Tag Archive: november

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



compost-trench-after‘Trench & prepare ground with compost – sow as yet all sorts of greenes.’

John Evelyn 1686 (published 1932)

Old School Gardener

winter-frost-on-plants-132662203503t‘Dull dawn, grey day, and early comes the night,

Now wearisome November’s here again,

With frost to follow frost, then chilling rain,

Or fog comes stealthily, and hides from sight

The dripping world beyond the window pane.

But oh, the glory when the night is clear,

What glittering feast for eyes that scan the skies!

See Jupiter near old Orion rise,

The Bear, the Bull, and Pegasus appear,

And see, a meteor falls, and glows, and dies.

Nearby an owl is calling; now it flies

On silent, velvet wings, while all grows cold.

Frost’s icy fingers woods and fields enfold,

and touch with silver lingering leaves of gold.’

John (Jack) Kett

From ‘A Late Lark Singing’ (Minerva press 1997)

Rosa rubiginosa- a wild or species rose that needs minimal pruning
Rosa rubiginosa- a wild or species rose that needs minimal pruning

This week’s gardener’s question comes from a Miss Flora Dunmore of Argyll, and focuses on roses:

‘I’ve just inherited a big garden with lots of different roses, icncuding bush, climbers and ramblers. Can you tell me why, when and how to prune these, please?’

Flora, what a lovely inheritance! First why do you prune:

  • to remove weak, spindly and diseased shoots

  • to encourage strong new shoots to grow from the base of the plant each year (these bear the best flowers)

  • to open out the centre of the bush to increase air circulation (this helps to check disease)

  • to create a pleasing (usually symmetrical) outline to the plant.

When to prune depends on the types of roses you have:

  • For large-flowered bush roses the traditional months are March in the south and April in the north of England (and possibly even later in Scotland), when growth is just beginning- but pruning can be done safely any time from November  onwards in the south, provided you are prepared, if necessary to remove some frost damaged growth in spring. Most importantly never prune during a frosty spell.

  • For ramblers the best time to prune is after flowering, probably late August (you can dead head throughout the flowering season to achieve much the same result)

  • For climbers, the best time is October, when the recurrently flowering types have finished their show, but it can be done later if the weather is mild.

The techniques for pruning vary according to the type of rose:

For large flowered, bush roses cut away completely any diseased,weak and spindly shoots as well as removing all dead stumps from earlier pruning (use a fine toothed saw if they are particularly woody and thick). If there are many canes criss-crossing in the centre then remove a few to open out the bush. If two shoots are growing so that they rub each other, remove one. Finally, cut the remaining shoots back to about 200-250mm long. Harder pruning than this will produce larger, but probably fewer flowers – but it won’t harm the rose.

For smaller, cluster-flowered roses do the same as for larger flowered varieties but leave  the main shoots 300-350mm long. If the main shoots have side shoots, the latter don’t need to be removed, provided they are fairly thick (say about a pencil thickness), but they should be cut back by about two-thirds of their length.

Climbers should be pruned to establish a permanent framework of significant branches from which flowering stems are produced. To achieve this cut back side shoots to one or two buds from the point where they branch out from the main shoots. If the plant has become bare at the base, cut one of it’s main shoots hard back to encourage new growth from ground level.

Ramblers need to be pruned to encourage flowering on young shoots that grow from the base of the plant each year. To achieve this cut out completely the side shoots that have finished flowering and tie in the new shoots in their place. If in some years there are only a few of these, some of the old shoots (which can still produce flowers) may be left in place, but their side shoots should be shortened by about two-thirds.

Rambling roses need a framework of stems establishing with selctive removal of the oldest to encourage new growth form the base and flowering shoots pruned after flowering

Rambling roses need a framework of stems establishing, with selective removal of the oldest to encourage new growth from the base and flowering shoots pruned after flowering

Miniature Roses which produce a thick tangle of tiny, wiry shoots, require these to be thinned out. Remove dead or diseased shoots and trim back the rest by about two-thirds. It may be difficult to find a bud to cut back to, so just clip them over so that they look neat.

Shrub roses vary enormously in size and type, so it’s difficult to give a general guide to pruning. Wild (species) roses should not be pruned at all, other than for removal of dead or diseased branches. Most of the old garden roses such as Gallicas, Damasks, Albas, Centifolias and Bourbons will give more flowers if they have their side shoots shortened by about two-thirds in winter. Modern shrub roses that are in fact like giant versions of the smaller cluster types should be pruned in a similar way to those – but reduce their height by only about two-thirds. The Rugosa family needs little if any pruning, although for the less dense kinds,  a few older canes cut back every two-three years will encourage bushiness.

