Oslo Garden

A blog about gardening in Oslo, Norway


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Hands off gardening

A combination of lots of travel to the UK and preparations to move house has meant that gardening has taken a back seat over the past four weeks. I’ve probably spent no more than 2-3 hours gardening and that’s included the work on the school garden.

By and large, I think I’ve got away with it. But I don’t think I can really take the credit. As June moved into July, weather shifted from being endlessly warm and dry to being warm and wet so that, without any effort from me, my plants received a regular dousing of their most basic requirement every few days.

I’ve used any opportunity I’ve had just to get the necessary done and I’ve not had much time to potter and finesse. Here is a retrospective of what’s been happening in my garden over the past month.

Against a backdrop of lush growth, the Clematis, Lonicera and Geranium Rozanne provided the main colour- lots of pinks, purples and peach. I worked in some of my banana fertiliser in the hope it would prolong the flowers and encourage more. The flowers of the climbers tumbled down in a mass for the simple reason that I never got around to making a climbing frame for either before it was too late. I think the Lonicera probably would have done better without having so much of the Clematis clambering over it but, all in all, I rather like the effect.

Geranium Rozanne is flowering reliably and profusely. I intend to divide this at the end of the season so that I can spread it around a bit.

The Lamprocapnos and Geranium macrorrhizum came and went, the Geranium overlapping the Lamprocapnos. Foliage of the Lamprocapnos is now slowly turning yellow and when it dies back further, I’ll cut it right back to rejuvenate it. Some of the Geranium’s leaves are changing colour now and seed pods have formed.

The Salvia, that originally had been sharing a pot with the Geranium but had become overwhelmed by it, was relocated to a new pot alongside the more sedate clump forming Geranium sanguineum that itself had originally been pot-mates with the Coreopsis grandiflora. In this new arrangement they are both much happier and I like the combination of shapes and colour.

The Coreopsis, seemingly on death’s door earlier in the season and destined for the compost heap, has produced new lush green growth and may even flower later on in the summer if I’m lucky.

The Aquilegia, sown from seed last year has produced flowers for the first time and I’ve been able to collect seeds.

Seedlings of annuals that were sown -Cosmos, Zinnia, Helianthus and Antirrhinum- were potted on. The Antirrhinums still have a way to go before they flower even though I sowed them much earlier than last year. Last year’s plants never got fully going before the frosts so I am hoping there’ll be a decent display this year.

One Cosmos has flowered but, in what seemed drastic at the time, I cut back foliage hard (about two-thirds) from the other three cosmos seedlings. In only two weeks, the foliage grew back more bushy and there are lots of buds, so even though flowers have been delayed I’m expecting to enjoy many more as a result. Likewise early on, the two zinnias produced a single flower each but I deadheaded them and now more stems with buds have appeared. The two Helianthus ‘Velvet Queen’ (shown tall at the back of picture 3) are growing strongly and hopefully will also add some late season colour.

As far as the home-grown food this year, it’s been a mixed bag.

Strawberries have produced lots of tasty fruit but I’m disappointed to have missed a few, so I’m netting them from now on. I left it late to pot on chard and beetroot seedlings and somewhere in the process have lost the label. I think I’ve sussed out which is which but time will soon tell!

I finally potted up the Fennel seedlings. I just put them into the largest pot I had (about 30cm deep) which is shallower than ideal, and spaced closer together which will mean the bulbs won’t end up being so big but that’s just the reality of growing in small spaces. Hopefully the taste will more than make up for the size.

My peas are doing well against my rudimentary bamboo and willow climbing frames. From two containers I’d say I’ve picked two healthy portions of peas so far, and more are on their way. The broad beans are still forming pods but have flowered well and are growing healthily.

As an experiment I scatter-sowed some carrots and radishes in a tall pot and the results have been a bit of a let down. The carrots were deluged by the radishes, which became all leaf and no root. Photos show before and after removal of the radishes. Surprisingly the carrots didn’t seem to have been adversely affected. So I decided to leave them as is and not thin them out, preferring to let them develop a bit before I harvest some baby carrots and then harvest the carrots that remain right at the end of the season.

The three varieties of lettuce have grown fantastically well, kept in semi-shade, and have provided some lovely combinations of tasty salads. They also look great together so definitely one to repeat next year. The summer squash is potted up and even though there are flowers, no fruit is forming yet. The mystery of the fruit bush is now solved: it’s Aronia, which is a prolific fruiter, and claims to be very high in antioxidants. I still need to pot it as a priority to give it the best opportunity to develop its juicy berries.

Finally, my tomatoes. I reclaimed a glass cabinet and upcycled it to match my cold frame. It’s been perfect for this year’s tomatoes. A few flowers are already forming. I’m crossing my fingers for warm weather long enough for them to form into some fruit and I’ve added some tomato fertiliser to help them along. One of my next jobs is to repot them and string them up.

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Here’s my garden:


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Springing into action

The air is alive with the sounds and smells of late spring- early summer. Birds chatter, insects buzz. Bright days follow rain showers that leave everything looking lush and intensify the intoxicating scent of Syringa, apple blossom and Spiraea, to name but a few. Days are longer with nights that never quite get dark and a dawn chorus that starts from about 2am!

