Category: Gardening techniques


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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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

I hope you and Lise are well. I’ve had a good month in Old School Garden…though having neglected the weeding for a year or two, I’m now paying the price.

I’ve managed to put in a good few hours digging up the borders nearest to the house, removing ground elder and replanting (as well as dividing) the plants. It’s been a bit late I know, but most of the re-plants seem to be recovering from the shock of being dug up. I’ve planted up the two front-door pots with a purple-leaved Hebe called ‘True Love’…and I’m pleased to see the first flowers on the Candelabra Primulas I’ve grown from seed, a nice purply-pink..

 I’m about to plant my second early potatoes (later than usual to try to time them for our return form a long trip to Australia), and the Phacelia I sowed a few weeks ago, as a green manure, seems to be coming on.  I’m also pleased to report a good lot of blossom on the fruit trees, some of which I gave a heavy prune a few months ago. Let’s hope the bees do their job and we don’t get caught by a late frost. Tomorrow I’ll be putting the potatoes in and netting the strawberries, before the deer get in and nibble off the tops.

Plot for potatoes dug over..

I’ve also been doing  a little hoeing, and as one of my blog followers was interested in what my Wolf hoe looks like here’s a picture…definitely one of my favourite garden tools.

The Wolf hoe

We’ve just returned from a very enjoyable trip to the North west to visit our friends Nick and Felicity, and part of this was spent on a very enjoyable visit to Tatton Park, where I was blown away by the quality of the place and especially the Japanese Ggarden…I’ll post a few pictures on this trip soon.

I’m also pleased to report practical progress at the Grow Project in Norwich, where an enthusiastic team is getting some growing beds in place by using straw bales in what will be the Trials area in due course.

The next few months (through a combination of Green Flag Award judging, Jury Service, holidays and a six week trip to Australia) will see me with little time in the Garden, but hopefully I’ve done enough to keep it in reasonable shape until another burst of clearing and tidying (as well as my major push on restructuring the Kitchen Garden), towards late summer/autumn. Hopefully we can get over to see you at some point!

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Old School Gardener

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seed sowingWell, how’s the weather been with you? In the last week or two the sun has shone and it’s been glorious gardening in Norfolk!

The weather seems pretty settled, though it’s April, so things can be wet and windy…. If, like me, you might still be a bit behind with one or two things, my first tip won’t be a surprise!

1. Backtrack

Take a look at my last list of tips and see if any still need to be done, as the warmer weather might encourage you to get outside…

As the weather warms divide overgrown waterlillies and maybe add some to your pond

As the weather warms divide overgrown waterlillies and maybe add some new plants to your pond

2. Pond life

April is normally the month to lift and divide waterlilies, replanting divided plants in aquatic compost topped with washed gravel in a planting basket.  It’s also time to plant up some new aquatic plants in your pond, from friends and neighbours, if not the local nursery. Providing a variety of plants will provide food and shelter for many of your pond ‘critters’ in the next few months. Make sure you have enough oxygenating plants to prevent algae developing. While you’re there, and if you didn’t do it last month, check your pond pumps and filters.

Aphids on beans

Aphids on beans

3. Pest watch

Stay vigilant for aphids – green-fly, black-fly – as they will  start to multiply as the weather begins to warm up. Check all your plants regularly, especially roses, and squash any clusters of them with your fingers, or spray with a solution of crushed garlic and water to remove them organically. The first lily beetles may start to appear – pick off the bright red beetles and squash them. Keep (or start) patrolling for slugs and snails and pick these off and ‘dispose’ of them as you wish. Alternatively use a beer trap or pellets that do not contain Metaldehyde.

If you're a keen cook and you have the space, you may want to create a special herb garden like this- or if not just find a sunny spot for a few fragrant favourites!

If you’re a keen cook and you have the space, you may want to create a special herb garden like this- or if not just find a sunny spot for a few fragrant favourites!

4. Heaven scent

Why not sow a range of herbs as the weather starts to warm up? These could include sage, parsley, thyme, fennel and rosemary, which will all add scent to the garden as well as being useful for cooking. Sow the assorted herb seeds in a prepared seed bed in shallow drills at least 30cm apart. You can plant seedlings up into containers or beds – either way they like a well-prepared soil with plenty of organic matter, such as homemade compost. Herbs will tolerate most conditions, as long as they have plenty of regular sun, so be careful where you put your herb plot – mine is too shady!

5. Nature’s gift

Check for emerging self-seeded plants and transplant or pot these ‘freebies’ up before weeding and mulching your borders.

