Tag Archive: master gardener

Cuba and Cake in Norfolk


Norfolk Master Gardeners heard about Permaculture in Cuba, celebrated achievements in helping communities, schools and families in growing their own food and planned for the future at a recent event in Norwich. If you’re growing your own food and live in the Breckland area of Norfolk, you could join the team!

Find out more by clicking the title link.

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

morello cherry treeOld School Garden raised some funding to help support Norfolk local food growing projects under the ‘Master Gardener’ programme. Here’s a story about how some of the money, raised from a garden open day, has been used.

Based at Great Hockham Primary School, Norfolk, Hockham Herbs is a young gardening group established by Master Gardener, Bev Page back in 2011. When Bev stepped back from leading this group, one of the children’s Dads, Rob Muggridge, took over. In July 2013, Mr Muggridge was tragically killed in a road traffic accident.

Bev applied for funds to purchase a tree that the Herbs group could plant in memory of Mr Muggridge. The children adored their growing mentor and coming back this autumn was difficult for them.

To have the opportunity to plant “Rob’s tree”, care for it and watch it flourish will help them come to terms with their grief and loss.

Bev was awarded funds and she purchased a Morello Cherry Tree from Thetford Garden centre and she had enough money left over to add a bird box.  The tree was planted on Wednesday, 13 November in the school orchard, with the help of the Hockham Herbs and Mrs Muggridge.  The bird box is destined for a mature tree trunk in the school woodland.

Old School Gardener with thanks to Bev Page and Gabbie Joyce

A greenhouse to extend the growing season for King’s Lynn’s Lianne. The second project to be funded from the Old School Garden opening last July.

Lianne sowed her first seeds early this summer when she registered with one of Norfolk’s Master Gardeners, Lally Lee. She started with a garden overgrown with brambles and weeds and now is enjoying harvests of onions, salads, beans and various herbs. She’s simply hooked on growing.

Lianne is on a very low income and being able to grow her own is helping to supplement her diet with fresh, organic vegetables and herbs. Her mentor, Lally wanted to provide Lianne with the tools to continue to grow something throughout the winter and get an early start next year with protected seed sowing.

Lally was awarded funds to purchase a mini-greenhouse and some seeds to get Lianne off to a flying start when the growing season takes off again in early Spring. Lianne was delighted:

A greenhouse is something that I have always wanted to use. To be presented with one makes me happy and proud. I am very grateful for the support, help and kindness of the Garden Organic charity. My sister, Linzi, and I are really looking forward to getting a head start on our vegetables and flowers next spring. I would like to express my gratitude to Master Gardener, Nigel Boldero, for sharing the proceeds of his open garden day this summer, which has enabled this donation“.

Old School Gardener-  with thanks to Lally

Where's Wally? 250 Master Gardeners and Composters (including me) line up for the annual group photo

Where’s Wally? 250 Master Gardeners and Composters (including me) line up for the annual group photo

It was an early start- 5.45.a.m to be precise. Having travelled into Norwich and boarded a coach, we set off for Ryton Gardens, near Coventry. Garden Organic’s HQ, formerly known as the ‘Henry Doubleday Research Association’ in honour of the pioneer organic grower, presents a rich mix of gardens aimed at informing, educating and inspiring gardeners in the ‘organic way’.

I attended the annual ‘Masters Conference’ last year and got to see the gardens for the first time too. This year’s visit was equally interesting and energising, not least due to the concentration of 250 plus growing and composting enthusiasts in one place for the full day conference.

No, not a set from 'Dr. Who', just a display of 'dalek' and other types of compost bin!

No, not a set from ‘Dr. Who’, just a display of ‘dalek’ and other types of compost bin!

Garden Organic do things right – a highly professional outfit, with some world class credentials when it comes to research and education in organic growing, they value their volunteers, and this shows. Little, but important touches like personalised ‘goody bags’, name badges and schedules as well as the cheery welcome from the large number of staff and volunteers around helped to make the day a big success. And of course there are the annual awards, lots of cake and coffee and the group photo that all bind this volunteer community together in their ‘crusade’ for food growing and composting.

