Tag Archive: february

New border? February is a good time to cut out new areas ,like this one at Old school Garden, created last year

New border? February is a good time to cut out new areas, like this one at Old School Garden, created in 2012


Winter? What winter? I know that plenty of places have suffered from storms, floods and snow, but in Norfolk, apart from the recent stormy
spells, the last few months have been pretty tame – as recent years!  It might not be safe to assume that the worst of the winter is behind us, but Spring is just round the corner so here are my 10 top tips for action in the February garden.

1. Where the wild things are…

It’s the last chance to put up bird nesting boxes this month – tits will soon be looking for a new home. Keep putting bird food out to encourage these ‘gardener’s friends’ into your plot. Click here for bird boxes and feeders to buy.

Bird boxes in all shapes and sizes…


2. Breathe deep…..

To help avoid fungal diseases make sure you let some fresh air into your greenhouse or conservatory on mild days.

3. The green green grass of home….

Look at your lawn and if the weather is dry and frost free look for areas that are a bit soggy or damp – use a border fork to pierce it around every 15cms or so to allow ventilation and improve drainage. If you’ve a moss problem, start using ferrous sulphate to kill it off.

4. Fruit shoots…

If you haven’t already done so plant new bare-root raspberry canes (cut the stems down to about 25cms after planting) and also cut down autumn-fruiting varieties to ground level.

February is a good time to dig over your borders- but maybe not quite as deeply as this...

February is a good time to dig over your borders- but maybe not quite as deeply as this…


5. Get Cultivating…..

Keep digging over beds and borders and incorporate organic matter (compost, manure etc.) as you go to help improve its fertility. Forking over the ground will help to open it up so that air can get in and expose pests for hungry birds.

6. On the border…

The recent storms or cold may have battered your borders, or perhaps you’re thinking of adapting them to wetter weather? Now’s the time to review – do you need to reposition or replace some shrubs to improve the structure of the garden in winter or do some shrubs need to be replaced with more hardy/wet – tolerant varieties? Think about the way your borders look at different times of the year – is there ‘all season’ interest? Maybe you fancy creating a new border? – if so plan and mark the edges with pegs and lines (straight edges) or a trickle of sand/hose pipe for more organic shapes.

Pruning shrubs grown for their winter stem colour such as Dogwoods

Pruning shrubs grown for their winter stem colour such as Dogwoods


7. Cutting crew…

An important month for pruning and tidying:

  • Late summer and autumn flowering clematis should be cut down to about 30cms above a bud.

  • Improve the shape of evergreen shrubs and hedges where necessary

  • (If you haven’t already) cut all shoots coming from the permanent branches of Wisteria to 2-3 buds of the previous season’s growth (encourages the development of more flowering spurs).

  • Deciduous shrubs grown for their coloured leaves or winter stems– prune down to a couple of buds on each stem (or if you want a larger bush leave a few stems a bit longer).

  • Roses– cut out all dead, diseased, dying or crossing stems. Hybrid tea roses should be cut back to about 20cms to an outward facing bud and Floribundas (flowers in clusters) down to 25- 30cms. Shrub roses don’t need much trimming, perhaps remove 1 in 3 older stems at ground level to encourage new growth.

  • Tidy up the leaves of Hellebores which will be/are coming into flower –remove the old leaves (improves the flower display and reduces the chance of disease)

  • If you have Pansies or Primroses keep deadheading the spent flowers.

8. Gimme gimme…

Feed all your pruned plants with a suitable fertiliser and mulch with manure or compost. Remove the top layer of soil in containers and replace with fresh compost containing a slow release fertiliser once the weather is milder. Likewise remove or incorporate any remaining mulch around fruit trees and shrubs and feed them with an organic fertiliser (e.g. fish, blood and bone) around their roots. Then replace with a fresh mulch of organic material to help feed them slowly and keep the weeds down.

repair/install netting around fruit bushes

Repair/install netting around fruit bushes


9. Protect and survive…

Use garden fleece or cloches around some strawberry plants to encourage an early crop. Repair or replace netting over fruit bushes such as blackcurrants and gooseberries to protect them from birds (some of which like to eat fresh fruit buds). Have a look for ‘frost heave’– where cold conditions have pushed the base of a plant above ground- carefully replace the plant and firm around the base. If you have Hostas it might be worth applying a liquid slug killer to them (repeated at 2 fortnightly intervals) to give them a good chance of avoiding damage later.

