Category: Gardening techniques


IMG_7289The nights are squeezing the light of day, despite sunshine there’s a chill in the air, and mornings are often shrouded in mist and fog. October marks the real onset of autumn, I think – here are a few important things to do in the garden this month.

1. Leaf litter pick

Clear up fallen autumn leaves regularly, including rose leaves, to prevent diseases such as black spot from over-wintering – don’t compost these leaves. Create compost bins for collecting fallen leaves and dead plant material or a separate ‘Leaf mould’ bin if you want to create this wonderful material – stuffing leaves in black plastic bags is another option.

Using black bags for leaf mould making

Using black bags for leaf mould making

 

2. Cut backs

Cut down stalks of perennials that have died down, unless they have some winter or wildlife merit. Clear overhanging plants away from pathways and prune climbing roses and rambling roses once they’ve finished flowering, tying in the stems before autumn winds cause damage.

3. Parting is such sweet sorrow

Divide herbaceous perennials and rhubarb crowns. This is also the time to move trees and shrubs, and plant hedges.

Dividing rhubarb crowns as well as herbaceous perennials can be done safely now

Dividing rhubarb crowns as well as herbaceous perennials can be done safely now

 

4. Come in out of the cold

Move tender plants, including aquatic ones, into the greenhouse or other frost-free place. Lift Dahlias and Begonia tubers and Gladiolus corms to store in the dry (removing the dead leaves before storing them). Cannas, Pelargoniums/Geraniums and fuchsias can also be lifted before any proper frost. Trim back soft growth on geraniums and fuchsias, potting them into multi-purpose compost and keeping them barely moist over the winter in a cool frost-free place.

5. Food – strip, store and plant

Strip: Apples, pears, grapes and nuts can all be harvested as can squashes and pumpkins before the first frosts. Finish harvesting beans and peas and once finished cut the plant away at ground level, leaving the roots in the soil as these have nodules on them that have fixed nitrogen from the air and will slowly release this as the roots break down. Any plants with green tomatoes or peppers remaining can be hung upside down indoors to ripen.

Store: Check over any  stored onions, garlic and potatoes and remove any rotten ones immediately. Try to improve air flow around your stored veg to prevent rot e.g use onion bags or hessian sacks.

Plant: spring cabbages, garlic bulbs and onion sets. Reuse old grow bags by cutting off the top and sowing late salad crops – cropping can be extended into winter if grown under glass or a cloche. Autumn is an ideal time to plant bare root fruit trees – alternatively order fruit trees now in preparation for spring planting.

Careful storage of apples will give you a supply well into winter

Careful storage of apples will give you a supply well into winter

 

6. Sourcing seeds

Collect seed heads from perennials, alpines, trees and shrubs. Order seeds for next year.

Save money by saving seed

Save money by saving seed

 

7. Spring loaded

Plant spring bedding such as wallflowers, Bellis, Primulas and winter pansies. Now is the ideal time to plant Clematis. Finish planting spring bulbs such as Narcissi and Crocuses – Tulips can wait until November.

 

8  Grassy act

Finish off essential lawn maintenance to avoid water logging and compaction over winter (see September tips for more detail).  Fresh turf can still be laid now – Autumn rains (assuming we have some) should ensure the turf settles in.

9. Odds and …..

Remove netting from fruit cages to allow birds to feed on any pests and invest in bird baths and bird feeders if you don’t have them – the birds you support will help you keep pest numbers down.  If you haven’t already done so, turf out the last of the tomatoes, cucumbers etc. from the Greenhouse and clean and disinfect it. This will allow more light in and prevent pests and diseases over-wintering. Set up your greenhouse heater if you have one in case of early frosts. Empty and if possible clean out water butts and let the autumn rains refill them. Maybe install a new water butt ready for next year? Check tree ties and loosen if they are too tight around growing stems – and add stakes and support for young trees and shrubs to avoid them being ‘wind rocked’ during the winter.

Check and install tree ties and support for young trees and shrubs

Check and install tree ties and support for young trees and shrubs

 

10. …Sods

Prepare your soil for next year – start digging in leaf mould, compost, manure and as much organic matter as you can lay your hands on to replace the goodness in it, though if your soil is on the sandy side, like mine, richer material like compost and manure is probably best left until the Spring when it’s nutrients are needed and they will not have leached away in the winter wet. However, if your soil is heavy, then pile it in now! It can be left in a pretty rough state over the winter when the elements will break the clods down, making spring planting that much easier.

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Another month goes by and some major steps forward at Old School Garden.

I think the biggest change has been the considerable lopping operation on our western boundary, where the trees and shrubs have been progressively closing in the view. Once more we can enjoy the sunsets from spring through to autumn as the distant horizon is visible! I was slightly worried about how far to go with this, but on the whole taking down a few old conifers which were crowded together as well as raising the crowns on some other trees is a big improvement…

I’ve also been reshaping the kitchen garden, replacing some old raised bed edges and realigning paths. We’ve continued to harvest fruit and a few other things like ‘New England Sugar Pie’ Squashes (shown ripening below). Here’s next  year’s planting plan with the new fruit areas shown…

Oh, and I mustn’t forget the major effort our neighbour and us have put in on the ‘no man’s land’ that is the boundary (very soft) between us. Having cut back and cleared unwanted growth and weeds I’ve filled out the planting and added quite a few spring bulbs for good measure. I look forward to seeing how things develop in the coming year…

Now is the time to get on with the replacement shed, something I’ve not got round to for a couple of years. Today I’m finalising the design and working out a cutting list which I’ll then check against the spare timber I already have…and then it’s a trip to the local sawmill for the rest, and work can begin…

In my gardening work beyond home it’s definitely been a month of great progress. As I told you last month, the ‘Grow Organisation’ have received funding from the local Mental Health Trust to run a gardening therapy programme for people with mental health issues. This is now kicking off and is a great step forward; and hopefully will lead to other agencies stepping up to fund similar programmes. And the trees have been ordered for the ‘Avenue of Remembrance’ to be planted on the path up towards the local church as part of our commemoration of the airfield closing 70 years ago. 29 in total and all a reasonable size with planting kits supplied; all courtesy of the Norwich Fringe Project, so a big thank you to them!

