Tag Archive: gardening


Hanging baskets can be planted up as the weather warms, but protect against late frosts.

Hanging baskets can be planted up as the weather warms, but protect against late frost

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What to do in these strange times, when many, if not all of us are at home much more than usual?

Well, I’ve managed a full-on programme of garden work so far, including some long overdue maintenance to garden furniture and structures….I’ll share some pics in due course.

I also spent a couple of hours making a little garden for my next door neighbour, Hattie (age 3). Some of you may know that I’m keen on recycling and in particular have marveled at the sorts of things people can make out of pallets. I’ve done a little of this myself in the past, not only in my own garden (where they are used as compost and leafmould containers), but helping primary school children create some vertical planters. Having demolished our rather old, and in places rotting, wooden arbour and similarly decaying raised planter, I had a few pieces of trellis and board left….. as well as a pallet of course.

After some slight adjustments, and the side boards having been nailed into place, I lined it with landscaping fabric. The result is a special ‘portable’ (when empty) garden. I also supplied a selection of plants, which will hopefully engage Hattie in gardening..though I know she is already into growing having seen her sunflowers last year, and she also has a rather impressive set of gardening tools (3 year old scale of course).

I started the ball rolling with a pot of compost and a couple of first early seed potatoes which she has now planted in the pot. The pallet garden (having been painted up) followed, and Hattie went about filling it with compost from my wheelbarrow (I think Mum and Dad may have helped).

Then she planted out:

  • Primula

  • Sweet pea (to grow up that trellis)

  • Onion (red)

  • Broad bean (Aquadulce)

  • Chives

  • Stachys byzantina (‘Bunny Ears’)

  • Forget me nots

  • Hellebore (Christmas Rose)

  • Sedum (‘Autumn Joy’)

  • Pelargonium (White)

  • Cerinthe purpurascens (Honey wort)

  • Strawberry

  • Symphytum (Comfrey)

Oh, and some seeds too- Sunflower (‘Teddy Bear’- a low grower), lettuce and Bellis perennis.

Having just received my annual supply of tomato plants from my friend Steve, I see that one is a bush variety so perfect again for someone on the small size…so I’ll supply another pot with that once things warm up a little more. Happy gardening, Hattie!!

 

Old School Gardener

 

 

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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Now's the time for cleaning up in the garden

Now’s the time for cleaning up in the garden

1. Elf  ‘n’ safetee

  • Frosts can still be a hazard, so keep vulnerable plants protected at night if frost is forecast (fleece or cloches). March winds are also ferocious so make sure exposed plants are well supported.

  • Remove moss and weeds from paths, terraces and driveways. Dissolve washing soda crystals in hot water and brush over paths and patios to remove green algae – it’s cheaper than specialist treatments off the garden centre shelf.

  • Protect new spring shoots from slugs. There is a wide range of possible methods – why not  try an organic one?

Fork over your borders

Fork over your borders

2. Making your bed

  • Prepare seed beds – lightly fork and rake over to achieve a fine tilth, removing larger stones,weeds etc..

  • On your borders clear up any remaining dead stems, leaves etc. and then weed, fork over and add nutrients – incorporate as much organic matter as you can. You can add a mulch on top of the bare soil to suppress further weeds and keep moisture in.  This might be of composted bark (at least a year old to avoid it removing nutrients from the soil). A 5cm deep layer, spread before the soil dries out, and with newspapers between the soil and the mulch, will slow down the rate the bark decomposes, so it could last for 2 – 3 years.

  • Thawing and freezing conditions may have  lifted some plants – give any that have risen out of the soil a gentle firm around the stem.

Now's the time to divide and transplant perennials

Now’s the time to divide and transplant perennials

3. Moving on – position your plants

  • Late March/early April is a good time to transplant shrubs and trees – as soon as the soil is workable, but before buds have swelled or broken open.

  • Divide and transplant summer perennials and fertilize established ones as soon as new growth appears.

  • Plant summer – flowering bulbs and tubers (e.g. gladiola, lilies and dahlias). You can continue planting additional bulbs every couple of weeks until mid June to ensure a longer flowering period.

  • Check that any plants growing against the house walls and under the eaves or under tall evergreens have sufficient moisture – incorporating organic matter will help with moisture retention.

