Tag Archive: plants


Now's the time for cleaning up in the garden

Now’s the time for cleaning up in the garden

1. Elf  ‘n’ safetee

  • Frosts can still be a hazard, so keep vulnerable plants protected at night if frost is forecast (fleece or cloches). March winds are also ferocious so make sure exposed plants are well supported.

  • Remove moss and weeds from paths, terraces and driveways. Dissolve washing soda crystals in hot water and brush over paths and patios to remove green algae – it’s cheaper than specialist treatments off the garden centre shelf.

  • Protect new spring shoots from slugs. There is a wide range of possible methods – why not  try an organic one?

Fork over your borders

Fork over your borders

2. Making your bed

  • Prepare seed beds – lightly fork and rake over to achieve a fine tilth, removing larger stones,weeds etc..

  • On your borders clear up any remaining dead stems, leaves etc. and then weed, fork over and add nutrients – incorporate as much organic matter as you can. You can add a mulch on top of the bare soil to suppress further weeds and keep moisture in.  This might be of composted bark (at least a year old to avoid it removing nutrients from the soil). A 5cm deep layer, spread before the soil dries out, and with newspapers between the soil and the mulch, will slow down the rate the bark decomposes, so it could last for 2 – 3 years.

  • Thawing and freezing conditions may have  lifted some plants – give any that have risen out of the soil a gentle firm around the stem.

Now's the time to divide and transplant perennials

Now’s the time to divide and transplant perennials

3. Moving on – position your plants

  • Late March/early April is a good time to transplant shrubs and trees – as soon as the soil is workable, but before buds have swelled or broken open.

  • Divide and transplant summer perennials and fertilize established ones as soon as new growth appears.

  • Plant summer – flowering bulbs and tubers (e.g. gladiola, lilies and dahlias). You can continue planting additional bulbs every couple of weeks until mid June to ensure a longer flowering period.

  • Check that any plants growing against the house walls and under the eaves or under tall evergreens have sufficient moisture – incorporating organic matter will help with moisture retention.

  • Plant ornamental grasses (or lift, divide and replant existing ones) and mix them in with your shrubs and perennials.

  • Plant shallots, onion sets and early potatoes towards the end of the month

  • This is the best time to move snowdrops – “in the green”. Once the flowers have faded dig up the plants, take care not to damage the bulb or the foliage. Tease out the bulbs into smaller groups and replant them straight away at the same depth, watering to settle the soil around the roots.

  • Plant Primroses and Pansies.

Onion sets can be planted out

Onion sets can be planted out

4. Cut above – pruning for growth

  • Cut back winter shrubs and generally tidy up around the garden.

  • Cut back established Penstemons.

  • Prune winter Jasmine after flowering.

  • Cut Honeysuckle back to strong buds about 1m above ground and remove some older stems to encourage new growth at the base.

  • Finish pruning fruit trees before the buds swell.

  • Roses can be pruned this month – and start feeding them (all-purpose fertiliser and/or manure).

  • Remove any plain green stems from variegated shrubs otherwise they will eventually all revert to green.

 5. Stake out

  • Gather sticks or buy plant supports and get them in place around perennials that are likely to need support – best do it now so you don’t trample on surrounding new growth in the border and before the plants grow too tall or bushy to put in supports easily. Try making ‘lobster pot’ shapes over the plant base by weaving pliable willow, dog wood or hazel cuttings from coppiced plants – these look more natural than metal supports.

6. Feed and Weed

  • Give bulbs that have finished blooming some fertilizer – a ‘bulb booster’ or bone meal.

  • Top dress containers with fresh compost.

  • Fertilize shrubs and trees if this wasn’t done in February.

  • Use an Ericaceous fertilizer to feed acid-loving evergreens, conifers, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias.

  • Use an all-purpose fertilizer for deciduous trees and shrubs – Bonemeal and/or Fish, Blood and Bone are ideal..

  • Fruit trees and bushes will benefit from a high potash feed (wood ashes is one source) – a liquid feed of tomato fertilizer on the strawberries is also well worth a try!

  • Regularly hoe vegetable beds so that weeds are not taking any available moisture or nutrients.

  • Mulch all fruit with your own compost or well-rotted farm manure, making sure it does not touch the stems, as this can cause rot.

  • Turnover your compost pile to encourage new activity and generate future supplies of compost to feed your garden!

