Tag Archive: april

seed sowingIn these stressful times I hope that you are safe and well. How’s the weather been with you? I’ve had a couple of weeks of ‘sunny and warmish’ at home, with a few cold nights.

The weather might seem pretty settled; but 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. 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.

9. Spud you like

Good Friday is the traditional day for potato planting (ideally in ground that is well-manured and weed free)! 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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The circular bed in the Front garden- mixed tulips and wallflowers with a Star Magnolia at the centre

The circular bed in the Front garden- mixed tulips and wallflowers with a Star Magnolia at the centre

26th April 2015

Dear Walter

Not much to say this month, old friend. A combination of building work in the house (I’ve built a boiler room to house our new biomass boiler amongst other things) and having to trek down to Devon to sort out Mother-in-law’s move to sheltered accommodation have meant I haven’t spent as much time tidying and doing the spring work that’s needed here in Old School Garden. Having said that, Deborah has been a great help in weeding and tidying up. I have also been spending some time at Gressenhall and Blickling doing voluntary gardening, so I suppose that I’ve been gardening all the same….

The grass has had its first couple of cuts, with newly serviced mowers, but also showing the clear signs of several years of mole damage! I’m also pleased that my new shed – to be used to house the mowers and other outside power tools etc. – is up and looking very neatly slotted into a corner of the rear garden. This was prompted by the conversion of some of the garage into the new boiler room, but it also makes for a better all round use of the various storage spaces we now have.

The new Shed

The new Shed

What else to tell you about in the garden? Well, the Melianthus has finally broken into flower and I’m pleased that I resisted the temptation to cut it down before it had the chance to do this. The only issue now is that it’s grown rather large and may have to be moved to a more suitable spot- something for the Autumn.

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Other ornamental areas are starting to fill up with greenery and flower colour rather nicely too, and we are just about holding our own- as usual- in the fight with the ground elder.

I’m managing to get the propagation production line going too, using a heated propagator inside the house, moving then to the greenhouse, then to cold frame and finally hardened off outside before planting out. I’ve just put out some French Marigolds into the kitchen garden along with some Calabrese. These are sitting alongside some autumn sown onions, broad beans and garlic (the latter hasn’t yet made a show above ground). The Early potatoes have yet to put any growth above ground, but recent rain may help with bringing them on- we’ve had a period of settled, warm and dry weather here, the dryness rather holding some things back, I think.

I’m making progress with the new pond, though there’s still a lot of soil to shift! Still I’ve got the big Silver Birch stump and an Elder out, and so created the start of some deeper holes in the pond area. I bought some shrubs a week or two ago and have earmarked some others I already have in pots, so the planting should get off to a good start, when I eventually get round to it! I ‘ve also got hold of some spare underlay so that will help with costs.

The pond area - with Silver Birch stump removed!

The pond area – with Silver Birch stump removed!

Some of the soil from the pond area is going onto an adjacent spot previously planned for the new shed, my new ‘spring garden’. I’ve levelled this off and its getting ready for planting, though this will probably be in the autumn.

I think it was this time last year when I was reporting on the pruning I’d done in mother-in -law’s garden in Devon and I’m amused to find that I’ve almost repeated that in the last few weeks, with 14 bags of prunings and weeds to be taken away by the Council! As you read this I’m down in Devon once more, for another bout of tidying and sorting, in anticipation of selling her house and moving her to more suitable accommodation.

As I mentioned above, I’ve been over to Gressenhall a few times and seem to have made an impact on tidying up and pruning- I tackled the ‘Rambling Rector’ there this week, so that should keep it in check for another year. The deepened entrance border is looking good with its selection of Narcissus and Tulips set off well among the grasses and Lavenders , which will put on their show later in the year.

I’m also gearing myself up for a possible new Garden Design course in the autumn, talking of which I went to the local high School’s Music event a few days ago (Deborah is a Governor there and is in the choir). I was approached three times by women who looked familiar, but who I couldn’t immediately place. They all turned out to be former students on my ‘Grow your Own’ and Garden design courses! It was good to catch up with them and hear of their progress and obvious enthusiasm; and warming too as they seemed to appreciate the work I put in for them!

