Archive for September, 2013


IMG_7431To Walter Degrasse

30th September 2013

Dear Walter,

September has been a month of relative quiet in Old School Garden. Summer has tipped into Autumn and the garden hasn’t needed (?wishful thinking) full throttle attention. The odd weed pulled up, flowers dead headed or staked, hedges trimmed, grass mown (less frequently and less closely). A typical September then, apart from the relatively cold spell we had earlier on which sent me to the wood shed and led to lighting of fires – albeit only once or twice. Still I resisted the temptation to switch on the central heating! Since then we seem to have had something of a mini ‘Indian summer’.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how some annuals I planted earlier on have at last come good – Cleome, Cosmos, Nicotiana and Tithonia in particular. A slow start, but they seem to have gone for a sprint finish so to speak! They are looking very good alongside some other late summer perennial colours – Asters, Sedums and Aconitum. And I’m pleased to say that last year’s sowings of Phalaris (‘Chinese Lanterns’) have now turned into beefier plants, just starting to show off their wonderful papery orange ‘lanterns’.

I’ve continued to harvest  various fruit and veg – Chard is now reaching maturity, Tomatoes, Lettuces and Cucumbers have done really well, and some late sowings of Carrots and Mangetout are looking promising. You may recall that I sowed three seeds of ‘Greek Squash’ sent to me by the Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library – two of these have gone on to produce four or five good-sized squashes, which are now hardening off in the autumn sunshine. Oh, and remember my caterpillar disaster with the Calabrese and Broccoli plants last month? Well, I’ve cleared the bed, and managed to get hold of some young plants of Chinese Broccoli and Spinach, so along with some of my own Red Cabbage seedlings we now have that area once more in production – hopefully they’ll all put on good growth before the onset of winter.

The first windfall apples have been falling in some strong breezes recently. We’ve been collecting some of these as well as early pickings directly from the trees, and very tasty they are too! I can see that the next couple of weeks will be consumed with apple harvesting, and that of course raises the question of where to store them! Our larder could soon be a lot fuller.

Further afield in my gardening life, I’m pleased to say that the six week Garden Design course I put on last year is once again up and running, with 8 enthusiastic students with a wide range of garden sizes and ideas that I hope to help them develop in the coming weeks. I’ve also planned a one day workshop at nearby Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse where I hope to show people how to get more from their garden through using some of the key elements of garden design. It will also be fun using the gardens at the Museum to illustrate some of these, as i designed some and help to maintain them as a volunteer. As I speak I’m hopeful, too, that the six week beginners course on ‘Growing Your Own’ at nearby Foulsham, will also be viable, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

I’ve also started back with my support of gardening and ‘learning outside the classroom’ at the local primary school. I’ve been encouraged by the way the school – and particularly their LOTC Coordinator, is building on the progress we made last year. Over the first half term I’m taking a series of small groups from most classes through some of the basics such as introducing different types of tool and how to use them safely; the importance of clearing and preparing the soil during the autumn; harvesting some of the produce we planted last season (there are some seriously impressive carrots that seem to have thrived on neglect!); gathering different types of seed for next year; how different plants propagate themselves and sowing broad beans, garlic and onions as well as some green manures.  The School is also carrying out an international project on composting and organic gardening to which I’m contributing. So a busy half term! It’s always great working with such enthusiastic youngsters, reawakening my own sense of wonder at nature as they dig over the soil and are delighted to discover worms, grubs and creepy crawlies!

On Saturday I went to Garden Organic’s HQ at Ryton, near Coventry, for their annual conference for Master Gardeners and Composters. Around 30 of my colleagues from Norfolk went along and were joined by over 200 other Master Gardeners and Composters from a number of other areas around the country. It was a very interesting and inspiring day. I attended some workshops on community composting, reaching ‘hard to reach’ communities and ‘love your bugs’- all about the goodies and baddies in the garden. Most inspiring was a talk by veteran naturalist Chris Baines, looking at ‘The Nature of the Future’. I’ll do a fuller article on this event later in the week, but here are a couple of pics from the ‘Naturalistic’ area of the gardens, which looked wonderful – as did the many other different gardens which demonstrate a range of gardening techniques and planting arrangements.

So, old friend, that just about brings you up to date for the last few weeks in my gardening life at Old School Garden and beyond. A mellow and measured time when its been possible to enjoy the late summer colour and reap the fruits (and veg) of my labours earlier in the year! No doubt you’re well ahead of me with your autumn garden jobs, but in case you’re not and need some ideas, I’ll be posting my regular monthly item on tasks in the garden for the new month tomorrow, so I hope that proves useful. Happy Gardening!