The Remembrance Weekend is going to be a very special time as we welcome relatives and dignitaries from across the country to celebrate the airfield’s contribution to the War effort. in the next couple of weeks  we’ll be putting in a community effort alongside a group on the Community Payback scheme to prepare the ground for the trees as well as the annual cut and rake off in the church yard etc. I’m looking forward to seeing the church and it’s surroundings much improved for the  big weekend.

Next week I’m going over to the local High School to help out with a group of youngsters involved in the Allotment Project that I’ve told you about before. I’ll be helping them prune the orchard trees and develop ‘plant guilds’ around the trees, a key feature of permaculture design.

It was good to see you and your good wife Ferdy, the other week. You both look very well, and I was interested to hear about your new diets which seem to be having a great impact on your general health and wellbeing.. I’ve just read an interesting article about how important 7 hours sleep a night is, even for us ‘oldies’, so….. eat well, sleep well and keep fit..obvious really? To finish here are a few shots of the garden picking up the newly planted containers and some other interesting early autumn colour..

Old School Gardener

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Now's the time to harvest blackberries- though I've been doing this for couple of weeks already!

Now’s the time to harvest blackberries- though I’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks already!

With the new month comes the beginning of autumn – meteorologically speaking. September ‘usually’ brings generally cooler and windier conditions than August, and the daylight hours are noticeably shorter. It is the time to reap the remainder of your summer harvest in the veg and fruit garden (and begin with the autumn crops) and for gently coaxing the last few colourful blooms from your summer flowers. It can be a time of special interest if you have grasses that turn to a golden brown and which combine well with ‘prairie’ style plants that bloom on into autumn along with Asters, Sedum and so on. It’s also a time of transition, as you bid farewell to this years growth and begin to prepare for next year with seed collecting, planting, propagation, lawn care and general tidying up. Here are my top ten tips for September in the garden.

1. Continue harvesting fruit and veg

Especially autumn raspberries, plums, blackberries, the first apples and vegetables such as main crop potatoes. If you haven’t already done so, start thinking about storage (including freezing) of some of these for winter use. Root vegetables should be stored in a cool, dark and dry place. Leave parsnips in the ground for now, as they taste better after being frosted. Onions and shallots should be lifted (but do not bend them over at the neck as they won’t store as well) – if the weather is not wet leave them to dry on the soil, otherwise bring them into a dry shed. Any outdoor tomatoes (including green ones) should be picked before the first frost and brought indoors to ripen (placing them next to a banana will accelerate the process). Or you can remove a branch with them still attached and place the whole truss in a greenhouse or on a warm windowsill.

2. Careful watering

Be selective in watering new plants, those that are still looking green or are flowering or have fruit and veg you have yet to harvest. At the same time start to reduce the amount of water you give house plants. And make sure that established Camellias, Rhododendrons and Hydrangeas are well watered in dry periods, otherwise they won’t produce the buds that will form next year’s flowers. Ensure trees or shrubs planted in the last couple of years on lawns or in areas of rough grass have a circle of clear earth around them – this should be kept clear of grass which could prevent essential moisture getting through. Mulching with bark or compost will also help.

3. Collect and where appropriate, sow seed

Save seed from perennials and hardy annuals to get a start on next year. Continue to sow over – wintering veg seeds such as spinach, turnip, lettuce and onions.

Keep your cabbages covered

Keep your cabbages covered

4. Net work

Put nets over ponds before leaf fall gets underway, to prevent a build up of leaf litter and nutrients in the water and also cover vulnerable Brassica crops with bird-proof netting.

5. Greenhouse switcheroo

Once you’ve finished with your greenhouse for tomatoes, cucumbers etc. give it a good clean out (and cold frames too). Prepare it for over – wintering tender plants you want to bring inside such as Fuchsia or Pelargoniums before the first frosts. It’s worth insulating it with ‘bubble wrap’ as well as providing a form of heat to ensure the temperature never falls below 5 – 10 degrees C. After the first frost, lift Cannas and Dahlias and after removing the top growth, washing off the roots and drying them, store the tubers in a sandy compost mix in a greenhouse or other frost – free place. Alternatively, if they have been planted in a sheltered spot where frost, cold or wet conditions are rare you can try to leave them in the ground – but cover them with straw, bracken or a mulch of compost.

Save seed from plants like Echinops

Save seed from plants like Echinops

6. Nature nurture

Clean out bird baths and keep them topped up with water. Continue to put out small bird food (avoid peanuts and other larger stuff which is a risk to baby birds in the continuing breeding season). Resist the temptation to remove seed heads from plants such as Sunflowers, as they provide a useful source of food for birds (of course you can still remove some seed for your own use). Put a pile of twigs or logs in a quiet corner of the garden and this will become home to lots of wildlife – and perhaps make a natural feature of this area with primroses, ferns etc. Consider making or buying other wildlife ‘hibernation stations’ for hedgehogs, insects and other critters.

7. Prolonging the show

Continue with dead – heading and weeding so that you extend the flowering season and ensure soil nutrients and moisture benefit your plants and not the weeds.