So, another month gone, and almost May. When I return from the West Country there’ll be plenty of catching up to do, and hopefully not too many disasters- hopefully the neighbours will be on watering duties, an especially important task at present with so much new growth in the Greenhouse, Cold frame and Garden.

All the best for now.

Old School Gardener




 To Walter Degrasse

28th April 2014

Dear Walter

I hope all’s well with you and Lise and that you’re managing to get out and about in your garden at this busy time. I’m certainly behind where I should be here at Old School Garden. I’ve weeded and dug over about two-thirds of the borders here and managed to mulch the fruit with a mix of horse manure and compost. I edged the lawns for the first time the other day and then cut the grass – all in all it took me about 4 hours! Still it does look the better for it.

The alpine planter I made from 'Woodblocx' and planted up a few weeks ago- delightful if getting bit overcrowded...

The alpine planter I made from ‘Woodblocx’ and planted up a few weeks ago- delightful if getting a  bit overcrowded…

Apart from being behind with the weeding etc. everything elses is pretty much on track. The greenhouse and cold frame (as well as the lunge window sill) are packed full of seed trays and seedlings at various stages of growth. I’ve tried experimenting with a mix of multi purpose compost as a base layer and then some John Innes seed compost on top to get the seeds started; I’m still not very happy with the John Innes, as it seems to get water sodden and so not very healthy, quite quickly, whereas the multi purpose is not really fine enough for the really small seeds. I shall have to try further mixes.

The flower borders are starting to fill out very nicely, and I’m just about to mulch these with old wood chips and put in staking for the larger perennials. The bulbs and other spring flowering plants are also making a good show at present, though I’ve been disappointed with the tulip bulbs I bought in Amsterdam last November. Only one of the three packs I bought has come up as expected, the other two being nowhere close to the blue or violet colours promised on the packaging. So, the best laid colour mixing plans have gone out of the window and I’ll have to rearrange these in the autumn. The other, more established tulips are looking grand; I’m especially pleased with the way some old cast offs from Peckover House, planted 18 months ago, have responded to their new situation. They are flowering very well in the sandier soil here,  perhaps evidence that you can leave tulips in this sort of soil, but in heavier soils they tend to shrivel up and rot- the soil here is a lot more sandy than the siltier, clayey material in Wisbech.

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Food crops are coming along, and I managed to spot the stem of an artichoke the other day (just one!), so the roots I put in last autumn may have not been a complete write off. I obviously miscalculated the amount of seed potatoes I needed, as I’ve ended up with s ix rows instead of the planned two! So, the kitchen garden plan has already had to be amended! Anyway, most of the beds are full of growth now; broad beans, mangetout peas, chard, lettuce,chives, calabrese, cauliflower, red cabbage, spinach, carrots, onions and garlic as well as the potatoes and more permanent beds of fruit. So far so good (and pests seem to be under control)!

We recently visited my mother-in-law in Devon and I spent a good day or two pruning back a number of over grown shrubs. The cuttings amounted to about 10 big bags, so I must have made an impact! As you will recall, her garden is on a steep slope overlooking the edge of Tavistock and farmland beyond. A lovely setting, but a garden that is just too much for her to cope with now. She does get some gardening help, but this seems to amount to grass cutting and not much more. You may have gathered that whilst there we managed to visit several lovely gardens and other places, so keep an eye out for more articles and photographs in the next couple of weeks.

My Mother-in-Law's garden in Devon
My Mother-in-Law’s garden in Devon

I’ve continued with my work with the three groups of students at Fakenham Academy and am pleased to say that the three plots are now starting to fill up- we’ve planted a lot of potatoes, some beetroot (grown by the students from seed) and in the next couple of weeks we’ll be sowing and planting a lot more. Hopefully this activity will start to generate more enthusiasm in the students who, to be fair have had not much more than digging to keep them occupied up to now. On Thursday I also begin work on a planting scheme for a border in the grounds of the community centre at Fakenham. This is backed by a lovely old ‘crinkle crankle’ wall which is over 200 years old. The first job- with volunteers assisting I hope – is to clear the majority of the borders of an invasion of Borage and other plants and then to measure up and start to consider a planting plan. The local primary school is also getting involved and we hope to complete the project by the end of May. I’ll do some articles and pictures about this as it progresses.

