Tag Archive: slugs


Looking towards the Terrace and Orchard at Old School Garden

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

Well, old friend, the morning has started under a veil of mist in Old School Garden, but it hopefully will lift later and we can have more of that elusive sunshine!

It’s been a very busy time in the garden and in my other gardening activities. They say that May is the busiest month in the garden, and so far I’d have to agree. In the last few weeks plants have started to catch up with the ‘slow seasons’ and there is a wonderful fresh greenness around and in the countryside beyond. I tend to wait until the end of May before putting out any tender plants and as a result, my greenhouse and cold frame are bursting with plants at various stages of growth. Hopefully I can move things on over the next couple of weeks so that I can make way for tomatoes and cucumbers (new seedlings kindly supplied by my friend Steve) in the greenhouse.


The Kitchen Garden is starting to fill out and every bed is now full with something (though the new Asparagus I planted last autumn is a ‘no show’ – maybe it drowned in all the winter wet or perhaps it’s just not strong enough to break the surface yet – there’s certainly Asparagus on sale locally). You remember I tried sowing carrots in modular pots last year and they were more or less a failure? I’d hoped that was due to the weather. Touch wood – those I sowed earlier this year and which I’ve now planted out, seem to have established well and are growing away. I invested in some outdoor polypipe as an experiment in building a structure to cover these with mesh (as a protection against Carrot Root Fly) and the result is looking like its doing a good job. I did a very simple job of slotting the pipe into some pipe brackets I’d fixed to wooden spacers screwed to the insides of my wooden raised bed and the new roof seems to be holding its curved shape quite well, though some roof – line reinforcement (perhaps with another length of pipe) may be required to ensure the structure survives the windiest weather. The Parsnip I sowed a couple of weeks ago in this bed also seems to have germinated, so I shall thin those shortly.

I’ve also tried a new design for the support of my Mangetout, creating a sort of angled arc which has 12 healthy plants at its foot ready to clamber their way up the netted structure (they grow to about 4 feet so I didn’t need anything very tall).


You remember that I planted my potatoes (well almost all of them) on 5th April, because that was deemed to be a beneficial date on the lunar calendar? Well, I haven’t got any way of making a scientific comparison, but these are now looking healthy, are well above ground and ready for ‘earthing up’. The reserve tubers which I put into a shadier spot a few weeks later have not yet broken through.

Early potatoes up and looking good

Early potatoes up and looking good

We’ve seen the return of ground elder – an annual event despite what seems like constant weeding. So I’ve been out doing a regular hour or two of hand weeding to try to systematically work my way around the borders, and with the recent rain and the addition of rotted wood chips to the soil, this is a very enjoyable and rewarding activity. It’s just lovely working your way through the soil, carefully ‘mining’ for the roots of the elder and gently easing it out of the ground – ‘just like archaeology’, as Deborah says! Though the flower borders are looking a bit like a wireless station at present (because of all the canes and string I’ve put out to support some of the bigger perennials), the new growth is gradually covering these and the garden is taking on a fuller look. I must keep on with the weeding!

With the lateness of spring the Tulips are still with us and they are making some very pleasant combinations with other plants in the garden. I’ve shown a few examples here.


Have you noticed any snail and slug activity yet? I’ve been very surprised that there seems to be very little obvious damage to Old School Garden as yet (compared to last year when it was disastrous). I did put down some pellets a few weeks ago, especially on the containers with Hostas in them and I’m very pleased that the new leaf growth appears to have virtually no signs of damage at all  – maybe these pellets did the job of killing off the young snails and slugs, though even so I haven’t seen many corpses around, so I’m thinking that maybe the very harsh winter weather did a good job in killing off those slugs and snails that would have normally over wintered. The Courtyard  looks good as a result, with the vine coming into to leaf and garlanding the walls and some new colour coming soon from some Sweet Williams I put into the containers alongside the Hostas.


