Misadventures in Gardening

I am no gardener but I do want to get better at gardening. I have a large garden at home which fills me with dread every time I look at it. My neighbour’s gardens all look so much better than mine.
Should you be in the same boat as me, please keep on reading. Together we might, given enough time, become competent gardeners. I’m not sure if you dream like me of owning a gorgeous garden with beautiful planted flower beds and colourful hanging baskets. I don’t desire a Chelsea Flower Show garden, just a nice garden. I thought to have a really good garden you needed access to closely guarded secrets that only the very gifted gardeners are allowed to know. Well it turns out all you need is the will to have a go and seek out good advice. The best place to get this information from is your local garden centre. Now whilst I’d admit I work for Baytree Garden Centre, I have the least green fingers across the entire site, you are more likely to find me buried in network cables and internet issues rather than with dirt under my finger nails, but lets have a go and see what happens!

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Brownie Points

Here goes then, I thought I’d start off with something quite seasonal since I am informed that we are about to hit the basket and bedding season. I thought I would attempt a planted pot for my mum for Easter, nothing too showy but something I could be proud to say I’ve done.
I chose a fibre clay pot as they are easier to lift and move around as they are lighter than traditional ceramic pots, so I went with a slate effect pot for just under £18. Next I filled the pot with “Tub & Basket Compost” It cost me £4.99 but there was enough in the bag to do more. This is where I didn’t have a clue, what to plant. Sue, Baytree’s Plant Manager suggested I went for a Hebe Caledonia as Sue said it with give my mum all round colour. I chose the Hyacinths just because my mum likes them. The Primroses went in next followed by the Dwarf Daffodils or “Narcissi” if you want to impress your friends. At the back I planted some Trailing Ivy just to soften the edge of the container.
The whole thing came in at less than £35.00(don’t let mum know though)

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First published 12th March 2018

Potatoes for the Non Gardeners

My daughter came home from school the other week having done a project on healthy eating. I listened to her explaining what she had learnt as I opened a bag of frozen chips and poured them into the fat fryer.
Spurred on by my recent success in creating an Easter planted container for my mum, plus feeling now that I really ought to be following Elizabeth’s advice on how to eat healthier, I thought this week I would have ago a growing my own potatoes to impress my daughter. I thought it would it be tricky as whilst I have a fairly large garden, in essence I’m lazy, the idea of spending hours digging , getting dirt under my finger nails and breaking my back didn’t fill me with joy. Then I read that you can grow potatoes in containers, no need for manual labour, result I thought.
I remember from science at school whenever you do an experiment you should have pictures and a written method so here goes, and for the health and safety conscious out there I can confirm that I wore goggles, gloves and a high-vis jacket.
Step 1.
Buy your seed potatoes, I went for Charlotte as I think they make great salad potatoes and it ticks the healthy eating box too. They weren’t expensive either at only £2.99 for the pack from Baytree. I rushed home thinking great I’ll plant these in some soil and in a few months I’ll have potatoes coming out of my ears. No you have to “Chitt” them first. Chitting turns out to be the process of getting the potatoes to start forming shoots, why they don’t call it shooting I don’t know. Actually on second thoughts telling people you’re shooting potatoes would probably land you in a lot of trouble.
Step 2.
Chitt your potatoes by placing them in an egg box one potato in each section and leave them in a cool room with plenty of natural light. I’m leaving them for a couple of weeks to form shoots. That’s as far as I’ve been able to get. I’ve put my potatoes on the window sill in my spare room. Everyone who visits the house is given a guided tour of my chitting potatoes whether they want a tour or not.
Following advice from Graham at Baytree I’ve bought some Multi -purpose compost with added John Innes, I have know idea who John Innes is and what he is doing in a bag of compost but Graham says it’s the best compost to use.

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First published 19th March 2018