8. Propagate, plant and prepare

Divide any large clumps of perennials or alpines. Most plants can be separated into many smaller pieces which can all be replanted (or given away) – discard the old centre of the clump. Buy and plant spring-flowering bulbs – Narcissus, Crocus, Muscari and Scilla especially, but wait a couple,of months before you plant Tulips. September is also a good time to plant out container – grown shrubs, trees, fruit bushes and perennials. Always soak the containers well before taking the plant out and fill the new hole with water before putting the plant in its new home (having ‘teased out’ the roots if it’s pot bound). Plant out new spring bedding such as Wallflowers, Primula and Bellis. Now is your last chance to put in new strawberry plants and pot up any rooted runners. Remove any canes that have fruited from summer fruiting raspberries and tie in the new canes, if you haven’t already done so.

dividing perennials

Divide perennials

9. Improve your soil

Sow green manures where the soil used for food growing would otherwise be bare over winter. If your soil is heavy clay, start digging it over now whilst it is still relatively dry. Add plenty of organic matter to improve the quality, and pea shingle to improve the drainage. It can be left over the winter when the cold will break the lumps down, making spring planting easier. Keep your production of compost and leaf mould going from the tidying up you are starting now. For compost, remember the rule of mixing 50% ‘green’ material and 50% ‘brown’ (including shredded paper and cardboard).

10. Lawn care

September is the ideal time for lawn repairs and renovation. First raise the height of the mower and mow less often. You can sow or turf a new lawn or repair bald patches or broken edges in an existing one. It is a good time to scarify (either with a long tined/spring rake or powered scarifier to remove the thatch and other debris) and aerate (by making holes all over the lawn with a fork or powered aerator). Then brush in, or spread with the back of a rake, sieved compost/loam/sand (depending on your ground conditions) and you can also add an autumn lawn feed (one high in phosphate to help root development). This can all be hard work, but you’ll notice the improved look of the lawn next year! If you have large areas of lawn, you could prioritise this work for an area that’s especially visible or near the house, or perhaps rotate around different areas of grass so that you give each one a periodic ‘facelift’ once every two – three years.

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Well, old friend, back in blighty! It’s been a month of trying to get some semblance of ‘order’ in Old School Garden, having left nature to itself for six weeks whilst we were away in Australia.

The weather this month has been rather dull for August, so much the same as we left Victoria in mid winter! I won’t say that I was ‘pleasantly surprised’ at how the garden looked on our return, for many areas had been overrun with annual weeds, and of course the grass was pretty long…. but not as long as expected.

However, after a mammoth grass cut and several sessions of ‘speed weeding’- especially trying to get out those weeds that were in flower and going to seed- everything of course looked better.

Since then its been a case of turning my attention to various construction projects; initially repairing windows on the house (at the time of writing I’m just about to fit three new openings that replace those that had rotted beyond filler) and repainting, and more recently dismantling the old shed in the Kitchen Garden, laying an extended base of flagstones and soon to begin constructing a new potting shed from floorboards and other salvaged timber…quite a project. As you might remember, I purchased a number of cedar shingles a year or two ago in order to give the new shed a more ornamental appearance.

Extended shed base …job done (but a bit of a clean required)

I’ve also continued the restructuring of the Kitchen Garden. I’ve already moved some of the fruit bushes to new plots. More recently I replaced the rather scruffy paved path next to the courtyard sheds wall with a topping of pea shingle, in keeping with the other paths in this area. Here are a few pictures of the Kitchen Garden…a work in progress!

Once the shed is built it will be  time to replace some of the edging boards to the various raised beds and relocate the various trellises to provide a visual screen to the front edge of this area, plus a new entrance (I plan to use an old metal gate) and creation of a Rose-lined path from this into the Kitchen Garden (using posts and ropes as swags along which to train the six ‘Compassion’ Roses that I planted earlier in the year and which have established themselves very well). I think I’ll go for a grey colour scheme on all these new wooden structures. Here’s a gallery of some good floral interest in the garden at present…

You may also have seen that I’ve been going along to the Aylsham Roman Dig nearby- I got involved in this last year. This has been a fascinating and rewarding experience. We’ve (re) uncovered not only the two Roman kilns we excavated last year- these are now thought to be of national significance- but new areas have been opened up which suggest that the site has been in pretty much continuous occupation for two thousand years! There are decades of futther work to be done here and my hope is that this community project grows year on year so that the story of the site- complete with Roman villa, iron working as well as pottery making and occupation for 2,000 years- can be fully explored.

I was also pleased to hear the ‘The Grow Organisation’ in Norwich (you will recall I’ve been advising and helping them develop a hub for horticultural therapy?), have been awarded funding by the local NHS Foundation Trust to get the project going, with an emphasis on preventing male suicides. This is great news and will really keep the fantastic momentum going on this site where Forces Veterans and others are already making a difference.

Turning back to Australia, I wonder if you think it would be interesting if I did a series of posts delving into the Green Spaces I visited there a little more? As you will have seen I’ve done a few posts with some selected pictures to broadly illustrate where I went, and was conscious that I didn’t want to bombard you and others with all my ‘holiday snaps’, but at least one blog follower has suggested that I could share my reflections on what I discovered…what do you think?

Perhaps I’ll post an initial item on the first green space I visited just as a trial run- I promise it won’t be too wordy, just a sort of  ‘Cooke’s Tour’ with some of the better photographs I managed?

I was delighted to hear that you’ve overcome your recent bout of ill health, and no doubt you and Lise are enjoying the summer….I can just picture you sitting out on the terrace, a glass of Pimms in hand, looking at the butterflies and listening to the birds…Here are a few general shots of the garden to finish with, hope you enjoy them…

Old School Gardener

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Relax, it's summer...picture by Merv French

Relax, it’s summer…picture by Merv French

August can be a bit of a ‘graveyard’ month – few things are looking good in the garden as the first flushes of growth on many plants have died or been pruned away and there’s not much (yet) to replace them. It can be one of the hottest, driest months in the UK, too, making watering essential – and this could be a problem if you’re on holiday and don’t have friends or neighbours (or an automatic watering system) to do it for you. So this month’s tips are mainly about harvesting, maintaining colour and interest, pruning and propagating new plants – and of course, watering!

