Tag Archive: old school


A little out of control?!

A little out of control?!

Swift action can prevent ivy from causing structural problems

Self-clinging climbers do not usually cause damage to wall surfaces but ivy supports itself by roots on the stems and where these penetrate cracks or joints they may cause structural damage. Its dense cover can also hide defects in the fabric of the building or hinder maintenance work.

At the Old School we have direct experience of this. The main gable end is of flint and brick construction and when we moved in (some 28 years ago) was painted white. This seemed strange, but we later discovered that we had a damp problem on the inner face of this wall. I took what I thought was the right action at the time and covered the wall with another coat of (this time brown) wall paint and for some years the damp problem seemed to wane. Then ivy got a hold and virtually covered the wall by last year, when we decided to remove this (it was a pain trying to keep it cut below the top of the roof) and try to remove the paint (there are, in fact three layers) and restore the original bare flint surface.

Having removed the ivy we’ve noticed how the roots from the stems have got behind a lot of the paintwork and whilst there’s no obvious major damage, we have seen our damp problems return; maybe a case of the ivy helping to prevent water coming in?! Well, we’re still waiting for quotes to do the paint removal work (and to repair some defective flashing on the adjacent roof which I think partly explains the damp problem), and I’m soon going to get into the border next to the wall to remove the roots of the ivy (I think this might be hard work).

In some situations Ivy up the wall may also provide handy access for intruders and harbour pests like mice. Where brickwork is sound, the main task is to keep growth away from gutters (and certainly from getting in under the roof slope) and paintwork.

Ivy under control, but it can be a pain getting up the ladders and trimming back annual growth...

Ivy under control, but it can be a pain getting up the ladders and trimming back annual growth…

Large climbers can pose a risk to house foundations. This is most likely with older buildings constructed on clay soils that are prone to shrinkage.

In the past, Ivy could be killed by cutting through the stem near ground level and treating the stump with ammonium sulphate, but this chemical is now banned so you have to resort to cutting the main stems and digging out the roots and any seedlings. Top growth may be treated with a brushwood killer or a weedkiller containing glyphosate, but ivy is not easily controlled in this way because the leaves are glossy and the spray simply runs off. Repeat applications may be necessary.

Dead foliage and stems are relatively easy to remove from walls (I used a crowbar to lever off quite large chunks, once these had died off), but aerial roots are persistent and can only be removed using a hard brush, wire brush or paint scraper. Here’s a useful video to summarise the basic approach to removing ivy (including from trees and shrubs).

Source: ‘RHS Wisley Experts- Gardeners’ Advice’ – Dorling Kindersley, 2004

Old School Gardener

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The view from Old School Garden, Norfolk at sunset today, the shortest day of the year…

Physalis seed pods mark the move into autumn...

Physalis seed pods mark the move into autumn…

Old School Garden – 28th August 2014

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

The last few weeks have felt more like autumn than summer, here at Old School Garden. The first week of the month was thankfully sunny and warm and coincided with our holiday in Suffolk; you may have seen a couple of articles I’ve posted about some of our visits.

I feel that I’ve been very lazy in the garden over the remaining weeks, just focusing on the ‘ticking over’ tasks of grass cutting, dead heading, watering, feeding and harvesting- and the occasional bit of weeding. Taking it easier seems to have made my back problems disappear, at least for now.

I dug my carrots up the other day and I was relived that this year I seem to have had some success; though a few have been nibbled around the tops and one or two have split or forked, most are what would pass as good specimens for the supermarket (not that this is test of quality of course!). The celery and courgettes and runner beans continue to crop well; I think we’re just about on top of the courgette glut! We’ve discovered a great recipe for ‘Italian style courgette and Parmesan soup’ on the BBC food website– well worth a try if you like a creamy soup with a bit of ‘edge and bite’. cauliflowers and cabbages seem to putting on a lot of leaf, but no heads, so these may be a ‘no show’ this year.

The ‘heritage’ squashes are rampant and I’ve started removing flowers to try to concentrate the energy into fewer fruit; they are colouring up nicely. Cucumbers are exceeding our needs; I must remember to resist the temptation to grow two plants next year. The tomatoes are steady, if not prolific, though recent weather conditions have probably contributed to the re-emergence of blight in the greenhouse. Still,  it seems to be under control, especially as I’ve removed most of the foliage now to try to concentrate the growth into the fruit and to help with ripening.