From Chitting to Fruiting

Whilst my Charlotte potatoes are chitting like true prize winning champions in the upstairs back room I needed something to do this week.
What about a Bonsai tree, surely they can’t be that hard to tackle. No, it needs to be something like my potato project where I am going to get something back from my considerable £2.99 investment. Fruit was the answer. I would grow some bananas. Well it turns out bananas don’t grow that well in Quadring. However apples do. I’d be an apple grower and whatever was left over from the harvest would be turned into a fine homebrew cider, there was no downside I could see.
As I have admitted previously I have a medical condition, whenever I try to tackle any type of physical exercise, I find I get very hot, sometimes sweaty, and almost always need a sit down afterwards. It can take me weeks to recover. My wife doesn’t recognise my serious medical condition. Despite of my affliction I decided that the perfect place to plant my “Katy” apple tree was right outside the back door. Sue, the plant manager at Baytree, advised me that the best place to plant my tree is somewhere sunny, sheltered and with well-draining soil. Perfect right outside the backdoor it is then, well more like the bottom of the garden it is then. Technically it’s outside the back door!
I made sure again that I was wearing the correct clothing for the job plus a whistle in case I got into difficulties. I also telephoned my mum to let her know I was in the garden, she does tend to worry. After literally minutes of heavy toil the hole for the apple tree was dug. I put the speed and quality of the hole down to my powerful manly physique. The hole was a little deeper that the pot the apple tree came in and about twice as wide. Sue also told me to sprinkle some “Mycorrhizal fungi” over the roots and into the bottom of the hole. As final tip she advised me to push the tree stake into the hole away from the tree roots. That would stop the stake from damaging the roots.
After a congratulatory cup of tea, I back filled the soil around the roots and firmed it in by stepping on the soil around the tree. For anyone watching, I looked like a pro gardener.

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First published 26th March 2018

Blame Peter Rabbit

Since Peter Rabbit was released in the cinema just over a week ago both my wife and daughter have been asking me to take them to see the new film. Well reluctantly I said yes and resigned myself to 90 minutes of Peter Rabbit animated drudgery. However, it turns out that Peter Rabbit is actually a very good film which I really enjoyed. Walking out of the cinema Elizabeth asked if we could have a small vegetable garden just like Mr McGregor in the film.
Since I was going to plant my chitting potatoes in a container I could do exactly the same with the new veg garden. Carrots and radishes where top of Elizabeth’s planting list, for that’s what Peter Rabbit likes to eat. My wife Claire said she didn’t mind what we grew but if the container was going to be near the house then it had to be a nice looking.
I managed to source some timber decking off cuts which I would cut to size and assemble. For a job like this I needed one of those leather tool belts. I filled each pocket and loop with every tool, screw, and nail that I could find. I thought I looked like a highly skilled professional but my wife said I looked like a wally.
With my DIY skills snubbed I headed off to Baytree for both the container and the veg plants. We went for Atlas carrots as Elizabeth liked their round shape and they’d be easy to pick and eat, Cherry Belle radishes, I don’t know why because none of us like radishes, and finally Cosmic Lettuce. The wooden “Bisbrooke Veggie Planter” cost £79, it’s really good size and it fulfilled the criteria of looking nice as set out by my wife. My font of all knowledge Sue told me to fill the container with Jacks Magic compost mixed with some organic matter. (I suited up for that bit as you can’t be too careful). Sue also said to put some polystyrene in the bottom of the planter to help with drainage and the weight of the planter. I planted the carrots first following the instructions on the label. The radishes went in next in a pretty similar way, same depth and distance apart as the carrots. Finally our salad crop went in about 5cm deep and 20cm apart. Job jobbed. Later that night when my wife had gone to bed, I put the tool belt back on, wally my ****.

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First published 2nd April 2018

Sorry Officer

During my recent foray into the dark art of gardening I have learnt several key lessons.
Number 1: Don’t garden in the rain, you’ll get wet.
Number 2: Make sure no one is watching you work. They will laugh at you when you fall over in the mud. Mud I must add that would swallow up lesser men.
My wife says she did not laugh whilst watching my life threatening incident and denies that it was her who posted the video to youtube. However if the clip does manage to find its way onto “You’ve Been Framed” I will of course seek my £250. Following my near death experience I wrote a very strongly worded letter to my local MP demanding that he take action against the woeful state of the mud in my garden. Fortunately during this time I was also telephoned by Lydia from a “No-Win No-Fee” company who told me I had a solid case.
I’d spied these “Carpet of Colour” Summer Bulb boxes at Baytree on my last visit which, were only £5.99 on special offer. They were essentially a box full of summer flowering bulbs of different varieties. Scatter and plant that was to be my next covert gardening mission.
Anyway safe in the knowledge that I would receive 100% of the compensation owed which I was sure would just be a legal formality I decided I could afford to risk a brief incursion into the garden. I can tell you now, Bear Grylls would have been proud of me. I even made sure I had some Kendal Mint Cake should I get into difficulties.
Before I started I knew I needed the right tool for the job, I needed one of those small spades. Sarah in Bulbland told me they are called trowels. Anyway I bought a trowel. Under the cover of darkness I followed the instructions on the box. I scattered the bulbs on the ground and where they came to rest was where I planted them.
Unknown to me my neighbours had reported seeing torchlights in the garden. The Police were very understanding once I have explained what I was doing. Perhaps looking like a cat burglar in the dead of night was not such a good thing. However it will be a long time before my wife lets me forget this night! A few days later I received a letter from my MP assuring me the mud in my garden would be dealt with following Brexit.

