Archive for December, 2015

2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 85,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.


Old School Garden – 31st December 2015

Dear Walter,

It was great seeing you and Lise over Christmas and we hope you had a wonderful time with your nearest and dearest. As you know, my time in the garden has been limited this month as I tried to finish off the major redecorating in one end of the Old School. I’m pleased to say that’s done and I’m now developing detailed plans to fit out a couple of rooms with some built in furniture. Alas, my plans for the outside are moving slowly, though there’s been a bit of progress I can report.

Dogwoods starting to put on their winter colours

Dogwoods starting to put on their winter colours

We had a few hours cutting up the fire wood we’d saved from the major tree surgery on our Black Poplar a couple of years ago, and this is all now stacked in the woodshed. At the same time I reorganised the outside storage area (with pallets and angle irons), in anticipation of getting some new logs from our neighbours (who have some Ash trees that have fallen foul of Ash die back).

Awaiting logs (left) and a new leaf mould bay (right)

Awaiting logs (left) and a new leaf mould bay (right)

I’ve built alongside (using more pallets of course!) a leaf mould bay, which in the summer will also serve as a good spot for the grass clippings. As you know, in the past I’ve deliberately mixed these two materials together and had some good organic material to add to the soil. Gathering up the final loads of leaves from around the garden has been the other major task this month, though there are a few stubborn oak leaves still to fall. This minor reorganisation in the rear garden area has started to tidy it up, and so I can get to grips with further spring planting in the area with a nice view to the church (where I plan to put another bench).


A work in progress- rubble from one of the shed floors used to begin sculpting a basin for the pond garden…

New possibilities- the view across fields to the church is crying out for a bit of organisation, including a new bench.

New possibilities- the view across fields to the church is crying out for a bit of organisation, including a new bench.

I’ve also potted up the cannas (but not yet the dahlias as it’s been so mild here), and planted up the pots they were in with some violas and a range of tulips and other spring bulbs- we should have a great show next spring.

I’ve cleared and planted up the front circular border with the rather ‘whippy’ selection of Wallflowers and Sweet Williams I sowed earlier in the year. I also took the opportunity of swapping over the centre piece shrub here; out came the Star Magnolia and in went another Magnolia (‘Merrill’), which will grow a bit larger than the one it’s replaced and so be a better counterbalance to the large magnolia we have on the other side of the drive. So the Star Magnolia is in a pot for now until I decide it’s final location, somewhere in the pond garden.

Not much to look at right now, but the round border tidied and planted out with a new Magnolia and some spring colour- I hope!

Not much to look at right now, but the round border tidied and planted out with a new Magnolia and some spring colour- I hope!

The table top planter- good early growth, but a bit of weeding required too!

The table top planter- good early growth, but a bit of weeding required too!

The kitchen garden is looking tidier, too, though without much of interest as you might expect. I’m pleased with the progress of the table top planter, though; the unseasonably mild weather has really got the shallots, garlic and broad beans well underway.

You know how in Autumn and early winter you can pick up some plant bargains (the ones that are past their best, but will nonetheless put on new growth if looked after)? Well, I picked up a few trays of violas to fill my ever increasing containers and at the same time got three pots of Pennisetum, reduced to well below their original price- they don’t look much at present, but with a bit of spring care and potting on/ planting out, should do well.

A plant bargain

A plant bargain

Violas starting to pick up

Violas starting to pick up

I spent a couple of sessions over at Gressenhall focusing on leaf clearing, cutting back and digging over some of the borders, so that will probably be my last time there for now.

One of my jobs in the next couple of weeks will be to finalise the marketing material for my new Garden design course, which hopefully will begin in early February at Blickling. I’ll put details in a page on my blog early in the New Year for anyone interested.

WP_20151218_09_15_22_ProWell, as we come to the end of another year, I’m grateful that the garden here seems to have survived pretty well, despite less attention than normal; but the ground elder awaits and this and the other weeds will need attention in a couple of months time before the growing season really gets underway! 

Very best gardening wishes for 2016,

Old School Gardener



I love this place. The Jardim Da Estrela (Star Garden) in Lisbon is fairly small, but captures every aspect of community life.