It’s hard to keep up with what’s happening in the garden.

So far it’s a good year for the strawberries in the trough. Compared to this time last year the strawberries seem much healthier and are producing lots of flowers that promise lots of juicy fruits later this summer. As soon as they begin to send out runners I’ll cut them back so the plants can focus on fruit production.   20160526_091339

Apparently strawberries can be good companion plants to bush beans, lettuce, onion, spinach and thyme. So since I’ve got a few odd lettuce seedlings left to transplant, I’ve filled a couple of gaps in the container to see how they get on.

One of the earliest plants to flower is the Lamprocapnos spectabilis. Now in its second year with me, it is looking much happier than it did last year and it has produced some lovely delicate pink flowers. It’s in a pot on its own so I can keep it especially moist in dryer spells. It sits alongside the Geranium whose own pink flower buds are waiting in the wings.

Two other plants that definitely look better second year in are the Comfrey and Aquilegia. The Comfrey has just started to open its purple bell-like flowers. The Aquilegia next to it that I bought as a unidentifiable small clump at an end of season sale suffered from powdery mildew last year but this year has emerged from winter much more invigorated. Buds have formed so I can’t wait to see what the flowers are like. The long winters here do seem to be helpful when rejuvenating plants that may ordinarily be plagued with diseases over a longer period.

The salads I’ve been growing have been enjoying the temperatures (12-19 degrees C) and rain we’ve been having lately. The Red Giant leaf, true to its name with its incredible foliage, looks fantastic. Its leaves also prove to be tasty, with a wonderful spicy mustard flavour. These are the very same ones that emerged as tiny plants from the winter so I’m very happy with how things have turned out. I expect it won’t be long now before they go to seed as temperatures rise, so I’m making the most of them while I can.  

Lettuce and watercress that I sowed in mid April are coming along well. It’s time to feed the watercress some liquid feed, so I use some of the home-made nettle feed that I made last year that has been maturing in a sealed bucket ever since.

Some of the kale and cabbage are now ready to plant out at the school garden this week. The chard, in contrast, has suffered a bit from damping off this year. So this week I’ll go through the seedlings and rescue the strongest ones to pot on and probably end up sowing some chard seeds directly into the raised beds as well.  The Helianthus seedlings (shown here in front of a pot with carrot and radish seeds I’ve just sown) have just been potted on and will be transplanted into the school garden in a week or two.

The Lathyrus odoratus and Cosmos bipinnatus seedlings are really overdue for planting out. Both need supports: for the Sweet peas something to climb on and for the Cosmos to keep the stems upright, essential if I want to use it as a cutting flower.

At the beginning of May I sowed another batch of broad beans and peas in root trainers outside (keeping the lid on to maintain high humidity until they germinated, and thereafter initially just at night times). They’ll be ready to transplant into my tubs once they’re a bit more bushy, which shouldn’t be too long if they keep growing at this rate.

The squash could do with being re-potted or transplanted but are being stretched out as they are in the cold frame for a little while longer. Last year the squash weren’t a success at the school garden which may have been, in part, because they were planted out too young and subsequently weren’t able to deal with the weather that turned windy and rainy. Though I’m not sure whether larger plants would have particularly relished that forecast either to be honest.

The fennel is outgrowing its pot and should be planted out this week which, along with the mysterious fruit bush, needs a deep container- still looking! In the meantime, the fruit bush is flowering.

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I’m still none the wiser as to the species but I guess time will tell.


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Flower power

Today is Norway’s National Day. It celebrates the creation of Norway’s constitution in 1814. It is a big deal and is celebrated seriously but it is a whole load of fun. People dress up to the nines in their national costume (each regional costume will have its own colour or pattern of embroidery), there are local parades with children and marching bands as well as street and garden parties. The days running up to the day must be the busiest in the garden centres…!

This year I couldn’t fail to be impressed with how the parliament building in Oslo had been decorated. At first glance I didn’t realise that the patterns on the building were actually made with flowers, planted up and somehow suspended from its walls, creating a really fun 3D effect. A nice innovative take on vertical planting. So I thought I’d share it with you, and wish you ‘Gratulerer med dagen’ (‘congratulations with the day’) as they say here!


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A very determined carrot

When we grow vegetables as annuals, it’s easy to forget what their true life cycle is. Take the carrot. It is a biennial plant; in the wild its life cycle is over two years. The first year it grows a fantastic tap root and this is what we usually harvest. But if left to its own devices, it will use this root as a food source to over winter and, in year two, it will continue to grow, produce flowers and set seed.

I grew this carrot from seed last year, and it was harvested in the autumn. I trimmed back its green top and stored it away in my fridge with the intention of eating it at some point. Just in a plastic bag, nothing fancy. But then I forgot all about it.

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Not one for regular meticulous fridge cleaning, it had got hidden by other items piled on top of it. In a mad bout of spring cleaning, I rediscovered it and, to my surprise, noticed that there was a tiny bright green shoot emerging from its top!

