Tag Archive: gardening


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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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 frosts.

I’ve been getting to grips with the Ground Elder (once more). The Tulips are nearly over, but the Hostas are opening up. The potatoes are in along with a few other root crops and plenty of flowers….. What are you up to in your garden? In case you need a few pointers, here are my tips for garden jobs in May.

Keeping weeds under control is a key job in May

Keeping weeds under control is a key job in May

1. Just weed away Renee…

Hoe borders to get rid of weeds before they get too big to remove easily – ideally do this on a dry day to kill them off by drying them out (or desiccating). Keep removing moss and weeds from paths, terraces and drives, ideally by hand (you can hoe out fresh weed growth in gravelled or other loose material drives and paths). Alternatively, use a weedkiller with glyphosate on paths if there’s too much to cope with or you have a more persistent problem.

2. Search for the ‘precious’ and keep hold of it

Water is precious! Use kitchen and bath water (as long as it isn’t too dirty, greasy or full of detergent) for watering. Collect rainwater (from downpipes and gutters with pipes into water butts or similar containers) and possibly look at some form of automatic irrigation for specific areas – for example, my friend has a simple micro – pipe, drip feed system to keep his containers moist. If you haven’t already done so, help to conserve moisture around your plants by mulching – especially shrubs and other perennials – any rotted organic material will do the job (including the contents of old grow bags). Make sure your planted pots and containers don’t dry out, especially where they are located near to a  wall or other spots where a ‘rain shadow’ means they don’t get wet when it rains.

Harvesting rainwater can help conserve water supplies- here three water butts are linked together so that overflow from one is saved to the others

Harvesting rainwater can help conserve water supplies- here three water butts are linked together so that overflow from one is saved to the others

3. Protection racket

There can be some big variations in temperatures in the garden during May so protect against night time frosts (e.g. using fleece, cloches or other coverings). If you have tender bedding or other plants make sure you keep these inside a greenhouse or cold frame until all risk of frost has passed in your area (generally the end of May here in Norfolk).

4. Feed me

As the soil is warming up and plants are starting to grow, add a general purpose fertiliser (e.g. Fish, Blood and Bone) to key shrubs, perennials, fruit, vegetable borders and containers before covering with mulch.

Scarlet lily beetle

Scarlet Lily beetle

5. Pest watch

Keep watch for pests in the garden. Ideally, avoid using chemical controls as they may also kill off beneficial insects that prey on the pests you are trying to kill off (as well as being useful pollinators) – e.g. ladybirds and hoverflies. This is the time to get a grip on slugs and snails! They’ll go for tulips, young shoots of Delphiniums, Hostas etc. Use wildlife – friendly slug pellets or ‘beer traps’, drench Hostas with liquid slug killer to kill off slugs below the surface or go for a biological control – nematodes carry a lethal bacterial infection for the slimy things. Keep an eye out for Lily beetles (bright red beetles with black heads- I’ve already squashed a couple) or their yellowish larvae, and also black-spotted, green caterpillars of the gooseberry sawfly. Squash away! Before birds can get to their new buds, it’s wise, if possible, to net fruit bushes. Netting installed over newly planted brassicas is also a wise precaution and/or some form of bird scarer in the vegetable garden (I’ve found the plastic tape you stretch out between two posts and which vibrates in the breeze is quite effective, and I’ve also got a very lifelike plastic owl!).

Pinching out broad bean tips

Pinching out broad bean tips

6. Grow to eat

If you don’t fancy growing your own vegetables and herbs from seed or perhaps don’t need to grow that much, its possible to buy ‘teenage plantlets’ from garden centres. I’ve found things like celery work well this way, saving you time and giving you strong little plants to plant out. Remember to harden these off gradually before putting them out in the garden. If you do want to seed sow, now’s the time to get many different crops underway – remember to look carefully at the instructions on the packet and sow away – its a good idea to sow a little now and some more later to ensure a continuous supply and so avoid gluts that you can’t use (or soon get bored with!).

You can also plant out brassicas and quick growing crops such as lettuces and radishes between them to make good use of the space you have. Sweet peppers, tomatoes, aubergines and salads can also be planted in the greenhouse. Developing Broad bean plants should have their growing tips pinched out to discourage blackfly, and its sensible to put up a border of canes connected by string around the block of plants to support them as they grow heavy with newly forming bean pods.

As potato stems start to peep above the ground you should ‘earth up’ – just draw over more soil from the surrounding area to cover the new shoots once they are about 15 – 20cms tall. This will help to prevent those near the surface going green and becoming inedible and reducing the risk of blight (it might also increase your crop and make lifting the potatoes easier). This needs to be done every few weeks in the early growth period. Strawberry plants can be planted in the ground, in containers or even hanging baskets (as can some ‘tumbling’ varieties of tomato).