  • Pot indoor plants into bigger pots if they need a ‘refresh’ or if the roots have filled the existing pot. Increase the frequency of feeding indoor plants (high nitrogen feed for plants grown for their leaves and high potash for those grown for their flowers).

Seeds can be sown in trays or open ground - or in these modules for easier transplanting

Seeds can be sown in trays or open ground – or in these modules for easier transplanting

7. Sow, sow, sow

  • Sow seeds of summer plants indoors, in propagators or in trays or modules on window cills or other light, frost – free places.

  • Sow seeds outdoors once the soil has warmed up (use cloches or coverings a week or two before you sow to warm the soil) – only plant small amounts of veg that you actually like to eat and choose well – tried, hardy veg varieties that don’t mind the cold – carrots, peas, broad beans, spinach, radish, parsnips and leeks.

  • You’ll need labels, finely raked soil and a string line or cane to help you sow straight – and ensure you sow at the right depth and spacing.

8. Grassed up

  • Repair damaged lawns with new seeding or turf – choose the right grass mix for your situation and expected use.

  • Make it easier to mow your lawn by eliminating sharp, awkward corners – create curves that you can mow round.

  • Remove a circle of grass from the base of trees in the lawn (ideally at least 1m diameter, but possibly more for bigger trees), and mulch with chopped bark/compost. It will take less time to cut round the trees, the trees will benefit from the cleared space underneath, and you’ll avoid colliding with and damaging the tree trunk.

  • As soon as possible start cutting the grass. If it has not been cut since last autumn it will be long, tufted – and probably hard work! Choose a dry day, and once the soil has dried out sufficiently. Cut it to about 5cm and remove the cuttings, and on the same day (or soon after), cut it again to half this height. .

nest box9. Critter care

  • Buy or make nesting boxes to attract birds to your garden (see simple construction pic from the British Trust for Ornithology opposite).   Hang them on a wall rather than from trees if you have cats in the area.

  • Carry on putting food out for birds but make sure there are now no large pieces – these are potentially harmful to fledglings.

  • Keep the bird bath topped up with water

  • If your wildlife pond does not have any frogspawn try to get some from another pond that has plenty. Check any submersible pumps and clean filters. Thin out oxygenating plants

10. Dear diary

  • Get a notebook and use it to keep important gardening information; what you plant in the garden, where you got it from; planting /transplanting dates; harvesting dates and quantity/ quality of the crops. Also record any pest or disease problems, what was done and how effective this was. All this information will be helpful in planning your garden in future years.

Old School Gardener

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Scylla- '4 weeks late'

Scylla- ‘4 weeks late’ in 2013

‘Everything’s four weeks late’. So said my friends and fellow gardeners Derek and Mary Manning in April last year (we were just emerging from the coldest winter in 50 years). This was when I wrote this last article in the series on gardening and climate change.

You might remember Mary from my first article in the series. She’s the Norfolk gardener who’s been keeping records of when certain plants first flower each year – for over 60 years in fact.

Over that time she’s seen a gradual creeping forward of when some spring flowers do their stuff, so supporting the evidence from elsewhere that the overall climate is warming in the UK and that Spring is starting earlier…. Yes, you did read correctly, spring is starting earlier! That is until 2013, when all the expectations flew out of the window as we had our coldest March for 50 years and, as any UK gardener will tell you, most plants were holding off until the real Spring arrived. The Manning’s evidence in 2013 showed that Scylla (the lovely purply- blue woodland bulb) flowered on the 4th April in 2013, almost exactly a month later than in 2012!

Why do I share this information with you? Well, if you’ve been reading my previous articles in this series you will have gathered that recent events in the UK’s weather (and further afield) seem to be prompting some rethinking of the theories and forecasts of climate change and it’s expected effects.

In my first article, I set out what the forecasts currently are and how these seem to be changing, so that unexpected or abnormal weather events (prolonged periods of unseasonal cold,wet or drought) seem to be increasing in their frequency and impact on gardeners – and everyone else. This could mean that we need to set aside notions of ‘lateness’ in flowers blooming or not, as the age-old certainties of what and when the different seasons happen is changing.

How can we gardeners cope with this increased unpredictability? My second article talked about how we can prepare the garden for this sort of uncertainty – how to create our own, managed ‘micro climate’ if you like. In my last article I talked about how this preparedness needs to be complemented by a watchful, vigilant gardener – I call him/her the ‘Constant Gardener’. A way of gardening which is tuned in to what’s happening in the short to medium term and can take remedial action to further ameliorate or take advantage of the weather we get.