  • Plant ornamental grasses (or lift, divide and replant existing ones) and mix them in with your shrubs and perennials.

  • Plant shallots, onion sets and early potatoes towards the end of the month

  • This is the best time to move snowdrops – “in the green”. Once the flowers have faded dig up the plants, take care not to damage the bulb or the foliage. Tease out the bulbs into smaller groups and replant them straight away at the same depth, watering to settle the soil around the roots.

  • Plant Primroses and Pansies.

Onion sets can be planted out

Onion sets can be planted out

4. Cut above – pruning for growth

  • Cut back winter shrubs and generally tidy up around the garden.

  • Cut back established Penstemons.

  • Prune winter Jasmine after flowering.

  • Cut Honeysuckle back to strong buds about 1m above ground and remove some older stems to encourage new growth at the base.

  • Finish pruning fruit trees before the buds swell.

  • Roses can be pruned this month – and start feeding them (all-purpose fertiliser and/or manure).

  • Remove any plain green stems from variegated shrubs otherwise they will eventually all revert to green.

 5. Stake out

  • Gather sticks or buy plant supports and get them in place around perennials that are likely to need support – best do it now so you don’t trample on surrounding new growth in the border and before the plants grow too tall or bushy to put in supports easily. Try making ‘lobster pot’ shapes over the plant base by weaving pliable willow, dog wood or hazel cuttings from coppiced plants – these look more natural than metal supports.

6. Feed and Weed

  • Give bulbs that have finished blooming some fertilizer – a ‘bulb booster’ or bone meal.

  • Top dress containers with fresh compost.

  • Fertilize shrubs and trees if this wasn’t done in February.

  • Use an Ericaceous fertilizer to feed acid-loving evergreens, conifers, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias.

  • Use an all-purpose fertilizer for deciduous trees and shrubs – Bonemeal and/or Fish, Blood and Bone are ideal..

  • Fruit trees and bushes will benefit from a high potash feed (wood ashes is one source) – a liquid feed of tomato fertilizer on the strawberries is also well worth a try!

  • Regularly hoe vegetable beds so that weeds are not taking any available moisture or nutrients.

  • Mulch all fruit with your own compost or well-rotted farm manure, making sure it does not touch the stems, as this can cause rot.

  • Turnover your compost pile to encourage new activity and generate future supplies of compost to feed your garden!

  • Pot indoor plants into bigger pots if they need a ‘refresh’ or if the roots have filled the existing pot. Increase the frequency of feeding indoor plants (high nitrogen feed for plants grown for their leaves and high potash for those grown for their flowers).

Seeds can be sown in trays or open ground - or in these modules for easier transplanting

Seeds can be sown in trays or open ground – or in these modules for easier transplanting

7. Sow, sow, sow

  • Sow seeds of summer plants indoors, in propagators or in trays or modules on window cills or other light, frost – free places.

  • Sow seeds outdoors once the soil has warmed up (use cloches or coverings a week or two before you sow to warm the soil) – only plant small amounts of veg that you actually like to eat and choose well – tried, hardy veg varieties that don’t mind the cold – carrots, peas, broad beans, spinach, radish, parsnips and leeks.

  • You’ll need labels, finely raked soil and a string line or cane to help you sow straight – and ensure you sow at the right depth and spacing.

8. Grassed up

  • Repair damaged lawns with new seeding or turf – choose the right grass mix for your situation and expected use.

  • Make it easier to mow your lawn by eliminating sharp, awkward corners – create curves that you can mow round.

  • Remove a circle of grass from the base of trees in the lawn (ideally at least 1m diameter, but possibly more for bigger trees), and mulch with chopped bark/compost. It will take less time to cut round the trees, the trees will benefit from the cleared space underneath, and you’ll avoid colliding with and damaging the tree trunk.

  • As soon as possible start cutting the grass. If it has not been cut since last autumn it will be long, tufted – and probably hard work! Choose a dry day, and once the soil has dried out sufficiently. Cut it to about 5cm and remove the cuttings, and on the same day (or soon after), cut it again to half this height. .

nest box9. Critter care

  • Buy or make nesting boxes to attract birds to your garden (see simple construction pic from the British Trust for Ornithology opposite).   Hang them on a wall rather than from trees if you have cats in the area.

