Tag Archive: summer


Carrot harvest via vegetables matter blogspotAs the heat (hopefully) builds, July’s the time to ease off and work smarter, not harder in the garden, and actually take time to enjoy it!

1. Food, glorious food…

  • Get a bumper vegetable harvest – now’s the time to reap a lot of what you’ve sown, but there’s still time to plant extra crops – like carrots
  • Pick courgettes before they become marrows
  • Sow chard for a winter crop
  • Summer prune redcurrants and gooseberries once the crop has been picked (or do it at the same time)
  • Keep an eye on the watering and try to do this early or late in the day to avoid evaporation during hot spells
  • Keep on top of the weeding in your food crops

2. Extend your flowering season

Now we’re in July your garden maybe just past its peak, so take some action to prolong the flowering value of some plants:

  • Cut back early-flowering perennials to the ground and they will send up fresh leaves and maybe even the bonus of some extra late-summer flowers (e.g Geraniums, Nepeta)
  • Give them a boost after pruning with a good soak of water and some tomato feed
  • Exploit plants’ desperate need to set seed by removing blooms as they fade. This will encourage them to produce more flowers to replace them
  • Remember that plants in containers are dependent on you for their water as they’ll get little benefit from any rain. Give them a good soak at least once a day in sunny weather

    Early flowerign perennila slike Oriental poppies can be cut back hard to encourage new foliage and some will also flower again

    Early flowering perennials like Oriental poppies can be cut back hard to encourage new foliage – and some will also flower again.

3.   Look after your pond

  • Look out for any yellowing leaves on water lilies and other water plants and remove them promptly- allowing them to fall off and rot in the water will decrease water quality and encourage algal ‘blooms’
  • Remove blanket weed with a net or rake to let oxygen into your pond. Remember to give aquatic life a chance to get back to the water by piling the weed next to the pond for a day. Add a football-sized net of straw to your pond (you can use old tights or stockings) to reduce the nitrogen levels if  blanket weed is a continuous problem
  • Top up water levels. Water can evaporate rapidly from water features and ponds in the height of summer, so top them up if the water level drops significantly. Fresh rainwater from a water butt is best – chemicals in tap water can affect the nutrient balance in the pond

    Water the greenhouse early or late in the day

    Water the greenhouse early or late in the day

4. Stay watchful in the greenhouse

  • Check plants daily, and once again, water first thing in the morning or in the evening to reduce water loss through evaporation
  • Harden off and plant out any plug plants that you have been growing on
  • Damp down your greenhouse on hot days to increase humidity and deter red spider mites; placing a bucket or watering can of water inside can help to maintain humidity
  • Open vents and doors daily to provide adequate ventilation
  • Use blinds or apply shade paint to prevent the greenhouse from over-heating in sunny weather

    Relax (note the old pallet turned into a stylish lounger) and plan ahead...

    Relax (note the old pallet turned into a stylish lounger) and plan ahead…

5. Relax in your Deck/armchair and…

  • Order catalogues for next year’s spring-flowering bulbs
  • Order perennial plants online now ready for autumn delivery
  • Think about which bulbs you would like for next spring – now is the time to order ready for autumn planting
  • Make a note of your garden’s pros and cons at this time of year to remind you of any changes that you need to make for next year – and take photos so that you can accurately see what it looks like once things have died down
  • Have a leisurely walk around the garden and use string of different colours tied to the stems of plants you are marking out for removal, division etc.
Encourage pest predators like hoverflies by attractive plantings and think about creating winter habitats now

Encourage pest predators like hoverflies by attractive plantings and think about creating winter homes for them now