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First published 9th April 2018

Keep out Kate Aidy

My favourite chair at home is set up in such a way that I have the perfect angle for my televisual pleasure whilst affording easy access for the placement of hot or at the weekend cold alcoholic beverages. To my left is a very large patio door which looks out over my new Katy apple tree and my daughters Peter Rabbit inspired vegetable garden. Unfortunately the lawn in between these two oases looks more like a scene from a war zone. Only the other week I discovered a channel 5 news crew in my garden. They were filming a new documentary, due to budget restrictions they’d ended up in my garden. The director said it had the look of a war ravaged garden without the danger of unexploded ordnance.
My wife told me in no uncertain terms that the lawn needed sorting out as she would not entertain any further news crews. For a job like this I obviously consulted the Lawn Oracle, Dean at Baytree. He did advise me to contact the police beforehand to avoid another incident like last week. I conducted a thorough and comprehensive survey of my lawn and created pie charts and graphs which I presented to Claire later that evening. My survey had revealed the shocking truth that my lawn was more moss than grass. Dean told me to spread Neudorff’s Lawn Cleanse over my lawn. This would kill the moss and feed the grass for up to 100 days. My excitement rose as we discussed lawn spreaders, I knew even if I didn’t need one I had to have one!
The next stage of the process was enjoyable but didn’t start well. Claire had discovered muddy footprints on the kitchen floor whilst I filled my watering can, a red faced Claire ordered me back to Baytree to purchase a new hose pipe. I loved my new hosepipe with variable nozzle spray head. I pretended I was James Bond, licenced to slightly moisten. Out came Little Nell my new lawn spreader, I spread Gro- Sure Smart Grass Seed at 30g per square metre to my barren lawn. It’s not smart like a phone, it won’t let you text, but it does grow virtually anywhere and the birds don’t like the taste of the seed so they won’t eat it.
I haven’t watered the lawn since as it has rained everyday.

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First published 16th April 2018

Desperate Times call for Desperate Measures

It’s stopped raining and we are in the middle of a ruddy heat wave. I take no delight in telling you that I’m outraged with the BBC weather forecasters. So angry in fact that I have been forced to take drastic action, I have created a self-help group for “dedicated, responsible, individual, people, sprinkling” or DRIPS for short. We meet for the very first time on Thursday morning in my local village hall. I expect turn out to be huge following my extensive poster campaign in the post office. One day there could be drips in every town.
The reason for forming “DRIPS” was simple, I needed to ensure I could survive this drought and still keep my lawn healthy. I had two trains of thought, should I purchase one of those Water Butts things or an automated watering system. Surely it can’t be that hard to water a lawn without standing there. However I do enjoy pretending to be James Bond whilst watering, well you have to pass the time somehow.
I went for both options though I had other ideas for the Water Butt. I need a vessel to ferment my anticipated harvest of cider making Katy apples in and ideally dispense from. Step forward the Ward 210 litre slim line water butt. I told Dean my garden sundries guru at Baytree about “Drips” and invited him to be the first guest speaker. I think he was quite honoured, though he did say he would be busy that day tiding his sock drawer.
Anyhow, Gardena make a neat garden sprinkler, the polo. You attached your hose to one end, turn the taps on and hey presto you have a sprinkler which oscillates from side to side. My dog loved it. It was good but automation was what I craved, my neighbour is always bragging about his garden and all of the latest labour saving devices he’s bought, however he doesn’t have an automated watering system. Let the games begin.
Gardena also make an electronic timer which controls the sprinkler, set the start time, watering durations and days you want it to come on, mine cost £35 from Baytree. When I was setting the system up I deliberately talked quite loudly to Claire about the timer and how great it was. I then headed indoors and watched closely from the upstairs window. I didn’t have to wait long before Lionel my neighbour started peering over the fence. 23.2 seconds, one nil to me!

