Tag Archive: vegetables


A small group of volunteers were in on this week’s trip to Blickling. We began the day weeding around the glorious herbaceous border that abuts the parterre on two sides.

A couple picked their way through the dense planting whilst the rest of us hoed, raked and removed the grass and other seedlings that had taken a grip amongst the gravel paths. Though the path was a bit wet in places- not helped by some blocked drains- it was generally a satisfying task, even though it took some deft fingertip sorting of the small tufts of grass from amongst the muddy shingle.

During the morning the sound of chain saws was a constant background hum. I discovered that a large oak tree just over from where we were, was in the course of being felled. Apparently ultra sound testing had confirmed internal rot, that visual observation of a tilting trunk had suggested earlier. Work on the massive tree had begun a few days before, and I learned that during this a bees nest had been disturbed and that several people had been stung by the angry bees; Assistant Head Gardener Steve included. Having been chased to the bothy in the process, Steve was attacked again by the waiting bees as he re-emerged! A brief chat with him on our way to lunch confirmed that he wasn’t feeling too bad after his ordeal. I was pleased to hear that the felled timber is to be used to create some raised beds (probably along with a whole lot else) in the Walled Garden. You can get an idea of the scale of the tree in the picture below, alongside which I’ve included a couple of shots from the double borders.

After lunch in the Walled Garden bothy,  new volunteer Tim and I gathered up some onions and put them in the glasshouse for drying, and then harvested some runner beans; Project Manager Steve offered some of these to us (a nice treat for the evening meal at home, as my own plants hadn’t been yielding many), and I finished the day by carrying over the rest to the restaurant for their use. It really is impressive how much produce is now finding it’s way into the meals prepared in the on site restaurant.

On my way back to the car I stopped off at the beginning of some of the estate walks, where a new sign had been installed that uses laser cut etching onto the surface of bare wood (see pictures below). This looks very attractive and is being considered as the way we might present the written information on each of the Trees in the gardens that will form the new Tree Trail I’ve been working on. My only concerns are that the lettering might, over time, lose it’s legibility and the surface of the bare oak plaque used for the signs might also crack with weathering. We shall no doubt look into this further to arrive at a final solution by next Spring.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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An early start at Blickling this week, and the first hour was spent harvesting some second early potatoes; variety ‘Nicola’. I don’t know these but have been told they are pretty tasty…’Charlotte’ is my favourite and I’ve just harvested a good crop in Old School Garden (I gather our neighbours enjoyed them too while we were away in Australia).

After that and reconnecting with some of the garden volunateers I missed last week, I went with them to the Parterre, which is looking splendid at present. The two Peters were continuing to paint the metal tunnel in the Walled Garden, with just the top half to do..involving painting from a platform.

The jobs in the Parterre were edging the grass and weeding. A fan of edging (it’s second to hoeing of the garden jobs  in my book), I found some reasonably sharp edging shears and managed to complete the set of four borders (new volunteer Tim had done one already) before departing home…to continue to get the home garden back to some semblance of order…

Progress is being made!


Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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It’s nearly two months since I was last at Blickling and I was wondering how the place might be looking, as it’s getting into peak visiting season.

I had lots of catching up to do, but after a few weeks with very little floral colour it was wonderful opening the garden door and coming across the double borders in all their summer glory.

It was great meeting up with the gardening team of staff and volunteers. With the other chaps I went over to the Walled Garden and was bowled over with the sight that greeted me…fabulous summer colour and every area with something growing in it, including a wide range of fruit and veg, all looking very healthy.

And whilst away the metal tunnel that runs the length of the central path (erected and welded together just before I went away) is now being painted…something the ‘two Peters’ were tasked with continuing with their tins of black ‘Hammerite’ paint. It really does add great vertical interest to the garden and will look absolutely splendid as the apples hat have been planted alongside it reach up and over to create a fabulous ‘green walk’. I also noticed a couple more new bench seats set out on the side paths which add to the scene.

Fellow volunteer Chris and I set about weeding between the rows of various vegetables (including some rather vicious globe artichokes), mainly hoeing with the occasional hand forking out of any larger plants. This was relatively easy work on a pleasantly warm and sometimes showery day…it was good to be out in the open and tackling some physical tasks once more.

Another pleasing sight was the south-west quadrant of the garden , which was the last to be cultivated. a fine sward of grass in the shape of a key hole is surrounded by vibrant floral interest and all symbolically done to represent the Indian flag, to link in with an exhibition at the House about the Marquis of Lothian’s connections to that country.

The whole scene was quite a contrast to Old School Garden,which after six weeks of letting nature do her own thing, looked rather less neat and tidy, as you might imagine. Still, after a lot of urgent attention since returning from Australia, it is starting to look rather more cared for.