  • Carry on putting food out for birds but make sure there are now no large pieces – these are potentially harmful to fledglings.

  • Keep the bird bath topped up with water

  • If your wildlife pond does not have any frogspawn try to get some from another pond that has plenty. Check any submersible pumps and clean filters. Thin out oxygenating plants

10. Dear diary

  • Get a notebook and use it to keep important gardening information; what you plant in the garden, where you got it from; planting /transplanting dates; harvesting dates and quantity/ quality of the crops. Also record any pest or disease problems, what was done and how effective this was. All this information will be helpful in planning your garden in future years.

Old School Gardener

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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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drought-headerThe impacts of climate change on gardening around the world are becoming clearer, though of late perhaps the emphasis has shifted away from global warming, the associated changes in the onset and duration of the seasons and the conditions for growing different plants. The recent focus has been on prolonged extreme weather events like peristent wind and rain in the UK, drought in pacific north America and ice and snow in the mid west and eastern seaboards.

In this second of a series on climate change and gardening I’ll set out a few ideas for ‘being prepared for the unpredictable’.

I originally wrote this article in March 2013, whilst looking out on a sunny but cold day – temperatures were hovering around freezing and a biting easterly wind reduced the temperature feel by a few more degrees. The ground was cold, spring flowers were struggling to make headway and some of my seedlings were battling to stay alive, let alone get to the potting up stage!

Once again, this year in my part of the UK (central Norfolk), we seem to have escaped the worst of the most recent bout of severe weather. Elsewhere in the country where there was deep snow on the ground last year (some drifts were over 4 metres deep and there was talk in the press of ‘the coldest March for fifty years’ and ‘the longest winter since 1962’), this year, as Spring knocks on the door, we’ve had a relatively mild winter, but one which has brought severe flooding, wind and other storm-related damage (such as ‘sink holes’) to many parts of the UK.

Professor Sir John Beddington
Professor Sir John Beddington

As the retiring UK Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor John Beddington warned in an interview last year:

“The [current] variation we are seeing in temperature or rainfall is double the rate of the average. That suggests that we are going to have more droughts, we are going to have more floods, we are going to have more sea surges and we are going to have more storms…These are the sort of changes that are going to affect us in quite a short timescale”

So, it looks like many (if not most) gardeners face the challenge of seasons tipping between unusual weather patterns including long periods of drought, flood and frost.

Wild flower meadows can be a more sustainable option than frequently mown lawns.
Wild flower meadows can be a more sustainable option than frequently mown lawns.

My first article in this series about climate change and gardening looked at what the forecasts said, based largely on models of climate change produced about ten years ago. Last year the Royal Horticultural Society and University of Reading linked up to publish a new research report  which is based on new forecasting models and which includes the results of a survey of gardeners on what they perceive to be happening and what measures they have already taken or are preparing to take. This survey revealed that two-thirds (62%) of British gardeners feel optimistic that they can adapt to the challenges climate change may bring, while 70% believe changes in gardening practices can help them garden successfully in a changing environment.

So, we all know that in the short term we can do certain things to avoid the worst excesses of the weather and I’ll be reviewing these in my next article. In this post I want to set out a few ideas for some more strategic measures we might take to ameliorate the impact of abnormal weather events.

So, what are we trying to achieve?

It might sound obvious, but I guess we’re trying to create the right growing conditions for the plants that stand a good chance of growing (if not flourishing) in what are the underlying climatic conditions for where we live. 

In the UK, ‘maritime climate’ is a disarmingly simple term which refers to what can, at the best of times, mean very variable weather conditions from region to region and from month to month. Overlay the effects of climate change on this and the (unexpected) variability can be that much greater. We need to look at ways of managing and manipulating the ingredients for growing success – or if you like, putting in place measures that can maintain the right ‘micro climate’.

This is nothing new. The Romans harvested winter rains for use in their parched summer gardens. The ancient Tiwanaku people of South America developed an ability to manage the growing environment for their crops. They lived between Lake Titicaca and dry highlands in present – day Bolivia. The area near the lake provided key resources of fish, wild birds, plants, and herding grounds for llamas. Further to the east in the Altiplano area is a very dry, arid land. Here, the high altitude Titicaca Basin provided less promising growing conditions and resulted in the development of a distinctive farming technique known as ‘flooded raised field’ agriculture (suka kollus).

