Tag Archive: fruit

An early start at Blickling this week, and the first hour was spent harvesting some second early potatoes; variety ‘Nicola’. I don’t know these but have been told they are pretty tasty…’Charlotte’ is my favourite and I’ve just harvested a good crop in Old School Garden (I gather our neighbours enjoyed them too while we were away in Australia).

After that and reconnecting with some of the garden volunateers I missed last week, I went with them to the Parterre, which is looking splendid at present. The two Peters were continuing to paint the metal tunnel in the Walled Garden, with just the top half to do..involving painting from a platform.

The jobs in the Parterre were edging the grass and weeding. A fan of edging (it’s second to hoeing of the garden jobs  in my book), I found some reasonably sharp edging shears and managed to complete the set of four borders (new volunteer Tim had done one already) before departing home…to continue to get the home garden back to some semblance of order…

Progress is being made!

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener







It’s nearly two months since I was last at Blickling and I was wondering how the place might be looking, as it’s getting into peak visiting season.

I had lots of catching up to do, but after a few weeks with very little floral colour it was wonderful opening the garden door and coming across the double borders in all their summer glory.

It was great meeting up with the gardening team of staff and volunteers. With the other chaps I went over to the Walled Garden and was bowled over with the sight that greeted me…fabulous summer colour and every area with something growing in it, including a wide range of fruit and veg, all looking very healthy.

And whilst away the metal tunnel that runs the length of the central path (erected and welded together just before I went away) is now being painted…something the ‘two Peters’ were tasked with continuing with their tins of black ‘Hammerite’ paint. It really does add great vertical interest to the garden and will look absolutely splendid as the apples hat have been planted alongside it reach up and over to create a fabulous ‘green walk’. I also noticed a couple more new bench seats set out on the side paths which add to the scene.

Fellow volunteer Chris and I set about weeding between the rows of various vegetables (including some rather vicious globe artichokes), mainly hoeing with the occasional hand forking out of any larger plants. This was relatively easy work on a pleasantly warm and sometimes showery day…it was good to be out in the open and tackling some physical tasks once more.

Another pleasing sight was the south-west quadrant of the garden , which was the last to be cultivated. a fine sward of grass in the shape of a key hole is surrounded by vibrant floral interest and all symbolically done to represent the Indian flag, to link in with an exhibition at the House about the Marquis of Lothian’s connections to that country.

The whole scene was quite a contrast to Old School Garden,which after six weeks of letting nature do her own thing, looked rather less neat and tidy, as you might imagine. Still, after a lot of urgent attention since returning from Australia, it is starting to look rather more cared for.

As I left a little early (together with a bunch of wonderful Dahlias from the Walled Garden), to get on with the clear up at home, it was nice to hear ‘great to have you back’ from a couple of the gardening team… it was great to be back.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener







Winter Jasmine looking good

Winter Jasmine looking good

I wish all my blog followers and casual readers a very Happy 2017!!

In previous years I’ve said how I view January with a little trepidation..‘I’m a SAD person. Even though my birthday falls in January I find it the most depressing of months- due to the low light levels, I think.’

Well, this year, things feel rather different..partly because of some great family news and a Christmas with all our children and their partners around us, and partly because I can see some exciting gardening projects on the horizon…let’s hope the positivity continues!

As I’ve said before, you might think that January is a month when there’s not much to do in the garden; well there are a number of useful things you can get stuck into, so here are my top ten tips (with a ‘grow your own food’ angle and with thanks to various websites):

Chitting potatoes- probably only worth doing for first or second earlies. Place tubers with blunter ends upwards (the ones with most ‘eyes’) and place in trays in a cool but well- lit place towards the end of the month.

chitting pots

1. The answer is in the soil.

Remove all plant debris, to reduce the spread of disease and pests. If you need to, continue preparing ground and digging beds ready for next season, but only if the ground is still workable (don’t dig if the soils is wet or heavily frosted).

2. Don’t let the rot set in.

Check your stored fruit and vegetables carefully, for rot will pass easily one to another. Empty sacks of potatoes, checking them for rot and any slugs that might have been over-wintering unnoticed. Your nose is a good indicator, often you will smell rot even if it is not immediately apparent to the eye! Also check strung onions- rot usually starts from the underside of the onion.