I’ve also been regularly harvesting plums (including a wonderful crop of cherry plums from a wild tree on our street border), raspberries and more recently blackberries. Both of these berries all seem to be doing well, with good-sized, tasty fruit, though the mystery of my raspberries remains- for the second year now the back half of both the summer and autumn raspberries have not yielded much if any flowers or fruit. I wonder if this is due to some sort of soil deficiency, though many of the summer fruiting plants are old and in need of replacement; but I can’t understand why the back end is so poor, and the otherwise good autumn row is also affected. Yes, they are next to the wood, but they are in full sun  just like the southern end of the rows. Any advice would be welcome! Here are a few pictures of fruit in the garden at present.

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I’ve also harvested my first pears from the two ‘super column’ plants I put in about four years ago. These (Williams and Conference varieties) are looking great (and the first couple of Williams tasted delicious); I must ensure I get to them before the birds do! As I’ve reported before, the apples this year are disappointing; some large cookers have appeared and been used from one of the ‘super columns’, but more generally in the orchard there are very few fruit developing, due to a combination of pest attack and probably the wet, mild spring causing blossom wilt. I’ve now given all the trees and trained fruit their summer prune, cutting back the ‘water shoots’ to encourage spurs to form (I’ve also done the Wisteria).

Begonias keeping the terrace colourful

Begonias keeping the terrace colourful

The ornamental garden areas are hanging on in there, the late summer performers just coming into their own; sedums, grasses, asters, cannas, helianthemum etc. I’ve grown some autumn pansies from seed and also bought a couple of trays to brighten up the containers on the terrace, which are starting to look tired- apart from those full of ‘non stop’, bright red Begonias.

You remember I said that I was going to experiment with the ‘Chelsea Chop’ this year? I’m pleased with the results. I gave many of the sedums this treatment back in May and the plants are now looking squat, bushy and with lots of flower heads starting to colour up, obviating the need for staking and giving a nicely proportioned show. I shall definitely do this again next year.

Sedums given the 'Chelsea Chop'

Sedums given the ‘Chelsea Chop’

The courtyard fruit is also developing, though the recent lack of sun and warmth has obviously checked this to a degree. Still grapes, figs and possibly olives are all on the way; my miniature peach which suffers from Peach leaf curl has now recovered and put on a good show of healthy new leaves, though the fruit, as before, is disappointing. I must take a closer look at what I need to do with this next year.

I’m afraid the excavating moles are still going about their business, and the main lawn is looking very patchy as a result. I’m in two minds about what to do, if anything about this- do I leave well alone and see the, probably enlarged, mole family wreak even more havoc next year, or do I get a ‘mole man’ in to ‘deal’ with them? Despite reading ‘Noah’s Garden’ and its advocacy of an ecological approach to gardening (so I should convert my lawn to meadow to hide the mole hills), I’m not yet convinced of the case for ‘leaving them be’.

As I mentioned last month my gardening support at the two schools has come to an end, though I’m still puttign in some time at Gressenhall Museum to keep on top of a few areas i’ve been involved with. I shall start to look for other projects once September is done; one might be a new project at our nearby National Trust property, Blickling Hall, where they are intending to restore the large walled garden which is currently largely a ‘blank canvas’. I’ll keep you posted.

I hope that you and Lise enjoyed your holiday in Scotland, though I guess that you didn’t have much good weather in the last couple of weeks, like here? We’re off to Devon next week to do some walking. Now that Deborah has retired she has an ambition to do some ‘open moor’ walking, trying to reach as many Dartmoor tors as we can in four or five days- I may be longing for some work in the garden as light relief after this!

All the best Walter, as we’re away towards the end of September, it’ll probably be early October before you hear from me again. I hope that you enjoy the transition to autumn. We’re looking forward to our visit to you in October.

Old School Gardener

 

 

IMG_9469Old School Garden – 30th July 2014

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

I’ve just read the latest chapter of an interesting book- ‘Noah’s Garden’, by Sara Stein. recommended to me by a fellow tweeter (thanks Jo Ellen). This twenty-one year old book tells of the author’s quest to garden more ecologically- or about ‘unbecoming a gardener’, as she puts it. In language as rich as the ‘natural garden’ she describes, Stein’s offering must have been one of the earliest manifestoes for a less intensive, less expensive, less consuming style of gardening. Despite the North American setting and species, she makes a pretty compelling case that’s as applicable to the UK as the USA. Here’s how the chapter I’ve just read ends:

‘Provided one plants a reasonable facsimile of a natural ecosystem- particularly with regard to a generous diversity of species adapted to the habitat- one can retire from that rank of gardeners and homeowners who, supposing that their services are the only ones that matter, work too hard, pay too much, and in return are cheated of the bounty that natural plantings offer.’

