This is the life- our cat enjoying a bask in the sun...
This is the life- our cat enjoying a bask in the sun…

 To Walter Degrasse

28th May 2014

Dear Walter

It’s been a busy May, Walter- ‘as usual’ I suppose you  might say! The last couple of days have seen heavy rain, but thankfully I managed to get out for a full day in Old School Garden on Monday, anticipating the rain by planting out lots of seedlings. This stage of the year also coincides with the cleaning of the (now empty) greenhouse and getting in the 12 different varieties of tomato and chillies my friend Steve has given me – plus a cucumber.

Today, as the weather is clearing up I’ll be out putting in a cane framework up which to train them. Or rather, most of them, as this year Steve has given me two varieties of tomato which don’t require tying in and training as cordons. Roma is a ‘determinate’ variety so should be grown as a bush (it doesn’t need it’s side shoots pinching out), and Marmande is ‘semi determinate’ which means limited pinching out is required. He’s also given me a ‘ridge’ cucumber which I’m going to try to grow outside in a pot.

I’m also feeling quite pleased that I managed to find a good use for the old compost I removed from the greenhouse. I grow my tomatoes in bottomless pots sunk into the ground (the so-called ‘ring culture’ method), so a dozen holes need to be dug to make way for the pots which are then filled with growbag and other compost. I’ve used the old compost in a plastic bin that once ‘graced’  the courtyard – you may remember I’d bought some rather nice large terracotta pots to replace the utilitarian plastic dustbin and pots that previously contained the peach and an olive bush? Any way, I thought I’d have a go at growing some carrots in the dustbin and the old compost. This is very friable and lacks any stones, so seems the perfect medium for this. So the bin is full and I’ll hopefully get round to sowing the carrots later today – they’re a variety called ‘Nigel’ given to me at Christmas by Steve and his wife!

The rest of the kitchen garden is also looking pretty full- potatoes have been earthed up a couple of times and the first flowers are forming on the first earlies. The Brassica cage is also looking increasingly full with Cauliflowers, Calabrese, Spinach and Broccoli. Rainbow Chard and Leeks are bulking up and the first Broad Beans look like they’ll be ready to pick very soon. My sowings of Parsnip, Carrot and Beetroot are also coming along nicely. We’ve had plenty of Lettuce in the last couple of weeks. The Strawberry bed has been mulched with straw and as a bit of fun I’ve bought a plastic owl with a swiveling head to see if I can deter pigeons and other birds from the swelling fruit and other goodies in the garden (they usually go for my raspberries which are also looking promising this year)!

I’ve just about managed to catch up with the major weeding- just one area of the woodland edge to do and then I think I’ll mulch this with wood chippings to try to keep the weeds down. I’m hoping to do the same in the fruit cage once I’ve been through with the hoe later today. Oh, and some good news. You remember we had that extension put on about ten years ago that created Deborah’s Study? Well, I had to move a rather old Philadelphus bush and so put it in the main mixed border as a back drop to other things. It’s never flowered since, despite some careful successive pruning out of old wood, and encouragement of new growth. Well, it may be weather-related, but its covered with flower buds this year – I’ll post a pic when it comes out!

I’ve still got some half-hardy annuals coming through (I spent a couple of hours inside the shed potting these up while it poured down outside, yesterday). However,  I’ve managed to plant out most of these and especially the front bed which is my ‘homage’ to Victorian bedding and one or two other spots to add complementary colour or texture to perennials that will flower later- e.g. putting some golden-yellow looking Amaranthus in with the blue Agapanthus.

Several things are looking good here, including the rapidly filling mixed borders, so here’s a slide show of some of the highlights.

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Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get the number of takers necessary to run the various gardening courses I’d planned for May and June, but I’ll try again the autumn, which seems the time most people do an evening class, especially if it’s garden -related. My work in other gardens has also been rather hectic. The sessions at Fakenham Academy have really begun to take off. The children seem more focused and interested and are starting to ‘own’ their plots, which are fast filling up with all sorts of food crops and some annual flowers to add colour and scent as well as attracting the pollinators of course. Unfortunately an assortment of pests is also posing a challenge- rabbits, mice and pigeons in the main. So remedial action has been necessary to try to prevent further damage- we had great fun last week trying to erect a pigeon-proof cage over the brassicas!

We’ve also got some tomatoes, cucumber and aubergines growing in the greenhouse. Also in Fakenham the project at the Community Centre to clear and plant a border next to the two hundred year old ‘crinkle crankle’ wall, has gone well. I, together with volunteers and children from the local primary school, planted this up last week. Now we wait for the plants – which I’ve positioned in repeating drifts of different colours, textures and forms to reflect the wave of the wall -to get hold and push on to do their stuff. I’ll post some pictures of this next week.

Another pest controller- I hope!

Another pest controller- I hope!

I was also pleased to be positively mentioned by one of the Inspectors at a recent Ofsted Inspection at the local primary school, where I was showing the children how to weed and earth up potatoes and explaining why we do this. This school (which now has level 5 of the RHS Campaign for School Gardening award), is shortly to host a training session for other local schools interested in school gardening activities. I’ll let you know how it goes.

How is your garden looking, Walter? I expect your orchard has  finished flowering by now, but I have fond memories of visiting you and Lise one spring and seeing all the beautiful blossom there. From my own garden, it looks like we’ll have another good year for fruit- there certainly seem to be a lot of plums forming on the tree and I can even seen some (and cherries) on the young fan- trained plants in the kitchen garden.

So, I think its getting to that time of year when we can take the foot off the accelerator a little and begin to enjoy the fruits of our labours! Hopefully that last major bit of weeding will be done by the end of the week and I can then get the remaining flowers planted out, as well as hoeing here and there to keep the weeds down. And maybe then a bit more sitting in the sun!

Having said that, I do think there’s something very satisfying about forking into a light, damp soil and pulling whole strands of Ground Elder root out (and of course trying not to breaking any of it off in the ground)!

Old School Gardener