making a sweet pea castle

hazel poles for sweet peas, cottage garden, gardening blog

hard at work coppicing hazels

We’ve finally dug up the remains of the massive pampas grass that dominated the centre of the garden when we moved here. Well, Steve has anyway. And it looked back-breaking from where I was standing.

This is the only section of garden that gets sun all day. So now the pampas has gone our plan is to create an island border and fill it with the sun-loving perennials that we struggle to find space for elsewhere.


It’s going to take a bit of work though. Especially since the list of plants we want to include gets longer by the day. For the time being, we’ve turned the pampas patch into a sweet pea castle for our three-year-old.

sweet pea castle, cottage garden, gardening blog

trying the castle for size

Our hedge is full of hazels that grow like mad and provide us with an endless supply of plant supports. Last weekend Steve coppiced a few and I strung them into a frame for the sweet peas to scramble up. It’s like a traditional sweet pea wigwam, except we left a hole at the front for a door and didn’t gather the poles at the top.

It’s fairly robust, but if I did it again I would think a bit more carefully about my stringing technique. I should have alternated, doing a row at the bottom then one at the top, instead of just working my way up. By the time I got to the top, I decided the poles should taper in a bit, but as I tightened the string some of the lower layers slackened off. That’s the problem with making it up as you go along.

Steve did praise the fact that I worked clockwise then anticlockwise. Apparently this makes it stronger. I just nodded knowingly when he told me, and didn’t say I’d only done it that way because I was too lazy to cut the string after each level.

sweet peas

nibbled by a rabbit…

I’d been planning to use the Easton Walled Garden heirloom sweet peas that we sowed in November to grow up the castle. I thought the blue, pink and white of the Lord Nelson, Miss Willmott and Dorothy Eckford varieties would work well as a centrepiece for the garden through the summer. As well as providing a pretty, scented den for our girl and her playmates of course.

However, semi disaster struck a couple of weeks ago when a passing wild rabbit decided he was rather partial to sweet pea shoots. The plants seem to be recovering, so I’ve still used them. But I interspersed them with a couple more old-fashioned varieties that we sowed later (Nelly Viner and Lady Grisel Hamilton).

Last year our sweet peas grew up and over their poles. I don’t know if the rabbit-nibbled ones will grow anywhere near as tall. I suppose we can always fill any gaps with a few runner beans.


snowdrop fever

When I lived in Japan, one of my favourite customs was hanami.

snowdrop, gardening blog, cottage garden

Its literal translation is ‘flower viewing’. But the true definition should be ‘cherry blossom fever’. Daily forecasts in the media track a blossom-wave that spreads from south to north. And there is intense excitement as people try to predict the optimum date for picnics and parties under the flowering trees.

I’ve only recently noticed that we have our own version of hanami here, albeit quieter and slightly more British.

Snowdrop tours seem to be quite the thing in February. Maybe it’s because there are so few flowers around at this time of year, or perhaps people appreciate their apparent fragility combined with steely resilience. Whatever the reason, it’s good to get outside for a couple of hours and persuade ourselves that spring isn’t too far away.

in the green 

I’m no galanthophile, but I do like snowdrops. There were some in the garden when we moved here, but there’s always room for a few more. Apparently it’s best to plant them ‘in the green’ – that is, when the bulbs still have leaves rather than when they’re dry and dormant. It’s more expensive to buy them this way, but I was lucky enough to cadge some growing in my parents’ field last time I visited.

snow drops in the green, gardening blog, cottage garden

snowdrops in the green, courtesy of mum & dad (I didn’t even have to dig them up…)

I planted them out between showers on Sunday. A few went by the back door so we can see them as we come and go. But I also chose some spots across the garden that we can see from the house. Although they are small, the bright white flowers make quite an impact even from a distance.

snow drop witch hazel

I planted a few clumps around this witch hazel, my hope is that they will multiply and form drifts in time.

As with most things I do in the garden, I only thought to look for advice once they were planted. It seems it may have been better to wait until the foliage was dying down rather than transplanting them in full flower. I’m not sure they went in deep enough either. But I have faith in the little bulbs and I’m quite sure they will come back next year.

I’m now feeling tempted by some of these rarer varieties from Easton Walled Gardens. Perhaps I will turn into a galanthophile in my middle age.

sweet peas – a winter sowing

sweet pea tubes gardening blogI wasn’t going to bother with a winter sowing of sweet peas. Last year most of my first batch were gobbled by mice and I’m not convinced the ones that made it did better than those sowed in the spring.

But as the days get colder and darker, it lifts the spirits to plan for next summer. On Sunday, M and I tore open three of the six packets of seed I ordered from Easton Walled Gardens and made a start.

Sweet peas love to grow nice long roots, so we’ve been saving loo rolls and kitchen rolls for them. The added bonus is that the cardboard should just disintegrate when we plant them out, meaning we won’t need to disturb them too much.

When it came to filling the tubes with compost, M struggled with their open-ends. So I took the frugal option for my seeds and let her have some biodegradable fibre pots.sweet peas gardening blog

Each packet had at least one seed more than the 15 we were expecting, perhaps they add extra for the inevitable rodent robbers. It was just as well since M dropped hers and a few rolled under the shed floor. I suspect there is a mouse or three living down there, so I hope it won’t trigger them to go sweet pea hunting.

sweet pea tray gardening blog

M is having a pink phase, so she claimed Miss Wilmott for the biodegradable pots. I sowed Dorothy Eckford and Lord Nelson in loo rolls, which in hindsight seems a little disrespectful.

When we were done, we gave them a drink and left them in the cold greenhouse to germinate. I suppose I could have set a mouse trap next to them, but I didn’t have the heart to. We can always grow more in the spring.

This Q&A from Easton Walled Gardens has some good sweet pea growing advice. I didn’t come across it until after we sowed ours, but if they haven’t been devoured by mice yet, I’ll move them to the porch which is just as cold but hopefully a little more mouse-proof than the greenhouse.