6. Stay in trim

Lavender and other silver-leaved plants will benefit from a tidy up if you haven’t already shorn them of the top few centimetres of growth (but avoid cutting into thicker, older stems unless you want to renovate over-grown specimens – I’ve did this to my rather large rosemary bush last year and its come back fighting!). Start trimming box hedges and topiaries, or wait another three to four weeks in colder areas. Prune early flowering shrubs like Forsythia, Ribes etc. once they’ve finished flowering. Deadhead daffodils as soon as the flowers fade, so they don’t waste their energy producing seeds. Apply a general feed to them like Blood, Fish and Bone.

Red Cabbage seedlings on one of my 'seedy cills'

Red Cabbage seedlings on one of my ‘seedy cills’

7. Transfer window

Prick out and pot on seedlings before they become leggy and overcrowded. See my post on ‘7 tips for successful seedlings’.

8. Under cover

Ventilate greenhouses and cold frames in good weather to prevent a build-up of pests and diseases. Start giving houseplants more water. Protect fruit blossom and young plants from late frosts with horticultural fleece.

Easter time is the traditional planting time for early potatoes in the UK, though I've already got my 'first earlies' in.

Easter time is the traditional planting time for early potatoes in the UK, though I’ve already got my ‘first earlies’ in.

9. Spud you like

Good Friday is the traditional day for potato planting (ideally in ground that is well-manured and weed free)! As Easter was early this year and the weather has been on the cold side, I’m going to put my first and second earlies in over the next week or two.

10. Sow ‘n’ grow

These can all be sown outside, if the weather and soil has warmed up:

  • hardy annuals (e.g. Calendula and Nasturtium), in shallow drills or patches

  • new lawns (and also repair bald patches and damaged edges) – if this wasn’t done last month

  • veg, like runner, broad and French beans, beetroot, carrots, cabbages, salad onions, spinach, herbs and Brussels sprouts.

Vegetables like courgette, marrows, tomato and sweetcorn can be started off indoors.

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

This has been a month of really ‘getting going’ in Old School Garden. My hip and back have held up well so I’ve gradually increased my labouring times in the garden…I managed about 8 hours yesterday!

Whilst I’ve made inroads into the weeding- not an easy task with ground elder entangled ‘big time’ among the borders- it’s also been a time of upheaval, especially in the Kitchen Garden.

Here I’ve commenced my major reorganisation by removing the various trellises and posts – for reuse in a different position. I’ve also planted out a new row of summer fruiting raspberries and relocated a row of autumn fruiting too. At the same time the currant bushes and gooseberries have all been moved around, so the new grand plan is taking shape.

Relocated summer raspberries

I plan to use the trellis to more clearly separate off the Kitchen Garden and at the same time create an arched entrance which will be repeated along the sides of the first beds to create a rose walkway- I’ve recently bought six ‘Compassion’ climbing roses which I’m looking forward to seeing clamber up wooden uprights and along either a wooden bar or perhaps a rope swag.

In destructive mode (or perhaps ‘reconstructive’ would be better?) I’ve also removed the three old stumps of a large Ash tree that once overlooked the kitchen garden and which latterly have become clothed in ivy that has got out of hand. I must say the area looks a lot neater and will also open up a corner of the kitchen garden to more light too. It was facinating seeing how the process of decay has taken hold of the inner core of these stumps and how the material gradually reverts to something resembling soil…along with innumerable chrysalis’ of beetles and other rotting wood feeding critters.

With the warmer weather and longer days, this is the time to really get stuck into the garden, so I hope that you and Ferdy are also enjoying yourselves in your beautiful plot. I cut the grass here for the first time the other day and doesn’t that just improve the look of the most untidy garden?!

Today I’ve been to an interesting talk about the ‘Walled Kitchen Garden’ given by a local garden designer. This was very enjoyable and expanded my knowledge of the history and some of the old practices used in these wonderful places. Of course, as you will have been reading I’m really enjoying my volunteering at Blickling with its wonderful regenerated walled garden. I can’t believe its only 18 months since that project began..so much has been achieved.

I’ve mentioned the Allotment Project at Reepham High School, I think. I’m pleased to say that the greenhouse I managed to dismantle and reconstruct is in situ and hopefully it won’t be long before the glass is in and it’s being used to propagate seeds and maybe even grow tomatoes. And I must also mention that the project was the runner-up in a Norfolk ecological competition recently. Well deserved, so congratulations to Matt Willer and all the volunteers at the project!

I also visited a recently established Organic Market Garden at Booton, next door to Reepham the other day. Eves Hill Veg Co. is a social enterprise set up by Hannah Claxton who is gradually relocating herself from her current base in London (where she teaches organic growing) to this base, where currently a number of volunteers are engaged in getting the year’s growing season underway. I was pleased to meet Hannah and some of the volunteers and I wish them every success; maybe I can be of help to them at some point too. I was also grateful to be able to collect a trailer load of compost for free from them; courtesy of a local industrial scale composting facility (which composts household waste). The compost isn’t very fertile but it’s lovely stuff for building soil structure and for mulching, which is how I’ll be using it here.