As I left a little early (together with a bunch of wonderful Dahlias from the Walled Garden), to get on with the clear up at home, it was nice to hear ‘great to have you back’ from a couple of the gardening team… it was great to be back.

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

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Winter Jasmine looking good

Winter Jasmine looking good

I wish all my blog followers and casual readers a very Happy 2017!!

In previous years I’ve said how I view January with a little trepidation..‘I’m a SAD person. Even though my birthday falls in January I find it the most depressing of months- due to the low light levels, I think.’

Well, this year, things feel rather different..partly because of some great family news and a Christmas with all our children and their partners around us, and partly because I can see some exciting gardening projects on the horizon…let’s hope the positivity continues!

As 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 a number of 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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WP_20160714_13_23_32_ProFollowing the recent turmoil caused by the Brexit vote and so many upsetting world events, we need cheering up. And Blickling volunteer gardeners don’t disappoint. Sitting down to a well-earned lunch break, Tressa announced she’d brought in a ‘Reconcilation Cake’…..we didn’t need to be asked twice.

My pea tunnel finished

My pea tunnel finished

Prior to this I’d spent the morning putting in a stick tunnel for the peas in the walled garden. It’s always nice to work with quality materials. The chunky hazel sticks went in at an angle along along both sides of the double row, and then I wove the tops together…

After lunch (rather extended due to the cake and chat) I went over to the side border and worked with Aussie Pete and Jane in weeding the various border so veg. Then I turned my attention to the garlic; I carefully dug up eight different varieties, none of which was overly impressive I have to say…down to weather I guess.

Having cleared this area- during which I had a little banter with ‘Norah Lindsay’ (one of the volunteer garden guides dressed up to look like the famous 1930’s garden designer who made such an impact at Blickling)- I dug it over and raked it off, in readiness for some more lettuces.

The Walled garden is really looking splendid at present, especially with its lush borders of Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii) and the full growth of so many different plants. Project Manager Mike had started to dig the potatoes (he tells me he thinks we have 33 varieties) and was selling these and some of the other veg off for a donation. Methinks next year that even with supplying the kitchen here, we’ll need a shop to sell off the bounty to come.

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The other joy of this time of year is the number of visitors around the place and many with questions or comments on the gardens and gardening it’s so nice chatting to these people who really appreciate the efforts of everyone involved here.

Project Manager Mike waterign in one of  the glasshouses

Project Manager Mike waterign in one of the glasshouses

Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

WP_20160130_13_10_48_ProI’ve now begun this year’s seed sowing; some early veg and some of the interesting varieties above, courtesy of my visit to Wallington Gardens last year and the RHS seed scheme…Looking at the germination requirements some of these are going to be a challenge!

Old School Gardener

horticultural_fleeceHorticultural fleece laid over plants can bring earlier crops and other benefits.

Fleece is a finely woven material that protects crops from wind and cold, and raises soil and air temperatures slightly, all helping plants to advance faster than unprotected crops. If it is anchored in the soil properly it also protects against flying pests, such as carrot root fly.

Because fleece allows water and air to penetrate, it reduces watering requirements and increases airflow around the plants. This encourages hardier growth and discourages disease build – up. If used carefully, fleece can last for many seasons.

Being porous, fleece does not warm the soil as well as plastic cloches or black plastic sheeting. It can also lay flat in wet conditions, making germination difficult, and it can easily tear on windy sites.

Fleece comes in all shapes and sizes, like this zip up jacket protector for tender shrubs by Harrod Horticultural

Fleece comes in all shapes and sizes, like this zip up jacket protector for tender shrubs by Harrod Horticultural

Other uses of fleece:

  • to extend the growing season, making maximum use of the garden

to improve the performance of half hardy crops, such as peppers

to produce softer, more palatable growth in vegetables that become tough with winter exposure, such as spinach and chicory.

In recent years another material called ‘Enviromesh’ has come on to the market. This fine-weaved plastic netting is strong and lasts for ages. It is fine enough to keep off small insects such as butterflies, carrot fly, flea beetles and leaf miners, and yet durable enough to keep pigeons off. It is also good frost and wind protection. I use it here in Old School Garden, both early in the season to protect young crops and also later as a useful cover for raspberries and other bush fruit which is otherwise unprotected against birds. The downside is that it is more expensive than fleece, so shop around!

Enviromesh tunnel using pegs to hold it down- picture Enviromesh Ltd.

Enviromesh tunnel using pegs to hold it down- picture Enviromesh Ltd.

Alternatives which can do pretty much the same job are old net curtains (you can get off white ones relatively cheaply from charity shops) or builder’s netting used around scaffolding or to protect against falling debris.

