Tag Archive: january

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 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


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



Blickling Hall, under some recent snow

Blickling Hall, under some recent snow

Old School Garden

31st January 2015

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

Well the New Year came, and it heralded a new gardening energy for me after a few months of relative sloth!

I’ve begun my volunteering at Blickling Hall and as you might have read this is proving to be very interesting and satisfying, including meeting a host of other volunteers and helping to begin the regeneration of the two acre walled garden.

At home it’s been a few weeks of planning (seed checking, organising and buying), thinking a bit more about the wildlife pond I’m going to install here at Old School Garden and getting a few things under way, like chitting the potatoes (‘Foremost’ as first earlies and ‘Charlotte’ as second earlies), sowing  the first leeks, some bush tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peas, all with the aid of some heated propagators. They’re now doing nicely and in the next week or two I’ll pot these up and bring them on in my makeshift greenhouse (our lounge!). It’ll soon be time to get the next lot of seeds underway.


Seed potatoes being ‘chitted’ on the windowsill

I haven’t been up to much outside- and the mole hills continue to appear! I think I’ll venture out in the next few weeks and continue the tidying up before things really get going. Oh, by the way, I’m persevering with the Melianthus as I believe if I leave the foliage on (despite the plant looking a bit straggly now) I might get some flowers in the next few weeks- there are some already forming on a plant I’ve seen at Blickling.


First signs of growth for the new season…

I’ve completed my review of the grounds and gardens at the local primary school and hope that this will help them get to grips with their open spaces and get the most from them, especially educational and play value and for improving the diversity of wildlife. I’m also still working on the Management Plan for the local churchyard – the base plan is in place and I now need to research some details on establishing much of the space as a wild flower meadow. My latest garden design course is due to begin in Reepham in just over a week’s time- hopefully there’ll be enough takers to let it run.

I guess that’s about all the news this month old friend. I hope you’re keeping well and warm in this spell of cold weather, though thankfully we seem to have missed the dramatic snowfalls in New England (well, at least for now).

all the best,

Old School Gardener

Cyclamen still looking good in the courtyard
Cyclamen still looking good in the courtyard

To: Walter De Grasse – 30th January 2014

Dear Walter,

Is it too late to wish you Happy New Year?! I hope that you have a great year, especially in your wonderful garden. It seems ages since I last wrote to you, probably because we’ve had all the activity that comes with Christmas and New Year and then gradually getting back into the rhythm of something approaching a normal routine! It’s been an interesting couple of weeks here at Old School Garden, though I must admit that only in the last week have I begun (sometimes with muscles and bones screaming ‘don’t do it!’), to get back into the garden for an hour or two each day (well some days).

Seeds sorted- I'v e been through my supply and filed them in date order for sowing
Seeds sorted- I’ve been through my supply and filed them in date order for sowing

I’ve managed to finally collect the last of the leaves (mostly Oak, that seem to be the last to fall), pruned the Grapevine and Apple Trees and continued to tidy up dead and untidy foliage as new growth starts to emerge. I also sowed my first seeds the other day; a mixture of early veg (Calabrese and Leeks) with some annuals and perennials. It was quite pleasing to review my seed purchases alongside spare seed from earlier years and to start to place the packets in my seed box in date order for sowing. I’m fully expecting  my dining room to soon be full of seedlings in the process of growing on prior to putting outside in the cold frame or greenhouse (or even under cloches/fleece). I’ve purchased some rather more exotic annuals and perennials this year as well as ordering some ‘heritage’ varieties of vegetable from the Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library. Oh, and I mustn’t forget my Christmas gift of some carrot seeds called ‘Nigel’!

Greek Squashes grown last year- a 'heritage' variety, more of which I plan to grow this year
Greek Squashes grown last year- a ‘heritage’ variety, I’m planning to grow more ‘heritage veg’ this year

I’ll tell you more about these different plants as they get growing, but I’m excited about the greater diversity of food and flowers I’ll be growing this year. I should by now have done plan for the kitchen garden, but haven’t managed this, partly because I’m a little stumped as to how to do it now that I’m aiming to grow a wider range of smaller quantities in successional sowings and mixing in more ornamentals too. I must devote a few hours to thinking this one through – I’ll put the final version in a post soon – hopefully!

Though I know that you’ve been more affected by me by the wave of storms and flooding we’ve been having in the UK, but even with this, the lack of any really cold spell makes me wonder if we’re going to get a ‘real winter’ this year! As testimony to the mild weather I’m amazed at how the Melianthus is still putting on new foliage and plants like the Scabious and Fuchsia I have in the courtyard are still flowering!

I’ll be putting in a few more hours outside as the days continue to lengthen, including finishing off pruning the roses and moving and dividing some herbaceous plants I didn’t get round to in the Autumn. Well I say that, but I may have to curtail my own gardening time in the next few months as I’ve taken on some new teaching work at a local high school (working with Foundation skills students to develop their school garden and especially food growing). I’m off there later today to work with two groups, focusing on what they’d like to grow in their plots, which we can hopefully get into soon and begin the work of preparing the ground etc. The School Garden is a potentially wonderful resource, with two large greenhouses with electrically operated vents and water supplies, lots of tools and equipment and a south-facing aspect with what seems to be good soil- once the weeds have been cleared and its been turned over and fed of course!

I’m also hoping to repeat my Garden Design and Grow Your Own Food courses for adults (assuming we get the numbers required). These are due to kick off next week, and it looks hopeful that they’ll run.

I’m also carrying on with supporting the local Primary school in its ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’. In fact as I write this the School is being inspected for its latest accreditation on it’s outdoor work, hopefully an addition to its ‘level 5’ achievement in the RHS Campaign for School Gardening. I’ll be getting over to the School after half term to help them get seed sowing underway and hopefully getting the youngest children involved through use of the ‘pallet planters’ we built last year, plus a mini greenhouse for propagation, all of which can be placed near to their classrooms.

I guess that my support for individual households in food growing may also pick up soon, as I’ve promised help to  three of the students on the first ‘GYO’ course that ran in Foulsham last Autumn. Sadly the ‘Master Gardener’ programme in Norfolk is about to be reduced due to the ending of some grant funding, but I’m likely to continue to be involved in the Breckland area, where the local Council is supporting the work.

No doubt you’re well ahead in your plot? I’d love to hear what you’re up to and your plans for the year. I’m contemplating repeating our opening of Old School Garden to the public once more, as this was such an enjoyable day and one which raised funds to support worthy local projects – most of which involve gardening. Maybe you and Ferdy would like to join us – it’ll probably be in late June/early July? Well, I’ll sign off for now, wishing you and her well and looking forward to hearing from you.

all the best,

Old Schoool Gardener

Green Monday

From the RHS:

‘Blue Monday? Not for gardeners! A new survey has shown that Brits truly are a nation of gardeners with 77% saying they garden and 82% saying it makes them feel happier! A whopping 70% also said that given the choice, they would prefer to spend their working day in a garden. Inspired? See our films of horticulturists explaining their jobs make them happy, and join us on Twitter all day tweeting with ‪#‎GreenMonday‬: http://bit.ly/1b1PJcu’

I’ve just come in from some garden foliage clearing – crisp, sunny afternoon, wonderful sunset….happy.

Old School Gardener

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