attenuata’s Mimi and when she enters into the coughing fits I sometimes break down and am unable to come back on for my encore.
it saddens me to say this, but when Cruella hears our singing she shouts out abuse such as “is that weed not dead yet” and on one occasion accused the Attenuata of being a hypochondriac saying “she’s just putting it on, there is nothing wrong with her…drama queen”. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep at night and dream of the Attenuata going to heaven. The photo below shows me and my lovely Attenuata midst duet.