 3. Enjoy your winter veg.

Continue harvesting Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbages, celeriac, celery, chard, endive, kale, leeks, parsnips, turnips, winter lettuce, winter spinach, turnips. As you harvest brassicas, dig up the stems and turn the ground over. Because the compost heap will be cold and slow at this time of year, you can always bury these in the bottom of a trench along with some kitchen waste to prepare for the runner beans later in the year.

Red cabbage- lovely sliced and steamed with apple and onion in a little water, wine vinegar and sugar…

Red cabbage- lovely sliced and steamed with apple and onion in a little water, wine vinegar and sugar...

 4. Get ahead of the game.

Continue to sow winter salad leaves indoors/ under glass/ cloches- make your stir fries and salads more interesting with easy-to-grow sprouting seeds. If not already done and the weather is mild, plant garlic, onion sets and sow broad beans (e.g. Aquadulce ‘Claudia’) for early crops. Order or buy seed potatoes and start chitting (sprout) seed potatoes. Herbs are easy to grow on your windowsill and provide fresh greens all year round.

5. Not mushroom?

It’s surprisingly easy to grow your own mushrooms – try growing a mushroom log in your garden or alternatively grow some indoors using mushroom kits.


Mushroom logs can make you a fun guy…! 

6. Rhubarb, Rhubarb.

Consider dividing well established plants, and at the first signs of growth, cover to exclude light if you want ‘forced’ rhubarb over the next couple of months (growing the variety ‘Timperley Early’ may mean you get rhubarb in February anyway).

 7. The hardest cut.

Continue pruning out dead or diseased shoots on apple and pear trees, prune newly planted cane fruit, vines and established bush fruit if not already done. Continue planting new fruit trees and bushes if the soil conditions allow. If the ground is too waterlogged or frozen, keep bare rooted plants in a frost free cool place ensuring the roots don’t dry out.

8. Clean up.

If not already done, make sure your greenhouse is thoroughly cleaned inside and out and that any seed trays and pots you plan to use are also cleaned and inspected for pests- e.g. slugs and snails.

9. Fail to plan and you plan to fail.

Plan out what you are going to grow in the coming season and order seed catalogues.

pback1_1380165c 10. Put your back into it.

If you must dig, look after your back- remember to warm up and limber up before you do anything strenuous and try to bend your knees to ensure your legs take the strain – and not your back!

Old School Gardener


Oh dear, first mud on a nice new floor...

Oh dear, first mud on a nice new floor…

My second Wednesday at Blickling was focused on the Walled Garden. Joined by three other volunteers (one of whom was also a newcomer to Wednesdays), we finished off shifting top soil onto the beds to level them up to the path edges.

So, more barrowing and raking for starters. The available soil had been shifted by the gardeners from the piles in the orchard next door, so we didn’t have far to go. But it was pretty strenuous, nonetheless. The space created will soon be (temporary) home to 100 tonnes of crushed Carr Stone- which will be used to surface the main paths in the Walled Garden.

Since my last session here, the Walled Garden has taken some further big steps forwards; rows of Catmint have been planted along some of the paths which will give a colourful, fragrant and insect-attracting floor to the trained fruit bushes, some of which had also been planted by the canes I had helped set out a few weeks ago.

The other big step is the finishing off of the new Bothy, from where, around mid morning, Project Manager Mike shouted ‘Tea time Team!’- I think this might have been the first time it had been used for refreshments (but probably not the first time Mike had made tea for the volunteers). I duly christened the new room -with it’s shiny spotted grey flooring specially chosen by Mike to hide the dirt!

'Tea time Team!'- Mike in the new Bothy...will it be too comfortable for our own good?!

‘Tea time Team!’- Mike in the new Bothy…will it be too comfortable for our own good?!

After lunch (taken, for now in the old bothy near the double borders), we finished off shifting manure to the beds where the soft fruit (Raspberries, Strawberries and the like) will soon be planted. I may be on trenching in this lovely stuff in my next session (back to Thursday). To finish off the day a couple of us raked over the new soil to avoid the expected rain panning the surface. Another group were finishing off the oak path edging which looks tremendous. Mike tells me he’s decided to turf these grass paths so that they can be used this season.

The final stretch of oak edging to the grass paths in the Walled Garden

The final stretch of oak edging to the grass paths in the Walled Garden

As I left for the day I had a quick word with gardener Rob in the car park, where he was about to deliver half a dozen large oak trunks to a sawmill in nearby Hevingham; these are going to be shaped into the posts for the lines of Raspberries, Blackberries, Tayberries etc.  which will be tied into wires strung between them.

