Tag Archive: seasons

shady greenhouseI’ve previously had a question about acquiring a second greenhouse and what it could be used for. Today’s question is from Tony Sharp of Hertford and also involves a ‘greenhouse gift’. Tony asks:

‘My parents have offered me their old greenhouse, but the only available space for it in my garden is generally shaded. Is it worth the trouble of moving it to my place?’

Tony, it is certainly worth it. The great majority of popular greenhouse and pot plants prefer shady conditions when in the decorative stage- but good light, which does not mean direct sunlight under glass, is essential for them in their early stages of growth. If there is too much gloom, growth will be weak, straggly and pale. If your greenhouse is going to be very shaded, the use of a cold frame or other mini garden frame in a more open, sunny position might provide the right light levels for the early growth stages of some plants.

There are also many plants that revel in considerable shade, apart from the low growers suitable for placing under the staging (more on this below). Examples include:

  • Many ferns for both cool and warm conditions

  • Norfolk island pine (Araucaria excelsa) in its juvenile form

  • The climbers, Chilean bell-flower (Lapageria rosea) and Hoya carnosa- both with attractive flowers

  • Many ivies

  • The Schefflera foliage species

  • Camellias, which flower very well in pots when young

  • Streptocarpus

  • Gloxinias

  • Many of the Gesneria family

  • The ‘forest cacti’ such as Schlumbergera and Rhipsalidopsis

  • The annual Exacum affine, which is sweet-smelling

  • Anthurium crystallinum

  • Various palms

And there are many more possibilities to choose from depending on the temperature that can be maintained in the greenhouse.

I mentioned using the space under the staging in the greenhouse above. If you have a glass-to ground greenhouse the lighting conditions will probably allow this area to be used for a propagator or those plants that like slight shade. If, however there is considerable shade (as you might get with a solid wall greenhouse), only shade lovers can be put there- but once again there are lots of these to consider. Many houseplants like the sort of lighting you get in this area (and may even be raised there); so, too, do tropical  plants and exotic foliage subjects if warmth and humidity is adequate. Good crops of mushrooms can be grown and, if an area is blacked out, it can also be used for blanching and forcing crops such as chicory, rhubarb and sea kale.

You have staging- what can you use the area underneath for?
You have staging- but what can you use the area underneath for?

I’d suggest that you don’t use the under staging area as a store for general garden stuff (eg plant pots and trays) as these and other ‘junk’ can soon turn into places where pests and diseases will be encouraged. However this area can be useful as a store for tools that are used regularly in the greenhouse, as well as containers of seed and potting compost- as long as these can be effectively sealed (I’ve seen a bag of compost left open in a greenhouse and soon become a home for ants!).

Link: 10 Greenhouses you can build yourself

If you have any gardening questions that you think I might help with, then please email me at nbold@btinternet.com

Old School Gardener

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A fascinating photo log of an elderly couple standing in the same position in their cottage garden through the seasons…. and with a touching end pic….

Old School Gardener

This week's questioner has been offered a second greenhouse...an offer too good to be refused?

This week’s questioner has been offered a second greenhouse…an offer too good to be refused?

GQT this week comes from Mr. Herb E.Vore of  Field Dalling, Norfolk. Herb asks:

‘A friend has offered me his small greenhouse free. I have space to spare – but I have one green house already. Apart from extra capacity, what are the advantages of a second greenhouse?’

Well Herb, the chief advantage is that you can create two quite different environments – one, perhaps, devoted to a special purpose or to growing plants such as orchids, alpines, carnations and the like which do not thrive in the sort of environment you probaly create in your present greenhouse (assuming it’s used to propagate plants, grow tomatoes etc.).

A second greenhouse would also be useful to keep as a conservatory for the display of decorative plants, and quite separate from the placed used for the vital, visually less interesting jobs of propagation and growing – on. Bear in mind, however, that even if you have the room (or time or money) for only one greenhouse, you may be able to create at least two different environments by dividing the structure into two compartments (with a heavy clear plastic sheet as a divider, for example).

And while we’re talking about greenhouses its useful to think in terms of using it all the year round by thinking ahead and producing an annual schedule. As an example:

  • Start in spring with the sowing of bedding plants and planting summer to autumn flowering bulbs
  • In summer, cuttings can be taken of summer to autumn flowering pot plants, and crops such as tomatoes, sweet peppers, cucumbers and melons can be grown
  • With the approach of autumn, Chrysanthemums and other tender plants can be moved in
  • Winter can continue to be colourful from sowings of suitable plants made during summer. There is also a number of useful winter salad crops you can grow during the ‘dark times’, for example lettuces
You may not be offered a second greenhouse, but maybe you can build one yourself?

You may not be offered a second greenhouse, but maybe you can build one yourself?

Link: 10 Greenhouses you can build yourself

If you have any gardening questions that you think I might help with, then please email me at nbold@btinternet.com

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)?

