Tag Archive: grow your own

A guest post from Kathy Berry

Note from Old School Gardener: I read this wonderful piece on Facebook recently and Kathy kindly allowed me to re-post it here- I hope that you find it as inspiring and joyful as I did…

An ordinary beetroot. I pulled it and weighed it’s comfortable heft in my hand. This year I grew veg for the first time in 7 or 8 years. My large garden had gone, my health had gone, my budget had gone. My ideas completely exceeded my physical capabilities.I gave myself permission to do it badly.

I did not have a perfect plan, or a well prepared plot. I had an existing ‘flowerbed’ which last year had been rammed with annual weeds. I sowed a few seeds in miscellaneous margarine containers and plastic trays. Cress, lettuce, tomato. Things I’d grown before with ease.

Their fresh green leaves brought joy and excitement to the peculiar early days of lockdown. I brushed my hand over them on the windowsill whilst the world lay eerily quiet outside. One day, I lay in my bed reading, and every time I looked up, the leaves on the windowsill were bigger. That was actually unnerving. I’d never seen a plant grow in stop motion before my eyes.

I exchanged seeds and seedlings with friends and strangers. Small envelopes or boxes left on doorsteps. My collection grew. I watered, rotated, stroked and yes, talked to my seedlings. Although some of it strayed into weirdly sinister…”I’m going to eat you” I whispered one day, before lowering my head and biting through the stems.

As the weather warmed, I hardened off my seedlings like an overprotective parent…a few hours outside if it was not too hot, or too cold, or too windy. Soon I was transplanting. A block of spinach here, rocket there. A chalked sign to remind.

A patch I’d planted but couldn’t identify. I carefully weeded around direct sown seeds, only to realise weeks later the sowing had utterly failed and I’d been lovingly tending a patch of docks.

I recognised the self sown poppies at least. I left many of them around the edges and under leggy shrubs. No need (or space) for regimented rows in my crammed-in veg garden.

Potatoes were offered by friends and duly planted. Tomatoes grew, some spindly, some sturdy. I hardened my heart and culled the runts, and laughed at my friends with greenhouses as they raised 30, 40, 50 plants.

Impromptu roadside stalls began springing up. One neighbour arrived on my doorstep with a couple of courgette and a couple of cucumber plants. “I saw you were growing, would you like these? Yes please!”. My other neighbour had passed a driveway stall “Free tomato plants”, and their toddler returned home with their tomato, in triumph.

Long empty days found me making macrame holders for my now cramped tomato plants to maximise the windowsill light. It was warm out now, but would it last? I had no greenhouse: only the toughest would survive. Checking the weather forecast became a daily habit. I did what I could, when I could.

My ‘gardening’ rarely exceeded ten minutes a day, and yet things grew, were transplanted, grew some more.

I exchanged photos and messages with friends. “What seedling is this? I forgot to label them!” Back and forth, back and forth. Gradually, imperceptibly, I developed a little kitchen garden. I harvested raggedy rocket and spinach leaves to add to a sandwich, and glowed with satisfaction.

Plants died, were culled, were eaten (not always by me). I harvested garlic and onions from sets pressed into the soil last autumn. Disproportionate reward, for an Amazon purchase and a few minutes of pressing my fingers into the ground. My completely indoorsy, computer orientated son was nudged to come out for just a few minutes for some light and air.

He found he liked hoeing, and we would sit companionably working alongside each other for ten or fifteen minutes. “This is homegrown!” became a familiar mealtime refrain.

I savoured the casual thrill of walking into the garden and selecting the biggest onion or freshest leaves to add to my meal. A mini greenhouse was researched, bought and built. My son and I worked a relay, putting a few poles together, resting to catch our breath whilst the other took over.

Tomatoes, cucumbers and courgettes went out. Of course it grew cold again. I laughed and shrugged. They’ll make it or they won’t. One left over tomato was planted outside, to take it’s chance (it grew to a mighty sprawling triffid, heavily laden with large tomatoes… although they appeared late and struggled to ripen (but that is a whole other story)).

Potatoes harvested- nice taste, disappointing yield for one, great yield but waxy, disintegrating flesh the other. Succession plantings to fill gaps opening in beds. These seedlings were neglected rather more…now my attention was divided. Although I did carry them back and forth, night and morning, between my and my son’s room, to catch the most light.