7. Sward play

Mowing the lawn frequently is important – if you leave it too long between cuts, the job becomes harder and the grass gets tougher and rougher (you could opt for a wildflower meadow of course and let some or all of the grass grow longer, or maybe reduce your mowing area). A weekly mow is probably advisable, but keep an eye on the weather and don’t cut if a hot, dry spell is expected, to avoid scorching the grass. Established lawns can be fed if you haven’t already done so and are keen to get a good looking, healthy lawn. You can just about get away with sowing  a new lawn this month as well as finishing off any repairs to an established lawn by sowing bare patches or replacing these with turf.

Tying in Sweet peas as they grow

Tying in Sweet peas as they grow

8. Get a grip

Clematis that have been pruned hard (‘if it flowers before June, don’t prune’) are probably now starting to grow quite fast, so regular tying in of their stems will ensure you don’t end up with a tangled mess of a plant with brittle stems that break easily, later in the year! The growing tips of young sweet peas should also be pinched out to encourage bushier side growth and more flowers – and tie these stems in to your supports as they grow, just like the clematis. Alternatively pinch out early side shoots to encourage a single stem (or ‘cordon’) which can be tied onto a cane (see picture above)- this will encourage bigger but fewer flowers.

9. Spring cleaning

Some plants will have finished flowering this month and it’s important not to forget them (I must say this is something I regularly do!). Perennials such as Pulmonaria should have their old foliage cut off, and then large clumps can be lifted and divided and replanted with plenty of water and organic fertiliser. Likewise, young self – seeded Polyanthus can be lifted and moved to a nursery bed for planting out next spring. Narcissi and Tulips should be deadheaded as the flowers die off and if possible the plants sprinkled with bone meal or a liquid foliar feed. Ideally, let the leaves of these bulbs die down naturally, as they will still be soaking up the sunlight and so help to swell the bulbs underground for a good show next year. Spreading and trailing plants such as Alyssum and Aubrieta (Aubretia) can be cut back to encourage fresh growth.

Cut back early flowering plants like Aubretia to encourage new growth

Cut back early flowering plants like Aubretia to encourage new growth

10. Trooping the colour

Tubs, pots and other containers as well as hanging baskets can be planted up for extra flowers and colour in the summer, but keep these under cover if frost threatens and gradually harden them off before finally positioning them outside. Go for a limited colour range for impact – purple and gold, red and green or blue and white?

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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seed sowingWell, how’s the weather been with you? In the last week or two the sun has shone for some of the time, but it’s been cold again in Norfolk!

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 – I’ve did this to my rather large rosemary bush last year and its come back fighting!). 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, though I’ve already got my ‘first earlies’ in.

9. Spud you like

Good Friday is the traditional day for potato planting (ideally in ground that is well-manured and weed free)! As Easter was early this year and the weather has been on the cold side, 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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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

So sorry I missed my letter to you in February! Without wishing to make excuses, it’s down to an incredibly busy month or two …and it seems there’s worse to come!

Let’s begin with the couple of weeks away we had- a few days in each of Iceland and Devon, both very snowy and windy as it turns out!

Our return to Iceland some 34 years after our first visit (in the summer), was something of a ‘saga’ you might say, mainly down to bad weather affecting both of our flights, to the effect that we had added an 8 hour coach journey each way due to flights being diverted.

And the return leg was further complicated by bad weather at our new airport destination (Keflavik)…this resulted in a day’s delay and further complications which all in all rather over shadowed the wonderful experience of northern Iceland in winter.

We managed to see some rather spectacular whales, had a trip out to NOT see the Northern lights (another long coach trip at nightime!), and visited the wonderful Lake Myvatn area with its volcanic landscapes, Godafoss waterfall and hot mud pools; we took advantage of a naturally heated outdoor pool..with beer! Here is a selection of pictures…

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Our trip to Devon was nearly as eventful. A couple of days after returning from Iceland we travelled west just as the ‘beast from the east’ dropped its load of snow  on Eastern England…we picked up our share a day or two later courtesy of the collision of the ‘beast’ with ‘Storm Emma’. We managed to get out and about on Dartmoor  just before this, but poor road conditions meant we delayed our return by a couple of days. Here are some shots to show how cold, normally mild, Devon was…

Back in the garden its been spring cleaning time. I’ve cleared off the borders and pruned back summer flowering shrubs, and hopefully tomorrow it will be time to collect up the rubbish and dispose of it- probably a bonfire for much of it. My efforts on re erecting the trellis in the Kitchen garden have suffered a blow – witness this picture…

As you can see the upright I had to fix in concrete hasn’t survived the winds and so its back to the drawing board; I think I’ll level off the base with mortar and drill some pilot holes for the bolts, then try placing these in a resin compound that my builders’ merchant says will ‘do the trick’! We shall see….