So, some more lovely ‘home grown’ oak will add a touch of class (and longevity) to the Walled Garden. Mike says he’s glad that, at long last, he can soon stop being a builder and start being a gardener once again!

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


WP_20160204_12_45_49_ProMore forking and levelling this week in the walled garden. It was good exercise and inspired me to begin excavating my new wildlife pond at Old School Garden the day afterwards.

You may recall that fellow volunteer, Peter and I had continued getting the grass cross paths ready for turfing or seeding? Well we carried on for another few hours this week, and I’m pleased to say that the majority of this prep is now done.

Nearly there...forking over and topping up the cross paths ready for grassing over

Nearly there…forking over and topping up the cross paths ready for grassing over

It was great to see some obvious progress in this regeneration project; Manager Mike and Gardener Rob carried on with the installation of the metal posts that will carry wires to support a wide range of trained fruit bushes and trees. I also noticed that the roof of the new Bothy (with shop and office) was virtually finished, complete with two squat chimneys. I gathered from Darren, the roofer, that we’d missed the traditional ‘topping out’ ceremony where the making of a building wind and weather tight is celebrated with a bottle of bubbly…just the day before!!

There is also a beautiful solid oak noticeboard by the entrance to the garden , which I understand from Mike is to have a lovely carved top fixed to it, like the one near the main entrance to the gardens. Mike is contemplating a ‘past, present, future’ display on the three boards. I like this idea; it will kindle visitor interest in the walled garden as an historic feature of the House and its surrounds and inform them about seasonal jobs and future projects.

The new notice board

The new notice board

The crocuses near the entrance to the Walled Garden were showing their colour, and there is now plenty of other floral interest in the gardens.

WP_20160204_10_41_47_ProFurther Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


1YC9C3UYXThis exotic looking palm is pretty tolerant of cold, and has lovely fan foliage – a good choice if you want to bring a touch of the ‘exotic’ to the garden.

Common name:  Chinese Windmill Palm, Windmill Palm or Chusan Palm

Native areas: Central China (Hubei southwards), southern Japan (Kyushu), south to northern Burma and northern India, growing at altitudes of 100–2,400 metres

Historical notes: Trachycarpus fortunei has been cultivated in China and Japan for thousands of years, for its coarse but very strong leaf sheath fibre, used for making rope, sacks, and other coarse cloth where great strength is important. The species was brought from Japan to Europe by the German physician Philipp Franz von Siebold in 1830. The common name refers to Chusan Island (now Zhousan Island), where Robert Fortune first saw cultivated specimens of the species. In 1849, Fortune smuggled Windmill palm plants from China to the Kew Horticultural Gardens and the Royal garden of Prince Albert. The Windmill Palm was later named Trachycarpus fortunei, after him. RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) in 2002.

Features: Trachycarpus fortunei is slow growing but can grow to 12–20 m tall on a single stem, the diameter of which is up to 15–30 centimetres. The trunk is very rough with the persistent leaf bases clasping the stem as layers of coarse fibrous material. It is a fan palm with the leaves with the long petiole bare except for two rows of small spines, terminating in a rounded fan of numerous leaflets; each leaf is 140–190 centimetres long, with the petiole 60–100 centimetres long, and the leaflets up to 90 centimetres long. It is a somewhat variable plant, especially as regards its general appearance and some specimens are to be seen with leaf segments having straight and others having drooping tips. The flowers are yellow (male) and greenish (female), about 2–4 millimetres across, borne in large branched panicles up to 1 metre long in spring; it is dioecious, with male and female flowers produced on separate trees. The fruit is a yellow to blue-black, kidney-shaped drupe 10–12 millimetres long, ripening in mid autumn.

Uses:   Trachycarpus fortunei is cultivated as a trunking palm in gardens and parks throughout the world in warm temperate and subtropical climates. Its tolerance of cool summers and cold winters makes it highly valued by palm enthusiasts, landscape designers and gardeners. Chusan Palms make attractive garden focal points, and look good alongside other exotic plants such as Cordyline australis, the New Zealand cabbage palm and the semi-hardy banana, Musa basjoo. Large-leafed plants such as cannas or bamboos also work well. Although usually grown as a solitary plant, the impact is greater with a clump of three or more.