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First published 23rd April 2018

Spice up your Life

My wife and I have been together for nearly 20 years and we both felt that we needed to re-introduce some spice back into our lives. Following some very hands on guidance from Sue at Baytree this week I’ve learnt to not feel embarrassed or inadequate about the size of my instrument. Without this one on one training on how to use my tool to greater effect, I think I would still be nervously fumbling around in the dark trying to put it where it really shouldn’t go.
Sue taught me that size does matter and this case having a smaller one helps to get the seed to the right place more effectively. Sue also showed me how to introduce a gentle flourish once fully inside. Timing is everything with this operation of course you can just go poking around if the times not right as they won’t appreciate it.
Many years ago I had a go a growing my own chilli pepper plants on the kitchen window sill, unfortunately in ended in disaster. I had managed to grow a beautiful looking plant for which I was only able to harvest one tiny Chilli from. This was the moment when my burgeoning gardening interest was snubbed out! Nearly 20 years later I feel ready to tackle growing Chilli Peppers once more and re-introduce some spice back into mine and my wife’s life. You see it turns out that what I had done wrong was to not help stimulate the plant in the right way. It would seem that some plants find it harder to reproduce than others. I needed to become like Professor Robert Winston, I would give IVF to plants.
You have to wait for the flowers to open on the Chilli plant as they struggle to pollinate indoors. Normally bees would do this job but they don’t know how to ring the doorbell be invited in. Because of their lack on domestication my Chilli’s failed. Therefore if you take a small soft paint brush and brush the pollen gently from one flower to another you fertilise the plant and hey presto a few weeks later you have a litter of little Chilli’s waiting to be picked.
It is the very act that I performed this week which I think will finally put to bed the ghosts of 20 years ago. My wife says I’m incredible and she only wishes I had done it earlier in our relationship

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First published 30th April 2018

Milk should come with a government warning!

Bedding, what the hell is bedding? I always thought it was something you slept under so when people talk about it, I always look at them slightly bemused. Are they trying to proposition me? You can’t be too careful especially in this day and age and it’s always the ones you’d never expect who bump you off. A bit like Mr Jones at number 43, who’s developed a language of his very own it’s a cross between a really strong Norfolk accent and a salty sea dog pirate. With his nicotine stained beard and overcoat he is a site to behold. I was in my local shop getting some milk when in walked Mr Jones and grumbled something to me which went along the lines of “You be needing teachin’s …….argh” . He grabbed my arm tightly and led me to his house, 4 pints of milk in tow. I thought if I’m not back soon Claire my wife would raise the alarm.
What I didn’t know at the time was that she was on the phone to her sister. These calls go on for days! Before I knew it I was at Mr Jones house. “Arrg we here” he said, as I stepped into his house. He then led me to his garden. A smile crept across Mr Jones face as he slowly walked me round the garden.
Bedding plants he explained come in all different colours, shapes and varieties. He had Begonias, Fuchsias, Geraniums, etc. “All from the Baytree” he muttered. I didn’t know what any of them where so I took his word for it. He began to explain how he had managed to make such an incredible display of colour. “You see boy, it’s all about the feed”. I feared for my life again, did he bury his victims in the garden to feed his plants? Was I going to be next?
“Miracle Gro Slow Release me lover” he said. It turns out that he mixes it with the compost he plants his bedding into. The slow release formula feeds his plants for about 6 months. He pointed out that in his containers he also adds Gardman water retaining gel.
We walked back into the kitchen where he asked if I wanted a cup of tea. I agreed and went to make it “Don’t touch me teapot lad” His bellow froze me in an instant. “It’s ott”. On reflection I think Mr Jones had only dragged me to his house because he had run out of milk.

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First published 7th May 2018

The Barbecunator

“This weekend we are going to have a garden party” said my wife. My orders where to ensure the garden looked presentable and that I didn’t poison anyone with my cooking.
With her orders still ringing in my ears a plan began to formulate, I wasn’t worried about the garden it was the comments Claire made around the food that had sparked a new and glorious idea. Operation Burnt Burger was born. I have been hankering after one of those fancy gas barbecues for ages you know the ones that make you look like a barbecue King. Claire had never been keen on me getting one as she felt it wouldn’t take long before I blew myself up. Over the bank holiday weekend I managed to convince Claire to visit Baytree with me as they had a Barbecue demonstration going on. I kept dropping hints about how cool they were and just think how great it would be if we had one say for an upcoming party in the garden. Operation Burnt Burger had worked as she agreed to a new barbecue. It was like all my Christmas’s and Birthday’s had come at once.
Step forward Quadring’s newly anointed Barbecue King. I’m fully expecting a BBC news team to cover my inaugural event, I’ll agree but only if Fiona Bruce presents. Her blend of style and charisma are very similar to my own. I know what you’re thinking, what barbecue did you go for. Well I, following some incredible man to man advice from Louis in Baytree’s Barbecue department opted for a Grill Stream 4 Burner Gourmet Barbeque. I could have gone for a 6 burner one but I didn’t want to appear to be ostentatious. Too be fair the choice they had was amazing.
Louis explained how the Grillsteam technology seals in the flavour and prevents fat from causing the burners to scorch your sausages. No one wants a scorched sausage. Every card carrying barbecueist over time has watched many a promising sausage become cremated. Anyhow the party was great, Claire looked stunning and I was magnificent as the chef even if I say so myself. I even went out and bought one of those tall chef’s hats just so I looked the part. I left the vegetable based nibbles for Claire to sort out. I guess it’s just that caveman instinct for man to burn meat.
As yet I have not heard of any direct or indirect cases of food poisoning from our guests. However Fiona wasn’t on the telly this morning?