One mini cucumber! A triumph! And delicious. Courgettes failed utterly. Flowers fell, promising looking swellings suddenly arrested. Nevermind. Raspberries now. So many raspberries.

I start to count how many things I have ended up growing, in my “just do it badly” garden: Rocket, lettuce, chives, onion, garlic, sage, broccoli, kohl rabi, spinach, potato, raspberries, tomatoes, cucumber. Swede, cress, mustard. Beetroot.

A friend gave me a few stray beetroot seedlings in a yoghurt pot. I teased them gently apart and transplanted them in a short row at the back of a bed. And then did nothing, and neither did they, for many weeks. But one day, suddenly, as if they had found their feet (roots?) they began to grow. And only short weeks later I harvested my first beetroot in over twenty years. I boiled it. It was delicious.

I’ve waited another four weeks or so for this one to swell. Today felt like a day I could spare the energy to boil a beetroot. And here it is. Just an ordinary beetroot, but like every plant in my garden this year, I know it’s story; it’s origins, it’s setbacks and failures.

Holding it now, I try to put into words what I’m feeling. It’s quieter than joy. Contentment? Satisfaction? Connection. This beetroot exists because I planted it there. I smile at my beetroot, and go to write an essay of celebration.

Kathy and her son, Hugh

Simple natural elements can make a garden special for younger children

Simple natural elements can make a garden special for younger children

With many parents at home with their children due to the Corona virus pandemic why not take a look at your garden from your child’s point of view. Does it provide the sort of play potential they need to develop their creative, physical and social skills – and have fun too – during those long summer days (and for that matter all the year round)?

Surveys show how playing in parks or their own garden come out tops for children when asked what their favourite activities are. And experts are claiming that children are no longer ‘free range’, lacking opportunities to play outside and in more ‘natural’ surroundings. The garden can play an important part in meeting this deficit, especially for younger children. Thinking about how to make your garden child-play friendly and then spending a little money on creating the right space will repay dividends over many years.

A children's discovery space made out of old pallets

A children’s discovery space made out of old pallets

It’s tempting to go out to your nearest ‘Home and Garden’ Store and buy a ready- made (and probably self –build) swing, slide or combination play unit. This is certainly easy to do – though the cost of some of these items and the challenge to your sanity when you start to construct them might just give you pause for thought! Don’t get me wrong, ready made play equipment has its place. But it tends to focus on the physical activity side of play and can leave out the imaginative, creative and social play that are equally important. Providing simple play pleasures in your garden needn’t cost you an arm and a leg!

A more creative, and possibly better value approach, is to start with the idea that the garden for children (of all ages, and for adults too for that matter) should be a multi-sensory space, with:

  • different surfaces and textures to touch – stones/ gravel/ bark/ brick and plants with interesting leaves such as Stachys byzantina (‘Lambs’ Ears’) or Bergenia (‘Elephant’s Ears’)

  • varied smells – from different flowers and leaves (e.g. herbs)

  • tastes – growing and picking your own strawberries, other fruit or fresh vegetables

  • sounds – wind through grasses, chimes, water dripping into a child-proof pool

  • sights- break up the garden into different zones with their own character

A children's food garden

A children’s food garden

Once you’ve taken a critical look at your plot and come up with a few ideas, its time to talk about what you can create in your garden with your children.

They may well need their thinking broadened from the standard play equipment kit list, by focusing on the sorts of play activities they would like to do. Play consultant Jan White* has come up with a useful list to prompt discussion:

· run climb, pedal, throw….

· be excited, adventurous, energetic, messy, noisy….

· hide, be secret, relax, find calm, reflect, be alone….

· talk, interact, develop friendships….

· imagine, dream, invent….

· create, construct, dismantle….

· explore, discover, experiment….

· dig, grow, nurture….

· make sounds and music, express feelings and ideas….

· explore materials, make marks and patterns….

· be trusted, have responsibility….

· be independent, initiate, collaborate…

Perhaps add a climbing wall to a garden fence?

Perhaps add a climbing wall to a garden fence?

So, you’ve had your discussion and you’ve got some ideas starting to form. What next?

Well, gardens vary in size and shape – as do children – but you might find these seven tips of use when starting to develop your first thoughts into firm projects for play in your garden:

1. Natural resources- treat the outdoors differently to the indoors- its special, so create spaces and provide playthings which children can’t get inside; e.g a tree house or a tree for climbing (if you have one big enough), a pit or pile of sand, or if you’re feeling very brave– a mudpool!