Thanks for the compost Hannah!

Well, old friend, I think it’s time to be planning my day in the garden tomorrow…I think it’ll be a combination of more border clearance, ground elder removal, replenishing the compost in some long-term potted shrubs, and sowing some Phacelia. As we are going to be away for a longish period in a few weeks, I’m not planning to grow much by way of food this year. So this ‘Green Manure’ is perfect for covering the ground and then enriching it as it’s dug in. Happy gardening!

Old School Gardener

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wp_20170225_12_20_02_proTo Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

I’m making progress in Old School Garden– well, sort of. Having a solid five hour stint the other day I was pleased to see some of the front borders looking tidier, and hopefully, largely clear of the ground elder that had started to take over. Here ate the results; both borders now have repositioned roses which will eventually have a spread of Stachys byzantina surrounding them and for late summer/autumn a good number of Nerine bowdenii

Part of this day also involved removing the large clumps of Nepeta that had become too over powering around the roses. I have these in a barrow ready to fill another border that’s in the process of being cleared (and some will also go along the edges of a tunnel of climbing roses. I picked up some Convallaria bulbs (‘Lily of the Valley’) the other day and plan to under plant the Nepeta with these to provide a nice flowering combination- and some scent.

I’ve also carried on with the pruning and tidying elsewhere, but this is a long job and I can see quite a few bonfires on the way! The old cherry tree stump that has been acting as a base for a bird bath has finally rotted away in the ground so I’ve removed it (more firewood!).

wp_20170225_12_19_26_proI can report that my hip is holding up well so far, and I’m (very) gradually building up my muscle strength. I’m due to see a physiotherapist next week, so maybe I’ll have some other useful advice on what else I should be doing. The other day we had that ‘named storm’ called Doris pass by. How were you affected? I imagine possibly quite badly living up north as you do. Did you lose power, have any upturned trees etc? Fortunately we got away fairly lightly; a few garden furniture items fell over, and one pot toppled and cracked…

wp_20170225_08_11_21_proStill, the days are lengthening and some late winter/early spring flowers are doing their stuff…

I had a very interesting visit to a horticultural and associated workshop called ‘The Mount’ which is located next door to (and used by) a unit for those with mental health problems on the edge of Norwich. It’s been going for about 25 years and I was inspired to hear about the many ways the staff engage the service users in all manner of construction and growing projects. We could see an outdoor oven in the course of construction and took a look at the greenhouses and raised beds which are used extensively to grow all sorts of food and other crops. ..

Around 20 service users are involved regularly. I joined a small group of people interested in setting up something similar at a nearby Psychiatric Hospital. We had a good talk about their plans and ideas and I’m going to be involved in helping to develop the project. You may recall I mentioned before my role in a similar project called ‘The Grow Organisation’ on the other side of Norwich. I hope that we can help these and other projects to work together and perhaps to form a useful network of horticultural therapy projects in the area to benefit a wide range of people with mental and other health issues.

My other garden-related project involved spending nearly six hours last week dismantling a greenhouse!  Whilst doing our regular weekly shop we spotted an advert offering the greenhouse for free to anyone willing to dismantle it. We immediately thought of ‘The Allotment Project’ at the local High School and as we suspected the leader of that project, Matt, was enthusiastic about getting it. So having transported it over a few days ago (sadly there were a couple of glass breakages in transit and I had a gashed head for my troubles) yesterday I  went over to help with the process of installing it. Matt and I discussed location and settled, eventually, on a spot opposite the existing poly tunnel. Here are some  pictures…

Fortunately Matt had a few Railway Sleepers which we decided to use as the base, sunk in the ground and which the base of the frame could be screwed to. It was just as tricky reassembling the ends of the house as it was dismantling them- lots of nuts and bolts and very little room to get in a spanner. Still, I left yesterday with the base well on the way to being installed and the frame in a state where it can be fixed. So I’ll be returning next week to help finish off the job. A couple of other guys worked on finishing off the Chicken coop (formerly a childrens’ play house!) and I was also pleased to see that the Broad Beans I’d helped some students sow in the Autumn were coming along nicely (see pics above).

Back home, I’ve reached some conclusions on rearranging the kitchen garden, so hope in the next few weeks to get some of the trellis moved and a new fruit cage created for the raspberries and currants. I’m yet to finalise the position of the three gooseberry bushes I have, but I’m going to take a chance on putting these out in a sunny position in the open. I hope that you and Lise are looking forward to your spring break in Switzerland…you must tell us all about it when we see you at Easter.

 Old School Gardener

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