This article is the final piece of the jigsaw, so to speak – what sources of information and intelligence are already open to us and that may possibly develop in the future? In short, how to ensure that as well as being well prepared, watchful and diligent we take advantage of all the information we can to better judge what we do and when in the garden. I want to cover the following topics:

  • Weather forecasting –  can we expect longer range forecasting to improve, to give us the forward view we need of how particular seasons are going to go?

  • Plant hardiness and quality are there any systems for judging and ranking plants to help us?

  • Pests and diseaseswhat early warning systems are there to help us prevent the worst effects of these in our gardens as the seasons roll on?

Warm if not sunny

Weather – can we expect seasonal forecasting to improve?

Back in April 2013 here in Norfolk we were forecast (I nearly said ‘promised’) rain over night on two occasions. This failed to materialise so I had to adjust my plant moving plans a little and the continuing dry weather meant I could get on with other weather dependent tasks in the garden. I have to say, I wasn’t that surprised as here in eastern England the progress of easterly tracking weather fronts can often promise rain, only for this to peter out over the rest of the country before we see any benefit. This day to day uncertainty is to be expected and to be honest I can probably live with it, as the weather forecasts, including their useful ‘severe weather warnings’, are generally reliable enough.

If I were overly anxious or wanting to plan things on almost an hour by hour basis the Met office’s ‘Nowcasts’  use radar to look a few hours ahead. Particularly useful for those harvesting waste water on an agricultural scale as well as extreme weather events involving potentially damaging hail, strong winds and lightning, I could look these up and plan my activities to the minutest degree.  What I really would value though, is a longer term picture of what the next few months or weeks are likely to hold weatherwise. Not surprisingly, it’s this sort of forecasting that proves to be the most challenging as it involves monitoring and then predicting a number of variables and is particularly difficult in the UK because of our position on the globe. As the Met office explains:

‘Our one-day weather forecasts are right six days out of seven, and today’s four-day forecasts are as accurate as one-day forecasts were 30 years ago. While this shows great advances in reliability, we cannot always predict detailed differences in weather at a local level.

This is because the atmosphere is an extremely complicated system, affected by a huge number of factors and with the potential to react in endless different ways. To ensure completely accurate forecasts at all times, we would have to greatly increase the amount of observations we get so they cover every part of the planet, every minute of the day. Even then, a supercomputer far more powerful than anything in existence today would be needed to simultaneously process all this information into forecasts.

We are not there yet, but as we increase the number of observations, the complexity of the models, and the power of our supercomputers, forecasts should get more and more accurate.’

Online Weather services hold awide rnage of information and 'outlooks' for the month and season ahead

Online Weather services hold a wide range of information including ‘outlooks’ for the month and season aheadOf course it doesn’t help matters when the media gets hold of these longer term forecasts and makes simplistic and crude statements like ‘scorching summer predicted’ and so on.

This just discredits the longer term forecasting with all its hedging around with probabilities, if’s and but’s. The Met Office defended it’s work on long-range forecasting following criticism of its forecasts for the Spring and summer of 2012, when exceptionally wet weather hit the UK.

It concluded:‘We are confident that long-range outlooks will improve progressively and that the successes we have achieved in other parts of the world already will, in the future be mirrored in the UK. The Met Office constantly reviews the accuracy of our forecasts across all time scales and is recognised by the World Meteorological Organization as one of the top two national weather forecasting services in the world….Better understanding and representing the drivers of predictability in the global climate system that influence our weather patterns is as ever a priority for Met Office research in order to deliver improved advice and services on all timescales.’

Further comment  came in a reply to my specific questions about longer range forecasting and gardeners. Dave Britton of the Met Office said:

‘The provision of longer-range forecasts is extremely challenging and always will be for the likes of NW Europe and the UK, where only small changes in driving factors can have a big influence on pressure patterns, wind direction and therefore our weather. However the science of longer range forecasting is improving and just as we have seen huge improvements over the last 40 years or so in the provision of 3 to 5 day forecasts, we will see similar advances in long-range forecasting in the future too.’

