Archive for December, 2013

Molehills seem to be springing up at a rate of knots in Old School Garden!
Molehills seem to be springing up at a rate of knots in Old School Garden!

Letter from Old School Garden 23rd December 2013

Dear Walter,

As I write this a major storm is sweeping across the country,disrupting travel, cutting power from homes and maybe even bringing further local flooding. I hope that you aren’t in danger from this.Fortunately we seem to be missing the worst of it, but nevetheless the winds are ferocious and I’m wondering if we can complete out planned Christmas family gathering later today, as I’m due to collect my eldest daughter and her boy friend from Norwich Station. Let’s hope they are able to get a train before the cancellations set it in at 5pm.

Setting the current ‘excitement’ aside, it’s been a pretty quiet time here at Old School Garden in recent weeks. I’ve been collecting Physalis fruit, Rose hips and Crab apples (‘Red Sentinel’) for festive decorations and rather good they look too. The other day I was pleased to discover that my local nursery had its supply of seed potatoes in, so rather than wait and possibly miss out on my favourite variety (‘Charlotte’), I bought a bag of these and one of Maris Bard (second and first earlies respectively). Once Christmas is over I’ll be setting these out on trays to ‘chit’ (sprout).

Festive Decoration- Physalis
Festive Decoration- Physalis

We’ve also had some new french doors fitted and I managed to grab the old glazed doors which I hope to use for cloches to warm the soil/protect tender crops in the new season. I really haven’t done as much as I’d hoped in the garden this past few weeks. As I said last month, the weather has been quite mild so I should have taken advantage of this to move things around, but all I’ve managed to do is extend a border and moved a few perennials to here and one or two other places. I still have some larger clumps of Achillea and Echinops to split and move.

I’ve just about managed to keep on top of leaf collection, but have noticed how the grass has kept growing, so at some point I shall have to venture out with the mower to keep it to a reasonable height. Having said this, mole hills seem to appear almost as I’m clearing the old ones away!

The last month has seen some gorgeous autumn colour- the Euphorbia palustris was especially brilliant, and I’m looking forward to seeing the various groups of Dogwoods as their bright stems liven up the winter garden.

Red Sentinel crab apples
Red Sentinel crab apples

The greenhouse is now fully set up with electric heater, insulation and tender plants all in- though I’ve still to get the Dahlias properly potted up for winter. I’ve ordered some flower seeds and these have arrived. I’ve gone for few more exotic- looking varieties of flowers this year and also some extras which I’ll use for an extended ornamental area in kitchen garden. I’ll turn to more detailed planning of these areas and my propagation schedule in the next week or two. I’ve also re-potted some house plants and I’m trying to care for these a little better, by thinking about their placement and trying not to over water them!

On the wider front, I’ve been approached by a Norfolk High School about tutoring a group of students on the School gardening plot, probably for a couple of sessions a week.This sounds interesting and something I’m keen to do, so will be visiting the School garden in early January to discuss plans in more detail. Meanwhile, I’ve continued to help at my local primary school. The mild weather has meant that we managed to plant out some leek ‘survivors’ from a sowing earlier in the year- hopefully it will remain mild enough for them to get settled. The children have also been busy collecting a lot of leaves for leaf mould. I’ll probably be back with them after February half term to get on with some seed sowing, amongst other things

Rose hips
Rose hips

I’ve also heard that I may have a new garden design commission in the New Year and I’ve agreed to meet up with the Head Gardener at nearby Salle Park Gardens to discuss her plans for turning over a portion of their 2 acre walled garden to ornamental rather than food production ( a bit like my own plans but on a much larger scale!).

As I mentioned last month my courses in Garden Design and Grow Your Own Food seem to have been successful and I’m hoping that we can run another set beginning in February, though once more subject to numbers of course.

Well, old friend I hope that you and Lise are safe in this rough weather and that you have a wonderful Christmas time with your family, tucked up in that lovely old house of yours. All the best to you and them at this special time and here’s to a productive gardening year in 2014!

Old School Gardener


The second garden visit on our last day in Portugal took us a little further towards the mouth of the River Tagus, but still within the town of Oeiras. The Gardens of the Palace of the Marquis of Pombal convey an even more prosperous feel and are altogether larger – almost a ‘landscape’ scale. It is easy to imagine these high baroque walks, lawns, borders and water features as the scene of some serious 18th century showing off, flirting and general fun. 