 

This consists of artificially raised planting mounds separated by shallow canals filled with water. The canals supply moisture for growing crops, but they also absorb heat from solar radiation during the day. This heat is gradually emitted during the bitterly cold, frosty nights, providing ‘thermal insulation’.  Over time, the canals were also used to farm edible fish, and the resulting canal sludge was dredged for fertilizer. The fields grew to cover nearly the entire surface of the lake and although they were not uniform in size or shape, all had the same primary function. Though labour-intensive, suka kollus produce impressive yields. Significantly, experimental fields recreated in the 1980s by Alan Kolata and Oswaldo Rivera of the University of Chicago suffered only a 10% decrease in production following a 1988 freeze that killed 70-90% of the rest of the region’s production.

So, as we can see, the Tiwanaku engineered fields that were specialised in coping with seasonal variations and were able to ameliorate otherwise frosty local conditions. It is this sort of approach – ‘working with nature’  rather than attempting to control it – that is the key to coping with the impacts of abnormal weather events in our gardens.

What can we do to get our gardens prepared for climate change?

home made compost
Home made compost – try to create as much as possible to improve soil structure and fertility

Soil

  • Organise home composting and leaf mould creation, if at all possible. Organic matter added to all types of  soils will improve water absorption, aeration and fertility. Double (deeply) dug beds with plenty of organic material incorporated will be a great help. Likewise adding gravel to heavy soils can help to loosen up the structure.

  • Add mulches of organic materials to beds to help conserve moisture or otherwise use ‘cover crops’ to avoid areas of bare earth which will dry out more quickly.

  • Raised beds will provide well – drained growing conditions  and an annual layer of organic material may be all that’s needed to keep the structure and fertility up to scratch (and can be extended further with alternating layers of different materials such as newspaper to keep weeds down and improve structure and moisture retention when needed – so called ‘Lasagne gardening’).

  • Make sure you adopt ‘healthy practices’ when preparing growing media and containers so that you minimise the risk of harmful diseases – wash out pots and seed trays. And remove all those little potatoes from a plot where you grew these to avoid encouraging blight.

Rain gardens can provide a solution to gardens with excess water
Rain gardens can provide a solution to gardens with excess water

Water

  • Don’t pave over large areas of open ground for parking, patios or other reasons, unless the materials used are permeable to allow run off. Likewise use permeable materials for paths such as gravel, bark chippings or in combination with pavers and/or ensure runoff into surrounding beds and borders if the ground can take the surge of heavy rainfall.

  • Could your garden (or perhaps an area of lawn) benefit from improved drainage? Apart from installing a system underground, you can improve aeration and absorption in lawns by annual spiking with a fork (or if the area is large a mechanised version of this) plus scarifying the surface with a spring rake. Better still, reduce the area of lawn or remove it altogether – in  some areas people have replaced even front garden lawns with food growing beds.

  • For temporary flood protection, try ditching the boundaries of your plot to hold and possibly divert excess water to places where it can be better coped with – for instance you could create a pond or pool to capture excess water and possibly also provide a ready source in times of drought and help to attract beneficial wildlife to help control pests. And think of the Tiwanaku and their frost preventing raised field planting – creating bodies of water near frost pockets can help to reduce the impact of cold weather.

  • Look for opportunities to use excess water to add new planting areas to your garden – bog or rain gardens where planting can be adjusted to make use of the wetter ground conditions. See this link for further ideas on storm water management.

  • And alongside this have water harvesting measures in place to capture rainwater so that it can be stored and used when needed – barrels, butts or tanks fed from downpipes – even underground storage tanks are now available.

  • Consider using weeping hoses, automatic irrigation systems or simple measures like short lengths of pipe/open ended plastic bottles inserted in the ground alongside plants to ensure watering is efficient, reaching the roots rather than evaporating on the surface.

Efficient watering can be simple
Efficient watering can be simple
Make your own greenhouse from recycled plastic bottles
Make your own greenhouse from recycled plastic bottles

Temperature

  • Think about the mix of planting you have and if hot weather is likely to be an issue, ensure that shorter, smaller, more sensitive plants are sheltered at the hottest time of the day by some shade from other overhanging trees, shrubs or other planting.

