Oslo Garden

A blog about gardening in Oslo, Norway


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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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May garden update

A burst of warm spring weather has got the plants romping full steam ahead leaving me trying to play catch up. Here’s a summary of what’s what, and all the jobs I’ve been busy with.

My windowsills had become jammed packed full of seedlings and a few days ago I decided to transfer as many as possible into the cold frame. To make some room I took out lettuce, beans and peas that I’d sowed at the end of March/beginning of April. They had been hardening off gradually in the cold frame, but as it’s been so warm, I took a chance and moved them outside.

I added a light protective layer for the first few nights and gradually got them used to the sun but essentially they’ve been out all the time. I pricked out the little lettuce seedlings and replanted them in one of the large tubs outside the cold frame, planting them close together as they’ll be grown as a cut and come again crop. Either side of the lettuce tub, are the salads I over-wintered. There’s a tub of Lambs Lettuce that managed to survive the winter outside and a tub of Red Giant Mustard (Asian) salad that was sown at the same time but never made it outdoors until I transferred it out in early April. In the Red Giant tub there are signs of some more quick-growing lettuces that I have sown recently to fill the gaps.

The Watercress seeds I sowed in mid April inside the cold frame have now germinated but I haven’t moved them outside. So they’ll stay inside for the time being, permanently sitting in water, keeping nice and moist (top right).

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I’ve started potting on some seedlings, such as the Helianthus annuus, Cosmos bipinnatus, Fennel and Kale but more need to be done over the coming weeks. Many seedlings have grown a little leggy, and some are still very small, particularly the beetroot. The warm and dry conditions inside the house won’t have been good for them, so I’m hoping they’ll improve in time in their new positions.

Now that the beans and peas that I sowed earlier in the cold frame were doing well, I couldn’t help sowing another batch, to get another crop later in the summer. Here they are side by side. When sowing the new ones I’ve used a multi purpose compost rather than a seedling compost in order to provide them with a bit more sustenance as they develop over time.

In the area outside, the plants have really picked up the pace of growth over the last month. 

The Lamprocapnos spectabilis (top right) has shot up and little pink flower buds have already begun to appear, being one of the earliest to bloom. In the oblong planter, the dwarf Astilbe, Geranium Rozanne and Corydalis are doing well. I thought I’d lost the Geranium but it’s popped up again. I’m finally hoping to see some blue Corydalis flowers this year; it’s not flowered in the 2 years I’ve had it!

The Coreopsis grandiflora is still a mass of dry stalks and by now has usually shown some signs of some new growth. I’ll wait a while longer before I take any drastic action, as it may just be late developing this year.  The Geranium macrorrhizum in the large round pot is already running riot and had already overshadowed the Salvia nemorosa. So I’ve put the Salvia in with the smaller mound-forming Geranium sanguineum that had been growing with the Coreopsis. Its new pot sits on the bench (shown below) alongside the Aquilegia vulgaris, and the re-potted Comfrey and Euphorbia epithymoides.

Below them is the long planter of strawberries, that I will continue to propagate this year.

I am a bit late erecting a climbing frame around the Clematis, which is just romping away. This is one of my next jobs to do.

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The Aubrieta at the base of the clematis, whose beautiful deep violet flowers were just beginning to form a few weeks ago (picture left), is now blossoming. I gave it quite a hard cut back in the autumn to rejuvinate it and it seems to have resonded well.

 

I have done well to resist the charms of new plants at the local garden centre up to now but it seems a plant has sought me out…..A wooden planter was being given away and the bush came with it….Well, how could I resist?!!

20160509_102322All I know is it’s an edible fruit bush and it has lovely reddish-green leaves. As it happens, I’m no longer keeping the planter but I love the idea of growing some fruit this year, so it stays. My mission is to identify the variety and get it out of the bin bag into a more suitable container very soon.

And finally, here is my finished Bee hotel.

20160506_132448I want to add a little overhang to the roof to protect it from rain, as I have kept it rustic and haven’t cut all the tubes precisely to fit flush with the sides, but essentially it’s done and I’ll hang it up soon. I can’t wait to see if any guests visit it over the next few months.


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Making Leaf mould and a November garden update

Last weekend residents of my block got together to tidy up our communal gardens in its twice- yearly ‘dugnad’. It is traditional in Norway to have seasonal days every spring and autumn when people get together in neighbourhoods to collectively clear or spruce up their areas: gardens, streets, beaches etc.. to coincide with the changing of the seasons, at the end of winter as spring emerges and, now, in autumn in advance of winter.