6. Strengthen your alliance with nature for pest and disease control…

  • Look after your aphid eaters – ladybirds, hoverflies and lacewings feast on greenfly and blackfly so it is worth protecting them by avoiding pesticides which will kill them as well as the pests. And why not take steps now to prepare suitable winter habitats for these and other ‘gardeners’ friends’ – e.g. bug hotels, timber piles, areas of long or rough grass or nettles etc.
  • Look for aphids on the underside of leaves – rub them off by hand or spray with an organic insecticide to prevent them multiplying
  • Keep an eye out for scarlet lily beetles on your lilies – remove and crush any you see. Also check for the sticky brown larvae on the underside of leaves
  • If your plants are wilting for no obvious reason then check for vine weevils by tipping your plants out of their pots and looking for ‘C’ shaped creamy maggots amongst the roots – treat with nematodes if vine weevils are spotted
  • Tidy up fallen leaves, flowers and compost – this will prevent potential pest and disease problems

7. Stop plants drying out

  • For recently planted large shrubs or trees, leave a hose trickling around the base for an hour. The same goes for established plants in very dry periods – pay particular attention to camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and hydrangeas which will abort next season’s flowers if they get too dry. Mulch around the roots when moist to help avoid this.
  • Recently planted hedges are best watered with a trickle hose (a length of old hose punctured with little holes) left running for an hour or so

8. Give houseplants a summer holiday

  • Many indoor plants benefit from being placed outside for the summer. Moving many plants out of the conservatory will save them from baking under glass, and lessen some pest and disease problems, such as red spider mite
  • Ventilate and shade sunrooms and conservatories to prevent scorch damage to remaining plants
  • Water houseplants freely when in growth, and feed as necessary (often weekly or fortnightly)

9. Paint your wagon…

  • Give woodwork like sheds, fences, pergolas etc. a lick of paint or preserver, while the weather is dry
Give your shed and other garden woodwork a fresh new look when the weather's dry.

Give your shed and other garden woodwork a fresh new look when the weather’s dry

10. Gimme shelter

  • Slow down and give yourself and your plants a rest from the heat; fix temporary awnings to provide shade in the hottest part of the day – for you and your tenderest plants!

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Well, old friend, back in blighty! It’s been a month of trying to get some semblance of ‘order’ in Old School Garden, having left nature to itself for six weeks whilst we were away in Australia.

The weather this month has been rather dull for August, so much the same as we left Victoria in mid winter! I won’t say that I was ‘pleasantly surprised’ at how the garden looked on our return, for many areas had been overrun with annual weeds, and of course the grass was pretty long…. but not as long as expected.

However, after a mammoth grass cut and several sessions of ‘speed weeding’- especially trying to get out those weeds that were in flower and going to seed- everything of course looked better.

Since then its been a case of turning my attention to various construction projects; initially repairing windows on the house (at the time of writing I’m just about to fit three new openings that replace those that had rotted beyond filler) and repainting, and more recently dismantling the old shed in the Kitchen Garden, laying an extended base of flagstones and soon to begin constructing a new potting shed from floorboards and other salvaged timber…quite a project. As you might remember, I purchased a number of cedar shingles a year or two ago in order to give the new shed a more ornamental appearance.

Extended shed base …job done (but a bit of a clean required)

I’ve also continued the restructuring of the Kitchen Garden. I’ve already moved some of the fruit bushes to new plots. More recently I replaced the rather scruffy paved path next to the courtyard sheds wall with a topping of pea shingle, in keeping with the other paths in this area. Here are a few pictures of the Kitchen Garden…a work in progress!

Once the shed is built it will be  time to replace some of the edging boards to the various raised beds and relocate the various trellises to provide a visual screen to the front edge of this area, plus a new entrance (I plan to use an old metal gate) and creation of a Rose-lined path from this into the Kitchen Garden (using posts and ropes as swags along which to train the six ‘Compassion’ Roses that I planted earlier in the year and which have established themselves very well). I think I’ll go for a grey colour scheme on all these new wooden structures. Here’s a gallery of some good floral interest in the garden at present…

You may also have seen that I’ve been going along to the Aylsham Roman Dig nearby- I got involved in this last year. This has been a fascinating and rewarding experience. We’ve (re) uncovered not only the two Roman kilns we excavated last year- these are now thought to be of national significance- but new areas have been opened up which suggest that the site has been in pretty much continuous occupation for two thousand years! There are decades of futther work to be done here and my hope is that this community project grows year on year so that the story of the site- complete with Roman villa, iron working as well as pottery making and occupation for 2,000 years- can be fully explored.