Growing conditions:  It can be grown successfully in such cool and damp but relatively winter-mild locales as Scotland, Southern New England, Long Island, and British Columbia, Canada, as well as in warm temperate climates in parts of the United States, Europe (predominantly UK, France and Germany), New Zealand, and Asia. It does not grow well in very hot climates. It will grow in most soils as long as they are well drained and ideally needs a sheltered position, out of full sun.

Chusan Palms at Vancouver, Canada. Pic by Keepitsurreal

Chusan Palms at Vancouver, Canada. Pic by Keepitsurreal

Further information:


RHS- Trachycarpus fortunei

How to Grow : Chusan Palm- Daily Telegraph

Barcham Trees Directory- Trachycarpus fortune

Trachycarpus fortunei in the Exotic Garden, Norwich

Choosing a Palm

Old School Gardener

Levelling up the new cross paths was this week's focus.

Levelling up the new cross paths was this week’s focus.

Having dug out channels for the oak edging to some paths in the Walled Garden in previous weeks, my colleague Peter and I had a day filling in the paths with soil in readiness for these to be put to grass.

It was hard work shifting sticky soil from a huge pile 100 yards away from the paths. These will form access ways across the four major quarters of the garden and will be grassed over- Project Manager Mike is yet to decide whether to turf or seed them.

In contrast to our previous session, today the weather was sunny and ‘crispy cold’ and the exercise (including arm extension from barrowing heavy loads!) was refreshing, if tiring. Two days on and I’m still feeling the effects on my shoulder muscles.  The first line of metal posts has been installed along one side of a quarter and with a nice dark mulch underneath starts to really define the shape of the garden.

Metal posts installed and mulched underneath in readiness for fruit planting

Metal posts installed and mulched underneath in readiness for fruit planting

It was also encouraging to see the progress on restoring the building in the corner of the walled garden which is to become a new ‘Gardeners’ Bothy, plus office and shop. This is expected to be finished by March, when a new crop of volunteers begins work; the recent ‘Volunteer Recruitment Day’, seems to have been a great success.

The roof well underway on the new 'bothy'- pic Blickling Estate

The roof well underway on the new ‘bothy’- pic Blickling Estate

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener


Picture by Pockets1 on Flick

Picture by Pockets1 on Flick

1280px-Rowan_tree_20081002b by Eeno11This wonderful tree, native to the U.K., is often associated with Scotland. It certainly suits bird life as the profuse red autumn berries provide a lot of autumnal sustenance. As they are not regular in shape,  the parent Rowan can be grown as a multi-stemmed specimen to achieve more uniformity of shape, or alternatively one of it’s clones, such as Sorbus aucuparia ‘Rossica Major’ can be used.

Common name: Rowan , Mountain Ash (due to the fact that it grows well at high altitudes and its leaves are similar to those of the ash, Fraxinus excelsior – however, the two species are not related). It’s latin name is composed of Sorbus for ‘service tree’ and aucuparia, which derives from the words ‘avis’ for “bird” and ‘capere’ for “catching” and describes the use of the fruit of S. aucuparia as bait for fowling. 

Native areas: The Rowan can be found in almost all of Europe and the Caucasus up to Northern Russia and Siberia, but it is not native to Southern Spain, Southern Greece, Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, the Azores, and the Faroe Islands. The species was introduced as an ornamental species in North America.

Historical notes: Fruit of S. aucuparia were used in the past to lure and catch birds. To humans, the fruit are bitter but they can be debittered and made into compote, jelly, jam, a tangy syrup, a tart chutney, or juice, as well as wine and liqueur, or used for tea or to make flour. The robust qualities of S. aucuparia make it a source for fruit in harsh mountain climate and Maria Theresa of the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy recommended the planting of the species in 1779.

The colour red was considered to be the best colour for fighting evil, and so the rowan, with its bright red berries, has long been associated with magic and witches. Its old Celtic name is ‘fid na ndruad’, which means wizards’ tree. In Ireland it was planted near houses to protect them against spirits, and in Wales rowan trees were planted in churchyards. Cutting down a rowan was considered taboo in Scotland. The wood was used for stirring milk to prevent it curdling, and as a pocket charm against rheumatism. It was also used to make divining rods.

The tallest S. aucuparia in the United Kingdom stands in the Chiltern Hills in South East England. This exceptional specimen is 28 m tall and has a trunk diameter of 56 cm.