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First published 14th May 2018

That Was A Close One!

Last week I hosted Quadring’s premier social event in my back garden. I can officially report that no one suffered any ill effects from my cooking including Her Royal Highness Fiona the BBC Bruce.
Whilst tidying up following the party Claire my wife told me that one of our guests who shall remain nameless, let’s just say their name rhymes with Truce, said “that the garden looked okay but it really needed a water feature!” Claire was worried that since this comment had come from such an esteemed guest; the personification of country style and grace, her subscription to Horse and Hound would be in jeopardy Well you only have to watch Mrs Truce on the antiques roadshow to see why. A choice word from Mrs ‘Truce’ about our lack of water featurette and it could all be over.
Did she mean a large palace of Versailles fountain, a tasteful nude with a pair of large jugs, water jugs? Why in ancient times it was deemed necessary to strip off naked to carry water I’ll never know. How would we power our Horse and Hound subscription saving water feature. Given my DIY inadequacies the thought of mixing live electrical wires and water was a task I felt not fully ready to tackle. That’s before you then deal with the real elephant in the room or in the garden so to speak. The thought of digging a hole for hours then lining the hole and getting said water feature to work brings me out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.
There was only once course of action I could see and that was to sell the house and move out. In time Claire could then apply for a new subscription to Horse and Hound under her maiden name from our new address. In the dark days that followed we could not see a way to solve our problem until I had a chance encounter with Will at Baytree who said that they had just taken delivery of a range of solar powered water features. I could have kissed him but Claire was kissing him first.
I can with great pride announce that our solar powered water feature looks beautiful in the centre of our garden, a tasteful shallow bowl upon a Corinthian plinth, no digging, no wires, no stress and Mrs Truce says it looks wonderful. More importantly thought the latest copy of Horse and Hound arrived through the letter box this morning. Happiness and harmony, that’s what counts in a marriage.

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First published 21st May 2018

Cry God for Harry, England, and Saint George!

This week in my own garden I was confronted by a killer beast. A beast so terrible he threatens to destroy what I have worked so hard for. His vicious sharp teeth and red glowing eyes would send lesser men running. I am of course referring to next doors cat – Tiddles. Tiddles has decided that my veg bed is in fact his toilet and that no amount of discouragement is going to change neither his mind or his habits.
Ladies and gentlemen with a heavy heart I must declare that war has broken out in Quadring this week.
The trouble with Tiddles is he prefers to do his business at night under the cover of darkness with the evidence for all to see visible the following morning. I tried to convince my wife to allow me to sit up all night with a super soaker in hand ready to humanly, but also quite amusingly discourage Tiddles, but Claire quite politely reminded me that the last time I stayed up late working in the garden; the police were called as the neighbours thought I was a burglar. This was a fair point but she didn’t seem to have any objections to the use of a super soaker water blaster, 1.3litres of pure watering power. Ask Elizabeth my daughter; she’s lost many a water fight to the awesome power of this WMD(weapon of mass drenching). Tensions reached breaking point over the weekend when he introduced his gang of biker cats to my potato patch. My veg bed had become the hottest ticket in town for trouble making cats. I felt Tiddles was wiping my nose in it and succeeding.
I had to take matters into my own hands. After a quick flick through the yellow pages for Hitmen on a budget I had drawn a blank. So I picked up the telephone and rang the only person I knew who could possibly help. No not the Equaliser but Dean at Baytree. With my voice trembling I explained to Dean how this furry four legged menace and his gang had brought terror to my garden and that an Englishman’s home is his castle and must be defended. Step forward Dean’s recommendation of Neurdoff’s Super Strength Cat Repellent. Not normal strength but super strength. After a liberal sprinkling of these natural granules on my potato bed Tiddles and his gang have moved on, tails between their legs.
Dean we the people of Quadring salute you!

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First published 28th May 2018