The position in North America appears to be somewhat more predictable, though even here there have been exceptional weather events in recent years which may point to a more uncertain future. The larger-scale, continental climate here seems to make it easier to predict things like first and last frost days in different parts of the US and Canada, something that the Met Office doesn’t do, mainly because  the weather in the UK is much more variable.

So, apart from hoping that longer range forecasting will improve what other weather data can the UK gardener use to inform his timings and techniques? For fruit and veg growers a critical factor is air and soil temperature for germination and planting. Maybe we need to be even more aware of what’s needed for different types of plant- see the examples of this sort of information below.

Plant hardiness and quality – what systems are there to help us choose plants that perform and are resilient?

Another area of information we gardeners can use to cope with weather relates to plants themselves – their hardiness, resilience to particular extreme conditions and other qualities. In the UK the Royal Horticultural Society has reviewed both its plant hardiness and ‘Award of Garden Merit’ systems. The new plant hardiness system is now temperature based (instead of classifying the UK into four geographical hardiness zones which was the basis of the previous system).

Now plants are being put into seven categories from glasshouse plants (H1) through to plants which are ‘fully hardy’ (H7). The RHS Director of Horticulture, Jim Gardiner says he is conscious that in the UK plants have to contend with other factors than temperature when looking at ‘hardiness’ – the condition of the plant itself, prevailing climatic conditions, growing conditions, position in the garden, age, provenance and so on. We also have temperature swings to contend with (RHS – ‘The Garden’, February 2013). So I guess there is a recognition that this hardiness guide (which is currently limited to the plants in the RHS Award of Garden Merit scheme) has its limitations.

But, as Jim Gardiner says, it is a system which is plant, not place – based (like the US Department of Agriculture Winter Hardiness Zone approach – see the map below). So, it is perhaps more useful for the UK gardener, where our maritime context and variations in temperature and associated growing conditions can be much more localised (as well as increasingly unpredictable) than is the case in such a large continental land mass.

SIMP_All_states_fullzones_300dpi

USA Winter Hardiness Zones

USA Winter Hardiness Zones

The other main plant rating system in the UK – the ‘Award of Garden Merit’ –  is also run by the Royal Horticultural Society, and began in 1922. It received a complete overhaul in 1992 and a ten yearly review cycle resulted in a new list being compiled last year. In addition, following plant trials or round table reviews by plant committees and specialists, new awards are made every year. The ten – yearly reviews ensure that every variety is still available, hasn’t developed disease or pest problems, and hasn’t been superseded by something better. In the 2012 review, for example, the crab apple ‘Comtessa de Paris’ replaced ‘Golden Hornet’, which can suffer scab. In the 2012 review of the nearly 1000 vegetables holding the AGM, 404 were no longer available, so they have been deleted from the list.

The AGM is intended to be of practical value to the home gardener and is awarded only to a plant that meets the following criteria:

  • Excellent for ordinary use in appropriate conditions – a cultivar or selection that outperforms others, perhaps for more flowers, length of flowering, scent, colour, form etc.

  • Available to buy

  • Of good constitution – the plant should be known to be generally healthy

  • Essentially stable in form and colour – it should perform according to its description

  • Reasonably resistant to pests and diseases – it should have no pest and disease issues that would affect growth and performance

Rudbekia laciniata 'Goldkugel'-  in the RHS AGM list and considered to be fully hardy (H7)

Rudbekia laciniata ‘Goldkugel’- in the RHS AGM list and considered to be fully hardy (H7)

Rudbekia laciniata ‘Goldkugel’- in the RHS AGM list and considered to be fully hardy (H7)

Just because a plant has an AGM, does not mean it will do well when poorly looked after. A large number of plants hold AGMs at any one time. The current list (which includes the plant hardiness rating) contains over 6000 ‘ornamentals’ and 1000 ‘fruit and vegetable’ varieties and is used in plant gazeteers such as the RHS ‘Plant Finder’ which lists where plants, including AGM holders, can be purchased. A similar system operates in the US, the ‘All American Selection’ (AAS), which is slightly younger and somewhat different to the AGM. The judges and the trial grounds vary from year to year and four categories are judged: Flower, Bedding Plant, Vegetable, Cool Season Bedding Plant, and only never-before-sold varieties are tested.

So, the new and updated systems of plant hardiness and quality look like being useful sources of information for gardeners considering which new plants (or maybe replacements) to grow in their particular location and with an eye on future weather extremes. And it is no accident that some experts are starting to identify plants that can withstand particular climatic extremes, like flooding.