  • Likewise, more permanent structures such as pergolas, arbours and the like can provide not only an interesting growing feature but can provide shade for plants underneath or along their edges.

  • Greenhouses, polytunnels, conservatories and even light rooms in the house (where temperature and humidity can be controlled) can provide a protected environment for over – wintering plants that would otherwise perish in cold spells. Heating your greenhouse adds greater flexibility, and can be ‘green’ if you harness the earth’s thermal energy through some sort of simple heat exchanger that taps warmth below ground.

  • Use cloches, larger plant covers or cold frames to provide mini controlled environments which can enable germination of seeds, development of seedlings and possibly protection of less than hardy plants during times of frost or prolonged cold. The growing season (especially for food crops) can effectively be extended through such methods. See this video for information.

wind breaks can reduce the impact of strong winds

Wind breaks can reduce the impact of strong winds

Planting

  • Use wind breaks of trees, hedges, other planting or permeable barriers of suitable man-made material fixed to posts to reduce the speed and force of winds which can cause dessication (drying out) of plants  as well as structural damage. These measures can be used on the boundaries of the garden as well as inside it to create pockets of  still air which can also raise temperatures.

  • Choose plants which can cope better with weather extremes; look out for indicators of resilience on plant labels and especially accreditations such as the RHS ‘Award of Garden Merit’ (AGM- I’ll be covering this in more detail in my final article of the series).

  • Plant for the future, using trees, shrubs and hedges that are drought tolerant or damp-loving – whatever is suited to the conditions in your garden or parts of it.

  • Avoid long-term planting in flood areas, unless you are trying to create different growing conditions like bog or rain gardens.

  • Avoid clearing slopes of vegetation as this may cause erosion problems.

  • Encourage biodiversity and beneficial wildlife through your choice of plants (as well as the other measures that you can take to create different habitats) so as to help control unwanted pests. Planting a native species hedge for example can encourage wildlife and provide shelter from drying winds or storms.

  • Think about increasing the proportion of perennials you grow, including fruit and vegetables, as these are less demanding of fertility and CO2 emission in their propagation etc.

A garden pond can help with capturing excess water and improve biodiversity

A garden pond can help with capturing excess water and improve biodiversity

And finally, think sustainably when considering the overall impact your garden and gardening practices will have on the world. Gardens are enormously valuable in the fight to reduce CO2 emissions and by reducing or removing the use of powered tools (especially those used in lawn maintenance) we can further increase the beneficial impact we have.

In my next article in this series I’ll turn my attention to gardening techniques and short term measures we can take to manage the impact of abnormal weather patterns. In the meantime, if you have any direct experiences of climate change or any other comments I’d love to hear from you.

Other articles in this series:

Four Seasons in One Day (1): Climate change and the garden

Further information:

Wikipedia- Tiwanaku

Sir John Beddington’s warnings on climate change

Britain like Madeira?

My Climate Change Garden

UK Meteorological Office – impacts of climate change on horticulture

Royal Horticultural Society – gardening in a changing climate

‘Gardening in the Global Greenhouse ‘ – summary

RSPB- guide to sustainable drainage systems (download)

RHS guide to front gardens and parking

Old School Gardener

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drought

How about a brief relook at gardening and climate change?

I originally published a series of four articles about gardening and climate change in 2013 and reposted them in 2015. Reports of a strong ‘El Nino’ effect forecast for the past few years coupled with man-made global warming seem to have resulted in more dramatic weather events, albeit the results in the UK might be a little gentler than typhoons and droughts..the latest horrific wild fires in Australia, flooding in several places and the continuation of polar ice melt AND the heightened profile of climate change through Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and young people’s protests around the world, suggest that a republishing of these four articles might be timely…

In this first of a series of posts about gardening and climate change, I explore just what the experts are predicting for the UK and what this might mean for our current gardens and gardening techniques.

I think it was Nietzsche who said that madness comes not from uncertainty but certainty. But for the gardeners of Britain, pulling their hair out in the face of ‘the wrong weather at the wrong time’, climate change and the unpredictable weather it is bringing us can frustrate even the most seasoned horticulturist, though perhaps stopping short of madness! It poses significant challenges to gardening customs  and practices, which have in the past been based on the predictable passage of the seasons within fairly certain timings and within, by and large, expected bounds of temperature, wetness, wind and frost (though in the maritime setting of the UK these can all vary considerably from area to area). So maybe we need to look upon these greater levels of uncertainty as a challenge and one which will actually be mentally stimulating!