1. Prune now for next year’s fruit and flowers

To encourage flowering or fruiting shoots, prune early flowering shrubs if not already done so and also trim back the new straggly stems of Wisteria to about 5 or 6 buds above the joint with the main stem – this will encourage energy to go into forming new flowering spurs. Do the same for fan or other trained fruit like plums, cherries a etc. Cut out the old fruiting stems of summer raspberries to encourage the new stems to grow and tie these in as you go to stop them rocking around too much. Sever, lift and pot up strawberry runners if you want to replace old plants or expand your strawberry bed. Trim back your lavender once it has finished flowering, to stop it growing leggy (but just the tops- don’t cut into old, woody stems).

2. Cut out the dead or diseased

Dead head and ‘dead leaf’ perennials and annuals to prolong flowering as long as possible and keep plants looking tidy. Cut back herbs (Chives, Chervil, Fennel, Marjoram etc.) to encourage a new flush of tasty leaves that you can harvest before the first frost. Dry or freeze your herbs to use in the kitchen later on or sow some in pots that you can bring inside later in the year.  Look out for symptoms of Clematis Wilt such as wilting leaves and black discolouration on the leaves and stems of your Clematis. Cut out any infected plant material and dispose of it in your household waste.

Clematis wilt

Clematis wilt

3. Water when necessary

Containers, hanging baskets and new plants in particular need a regular water and some will need to be fed too. Ideally use stored rainwater or ‘grey water’ (recycled from household washing, but only that without soap and detergents etc.). Keep ponds, bog gardens and water features topped up. Particularly thirsty plants include:

  • Phlox

  • Aster

  • Persicaria

  • Aconitum

  • Helenium

  • Monarda

4. Mulch

To conserve moisture in the soil around plants use a mulch of organic material. An easy option is grass clippings –  put these on a plastic sheet and leave for a day in the sunshine. Turn the pile of clippings and leave for another day, or until they have turned brown. Spread the mulch round each plant, but avoid covering the crown as you might encourage it to rot. As mulch attracts slugs avoid those plants that these pests enjoy – Hostas, Delphiniums etc. Check that any mulch applied earlier hasn’t decomposed and add more as needed. Ideally, spread a mid-season layer of compost or manure – this will act to conserve moisture and feed the plants too.

Harvest Sweet corn this month

Harvest Sweet corn this month

5. Harvest home

Pick vegetables such as Sweet Corn. Pinch out the top of tomato plants to concentrate the growth into the fruit that has already formed. Aim to leave 5 or 6 trusses of fruit per plant. If you’re going away ask a neighbour / friend to pick your flowers, salad and veg to prevent everything running to seed in your absence.

6. Last chance saloon 

In the early part of the month sow your last veg for autumn/ winter harvesting (e.g chard or spinach). You can also sow salad leaves under cover in warmer areas. And sow green manures in ground that is going to be left vacant for a few months so as to help maintain nutrient levels and to keep weeds down.

7. Think seeds

Gather seeds from plants you want to propagate in this way and store them/ seed heads in paper bags if it’s not yet ripe. And why not allow some self seeding in some areas? Mow wild flower meadows to allow seeds to spread for next year.

Divide Bearded irises to give the divisions time to establish

Divide Bearded irises to give the divisions time to establish

8. Divide to multiply 

If the weather and soil conditions allow, start dividing perennials, perhaps beginning with bearded Irises. Either replant the divisions in the garden or pot them up for later sales/swaps/gifts.

9. Cut to grow 

Take cuttings, an excellent way of increasing your woody and semi-woody plants like fuchsias and pelargoniums. Choose a healthy shoot and cut the top six inches, then remove all but the topmost leaves. For insurance, dip in a little rooting powder and place in moist compost. Keep them in a cold greenhouse from September and plant them in their positions next spring, when there is not much chance of heavy frost.

August is a good time for taking Fuchsia cuttings

August is a good time for taking Fuchsia cuttings

10. Enjoy and inspect

Spend a good amount of time in the garden enjoying it – asleep, with friends or just admiring what you and mother nature have created! And while you’re at it make notes / take photos of your borders etc. to identify any problem areas that need sorting out for next year; overcrowded groups of plants, gaps, areas lacking colour or interest, weak looking plants etc. And it’s also important to record good plant combinations you might want to repeat – or just take pictures of those good looking areas for the record.

Old School Gardener

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As flowers go over be sure to deadhead regularly where appropriate to encourage longer flowering on into the Autumn and generally prevent the garden from looking frazzled and messy.

Collect seed pods for those plants that you’re planning to re-seed, and those that you don’t want to reseed themselves.

Prune back your pleached fruit trees, leaving 3 or 4 leaves on each sideshoot.  If any of your other fruit trees need pruning, do this immediately after you have harvested.

Trim back your lavender once it has finished flowering, to stop it growing leggy.

Although weeds will be growing more slowly than in the spring, it’s an idea to continue to hoe the soil to keep them down. This should be done in warm, dry conditions to ensure any weed seedlings left on the surface dehydrate and die.

If you’re going away ask a neighbour / willing family member to pick your flowers, salad and veg to prevent everything running to seed in your absence.

Now is the time to look at your borders and note any gaps / congestion that you’ll want to rectify later in the season when everything has gone over, ahead of next year. And start your shopping list for Autumn bulbs.