One of two Cakes specially made to celebrate the conference-a masterly effort from a Norfiolk Cake maker!

One of two Cakes specially made to celebrate the conference-a masterly effort from a Norfolk Cake maker!

It was interesting finding more out about community composting, some of the ‘goodies’ in the garden (as far as bugs are concerned) and of how projects are using food growing to reach communities that find it difficult to fully engage with society for various reasons.There were also some wonderful tales of Master Gardeners and Composters from around the country who are helping people not only to grow food, but to ‘grow’ themselves! And several of these were from Norfolk.

Apart from the chance to look round the gardens once more, the highlight was veteran naturalist Chris Baines, who gave an inspiring talk about how important it is to create parks, gardens and other green spaces in an increasingly urbanised world to help keep cities cool, air clean, provide habitats for wildlife and psychological respite from living and working places that will in all probability become ever more hectic, hassled and hot! He shared some encouraging signs that developers are starting to integrate such features as ‘rain gardens’ and other nature havens in their plans.

Further information:

Ryton Gardens

Garden Organic

Master Gardener

Master Composter/ Home Composting

Old School Gardener

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IMG_7431To Walter Degrasse

30th September 2013

Dear Walter,

September has been a month of relative quiet in Old School Garden. Summer has tipped into Autumn and the garden hasn’t needed (?wishful thinking) full throttle attention. The odd weed pulled up, flowers dead headed or staked, hedges trimmed, grass mown (less frequently and less closely). A typical September then, apart from the relatively cold spell we had earlier on which sent me to the wood shed and led to lighting of fires – albeit only once or twice. Still I resisted the temptation to switch on the central heating! Since then we seem to have had something of a mini ‘Indian summer’.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how some annuals I planted earlier on have at last come good – Cleome, Cosmos, Nicotiana and Tithonia in particular. A slow start, but they seem to have gone for a sprint finish so to speak! They are looking very good alongside some other late summer perennial colours – Asters, Sedums and Aconitum. And I’m pleased to say that last year’s sowings of Phalaris (‘Chinese Lanterns’) have now turned into beefier plants, just starting to show off their wonderful papery orange ‘lanterns’.

I’ve continued to harvest  various fruit and veg – Chard is now reaching maturity, Tomatoes, Lettuces and Cucumbers have done really well, and some late sowings of Carrots and Mangetout are looking promising. You may recall that I sowed three seeds of ‘Greek Squash’ sent to me by the Garden Organic Heritage Seed Library – two of these have gone on to produce four or five good-sized squashes, which are now hardening off in the autumn sunshine. Oh, and remember my caterpillar disaster with the Calabrese and Broccoli plants last month? Well, I’ve cleared the bed, and managed to get hold of some young plants of Chinese Broccoli and Spinach, so along with some of my own Red Cabbage seedlings we now have that area once more in production – hopefully they’ll all put on good growth before the onset of winter.

The first windfall apples have been falling in some strong breezes recently. We’ve been collecting some of these as well as early pickings directly from the trees, and very tasty they are too! I can see that the next couple of weeks will be consumed with apple harvesting, and that of course raises the question of where to store them! Our larder could soon be a lot fuller.

Further afield in my gardening life, I’m pleased to say that the six week Garden Design course I put on last year is once again up and running, with 8 enthusiastic students with a wide range of garden sizes and ideas that I hope to help them develop in the coming weeks. I’ve also planned a one day workshop at nearby Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse where I hope to show people how to get more from their garden through using some of the key elements of garden design. It will also be fun using the gardens at the Museum to illustrate some of these, as i designed some and help to maintain them as a volunteer. As I speak I’m hopeful, too, that the six week beginners course on ‘Growing Your Own’ at nearby Foulsham, will also be viable, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one.