Potato blight- early warnings of its spread for 8 years in the UK

Potato blight- there have been early warnings of its spread for 8 years in the UK

Pests and diseases – can we get early warning of possible problems?

Finally, it is clear that some (if not many) pests and diseases can flourish in different weather conditions. Is it possible to predict how different pests or diseases might affect your garden so that you can take the necessary preventative action? In the UK there are some useful ‘early warning systems’ especially for food growers. For example there is a system for potato blight, which is prone to develop in damp, warm conditions.  The Potato Council has offered a blight incident reporting service for 8 years. This information is collected on a voluntary basis by 300 ‘blight scouts’ drawn from members of the potato industry who are routinely walking potato fields during the season. You can sign up to be alerted about blight with the Potato Council.

You can  sign up for early warnings of the spread of aphids

You can sign up for early warnings of the spread of aphids

You can sign up for early warnings of the spread of aphids

The UK Horticulture Development Company Pest Bulletin provides early warnings of potentially damaging pest attacks and valuable advice for planning this season’s planting of fruit and veg. Providing information throughout the key periods of pest activity, the HDC Pest Bulletins are updated on a regular basis, especially when particular insects are developing rapidly.The HDC also produces a Pest blog.

The UK  Home Grown Cereals Authority (HGCA) also produces a weekly regional ‘aphid alert’ which you can sign up to. All these systems have their value, but I’m not aware of any system that draws them together for gardeners on a regular, regional basis. Perhaps this is something the RHS might coordinate, incorporating the latest weather forecasts and advice about particular issues affecting different plants?

To sum up, there are already a number of sources of information and intelligence available to the gardener that can help ensure a successful garden. Some of these – e.g. longer term weather forecasting and pest and disease warnings  – would clearly benefit from further investment and coordination. These can  be put alongside measures to prepare your garden for unpredictable weather and adopting an approach to gardening which is ‘watchful and diligent’- the constant gardener. It will also be interesting to see the results of the RHS- University of Reading survey of gardeners and climate change models when it is published- hopefully sometime in April 2014.

Together they give me optimism that the gardener of the future will be well equipped to cope with climate change. And we mustn’t forget the importance of adopting sustainable gardening practices as well as a positive move to reduce the ongoing impact we have on global warming and its fuelling of further climate change.

rain measuring boots

One way of monitoring water levels?!

One way of monitoring water levels?!

If you have any comments on these ideas or have some of your own, I’d love to hear from you!

Previous articles in this series:

Four Seasons in One Day (3): Climate Change and the Constant Gardener

Four Seasons in One Day (2): Preparing the garden for climate change

Four Seasons in One Day (1): Climate change and the garden

Further information:

Top pest and disease threats in Britain

RHS Science Strategy

Dig for Victory- how your garden can help beat climate change

Watering advice

Wikipedia- Tiwanaku

Sir John Beddington’s warnings on climate change

Britain like Madeira?

My Climate Change Garden

UK Meteorological Office – impacts of climate change on horticulture

Royal Horticultural Society – gardening in a changing climate

‘Gardening in the Global Greenhouse ‘ – summary

RSPB- guide to sustainable drainage systems (download)

RHS guide to front gardens and parking

Old School Gardener

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constant gardenerIn this third article about climate change and the garden (originally published in 2013), I set out some ideas on how the gardener can manage the day-to-day garden environment and other short-term measures to modify the impact of abnormal weather events. As previous articles have outlined, these seem likely to become more frequent  as a result of the warming of the planet and associated climate changes around the world.

I think it’s fair to say that effective gardening in the future will rely on gardeners:

  1. Being well prepared for abnormal weather events  and taking steps to change the design, planting and systems in the garden to cope (the subject of my previous article)

  2. Being aware of, and using, a range of information about the weather, plants, pests etc. (I’ll look at these issues in my final article), and

  3. Developing gardening skills and techniques as well as a flexible, ‘can do’ attitude – or what I’m calling the ‘Constant Gardener’ –  the subject of this article.

‘Constant’ implies dependability, ongoing attention and responsiveness,  qualities that the ‘climate change gardener’ will need if the gardens of tomorrow are to be as productive, beautiful and healthy as today. Just like Justin Quayle’s ‘gentle but diligent attention to his plants’ in the film of the same name, in fact!