‘m getting a bit anxious about all the things building up for me in the next few months, not least remodelling our lounge (just  had a bit of a shock with the builder’s quote on this) and getting the place ready for our Daughter Lindsey’s wedding reception…and of course all the other arrangements that go with this!

Add to this my usual round of Green Flag judging (I have 4 parks and open spaces to visit in London, including Clapham Common, plus two in East Anglia) and a new project; I’ve been asked to help the Grow Organisation with a design for a show garden at the Sandringham Flower show on the theme of ‘A young person’s journey to wellbeing’. This is being commissioned by The Prince’s Trust. This is an exciting prospect as I will be working with a group of young people to co-design and co-produce the garden.

Volunteering at Blickling Hall continues and most recently I had a very pleasant few hours edging the paths with some of the other volunteers. As you can see there’s also a lot of work being done to restore the Orangery- I had an interesting chat to one of the workmen, who explained how badly decayed a lot of the woodwork is, but it will look splendid once more, in the, hopefully, not too distant future!

And I’m very pleased to report a great success for the Reepham High School and College Allotment Project, where I’m one of the community volunteers; they’ve just won the Norfolk and Norwich Eco School award, which is very well deserved as it is fast becoming a major centre of school and wider community life, exemplifying the principles of permaculture and recycling. I was pleased to be involved in the visit of the Orchards East project, three of whose personnel came to see the orchard and provide some very useful advice on pruning and management; hopefully they can help out with some extra fruit trees next winter to fill a few gaps and diversify the types of tree in the orchard.

So, once again sorry for missing you out in thedepths of winter, old friend; I was pleased to hear that our mutual mate, Les popped in to see that you and Ferdy were keeping well, and I gather he stocked you up with food and few beverages when you were snowed in, too! You can probably tell my anxiety levels on on the rise, so hopefully by next month I will be able to report some real progress in Old School Garden as well as in the many other areas of my horticultural life! Keep well!

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 a few windy spells, the last few months have been pretty tame – as last year!  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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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Well another New Year! It’s been rather mixed here, weather -wise, of late. Today is windy and cold with some squally showers, but it looks like it will clear a bit later, so that’s when I’ll get outside…

In the last week I’ve been re -erecting the trellis panels in the Kitchen Garden, with a mix of old and new posts (this time concreted in), to provide a clear boundary to the main garden. I’m pleased with the result, though yesterday, in an attempt to refix one post (in a metal clamp) to some concrete, I managed to burn out my electric drill, so that little adjustment will have to wait until a new drill arrives in the next few days.

I’ve also fixed the posts to hold the rope swags I’m planning along the entrance to the Kitchen Garden, up and along which will be trained the six ‘Compassion’ climbing roses I put in last year. The whole thing looks a little unkempt at present due to its original cream paint being covered with mildew. Once Spring arrives I will clean off the woodwork and repaint (in a light grey). I’ve also relocated and tied up the Blackberry to run along the back of this plot (which was previously the home of the raspberries). Here are some pictures of how things look at present…

I’ve also bought seeds for the Kitchen Garden as well as some annuals with an eye on flowers for our eldest daughter’s wedding in July; and some Early Potatoes are chitting (‘Swift’ and ‘Charlotte’).

Having had a satisfying day yesterday tidying up and burning off a lot of the debris from last year’s garden, planting a new Blueberry in a sunken pot and a few other bits and pieces, I feel that I’m making progress…still a lot of major structural work has yet to be done as well as continuing the tidy up.

In my regular visits to Blickling Hall I’ve enjoyed the company of fellow volunteers and the gardening team. Our jobs have included cleaning out the Shell Fountain and pond  where the Irises had invaded the pool and over grown the lilies, requiring a major job of cutting out, splitting and replanting (I’ve brought home a few spares for my own pond). Here are some pictures taken on the day…

Most recently I went in early and worked with fellow volunteer Rory  to clear leaves in the Secret Garden and then with a few other volunteers to mulch the main borders in the Parterre…it was a lovely sunny day and the Orinental Planes looked especially impressive in the winter sun…

I’ve continued my small voluntary input to the local High School allotment project where, with the students, I’ve finished creating some new raised beds and begun the process of mulching all of these with some rather rich compost and farmyard manure. A number of projects are underway here and I’m pleased to have helped arrange a visit of the local Orchards and Apples project to provide some advice about the orchard.

And speaking of orchards I’ve just been sent my data and other guidance to carry out a survey of historic and other orchards in the parish by the project Orchards East. This same project is also visiting the Grow Organisation in Norwich where hopefully they can help establish a new orchard as part of a wider ‘Fruit Forest’ area, complete with underplanting of fruit bushes, ground cover and other plants. The aim is to create ‘plant guilds’ to help establish and develop this important part of the master plan for the site. I’m popping over to them next week to help with designing a strip next to the Hub Building as a wildlife garden, sensory area etc.