I’ve also started back with my support of gardening and ‘learning outside the classroom’ at the local primary school. I’ve been encouraged by the way the school – and particularly their LOTC Coordinator, is building on the progress we made last year. Over the first half term I’m taking a series of small groups from most classes through some of the basics such as introducing different types of tool and how to use them safely; the importance of clearing and preparing the soil during the autumn; harvesting some of the produce we planted last season (there are some seriously impressive carrots that seem to have thrived on neglect!); gathering different types of seed for next year; how different plants propagate themselves and sowing broad beans, garlic and onions as well as some green manures.  The School is also carrying out an international project on composting and organic gardening to which I’m contributing. So a busy half term! It’s always great working with such enthusiastic youngsters, reawakening my own sense of wonder at nature as they dig over the soil and are delighted to discover worms, grubs and creepy crawlies!

On Saturday I went to Garden Organic’s HQ at Ryton, near Coventry, for their annual conference for Master Gardeners and Composters. Around 30 of my colleagues from Norfolk went along and were joined by over 200 other Master Gardeners and Composters from a number of other areas around the country. It was a very interesting and inspiring day. I attended some workshops on community composting, reaching ‘hard to reach’ communities and ‘love your bugs’- all about the goodies and baddies in the garden. Most inspiring was a talk by veteran naturalist Chris Baines, looking at ‘The Nature of the Future’. I’ll do a fuller article on this event later in the week, but here are a couple of pics from the ‘Naturalistic’ area of the gardens, which looked wonderful – as did the many other different gardens which demonstrate a range of gardening techniques and planting arrangements.

So, old friend, that just about brings you up to date for the last few weeks in my gardening life at Old School Garden and beyond. A mellow and measured time when its been possible to enjoy the late summer colour and reap the fruits (and veg) of my labours earlier in the year! No doubt you’re well ahead of me with your autumn garden jobs, but in case you’re not and need some ideas, I’ll be posting my regular monthly item on tasks in the garden for the new month tomorrow, so I hope that proves useful. Happy Gardening!

Old School Gardener

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The Kitchen Garden at Old School Garden

The Kitchen Garden at Old School Garden

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

As I write to you on midsummer day it’s cloudy and rain threatens. We have had some warm spells and even some sunshine, but you get the feeling that ‘proper summer’ has yet to find its way to Norfolk. I know that you’ve had pretty similar weather in your neck of the woods and no doubt you’re as curious as me as to the way the ‘late’ (read almost non-existent) spring has had an impact on the plants. A few pointers from Old School Garden as I write:

  • the Magnolia is still in flower as are the Siberian Wallflowers, Pansies and Violas
  • Sweet Williams are just about coming into flower but the pink Peonies, though with huge fat flower buds, have yet to fully unfurl (having said that the earlier, red varieties have been and gone)
  • Irises are looking good (though last year’s Iris Rust problem has retuned to some)
  • Carrots and Broad beans probably need a further week or two to be fully ready for harvesting
  • Second early (but not first early) potatoes are flowering
  • Lettuces are ready to crop

So it’s a story of some things flowering late and running into other things which is making for some interesting combinations and a few weeks of intense colour; certainly the best show at this time of year I can remember for some time!

Rather than spend a lot of words telling you about my gardening activities in the last month I thought that I’d let ‘the pictures do the talking’ so I’ve included three photo galleries and will give you a few guiding comments for each. The first one is a few pictures of the Gardens at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, where the Education Garden I redesigned and with volunteer support, replanted last year is looking superb. A mass of pink and orange oriental poppies along with Salvia ‘Mainacht’  with the billowing leaves of Macleaya in the background, are putting on a wonderful show, remarked on by many visitors, it appears.