I was also pleased to hear the ‘The Grow Organisation’ in Norwich (you will recall I’ve been advising and helping them develop a hub for horticultural therapy?), have been awarded funding by the local NHS Foundation Trust to get the project going, with an emphasis on preventing male suicides. This is great news and will really keep the fantastic momentum going on this site where Forces Veterans and others are already making a difference.

Turning back to Australia, I wonder if you think it would be interesting if I did a series of posts delving into the Green Spaces I visited there a little more? As you will have seen I’ve done a few posts with some selected pictures to broadly illustrate where I went, and was conscious that I didn’t want to bombard you and others with all my ‘holiday snaps’, but at least one blog follower has suggested that I could share my reflections on what I discovered…what do you think?

Perhaps I’ll post an initial item on the first green space I visited just as a trial run- I promise it won’t be too wordy, just a sort of  ‘Cooke’s Tour’ with some of the better photographs I managed?

I was delighted to hear that you’ve overcome your recent bout of ill health, and no doubt you and Lise are enjoying the summer….I can just picture you sitting out on the terrace, a glass of Pimms in hand, looking at the butterflies and listening to the birds…Here are a few general shots of the garden to finish with, hope you enjoy them…

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Here we are on our last couple of days in Australia. Six weeks on and what a trip it’s been. Grand daughter Freya is a month old and doing well. We’ve seen some wonderful places and met some lovely local people.

The weather has been very kind, even though it’s midwinter here. Bright sunny days and on occasions warm enough for shirt sleeves- though many of the locals have remained well wrapped up and think we’re crazy!

I won’t attempt to cover everything we’ve done, but suffice to say that I’ve found much of horticultural interest here along with all the other famous landmarks we’ve visited. Though there wasn’t much colour (with the notable exception of a superb, huge, vertical display of leaf and flower colour at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens), there was a lot of plant interest, often well presented by some very knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides. It was also great being able to compare botanical gardens in the local area as well as in the three cities of Melbourne (very large and beautifully presented), Sydney (smaller but with some impressive focal points including a garden featuring vegetables grown- several unsuccessfully- by the first colonial settlers) and Canberra (the National centre which is striving to present a wide range of plants from across the country and is pursuing an exciting Master plan to renew and expand its collections).

In addition, many public parks and gardens are very well looked after. I especially enjoyed the Chinese Garden in Sydney and I was pleased to see at least one Green Flag flying- at the fabulous Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne. There is also a very impressive Community Gardens in St. Kilda, on the edge of Melbourne. And, as I mentioned last month, Aussies are very proud of their domestic gardens, especially those on public display in small town and suburban streets.

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As we adjust towards our return home in the next couple of days I’m wondering what Old School Garden will look like. The grass will certainly be long and I dread to think what carnage the moles have reaped in our absence, though our neighbour did kindly offer to try to ‘get them to move elsewhere’…we shall see.

Hopefully you’ve had some good weather to enjoy your own garden. With some of the summer to go- at least in theory- I hope that we too can get out in the warm sunshine and see the colours of the flowers.

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

Hello from Australia! We’ve been here about 10 days, staying with our eldest and her partner just outside Melbourne. Having finally got shot of the effects of jet lag, yesterday we found ourselves getting little sleep as daughter was in hospital delivering our first grandchild..a lovely little girl (name tba)! As you can imagine the build up to this has meant staying relatively close to home, but this hasn’t prevented me from finding some places of horticultural interest to share with you.