The Kitchen Garden at Old School Garden

The Kitchen Garden at Old School Garden

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

all the best

Old School Gardener

Other posts in this series:

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

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

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

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

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Robert Marsham - portrait by Zofany

Robert Marsham – portrait by Zofany

On a recent walk around my neighbouring village of Stratton Strawless, I visited the church and the exhibition to its most famous inhabitant, Rober Marsham. One of the oldest families in Norfolk, the Marshams held substantial estates in and around Stratton Strawless for about four centuries.

Stratton Strawless Church contains some outstanding tombs and memorials to the Marshams. The Marshams lived at Stratton Strawless Hall (just off the A140 Norwich to Cromer Road) which was completed early in the 19th Century and had extensive landscaped grounds. Humphry Repton, the famous landscape gardener and great admirer of Robert Marsham’s tree planting work, described the estate as: “a gem made out of a common by Robert Marsham”. Apart from this large scale landscaping and an avid interest in trees, Marsham is best known as the ‘father of phenology’.


Stratton Strawless Hall

Stratton Strawless Hall

What is phenology?

Phenology is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate. Robert Marsham was a meticulous recorder and he was the first to log the effects of nature and seasonal change. In 1736, Robert Marsham commenced this series of records that eventually developed into his 27 ‘Indications of Spring’. These included:

  • The first snowdrops
  • The first swallows seen
  • The first songs of migrant birds
  • The first butterflies in Spring
  • The first cuckoo call
  • Leafing dates of trees
The first Swallow an indicator of spring

The first Swallow an indicator of spring

Historically, in Japan and China the time of cherry and peach trees blossoming is associated with ancient festivals and some of these dates can be traced back to the eighth century. In the UK the first individual records that have been found date back to 1684. Robert Marsham was Britain’s first systematic recorder of seasonal events  and recorded his ‘Indications of Spring’ until his death in 1798. His vast database was reported to the Royal Society in 1789, the same year Gilbert White published his Natural History of Selborne.  In 1875 British phenology took a major leap forward when the Royal Meteorological Society established a national recorder network. Annual reports were published up until 1948.

Marsham provided a fascinating insight into the winter of 1739/40, the coldest year on record, when the contents of his chamber pot frequently froze overnight and the turnip crop was completely destroyed! Turnips, a Norfolk speciality, were also monitored by Marsham. He regularly recorded turnip flowering dates (needed when turnips were to produce seed) and he noted one year:

‘My farm produced me a turnip that was 19lbs and 2 oz and 39 and a half inches round.’

Marsham’s great interest in trees resulted in him being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1780. Most of his tree plantings were felled for much needed timber in the First and Second World Wars and other parts of the estate were ploughed over. What is left are a few ancient trees, the remains of his avenue of oaks, and particularly his Giant Cedar (planted in 1747).This Cedrus atlantica was planted as an 18 inch sapling. It stands to the east of Stratton Strawless Hall and when measured in 2000 it measured 102 feet high and had a circumference of 23 feet.

Most of Marsham’s writings haven’t survived. However, there are articles he published in journals, some of his letters to others, and some Victorian transcriptions from his diaries. These present a picture of a man of science with an obsession with trees. James Grigor described him as “an individual who excelled all his contemporaries, in this quarter, in the work of planting, of whom his oaks form the most fitting of all memorials”. His views on planting had a wider impact as they were very influential on Humphry Repton’s landscape designs. He was also one of the first to experiment with root cutting, trenching and bark-scrubbing. He was preoccupied with improving tree growth and continually tested unorthodox methods of pruning and thinning in his forest plantations.

The first snowdrop flower an indicator of spring

The first snowdrop flower an indicator of spring

Following his death in 1797 successive generations of his family continued to record the signs of spring right up to 1958. At the time nobody realised how important these records would become. Today, with concern over climate change and its impact on wildlife and the natural world, these records have become of global importance as one of the longest and best sets of records linking climate and the natural world. A friend and fellow gardener of mine, Mary Manning, has maintained her own set of spring flowering records in Norfolk since the 1960’s.

Marsham’s records can now be compared to temperature records and provide strong evidence of how global warming is leading to earlier springs. His records for Hawthorn show how for each 1°C of temperature rise, leafing can occur up to ten days earlier. Today, a website ‘Natures Calendar’ operated by the Woodland Trust, enables everyone to record their own ‘indications of spring’ data. This website also contains lots of useful information about recent seasonal indications and educational  resources.

Another legacy of the Marsham  family is the Marsham Arms Pub just a couple of miles from my home and a favourite ‘watering hole’ of mine! It was founded by Robert’s grandson, also named Robert, in 1832, as a hostel for homeless farm labourers.marsham-arms

Sources and links:


Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Robert Marsham tricentenerary

Nature’s Calendar

Woodland Trust

Phenology Wheels

US National Wildlife Federation- phenology

Old School Gardener

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