At this time of year, piles of fallen leaves are typically gathered and taken to the municipal green recycling centre where they are mulched. Each year, I keep some back for myself to make my own leaf mould. I’ve been collecting leaves in a black plastic bag with holes punched in it and, over time, I have added grass clippings and plant foliage from garden clearance. I’ve kept the bag in a sheltered position and periodically turned it and as the leaves have softened I have roughly torn up the clumps of leaves that have formed. Now in its third year, it has gone from looking like the bag on the left to the one of the right.

The mixture now resembles dark, crumbly earth and is referred to as leaf mould. It adds valuable nutrients into the soil just as it would in nature and enhances the quality of the soil. Granted it’s taken a few years to produce here, but it’s so easy to do and it’s so worthwhile. I added a couple of handfuls of freshly fallen leaves to the old bag but decided not to add all of this year’s leaves to it as it had become so well-rotted. Instead I created a new bag just for this season’s leaves. I didn’t add water as the leaves were already damp. I threw in some grass that had got caught in the rake and added some spent coffee grounds from the morning’s breakfast as I’ve read this adds nitrogen. To be honest I’ve never been exact with the proportions of grass clippings (green waste) versus leaves (brown) in the mix but it generally is 5 parts leaves to 2 parts grass clippings. Obviously if you can shred the leaves then this will speed the process up. Come spring time when the weather begins to warm up again, I’ll add a good layer to my pots. For now, I’ll hand shred some leaves and put them onto the pots once after pruning to give the plants some winter protection.

Next it was time to begin to prepare my pots for winter. This is how my garden looked before major pruning:DSC_0203

It was time to prune the perennials. The Geraniums macrorrhizum and sanguineum were still verdant but the Geranium Rozanne had already browned and withered. The Coreopsis still had lots of unopened buds on the stems. I cut everything back to within a few centimetres of the soil except for the Rozanne which I took right back to the soil and removed all the dead foliage. I also cut back the Lamprocapnos and, having only bought it this year, I’ll be curiouss to see how it manages the winter.

I pruned the honeysuckle and clematis.

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In previous years I pruned them back in the spring but this year I needed to be a bit more drastic. So much clematis foliage had become tangled with the spiral climbing frame that it was almost impossible to remove it without cutting back substantially. I also let my honeysuckle get a bit lax over the summer and its stems had splayed out in all directions so to make things easier I pruned it back now. I’ve deliberately pruned a little less severely and left stems a little longer. Come spring I’ll see whether pruning them this way has made a substantive difference.

I didn’t prune the dwarf Astilbe as I’ve read these do better with foliage over hard winters. I’ve also left the Euphorbia polychroma alone. Its stems are bare but the plant dies back to the root crown over winter, so I’ll remove these ‘old’ stems when new growth begins to appear in the spring.

Surprisingly even with the odd night-time frost the Antirrhinum seems undamaged and its flowers are still holding firm, though no new buds are opening now.

20151118_103119But it’s lovely to still see their splash of pink alongside the Ericas. The Ericas were the result of a spontaneous trip to the garden centre (always dangerous!) a few weeks ago. Their bright flowers seduced me on a cloudy day. It’s my first time growing them and I’ll pot them up in an arrangement with other ericaceous-loving plants in the spring.

As for fruit and vegetables, chard and kale are still going strong. I’ve trimmed back the tarragon to a few centimeters above the soil on the pot and will dry the stems for future culinary use. Tarragon is only half-hardy but it came through last winter outside with heavy fleece on it, so I’ll try it again this year. The foliage of the strawberries have turned a striking colour.

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This is how it looks after the clear up.


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October garden update- late bloomers

Whilst garden-wise things may be slowing down now, October has got to be one of my favourite months here. A perfect blend of dry crisp bright days and beautiful rich autumnal colours.

Daytime temperatures are now hovering under 10 degrees celsius.  The sun sits lower in the sky and this means that my plants, even though they face south, receive less direct sunlight before it disappears behind buildings or trees. This is how my garden looks today:

The Dahlias are straining for the sun and many of their buds have yet to open. I’m not a Dahlia expert but I noticed some of the leaves look like they are showing signs of frost damage.

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The last two nights have seen temperatures drop to around freezing. It may be time to sacrifice the buds and cut the plants back and store the tubers until next year…

Back at the end of May I was given some Cosmos bipinnatus seeds by a neighbour. They are only now beginning to flower and it’s great to see them- pink and white. There’s something about the plants I like: feathery foliage and open flowers that make them very uplifting.

I wasn’t sure the plants would flower before the colder weather set in. So even though these won’t have time now to reach their full potential (Cosmos are typically prolific bloomers) I’m glad I’ll get to enjoy a few flowers for a little while at least.

