An early show from Euphorbia characias in Old School Garden
An early show from Euphorbia characias in Old School Garden

To Walter Degrasse – 27th February 2014

Dear Walter,

Mild weather has continued here and so I’ve taken the opportunity to start lightly turning over the soil, cutting back dead stems on herbaceous perennials and grasses and recently pruned back some shrubs such as Cornus and Buddleja to channel the new growth that’s starting to emerge.

In the last couple of weeks, the basal growths of new leaves around many plants have started to push upwards and the pattern of planting in the mixed borders is slowly taking shape – a very satisfying sight too.

I was surprised at how easily my kitchen garden soil responded to a light forking over, which included turning in some green manures and removal of a few weeds. With all the rain we’ve had I was expecting it to be rather claggy, but then again my sandy loam is always a joy to work with, so I should have known better. It’s also been perfect weather for dividing and moving some herbaceous perennials I didn’t get around to doing last year.

Having repaired the little storm damage we’ve had (a few bent hinges on one of the garage doors and a fence post needing to be replaced), I’ve also finally taken apart my wooden planters built about 7 years ago, but unfortunately not with pressure treated timber, so that all the money and effort has not lasted as long as I’d hoped. Still, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at an offer from a Scottish Raised bed manufacturer (‘Woodblockx’).

They’ve kindly donated me a new planter  and I’m finalising my plans about where best to use this, possibly as a feature in the courtyard with alpines  or maybe somewhere in the kitchen garden for food growing. The system they use looks both very strong and relatively easy to build, but I’ll do a review on the blog as I get to grips with the build in the next few weeks.

Having completed all the pruning and clearing of spent stems and foliage, I’ll also be turning my attention to further spring soil turning in the next few weeks. My first batches of seeds have germinated pretty well and I’ll be potting up some french marigolds and moving on some early food crops (Calabrese, Cauliflower and Leeks). To date the new bed of asparagus I planted last  autumn doesn’t appear to have made any growth above ground, but it’s still bit early for that, perhaps.

Next door the garlic bulbs and most of the broad beans I sowed last autumn are now doing well, as are the patches of onion sets (Red and white) and some Red cabbage and spinach. Mole activity seems to have subsided a little of late – hopefully it will tail off further as I get to give the lawn its first cut – and new grass will come up where the mole hills once lay.

Further afield, I’ve continued my new support at Fakenham Academy (a local high School), helping three groups of students prepare a food growing plot each in their school garden; in fact three plots of 12m x 6m, all of which have either been covered with weeds or grass.

Getting these ready for sowing is proving to be a tough job, the weather requiring us to turn over the clumps of grass/weeds and soil to allow for some drying out, so that we can remove most of the soil before piling up the weeds and turves in separate heaps for rotting down. Still, it does look like we’re making progress.

However, I discovered the other day that due to there being some asbestos in the better of two greenhouses  there, we will have to wait longer for a propagation space. This is unfortunate as I’d hoped to have broken up the hard physical toil with some lighter seed sowing activity especially as I have now bought the seeds and seed potatoes in line with the crops the students say that they want to grow. It’s fun working with these students, though not surprisingly they can get tired and bored of digging and so behaviour standards can sometimes drop!

Yesterday I returned to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum (where I volunteer) and was pleased to commence a tidy up of the gardens I’m responsible for. It was also encouraging to meet two new volunteers, Jonathan and Mike, as well as two new Heritage Gardening trainees, Sam and Sonny.

This new injection of person power will make it a lot easier to keep on top of the maintenance of the gardens and may even allow us some scope for further improvement projects.

It was a lovely day too, which makes garden tidying a real joy! The museum opens to the public again on 9th March, so next week no doubt we’ll all be trying to get the gardens looking presentable. The tubs of pansies and spring bulbs I planted in the autumn are looking good and along with other spring interest should give the gardens a splash of early colour- the pinky blushed Hellebores in the Education Garden are looking good for example.

I’m just back from a morning at my local primary school (first visit since early winter) to help with their ‘outdoor learning’, focusing on the garden. The morning began rather wet but we managed to spend a couple of hours with two groups of children turning over soil and weeding as well as moving a pile of wood chips around the fire pit- these had come from a fallen hawthorn tree that toppled over in the main drive during the recent storms. Some of the children also worked out how many potatioes they’d need for one of the raised beds and I took in a few fruit boxes with moulded paper liners to help with ‘chitting’.

The children seemed to have a great time and were especially interested in the warmth that had built up in the pile of wood chippings – a great opportunity to explain the rudiments of composting!

I’m also pleased that we have some extra help in the garden, in the form of Ann, one of the students on the GYO course I did last autumn and a parent of one of the children at the school. And our current house guest, Lisa, also helped out with groups spotting the ‘first signs of spring’. Lisa is staying with us for a few months to experience British school life and brush up her English before commencing her own university career with a view to teaching. She’s from Muenster in Germany – and we are also eagerly anticipating the arrival of her mother, Anne tomorrow for a weekend stay.

Seems like this is the time for important germans to visit the UK, as their Chancellor, Angela Merkel is in London today, addressing the Houses of Parliament and taking tea with the Queen!

The Garden Design course that I’m running at Reepham seems to be progressing well, with 9 enthusiastic participants. They have all pretty much surveyed and drawn up a scale base plan of their gardens and are now exploring functional and form layouts as well as developing sketch designs incorporating ideas for creating structure in their designs. Next week we turn our attention to planting design as the ‘fourth dimension’ (seasonal variations) adding to the 2D and 3D views of the garden we’ve covered to date.

Tonight I’m off to County Hall in Norwich to attend an event for the Norfolk Master Composters, featuring a talk by well known Norfolk organic gardener, Bob Flowerdew – and there’s a buffet too!

I hope you and Lise are well and getting stuck into your plot once more – remember to take it easy and limber up before you do anything strenuous – you don’t want that back problem again!

all the best,

Old School Gardener