The focus of the Constant Gardener is on how those annual and biennial plants that we raise from seed can be nurtured and protected from the worst excesses of the weather. However, attention to how perennials, shrubs and trees are faring will also require vigilance throughout the year and possibly remedial action, if the weather threatens to harm a particular plant or area of the garden.

So, what can the Constant Gardener do?

A moveable awning or sun shade like this could help to protect tender plants from the hottest part of the day
A moveable awning or sun shade like this could help to protect tender plants from the hottest part of the day
  • To cope with periods of hot sun, consider temporary shades that can be moved around the garden to provide protection for tender plants where there is no natural shade – e.g awnings slung between posts which can be moved to shade beds or borders at risk from ‘frying’. I mentioned the value of permanent structures like pergolas and arbours in my last article.

  •  To ensure successful nurturing of plants from seed, sow in smaller quantities and in successive batches – especially if you’re growing food, where successional sowings will in any case give you (hopefully) a steady supply rather than a glut followed by nothing.

    Sowing seeds in small batches at different times of the season can help to thwart the impact of abnormal weather - especially on food crops

    Sowing seeds in small batches at different times of the season can help to thwart the impact of abnormal weather – especially on food crops

  • Carry out plant propagation and nurturing under cover and in frost free spaces ideally you will have in place a variety of growing conditions, light frost-free rooms in the house, greenhouse/conservatory and cold frame – make sure you use them effectively to harden plants off before they are fending for themselves outside.

  • Choose plants – especially fruit and veg – from varieties that you like to eat and which are resilient or suited to the sorts of conditions you’ve created in your garden and the weather extremes that seem likely (though this itself may be increasingly difficult to predict). For a ‘belt and braces’ approach, grow a few different varieties if you’re not sure about the best ones for you and your garden. Your choice may also mean that you’ll need to compromise  a bit on quality as a trade – off for resilience.

  • If you’re buying plants, be vigilant about pests and diseases  – with increased plant mobility between countries as well as an increased geographical growing range for some species, the risk of importing pests and diseases is increasing.

  • Delay sowing if your soil is slow to warm up – early sowing is a gamble where the odds are against you, whereas sow a little late and the odds will probably shift in your favour.

  • Be prepared to accept failure and learn from it for next time. Keeping records of seasonal weather, the varieties grown and how they fared is invaluable when growing food crops.

  • If there’s a choice, opt for growing quick food crops – this way there’s less time for them to be affected by abnormal weather.

    Radishes are a quick growing crop

    Radishes are a quick growing crop

  • Remember the ‘transfer window’ – make sure you prick out, pot up and pot on regularly, before plants give up the ghost or succumb to ‘damping off’. Aim to grow a few strong plants rather than lots of weaklings!  This will make for better resistance to pests and diseases.

  • Rotation plus – you’re probably aware of the importance of moving your food crops around the garden to avoid the build up of pests and diseases associated with one family of fruit or veg, as well as moderating the drain the plants put on the soil’s fertility. The Constant Gardener should also consider successional sowings of the same crop in different parts of the garden if possible (what you might call ‘Divided Bed’ gardening) and if you want to be ultra cautious you could use different varieties too!

    Horticultural fleece can be a quick way to protect young plants from overnignt frost
    Horticultural fleece can be a quick way to protect young plants from overnignt frost
  • Protect young plants against frost – use fleece, cloches or other temporary covers

  • If plants have suffered from a wet/flooded winter, give them a spring feed, mulch over the root area and give them a foliar feed during the growing season to build up their strength.

  • Use water harvested from wet periods (in butts, barrels or tanks) to water effectively in dry times. Use pipes and ‘SIP’ plastic bottle feeders plunged into the ground to ensure water gets straight to the plant’s roots. Avoid using sprinklers and hoses as much of the water they deposit on the surface of grass or earth evaporates. You could go for a green solar -powered watering system like the one in the picture!

    A solar-powered water harvesting and distrbution system
    A solar-powered water harvesting and distrbution system
  • Over – winter tender plants in containers in an inside, well-lit and frost-free room or greenhouse, conservatory, or cold frame (ideally with insulation and the scope for added heat when necessary). If they can’t be moved out of the ground, mulch with  suitable organic material to protect the roots, and for some wrap up the stem and branches with fleece or similar material.

