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On a Chalk Hillside July 2021

1) Gravel Garden Planting – Replanting the top half of the subshrubs and bulbs border this winter
2) How to side shoot tomatoes

Before we could replant, we had to remove the giant in the bed.  Considering that removing the Lavatera cachemiriana was such a big decision, and it was such a big plant I appear to have been rubbish at remembering to take before and during shots!  Here is himself happily chopping the last of the tall branches off the Lavatera in early Feb this year:-

 This is what it looked like after – the rootball pulled out surprisingly easily:-

So much space!  I also decided to take the old straggly and woody Salvia officinalis out – just leaving the Euphorbia charachias subsp. Wulfenii  – here I DID remember to take a shot of the detritus!:-

So what was the plan for the replanting/rejuvenation of this bed?  I still wanted silvery leaved plants in there, but serendipity also played a part.  I had a birthday in February during lockdown, and unlike normal years when people are able to go to the shops to chose presents (which are clearly non-essential!) I was sent a couple of bare root roses through the post by my cousin:-

My gardening glove is to show you the scale/extent of the root system.  They have a peachy flower colour, and as one of the original roses planted in the bed had survived and had an apricot flower colour, I decided to plant these new roses roughly where the Lavatera had been originally.   The Geranium ‘Mrs Kendall Clark’ blue form looked like it might have survived, and another endressi-type Geranium so I decided that I would add other geraniums too.  I would dig up my Geranium psilostomin from behind the bog garden where it had been for a number of years and put it in there so that the silver leaves around it would be a great foil for the shocking pink flowers.  It would become a bed of not just glaucous-leaved subshrubs but of some of the more choice Geraniums I have too.  
I resolved I would learn from my experience with tall/solid canopied plants in that bed, and put a shorter, whispier canopied (is that even a word?!) silver-leafed shrub behind the rose as you look from the path, one I bought from East Ruston Old Vicarage when we went in 2019, Gomphostigma virgatum, also called Otter Bush.  It can naturally grow to 2.5m but unlike the Lavatera has slender, willow-like silver leaves on arching stems so should not block out the light.  It produces white flowers from June til October, too.   Unusually for a grey-leafed plant it likes to be damp – which might be a problem in our garden, so I have my fingers crossed that having it under a mulch of gravel will be enough to keep it happy.  I decided that I would keep the plant I bought in the pot it has lived in since we got back from East Ruston, and plant a couple of the cuttings I had rooted from it instead.   Here is the original plant in its pot on 6 June to show you its growth habit:-

This shot from mid Feb shows the plants in the process of being arranged.  Where there is a darker round of soil in a line from the fir to the corner of the path that is where the roses are already planted – deeply so that the graft union is under the soil, and with lots of blood fish and bone in the planting hole.  

The dark round blobs are the Geranium psilostemon – the old plant when I dug it out split into three goodsized portions, allowing me to discard the old woody centre.  You may be able to see the Gomphostigma virgatum behind the Geranium rootball, already planted into the ground.   I decided to add to the silver leaves by putting some Santolina chamaecyparissus in nearer to the Euphorbia.  As you can see by the decking on the short end of the bed I have reinstated pinks – lets hope they get enough light now!  I have also put back in some rooted cuttings from the Salvia officinalis, and a Marjoram that I have rehomed from the vegetable garden.  I dithered whether to put a Miss Jessops upright Rosemary in here – but it can get large and wide and have a solid canopy, so I decided against.  Instead I put in Melissa officinalis ‘Lime Balm’ – a new plant to me – so there is a good mix of scented leaved plants and herbs as well as the Geraniums.
From tiny beginnings a month after planting at the end of March below – you may be able to see the leaves breaking the surface by the old rose of the Golden Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium aureum); the Rumex sanguineus – Red-veined Sorrel; and the Veronica longifolia which have survived :-

To this in mid-June:-

An explosion of growth from the herbaceous perennials.  Next month I will go through their progress in more detail, and describe what is doing well, and what, not so much.  But the star plant in this border for May and quite a lot of June is the Geranium ‘Mrs Kendall Clark’ blue form – as you can see here on 15 June, a lot bushier and less straggly without the Lavetera to compete with:-