And of course, at this time of year, watering is key. Keep on top of this daily, making sure you water in the morning or late afternoon-evening to prevent the heat evaporating all the water before it reaches the plant roots.

Grow Your Own

Flowers
Support your dahlias, lilies and gladioli with stakes and flower rings to ensure the weight of their beautiful flower doesn’t cause their stems to break.

Chrysanths will benefit from being pinched or sheared back, encouraging more growth and flowers.

Keep picking your cut flowers to encourage more blooms and a longer flowering season.

Towards the end of August you can start planning next year’s colour by sowing your hardy annuals.

Grow Your Own

Veg and Salad

Plant out your leeks and brassicas if you haven’t already, and you can also squeeze in a final sowing of spinach and chard in the first couple of weeks of August.

Sow salad leaves under cover, or out in the open if in warmer parts of the UK.


Herbs 
Sow Basil,  Marjoram, Borage, Chervil, Chives, Coriander, Dill, Parsley in pots outside, to make moving them indoors as easy as possible in the late autumn

Fruit
Transplant strawberry runners to a new position.

Ensure that your fruit crops aren’t pinched by the birds by covering with netting, ensuring the netting stands well clear of the fruit.

Harvesting Food – What you could be picking and eating this time next year, or – if you’re an old hand – already are 

– See more at: http://www.sarahraven.com/august-in-the-garden#sthash.xPIdXOO2.dpuf

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Here we are on our last couple of days in Australia. Six weeks on and what a trip it’s been. Grand daughter Freya is a month old and doing well. We’ve seen some wonderful places and met some lovely local people.

The weather has been very kind, even though it’s midwinter here. Bright sunny days and on occasions warm enough for shirt sleeves- though many of the locals have remained well wrapped up and think we’re crazy!

I won’t attempt to cover everything we’ve done, but suffice to say that I’ve found much of horticultural interest here along with all the other famous landmarks we’ve visited. Though there wasn’t much colour (with the notable exception of a superb, huge, vertical display of leaf and flower colour at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens), there was a lot of plant interest, often well presented by some very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides. It was also great being able to compare botanical gardens in the local area as well as in the three cities of Melbourne (very large and beautifully presented), Sydney (smaller but with some impressive focal points including a garden featuring vegetables grown- several unsuccessfully- by the first colonial settlers) and Canberra (the National centre which is striving to present a wide range of plants from across the country and is pursuing an exciting Master plan to renew and expand its collections).

In addition, many public parks and gardens are very well looked after. I especially enjoyed the Chinese Garden in Sydney and I was pleased to see at least one Green Flag flying- at the fabulous Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne. There is also a very impressive Community Gardens in St. Kilda, on the edge of Melbourne. And, as I mentioned last month, Aussies are very proud of their domestic gardens, especially those on public display in small town and suburban streets.

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As we adjust towards our return home in the next couple of days I’m wondering what Old School Garden will look like. The grass will certainly be long and I dread to think what carnage the moles have reaped in our absence, though our neighbour did kindly offer to try to ‘get them to move elsewhere’…we shall see.

Hopefully you’ve had some good weather to enjoy your own garden. With some of the summer to go- at least in theory- I hope that we too can get out in the warm sunshine and see the colours of the flowers.

Old School Gardener

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Carrot harvest via vegetables matter blogspotAs the heat (hopefully) builds, July’s the time to ease off and work smarter, not harder in the garden, and actually take time to enjoy it!

1. Food, glorious food…

  • Get a bumper vegetable harvest – now’s the time to reap a lot of what you’ve sown, but there’s still time to plant extra crops – like carrots
  • Pick courgettes before they become marrows
  • Sow chard for a winter crop
  • Summer prune redcurrants and gooseberries once the crop has been picked (or do it at the same time)
  • Keep an eye on the watering and try to do this early or late in the day to avoid evaporation during hot spells
  • Keep on top of the weeding in your food crops

2. Extend your flowering season

Now we’re in July your garden maybe just past its peak, so take some action to prolong the flowering value of some plants:

  • Cut back early-flowering perennials to the ground and they will send up fresh leaves and maybe even the bonus of some extra late-summer flowers (e.g Geraniums, Nepeta)
  • Give them a boost after pruning with a good soak of water and some tomato feed
  • Exploit plants’ desperate need to set seed by removing blooms as they fade. This will encourage them to produce more flowers to replace them
  • Remember that plants in containers are dependent on you for their water as they’ll get little benefit from any rain. Give them a good soak at least once a day in sunny weather

    Early flowerign perennila slike Oriental poppies can be cut back hard to encourage new foliage and some will also flower again

    Early flowering perennials like Oriental poppies can be cut back hard to encourage new foliage – and some will also flower again.

3.   Look after your pond

  • Look out for any yellowing leaves on water lilies and other water plants and remove them promptly- allowing them to fall off and rot in the water will decrease water quality and encourage algal ‘blooms’
  • Remove blanket weed with a net or rake to let oxygen into your pond. Remember to give aquatic life a chance to get back to the water by piling the weed next to the pond for a day. Add a football-sized net of straw to your pond (you can use old tights or stockings) to reduce the nitrogen levels if  blanket weed is a continuous problem
  • Top up water levels. Water can evaporate rapidly from water features and ponds in the height of summer, so top them up if the water level drops significantly. Fresh rainwater from a water butt is best – chemicals in tap water can affect the nutrient balance in the pond

    Water the greenhouse early or late in the day

    Water the greenhouse early or late in the day

4. Stay watchful in the greenhouse

  • Check plants daily, and once again, water first thing in the morning or in the evening to reduce water loss through evaporation
  • Harden off and plant out any plug plants that you have been growing on
  • Damp down your greenhouse on hot days to increase humidity and deter red spider mites; placing a bucket or watering can of water inside can help to maintain humidity
  • Open vents and doors daily to provide adequate ventilation
  • Use blinds or apply shade paint to prevent the greenhouse from over-heating in sunny weather

    Relax (note the old pallet turned into a stylish lounger) and plan ahead...

