Old School Garden

30th June 2014

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

As I sit looking out at the courtyard here at Old School Garden, the sun has returned after a series of heavy showers that have dominated the weather here over the last few days (some have been thundery). The last month has been a mix of sunshine and rain, the heat building, but not yet above the low 20’s Celsius- quite pleasant, though.

The month in the garden has been typical – the bulk of the ‘heavy’ work was completed in May and this month I’ve been rather focused on ‘preening and planting’ (when the weather permits). Having said that I did undertake a project to reinforce the ‘Fruit Fence’ I erected a few years ago. You might remember seeing this in the kitchen garden. It sits on the northern boundary of the garden next to a wood and effectively forms the edge of a raised bed I created to make use of some surplus soil and create an elevated space for food growing.

I have a Cherry and Plum I’m training into fans against this fence, but over time the posts have leaned over and some work was needed to strengthen this and put in a proper edge to the raised bed (I used sleepers on the other edges). Having got hold of some pallets I decided to try to use these, along with landscape fabric, to create the edge and add in some further posts to buttress the existing ones. I’m pretty pleased with the outcome (see pictures below). As you know, old friend, I’m a fan of recycling in the garden, and especially if it involves those modular wooden wonders, pallets.

The project involved digging out holes next to the four uprights and screwing these to the existing posts. I then cleared an area of nettles and dug out a trench on the woodland side to receive the pallets, which I’d earlier cut into halves. I fixed a length of batten to the frame to which I could then fix the pallets, I used landscaping fabric to ‘wrap’ the pallet sections along the length of the frame, and then extended this for a couple of metres over the adjacent woodland floor, to provide a new storage area for things like plastic plant trays, baskets and chicken wire.

Finally, I used plastic green shading fabric to provide a full backdrop to the frame. I reckon this should help both to shelter the plants a little, as well as providing a dark surface to absorb the sun and so warm the area for the fruit. The additional storage area, which is screened from the main garden, is a real boon and I plan to clear a further area of nettles to keep the woodland edge at bay. And talking of ‘recycling’, you may have also seen my recent post on the old bike rack I converted to a plant stand or ‘theatre’, on which now sit six rows of pelargoniums, nicely lined up in small terracotta pots.

The finished 'Plant Theatre'

The finished ‘Plant Theatre’

The last couple of weeks has seen the first crops of fruit and veg from the garden; we’ve had Raspberries, Strawberries, Calabrese, Broad beans, Chard, Mangetout and early Potatoes in good quantities, testimony to the mild and wet winter and spring we’ve had. Here are some pictures from the Kitchen Garden…

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The potatoes were a real surprise. I left the first earlies in the ground and waited for the flowers to die down before investigating – a bit too late as it turns out as when I dug up the first row I was amazed at the size of some of them – as the pictures below show, we had some real whoppers! However the first row (which was the one receiving the most sun) was as productive as the other three rows put together! Two rows of second earlies, harvested at the same time, have produced an equivalent amount of better- sized potatoes. The first of these (‘Charlotte’) were delicious the other day.

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However, I’m disappointed with the apples this year- I think the mild and wet weather brought a dose of ‘blossom wilt’ (as well as some insect damage), so there are relatively few fruits developing on the trees. In contrast the pears and plums are looking good, and we’ve had the first crop of (large) Gooseberries. The blackcurrants are already dripping from the bushes, so that’ll be a another harvesting job for the coming week (we’re still eating last year’s harvest from the freezer!). We’ve also had a couple of  ‘ridge’ cucumbers grown outside in a pot and more are on the way, as are the tomatoes, mainly growing in the greenhouse. Here are some pictures of the produce and the kitchen garden.

Pest control has never been far from my mind, recently. The new ‘plastic owl’ bird scarer I bought seems to have had little effect, I’m sorry to say, so the only sure-fire method of keeping the birds (mainly wood pigeons but also blackbirds and smaller birds) at bay is netting. I’ve adopted and adapted an old-fashioned method of protecting bush fruit by using some lengths of ‘Enviromesh’  draped over the Raspberries and this seems to have been pretty effective. I believe that in days gone by old net curtains were used to achieve the same result! I’ve also netted the Strawberry patch over some more plastic hoops and this is working well.

Apart from birds, slugs and snails seem to have been effectively reduced (I must admit to using an emergency dose of pellets to cure this particular problem a few weeks ago), although the Hostas in the courtyard seem to have suffered a little. The other main problem is moles – they seem intent on re-creating a scene from World War 1 on the edges of the lawn and in the borders too, undermining newly planted flowers and creating, ridges, trenches and mole hills in all sorts of places! I think it may be time to recruit a mole catcher to deal with this particular issue which is getting out of hand!

But I mustn’t really complain, as the ornamental aspects of the garden are looking good, if not quite at their peak as I write. We bought three large terracotta pots yesterday and these now provide homes for three tender, exotic looking specimens and together add a nice feature at one end of the Terrace Lawn. You recall that I mentioned the amount of flower buds on the Philadelphus which I moved around  10 years ago and which hadn’t flowered since? Well, it’s now beautifully covered in the small white flowers of this super shrub and of course the citrus fragrance of ‘mock orange’ is a delight. Here’s a gallery of the latest images from the ornamental gardens.

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On a broader front I’ve continued with my support of gardening at two schools.  As I write it looks uncertain if the project at Fakenham Academy will continue however, due to budget cuts- a shame as I was starting to think the at least some of the youngsters were ‘getting into gardening’ and actually looking forward to their sessions outside. You may recall that I’ve been working with three groups of ‘foundation skills’ students from years 7, 8 and 9? Next week sees what will effectively be the last sessions this term, so we’ll focus on harvesting the potatoes and doing some general tidying up, I think.

Here are pictures of the Fakenham set up ‘before’ and ‘after’ to give you some idea of the amount of work involved in getting these plots back into production. First, how things looked back in January…

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And now the scene in June. six months later….

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At the other School where I help, Cawston, we had an interesting twilight training session run by the RHS Regional coordinator for their Campaign for School Gardening. This saw just under 20 teachers and volunteers from local schools hearing tips about school gardening and outdoor learning and I was able to contribute a little about how the school gardens and grounds have been developed. Here, too, attention is now turning to harvesting; potatoes as well as autumn – sown broad beans, onions and garlic.

On Saturday I did a stint on manning the Norfolk ‘Master Composter’ stand at an event at Sheringham Park, run by Victory Housing Trust- effectively a ‘garden party’ for its tenants from across north Norfolk. This was a lively and well- attended event (and included free ice cream!). I talked to several people who are interested in starting composting at home and it’s always fun showing the children the Wormery and the ‘products’ from this, including a bottle of ‘worm wee’ as well as the beautiful, fine compost they leave behind.

Well, the sun beckons Walter, so I must get outside and shear back a few early flowering perennials and do a number of other ‘odd jobs’ before the rian returns this afternoon. I hope you and Ferdy are faring well, and looking forward to some sun too- especially as I believe you’ve had rather more rain than us – as usual!

Al the best for now,

Old School Gardener