I’ve been here many times, but never in winter. The day after Christmas day (a Saturday), seemed likely to attract quite a few visitors, but it was a sunny 17 degrees Celsius, so it felt more like spring or late summer, and the place had a comfortable business about it.

The sun was low, capturing the brilliant leaf colours of Ginkgo and Cercis. There was joy all around; old men sharing a joke and a bench; young lovers embracing amid the long shadows; children trying out new bikes and scooters; friends sitting out with a smoke and a coffee next to arguing geese and under low flying parakeets; dogs exercising their owners still full from festive food; youngsters stretching themselves in the playground and keep fit fanatics doing likewise on the exercise equipment; only the games tables and community library lacked their usual clientele on this holiday break.

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This Star shines all year long- I smile, long and wide every time I visit.

Old School Gardener

roses round the doorStart right…

Buy well-branched plants and train immediately after planting to create a framework that is easy to prune and that will flower where you want it. After that here’s what to do in each season…

Autumn/ Winter

Leave the main pruning of repeat flowering climbers to spring, but if you have long, whippy new growth trim this back a little and tie it in temporarily to prevent wind damage. If roses have suffered mildew or black spot, clear leaves to prevent spores overwintering. To rejuvenate rampant ramblers on large structures, cut them back to 1.2 metres from ground level.


Just before growth begins, prune repeat-flowering climbers by removing dead and exhausted shoots. To get flowers all along the stems, tie in large shoots horizontally in a rough fan shape, once growth starts. Over the growing season, spread out and tie in new shoots.


Deadhead ramblers, where possible, and once-flowered climbers by removing old flower heads with 15cm of stem- or 30-45cm if vigourous. To get new growth on old ramblers, cut a few old, spent flowering shoots to ground level.

rose-garden-climbersSource: ‘Short cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest 1999

Further information:

Rose Gardening Made

RHS- Pruning Climbing Roses

Old School Gardener



Number four in this new series of posts took a bit of pondering. I wanted to capture the importance of ‘cutting out the competition'(weeding) and at the same time find an object to stand in for all those other tools of cultivation we gardeners use to loosen, till and maintain the soil; for seed sowing, planting, and incorporating stuff to benefit plants- manure and other organic matter as well as inorganic fertilisers. So I went for probably my favourite tool in this category, a hand fork.

The image above also shows my preferred model in this wide range of available hand forks; one with a shaped handle and relatively short, stainless steel prongs.

Apart from the effort to kneel or crouch (my back and knees aren’t what they were), weeding with a hand fork (or by hand) must be one of the most satisfying of gardening jobs. Taking out shallowly rooted weeds and other unwanted growth around your preferred specimens, especially in sandy loam soil like we have here in Old School Garden, it is a relatively easy task too.

And once those rows of veg, stretches of mixed border or pots of spring bulbs have been cleared you can stand back and admire how you’ve improved the presentation of your plants; the finely worked, bare soil also provides a wonderful foil to all that fresh foliage and, later, the hues of the flowers and fruit.

And we mustn’t forget those other cultivation and weeding tools; the forks, spades, rakes and tillers that all help to keep your soil healthy, alive and weed free.

Old School Gardener

Lewisia cotyledon

Lewisia cotyledon


Happy Christmas and successful gardening in 2016!
Old School Gardener

WP_20151220_15_37_30_ProI wrote about my last working session at Blickling a couple of days ago. I thought I’d add one further post about our visit to the place on Sunday, to see how staff and volunteers had dressed it for Christmas; especially the house. The theme- ‘Putting on the Glitz’, a return to the inter war years of stellar dinner parties, silverware and champagne cascades…

WP_20151220_15_35_35_ProWe were impressed (and smiled widely) as we did the normal tour route of the house… to see a wonderful rendition of a Lord Lothian Christmas complete with costumed staff (and celebrities), dinner menu and place cards and a wonderful range of floral displays. Here’s a gallery of some of the best bits…well done staff and volunteers, you did the place proud, celebrating 75 years since the house was given to the National Trust by Lord Lothian.

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I hope that your Christmas is glitzy too!


WP_20151220_16_42_59_ProFurther Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


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