We left the UK in something of a heat wave, and despite my efforts to provide a supply of water to many containerised plants, and even with a very diligent neighbour, I was expecting some casualties on our return in a few weeks time; especially in the kitchen garden where I’ve planted carrots, runner beans and squashes alongside new potatoes and onions (and a whole lot of fruit). I heard yesterday that there’s been heavy rain in East Anglia, so maybe the position isn’t entirely hopeless.

Turning to matters horticultural ‘a la Aus’, we’ve visited a nice little botanical garden in nearby Williamstown (a quaint little place with lots of interesting old houses), as well as a  a rather  a grand old mansion with some beautifully kept gardens and parkland at Werribee. I’ll do a more extensive piece on these, and other, yet to be visited gardens, in due course, but for now here are a few pictures to whet your appetite..

Apart from these largish spaces I ‘ve found a lot of interesting examples of domestic suburban gardens round abouts, best summarised as an eclectic mix of contemporary, cottage and tropical styles, usually nicely complimenting the architecture of the associated houses. Here’s a sample…

I’ve also noticed how tidy the grass verges outside these properties are. I gather it’s considered a civic duty (and maybe there’s a legal obligation too?) for householders to take care of their immediate strip of what is usually springy turf, including not only keeping it close mown, but also the edges cropped to neat straight lines, usually using a ‘whippersnipper’ (strimmer) to achieve the desired finish. The overall effect is one of quiet orderliness, rather like the atmosphere of these suburban streets, where there are few people out walking…well it is winter I suppose.

Having said this, and being aware of movements in the USA to allow such grass strips to be used more imaginatively, creating wildlife friendlier spaces and even food production, I was heartened to find one attempt to turn over the grass to a community garden in nearby Altona..

Well, old friend, hopefully I’ll be able to share some other Aussy horticulture with you next month, as we shall still be here, and maybe have visited some of the gems in Victoria and possibly further afield…oh, and of course doting on my new grand daughter!

Old School Gardener

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To Walter de Grasse

Dear Walter,

So, autumn is upon us! It’s been an interesting gardening month for me here in Norfolk, though I have to say spending rather more time on gardens and gardening projects away from Old School Garden.

That of course has made me feel a bit guilty, and with the damage done to the grass (I’ve given up calling them ‘lawns’) by the new brood of young moles, also rather dejected and overwhelmed with all that needs doing.

I have at least continued to harvest fruit and veg from the garden; the apples and pears are especially pleasing, and the cucumbers are beginning to overwhelm us! Still it’s that time of year when things tend to wind down as far as growing is concerned, and attention turns to selective tidying up and repair jobs. So, I’ve emptied the shed in preparation for constructing it’s replacement, replaced a wooden fence post, cut a shed full of firewood, cut the grass and cleared away the first leaf fall, and watched the autumn colours appear- especially from Asters and Sedums.

I also had a frustrating morning trying to get my new shredder working. You may recall that a kindly neighbour gave me this petrol driven machine, which after servicing I was eager to try out. Well, to cut a long story short, whilst I managed to get it going a few times, it kept cutting out on me and on one or two occasions stalled from too much damp, leafy material being fed to it. I gave up in the end and still have the aching elbow joint to prove how many times I yanked the starting cord, to no avail!

Away from home there’s been some interesting developments. I visited a social enterprise project called ‘The Grow Organisation’ on the outskirts of Norwich. They provide home garden maintenance services (providing employment opportunities to people who might otherwise find employment difficult) and are hoping to develop the surroundings of their impressive community hub building to provide gardens where people who have a variety of health issues can spend time using ‘gardening as therapy’ ; including a ‘Sensory Garden’ for those suffering from dementia. The project sounds great and having spoken with their Director, I’ve agreed to help them with some design ideas for these outside spaces.

The second project is one I’ve already mentioned in my blog- the Allotment Project at our local High School in Reepham. Here teacher Matt Willer has created a wonderful outdoor classroom using materials and other resources either borrowed, donated or upcycled. He’s also used a great deal of ingenuity to overcome some issues such as the lack of a pumped water supply by devising a system for harvesting rainwater and created a well for storing this.