If you have newly planted roses then you should prune them even harder than established plants so that a strong framework of new shoots will be built up for the beginning. Leave their shoots only about 50-75mm long. Prune autumn planted roses when you do your established ones and spring planted ones at planting time. But, don’t prune climbers at all in their first year, as they take longer to establish.

Pruning cuts are easiest with secateurs. Ensure that a clean cut is made with clean blades (these should be sterilised with surgical spirit/alcohol to avoid passing on diseases from plant to plant). Cuts should be made about 6mm above a bud on a shoot; the cut should slope down towards the side away from the bud. Cutting to an outward- facing bud encourages the bush to spread outwards, but don’t worry if you can’t find one exactly where you want to cut- often a bud lower down will grow away more vigourously in the direction you want, and you can always trim it back later.

Clean secateurs with surgical spirit or alcohol before pruning each rose plant
Clean secateurs with surgical spirit or alcohol before pruning each rose plant

Old School Gardener


Sorry to disappoint if you think this is going to be about the famous ‘red light district’ of Amsterdam. It’s not. I’m just back from a weekend celebration with my wife, Deborah who had an ‘important birthday’ on Saturday.

It was a great visit, the highlight meeting up with 10 friends and relations in a cosy but wonderful restaurant complete with birthday cake and fireworks! I wasn’t expecting either the time or opportunity to take some serious photographs while there, but I was pleasantly surprised, so I’ll share a few of the better ones (taken on my phone camera) over the next week or two.

Saturday morning in the city was sunny so we managed a delightful wander through the canal – ringed old city and came across a wonderful little oasis called the ‘Begijnhof’. ‘Beguines’ were pious single catholic women who wanted to do good works, like nuns, but did not want to live in a convent and therefore had not taken all of the nun’s vows. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

‘The Begijnhof is the only inner court in Amsterdam which was founded during the Middle Ages, and therefore lies within the Singel — the innermost canal of Amsterdam’s circular canal system. The Begijnhof is at medieval street level, which means a meter below the rest of the old city center.

It is unclear when exactly the Begijnhof (Beguines’ court) was founded. In 1346, the beguines still lived in a house (a document of that time mentioned one beghynhuys). A courtyard was only first mentioned in 1389, probably after the religious status of the city rose due to the Amsterdam Eucharistic Miracle of 1345.

Originally the Begijnhof was entirely encircled by water …. The back facades were therefore water-locked….The Begijnhof differs from the usual Amsterdam patricians’ court in that this old people’s home was not founded by private persons. It bore closer resemblance to a convent, although the beguines enjoyed greater freedom than nuns in a convent. While beguines took a vow of chastity, and while they considered themselves obliged to attend Holy Mass every day and pray various official prayers, they were free to leave the court at any time in order to get married….

The most famous beguine in the Begijnhof’s history is sister Cornelia Arens, who died on 14 October 1654…. Rather than be laid to rest in the Chapel, which she considered “desecrated” by Presbyterians, she chose to be buried in the gutter of the court. Legend has it that contrary to her wish, she was in fact buried in the Chapel, but her coffin was found in the adjoining gutter the following day. This happened two more times, until she was at last laid to rest in the gutter. Another version of the legend is that her soul found no peace and roamed the court at night until she was buried in the gutter…..

On 23 May 1971, the last beguine died at the age of 84. “Sister Antonia” ……………… She was buried in the Sisters’ Grave in the St. Barbara’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Amsterdam on 26 May of the same year…

Until its renovation in 1979, the court had 140 dwellings — some 110 of them consisting of a single room, and about 25 comprising two. The occupants likewise numbered 140. The renovations enlarged the houses to two or three rooms. Since that time, the number of female inhabitants has been an unvaried 105.’

Here is my take on the Begijnhof, where a combination of small domestic gardens, splendid architecture and a unifying lozenge – shaped green created a real Autumn Jewel on our visit to this beautiful city.

Old School Gardener

434px-Hartley_Coleridge_1‘The mellow year is hasting to its close;

The little birds have almost sung their last,

Their small notes twitter in the dreary blast-

That shrill-piped harbinger of early snows:

The patient beauty of the scentless rose,

Oft with the morn’s hoar crystal quaintly glassed,

Hangs, a pale mourner for the summer past,

And makes a little summer where it grows:

In the chill sunbeam of the faint brief day

The dusky waters shudder as they shine,

The russet leaves obstruct the straggling way

Of oozy brooks, which no deep banks define,

And the gaunt woods, in ragged, scant array,

Wrap their old limbs with sombre ivy twine.’

Hartley Coleridge

David Hartley Coleridge (19 September 1796 – 6 January 1849) was an English poet, biographer, essayist, and teacher. He was the eldest son of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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