The Cawston School garden is also looking full, though I haven’t been there for a few weeks, so it must be in dire need of weeding! I think I may have told you that the School has now not only achieved the highest grading in the RHS Campaign for School Gardening (level 5) but has also achieved a gold standard in the broader ‘learning outside the classroom’ that they do. On that note I’m giving a presentation about education for sustainability at a national network of early years landscape professionals tomorrow, and hope to cover a wide range of projects that I’m involved with. I’ll let you know how it goes- I’m particularly looking forward to seeing the outside environment at the Earlham Early Years Centre in Norwich where the meeting is taking place- must remember my camera!

Work to promote my forthcoming courses  has been progressing and I’m going along to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum for its ‘Going Wild’ event on 5th May to conduct a couple of garden tours and promote the Wild life Gardening course there on 18th May. I’m not yet sure about the numbers signed up for this or the other two courses that are scheduled to begin in early May. Both of these are in the evening at Reepham High School and College and once again I’m covering garden design and growing your own food. Fingers crossed I get the numbers that mean they’ll go ahead.

Well, this is obviously a busy time and so far today I’ve spent the morning on the computer and occasionally looking out at the weeding still to be done and all the other jobs in the garden, so I must get moving! Bye for now, old friend, and all the best until I write again in a few weeks time.

Old School Gardener





Me showing 20 new Master Gardeners around the Wildlife Garden at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum

Me showing 20 new Master Gardeners around the Wildlife Garden at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum

18th April 2013

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

How time flies – four weeks since I last wrote and I’m pleased to say that at last the weather has meant a more active time in the garden!

Where to start? well as I write this I’m about to set off for some induction training as a ‘Master Composter’ – a voluntary scheme that provides advice and support to households and communities in ways of recycling green waste. It’s run by Garden Organic and Norfolk County Council, the same partnership that runs the local Master Gardener scheme in which I’m involved. I’ll do a post next week about my experiences on the training.

Coincidentally I was asked to contribute to the latest Master Gardener foundation training that took place at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum last weekend. I did a similar session  last year about my experiences of recruiting households and other food growing projects and the sort of things I do to support them. Initially I took this group of 20 enthusiastic new Master Gardeners on a brief tour of the gardens at Gressenhall (you remember that I’m a garden volunteer there?). They seemed to enjoy this and a ‘site analysis ‘ of one of the gardens with the Scheme Manager Philip Turvil. The classroom session also went well, I think. It was fun telling of  my experiences and ideas and some ‘do’s and don’ts’ for the new recruits.

Earlier in the week I called round to one of my Master Gardener households in the next village, a young Mum with a couple  of pre school children, who is an enthusiastic food grower, though needs some advice and discussion of her ideas. We talked about her plans for the coming year, including different ways of growing tomatoes in a Greenhouse, putting potatoes in a front garden border, moving some fruit bushes and what to grow in the six raised beds her husband made last year. Even though some of her crops last year suffered from pests, and perhaps insufficient attention due to her other commitments, she remains up beat and keen to be more self sufficient in food. I must say I came away re – energised myself and what with the final arrival of spring – like weather, I’ve been wading in (or should it be ‘catching up’) with jobs in Old School Garden.

Most of my recent effort in my own garden has gone on ‘cleaning up’ – terrace pavings and pathways, fences, wooden buildings etc. It does seem like I’ve had a good few days of ‘pressure washing’ , but everything does look better for it (along with the cutting of new edges to the borders and grass mown for the first time). I spent a few hours yesterday repainting/staining fences, door frames, gates, shed, compost bins, wooden edges to my raised beds as well as the garage and outbuilding doors. The next thing will be the greenhouse, where the milder weather has meant that I can start moving things out (some tender potted plants that over – wintered plus some seedlings, via the cold frame). I can then remove the insulation and heater and give everything a good wash. I think I’ll remove the top few inches of soil in there too, given I had such a problem with tomato blight last year.

