Archive for December, 2014


Old School Garden- 31st December 2014

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

It was great seeing you and Lise just before Christmas, and thanks for the Christmas card, which was a pleasant surprise! I was grateful for your advice about the raspberries, too; I shall be looking out for some new saplings to plug the gaps and hope for a more consistent crop next year.

The mild weather we had just before Christmas has now been replaced by rather colder, though mixed conditions. It’s been quite frosty here in the last few days; I’m glad that I managed, earlier in the month, to get the greenhouse insulated and heated and the tender plants inside.

Apart from that, it’ s been a relatively quiet time doing the usual winter chores; leaf collecting, mole hill clearing (don’t they ever pack up their tunneling?) and tidying away spent stems and foliage where these have flopped or offer nothing to wildlife or the winter garden.

The colourful stems of the Dogwoods are now looking good, as are the Mahonia and (surprisingly) flowers on some of the Viburnums- a hang over from the mild autumn, I guess. We’ve also got some winter and spring colour in pots on the Terrace.

I pulled my (small) crop of parsnips just before Christmas and we’ve been enjoying these over the holiday – the harvest was pretty good, though I noticed a couple of the roots had been eaten out  (I had this problem last year), and one or two of the biggest specimens were a little woody inside. Still they were very tasty!

I did manage to clear one mixed border and replant this using the remaining Box balls from the Terrace planters. You recall seeing these? I had three large balls left after removing three that had Box Blight. The remainders were getting a bit too large for the planters anyway.

The balls now form a neat row that reflects the three large pots we have at the other end of the terrace lawn, and I’ve planted around them with a mix of Allium bulbs and some of the plugs of Canterbury Bells I grew on earlier in the year. I’ve also rearranged the selection of other herbaceous plants that were in this bed and – hopefully – removed all of the Ground Elder and Periwinkle that between them were making the bed a nightmare to keep tidy.

The replanted mixed border with Box Balls- with a frosty sheen!

The replanted mixed border with Box Balls- with a frosty sheen!

You remember I told you that the local Vicar had asked me to produce a Management Plan for the churchyard? Well Deborah and I went over earlier in the month and measured up to see what scale the ground plan he’d given me was; luckily it was almost exactly 1:100, so that meant the transfer of information was a straightforward tracing job- it would have been a real hassle if I’d have had to scale off and position every grave and stone! Well, the base plan is done and I’m now thinking about the design and Management Plan. I think this will involve some selective cutting down and cutting back of some of the trees around (and in) the churchyard to allow more light and space, and the gradual cultivation of a wildflower meadow environment across much of the rest of the site- but keeping more recent graves clear and ensuring some mown paths to allow access. As it’s management will almost entirely depend on voluntary labour I’ll need to keep things relatively simple, but perhaps there is limited scope for introducing some greater plant interest in one or two spots.

As you know, Deborah retired from teaching at the local Primary school this year and I took the opportunity of ending my school gardening work there too, especially as they had achieved ‘5 Star’ status with the RHS and are now getting regular advice and input from the RHS Regional Coordinator. However, at our recent Christmas Party the Teacher who coordinates ‘Outdoor Learning’ asked me to prepare a specification for maintenance of the grounds and also to help her prepare some design proposals for the playground, where there are ambitions to get more play and educational value from the space. I’m pleased about helping with both of these issues, as I’ve felt for some time a different, more considered approach to the grounds is needed, including one that is more wildlife-friendly, and also to take into account the maintenance needs of areas that I’ve helped to plant up over the years.

This ‘Desk work’ will be a nice project for the winter months, but I’m also excited about starting to garden at nearby Blickling Hall, where the National Trust is embarking on a project to regenerate its two acre Walled Garden as well as maintaining the extensive and varied gardens in this beautiful place. I met the Head Gardener and Project Manager a few weeks ago and had a tour of the site and explanation of their plans, which are about to kick off with new paths and irrigation systems being installed. I’ve agreed to begin work with them next week, so I’ll probably keep you up to date on this through future letters and other posts.

 Oh, and just to finish off, a bit of news about Old School Garden (the blog, that is). As you know I’ve been producing this for two years  and I recently had an annual review from the publishers, WordPress. So I thought I’d share a few key findings with you:

  • During 2014 the blog had around 130,00 hits or page views.

  • The most popular topic was recycling in the garden, especially projects using old pallets!

  • The best day for hits was 15th September with nearly 15,000 views.

  • 82% of those viewing the site live in the USA, UK and Canada

  • I now have 2647 followers, including all those via Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook etc.

I’m especially grateful to all those who took the time to comment or ‘like’ my posts. I wish you and them a successful 2015 and look forward to another productive year in Old School Garden- both blog and plot!

All the best for now,

Old School Gardener


poppies tower of london 14

Poppy installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ at the Tower of London to commemorate those who gave their lives in the First World War, which began 100 years ago. There was one ceramic poppy for each British fatality in the First World War. The figure of 888,246 derives from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission audit of 2010.

P1030549Old School Gardener

2015 resolutionsDo you have any gardening resolutions for 2015?

Back in December 2013 I vowed to do six things in 2014. Looking back makes for some soul-searching…

  • grow less food (to eat as much but to waste less)well I was more selective and grew smaller quantities of things over a longer period, so some progress there..