The underlying changes have already begun to unfold in the UK (and elsewhere):

  • A gradual, overall rise in average temperatures

  • Increased frequency of extreme weather events like rain and flooding, frost and snow, wind or drought

drowned cars aus

A few years ago a seminal article on the impact of climate change on gardening in  the UK (‘Gardening in the Global Greenhouse’ by Richard Bisgrove and Paul Hadley of the University of Reading) pointed up these trends and started the debate about what they will mean for Britain’s gardens. The main conclusions were:

  • reduced frosts

  • an earlier spring

  • higher average temperatures all year round

  • increased winter rainfall, leading to increased risk of flooding 

  • hotter, drier summers, leading to an increased risk of drought.

FloodedGardenMayCredAdrianBloom_L

They pointed to how these trends were likely to make looking after large areas of lawn and grass increasingly difficult and costly, and how some traditional garden features may have to be replaced by new ones, more suited to changing conditions (e.g. loss of some ‘cottage garden’ favourite plants). Arguably there is even a greater challenge for heritage gardens, which have traditionally featured large lawns, herbaceous perennials and specific planting combinations and effects which were developed in climatic conditions that will gradually disappear.

It also seems that there’s something of a north – south split in the UK, with the south becoming warmer and drier and the north subject to wetter weather, in the winter especially, though recent storms and flooding in the south west and southern Britain might seem to run ounter to this trend.

On the plus side, botanic gardens have had to be intensively managed in order to grow the widest possible range of plants in ‘living collections’ and these highly managed environments may provide scope for growing an increased range of plants, as increased temperatures and the other key trends take effect. Botanic gardens are also in a key position to promote and spread knowledge on climate change and its effects.

In gardens more generally, plants are also grown in very favourable conditions:

  • propagated in controlled conditions

  • planted into carefully prepared ground

  • protected from pests and diseases and competing plants

This should give us some optimism that the techniques and conditions for responding to climate change are already well developed and gives the garden an advantage over nature.

frosted plant

Though rather slow and insidious, it is already possible to detect some of these trends. The Central England Temperature Record shows that between 1750 and 1900 (150 years) the average temperature in Central England increased by 1 degree Fahrenheit (0.7 degree celsius). During the 20th century this trend advanced faster so that the average temperature rose by a further 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit with two thirds of this increase happening since the 1970’s.

This record also shows how 5 of the 6 warmest years since records began in 1659 occurred in the ten years 1989-99. The prevalence of frosts has also declined: an average of 55 frosty days in the 1880’s has reduced to about 35 days by the 1980’s. And closer to home, here in Norfolk, a local gardener has kept records of when certain plants started flowering in her garden from the 1960’s to the 2000’s. Mary Manning’s records show the advancing of Spring: Winter Aconites began flowering in mid January in the 1960’s and by 2000 this had moved to mid December. The same is true of Hazel, which first flowered around the beginning of February in the 1960’s and has likewise moved to before Christmas in forty years.

Global CO2 levels seem to be rising by about 1% per annum, though predictions of the future rate and impact of this inevitably vary according to assumptions about economic growth, reductions in carbon emissions and other factors. But although these underlying trends seem increasingly accepted, we also seem to be getting freak frosts, floods or droughts of varying length and intensity – almost at any time of the year, making the normal weather patterns of the seasons less and less ‘normal’.

Looking at the underlying trends, the impact of climate change on our gardens will most likely be determined by factors such as plant hardiness and tolerance of excessive wet, or drought conditions (see the chart for one forecast of reductions in water availability across the globe). This poses a challenge to the gardener’s ability to drain land or supply water as needed.

the-contribution-of-climate-change-to-declining-water-availability

The British Meteorological Office points up some of the other potential impacts:

  • ‘Increased carbon dioxide levels will increase rates of plant growth and perhaps development (bud burst, flowering and leaf fall)

  • Changes in temperatures are expected to bring an earlier onset of growth in spring and a longer growing season

  • Mild winters may reduce the yield of fruit trees, because colder temperatures are needed to break the buds

  • Increased temperatures will aid the growth of more plants from warmer parts of the world

  • Higher temperatures and decreased summer rainfall will cause stress, especially in plants with extensive, shallow, fibrous root systems

  • Annual moisture content of soils is likely to decrease by 10-20% across the UK by the 2080s, with substantial reductions (of 20-50%) in soil moisture possible in the summer by the 2080s

  • Fungal diseases will thrive with the wet winter conditions.’