On the wider front, I’ve continued to work with the children at my local Primary School, and as you may have seen in a recent article, I’m enjoying working on various projects with a group of 7 children on Friday afternoons. Yesterday at the School’s annual Fete, we managed to sell all of the hanging baskets that the children had planted up, so making around £40 profit that can go back into gardening activities. This event was also an opportunity to promote the Master Gardener and Master Composter schemes I’m involved with. A colleague, Jane and I manned the stalls for the afternoon, making  paper pots and sowing Nasturtium seeds with the youngsters, showing them the wormery and the worms doing their job as well as offering quizzes and advice and information on food growing and composting to the many adults who came over to see us. Over the next couple of weeks, the Friday gardening group will be finishing off some vertical planters they’re making out of wooden pallets and thanks to a kind donation of plants from a local nursery – woman these will make a lovely, colourful feature in the play ground. I’ll do a separate article on this project once they’re finished.

Today I’m off the Suffolk to inspect a community – run woodland which has applied  to be awarded a ‘Green Flag’ as a mark of excellence. You may recall that this scheme has been operating for a good number of years and is fast becoming the national benchmark for parks and open spaces in England. I’ve been a judge for about 5 years now and every year I get to visit a couple of really interesting and usually very well presented and run open spaces. I’ve been out to judge one woodland in North Norfolk last week and today’s trip will complete my quota for this year. I’ll write an article about Green Flag and the two sites tomorrow, so keep a look out!

Well, that’s just about brought you up to date with Old School Garden for another month.


Thanks for sending me the pictures of your lovely garden, where I see your herbaceous borders are starting to fill out like mine. And I was particularly impressed with your creations using pallets! The new ‘pallet shed’ looks wonderful and the fact that you managed to make it for almost nothing (given the price of sheds these days) is great. My post on pallets seems to have gone down a storm and is still receiving many visitors every day including from the USA and around the world! I’ve come across a couple of other, novel uses of these and will post the pictures shortly. I managed to obtain a few additional pallets for free from the local Garden Centre and I’m currently thinking about what else I can use them for. I’m certainly going to use some as a sort of raised bed edging where I need to consolidate some soil and support the wooden frame up which I’m training a fan cherry and plum. I’ve cut some pallets in half and will sink these, like fences, into the ground as barriers to keep the soil in (maybe using landscaping fabric inside to contain the soil). I’ll let you know how I get on and post some pictures.

Oh, and some great news, The Radio 4 programme ‘Gardener’s Question Time’ is coming to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum at the end of June, so this will be a great opportunity to introduce those attending to the gardens and promote the place a bit too, especially as there is a gardening event at the Museum the week after! Stay in touch.

All the best for now,

Old School Gardener

Other posts in this series:

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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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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The Mistle Thrush- photo RSPB

The Mistle Thrush- photo RSPB

The Mistle Thrush is in decline, warns a major bird charity today.

The RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch survey reveals that they are being seen in less than half the number of British gardens than 10 years ago, resulting in the species being given an ‘amber’ warning of it disappearing. Other birds have seen their numbers decline since 1979, when the survey began, but the numbers of Blue, Great and Coal tits, in contrast, have been on the increase.

The Mistle Thrush is the largest bird in the Thrush family and its name means literally ‘Mistletoe eating Thrush’. It can be seen romping across the garden or standing defiantly on the lawn, but is more likely to be heard perched high up in a tree singing its melodious song. Because it sings so loudly on exposed perches in bad weather it’s sometimes nicknamed the ‘Stormcock’.

Living in parks, woodland and gardens they build their cup-shaped nest in trees early in the year. Of some benefit for the gardener because they like to eat worms, snails, insects, and slugs, in winter they turn to fruit such as berries from trees- mistletoe, holly, yew, rowan and hawthorn. They can be quite combative too, defending ‘their tree’ against other thrushes! They will occasionally visit gardens for food particularly if they are provided with their favourites on a regular basis –  meal worms and suet seed mixes are a good bet.

The RSPB Big Garden Watch takes place this weekend and everyone can take part by recording the numbers of different birds they see in their garden. A handy recording sheet can be downloaded from the website here.

rspb survey

The RSPB Big Garden Watch survey sheet

There are also a number of events taking place around the country; e.g. A ‘Wild Weekend’ event at The Forum in Norwich will show how to garden for wildlife and there’ll be lots of family activities on offer. Norfolk Mastergardeners will also be on hand with wildlife gardening and grow your own food  tips and advice. For tips on making your garden butterfly friendly click here.

Old School Gardener

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