Unfortunately the frosty weather has finally near- demolished a couple of terracotta pots. These have done good service over the years, but (as the picture shows) they are literally being held together by ‘belt and braces’! Once the spring display of bulbs and wall flowers is over, these can be recycled as crocks for drainage in other pots.

One of two Terracotta pots that have just about 'given up the ghost' as a result of frosty weather

One of two Terracotta pots that have just about ‘given up the ghost’ as a result of frosty weather

Though the windowsills are still creaking with the amount of seedlings I’ve started off, again the warmer weather is allowing me to pot up and move things on – I’ve got a pretty good ‘conveyor belt’ of heated propagators/covered trays inside – uncovered trays inside – greenhouse – cold frame – plant out under cloches/fleece- reveal all! As you appreciate it’s important to gradually acclimatise the seedlings to outside conditions and at the same time keep potting on before the young plants grow to fill their containers.

The last few days have seen spring flowering getting underway (at last) and there are now good shows of Daffodils, some early Tulips , Forsythia, Cherry blossom as well as Primulas and one or two other things that seem intent on getting their flower show done and dusted before summer arrives (so I guess that some will not last as long as in previous springs). The weather has also meant that I’ve been able to plant my potatoes (on April 5th to be precise – supposedly a good day, astronomically speaking!). I used fleece to warm the trenches (which I’d previously filled with manure) for a couple of weeks beforehand and have replaced this over the planted potato rows to keep the warming process going. I’ve got a few spare ‘Charlotte’ tubers which are a bit of insurance against furtehr bad weather in the next week or so. It will be interesting to compare how they do with the earlier planting.


A few days ago I planted out a few Broad Beans plants under a cloche – I’d raised these in a couple of pots in the greenhouse as my direct autumn sowings were nowhere to be seen. I suspect the seeds either rotted in the very wet weather or the young seedings didn’t withstand the frosty January weather. I now have Calabrese, Cauliflower, Leeks, Celery and Cabbage plants nearing a size where they can be put outside, but we’ll just have to pot these on and keep them protected for a couple of weeks yet, I think, though some could probably go out under cloches.


I’ve also experimented with starting off carrots in an 80 plug modular tray this year. I tried this last year, but I think the weather and poor ultimate planting position made for a pretty dismal crop – like many people, I think. Hopefully this year I can plant out the carrot modules once they get to a decent size – they have at least germinated and the plants seem to be coming along well in the cold frame. The idea is to avoid the need to thin directly sown carrots (the traditional method) and enable me to plant out individual carrot plants into neat and efficient rows – we’ll see how succesful this proves to be, as you know that carrots don’t like to be moved around!

Lots of seedlings now ready for potting up- these are Nicotiana

Lots of seedlings now ready for potting up- these are Nicotiana

Apart from activity in Old School Garden, I’ve continued to support the local Primary School’s gardening programme. You may recall that I mentioned some ‘tool use and safety’ and digging sessions I’d held with small groups of children, and these continued up to the Easter break. I’m returning to help them every Thursday from next week, the early jobs being to plant out their broad bean and courgette plants (grown from seed in the last few weeks), potatoes (which have been ‘chitting’ in the classrooms), and sow some wild flower borders.  I was successful in getting some free seeds from the RHS as part of ‘National Gardening Week’ (this week!) and added to some seeds the school already has we should be able to do an area of about 10 m2 close to the raised beds and pond. Oh, and some good news on the pond, too. You remember that I designed and supervised the construction of this with much community help? The School Gardening Coordinator tells me that the project has won first prize in a competition run by the Aylsham and District Wildlife Trust! The prize of £100 will help to support further gardening activity at the School.

Well, I guess that about brings you up to date with my gardening activities of late. I’m glad to hear that you’re getting back into your lovely garden and I look forward to visiting you over the summer to see those superb herbaceous borders of yours!

All the best for now.

Old School Gardener

Other posts in this series:

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 11th March 2013

Dear Walter… letter from Old School Garden: 15th February 2013

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