2. Growing children give children a separate, personal garden where they can ‘grow their own’ food

3. Futureproof if you have younger children, think ahead and provide things which will engage children for several years or which can be easily adapted as they grow older – convert a sand pit to a growing area, a swing frame into a hammock frame

4. Small and simple a few odd bits and pieces of recycled wood (e.g doors, pallets, furniture), boxes, bricks, cloth, plastic pipe etc. can fuel children’s imaginations and creative play – it doesn’t matter if the place looks a bit untidy!

5. Doubling up make the most of space – think about garden structures which can play a role in the ‘adult garden’ as well as providing something for children; e.g wooden arches that can support a swing, sand pits concealed below trap doors in wooden decked terraces, a climbing frame that’s one side of a pergola, a climbing wall fixed to a strong garden boundary or screen, varied path surfaces with some in-built pattern (you can even get some with fossils imprinted on them)

6. Move the earth don’t be afraid of creating (even small) hills and hollows in your otherwise flat garden (unless you have these already of course) – children love running up and down slopes and use these for all sorts of creative games. If you like, add in a few rocks and logs (fixed down) for them to clamber over

7. Get social encourage your children to play with other children – invite their friends round and take them to friend’s gardens, play areas and other places where there’s a good chance of meeting other children

Even if your garden is small, you can use your imagination and create a unique and special place for your children!

Recycled materials can create a magical space- especially if the children are involved in creating it!

Recycled materials can create a magical space- especially if the children are involved in making it!

*’Playing and Learning Outdoors: making provision for high-quality experiences in outdoor environments’ by Jan White- published by Routledge (2008)

Further information:

Growing food with children

A children’s food garden

Garden games

Old School Gardener

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c2w1drbwgaasqt_-jpg-largeMore progress to report at the food growing project at the local high school in Reepham.

Teacher Matt Willer and his colleagues have started to broaden out the participation of students at the project, most recently extending this to a group focused on ‘Care of the Countryside’, who also carry out regular sessions at a local Field Study Centre. by all accounts this was a great success, with the students putting in a full shift to improve the recently dug soakaway.

Another recent project has been to create a brick path using recycled bricks. It’s planned to fill in the gaps with some fine wood  chippings.


Matt is also interested in the possibility of offering qualifications in association with a local college – and maybe also seeing the wider, unused site developed for more ‘full blown’ agriculture…all very relevant for this School set in the heart of rural Norfolk.

Oh, and a recent plea for surplus gardening equipment has resulted in a good number of additions to the project’s tool shed; I donated a wheelbarrow and selection of border and hand tools, which will also also give me a bit more space in my shed! Here’s just a few of the donations so far…


Old School Gardener


dsc_1100551You may recall that I’ve become involved with a food growing project at the local high school in Reepham. ‘The Allotment Project’ is the brainchild of teacher Matt Willer who has put energy and ideas into action on a not very promising (very wet) plot at the back end of the School playing field.

Matt and his colleagues have got an enthusiastic group of students working regularly during lunch breaks, including most recently a group working towards their Duke of Edinburgh Award. Matt kindly sent me an update which is very encouraging.

You might recall that I suggested that they might like to sow a ‘green manure’ to give cover and eventually added nutrition, toa large raised bed and Matt says the mustard plants are growing really well (see below).

dsc_1101Also, as you will see by the photographs, the Sixth Formers have done a great job at preparing the largest raised bed by using old bricks (donated by a parent who is a builder).

Matt is also now thinking of following Sepp Holzer’s very interesting idea of a raised bed, usually referred to as ‘Hugelkultur’ (see below). I have never seen this in practice and it would be great to experiment with this permaculture-inspired approach to ‘no dig’ food growing.

Another teacher at the School, Mr.Crick, and his construction group, have also joined in the project and built a compound around the well to make it a bit safer, more attractive and organised. You may recall in my earlier post on this project how Matt and the students have dug this well into which the playing field run off descends, and from here he plans to pump it into a large storage container from where it can be drawn off for irrigation.

I also hear that the broad beans I helped the children to sow are on the way up!