Old School Gardener

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Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

Following up from my last blog explaining how we had been harvesting the rye, oats and barley down on the farm, (I hoped you all liked it) I thought that as my latest blog coincides with our potato harvest, I would explain a little further.

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 Richard with the horses

The way we harvest the potatoes here at Gressenhall is through the use of a horse drawn Ransomes potato spinner. The spinner we use is a later model dating from around the 1940s.

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Spinner

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 Bottom blade and tines

As you can see from the picture above, the spinner works by the bottom blade cutting into the ridged row of potatoes and then the spinning tines pushing the crop out to the side. As the blade digs into the row, the soil that is pushed up cushions the potatoes from being bruised and broken during the harvesting process. The spinner is powered…

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IMG_7411I recently featured a poem by a former neighbour, Jack Kett. I’ve now picked up one of the books of his poems and thought some of these are so evocative of the landscape around me here in Norfolk, that I’d feature a few more. So here’s the first as we end September…..

‘September morning, with the warm sun growing

In warmth and brightness, scattering mists of pearl,

Which round the waking village flow and furl.

And see, the top of the church tower is glowing,

Splendid, sunlit, above the misty sea,

Now ebbing  fast to set the morning free.

Along the hedgerow countless dying weeds

Show one last beauty in their feathered seeds.

The chattering sparrows wheel, and wheel again

Across the stubble field, and by the lane,

Among the dew-drenched grasses hardly seen,

Yet showing rarely a sun-gilded sheen,

A silver maze of gossamer is spread,

While all around hang berries, richly red.’

‘September Morning’ by John Kett from ‘A late lark Singing’ (Minerva Press 1997)

Related articles:

The Church in the Fields

Old School Gardener

aristonorganic

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This Pub found in Mevagissey Cornwall is planted up with mainly tuberous Begonias, making a stunning display.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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PicPost: Stare Carpet

via Woodland Trust

A rose trained along a rope 'swag' between posts provides a permeable divider in the garden

A rose trained along a rope ‘swag’ between posts provides a permeable divider in the garden

Regular readers may recall that I recently mentioned my plans to run a second Garden Design course at Reepham, here in Norfolk. I’m pleased to say that this has now begun and I’m looking forward to working with the 8 enthusiastic participants over the next few weeks to come up with designs and ideas for their gardens.

Coincidentally, I was also contacted recently by one of the students on the first course, Angela, who lives in a village nearby. She updated me on what she’s done in her garden since the course and was trying to arrange a meeting with her fellow students to share progress and ideas. She also asked for some advice. As this raised an interesting issue, I thought I’d share it with you as this week’s ‘GQT’. Her question is:

‘We took out a hedge last year between our vegetable garden and the lawn.  Most of the hedge area plus a bit of lawn is now a border, and we’d like to put in some sort of screen where the hedge was.  We don’t want a solid screen and were thinking of espalier fruit trees.  However, we do not need any more fruit trees and I think something of winter interest would be better.  Thoughts so far include Pyracantha or maybe Cotoneaster.  Do you think Pyracantha would work?’

A Pyracantha hedge

A Pyracantha hedge

Well Angela, Pyracantha makes a lovely informal hedge, with spring flowers and autumn berries as well as evergreen foliage (see the picture above).

However the ones suitable for hedging can grow to 2 – 3 metres high (and can also be quite wide), so unless you keep it cut back it will provide a pretty dense and high screen, perhaps not what you were looking for? The Cotoneasters suitable for a hedge (e.g C. lacteus) have similar range of interest to Pyracantha and are also pretty dense and tall, unless kept in trim. But doing this rather defeats the object of an ‘informal’ hedge, unless you keep trimming to a minimal tidy up of loose ends!

If a more permeable screen is what you’re after, you could go for a backdrop of grasses that would add a lovely golden colour to a border at this time of year.

If they are in a sheltered spot they will stand tall and provide some winter interest (cut them to ground level in the spring); an example is Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’. You could of course mix these along the line of the old hedge with evergreen shrubs (themselves with a variety of interest through the seasons). This would once again define the back of the border in an informal way, leaving ‘peep holes’ through the grasses into the garden beyond.

If you’re looking for something to provide a strong linear backdrop to your border but still give views through to the next garden, another idea might be to go for some sort of post and rail/rope structure (the latter is known as a ‘swag’- see the picture at the top of the article), or even a series of wide – opening trellis panels.