Features: Sorbus aucuparia occurs as a tree or shrub that grows up to between 5 and 15 m in height. The crown is loose and roundish or irregularly shaped but wide and the plant often grows multiple trunks. The trunk is slender and cylindrical and reaches up to 40 cm in diameter, and the branches stick out and are slanted upwards. The bark of a young S. aucuparia is yellowish grey and gleaming and becomes grey-black with lengthwise cracks in advanced age; it descales in small flakes. Lenticels in the bark are elongated and coloured a bright ochre. The plant does not often grow older than 80 years and is one of the shortest-lived trees in a temperate climate.

6092500778_965c21d14d_bUses:   Rowans are planted in mountain ranges to fortify landslides and avalanche zones. It is also used as an ornamental plant in parks, gardens, or as an avenue tree. It is well suited to wildlife gardens. Cultivars are vegetatively propagated via cuttings, grafting, or shield budding. Ornamental cultivars include:

‘Asplenifolia’, which has divided and sharply serrated leaflets

‘Blackhawk’, with large fruit and dark green foliage

‘Fastigiata’, an upright columnar form

‘Fructu Luteo’, orange yellow fruit

‘Michred’, brilliant red fruit

‘Pendula’, which is a weeping tree

‘Sheerwater Seedling’, upright and slender, has vigorous growth, good-sized leaves and reliable and plentiful berries. It has been used as a street tree and is ideal for sites with little sideways space 

‘Xanthocarpa’ has orange yellow fruit

Growing conditions:  S. aucuparia is an undemanding species and can withstand shade It is frost hardy and can tolerate winter dryness and a brief growing season.  The plant is also resistant to air pollution, wind, and snow pressure. S. aucuparia mostly grows on soil that is moderately dry to moderately damp, acidic, low on nutrients, sandy, and loose. It often grows in stony soil or clay soil, but also sandy soil or wet peat. The plant grows best on fresh, loose, and fertile soil, prefers average humidity, and does not tolerate saline soil or waterlogging. It can be found in light woodland of all kinds and as a pioneer species over fallen dead trees or in clear cuttings, and at the edge of forests or at the sides of roads.

Mature S. aucuparia autumn colour

Mature S. aucuparia autumn colour

Further information:


RHS- Sorbus aucuparia

Sorbus aucuparia- the Woodland Trust

Growing S. aucuparia ‘Sheerwater Seedling’- Daily Telegraph

Barcham trees directory- Sorbus aucuparia

Old School Gardener

horticultural_fleeceHorticultural fleece laid over plants can bring earlier crops and other benefits.

Fleece is a finely woven material that protects crops from wind and cold, and raises soil and air temperatures slightly, all helping plants to advance faster than unprotected crops. If it is anchored in the soil properly it also protects against flying pests, such as carrot root fly.

Because fleece allows water and air to penetrate, it reduces watering requirements and increases airflow around the plants. This encourages hardier growth and discourages disease build – up. If used carefully, fleece can last for many seasons.

Being porous, fleece does not warm the soil as well as plastic cloches or black plastic sheeting. It can also lay flat in wet conditions, making germination difficult, and it can easily tear on windy sites.

Fleece comes in all shapes and sizes, like this zip up jacket protector for tender shrubs by Harrod Horticultural

Fleece comes in all shapes and sizes, like this zip up jacket protector for tender shrubs by Harrod Horticultural

Other uses of fleece:

  • to extend the growing season, making maximum use of the garden

to improve the performance of half hardy crops, such as peppers

to produce softer, more palatable growth in vegetables that become tough with winter exposure, such as spinach and chicory.

In recent years another material called ‘Enviromesh’ has come on to the market. This fine-weaved plastic netting is strong and lasts for ages. It is fine enough to keep off small insects such as butterflies, carrot fly, flea beetles and leaf miners, and yet durable enough to keep pigeons off. It is also good frost and wind protection. I use it here in Old School Garden, both early in the season to protect young crops and also later as a useful cover for raspberries and other bush fruit which is otherwise unprotected against birds. The downside is that it is more expensive than fleece, so shop around!

Enviromesh tunnel using pegs to hold it down- picture Enviromesh Ltd.

Enviromesh tunnel using pegs to hold it down- picture Enviromesh Ltd.

Alternatives which can do pretty much the same job are old net curtains (you can get off white ones relatively cheaply from charity shops) or builder’s netting used around scaffolding or to protect against falling debris.

Sources and further information:

Gardeners’ Advice- RHS Wisley Experts, Dorling Kindersley 2004

Alys Fowler- Netting

Old School Gardener


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