Old School Gardener


Designing Regenerative Cultures

Daniel Christian Wahl
Saturday, 18th June 2016

Daniel Christian Wahl says a new generation of designers can design a world in which all can thrive and not just survive.

A new generation of designers are applying ecologically inspired design to agriculture, architecture, community planning, cities, enterprises, economics and ecosystem regeneration. Join them to co-create diverse regenerative cultures in the transition towards a regenerative society. Humanity’s impact needs to shift from degeneration to regeneration before the middle of this century. We will all have to collaborate to achieve this transformative response to the converging crises we are facing….

read more here

WP_20160222_14_13_35_ProOld School Garden – 29th February 2016

Dear Walter,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Borders cleared and ready for weeding and soil tickling…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

best wishes,

Old School Gardener



Hellebores one of a few winter flowers currently on show...

Hellebores one of a few winter flowers currently on show…

Old School Garden – 29th January 2016

Dear Walter,

I looked back at the letter I wrote you this time last year, just out of interest. Even though that letter (written from a snowy landscape), painted a picture of relative inactivity, I did at least have potatoes chitting and the first seeds germinated. Alas, even though the weather has been mild (if a bit wet) I seem to be way behind this year.

I do NOT have potatoes chitting (I’m waiting on my friend who’s ordered the seed potatoes this year) and I do NOT have seeds sprouting (I brought the propagators in yesterday along with the seed box for sorting through).

I am looking forward to seed sowing though. Apart from some interesting perennials I bought at a National Trust Garden in the summer, I’m waiting on my selection of seeds from the RHS Seed scheme. These, with early vegetables (I planned out this year’s crops for the Kitchen Garden before Christmas) will give me a lot of seed sowing and seedling potting activity in the coming weeks….

Apart from NOT doing the things I needed to, I HAVE done a few other garden related things. As you know, I’ve been constructing some cupboards in two alcoves in our entrance hall. I’m rather pleased with the result. I bought some solid oak cupboard doors and sourced some oak framing and tops from a local timber merchant (the smell of freshly cut oak in the car on the way home was delightful). These are now finished and being repopulated with photo albums, sewing machines and other stuff… and I’m pleased with the result, and not a little surprised at my own skill level (YouTube ‘How to’ videos are a wonderful invention).

One of two new cupboards I've been building from solid oak...

One of two new cupboards I’ve been building from solid oak…

Well, I was left with a few pieces of spare wood, and had begun making a key cabinet to also go in the entrance hall, but upon putting this together using glued dowels I discovered my skill level wasn’t quite up to that challenge and also concluded that the thickness of the wood looked out of place for such a small item….So, having abandoned that project I had a lightbulb moment and decided to adapt the three sided box I had into a ‘bug hotel’, with a focus on nesting places for solitary bees and the like. Here’s the result…

One Bug Hotel!

One Bug Hotel!

It is rather heavy, but certainly solid. I’ve used a selection of old canes, some willow plant support and an old bamboo window blind, cut to fit and jammed together. I’ll now need to finalise where to put it up. I gather it needs to be in a warm sunny spot at least a metre off the ground. I may try to fix this to the fruit fence in the Kitchen Garden; this is the place where effective pollination is especially important.

Oh, and I nearly forgot that I’ve tied in the summer raspberries – at last! I’ve pruned the apple trees and vine. I’ve also finally dug up the dahlias and apart from a little tuber rot, these seem to be OK, so they are currently drying off in the greenhouse and will be put into slightly damp, second hand compost shortly, to stay under cover until they are ready to plant out later in the season. I also dug up two Osteospermums and put these in pots inside, as I think they might be prone to dying off before the end of the winter if left outside.

I’m pleased to say that my new Garden Design Course, ‘Get More From Your Garden’ looks like it will run as I have achieved the minimum number needed to make it viable, so I’m looking forward to meeting this new group of people and using the wonderful venue at Blickling Hall to explore and develop their own design projects.

Deborah and I have followed your lead and joined our newly established, local U3A (‘University of the Third Age’) group in Aylsham. We went along to a fascinating talk about ‘PAT’ (Pets As Therapy) dogs yesterday, the ones used in schools to help shy children learn to read, as companions for older or disabled people and so on. I’ve also joined a new gardening group and met the dozen or so other people in the group last week for an initial get together to discuss what we want to achieve. It looks like this could include visiting each other’s gardens to discuss problems and ideas, swapping plants, visiting open gardens etc.