Sources and further information:

Gardeners’ Advice- RHS Wisley Experts, Dorling Kindersley 2004

Alys Fowler- Netting

Old School Gardener

WP_20150508_13_43_47_ProOur final garden visit whilst travelling home from the Lake District last week, was to Southwell workhouse, Nottinghamshire.

We’d begun, you might recall, with the landed gentry at Kedleston Hall, then seen something of Victorian commercial and scientific endeavour at Biddulph Grange. It somehow seems appropriate, then, to find ourselves in the midst of gardening at the other end of the social spectrum- the poor.

Built in 1824 as a place of last resort for the destitute, it’s architecture was influenced by prison design and its harsh regime became a blueprint for workhouses throughout the country. We went round this fascinating building with the benefit of a number of helpful room guides and an audio tape guide- they say the best pictures are on radio, and the sparsely- furnished rooms came alive in the colourful descriptions and ‘real time’ excerpts from the workhouse regime. The garden is, as you might expect, exclusively for food growing, and though it is more of a demonstration of more general Victorian horticultural pratices, it captures the spirit of how gardening was practiced in the workhouse.

The cultivation of a garden and the rearing of livestock was frequently a feature of workhouse operation. There were a number reasons for this, mostly aimed at reducing the cost of providing poor relief. First, a garden could provide the workhouse with a cheap and ready source of food. Any surplus or unwanted produce could be sold off and provide funds for the running of the house. Another benefit of a garden was that it offered a convenient and regular form of employment for the inmates of the workhouse. Finally, training pauper children in agricultural or horticultural work could equip them with skills that would make them employable in their later life, rather than being a drain on the parish.

WP_20150508_14_43_04_ProSources and further information:

National Trust website

Workhouse Gardens and Farms

Old School Gardener

raised bedsDigging

There is no need to dig at all once you have adopted the raised or deep-bed system for growing vegetables. If you are preparing a vacant plot for planting shrubs or flowers, get rid of the weeds, dig in a thick layer of organic matter and from then on you only need to mulch and let worms improve the soil.

Hmm, not sure about this raised bed....

Hmm, not sure about this raised bed….

Further information:

Raised bed growing

Raised beds- RHS

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’ (Reader’s Digest 1999)

Old School Gardener

 

Hyacinths looking good at Blickling

Hyacinths looking good at Blickling

A couple of weeks on from my last stint at Blickling, I joined the other volunteers last week, on a bright sunny day. So warm, in fact, it was the first day in a garden without the need of a fleece, and also my first bit of hoeing too.

We began by tidying up the Peony borders. I hadn’t noticed these before, but they are long and devoted entirely to Peonies, which today had just started their journey upwards, making short red stems with the beginnings of the beautiful leaves that complement the flowers so well. ‘They’re just like Asparagus’ one volunteer remarked, and they do have a resemblance to the spear-like stems that thrust upwards, albeit a bit later on, here in Norfolk.

Anyway, an hour passed and then I was called over to the Walled Garden with fellow volunteer Peter, to do a bit of construction work. Project Manager Mike had gathered some Hazel sticks and asked if we would put together a supporting wall for some runner beans and a couple of ‘Wigwams’ (or should it be ‘Teepees’?) for Sweet Peas. It was really pleasant in the sunshine doing something a little more fiddly for once – it reminded me of how much I enjoy pruning and tying in! Well, that little task, together with a bit more hoeing and earth turning in the walled garden took us to the middle of the afternoon, at which point I needed to leave to pay a visit to the local Nursery- where I bumped into Peter and his wife once more!

I’ve been holding £55 worth of Garden Centre vouchers for a while now (most given to me by my children as a Father’s Day gift last year, the balance as  a prize I won recently for giving feedback on the Norfolk Master Composter Scheme). I’ve thought about getting an Acer to put in the new Wildlife Pond area at Old School Garden and the Nursery in Aylsham has a good selection; I managed to wrestle a 2 metre example into the back of the (open top) car. I’m not sure which variety it is, but it’s young leaf buds are just bursting into a bright cerise followed by paler pink and lemony green leaves. I’ve also wanted to get hold of a Ceanothus ‘Puget’s Blue’ for some time (in the shopping trolley it goes), and they also had some lovely Magnolias in bloom, so I didn’t resist the temptation to take home a lovely example of M. x loebneri ‘Merrill’.

These three specimens plus another, smaller Acer (palmatum), a black Elder and Camellia, already in pots at home, will form the back bone of the planting scheme around the pond. I’ll tell and show you more in due course…..

 Further Information:

Blickling Hall website

Blickling Hall Facebook page

A 360 degree tour of Blickling Hall

Old School Gardener

 

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