Archive for January, 2016


birdbath%20trio.jpg-550x0Birds will splash vigorously in an expensive ornamental birdbath – but just as readily in an upturned old dustbin lid. Prop it in place with bricks to ensure it is stable and put some gravel in the bottom to give the birds something to grip underfoot. change the water every few days and in the winter be sure to break any ice which forms. Give the lid a brisk scrub occasionally to keep it clear of algae.

Source: ‘Good Ideas for your Garden’- Reader’s Digest 1995

Old School Gardener

Hugelkultur is a permaculture technique that is usually used to create a raised bed on a flat piece of land by covering the area with logs.

Source: My Hugelkultur Experiment

Picture by Ellen Zillin

Picture by Ellen Zillin

A bit of cheating again! My seventh object in this series about the essence of gardening is really at least two objects with a common name- compass or compasses. For me these two objects symbolise the importance of design in gardening- the conscious act of choosing and positioning what plants and other garden elements are used and where.

This can be as simple as thinking about where to place different plants or elements in the garden; by knowing where the prevailing weather patterns are coming from (wind and rain), as well as the direction and strength of light and heat from the sun. For this a magnetic compass is a very useful to back up to observation and wider knowledge.

Picture by Bios-commonswiki

Picture by Bios-commonswiki

And nature has it’s own ‘compasses’, too. The plant  Silphium laciniatum, has a common name of ‘Compass plant’  inspired by the “compass orientation” of its leaves. The large leaves are held vertically with the tips pointing north or south and the upper and lower surfaces of the blades facing east or west. A newly emerging leaf grows in a random direction, but within two or three weeks it twists on its petiole clockwise or counterclockwise into a vertical position. Studies indicate that the sun’s position in the early morning hours influences the twisting orientation. This orientation reduces the amount of solar radiation hitting the leaf surface. Vertical leaves facing east-west have higher water use efficiency than horizontal or north-south-facing blades. Early settlers on the Great Plains of the North America could make their way in the dark by feeling of the leaves.

Silphium laciniatum- 'Compass plant'

Silphium laciniatum- ‘Compass plant’

Equally, garden design can involve recording your current plot and devising new elements and patterns for your garden (borders, paths, specimen plants, hard landscaping features). For this, a pair of compasses is a vital tool in plotting key elements in your existing garden (through the technique of triangulation) and also in drawing circles or arcs in a new design (and then setting these out on the ground).

Dividers and compasses are drawing instruments that have been used since antiquity to measure distances, transfer lengths from one drawing to another, and draw circles. The Greek mathematician, Euclid, limited the constructions in his Elements of Geometry to those that could be done with an unmarked straight edge and rudimentary compass. Ancient Roman dividers survive in the collections of the British Museum. Before the 18th century, when one leg was modified to take a pen or pencil point, compasses had two sharp points, like dividers. The user scratched the writing surface in the shape of a circle and then inked the scratches.


 Old School Gardener

pond heaven

More trenching this week, but we managed to finish this off...

More trenching this week, but we managed to finish this off…

In my first session of the New Year at Blickling the cold weather had arrived. My colleague Peter and I braved the wet snow to help Mike in the Walled Garden, by finishing off the trenching needed to put in the oak edging for the cross paths in two of the quarters in the new layout.

I was slightly embarrassed to hear that most of the other volunteers had already had a session last week, which I missed (having phoned in to discuss whether to come in with head Gardener, Paul). I thought the weather would put paid to any productive gardening. I was wrong! the team had begun the painstaking work of cleaning off sooty mould from the leaves of the orange and lemon trees in the orangery, so there are some inside jobs for bad weather days!

The ladies continued with this work this week. Peter and I made good progress, and as it was my birthday, I decided to leave after completing the trenching to go home to a nice birthday lunch and peaceful afternoon in front of the woodburner! Incidentally, I held back taking in birthday cakes as I wasn’t sure how many volunteers would be in, so that treat awaits the team next week!

Peter takes a break amidst a gloomy day in the Walled Garden

Peter takes a break amidst a gloomy day in the Walled Garden

Project Manager Mike and gardener Rob continued concreting in the metal uprights which will carry the wires alongside the main paths in the walled garden, where an apple tunnel and other trained fruit bushes will be grown. Though perhaps the Walled Garden doesn’t look much different to how it did on my first day at Blickling (exactly a year ago), on reflection an awful lot of foundation work has been achieved (including drainage and water supply put in, path edging as well as remedial pruning to fan trained fruit), and a good crop of fruit and veg from one side border to boot.

Some of the oak edging in place; hopefully this will all be in by next week

Some of the oak edging in place; hopefully this will all be in by next week

The latest big project is the removal of the rotting wooden and glass roof and walls to the second greenhouse, which will be renovated with anew structure in the next month or two. This, alongside the other Greenhouse, which was renovated last year, will provide a superb pair of facilities for raising and protecting plants, and I get a real sense that this coming year we will start to see the main beds populated and productive.

Mike is giving a talk to the Estate volunteers about the Walled garden Project this week, and I’m looking forward to hearing his review of progress and plans for the coming year.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


john aspley

Picture by John Aspley

It’s been a while since I put together a selection of outdoor projects using pallets and other recycled materials, so here’s a trawl from the wonderful Facebook site ‘1001 Pallets’.

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Old School Gardener


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