The Antirrhinum continues to produce lovely velvety purple flowers but, like the Cosmos, won’t get to produce alot of flowers. I reckon I’ll grow both again next year to enjoy them over a longer period.

Some of the other smaller plants are also providing some late season colour: the Sedum cauticola with it’s lovely dark pink flowers against blue-green foliage; the Euphorbia Polychroma, true to its name, now bursting with yellows, pinks and fiery oranges;

the magenta dwarf Astilbe peeking out from under the straggly geranium, and the Ophiopogon ‘Niger’ which has produced flowers for the first time since I bought it 2 years ago!

On the veg front, the chard and kale continue to produce. Unfortunately I’m now three chard plants down after I discovered some had been uprooted, probably by over exuberant little hands (the pitfalls of growing in a communal garden). I like to think that these little green fingers may one day become big green fingers!

I didn’t have so much success with the squash this year. The plant had developed powdery mildew and frustratingly I had to consign it to the compost bin even though it had so many undeveloped fruit still on it. Other than perhaps not enough watering, the plant may have been stressed in its pot. I noticed that this patty pan variety of squash seemed to want more space than other regular courgette squash I’d grown last year.  If I grow them again next year, I’ll be sure to find/make a large growbag to give them space to spread out much more.

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In contrast, the carrots did well. It was a really fun project for my daughter who sowed the carrot seeds, watched them grow and, much to her delight, harvested them yesterday.

We decided to harvest the beetroots too. They (variety Robushka) turned out small and oblong-shaped, perhaps as a result of being grown in a pot. Then again, whenever I’ve grown these beetroots they’ve always turned out oblong rather than round!

Well that’s it for now apart from to mention that my poor winter seedlings are languishing on my window sills as they wait paitiently for me to finish making my cold frame….I’m almost done! But more of that coming soon!


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September School garden update

I found a few surprises when I returned to the school garden this week to see how things were doing.

In Bed A, it looked a shambles! It was hard to see any resemblance to the planting plan I once devised. Still, it has produced (and continues to produce) some tasty edible food and that’s the main thing! 

After a nice harvest earlier in the summer (and a few ripened pea pods I found in the mess), I consigned the pea plants to the compost heap.

The school had been glad to get the peas I’d picked, bagged and froze back in July.

I’m pleased to see the carrots also doing so well. The purple ones do an especially fine impression of beetroots!

It’s still too soon to harvest though, as the school found out recently to its disappointment. The carrots they pulled up were full of flavour but were small. So now the school is looking forward to harvesting the remaining ones that have been left to mature for a bit longer in the ground.

In Bed B the Kale and Chard were still going strong…though I observed a couple of the Kale plants had suffered a major trauma…

While I stood pondering this over zealous harvesting, the mystery was solved. A little boy walked up to the bed, enthusiastically snapped off the top of a kale plant and duly stuffed it into his mouth, devouring it wholeheartedly! I had to admire his enthusiasm but I couldn’t help feel sorry for the plant!

I had been ready to give up on my beans and squash in Bed C but was amazed to see the squash plants, albeit stunted, still flowering and one even had a teeny tiny squash forming!

Not only that but there had been a spurt of verdant new growth among the bean plants with new flowers and beans forming.

They are a bit late developing, so I don’t expect there to be too many beans in the end but it’s great to see some progress nonetheless.

About 2 weeks ago the kids sowed radish (sorry, no photos!) and little seedlings have now appeared. It makes good use of the bare patch of earth where the squash should have been. Radishes love the cool weather and are fast developers, so we hope that they will mature and be harvested in time before the frosts arrive.

The calendula also have been disappointingly small this year but a few have flowered.

In each bed, the lettuces were in need of some attention. Some were beginning to flower and some had suffered water damage, with tale-tale soggy brown leaves at the base of the plants. I tidied up some plants by removing the affected leaves but disposed of some entirely. Where I’d removed plants in all three beds, I scattered some Grass Rye seeds, as a green manure. I hope there’s still enough time for it to grow substantially before the soil freezes so I can turn it over to add some valuable nutrients back into the soil before the winter.


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August’s new discoveries

Oslo enjoyed a bit of an Indian summer in August after an unusually cool and wet one, and it was nice to be greeted to warm weather returning to the city after a trip away. Unfortunately the weather took its toll on some of my garden plants which were looking a bit weary and water deprived. 20150818_122222As I performed emergency watering and general maintenance procedures, I made a few discoveries…

Slugs love peas! My pea plants had been absolutely ravaged and pretty much decimated. I found two of the critters lurking in the pots and was amazed to see how small they were. How much damage even modest sized slugs can make to a crop is incredible!! I had become a bit complacent about my vegetables but I will have to think up more cunning ways to stop the slugs from traversing my pots next year…20150818_121826Sometimes carrots go straight to flower. I hadn’t even ever seen a carrot flower before. And despite it being a rather lovely flower, it unfortunately meant there wasn’t a substantial carrot at the other end of it.