My purchase was prompted by my mention of moles and the trouble their burrowings and excavations are giving me in Old School Garden– I think that I mentioned this last month. Well, they are still here and my daily routine seems to start with using a leaf rake to gently spread the moles’ nightly offerings together with the removal of the biggest stones. In short, large parts of the lawn are looking a right old mess. But I’m starting to take a sanguine view, I suppose, fuelled by the advocacy of an ‘ecological approach’ to my plot in ‘Noah’s Garden’!

Hosta haven- the courtyard garden

Hosta haven- the courtyard garden

It’s been a rather ‘laid back’ month here, old friend. The summer heat has built quite nicely and the long days of sunny weather have finally arrived following a rather wet and dismal Spring. I’ve reduced my gardening time to a couple of hours a day (at most) and spent some periods on the terrace, reading, listening to music and enjoying the surroundings. These times have been the closest to ‘contentment’ I’ve been , I think! Here are some pictures of blooms that are doing their stuff at present.

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The ornamental garden  has shot up and I’m amazed at the height of some things- the Achillea, Macleaya and Helianthemum to name just three. Some of the annuals have proved disappointing (e.g Nicotiana) and I was interested to hear that another local gardener (the Head Gardener at nearby Salle Park where I did part of my Heritage Gardening traineeship), has also had very mixed results. Deborah and I cycled there last Sunday for their open day and as usual the standards of horticulture on display were exceptional, though Katie (the aforementioned Head Gardener) bemoaned the fact that the roses which I said were looking really healthy and had assumed were just about to give their second flush of flowers, had in fact been ‘nibbled’ by something earlier and the flower buds we saw were in fact the first round! Anyway here are some pictures of the ornamental areas of Old School Garden, just to keep you up to date with how things look at present.

As for food, I’m pleased to say (fingers crossed) that the blight problem with the greenhouse tomatoes seems to have receded; a combination of higher temperatures, removing infected and other foliage, watering less and only on the ground, keeping ventilation up, feeding more frequently and spraying with ‘Bordeaux Mixture’ seems to have paid off. We’ve had our first few tomatoes from here (along with the ones I’m growing in hanging baskets) and there are more to come, though perhaps inevitably the crop is reduced because of the drastic action I’ve taken. Ho hum, you win some you lose some….but the bush fruit contnues to impress!

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Talking of losing, I harvested the beetrootyesterday- well what is left of it. I must take more time to keep an eye on things! Something (slugs? beetles?) has eaten round the tops of virtually all of the roots so that I guess only about 50% of the harvest is usable. Still, there should be enough to satisfy Deborah’s pickling needs for another year. The onions and garlic have also been disappointing. I planted these out last Autumn and the wet winter and dull spring  (probably along with poor positioning in the garden), seem to have prevented much growth in these, but again there is at least something to show for my efforts.

On a more positive note, the cucumbers, courgettes and squashes seem to be doing well and I can see that courgette will be a major veg ingredient on the table in the next month or two! And we’ve had our second (good) crop of Gooseberries, this time the sweeter, red varieties. These are destined for a ‘fool’ I’m making tomorrow with Elder Flower cordial. Also, the sunflowers in the Kitchen Garden have romped away. Here is a selection of pics of them- they always add a cheery note to any garden, I think.

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Further afield, I said my goodbyes to the two School Gardening projects I’ve been involved with this year. The one at Fakenham Academy seems likely to be halted due to lack of cash, but maybe some activity will continue on a more limited basis; I do hope so, for several of the youngsters I worked with seemed to have caught the ‘growing bug’.

As Deborah has just retired (38 years of teaching), I thought it best to also draw a line under my involvement at the local Primary School where she worked. It’s been a joy helping the children here over many years and an input I’ve been proud of, including a lot of tree and hedge planting to make the grounds a more diverse and interesting place for outdoor learning. So, as Deborah and I enter a new phase in our lives, I guess I’ll be looking for another challenge…watch this space.

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Hanging baskets at Old School Garden

We’re off to Suffolk for a week with some old college friends next week, so this next day or two I must get the garden ready for a week of less attention – hopefully our good neighbours will do some essential watering and harvesting while we’re away. Then, in September (for the first time ever due to school terms!) we’re off to Spain and Portugal, hopefully to include a further visit to the Alhambra in Granada, the garden I visited about 8 years ago and which really gave me the inspiration to get into gardening and garden design. I’ll do some posts on all my garden visits as and when, and hopefully keep up the momentum on the blog whilst on holiday.