  • install a water feature (probably a half barrel) – didn’t manage this one, but a new opportunity has arisen for a possible wildlife pond in the old bonfire area, so watch this space..

  • stake my herbaceous plants earlier – I did do this, but managed to miss out some important clumps which lolled over in the beds, so extra vigilance required next year..

  • thoroughly mulch my fruit bushes with well-rotted manure – oh dear, my normal supplier wasn’t available so I had to make do with garden compost and a few bags of (not very good) roadside manure. I noticed (once more) a patch of raspberries (both summer and autumn fruiting) which failed to produce any fruit  – maybe it’s time for some new stock?

  • actively manage my compost bins – I did turn these a bit more and produced a reasonable supply, but could do better..

  • try to inspire some children and young people to get into gardening – good work here, I think. I helped my local Primary School gain RHS ‘5 star’ status and worked with some challenging students at a nearby High School, where some seemed enthusiastic and interested.

I helped youngsters at Cawston Primary School with their school gardening

I helped youngsters at Cawston Primary School with their school gardening

So what of 2015?

First, I guess I must roll over the un/part-achieved resolutions from this year and then add…

  • Developing my ‘heritage gardening’ skills by contributing to garde development and maintenance at Blickling Hall, our nearby National Trust property, where a 2 acre walled garden is being regenerated.

  • Contribute design and other advice to some local projects- e.g. my local Church yard and Primary School.

  • Complete the clearance of the woodland edge at Old School Garden and cover this with landscaping fabric to prevent the annual invasion of nettles into the Kitchen garden.

  • Design and develop the ‘wild garden’ area to the rear of Old School Garden, tidying up the old bonfire site and adjoining areas (possibly including a pond as noted above).

  • Continue to plant up the western woodland garden, including editing what’s already there and adding other plants to fill this out.

How about you?

Part of the gardens at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, where I'm shortly going to start voluntary gardening

Part of the gardens at Blickling Hall, Norfolk, where I’m shortly going to start voluntary gardening

Old School Gardener

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Soils host 1/4 of biodiversity: a tablespoon of soil has more micro-organisms than the whole pop. on earth #IYS2015


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Edinburgh Garden Diary

A blank slate of a garden, a bare patch of earth, is a complicated dream. On the one hand it provides a rare and satisfying opportunity for planning, pure creativity, experimentation, and the pleasure of transforming an unattractive area of land into your own personal Eden. On the other hand, transforming said land is time consuming, costly and hard, physical labour.

Last month the Brazilian and I took possession of a small front garden of eight by five metres. It is attached to a small flat on the Southside of Edinburgh, which, through a similar transformative process, is to become our home, once the right walls are knocked through, the dust has settled and we’ve worked out why the north west corner is so damp.

I’ve long had daydreams about what I’m going to do in this garden, but in my daydreams the soil was already lightly tilthed, the earth…

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ulle.b garden booksHere’s another extract from a book I bought in a charity shop in the summer…..

Mrs. Brown’s All- Encompassing Law of Gardening:

Gardening is like pregnancy: it is nothing like the book.

Mrs. Murphy’s Literary View:

Gardening books should not be set aside lightly: they should be hurled with great force.

Four Laws of Obfuscation:

1. There are no real secrets to cultivation- only plots.

2. For counter-instructions read every good Gardening Authority.

3. For subtle distinctions (pinched from every good Gardening Authority) read the Sunday newspaper supplements.

4. For contrary advice, listen to ‘her indoors’s’  interpretation of the plagiarism in the Sunday supplements.

'Sunday Supplement' by Sarah Boardman

‘Sunday Supplement’ by Sarah Boardman

From : ‘Mrs. Murphy’s Laws of Gardening’ – Faith Hines (Temple House books, 1992)

Old School Gardener


Portraits of Wildflowers

Pearl Milkweed Flower 0799

I assume most of you won’t have been given a pearl as a holiday gift this year, but with today’s post you can honestly tell people that you have, because here for the first time since last winter is a picture showing a flower of the pearl milkweed vine, Matelea reticulata. Not many flowers are green, and fewer still have a little pearly structure at their center, but this wildflower not only fits both descriptions but also bears a reticulated design that covers all but the nacreous canopy at its center.

If the post’s title uses the word small, it’s because a pearl milkweed flower is only about a half to three-quarters of an inch across (12–19 mm). With that size in mind, you can understand that the pearly structure at the flower’s hub is tiny indeed.

Marshall Enquist gives the bloom period of the pearl milkweed vine…

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Beckley Park topiary garden, Oxfordshire

Beckley Park topiary garden, Oxfordshire

‘I doe not like Images Cut out in Juniper or other Garden stuffes: They be for Children. Little low Hedges, Round, like Welts, with some Pretty Pyramides, I like well.’

Sir Francis Bacon

‘What right have we to deform things given us so perfect and lovely in form? No cramming of Chinese feet into impossible shoes is half so wicked as thwe wilful and brutal distortion of the beautiful forms of trees’

William Robinson- ‘The English Flower Garden’ 1898

Personally, I really enjoy topiary- growing it, trimming it and admiring others’ creativity and skill in producing the rather more fantastic forms it can take; oh, and they also make me smile!

OK, so you are cutting back natural growth, but aren’t we doing that when we prune things anyway? What do you think?

Old School Gardener


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