The purple carrot wins the prize for most delicious taste but funniest shape! I pulled up three lovely carrots that more than made up for losing one and coincidentally there was one from each of the three varieties I’d sown: Purple Haze, Atomic Red and Milan. Purple Haze’s incredible colouration, along with its incredible flavour, made it the coolest of the three.

A flying saucer has landed. The summer squash Patty Pan ‘Sunbeam’ with its fluted edges was a lovely surprise hiding beneath the big squash leaves. It had fared much better than the Golden squash courgettes, which unfortunately were shrivelled to only finger size possibly due to lack of water.

Chard and kale are machines. Well not literally, but they are stalwarts and grow fantastically well. The rainbow chard in particular looks good with its vibrant yellow stems.

Climbing beans need more protection. Even in a relatively sheltered position facing south-west the climbing bean plants didn’t produce a large harvest so back to the drawing board for next year. In the meantime, I picked the mature pods and ditched the tired looking plants from one pot and will wait to see what the other batch will produce.

The lilac blue Geranium is still flowering profusely alongside the bright yellow Coreopsis and new colours are coming through from the Dahlias. How lovely it is to see them emerge. But do Dahlias grow into monster plants or what?!  They are enormous! I hadn’t factored on how big they would become. They rather take over the space and as it turns out they also need a lot of support. Had I staked them properly there wouldn’t be so many wayward stems splaying out in all directions. It will make any attempts of flower arranging very interesting indeed…

Finally, some of the annual flowers I sowed late are beginning to take shape and blossom. The lovely velvety deep red petals of the Antirrhinum majus (Løvemunn) are beginning to shine. The Cosmos has produced nice bushy foliage and I’m just waiting to see what colour their flowers will turn out to be….


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From Pot to Plate

Even with a small outside space it’s possible to grow fruit and vegetables in pots.

I like the idea of stepping outside and picking my own fresh produce and this year I decided to give it a try. In mid May, I sowed some lettuce and carrots directly into pots outside. I potted up some of the chard, kale and squash seedlings that had been hardening off alongside those intended for the school garden. I also sowed some peas of my own after seeing how nice the school one’s were…

This is what they look like now….

The containers planted with beans, squash, peas and carrots were grouped together, against a south-west facing wall. As a result they would get a lot of afternoon sun but perhaps more importantly for the beans, they were in a relatively sheltered position. One of the pots was planted with the same batch of climbing bean plants that had been planted at the school, so this was a bit of an experiment to see which beans would do better: the ones at the school’s open site versus mine in pots but in a sheltered position.

As it turned out there were uncharacteristically strong winds in spring and the beans did suffer in both locations so, as a precaution, I sowed another climbing bean in June which was another experiment to see whether leaving it so late would mean a smaller harvest. I put it in a large pot together with two squash. So far this  seems to be a good combination. The bean plant is a bit behind the others of course but they all seem happy enough together and one of the squash is now even fruiting. Finally, after having lost the label earlier in the season, I can see the variety of squash it is- Gold Rush Squash!

The pots with kale, chard, lettuce and strawberries are, in contrast to the others, positioned where there is less (intense) sun, receiving dappled shade from the nearby apple trees for part of the afternoon. This seems to be working out well for them. You’ll remember the strawberry plant that had looked a bit forlorn earlier in the year. It is now fruiting and sending out runners voraciously. You have to keep your eye on it, as it’ll sneakily send out runners when your back is turned! I’ve already trimmed a lot off as they say that you’ll get more fruit if you do, but I have decided to let some grow so I can give away some mini strawberry plants to the school later on.

Strawberry runners

Strawberry runners

Kale and chard have been a bit of a revelation as I’d never eaten them before last year! They are super easy to grow and, like lettuce, you can pick leaves gradually and they’ll keep on producing more so you end up having a constant supply. In both cases, small tender leaves make a delicious and nutritious addition to salads and bigger leaves can be fried with garlic. Absolutely yummy! Here’s a simple recipe for chard:

Cut out the main red ribs of the leaves, cut in half and set aside.

Roll up the leaves and cut cross-ways, producing strips.

Chop an onion and slice some garlic.

Fry the onion and then add the garlic in olive oil until softened.

Add the ribs and fry for about 3 minutes, then add the leaves and fry for another 3 minutes until wilted and soft.

Serve!

Do you have any recipes?