Old School Garden in the snow

So, as gardeners we have to cope with both the longer term trends (which arguably will not be very noticeable in the short term) and, perhaps more importantly, increased frequency of unpredictable, extreme weather events of uncertain length and impact. This ‘seasonal uncertainty’ is perhaps our greatest challenge as well as trying to use gardening practices which help to reduce CO2 emissions and are broadly sustainable.

Over the last four decades, extreme weather events have severely damaged many gardens and resulted in major economic losses. These events include:

  • Severe winter weather in 1962/63 that killed many hardy plants

  • Drought in 1976, which weakened trees and dried out lakes

  • Storms in 1987 and 1990 that felled millions of trees

  • Torrential and prolonged rain leading to soil erosion, flooding and drowning of plant roots in 2000, 2001, 2007, 2012 and now 2014

As Monty Don says,’The number one rule remains the same: do not fight nature’ (Gardener’s World Magazine, January 2013). He goes on to observe how ‘the past couple of years have been noticeable for the wrong weather most of the time’. We do not yet know if a new weather pattern (which is another way of saying climate or ‘average weather’) will establish itself , or whether we are in for ever more uncertainty. Or perhaps that’s just it – ‘the one certainty is that the weather will be more uncertain’ and we need to adapt our gardening techniques and habits to cope. As Monty says,

‘Expect the unexpected and be flexible’

So, lets look upon these new circumstances as a challenge to our gardening skills and respond to nature’s call. In my next post on climate change I’ll be looking at the advance measures we can take to better prepare our gardens for the unpredictable and longer term impact of climate change. If you have any direct experiences of climate change or any other comments I’d love to hear from you.

Further information:

Britain like Madeira?

My Climate Change Garden

UK Meteorological Office – impacts of climate change on horticulture

Royal Horticultural Society – gardening in a changing climate

‘Gardening in the Global Greenhouse ‘ – summary

Old School Gardener

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Winter Jasmine looking good

Winter Jasmine looking good

I wish all my blog followers and casual readers a very Happy 2020!!

Though a little hampered by arthritis, and lots of other stuff going on, I can look back to last year with some pleasure at what I’ve achieved…both in Old School Garden (like my new shed!) and in supporting others in their endeavours, most notably the Papillon Project, creating allotments at High Schools across Norfolk.

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 some 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

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

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Exciting times!! We’re off to Heathrow tomorrow to pick up our eldest Daughter, her fiance and our grand-daughter…we haven’t seen them in the flesh for a year. As you know they are coming over from Australia to get married at our local church, and our grandaughter is going to be baptised at the same service.

We’re looking forward to welcoming you and Ferdy to the service and reception, which as you know is going to be held in Old School Garden. Needless to say it’s been all go here trying to get the garden ready, and as luck would have it, we discovered a ceiling down after a leak on our return from Ireland a few weeks ago…so the builders (who are already restyling our lounge) have some more work to do…as do I on the decorating front!

So apologies (and to my other blog followers) for being a bit absent on the blog front recently…it’s down to lack of time with everything else going on. Still as they say ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ I’ll show you a few select shots of the garden at its spring time best…

I’ve also been over to Blickling which is looking splendid…

And the Sandringham Flower Show Garden is progressing nicekly…we are sourcing pretty much all we need from generous companies and others, but have yet to find some largish trees to add height and structure to the design.

And whilst I haven’t been able to devote any time to the Reepham High School and College Allotment Project, we popped over to see it today , as part of the Reepham Food festival, which was a real delight, and where we managed to hook up with a few old friends. The Project has moved on apace with several major features being added, including a rope pump and an outdoor classroom, (this is under construction and is using virtually all reclaimed and recycled materials) and a new hard roadway and french drain to sort out the drainage problems..

I was over at the church yesterday cutting the grass pathways through the rapidly growing meadow environment and recently we had the fantastic help (once more) of the Community Payback Team, who cleared the ‘triangle’ near the church and on which I’ve sown a meadow seed mix….

