Archive for April, 2014

PicPost: Carvery

or maybe ‘Front End loaded’?

Old School Gardener


IMG_8567Another trip out whilst in Devon recently, involved a rather tortuous journey (and the need to pre book parking) at the former home of Agatha Christie, Greenway, near Brixham. We were a little limited in what we could see of the gardens, and we didn’t get to some of the feature areas like the walled garden and rhododendrons. Another day perhaps….What we did see was a fascinating house (and contents too) and some beautiful riverside sloping gardens full of interesting plants, typical of so many ‘sub tropical’ gardens along this south west coastline.

‘…The beloved holiday home of the famous and much-loved author Agatha Christie and her family. This relaxed and atmospheric house is set in the 1950s, when Agatha and her family would spend summers and Christmases here with friends, relaxing by the river, playing croquet and clock golf, and reading her latest mystery to their guests. The family were great collectors, and the house is filled with archaeology, Tunbridgeware, silver, botanical china and books.

 In the garden don’t miss the large and romantic woodland which drifts down the hillside towards the sparkling Dart estuary. The walled gardens are home to the restored peach house and vinery, as well as an allotment cared for by local school children. A visit to Greenway isn’t complete without seeing the Boathouse, scene of the crime in Dead Man’s Folly, and the battery complete with cannon….’

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Further Information: National Trust Website

Old School Gardener

 To Walter Degrasse

28th April 2014

Dear Walter

I hope all’s well with you and Lise and that you’re managing to get out and about in your garden at this busy time. I’m certainly behind where I should be here at Old School Garden. I’ve weeded and dug over about two-thirds of the borders here and managed to mulch the fruit with a mix of horse manure and compost. I edged the lawns for the first time the other day and then cut the grass – all in all it took me about 4 hours! Still it does look the better for it.

The alpine planter I made from 'Woodblocx' and planted up a few weeks ago- delightful if getting bit overcrowded...

The alpine planter I made from ‘Woodblocx’ and planted up a few weeks ago- delightful if getting a  bit overcrowded…

Apart from being behind with the weeding etc. everything elses is pretty much on track. The greenhouse and cold frame (as well as the lunge window sill) are packed full of seed trays and seedlings at various stages of growth. I’ve tried experimenting with a mix of multi purpose compost as a base layer and then some John Innes seed compost on top to get the seeds started; I’m still not very happy with the John Innes, as it seems to get water sodden and so not very healthy, quite quickly, whereas the multi purpose is not really fine enough for the really small seeds. I shall have to try further mixes.

The flower borders are starting to fill out very nicely, and I’m just about to mulch these with old wood chips and put in staking for the larger perennials. The bulbs and other spring flowering plants are also making a good show at present, though I’ve been disappointed with the tulip bulbs I bought in Amsterdam last November. Only one of the three packs I bought has come up as expected, the other two being nowhere close to the blue or violet colours promised on the packaging. So, the best laid colour mixing plans have gone out of the window and I’ll have to rearrange these in the autumn. The other, more established tulips are looking grand; I’m especially pleased with the way some old cast offs from Peckover House, planted 18 months ago, have responded to their new situation. They are flowering very well in the sandier soil here,  perhaps evidence that you can leave tulips in this sort of soil, but in heavier soils they tend to shrivel up and rot- the soil here is a lot more sandy than the siltier, clayey material in Wisbech.

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Food crops are coming along, and I managed to spot the stem of an artichoke the other day (just one!), so the roots I put in last autumn may have not been a complete write off. I obviously miscalculated the amount of seed potatoes I needed, as I’ve ended up with s ix rows instead of the planned two! So, the kitchen garden plan has already had to be amended! Anyway, most of the beds are full of growth now; broad beans, mangetout peas, chard, lettuce,chives, calabrese, cauliflower, red cabbage, spinach, carrots, onions and garlic as well as the potatoes and more permanent beds of fruit. So far so good (and pests seem to be under control)!

We recently visited my mother-in-law in Devon and I spent a good day or two pruning back a number of over grown shrubs. The cuttings amounted to about 10 big bags, so I must have made an impact! As you will recall, her garden is on a steep slope overlooking the edge of Tavistock and farmland beyond. A lovely setting, but a garden that is just too much for her to cope with now. She does get some gardening help, but this seems to amount to grass cutting and not much more. You may have gathered that whilst there we managed to visit several lovely gardens and other places, so keep an eye out for more articles and photographs in the next couple of weeks.

My Mother-in-Law's garden in Devon
My Mother-in-Law’s garden in Devon

I’ve continued with my work with the three groups of students at Fakenham Academy and am pleased to say that the three plots are now starting to fill up- we’ve planted a lot of potatoes, some beetroot (grown by the students from seed) and in the next couple of weeks we’ll be sowing and planting a lot more. Hopefully this activity will start to generate more enthusiasm in the students who, to be fair have had not much more than digging to keep them occupied up to now. On Thursday I also begin work on a planting scheme for a border in the grounds of the community centre at Fakenham. This is backed by a lovely old ‘crinkle crankle’ wall which is over 200 years old. The first job- with volunteers assisting I hope – is to clear the majority of the borders of an invasion of Borage and other plants and then to measure up and start to consider a planting plan. The local primary school is also getting involved and we hope to complete the project by the end of May. I’ll do some articles and pictures about this as it progresses.