10. Get growing…

Sowing seeds in trays or modules can really get underway this month

Sowing seeds in trays or modules can really get underway this month


Early vegetable and salad crops can be sown in seed trays or modules and placed in a greenhouse or inside on a windowsill in bright and airy conditions (but not in direct sunshine)- keep turning the trays to ensure even, upright growth and prick the seddlings out once the first true leaves have formed. Broad beans, early carrots and parsnips can be sown outside under cloches.

Old School Gardener

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WP_20160222_14_13_35_ProOld School Garden – 29th February 2016

Dear Walter,

This month has been one of acquisition. I mentioned my plans for a DIY shed (including shingle roof) at Blickling recently and one of the volunteers, Peter, said he thought his brother might have some shingles he wanted rid of. Well last week I collected  several boxes of cedar shingles and ridge caps from his home in nearby Taverham, and think I might have enough to do most if not all of the roof- for a bargain price of £20.

Shingles...I look forward to fixing these on the roof of my new shed

Shingles…I look forward to fixing these on the roof of my new shed

The shingles are old, but unused and have been stored under cover for several years. You may remember that I’m drawing up plans for this shed based on using the old floorboards taken up when we had some under floor insulation put in? The plans are firming up nicely, and I’m making the shed big enough and tall enough to comfortably store all my unpowered garden tools along with a potting bench and storage for trays, pots and all the other garden paraphernalia like string, plant labels and so on. I’ll need to buy a few extra slabs for the base, as well as the timber for the frame, but the result should be something that will last, be big enough, not cost the earth – and look attractive too (I hope).

The other big project for this year, the wildlife pond, has begun too. Having firmed up my sketch plan I decided to dig out the main boundaries and other features and put in some key shrubs from elsewhere in the garden. While I was at it I thought I’d tidy up and strengthen the planting in the two borders you pass between to get to the pond. These look much better, with one side featuring a relocated Spotted Laurel (which was nestling unseen behind soem holly and whose leaves now pick up the yellow flowers of the Kerria behind), Star Magnolia and  Viburnum along with white Forget – me – Nots, and Verbena bonariensis. The other side features the ornamental Japanese Maple I bought last year along with a Flowering Currant and Anemanthele lessoniana grass, all surrounded with Yellow Loosestrife and purple Geraniums.

I’ve also acquired- again from Peter and his wife Pam, some plants suitable for the pond area and I hope to get some rustic wooden poles and log slices for embanking and an arbour from Blickling when I’m next there – the acquisitions continue!

Elsewhere in the garden I’ve begun the great spring clear up- cutting spent stems and pruning shrubs and trees, raking off leaves from the borders and forking over the soil to remove weeds and aerate. I find this very satisfying work, though I’ve a lot to do. I also cut the grass in a few places a week or two ago (in February would you believe!), as it had grown considerably in the (to date) mild winter.

Borders cleared and ready for weeding and soil tickling...

Borders cleared and ready for weeding and soil tickling…

I’ve also finally got my seed potatoes chitting (‘Rocket’ as first earlies, ‘Charlotte’ as second), and my first seeds have been sown and are starting to germinate; Sweet peas, Scabious, Lettuce, Calabrese, cosmos etc. Some of these are a little spindly, showing the effect of low light levels, but hopefully they can be potted up shortly and placed in the greenhouse to continue their journey.

My garden design course at Blickling proceeds well, I think, with 6 participants keen to find out how best to improve their own plots, which range from small, urban settings to large country gardens. The second session involved a practical measured survey of the Secret Garden at Blickling, which I think they found very instructive, and in tomorrow’s session I plan to cover garden structure which will also involve a visit to the gardens at Blickling to observe the key structural elements of the different gardens there.

Oh, I mustn’t forget my other acquisition this month. Our neighbour Richard and I were chatting over the garden fence one day and he told me of his new mole repeller, and asked if I wanted to get one as he was going to order another. Having used this sort of thing in the past with mixed results I was skeptical, but went along and said I’d give one a try. Well, he duly came round the other day and presented me with this solar-powered device, which emits a regular sound which is supposed to disturb the moles and encourage them to move on. He didn’t want any payment either!

Will it work? My new attempt at mole control,courtesy of neighbour Richard

Will it work? My new attempt at mole control, courtesy of neighbour Richard

So, it is in the lawn where there was last evidence of mole activity (I’ve also come across lots of mole hills in the borders as I’ve been clearing up), so we’ll see what impact it has. I suspect it’s still a little early for mole activity on any scale, so I await the spring with a mixture of trepidation and a small element of hope that this new device might do the trick. Of course with us both having these things we could drive the moles to our third nearby neighbour’s garden! But this shouldn’t be too much of an issue as the chap there, Norman, seems to thrive on his mole catching ability; I think his tally to date is in the twenties!