How to side shoot tomatoes
Unlike last year I had a good germination rate in my tomato plants this year, and so had many spares to offer friends and neighbours.   As I gave them the 15cm tall plants I tried to explain how to look after them, how to pot on, side shoot, support, and feed them.  A look of blank confusion arose, so I have been taking pictures of what I am doing to show them and it occurred to me that if you are new to tomato growing you might like to see the photos too.
By the time you read this you will probably have already potted on your tomatoes, though I always advise to plant them deeply – up to their first leaves – so they can grow more roots.   You will probably have cordon tomato plants – such as Gardener's Delight or Moneymaker – which means they grow tall, and need to be supported, and helped to make one main stem.  As you can see from the polytunnel of tomatoes, we use both a tall cane AND a string coming down from the roof – these tomatoes can easily grow 2.4m tall:-

(The tagetes are grown as a companion plant to try and deter whitefly.)  These tomatoes are “before” anything has been removed.  As you can see below, they grow with large lower leaves, flower spikes, and sideshoots coming from the stem:-

Against a different background, here are the sideshoots growing out of the axil of the leaves and the stem (red arrows point at them):-

If you leave these in situ, they will grow fast and make the plant into a bushy plant, more leaf than fruit – here is one I didn’t get to quick enough, and now it has two main stems:-

Don’t panic if this happens to you, as long as you keep removing the rest of the side shoots on both of these big stems and support BOTH stems, they will still set lots of fruit, which is your main aim.
You need to pinch out the sideshoots.  Here is a sideshoot arrowed in red, then a shot of the leaf axil after the sideshoot has been removed with an arrow showing it is snapped off clean to the stem, and a final shot of the sideshoot in my hand:-

Once the plant has set some flower spikes you should take any leaves lower than the lowest flower stem off by cutting them off flush with the stem as below.  This will promote airflow round the plant and help the plant grow healthily without fungus/mould/blight:-

Now its easy to tell a flower spike when its full of yellow flowers as above, but how can you tell what is a flower spike and what is a side shoot?  I hope this picture shows the difference:-

This is a very young flower spike.  The nascent flower spike has more furry bobbly bits on it than a sideshoot which has tiny tomato leaves.  If in doubt, wait a couple of days til you are sure.   What you always want to end up with at the top is just the one main growing shoot.  If you are not sure if something very near the top is a sideshoot or the mainshoot (and believe me sometimes it is really hard to tell) then leave it a couple of days until it becomes more obvious which is the main upward growing shoot, and which is a branching off sideshoot   Here is a shot of the top of a tomato showing nascent flower spikes pointed out in red arrows, and the leading growing shoot with a black arrow which you leave to grow on up:-

If you are growing up a string then wind the main stem round the string as it grows.  If you are growing up a cane then tie the stem to the cane in a figure of eight loop not too tightly so the stem has room to expand.  Tie the plant in every 30cm or so, as the weight of the tomato fruits will be heavy as they grow and swell before ripening:-

Tomato plants do not want to dry out.  If they have erratic watering the fruit can either split or go black on the bottom.  We put our pots into trays as you saw in the first picture, and ensure that as soon as the trays empty of water we water the tomatoes again.  This is usually every two to three days in the hot summer weather.  In terms of feeding, we wait until the plant has actually set fruit (ie the yellow flowers are beginning to turn into tiny tomatoes).  Then we feed with a proprietary tomato feed once a week.  Once you reach the point of the year when you think the plant wont make any more fruit, usually by September outside, or late Sept if growing inside, stop feeding but keep watering, as your aim then is to make the fruit you DO have swell and ripen.  You can nip the top out of the plant to stop it growing any more, and take any leaves off that are shading the fruit to make sure they get full sun to ripen.  (Tip: If you end up with green tomatoes that are not ripening at the end of the season, pick them and put them in a paper bag with a ripe banana.  This will help them to ripen.)

Sheila May

Posted by Sheila May

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