    Relax (note the old pallet turned into a stylish lounger) and plan ahead…

5. Relax in your Deck/armchair and…

  • Order catalogues for next year’s spring-flowering bulbs
  • Order perennial plants online now ready for autumn delivery
  • Think about which bulbs you would like for next spring – now is the time to order ready for autumn planting
  • Make a note of your garden’s pros and cons at this time of year to remind you of any changes that you need to make for next year – and take photos so that you can accurately see what it looks like once things have died down
  • Have a leisurely walk around the garden and use string of different colours tied to the stems of plants you are marking out for removal, division etc.
Encourage pest predators like hoverflies by attractive plantings and think about creating winter habitats now

Encourage pest predators like hoverflies by attractive plantings and think about creating winter homes for them now

6. Strengthen your alliance with nature for pest and disease control…

  • Look after your aphid eaters – ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings feast on greenfly and blackfly so it is worth protecting them by avoiding pesticides which will kill them as well as the pests. And why not take steps now to prepare suitable winter habitats for these and other ‘gardeners’ friends’ – e.g. bug hotels, timber piles, areas of long or rough grass or nettles etc.
  • Look for aphids on the underside of leaves – rub them off by hand or spray with an organic insecticide to prevent them multiplying
  • Keep an eye out for scarlet lily beetles on your lilies – remove and crush any you see. Also check for the sticky brown larvae on the underside of leaves
  • If your plants are wilting for no obvious reason then check for vine weevils by tipping your plants out of their pots and looking for ‘C’ shaped creamy maggots amongst the roots – treat with nematodes if vine weevils are spotted
  • Tidy up fallen leaves, flowers and compost – this will prevent potential pest and disease problems

7. Stop plants drying out

  • For recently planted large shrubs or trees, leave a hose trickling around the base for an hour. The same goes for established plants in very dry periods – pay particular attention to camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and hydrangeas which will abort next season’s flowers if they get too dry. Mulch around the roots when moist to help avoid this.
  • Recently planted hedges are best watered with a trickle hose (a length of old hose punctured with little holes) left running for an hour or so

8. Give houseplants a summer holiday

  • Many indoor plants benefit from being placed outside for the summer. Moving many plants out of the conservatory will save them from baking under glass, and lessen some pest and disease problems, such as red spider mite
  • Ventilate and shade sunrooms and conservatories to prevent scorch damage to remaining plants
  • Water houseplants freely when in growth, and feed as necessary (often weekly or fortnightly)

9. Paint your wagon…

  • Give woodwork like sheds, fences, pergolas etc. a lick of paint or preserver, while the weather is dry
Give your shed and other garden woodwork a fresh new look when the weather's dry.

Give your shed and other garden woodwork a fresh new look when the weather’s dry

10. Gimme shelter

  • Slow down and give yourself and your plants a rest from the heat; fix temporary awnings to provide shade in the hottest part of the day – for you and your tenderest plants!

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Hello from Australia! We’ve been here about 10 days, staying with our eldest and her partner just outside Melbourne. Having finally got shot of the effects of jet lag, yesterday we found ourselves getting little sleep as daughter was in hospital delivering our first grandchild..a lovely little girl (name tba)! As you can imagine the build up to this has meant staying relatively close to home, but this hasn’t prevented me from finding some places of horticultural interest to share with you.

We left the UK in something of a heat wave, and despite my efforts to provide a supply of water to many containerised plants, and even with a very diligent neighbour, I was expecting some casualties on our return in a few weeks time; especially in the kitchen garden where I’ve planted carrots, runner beans and squashes alongside new potatoes and onions (and a whole lot of fruit). I heard yesterday that there’s been heavy rain in East Anglia, so maybe the position isn’t entirely hopeless.

Turning to matters horticultural ‘a la Aus’, we’ve visited a nice little botanical garden in nearby Williamstown (a quaint little place with lots of interesting old houses), as well as a  a rather  a grand old mansion with some beautifully kept gardens and parkland at Werribee. I’ll do a more extensive piece on these, and other, yet to be visited gardens, in due course, but for now here are a few pictures to whet your appetite..

Apart from these largish spaces I ‘ve found a lot of interesting examples of domestic suburban gardens round abouts, best summarised as an eclectic mix of contemporary, cottage and tropical styles, usually nicely complimenting the architecture of the associated houses. Here’s a sample…

I’ve also noticed how tidy the grass verges outside these properties are. I gather it’s considered a civic duty (and maybe there’s a legal obligation too?) for householders to take care of their immediate strip of what is usually springy turf, including not only keeping it close mown, but also the edges cropped to neat straight lines, usually using a ‘whippersnipper’ (strimmer) to achieve the desired finish. The overall effect is one of quiet orderliness, rather like the atmosphere of these suburban streets, where there are few people out walking…well it is winter I suppose.

Having said this, and being aware of movements in the USA to allow such grass strips to be used more imaginatively, creating wildlife friendlier spaces and even food production, I was heartened to find one attempt to turn over the grass to a community garden in nearby Altona..

Well, old friend, hopefully I’ll be able to share some other Aussy horticulture with you next month, as we shall still be here, and maybe have visited some of the gems in Victoria and possibly further afield…oh, and of course doting on my new grand daughter!

Old School Gardener

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Oriental poppies can be sheared hard after flowering.

Oriental poppies can be sheared hard after flowering.