Well, Walter, I hope this latest letter finds you and Lise in good health and looking forward to the lighter, warmer days of spring that are on the horizon- tomorrow is March after all!

best wishes,

Old School Gardener



WP_20150224_17_13_25_ProOld School Garden

26th February 2015

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

A month of ‘not much’ I’m afraid!

I’ve started to clear the pile of bonfire cinders, ash and other ‘soil’ to make way for the new pond, hard graft spreading the soil around the borders (especially around the fruit bushes), but I’m starting to make an impact. I was also pleased to accept my neighbour’s offer of some large flints (removed from a raised bed wall they have altered).

I’ve bought in a few bags of good manure and started putting this around the fruit, so hopefully, if everything works (especially the weather and pollination), we should have a good harvest.

The general tidying up that’s a typical task at this time of year has continued; raking leaves and other litter off of the borders, weeding and tickling over the soil surface. This was especially rewarding this week, as I came across a flash of metal whilst turning over the herb bed; yes, to my (and Deborah’s) delight it was my wedding ring, lost about 18 months ago! It just shows you that I didn’t get round to dealing with this area last year! I’ve also commenced the pruning of various shrubs and grasses, including fixing some support wires for climbing roses. It’s always great to see the new growth buds appearing.

Seed sowing has continued, and I had delivery of an interesting selection from the RHS Members’ seed scheme, so some have gone into the fridge for some ‘stratification’ (a period of cold to help break dormancy). Unfortunately I was a little too eager to move my cucumber seedlings on, and once in the greenhouse they suffered ‘damping off’ and had to be dumped- a new set awaits sowing.

Elsewhere, I’m on a two week break from gardening at Blickling Hall, but it seems that the walled garden is coming on well; manure has been dug in and the delivery of path edging and the refurbished greenhouse is awaited. I popped over to Gressenhall earlier in the week, too, not for gardening, but to commence a new ‘creative writing’ course- hopefully it’ll improve my blog (and letter) writing skills! The gardens there looked pretty good, but I shall combine my future course sessions with some gardening to get the gardens ready for the Museum opening in early March.

Deborah and I visited Prague last week for three days, and whilst there wasn’t much of gardening interest, it was an amazing experience; one that touched many emotions and which involved 24 miles of walking over two days! I’ll post soem pictures from this trip in a day or two.

We’re also contemplating some alterations to the house, including some energy conservation measures, so it may be that the garden will be rather more neglected than usual.

Getting there- view across the Old School Garden orchard

Getting there- view across the Old School Garden orchard

I  hope that you and Lise are keeping well as the winter slips away and spring is approaching.

 All the best for now,

Old School Gardener

An early show from Euphorbia characias in Old School Garden
An early show from Euphorbia characias in Old School Garden

To Walter Degrasse – 27th February 2014

Dear Walter,

Mild weather has continued here and so I’ve taken the opportunity to start lightly turning over the soil, cutting back dead stems on herbaceous perennials and grasses and recently pruned back some shrubs such as Cornus and Buddleja to channel the new growth that’s starting to emerge.

In the last couple of weeks, the basal growths of new leaves around many plants have started to push upwards and the pattern of planting in the mixed borders is slowly taking shape – a very satisfying sight too.

I was surprised at how easily my kitchen garden soil responded to a light forking over, which included turning in some green manures and removal of a few weeds. With all the rain we’ve had I was expecting it to be rather claggy, but then again my sandy loam is always a joy to work with, so I should have known better. It’s also been perfect weather for dividing and moving some herbaceous perennials I didn’t get around to doing last year.

Having repaired the little storm damage we’ve had (a few bent hinges on one of the garage doors and a fence post needing to be replaced), I’ve also finally taken apart my wooden planters built about 7 years ago, but unfortunately not with pressure treated timber, so that all the money and effort has not lasted as long as I’d hoped. Still, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at an offer from a Scottish Raised bed manufacturer (‘Woodblockx’).

They’ve kindly donated me a new planter  and I’m finalising my plans about where best to use this, possibly as a feature in the courtyard with alpines  or maybe somewhere in the kitchen garden for food growing. The system they use looks both very strong and relatively easy to build, but I’ll do a review on the blog as I get to grips with the build in the next few weeks.

Having completed all the pruning and clearing of spent stems and foliage, I’ll also be turning my attention to further spring soil turning in the next few weeks. My first batches of seeds have germinated pretty well and I’ll be potting up some french marigolds and moving on some early food crops (Calabrese, Cauliflower and Leeks). To date the new bed of asparagus I planted last  autumn doesn’t appear to have made any growth above ground, but it’s still bit early for that, perhaps.