There’s a call for me to provide some information on the plants included in the borders, so I’ll have to dig out my original design and plant lists and put together some sort of illustrated guide. Likewise, after a clean out and weed, the Wildlife Garden, and especially the pond and bog areas, are filling out nicely, though there doesn’t appear to be much wildlife evident to date. Monday is going to be something special here as BBC Radio 4’s ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ is being recorded at the Museum and I’ll be on hand to help guide the audience and provide some information on the gardens. I’m not sure when this is broadcast but I’ll let you know when I’m sure, though I know that you’re a regular listener like me.

My voluntary work at the local Primary school continues with a regular weekly slot working with groups of children of different ages in the School Garden. You may have seen my recent post on the vertical planters we’ve made out of old wooden pallets – these are looking very colourful alongside the playground and I’m pleased to say that the children are being diligent in their watering duties. I’m going over there later today so will have a quick look to see that they’re holding up – I’m not sure the compost will hold in place especially if it gets at all dry. At yesterday’s session we weeded around the various veg beds and cracked open the first pods of Broad Beans which the children eagerly popped into their mouths – once I’d assured them that they would be deliciously sweet and tender – there came  a predictable ‘hmmm, yummy’ in response!

The other crops are all coming along well, and the attention to regular weeding and watering has really paid off this year, so we should be cropping potatoes, onions, cabbages, calabrese, peas, runner and broad beans, turnips and carrots soon! The other big  job was to empty out the wooden compost bins which have been clogged up with grass, sticks and soil over the years and are in real need of starting over once more. Hopefully, we’ll get this finished off today and we can then get more of a systematic approach to adding food peelings etc. from the kitchen as well as ‘green waste’ from the school lunches. The wormery seems to be going well, and the School Cook is pleased that the refuse collectors are now collecting food waste for composting at a local centre, too.

My other Master Gardener activity is picking up a bit. I’m doing stints at the Norfolk Show next week and also an event in a nearby village where some Lottery cash looks like it’s going to make some new adult education classes possible, including something from me on growing your own food or maybe design, depending on the level of interest. I’m going along to an open day on this to gauge interest and promote both Master Gardener and the idea of the courses, so we’ll see if anything comes of that.

As far as Old School Garden goes, I’ve mentioned the great show we’ve had recently so will let the photographs give you the details! Its been a month of systematic weeding around the different borders, finishing off staking the herbaceous perennials, dead heading and recently planting out the many annuals I’ve een raising from seed to plug gaps etc. I must say I’m pleased with the result, and after visiting a few gardens recently we’ve decided to open ours for charity in mid July. I’ll let you have details in due course, but we hope to make this a lively afternoon with advice from  my friends in the Master Gardener and Master Composter projects and of course plant sales and some delicious tea and cakes!

I hope that you enjoy the picture gallery which shows a few shots of different parts of the garden taken yesterday. As I was walking around I spotted a female blackbird raiding my cold frame and carrying off some poppy seedlings (and compost) in her beak! Having seen her later in the courtyard garden I suspect she’s gathering material for a new nest! We do seem to have had a lot of Blackbirds this year and they seem intent on disturbing the wood chip mulch I put on the long borders in search of food, with the result that sweeping the paths is rapidly becoming a daily chore!

Well,  matey, I hope this little update finds you and your good lady in the best of health. It’s great that you’re now well on the road to recovery and no doubt pleased that you can get outside and dig your patch once more. Did you manage to find any paid garden help? I know that the grass cutting is your biggest nightmare and this is one thing you could do with some help on. Or maybe you might think about turning some of that grass into flowering meadow? I’ve seen some lovely examples of mown paths through long grass recently that must be less maintenance heavy and more wildlife friendly too – worth a thought.

Well, bye for now and I’ll give you a further update next month, though in the mean time I’ll do a post next week about how the recording of ‘GQT’ goes and my experiences at the Norfolk Show.

all the best

Old School Gardener

Other posts in this series:

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 20th May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 18th April May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 11th March 2013

Dear Walter… letter from Old School Garden: 15th February 2013

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