Well, that’s about it as far as the past month is concerned. As we are spending a couple of weeks away towards the end of February (including four days in northern Iceland!), I think it will be a month of pottering and odd spells of tidying up rather than anything more major. I think I will also hold off sowing seed until early March….and then things will begin to take off big time!

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 2018!!

It’s been a year of ‘ticking over’ in Old School Garden, as a long trip to Australia to be at the birth of our grand daughter fell right in the middle of the growing season… and voluntary activity elsewhere meant my attention was not on the Ground Elder amongst other things on the home patch!

Still, various important projects are underway, most notably the restructuring and renovation of the Kitchen Garden, where I hope by the Spring to have built a new shed, and installed trellis, rose swags and other features….watch this space.

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,

I hope you and yours have had a great Christmas! We have here with immediate family and some friends to help us celebrate.

As you will appreciate the last month hasn’t seen much action in the garden; mainly clearing leaves (the oaks have yet to give up all their leaves), and planting out of a few choice plants bought (on offer) recently; including some Verbena rigida and a white form of ‘elephant’s ears’. I’ve also managed to get hold of some Monarda (spares from Blickling), some of which I’ve planted out alongside the Kitchen Garden, others potted up for planting later.

I’ve been buying the wood needed to finish the Kitchen Garden so if the weather allows I shall get out and put up the trellis and other structural timber work in readiness for the new growing season.

I mentioned that I’d cleared back some trees along the western boundary and have since planted out a mix of native hedging (Beech, Dog rose, Hawthorn etc.) to fill gaps in the slowly forming hedgeline here.

As there isn’t much to show of Old School Garden, here are a few shots from Blickling taken over recent months. We finished off the year here with lovely party for the garden volunteers and I’m looking forward to another productive year here, especially as the Walled Garden is now pretty much into full production.

So, old friend, we now look forward to lengthening day light and the chance of increasing activity outside. Here’s wishing you, Ferdy and the family all the very best for 2018!

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Having finally completed this years work at the local church I can now turn my full attention to Old School Garden. But I’ve been feeling a bit tired and lacking strength recently, perhaps a hang over from the chest infection I couldn’t seem to get rid of, or that and all the physical efforts at St. Peter’s?

The restructuring of the Kitchen Garden is progressing, albeit rather slowly. I’ve completed the boxing in of the oil tank, and in the last couple of days have dug up the remaining old raspberry plants and cleared away a site and replanted the blackberry bush….this will now be positioned to run along the edge of the wood on our northern boundary.

I’ve also laid the remaining slabs at the rear where the new shed will go (I’ve made a start on cutting the wood for the base and frame for this, but I’m thinking it may be the Spring before this is completed). I’ve also repositioned the compost bins so that they take up less space in the working areas of the garden.

The ‘great leaf collection’ has begun too..a job that seems never-ending as the last trees to lose their leaves (usually the oaks) continue to shed their golden foliage.

The western boundary has been fully cleared and there are just a few bits and pieces of wood etc. that need tidying up, this will open up the edge of the garden to more light so opening up new planting possibilities.

I hope that if the weather is kind, I might get the trellis work relocated in the next month or two, which will also enable me to prepare the old raspberry bed for a new planting of potatoes in April.

My input at the local High School continues and even though the lunchtime sessions are short we manage to get a reasonable amount of things done. Last week  I  joined two lads in constructing a low raised bed which will expand the planting possibilities at the Allotment Project.

I’m still doing about a day a week at Blickling Hall, and am conscious I haven’t posted much about this of later. needless to say there is a lot or repetition as the seasonal jobs roll around. I’m looking forward to visit the gardens nearer Christmas, having seen the enormous effort being put in to lighting up the grounds- it should look spectacular.

I’ve run my two shredders over the Grow organisation as I think they will make better use of them than me, and it wa pleasing to see that the project is really taking off now that it has a steady set of staff and a good number of volunteers and participants on its ‘green therapy’ sessions.

As you were there you know how successful our Remembrance Day event at the church was, with nearly 300 people attending and wide range of activities and features. You can see photos a report and also an ITV Anglia News item on this on my sister site www.haveringland.wordpress.com. Having realigned a few of the trees in the ‘Avenue of Remembrance’ the setting of the church is much improved and the ornamental pears ‘Chanticleer’ have begun to turn a cockscomb red as their name suggests.

Well Walter, as the days shorten and the weather worsens I guess it will soon be time to curtail my gardening activities, but hopefully we will still have some days when- if other activities allow- we can get out and continue the restructuring of the Kitchen garden so that its ready for the finishing off in the spring.

I hope that you and Ferdy are getting prepared for Christmas. we visit my mother in Law shortly in devon for a few days and after that we will be into December and the preparations can seriously begin!

Old School Gardener

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