If May is the busiest gardening month, June is the month of nurture and bringing the garden to its midsummer best. You’ve made those sowings and now’s the time to plant out, protect and pamper. Here are my top ten tips for activity this month. I hope they’re useful.

1. Keep on mulching

Apply loose organic mulches to the soil now to keep it moist and deter weed growth. Choose a mulch to suit the situation, and apply it when the soil is wet and weed free. A mulch can also improve the visual appearance of a bed, and will act as a safe habitat for all sorts of beneficial creatures, such as centipedes and beetles, that eat slugs and other pests. You can use wood chips after they’ve been left for a year, so that when you put them on the soil they don’t rob it of nitrogen as they decompose. Or sow a ‘green manure’ cover crop on any bare ground. Buckwheat, phacelia, mustard and fenugreek are quick growing green manures that can be sown now. They’ll help to improve the ground, suppress weeds, make a good ground cover for beetles and other predators and, if you let them flower, buckwheat and phacelia are very attractive to bees – and people.

Wood chip mulch (as long as it's at leas ta year old) can be a good mulch to add around planst to conserve moisture and add goodness

Wood chips (as long as they’re at least a year old) can be a good mulch to add around plants to conserve moisture and add goodness

2. Fruit fooling 

Put netting over ripening soft fruit to keep the birds from getting it before you do. A special fruit cage is great, but a temporary structure covered with netting will do just as well. Strawberries should be forming and ripening fast and other soft fruits are coming on stream (though with the mild winter this all may be a couple of weeks earlier this year).  The fruitlets on fruit trees should be swelling. I’ve noticed another good show of blossom on most of my fruit trees this year, as last, and with no frost to speak of, the plum in particular seems to be developing a lot of fruit, so hopefully we’ll have a bumper harvest. Once the fruitlets are visible they can be thinned on apples, pears, plums and other tree fruit – and gooseberries too. This is vital if the ‘set’ has been good to ensure good sized fruit.

It’s also time to start summer pruning trained fruit like plums and cherries as well as trees or bushes. For trees and bushes, after getting rid of dead, diseased or dying branches try to encourage an open, wine goblet shape. Take out strong vertical growth or crossing branches to reduce the weight of the branches and congestion – a maximum of about 10-20% of living material can be removed. Keep watering fruit trees and bushes as much as you can, even after it has rained. Continue to harvest Rhubarb into July. Harvest the stalks with a gentle ‘twist and pull’ motion, rather than cutting them.

Simple net cages can help to protect fruit and veg from birds and butterflies

Simple net cages can help to protect fruit and veg from birds and butterflies

3. Veg and herbs

Earlier sowings of vegetables should be growing well now, with some early harvests possible towards the end of the month. I’ve yet to have my first pickings of autumn sown Broad Beans, but they’re on the way! Small, first pickings of the season are always particularly tasty. Don’t wait until everything is fully grown before you start to harvest. Also, if your first sowings and plantings have failed or are looking weak there is still time to sow some more. Runner beans should be in the ground and need to be encouraged to climb up their supports. They twist the other way from most other beans – clockwise when viewed from above.

Keep an eye on Brassica crops, such as cabbages, sprouts and calabrese, which are favourites with many pests, from aphids and whitefly to pigeons and rabbits – net these with a fine gauge mesh for reliable protection and remove insects by hand or water spray. Plant out pots of basil and other tender herbs.  Snails seem to love basil, so use plenty of deterrents and controls round new plants. You can also keep Basil indoors, on a sunny windowsill for larger, lusher leaves.

Encourage runner beans to twist around their supports

Encourage runner beans to twist around their supports

4. Weeds 

Hoe regularly to keep weeds under control. Keep the blade sharp and hoe when seedlings are small and in dry weather for the best results. Dig out bindweed on sight! This perennial weed hates disturbance, so as long as you can dig it out as soon as it sprouts, it will eventually give up. However, rockeries and shrubberies are difficult. Unless you lift everything out and dig the area over you won’t succeed. Mulching with a durable light-excluding material can work here. But there must be no light, and no holes. The bindweed must be completely smothered.

Create a ‘ Weed End Bag’  – this is a way ofrecycling’ pernicious weeds, such as bindweed, which you shouldn’t add straight to the compost heap. Stuff the plants into a black plastic sack or an old potting compost bag. Leave in an out-of-the-way corner until it all becomes sludge, then you can compost it.

Hoeing regularly makes weed control so much easier

Hoeing regularly makes weed control so much easier

5.  Steady as she goes

Finish off all top-dressing, staking and pruning tasks in the ornamental garden that may not have been completed last month. Cut back spring-flowering clematis this month, and cut down daffodil and other spring bulb foliage now. If possible add a slow release fertiliser (e.g. Fish, Blood and Bone) to feed the bulbs that you’re leaving in the ground – otherwise dig up the bulbs and store in a dry place (important if your soil is heavy and tends to retain moisture which will rot the bulbs left in). Tidy up spring-flowering shrubs now if necessary, by cutting out one third of the old wood to encourage strong new shoots. Forsythia can be hard cut to strong new shoots to encourage new growth that will flower next year. I’ve yet to do this, and the likes of Weigela, Deutzia and Kolkwitzia will also need doing soon, once they’ve finished flowering.

Cut oriental poppies back hard after flowering (mine are later this year, just coming into flower) – ideally, there should be something planted alongside to take over the space (e.g. hardy fuchsias). Deadheading many flowers as they go over this month can result in a second flowering, in particular this is worth doing for your hardy and half-hardy annuals, to ensure their one and only season lasts as long as possible. Perennials will also benefit – for example, later in the month Lupins and Delphiniums can be deadheaded to encourage a second flowering later in the summer.