This then gives you the option of climbers to train up and along the wood/rope, but gives you views/glimpses through to what lies beyond. You could go for a mixture of climbers to give you a range of seasonal interest. Clematis of different varieties will give you flowers throughout the year, including winter flowers (e.g C. cirrhosa and its cultivars have winter flowers in creamy/ freckled shades and evergreen leaves). And some varieites give you other sorts of Autumn/winter interest. For example C. tangutica and it’s cultivars have some lovely ‘hairy’ seed heads that last into winter. Rambling/ climbing roses would also provide summer/early autumn flowers, followed by hips on some varieties. However, some of the Clematis (e.g cirrhosa) can get quite bushy so will need to be kept in check if you want to have views through – and the roses will also need pruning. Another option is to train a Pyracantha along a post and rail barrier to give you that ‘espalier’ effect you mentioned (see picture below).

Pyracantha coccinea trained along post and rails

Pyracantha coccinea trained along post and rails

Alternatively try one of the above options, but additionally introduce some winter interest directly into your border – e.g colourful stems from the various Cornus (Dogwoods), or foliage, flower and fragrance from any number of shrubs; e.g Daphne, Winter Jasmine, Eleagnus, Euonymus, various Viburnums etc.

Further information:

Hedge selector

10 AGM variegated evergreen shrubs- RHS

Hedge planting- RHS

All about Pyracantha

Related article:

GQT: Climbers as clothing… and as heighteners and dividers

Old School Gardener

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 gressenhall wildlife garden

The ‘Garden Party’ on BBC Radio Norfolk (28th September) went off to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse for a look at a garden, designed (by me) with wildlife in mind. Plus your questions to the expert panel – Alan Gray, Ian Roofe and Joe Whitehead. Hosted by Thordis Fridriksson. Listen to the programme on iplayer until 5th October – the pieces about the gardens are 25 minutes and 1 hour 35 minutes into the whole programme.

Old School Gardener

Old School Gardener

Ouse Washes: The Heart of the Fens

Heritage Lottery FundIf you thought that there was only one River Ouse in the UK you are going to need to read this article as I think you may be surprised to learn of all the different ‘Ouses’ around. To understand the reason why there are so many rivers called Ouse, it is the name that gives it away: the name Ouse is thought to have Celtic origins, meaning ‘water’; therefore when saying the River Ouse or the Great River Ouse you are actually saying the ‘river water’ or ‘great water river’.

There are 5 ‘Ouses’ around the UK, from high up in Orkney to the Ouse River down in Sussex; from north to south, these are:

  • The Ouse Orkney
  • The Yorkshire Ouse
  • The Great Ouse
  • The Little Ouse
  • The Sussex Ouse

The Sussex Ouse itself is 42 miles long, but with all its tributaries runs over 140 miles long…

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Camassia quamash via Charles S. Peterson

Camassia quamash via Charles S. Peterson

Quamash, the common name for Camassia, is a genus of 5 or 6 species of bulbous perennials native to damp, fertile meadowland in north America. They have large, ovoid bulbs which give rise to narrow, erect, linear leaves at the base. The flowers form in racemes on the top of the otherwise bare stems. These are showy flowers, star or cup shaped in blues, purples and white, appearing in mid- late spring.

Camassia leichtlinii via Gentry George

Camassia leichtlinii via Gentry George

 The bulbs of the species Camassia quamash were once an important food source for native American indians.

Camassias are great in borders or wildflower meadows and make good cut flowers. They are fully hardy to frost hardy and should be planted in the autumn about 10cm deep in moist but well drained soil in sun or partial shade. The soil should not be allowed to become waterlogged. They should be mulched over winter in areas with persistent frosts.

New plants can be grown from seed, which should be sown in containers in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Offsets can be removed in summer when the plants are dormant. There are no major pests or diseases affecting Camassia.

 

To get the best from Camassia flowers plant them against a background that will allow the pale flowers to stand out:  e.g. Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ – a good foil because the leaves are purple, splashed pink and white; Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ – blood-red young leaves; and Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom).

In borders, Camassias associate well, in light shade, with forget-me-nots, Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding hearts), Lunaria rediviva, Leucojum aestivum (spring snowflake) and Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon’s seal), and in sun with early-flowering Geraniums and Aquilegia. If naturalised in a meadow, they look good with buttercups, cowslips and the late-flowering pheasant’s eye (Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus).

I have some purple flowered Camassias here in Old School Garden, planted in a mixed border and close by to an orange Tulip ‘Ballerina’ which flowers at about the same time – the colour combination works really well.

Camassias growing in the wild via Oregon State University

Camassias growing in the wild via Oregon State University

Sources and further information:

Wikipedia

How to grow Camassias

Camssia leichtlinii – RHS

Old School Gardener

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