The other big story is the success of the Harvest Festival event at our local church, St. Peter’s, where having cleared up the churchyard the week before, around 150 people fo all ages came to see the end of a vintage tractor run, listen to the Aylsham Band, sing some old favourite harvest hymns and take par tin various activities such as making bread and butter, sowing seeds, learning about compost, making their own ‘scrap’ tractors and tucking into some scrumptious tea and cakes. ‘Haveringland Groundforce Day #2’ is now planned for next week, where I hope that we can finish off getting the churchyard set up to become a properly managed conservation area which is accessible and provides a place to reflect and enjoy nature as well as visiting the graves of the recently departed.

So, a month of limited activity, and reflecting on my hopes from last month, I can’t claim to be a ‘gold medal’ performance. Still, satisfying to a degree. I’ll have another go at that shredder, I promise…

Old School Gardener

Looking towards the Temple at te start of a very hot day...

Looking towards the Temple at te start of a very hot day…

Only a couple of hours this week at Blickling. In some ways that was a relief as it turned out to be the hottest September day for many years (on my way to a meeting in Diss, the reading on my car’s thermometer was 31.5 degrees C!)

I arrived around 9am and signed in as usual; but no gardeners were to be found. The whole place had a peacefulness that only hinted at the boiling heat that was to follow; the lines of the main Temple Walk were gradually emerging from an early morning mist, soon to be burned off.

The diary we garden volunteers use to sign in and get our instructions said we were to be split between the Parterre (removing Bindweed with assistant Head gardener Steve) and something unspecified in the Walled Garden. As I couldn’t see anyone around the parterre I wandered over to the Walled Garden- still not a soul in sight. Hmmm… where could they all be?

I made my way in the direction of the Orangery, and Head Gardener Paul turned the corner and greeted me in his usual jolly way. He modestly told me about his own small garden and some of the wide range of plants he’s been growing , including some tropicals. We both moved on- he to his office, me to join the (small as it turned out) gardening team in the Orangery.

There Steve, Rebecca and Ed were busy hosing down, weeding and generally tweaking the inside of this lovely building, in readiness for a wedding reception to be held there the day after. I joined in and helped sweep off the pammented floor, raking gravel and, having spotted several of the potted citrus trees with black sooty mould on the leaves, went round and rubbed as much off as I could.

Ed hosing down the inside..

Ed hosing down the inside..

We finished off by shifting some of the many plants around; including rather tentatively carrying several large Agaves (with their extremely sharp and pointed leaves) into an adjoining room. By this time it was morning break (had I really done much?- I was certainly sweating). Anyway, after greeting fellow volunteers, we went off to various parts of the gardens; most it seemed to the rose garden to dig over and weed, in the comparatively cool shade of a starting- to- steam mid morning.

Samson, I think, casting a protective eye over proceedings...

Samson, I think, casting a protective eye over proceedings…

With only about an hour to spare I went over to the Walled Garden and hoed around the soft fruit bushes- once again this was a pleasant job with one of the twin-bladed Wolf hoes that Mike had recently purchased. But boy it was hot, and though the Dahlias were looking resplendent, it was not place to be for long, so I was glad to be on my way just before midday.

Dahlia 'David Howard' putting on a show with it's partners in the Walled Garden

Dahlia ‘David Howard’ putting on a show with it’s partners in the Walled Garden

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

PicPost: Mexicana

Picture by Mike Minnich

Picture by Mike Minnich

Another hot day...

Another hot day…

An interesting (if not very taxing), session at Blickling this week. In the morning I worked with Norfolk Peter and Chris ‘bashing brambles’ along the main Temple walk. Cutting them out at ground level often involved scrambling amongst the rhododendrons and then hauling the extensive stems out of the bushes. Prickly work!