6. Flower planting 

Fill any gaps in your borders with annual bedding plants. Water them regularly, particularly in drier weather and in the days after planting. Watering in hotter months is always better done in the morning or evening, to avoid scorching plants in the heat of the day. Sow biennials such as Wallflowers and Foxgloves for next year. If you are short of space these will be perfectly happy in pots in a sheltered spot until the autumn when they can then be planted in their final positions (though Wallflowers seem to do best in open ground). Water pots and baskets daily – even when it’s raining! Plants are growing vigorously and June sun can be very strong, so watering twice a day is sometimes necessary.

Phacelia is a 'green manure' and its flowers are a great source of food for bees

Phacelia is a ‘green manure’ and its flowers are a great source of food for bees

 

7. Greenhouse care 

Temperatures in greenhouses and conservatories will (hopefully) soar this month. Even a couple of days will be enough to cook plants. Ventilation and shading is essential. If you’re going away and have no helpful neighbour, put plants outside, or leave the greenhouse door wide open. Standing a bucket of water in the greenhouse will help to maintain humidity.

Keep newly planted veg well watered- an automatic seep hose system is great if you're going on holiday

Keep newly planted veg well watered- an automatic seep hose system is great if you’re going on holiday

8. Green, green grass of home 

Lawns don’t need watering. Grass may not look at its best in a drought, but it is a great survivor and will come back again when it rains. Unless you have newly laid turf to water in, leave the lawn to look after itself. Don’t mow the grass too short. Cutting height should be about 2.5cm/1” for the summer. If possible, rake before you mow. This lifts weeds up so that the mower blades catch them.

9. Trimming and growing 

Give Box and Yew hedges and topiary and bushes of Lonicera nitida a clip/trim, though, if like here, they seem to be well ahead this year, you might have already done this. Ideally do this on a dull, damp day to avoid the cut leaves of Box turning brown as they dry out in the sun. Give them a feed with a slow release fertiliser after clipping to help them recover. Repeat in September to keep topiary and hedges in a good shape over the winter. When trimming hedges, watch out for nesting birds. Some will still be feeding newly hatched chicks. Leave these areas alone for a few more weeks. June is a good month to take cuttings from some plants, and to save seed from others – early flowering plants, such as Aquilegia and Hellebores, will be setting seed from now on, though the Hellebores seem to have been early this year. If you collect Hellebore seeds before they form a hard seed coat, you can save yourself a lot of time and waiting. The seeds look black and shiny and are still slightly soft and wet. Sow these seeds immediately and they will germinate in a few days, instead of having to wait till the following spring. Take cuttings from hardy fuchsias and penstemons to grow more plants.

Give any Box topiary or hedges a trim this month- tradtionally done on 'Derby Day' in the UK!

Give any Box topiary or hedges a trim this month- tradtionally done on ‘Derby Day’ in the UK!

10. Wildlife friendly 

As we head into summer, bear in mind any little garden visitors you may have. If possible, why not put out a little extra food for birds and also for hedgehogs – warm and overly dry weather can mean there’s a lot less natural food available for these animals. Remember to fill up any bird baths and feeders as often as you can, and consider leaving a small bowl of water out for the hedgehogs too. Contrary to popular myth, hedgehogs should not be fed bread and milk, but actually ordinary cat or dog food is good for them!

Oh, and one last thing- spare some time to sit and enjoy your garden as (hopefully) the warm days of summer arrive!

With thanks to Garden Organic

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

As you know I’ve a busy time coming up, travelling about the UK and to Australia, so this may have to be the last letter for a couple months that comments on my gardening life at home. Still, I hope that I can feature some of the places I’ll be visiting – I’m especially looking forward to seeing the many wonderful parks and gardens in Melbourne, Victoria.

Looking back over the past few weeks, a few things stand out. Despite large areas of ground elder remaining in Old School Garden  (it has been so dry I haven’t dared to try to remove any more – along with the plants of course), the garden areas immediately next to the house aren’t looking too bad. Some recent rain has also perked up the large number of plants that I’ve replanted.

In the last few days I’ve also added a few new specimens; two varieties of Veronicastrum (White and pale Pink)  and a Ligularia and Rodgersia in the pond garden. the kitchen garden is also starting to fill up, although, due to being away I’ve limited my sowings and have also gone for a green manure- Phacelia- in some of the beds. I’m especially pleased with the Courtyard Garden , where the Hostas and Candleabra Primula are doing their stuff. Hopefully the garden will survive a number of weeks without weeding and grass cutting and that we get enough rain for things- especially potted plants – to make it through.

Further afield, you may have heard about our latest ‘Groundforce Day’ over at the local churchyard. The new management policy of mowing paths though blocks of longer grass and wildflowers seems to be coming together nicely and a few days ago a few of us started to tackle the weeds and grass that has grown over the drainage strip of cobbles surrounding the church walls; it is satisfying seeing a tidy edge to the rather mole-ridden grass.

And I mustn’t forget that I’ve been spending quite a few hours online studying permaculture, via a course put on by Oregon State University and apparently being studied by over 10,000 people worldwide! This has been fascinating, with a good mix of videos, podcasts, online links and design exercises to put me through my paces. It’s been interesting comparing the Permaculture Design process with the more conventional process I’m used to, and having revisited the Concept Design for the Grow Organisation which I developed a few months ago as the focus of my study, I can see now ho permaculture principles and design processes have enriched my assessment of the site and helped me develop new angles on my earlier design; in putting greater emphasis on water harvesting and management for example.

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I was sorry to hear about your lingering ill health, old friend and wish you better soon. As the weather warms, try to get outside into that lovely garden of yours; it is bound to lift your spirits.. All the best for now and my next letter will come to you from somewhere in Australia!

Old School Gardener

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