    Some larger, tender plants will need to be wrapped up for winter
    Some larger, tender plants will need to be wrapped up for winter
  • Keep glasshouse, conservatory and cold frame panes clean to maximise sunlight.

  • Look after wildlife and they’ll look after your garden. Feed birds in tough winter spells and create habitats through planting etc. to attract beneficial insects and other ‘critters’ that will keep pests at bay.

  • Avoid using power tools and equipment if at all possible as these will contribute to the emission of CO2 either directly or indirectly and so fuel global warming.

    Keeping greenhouse glass clean helps to maximise sunlight

    Keeping greenhouse glass clean helps to maximise sunlight

So, to sum up

  • Constant awareness of what the weather is bringing you and your garden

  • Constant willingness to act in the short-term as well as being prepared

  • Constant action to propagate, nurture and protect your plants!

If you have any comments on these ideas or have some of your own, I’d love to hear from you! My final article will look at plant awards, hardiness ratings, pest and disease information and the future of longer term weather forecasting as ways of keeping the gardener well informed.

Previous articles in this series:

Four Seasons in One Day (2): Preparing the garden for climate change

Four Seasons in One Day (1): Climate change and the garden

Source:

‘Monty’s Garden’– article by Monty Don, Gardeners’ World Magazine, January 2013

Further information:

Dig for Victory- how your garden can help beat climate change

Watering advice

Wikipedia- Tiwanaku

Sir John Beddington’s warnings on climate change

Britain like Madeira?

My Climate Change Garden

UK Meteorological Office – impacts of climate change on horticulture

Royal Horticultural Society – gardening in a changing climate

‘Gardening in the Global Greenhouse ‘ – summary

RSPB- guide to sustainable drainage systems (download)

RHS guide to front gardens and parking

Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?

 

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

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

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Plant Fest

WP_20160529_10_37_40_ProWhilst down in Devon recently, one sunny Sunday morning I wandered into Tavistock Pannier Market to the Tavistock Garden Festival. It was busy.

There was a lovely range of displays by local nurseries all vying for our trade, as well as some other trades people with garden ornaments and practical garden items. I was tempted…and succumbed, buying three rather unusual plants, all of which now adorn the pond garden here at the Old School: a beautiful white Camassia (I’ve already saved seed from this and hope to propagate further plants), a Sanguisorba with a mix of red flowers and nicely cut foliage and a rather nice Geum, with golden yellow flowers nestling on pinkish red bases.

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Old School Gardener

There's such a choice of  containers to grow in!

There’s such a choice of containers to grow in!

It’s getting to that time when we plant up containers – with annuals, or perhaps longer lasting plants. Which type of compost should you use?

There are two main types of compost: soil-based (John Innes) and soil-less, which may be based on peat or a peat substitute such as coir or perhaps recycled household waste. In addition, depending on the drainage requirements of the plants you’re placing in containers, you’ll need to add some horticultural grit, Pearlite or similar. And some plants- bulbs for example- like a mix which is less nutrient rich, light and leafy- so add in plenty of leaf mould.

All containers need some means of letting excessive water escape- in most pots there’s a hole in the bottom and permeable liners (or a few holes punched in a piece of plastic) in hanging baskets will achieve the same result. But don’t forget to rest some pieces of broken pot or tile over the drainage hole in the bottom of the pot to avoid the compost washing out.

Plants like this Box ball requires a soil-based compost to thrive long term

Plants like this Box ball requires a soil-based compost to thrive long term

Soil-based composts

These are heavy, retain water well and provide a long-lasting supply of nutrients. They are the best choice for permanent plants in containers and for plants that grow tall and are top heavy. For permanent displays, use john Innes Number 3 because of its high level of nutrients.

Soil- less composts

These are lightweight, clean and easy to handle, but dry out quickly and contain few nutrients. Soil-less composts are best for temporary displays, such as bedding plants and hanging baskets. Peat-based composts are the most consistent in quality, though alternatives are improving all the time (especially some of the recycled organic matter types) and do not deplete the landscape like peat-based types.

Plants like Pelargoniums (these are in the courtyard at Old School Garden), require a very gritty soil-less compost.

Plants like Pelargoniums (these are in the courtyard at Old School Garden), require a very gritty soil-less compost.

Source: ‘Short cuts to Great Gardens’- Reader’s Digest, 1999

Old School Gardener

 

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

 

 

dinner table

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).

WP_20151218_09_11_38_Pro

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

 

 

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