The 1st Marquis of Pombal
The 1st Marquis of Pombal

The Town Council now occupies the former palace. The Marquis of Pombal, one of Portugal’s most famous leaders, was rewarded with the palace, the title (and the title Count of Oeiras) for his service as first minister to the Portuguese King Dom Jose I in the mid- late 18th century. The surrounding gardens are typical of Portuguese landscape art, inspired by eighteenth century European designs but holding to the tradition of the Portuguese stately house. They are richly decorated with marble busts and statues, low walls and marble staircases along with many murals composed from azulejos (glazed tiles).

Here too is the Poets’ Waterfall, with excellent busts of the four epic poets (Tasso, Homer, Virgil and Camoes) looking out over the gardens and carved in marble by Machado de Castro. At the fountain’s centre lounges the figure of a ‘river god’ modelled on the one that existed at the Belvedere Gardens, in the Vatican, Rome. As in the garden we visited earlier at Caxias, the fountain is a fantastic structure made out of pitted stone which conveys a truly antique feel. There are also splendid views of the surrounding gardens from the stairs that wrap around the sides of the construction.

The gardens form one part of a wider estate which is planned to a rigourous geometry and divides recreation spaces, great gardens and surrounding farms, all reflecting the style of the well-to-do families of the age.  The gardens saw cultural events such as theatre, ballet and musical performances, a tradition kept up to the modern day (Roxy Music performed here in 2010!).  Here are some pictures of the formal gardens lying to the side of the Poets’ Fountain, with empty pools resting near to the remains of a ‘bousquet’ (a sort of woodland in miniature) and the wonderful (empty) pools and fountains of a large water garden with some beautiful glazed tiles that must look really vibrant when wet.

Related article:

Portuguese Gardens: Baroque Splendour at Caxias, Portugal

Old School Gardener

out-of-focus-christmas-lightsDecember Day

‘This shortest day of all the year was born

When fiery cloud-banks filled the eastern sky.

Concealed in grey since that belated dawn

The sun remains, and all around rise high

The latticed traceries of sleeping trees.

Beneath them now the woodland wanderer sees

So little living, little colour too,

For winter’s dull, damp blanket hides from view

The fallen glory of the year grown old,

And future beauty waiting to unfold.

And so to Christmas, festival of light,

When families in joy and hope unite,

To celebrate the birthday all remember,

Bringing a blaze of brightness to December.’

Jack (John) Kett

from ‘A Late Lark Singing’  (Minerva Press, 1997)

Love Outdoor Play

Recent surveys have shown children’s independent mobility has declined and that opportunities to play are much more restricted than they were in previous generations. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. For most children there is a higher level of adult surveillance than we would have been used to when we were younger but many children still play out unaccompanied by adults. It’s just that we have stopped noticing, in part because we believe the evidence of the same statistics.

‘We have given up haunting the places where children play, we no longer have eyes for their games, and not noticing them suppose they have vanished’. Children’s Games in Street and Playground – Iona and Peter Opie.

When One False Move was originally published in 1990 it showed that in 1971, 80 per cent of children were allowed to travel to school without adult supervision but by 1990, this had…

View original post 427 more words

One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?

ID-10042579A recent technical report published by the UN Environment Programme, the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and Climate Analytics investigates the impacts of climate change and the costs of adaptation in Africa. Africa’s Adaptation Gap report  is a warning to policymakers of both the implications for Africa should global mitigation activities fall short as well as the urgent need for scaling up adaptation activities and funding in this continent, a region the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report named a “vulnerability hot spot” for the impacts of climate change.

Africa is projected to experience severe climatic changes compared to historical conditions: more frequent extreme weather events; sea level rise of over one metre with global average temperature increases of 4°C by 2100; significant decreases in precipitation across many areas; a loss of biodiversity and potentially grazing area; and maize, millet and sorghum growing areas are likely to become unviable…

View original post 366 more words

bare_root_bundlesAs we roll on towards Christmas, you might be lucky to receive a present of some bare rooted shrubs like George Wellbeloved from the Scottish highlands:

‘I’ve been given a birthday present of some shrubs but the ground is frozen in the garden and I’m not sure what to do with them. Can you advise me?’

A belated Happy Birthday George, what a great idea for a present! Most shrubs and climbers, and especially deciduous ones sent out by mail order, are despatched with bare roots, not in containers. If they dry out they will die, so when they arrive, and there is not soil at all on the roots, stand them in a bucket fo water for a day or two in a cool, frost-free place until the soil is in a fit sate to plant them. Alternatively, store them for longer periods with their roots in damp compost – this can be ‘spent’ (old) rather than new if you have some (from emptying out summer flowering hanging baskets or other containers, for example).