This was just before another major gathering at the church, this time the 100 Bomber Support Group (our local airfield was part of this), held part of their annual reunion with us…there was music, cake and plenty of memories and history on show..a great time was had by all……..

I hope you and Ferdy are enjoying the warm sunshine as are. sometime I must tell you about our trip to Ireland, which was a great adventure with some wonderful sights and sounds (and Guinness of course). To round off here’s one picture of the Giant’s Causeway, a magical place..

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

I’m writing this on one of a number of very sunny and warm days, recently -up in the high 20’s C in fact which is very unusual for April.

On reflection its been a very busy but also productive month in Old School Garden.

I’ll come to the garden shortly, but first I thought I’d update you on the progress with the Sandringham Flower Show garden; you recall I’m designing this for the Prince’s Trust and Grow Organisation?

Following a very useful Design Workshop where I gathered together ideas and other information for the design, I hit upon the ‘5 Steps to Wellbeing’ on the NHS website. The garden is called ‘Grow and Trust’ and is about a young person’s journey to wellbeing. It is important that young people are involved in the design and build process as the garden is the focus of a programme that introduces participants to garden design and gardening as a possible way into further education or employment. Here’s the design, which is pretty blank in most of the zones, as I hope that the young people will fill the zones with a selection of different features and planting to illustrate the five steps:

  • Connecting- all about relationships

  • Giving- in this case to nature

  • Learning- this will focus on creating willow garden features

  • Active- this will show ways of growing your own food

  • Mindfulness-being in the moment and reflection

Now we are focused on sourcing and making elements of the design and I’m pleased to say that a local Nursery, Woodgate in Aylsham, have agreed to loan us the majority fo the plants and other items.

Due to other commitments my sessions at Blickling Hall have been somewhat curtailed recently. but I had a very enjoyable morning there last week initially planting some Asparagus and later edging the borders in the Parterre. It was good seeing my fellow volunteers once again.

Finally, away from home, I’m very pleased that the daffodils and trees we planted at the local church are doing their stuff. Having just reinstated the plaque for the ‘Avenue of Remembrance’ the site looks great…we are planning further improvements like a small area of wildlfower meadow, the seeds for which I’ve just ordered. Here’s a recent picture of part of the approach to the church.

Back to the home garden. Well, I was getting quite anxious about getting on top of weeds before they take hold, in advance of our older daughter’s wedding in early July. Having put in some hours (some days with a very early start to avoid the worst of the heat), and in the middle of last week giving the grass its first cut , that I feel that ‘a corner has been turned’. However, I may regret saying that in two weeks time, when we return from our trip to Ireland! It always amazes me how cutting the grass (and if time edging it too) makes a major impact on how tidy the garden looks.

I’ve also been busy in the kitchen garden, and whilst several construction projects remain, I’ve managed to plant both 1st and 2nd early potatoes and lot of other food crops both directly (Beetroot, Parsnips, Carrots) and in the greenhouse (which has been given its spring clean)- Cauliflower, Calabrese and Runner beans.

With the wedding in mind I’ve been planting out and sowing flowers for cutting, to go on the reception tables. The colour theme is Purple, Green and white so I’ve a selection of flowers that will hopefully fit the bill: two varieties of Nigella and Nicotiana, ‘Bells of Ireland’, Gypsophila, Ammi majus, a white poppy and Cenrinthe purpurascens as well as couple of other more unusual pruple flowers (whose names escape me for the moment). I also visited another local Garden Centre yesterday and bought a number of plants for our two large hanging baskets; again in the same colour theme. these will all rest in the greenhouse while we are away, our next door neighbour having kindly agreed to keep them watered for us.

To finish off, then here area few pictures of the garden as its is today, just the tidier areas of course!

As you read this we will be on our way north for an overnight stay in Dumfries, and then the following day catching the ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast for a couple of days stay. After that we travel around the northern Ireland coast taking in the Giant’s causeway and other sights, spending some time at Sligo before joining 6 of our oldest friends in Galway Bay for a week together. After a very hectic time the idea of a holiday certainly appeals, if only I can relax and switch off that is! All the best for now, old friend. I do hope you are enjoying the good weather, and hopefully it won’t be too long before it returns.

Old School Gardener

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