The Cawston School garden is also looking full, though I haven’t been there for a few weeks, so it must be in dire need of weeding! I think I may have told you that the School has now not only achieved the highest grading in the RHS Campaign for School Gardening (level 5) but has also achieved a gold standard in the broader ‘learning outside the classroom’ that they do. On that note I’m giving a presentation about education for sustainability at a national network of early years landscape professionals tomorrow, and hope to cover a wide range of projects that I’m involved with. I’ll let you know how it goes- I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the outside environment at the Earlham Early Years Centre in Norwich where the meeting is taking place- must remember my camera!

Work to promote my forthcoming courses  has been progressing and I’m going along to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum for its ‘Going Wild’ event on 5th May to conduct a couple of garden tours and promote the Wild life Gardening course there on 18th May. I’m not yet sure about the numbers signed up for this or the other two courses that are scheduled to begin in early May. Both of these are in the evening at Reepham High School and College and once again I’m covering garden design and growing your own food. Fingers crossed I get the numbers that mean they’ll go ahead.

Well, this is obviously a busy time and so far today I’ve spent the morning on the computer and occasionally looking out at the weeding still to be done and all the other jobs in the garden, so I must get moving! Bye for now, old friend, and all the best until I write again in a few weeks time.

Old School Gardener






On our recent trip to Devon we visited a few National Trust houses and gardens. We’d been to Saltram, near Plymouth, before, but not in the spring. It was a beautiful sunny day and the photos below show the house and gardens at their best, with deep, sharp shadows adding to the atmosphere.

‘Saltram overlooks the River Plym and is set in a rolling landscape park that provides precious green space on the outskirts of Plymouth. Strolling along the riverside or through the woodland, you can almost forget that the city lies so close. Saltram was home to the Parker family from 1743, when an earlier mansion was remodelled to reflect the family’s increasingly prominent position. It’s magnificently decorated, with original contents including Chinese wallpapers and an exceptional collection of paintings (several by Sir Joshua Reynolds). It also has a superb country house library and Robert Adam’s Neo-classical Saloon…The garden is mostly 19th century, with a working 18th-century orangery and follies, beautiful shrubberies and imposing specimen trees providing year-round interest.’

 Further information: National Trust website

Old School Gardener

weird-gardener-patrick breig‘The true gardener, like a true artist, is never satisfied.’

H.E. Bates

One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?

ID-10083575 In Africa over 200 million people are aged between 15 and 24, the youngest population in the world. This age group according to the African Economic Outlooks is expected to double in number by 2045. Low profitability, poor security of land tenure, and high risks are just some of the reasons Africa’s youth are leaving rural areas to seek jobs in cities, a migration that could see Africa with a shortage of farmers in the future. Given that agriculture is one of the continent’s biggest economic sectors, generating broad economic development and providing much of the population with food, this poses a serious threat to the future of farming and to meeting the demands of a rapidly growing urban population. Growing youth unemployment, ageing farmers and declining crop yields under traditional farming systems mean engaging youth in agriculture should be a priority.

Recent articles highlight this key challenge and suggest…

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One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?

ID-10064167“For all things come from earth, and all things end by becoming earth.” Xenophanes, 580 B.C. You could, in reading this quote, be mistaken in thinking that the soil is a regenerating, renewable resource. Soil is formed from slowly decomposing rocks, sediment and organic matter. This process is so slow in fact that it takes 2,000 years to build 10cm of topsoil, such an unhurried rate of growth that soil should be thought of as finite, non-renewable and a resource that needs to be protected.

Healthy soils provide a variety of ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, water regulation, flood protection, habitats for biodiversity and food production. For approximately 1 to 1.5 billion people in the world land degradation is reducing some of these services, negatively impacting their quality of life and livelihoods.

So far we haven’t been doing a very good job of protecting the soil. We overuse and…

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My wife and I spent a few days in Devon recently, visiting my Mother – in – Law. We had superb weather – unusual on the edge of Dartmoor – so were able to get out and about to see some beautiful places. I’ll feature a few of the great gardens we saw over the next few weeks, but almost our first outing was to a famous Dartmoor nature reserve and ancient copse, called ‘Wistman’s Wood’. Some of the trees are at least 400 years old – gnarled and almost dwarf oaks – and I managed to get some photographs to capture our afternoon visit in the sun. It’s such a mysterious and peaceful place I was moved (not been that for a while) to try my hand at some ‘poetry’ to accompany the pictures, so here goes….

‘In Wistman’s Wood

In Wistman’s Wood
A tumbled dwarf in valley ‘scape,
Rising with a greying ghostly hue.
Ancient Oaks clinging to life, entombed in rocks.
All engulfed in mossy fernery and silver beards,
Branch and trunk home to more lowly life,
In Wistman’s Wood.

In Wistman’s Wood
Strong sun casts a net of shade
Not yet filled by new young leaves.
And what of night or winter time?
Moonlight, mist and chattering cold-
Apt setting for moorland fairy tales,
In Wistman’s Wood.

In Wistman’s Wood
Sounds gentle on a spring day;
Rushing of the young Dart and
Bathed by the soft breeze,
Cut with children’s shout and ‘copter whirr.
Lone sheep a munching on meagre growth,
In Wistman’s Wood.

In Wistman’s Wood
Hear still and little life;
See nature stretched;
Smell moorland peaty damp;
Touch stone and twisted, mossy wood.
Taste sweet water
In Wistman’s Wood’

And here is a series of photos just in case that was all a bit too vague…


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