An ahhhh moment...

An ahhhh moment…

So, I look back. And whilst I’m behind in some garden-related things, hopefully there’s still time to catch up (especially with the seed sowing). I’m pleased to hear that your new terrace has been laid and look forward to seeing it when we visit you and Lise at Easter. No doubt you’ll be planting up the pockets you left amongst the paving soon?

all the best for now,

Old School Gardener



Picture by Pockets1 on Flick

Picture by Pockets1 on Flick

Old School Garden – 31st December 2015

Dear Walter,

It was great seeing you and Lise over Christmas and we hope you had a wonderful time with your nearest and dearest. As you know, my time in the garden has been limited this month as I tried to finish off the major redecorating in one end of the Old School. I’m pleased to say that’s done and I’m now developing detailed plans to fit out a couple of rooms with some built in furniture. Alas, my plans for the outside are moving slowly, though there’s been a bit of progress I can report.

Dogwoods starting to put on their winter colours

Dogwoods starting to put on their winter colours

We had a few hours cutting up the fire wood we’d saved from the major tree surgery on our Black Poplar a couple of years ago, and this is all now stacked in the woodshed. At the same time I reorganised the outside storage area (with pallets and angle irons), in anticipation of getting some new logs from our neighbours (who have some Ash trees that have fallen foul of Ash die back).

Awaiting logs (left) and a new leaf mould bay (right)

Awaiting logs (left) and a new leaf mould bay (right)

I’ve built alongside (using more pallets of course!) a leaf mould bay, which in the summer will also serve as a good spot for the grass clippings. As you know, in the past I’ve deliberately mixed these two materials together and had some good organic material to add to the soil. Gathering up the final loads of leaves from around the garden has been the other major task this month, though there are a few stubborn oak leaves still to fall. This minor reorganisation in the rear garden area has started to tidy it up, and so I can get to grips with further spring planting in the area with a nice view to the church (where I plan to put another bench).


A work in progress- rubble from one of the shed floors used to begin sculpting a basin for the pond garden…

New possibilities- the view across fields to the church is crying out for a bit of organisation, including a new bench.

New possibilities- the view across fields to the church is crying out for a bit of organisation, including a new bench.

I’ve also potted up the cannas (but not yet the dahlias as it’s been so mild here), and planted up the pots they were in with some violas and a range of tulips and other spring bulbs- we should have a great show next spring.

I’ve cleared and planted up the front circular border with the rather ‘whippy’ selection of Wallflowers and Sweet Williams I sowed earlier in the year. I also took the opportunity of swapping over the centre piece shrub here; out came the Star Magnolia and in went another Magnolia (‘Merrill’), which will grow a bit larger than the one it’s replaced and so be a better counterbalance to the large magnolia we have on the other side of the drive. So the Star Magnolia is in a pot for now until I decide it’s final location, somewhere in the pond garden.

Not much to look at right now, but the round border tidied and planted out with a new Magnolia and some spring colour- I hope!

Not much to look at right now, but the round border tidied and planted out with a new Magnolia and some spring colour- I hope!

The table top planter- good early growth, but a bit of weeding required too!

The table top planter- good early growth, but a bit of weeding required too!

The kitchen garden is looking tidier, too, though without much of interest as you might expect. I’m pleased with the progress of the table top planter, though; the unseasonably mild weather has really got the shallots, garlic and broad beans well underway.

You know how in Autumn and early winter you can pick up some plant bargains (the ones that are past their best, but will nonetheless put on new growth if looked after)? Well, I picked up a few trays of violas to fill my ever increasing containers and at the same time got three pots of Pennisetum, reduced to well below their original price- they don’t look much at present, but with a bit of spring care and potting on/ planting out, should do well.

A plant bargain

A plant bargain

Violas starting to pick up

Violas starting to pick up

I spent a couple of sessions over at Gressenhall focusing on leaf clearing, cutting back and digging over some of the borders, so that will probably be my last time there for now.

One of my jobs in the next couple of weeks will be to finalise the marketing material for my new Garden design course, which hopefully will begin in early February at Blickling. I’ll put details in a page on my blog early in the New Year for anyone interested.

WP_20151218_09_15_22_ProWell, as we come to the end of another year, I’m grateful that the garden here seems to have survived pretty well, despite less attention than normal; but the ground elder awaits and this and the other weeds will need attention in a couple of months time before the growing season really gets underway! 

