Tag Archive: diary

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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Echeveria- overwintering in Old School Garden Greenhouse

Echeveria- overwintering in Old School Garden Greenhouse

To Walter Degrasse:-

Dear Walter,

It’s been a while since we were in touch, and as it’s windy and wet outside, I thought I’d drop you a line about what’s been going on in ‘my gardening life’. I hope all is well with you and your beautiful garden. It seems ages since I was in my garden for any time to get a sweat up, but it’s that time of year when the pace of things is rather slow, very much focused on ‘basic maintenance jobs’, I suppose. Anyway I’ve used the time in other ways, not least getting my blog up and running, which I’m pleased to say I’m enjoying and also the new relationships it’s bringing with gardening fans around the world!

More practically, I’ve more or less finished my pruning jobs, those new Felco secateurs I had for Christmas are a real joy to use! I’ve got one more Buddleja to do and I’ll need to get the ladders out to do my Fremontodendron, which, on a south-facing wall, has romped away – I think last year’s wet weather gave it a surge of growth, so it’s now over 5 metres tall! The Dogwoods have all been laid low so hopefully we’ll get a good flush of new stems in the summer that give us that wonderful ‘winter glow’. I’ve done my annual cut back of the Eucalyptus to encourage large, colourful new leaves – it always looks forlorn after this major hack back (photo enclosed), but is such a swift grower.

Eucalyptus & Buddleja - pruned

Eucalyptus & Buddleja – pruned

I’ve also been tilling over the beds in the kitchen garden. Did you read my blog post about planning the crops here? It has a layout of what I’m intending to grow and where, trying to rotate crops as best I can in a complex border layout and thinking about succession crops too. You may remember that I put on a layer of leaf mould over most of them (as well as the fruit trees) in the autumn as well as digging in some green manure I grew towards the end of last season – we’ll see if this latter experiment has any marked effect on the crops to come.

I’ve been lightly turning over the topsoil and incorporating the remains of the leaf mould etc., in preparation for some of my friend Rob’s horse manure, which I’m able to collect from his paddock about 2 miles way. It really is lovely stuff, so I’ll use it to mulch my roses, clematis, shrubs, fruit trees and bushes etc. as well as putting a good load down for the potatoes and some of the other vegetables.

New boardwalk made of old wooden pallets

New boardwalk made of old wooden pallets

You know how poor my carrots were last year – the rotten weather didn’t help, I know, but I think that the bed I grew them in is still a little heavy (in contrast to the rest of the soil) and they don’t respond well to this and over – rich soil (I mistakenly put manure on the area a short time before the new season began). This encourages them to fork, whereas by keeping the soil relatively under – fed early on you apparently encourage them to grow straight and true as they seek out the nutrients further down – at least that’s what I heard Bob Flowerdew say on ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ last week! Oh, and you remember I’d been collecting a load of old pallets? I’ve finally got round to making good use of them. They cut up nicely into sturdy 500mm – wide board walks which I’ve lain over the top border – this means that I have two manageable – width beds and don’t have to walk on the soil between them.

I’ve also been clearing out a side bed which was becoming choked with a Lilac that was suckering all over the place. This border is a bit on the edge of the kitchen garden and is not ideal for food growing, so I think that I might use it for flowers to attract insects etc. I’ve a good supply of Marigold seeds from last season, so they can go in there.

Over-wintering plants in the Old School Garden greenhouse

Over-wintering plants in the Old School Garden greenhouse

The greenhouse seems to be working well at over wintering my pelargoniums and ‘exotics’ and the pots of broad beans and sweet peas I put out a week or two ago are starting to push new growth through. I’ve sown some other seeds in my propagators – just some brightly – coloured Cosmos, Iceland Poppies and Leeks – these seem to be doing well, and hopefully I can pot them up shortly. I’m also chitting two varieties of early potato. You know how much I love ‘Charlotte’, the waxy ‘second early’ and alongside this I’m growing ‘Pentland Javelin’.

It looks like the weather is going to be a bit warmer in the coming week – in fact as I’m writing the rain has stopped and the sun is out! Hopefully I can get out tomorrow and catch up with a few more jobs that need doing – for example putting some pesticide on a couple of Hosta- filled containers to eradicate Vine Weevil (didn’t quite manage to get rid of these last year through a soil change), spraying my dwarf Peach tree with Bordeaux Mixture to help prevent ‘Peach leaf curl’, replanting the many Nerine bulbs I dug up recently from the kitchen garden and getting some more seeds into the propagators.

The primary school garden from the new pond dipping platform

The primary school garden from the new pond dipping platform

On the broader front my work with Norfolk ‘Mastergardener’ seems to be picking up once more. I’m helping the local Primary school with their School Garden, as you know. I’m shortly going off to meet with their garden coordinator to discuss plans for the coming year. I’ve offered to go into school one day per week to work with different classes and I’m looking forward to helping them get the most out of the garden, which is now starting to look really good. You may recall that we (staff, parents and children) managed to get a new wildlife pond installed over the summer and I also installed a pond dipping platform for them (made from recycled plastic), so the children will have this new resource for nature study in the coming months.

Yesterday I visited a new food grower I’m supporting for Norfolk Mastergardener. She lives in the next village and has recently moved to a large house with a super plot. I was impressed with the 2 polytunnels she has as well as a fenced off, structured vege growing area. She’s a keen animal lover and has this enormous pig (which her granddaughter rides like a pony!) as well as chickens, ducks, cats, dogs etc! The pond has a large number of enormous Carp in it too.

Any way, she’s a beginner when it comes to gardening and wants me to advise her about food growing for her large family. I’ve suggested she looks at the range of seeds she’s bought (as well as inherited from the previous house owners) and does a rough plan of what she wants to grow and where this might go in her plot. I’ll then talk this through with her and some of the basics about manuring and preparing the soil, sowing seeds, potting up etc. I’ve suggested that she keeps things simple this year and just goes for one crop in each area, rather than think about succession planting, until she sees the amount  of time she’ll need to put in and what her garden will generate in terms of food. We’ll see how it goes, but it’s a wonderful setting and with the polytunnels (one plastic – covered, one netted) she has some great growing areas to play with.

Tulips starting to show themselves in Old School Garden

Tulips starting to show themselves in Old School Garden

Well, I see the time has ticked on and I must be out to my meeting at the School. I’ll drop you another line in a week or two to let you know how I’m getting on, and hopefully we’ll also stay in touch via my blog or by email? By the way I’d welcome any comments or suggestions you might have about the blog, as I’m still finding my way!

Very best wishes from

Old School Garden

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