I put it in an empty pot to see what would happen. The shoot grew bigger. So I tossed in a handful of soil left over from some sowing I’d been doing, and fed it some water.  More shoots grew and got bigger, developing into some fine feathery leaves. Eventually I re-potted it and had to prise away a mass of young roots that had formed and attached themselves to the pot itself. Such was its incredible rate of growth in just a few weeks.

So, the carrot is currently in my cold frame. I have high hopes of seeing some lovely carrot flowers this summer. Perhaps I’ll even try saving some seeds.

Then I will have seen it through its complete and wonderful life cycle.


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Insect hotels

As part of my ambition this year to do more to support pollinators and encourage wildlife into the garden, I’m building a couple of insect/bee hotels. To have a healthy garden, it’s important to attract predatory insects and pollinating insects, and to create little habitats where they can nest or hang out.

Making a hotel is very simple and doesn’t require any special equipment. Yesterday I thought I’d pop down to the Botanisk Hage to check out their free workshop all about building an insect hotel. It was great to see lots of people there eager to get more involved. 

There are so many different methods, the simplest of which is to drill some holes, of different widths (but no more than 10mm) into a block of wood. Or you can cut the end off a plastic bottle or use an old tin can and stuff it full of bamboo canes. Hang them up somewhere dry and sunny and hey presto, you have a nesting site for solitary bees. A great description of what insects are attracted by what materials can be found here.

I’m going to try making two: an insect hotel that I’ll leave near the ground, with lots of cubby holes full of leaves, bark, and dead wood, and a bee hotel which I’ll hang up and fill with lots of hollow stems.

I’m off to do a bit of foraging. This is the perfect time to do it.


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More fool me

When I came to replant my dahlia tubers it became apparent that, unfortunately, they hadn’t survived the winter. They looked fine from the outside but were hollow and dry to the touch. I had, sort of, forgotten about them, stored in a shed, wrapped only in some newspapers. Unsurprisingly they hadn’t endured the freezing temperatures. They’re made for the southern hemisphere, not for the arctic!

So lesson learned…the hard way. Next time I’ll be more careful. I’ll overwinter them by finding somewhere to store them that is cool, dry, dark and, crucially, frost free. 20150827_154731I’m tempted not to buy some new tubers now but instead see what the end of season sales throw up. In the meantime, I’ll continue my quest to grow lots of annual flowers this year such as Zinnia, Cosmos and Antirrhinum, Hopefully that will create a riot of colour and help me forget my little faux pas.


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Seeds for 2016- Part 2: Flowers

Parliament has recently adopted a proposal for a national strategy for bees and pollination to ‘ensure continued diversity of wild bees and other pollinating insects’. It’s still too soon to say what this will involve but there are things we can all do right now to support biodiversity and help encourage pollinators into the garden. It doesn’t matter whether your garden consists of a few pots on a small balcony, a vegetable patch or a garden the size of a football pitch!20160330_141848

  1. Plant colourful, single petalled flowers. With just a handful of seeds you can produce a mass of nectar rich flowers that will be attractive to bees, butterflies and hoverflies (Syrphidae insects). The Hageselskap’s bee campaign ‘Summendehage‘ lists bee friendly flowers here with their Norwegian common names.
  2. Help pollinators find food over a longer period by growing flowers that bloom early and late in the season, not just summer.  Spring bulbs like crocuses or daffodils, Primulas or hellebores offer an important source of nectar early in the season whilst sunflowers (Helianthus), asters (Symphotrichum species) and heathers (Erica speciesare good for late season.
  3. Grow a pot or window box of bee-attractive herbs like Thyme, Oregano, Mint and Chives.
  4. Create a home for a bee. Make a bee hotel, or a bumblebee nest box. Spring is a good time to do it and you can find simple tutorials with different methods online.

This year, I’m dedicating more space to annual flowers alongside this year’s edibles and my existing perennial plants. Here is the list of flowers that I’ll be sowing:

Antirrhinum

Centaurea cyanus

Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Purity’

Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Rubenza’

Daucus carota (Ornamental carrot)

Dianthus barbatus

Helianthus annuus ‘Velvet Queen’

Lathyrus odoratus mix

Phacelia tanacetifolia

Zinnia elegans ‘mix’ & ‘Lilliput’

Edible (and bee) flowers (Demeter) mix- Glebionis segetum, Centaurea cyanus, Calendula officinalis, Borago officinialis

I’ll be incorporating a lot of flowers alongside vegetables.  They help to attract pollinators which in turn helps the vegetables. Squash is an example of a vegetable that relies on bees to pollinate its flowers, so planting lots of flowers alongside it will increase the chance of bees finding it.

Not only that but by interplanting Calendula, Sunflower, Dianthus and Zinnias alongside my vegetables, they provide natural pest control by helping to confuse or repel pests such as slugs, aphids and whiteflies.

If that wasn’t enough, the petals of Zinnias, Calendula, Dianthus, Centaurea and Borage are also edible. 20160330_140634

I’ve just started sowing some of the flowers today. I’ve used some homemade newspaper pots and water expanding coir ‘pots’. I’ve never used the coir before so time will tell as to how successful they are. It’s good to sow some seeds early indoors to give them as long a growing season as possible.