Very best gardening wishes for 2016,

Old School Gardener



Some of this year's squash harvest- should keep us going for a few weeks.

Some of this year’s squash harvest- should keep us going for a few weeks.

Old School Garden – 29th November 2015

Dear Walter,

As we move towards winter, this month has been one of small steps forward, old friend. We had our first frost last week, and I managed to get the tenderest plants under cover in the greenhouse.

Tucked away from the frost...

Tucked away from the frost…

I’ve noticed that the leaves on the Cannas have started to brown so it won’t be long until they and the Dahlias are also brought in. I won’t be cutting down or removing much else as I like to see the grasses and many herbaceous stems stand over winter- I think this is also good for wildlife.

Cannas on the turn- soon to be dug up and replanted in the greenhouse

Cannas on the turn- soon to be dug up and replanted in the greenhouse

The piles of leaves continue to grow, and though many have fallen, there’s still a lot of oak to float down and then be gathered up. I’ve already cut back and placed most of the Pelargoniums into trays for over wintering and once the remaining pots on the terrace are empty, I’ll plant out the four or five packs of tulips I have in the shed.

Tulips ready to go in some of the other terrace containers and borders

Tulips ready to go in some of the other terrace containers and borders

In the kitchen garden I’ve pulled the remaining carrots- they are a well-sized and tasty crop. The parsnips and a few leeks are all that remains for winter vegetables, with the promise of Purple Sprouting Broccoli to come in spring. As I reported last month, I’ve used my latest batch of compost to mulch the fruit bushes, strawberries and raspberries and added some manure over the rhubarb and asparagus bed, which hopefully might give us a few spears next year.

I dug up one of the remaining two blackcurrant bushes the other day and took this in to the local Primary School, where I was helped by 7 pupils to divide it and plant it out in their developing fruit garden. It was fun to be back among some familiar (if older) faces and they were very responsive and involved in the hour we spent talking about roots, stems, water and so on.

Awaiitng a Redcurrant, to go alongside White and Black!

Awaiitng a Redcurrant, to go alongside White and Black!

So, here we’re left with one large blackcurrant bush (after having three for several years – the freezer is still bulging with the last few year’s crops). I’m now waiting on the arrival of some bare root red currant and raspberry canes at the local nursery, so that I can fill out the summer fruiting raspberries and replace the blackcurrant, which will give us one each of Red, White and Black currants.

Looking ahead, my friend Steve volunteered to order me some seed potatoes, so I’ve gone for some first and second earlies which should be here for ‘chitting’ in January. I also recently ordered some seeds from the RHS scheme for members, which is good value for money. With the seeds I purchased on my visit to Wallington Gardens in September (as well as some harvesting at other gardens we’ve visited), I can see that February will be a busy time (as usual), propagating a new range of interesting flowers for the borders; including one ‘long wanted’ variety,  Cephalaria gigantea.

My Pond garden project is moving ahead slowly, with the reclamation of some large York stone flags from one of our outside sheds (we’ve had a new concrete floor put in here to replace the stones) and the use of the stony soil from under these to build up the surrounds of the pond area. Before going much further outside on this I want to firm up my design on paper, so the drawing board is out again and I’m sketching out some ideas, including a stepping stone bridge (this is what some of the flagstones will be used for), boggy borders and a ‘beach’. My collection of plants for this area is growing nicely so I’m factoring these into the design too.


On a broader front, I went over to Gressenhall the other day and began to clear up for winter (including some overdue shearing of the lavender and leaf clearing) and planted out some Catmint I took out of the courtyard planters at Old School Garden. Together with the new plants I purchased recently these will make a good show in a number of half barrel planters we have there.

You’ll have also seen something of my regular visits to Blickling Hall, where the winter clear up and preparation for next season is well underway. Did I tell you that I’m hoping to run a new Garden Design course at Blickling? Based on the one I’ve run in the past at Reepham, it will be slightly extended but will still focus on helping participants to design their own garden or area. I hope for a good level of interest, especially as we shall be able to use the gardens at Blickling as a showcase for many of the ideas and concepts I’ll be covering. If I get the numbers I need this will begin in early February.

Having just replaced the broken glass in our wood burner I think its time to light it and get something to drink!

Very best wishes,

Old School Gardener



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