The Walled Garden at Salle Park, Norfolk

The Walled Garden at Salle Park, Norfolk

I do hope you and Ferdy are faring well, Walter, and enjoying the lovely weather (it looks like it’s becoming more unsettled just as we go on holiday). We both wish you a lovely Summer break and look forward to seeing you in the Autumn.

Al the best,

Old School Gardener

 

 

Hosta shoots

Hosta shoots -courtesy Marcus Bawdon http://www.countrywoodsmoke.com

‘Everyone has Hostas’… OK so you may think them unfashionable, but I love them… the whole growth process –  new shoots spearing up above the soil surface (right now in Old School Garden), the unfurling leaves, the full blousy foliage and the delicate flowers of pinks, lavenders and whites.

Otherwise known as the ‘Plantain lily’, Hostas come originally from eastern Russia, China, Japan and Korea. They are very hardy. Most of the 40 – 70 or so species (there is disagreement over the exact number) and over 7000 cultivars are grown for their foliage, though for many the flowers are also noteable. True perennials, their foliage dies back and they descend underground over winter, to send up new growth spears in spring and achieve their full glory in summer with some varieties flowering into early autumn. Some species also give a second, albeit brief, display in autumn.

 

The leaves vary between round, ovate, lance or heart – shaped and are between 12cm and 50cm in length. They come in all shades of green, some solid in colour others with margins or centres variegated in shades from white to golden yellow. Flowers range from bell to trumpet shaped, and are held in one-sided racemes or ‘scapes’.

 

Hostas will grow in full sun to full shade – they flower better if in the sun and the yellow-leaved varieties also do better in full sun. Overall, however, they tend to do best in dappled shade and where they are away from the hot noon-day sun (the blue – green leaved varieties have more intense colouring in the shade). They need moisture at their roots and this is even more the case in full sun – so they need watering in dry spells and generally do best in moist ground which is rich in organic matter and neutral to slightly alkaline . Foliage will start to wilt if they are too dry. They can be easily propagated by division at almost any time of year – a sharp spade or knife thrust down to split the roots is all that’s required.

Slug and snail damage

Slug and snail damage

Pest problems focus on slugs and snails which can nibble the emerging shoots – such damage can scar the leaves for the rest of the season, so preventative and quick action to remove slugs and nails is crucial, especially in early spring. Sometimes, especially in water – logged ground, the plants can be susceptible to ‘crown rot’ and if this is the case they should be moved to a more suitable site. Hostas have low levels of allergens. Some Hostas are edible, their young shoots being forced and harvested in the far east, eaten sauted or rolled in proscuitto!

 

Hostas look good in groups around ponds and damp areas, and are particularly useful in areas of medium to light shade.   Their foliage makes for a bold texture so they are good as focal points, contrasting well with grassy – like leaves and stems. They are also good in containers where the leaves and flowers can be seen close up. I grow most of mine this way, in black planters in our Courtyard Garden – the black provides wonderful contrast to the rich greens and yellows of the foliage. But it’s important to keep them well watered once growth starts. Other ideas for using Hostas include:

  • ‘Plant different varieties in large masses or drifts for reliable color and texture in the garden.

  • Brighten shady garden areas with gold or variegated hostas.

  • Use hostas to bridge gaps in seasonal perennial bloom.

  • Variegated hostas with white or cream margins paired with other white flowering plants glow in “moonlight gardens” when homeowners arrive in the evening from work.

  • Hosta leaves emerge just as spring bulb foliage starts to fade, hiding it from view.

  • A single hosta in a container is dramatic and sculptural. Hostas look great in containers paired with other foliage plants or annuals. Remember to provide adequate water.

  • Plant fragrant hostas close to paths and walkways for best appreciation.

  • Use small hostas for edging along walkways and flower borders.

  • Hosta leaves and flowers are attractive in floral arrangements.’

Source: University of Minnesota Extension

Images from:  Newtonairds Lodge Hostas and Garden (the national collection), Wikipedia and other sites as shown on picture titles.

Further information:

RHS- Growing Hostas

British Hosta and Hemerocallis Society

Slug resistant Hostas

How to lift and divide Hostas (video)

Hosta varieties and where to buy etc.

The National Hosta collection

Winsford Walled Garden, Devon- success with Hostas

Hosta shoots wrapped in prosciutto

Hostas and their flowers

 

Old School Gardener

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