I then joined the ladies in the Walled garden and did a bit of weeding around the Raised beds with their brightly coloured Zinnias. The heat was climbing…

Weeding in the Walled Garden

Weeding in the Walled Garden

After lunch Peter and I joined Gardener Ed and a team of Tree surgeons over in the Wilderness, where a couple of huge, but unsafe, trees (a Beech and Sycamore) had already been felled- I remember hearing the loud crashes earlier in the day.

Well we were there to help clear up the brashings once another sycamore (also infected with Honey fungus) was felled. It was fascinating watching one of the surgeons clamber up the tree and progressively rid it of all its side growth, to leave a tall (I estimate 80 feet) trunk, ready for the chop. Ed told me that the hand-held chain saw he used is digitally controlled, so it regulates the power it delivers in relation to the resistance it picks up in the sawing job in hand. It was impressive.

Well, did we clear up? No. Did we see the tree fall? No. Unfortunately we had to leave before the deed was done, but Ed told me later that it fell well, and that it was caught just in time as it’s inner wood was spongy and soft from the fungus….a few more lives saved!

Old School Gardener

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

One block of the 'Piano Hedges'

One block of the ‘Piano Hedges’

A very hot, humid session this week at Blickling. Just as well then that Gardener Ed had something not too taxing for Aussie Pete and me to do. It involved coaxing the Yew bushes known as ‘pianos’ (due to their resemblance to grand pianos) into a bit of order.

Gardener Ed explaining his approach to 'playing the piano'...

Gardener Ed explaining his approach to ‘playing the piano’…

Ed handled the hedge clipper, while Pete and I used measuring tapes and lines to cut the turf edges that will help to guide the edges of the hedges! I his usual thorough way Ed explained how, over time, the bushes have become a bit unruly- too much ‘cutting by eye’ had resulted in a number of bumps, bulges and hollows that spoil the neat geometry. Over the past few years he has been letting some areas of the bushes grow out to the desired lines, and now they look pretty much ready to be ‘whipped into line’. It’s interesting looking at how much these bushes – and their accompanying ‘acorns’ on the parterre- have grown in the last 200 years or so. Here are some pictures taken between 80 and 100 years ago and the difference with today is quite noticeable…

Whilst the bushes will continue to grow (especially inside), the hope is that the lines now beign established can be maintained. Even so, it was interesting to see how much Pete and I had to cut back the turf edges to accommodate them- 2-3 inches in places. As I say, it was relatively easy work with lines and half moons, but even so the high humidity made it rather sapping work. Still we were rewarded with an ice cream from Ed at the end of the session.

The rest of the gardens in this area are looking grand, and I also made a quick trip over to the walled garden to see how it was looking (Project Manager Mike wasn’t around today). The other garden volunteers were busy weeding around the edges fo the parterre and Rob and Becca were raising the crown on a Lime tree near the Temple- complete with hydraulic lift. The result has certainly opened up the area and enabled some shaded shrubs and trees to benefit from more light.

Before the session I’d emailed Head Gardener Paul a layout plan and list of trees for possible inclusion in the Tree Trail project I’ve mentioned before. This is coming together nicely, with between 20 and 30 trees in the trail. Once firmed up we can start to sort out the information to go on the sign boards at each specimen, as well as leaflets, childrens’ activities etc.

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As I may have mentioned before, the gardening team is a wonderful group of people, with many an amusing tale to tell. Ed’s contribution today concerns the ‘human sundial’ set out in the parterre (see picture below). Apparently he confronted a bemused gentleman walking around this one dull day. The man complained that the sundial wasn’t working- ‘It’s overcast’ said Ed. The man was puzzled and disappointed he couldn’t get the dial to work- ‘You should put a sign up explaining that it only works when the sun is out’, he said. Hmm, maybe a case for introducing an artificial sun on dull days?!

The 'Human Sundial'- it seems a little too complicated for some people...

The ‘Human Sundial’- it seems a little too complicated for some people…

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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