Next door the garlic bulbs and most of the broad beans I sowed last autumn are now doing well, as are the patches of onion sets (Red and white) and some Red cabbage and spinach. Mole activity seems to have subsided a little of late – hopefully it will tail off further as I get to give the lawn its first cut – and new grass will come up where the mole hills once lay.

Further afield, I’ve continued my new support at Fakenham Academy (a local high School), helping three groups of students prepare a food growing plot each in their school garden; in fact three plots of 12m x 6m, all of which have either been covered with weeds or grass.

Getting these ready for sowing is proving to be a tough job, the weather requiring us to turn over the clumps of grass/weeds and soil to allow for some drying out, so that we can remove most of the soil before piling up the weeds and turves in separate heaps for rotting down. Still, it does look like we’re making progress.

However, I discovered the other day that due to there being some asbestos in the better of two greenhouses  there, we will have to wait longer for a propagation space. This is unfortunate as I’d hoped to have broken up the hard physical toil with some lighter seed sowing activity especially as I have now bought the seeds and seed potatoes in line with the crops the students say that they want to grow. It’s fun working with these students, though not surprisingly they can get tired and bored of digging and so behaviour standards can sometimes drop!

Yesterday I returned to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum (where I volunteer) and was pleased to commence a tidy up of the gardens I’m responsible for. It was also encouraging to meet two new volunteers, Jonathan and Mike, as well as two new Heritage Gardening trainees, Sam and Sonny.

This new injection of person power will make it a lot easier to keep on top of the maintenance of the gardens and may even allow us some scope for further improvement projects.

It was a lovely day too, which makes garden tidying a real joy! The museum opens to the public again on 9th March, so next week no doubt we’ll all be trying to get the gardens looking presentable. The tubs of pansies and spring bulbs I planted in the autumn are looking good and along with other spring interest should give the gardens a splash of early colour- the pinky blushed Hellebores in the Education Garden are looking good for example.

I’m just back from a morning at my local primary school (first visit since early winter) to help with their ‘outdoor learning’, focusing on the garden. The morning began rather wet but we managed to spend a couple of hours with two groups of children turning over soil and weeding as well as moving a pile of wood chips around the fire pit- these had come from a fallen hawthorn tree that toppled over in the main drive during the recent storms. Some of the children also worked out how many potatioes they’d need for one of the raised beds and I took in a few fruit boxes with moulded paper liners to help with ‘chitting’.

The children seemed to have a great time and were especially interested in the warmth that had built up in the pile of wood chippings – a great opportunity to explain the rudiments of composting!

I’m also pleased that we have some extra help in the garden, in the form of Ann, one of the students on the GYO course I did last autumn and a parent of one of the children at the school. And our current house guest, Lisa, also helped out with groups spotting the ‘first signs of spring’. Lisa is staying with us for a few months to experience British school life and brush up her English before commencing her own university career with a view to teaching. She’s from Muenster in Germany – and we are also eagerly anticipating the arrival of her mother, Anne tomorrow for a weekend stay.

Seems like this is the time for important germans to visit the UK, as their Chancellor, Angela Merkel is in London today, addressing the Houses of Parliament and taking tea with the Queen!

The Garden Design course that I’m running at Reepham seems to be progressing well, with 9 enthusiastic participants. They have all pretty much surveyed and drawn up a scale base plan of their gardens and are now exploring functional and form layouts as well as developing sketch designs incorporating ideas for creating structure in their designs. Next week we turn our attention to planting design as the ‘fourth dimension’ (seasonal variations) adding to the 2D and 3D views of the garden we’ve covered to date.

Tonight I’m off to County Hall in Norwich to attend an event for the Norfolk Master Composters, featuring a talk by well known Norfolk organic gardener, Bob Flowerdew – and there’s a buffet too!

I hope you and Lise are well and getting stuck into your plot once more – remember to take it easy and limber up before you do anything strenuous – you don’t want that back problem again!

all the best,

Old School Gardener

chaffinch‘In sheltered spots the colours now return.

Brave crocuses and aconites of gold

Form brilliant carpets on the dreary floor

Of winter borders. In the woods unfold

The spikes of cuckoo pint, now showing more

And brighter green than hardy fronds of fern.

There’s colour, too, where tits and finches fly,

Attired already for the affairs of spring.

And, welcome even more, on oak branch high

As daylight fades a thrush begins to sing.

The hazel catkins shiver in the breeze,

In yellow clouds pale pollen drifts away.

A thousand starlings pass above the trees,

And silvered silk the willow wands display.’

John (Jack) Kett

from ‘A Late Lark Singing’ (Minerva Press1997)

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