If the plants arrive with some soil, on the roots, probably wrapped in netting, these are best watered carefully with a can fitted with a fine rose and then stored in moist compost. As soon as possible after arrival, dig  a trench in a vacant bed of soil, lay in their roots, and replace the earth. ‘Healed in’ like this the shrubs will stay in good condition for many weeks until the planting site is frost-free, fully prepared and in good condition.

When planting shrubs there are two schools of thought. The traditional method is to mix a good supply of well-rotted manure with loosened soil from the bottom of the planting hole, but if you can’t get hold of this, try using your own compost, or spent growing bags (you might be able to get hold of these from commercial tomato growers). Spent mushroom compost is also a possibility, as it usually contains some manure, but as it also contains chalk it should not be used for lime hating plants. Lastly, you can use shop-bought composts or bulky organic materials, though the latter can be pricey. Add a few handfuls of bone meal to the material you use to encourage root development.

The alternative method is to raise the fertility level of the soil around the planting site so that the plant’s roots are encouraged to spread out and so lead to more vigourous growth as the roots are encouraged to seek out nutrients more than if all the goodness is concentrated in the planting hole. Of course for ‘belt and braces’ job you can do both, or use your judgement about whether and how much  fertility needs to be added to the site of the planting. Increasing fertility in the space surrounding the planting hole may be impractical where there are already plants in this area or where you’re planting into a lawn. Here’s a useful guide to planting bare rooted trees.

You can also consider adding Mycorrhizal fungi in the planting hole. These are now widely available in Garden Centres and online. As the RHS says:

‘Mycorrhizas are beneficial fungi growing in association with plant roots, and exist by taking sugars from plants ‘in exchange’ for moisture and nutrients gathered from the soil by the fungal strands. The mycorrhizas greatly increase the absorptive area of a plant, acting as extensions to the root system.

Phosphorus is often in very short supply in natural soils. When phosphorus is present in insoluble forms it would require a vast root system for a plant to meet its phosphorus requirements unaided. It is therefore thought that mycorrhizas are crucial in gathering this element in uncultivated soils. Phosphorus-rich fertilisers are widely used in cultivated ground and not only reduce the need for this activity but are thought to actually suppress the mycorrhizas. For this reason it is best not to use phosphorous rich fertilisers in conjunction with mycorrhizal fungi.

Neither fungi nor plants could survive in many uncultivated situations without this mutually beneficial arrangement. Mycorrhizas also seem to confer protection against root diseases.’

Root tips showing mycorrhizal fungi (the white coating)
Root tips showing mycorrhizal fungi (the white coating)

Further information:

A Guide to planting bare root trees, shrubs and perennials- Toby Buckland

Mycorrhiza- Wikipedia

Old School Gardener

The Forget-me-Not Cultivation Blog

It’s that time of year isn’t it.  The one where you look at your food cupboard and realise you’ve purchased enough food for your entire street and you haven’t even bought the turkey yet.

If you’re anything like us, you starting by buying a box of biscuits in November, because they were on offer, and have bought another two since because they are still on offer.  Same with the box/tin of chocolates, cranberry sauces and gravy packets (even after I promised I was going to make our own).  Everything is bought to excess even though every year you say you won’t do that again.

By the end of Boxing day we start to feel rather guilty from the over indulgences but think to ourselves, it’s okay because come 1st January we’ll right it all with a cut price subscription to the gym.

Sound familiar?

Well what if you could stop…

View original post 690 more words

School Gardening Training Courses

All Saints pupils with their school-grown veg in the allotment

This is a link to the RHS programme of courses.

Old School Gardener

PicPost: Fairies in the Garden

The Importance of Play for Adults

The Importance of Play for Adults

An interesting article which suggests ways in which adult playfulness can help productivity, happiness and relationships. Click on the link for more.

I’m already working on some ‘games’ for the family Christmas!

Old School Gardener

Finding Nature

Nature Connectedness Research Blog by Prof. Miles Richardson

Norfolk Green Care Network

Connecting People with Nature

Discover WordPress

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

Susan Rushton

Celebrating gardens, photography and a creative life

Daniel Greenwood

Unlocking landscapes

Alphabet Ravine

Lydia Rae Bush Poetry


Australian Pub Project

Vanha Talo Suomi

a harrowing journey of home improvement & garden renovation

How I Killed Betty!

Mad as a box of frogs? Most probably ... but if I can’t be perfect, then I’ll happily be fabulously imperfect!

Bits & Tidbits


Rambling in the Garden

.....and nurturing my soul

The Interpretation Game

Cultural Heritage and the Digital Economy


Sense of place, purpose, rejuvenation and joy


Notes from the Gardeners...

Deep Green Permaculture

Connecting People to Nature, Empowering People to Garden Sustainably


A girl and her garden :)

%d bloggers like this: