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01406 370242
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Gardening Adventure

Follow me on my gardening adventure and learn how it has taken me to some strange and unexpected places. I hope that you will find every stop along the way as amusing as I do....

What To Buy

First published 1st December 2022

The first step before picking a real Christmas tree is to understand the differences between the different types of Christmas trees, how many times have you heard people saying “Are these the ones that drop their needles?”

For many the quintessential Christmas tree is the Norway Spruce which, Prince Albert introduced to Queen Victoria way back when which started the tradition in the UK of decorating a tree for Christmas. These Spruce trees have a beautiful scent of pine and dark green spiky leaves the flip side to all this Christmas loveliness is that the leaves are prone to dropping.

Nordmann Fir trees are fuller trees with thicker set branches, however they do lack the scent of a Nordmann pine, but they keep hold of their needles for longer.

The Fraser Fir is very similar to the Nordmann Fir Tree apart from the fact it is just a little slimmer.

Keep in mind that the taller you go with a real tree the circumference of the bottom branches increases and if you’re placing your tree into a corner it will need to stand further away from the walls which will encroach into your living space.

As a cautionary note, not all trees are the same, those grown in the UK will last better than those shipped across Europe which are bought in bulk and sold off cheaply. If you can avoid these trees please do so and remember as with all things in life quality is worth paying that little extra.

Before making a final decision make sure that you view the tree from all sides, and importantly know the height of the room you want to put your tree into. It’s not a great feeling when you get your tree home and it doesn’t quite look how you’d imagined and you end up wishing you’d bought the other tree. Get to your local Garden Centre such as Baytree in good time before Christmas rather than leaving it until the last moment as you’ll find your choice of trees will be greatly reduced.

When you’ve chosen your tree and you’ve got it home don’t be tempted to bring it inside straight away, leave it in a garage if you have one or failing that just leave it somewhere safe outside in your garden. The cooler you can keep your tree at this stage the better.

Before you bring your tree into your home cut a 2 inch slither of the bottom of the tree’s trunk. This fresh cut will allow the tree to take up water whilst inside your home.

Make sure that you buy a good quality tree stand which has a large enough reservoir to pour water into. I tell you now that’ll you will be really surprised by how much water your tree can drink. You’ll probably have to refill this reservoir at least every couple of days to keep it looking its best.

This is important so take note, please don’t place your tree next to a heat source as this will accelerate the drying out process which will mean your tree won’t look at its best for long. You must keep your tree watered or else the tree will become stressed as it dehydrates thus causing the needles to drop as it tries to conserve water.

Use LED lights on your tree as they give off next to no heat unlike traditional filament bulbs.

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They'll be bloomin

First published 23rd November 2022

November is a strange time of the year, we are still in autumn but the icy bite of winter can be felt on occasions and that was certainly true this week as the temperature plummeted on Sunday night following a relatively mild period. I’ve said it many times before, this time of year for me means family and snuggling up in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows.

There is no doubt that whilst there are lots to do in the garden still during November many of the tasks are repetitive such as leaf collecting, sweeping paths etc. They’re not the most exciting tasks to undertake but they are definitely necessary.

I don’t know how many of you have Dahlia’s in your garden but Mrs Williams from Holbeach Hurn has a fabulous selection and throughout the summer they produce the most magnificently intricate coloured blooms that are simply stunning to behold. I’ve known Mrs Williams for a couple of years and when she asks me to pop over and lend a hand I am always all too willing to help. Following a fall last year she has not been as active in the garden as she once was. That said she has managed to remain active in the kitchen, which is great for me as she does bake the most incredible chocolate brownie. I swear she must have some kind of secret ingredient like fairy dust or something as it tastes amazing.

Dahlias can be found growing in many gardens throughout the country and in order for these incredibly popular flowers to create their wonderful displays year after next year then a little work is required now.

Well actually that’s not strictly true. The falling temperatures should trigger the Dahlia plant to begin dying back. What we, Mrs Williams and countless gardeners are waiting on is for the first really hard frost of the year as once this has happened we can lift our Dahlia tubers from the cold damp cloggy soil.

The first real sharp frost will cause the Dahlia’s foliage to blacken and all of the nutrients in the plant to descend back into the tuber. Think of the tuber as a living rechargeable battery, all of the energy the flower needs to grow will be stored in this plant battery.

Using a fork carefully lift them out of the soil being sure to not damage the tubers themselves. Clean any loose clods of soil from the tubers and check them for signs of rot. There is not point storing a rotten tuber so discard any that are not healthy. Fill a tub, container or bucket with dry compost and place the Dahlia tubers into the compost. Make sure you store them in a dry frost free environment, a garden shed or dry outbuilding is perfect for this and they will be quite happy in their new winter home.

Just as a final thought for this week, food is becoming scarce in the garden for our native birds so if you can please put some feed out for them to help them through the winter. Bob the robin is a frequent visitor to my garden and my daughter loves watching him fly back and forth from our bird table.

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Storm Hancock

First published 16th November 2022

It would appear that after a period of relative calm, a storm of hurricane proportions has ripped through the Cox household. I have named this Hurricane Hancock. Since storm Hancock entered the home via the magic of television, the present Mrs Cox and I have barely spoken to each other to the extent that I have now retired to the relative safety of my Toyota Prius.

With just the radio on and no distractions it is very easy to clear one’s head and plan for the future. When I talk of the future I am talking about how I’m going to re-design the garden in the spring. Subject of course to a cease fire and end of hostilities.

Winter is slowly taking hold and the daily temperatures whilst above average are definitely on the decline. Now that we are well into November for me it’s time to start planting my spring flowering tulip bulbs. Tulip bulbs are the last of the bulbs to get into the ground and the reason for leaving planting until now is to prevent the fungal disease “Tulip Fire”.

Tulip Fire manifests itself when the fungal spores begin attacking the emerging tulips leaves. This attack causes the leaves themselves to become malformed and tell-tale brown spots appear, you can then watch the plant rot in front of you from the flower to the foliage.

However whilst this all sounds doom and gloom which is not like me I’d like to take the opportunity to remind ourselves that by planting tulips in November, the risk of Tulip Fire is greatly diminished.

As a general rule of thumb when planting tulips it is best to plant them at a depth of about 3 times the height of the bulb. Tulips like well-drained soil and will do well in a spot which gets either full sun or partial shade.

Now most spring flowering bulbs are perennials and will come back year after year, that’s not quite the case for tulips, you may be lucky and get a couple of years out of them but it is rare to get anymore than that.

For the effect that I’m going for this year I’ve purchased more tulips than I normally would and I’m sure it will be well worth the investment in the springtime. I tend to like more naturalised flower beds but for next year I’m going to plant a big swath of colour en-masse just for a change.

After waiting for Mrs Cox to leave clad in her brightest multi-coloured Lycra for her weekly “Tums, Bums and Thumbs” workout I set about planting up my bulbs. I really do suggest you buy yourself a bulb planter as they make the job so much easier. Place the bulb planter in the spot you’d like the bulb to be planted, push and twist and the bulb planter then removes a perfect cylindrical soil plug to your desired depth. Pop your bulb in the hole remembering pointy end up before placing said soil plug back into the hole covering the bulb.

The first 25 – 30 weren’t too much trouble but after planting over 150 of them I could feel a slight ache in my arms. Thankfully I was done and within 90 minutes I returned to the radio 4 sanctuary of the Prius. It wasn’t until the following morning when I realised I’d overdone it again as I sat there trapped unable to lift my hands high enough to open the doors. I could however reach the heated seat button, bliss.

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Bang!

First published 10th November 2022

Bonfire night went with a bang, my £18.99 box of fireworks provided seconds of entertainment, but what an amazing few seconds they were.

The present Mrs Cox’s bangers were a bit of a disappointment my fizzing roman candle barely fizzed and the super dooper rocket finale exploded with such force it broke two panes of glass in my newly cleaned greenhouse.

Once my number one daughter had stopped laughing we moved onto my favourite bonfire night past time, writing words in the air with our sparklers. “Bang” was the longest distinguishable word we were able to create out of our sparkler art.

I know £15.99 is not a huge amount of money to spend on fireworks and too be fair I knew they wouldn’t be very good but when you light the touch paper you are hoping for a New Year’s Eve style celebration as seen in the capitol but alas without fail the dream never quite lives up to reality.

However this week I think that I have found the exception which proves the rule. I’d received a text message from Monty one of my golf pals that this morning he awoke to find a significant hole at the bottom of the garden where a fence once stood. Monty understandably was shocked at the new hole but was more shocked at current timber prices. Replacing the missing panels, posts etc like for like would simply be out of his budget.

Now this is where a natural hedge can save you hundreds of pounds over buying and erecting a new fence. Okay it might take a few years before the hedge reaches the height of the original fence but you can be pretty sure it’s not going to blow over if cared for properly. When I say cared for I just mean trimmed regularly.

The ground is still warm and whatever you plant now will put good roots out before the onset of the colder winter months. Best of all bare root hedging is much cheaper than buying established hedging plants in a pot.

After meeting Monty that afternoon we agreed that the remainder of his fence would not last much longer and it would be best to completely remove the fence which would leave him with around a 30ft gap at the bottom of his garden.

I calculated that 20 Leylandii whips or bare root plants would fill that gap when planted about 18 inches apart. Leylandii can put on near 45cm of new growth each year so his 2ft plants would not remain 2ft for long. Before we began digging the holes we filled a bucket with water and placed the bare root hedging plants into the water. This would ensure that the roots were nicely damped.

Together we set about digging 20 holes at a depth of 12 inches for each plant and into the soil we mixed some mycorrhizal fungi, this fungus is particularly beneficial to bare-root plants, finally we sprinkled a little over the wet roots as this will turbo charge new root development.

So for a relatively small outlay Monty is now the proud owner of a 30ft wide Leylandii hedge at the bottom of his garden. Okay it’s not going to break any records at the moment, but give it time and his small investment is going to pay dividends. So there are still a few things out that don’t cost the earth that will eventually exceed your expectations.

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Never Ever Ever Ever

First published 3rd November 2022

The clocks changed last weekend and it wasn’t the good one either; however that said I cannot help but adore the cold dark evenings that this time of year brings. I love the fact that it means you’re officially allowed to cosy up on the sofa with a cup of hot chocolate with your dog fast asleep at your feet.

For many people including the present Mrs Cox I know that the short days and long nights are an un-welcome consequence of the onset of winter. I wish I could understand why. Growing up as a child I remember running home from school, throwing my coat and lunchbox to the floor in the hall then running into the front room to watch Grotbags in the Pink Windmill with Rod Hull and Emu. The dark evenings meant one thing – Christmas and time to start writing my Christmas list and whilst doing so I’d be dusting off my Max Bygraves Sing ‘A Long a Christmas record. (I need to see if I can find that album since vinyl is making a bit of a comeback).

Today everything is downloads and streaming, I seem to spend my life buffering, we have become used to having whatever we want straight away. Gone are the days of waiting a week to find out what happened to the A Team after being locked away in a barn. Well actually we all know what happened is they escaped but that’s beside the point.

Whilst it would seem many things have changed quite rapidly in living memory thankfully gardening has pretty much stayed constant, yes there are new varieties of plants being bred all the time and new types of labour saving devices that are constantly coming to market. But when you think about it the actual process of growing, tending, nurturing and enjoying the garden hasn’t changed.

Gardening allows us to tap back into the natural rhythms of life, the sun rises and sets, the seasons gently change from one to another and the stresses of the modern world seem to fade away.

This brings me neatly on to my task in the garden this week, which I know is a task that hundreds of thousands of gardeners will be embroiled in across the country this weekend, a job I’m sure that gardeners have done for hundreds of years. I’m talking about just tidying up the garden. Autumn leaves whilst beautiful soon create a mess of the lawn unless you stay on top of them, thankfully I have a compost bin on the go which all of my leaves go into. Some of the paths in my garden are starting to get a bit slippery so a good scrub with a stiff brush and some algaecide should treat that.

So for me dark evening and short days are a throwback to when things were maybe a little simpler. It was a time before social media and googling. If we wanted to know something we asked other people, and instead of messaging them we’d pick up the telephone and call them.

Candy Crush hadn’t been invented yet so for fun we’d play Cluedo or Lego, who didn’t love lego?

So tonight after I’ve finished in the garden I’ll be cosying up in front of the fire with a game of Guess Who.

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Rock N Roll

First published 27th October 2022

Growing up as a child the dark evenings following the changing of the clocks meant one thing, Christmas and therefore time to get the Argos catalogue out. For anyone reading this under the age of 16, a catalogue is something we used to have in the olden days, and that brings me nicely onto what to do in the garden this week. Whilst technology, new gardening techniques and plant developments have helped gardeners, the basic fundamentals of gardening haven’t changed in hundreds of years and pruning roses is one of them.

Sadly this week the deluge of rain made doing anything in the garden very difficult but not impossible. I could have sworn I saw a bearded man shepherding animals into a big floating shed at the bottom of my garden on Thursday, it was that wet.. Now apart from collecting the fallen leaves on my lawn and paths my main goal this week was to prune my roses.

At this time of the year it is clear to see that the weather conditions are worsening, the wind strength is increasing and as a consequence my roses are running the risk of having their roots rocked loose in the soil. Once the roots have become loose, water is then able to collect around the roots, then when that water freezes it can kill the plant. So to avoid that risk it’s best to prune your roses back by a third to a half of their height.

Pruning your roses back in this way as mentioned above reduces the risk of ‘Wind Rock’ and because the plant is more open it will also encourage a greater flow of air around the stems which helps prevent diseases getting a foot hold within the plant.

With a pair of sharp secateurs cut the plant stems reducing the plants overall height. When you’re cutting, cut these stems on a diagonal, this will allow water to run off the exposed stem and not collect on top of it.

It’s not always possible, but when you’re cutting your roses back try to ensure that the centre of the rose plant is exposed. You want the stems you have left to be facing outwards and not into the centre of the plant as discussed earlier. Whilst you’re working you way down through the plant make sure you cut out and remove any dead or diseased growth. Don’t be too fussy with the pruning now as come February /March we’ll prune the roses properly.

I have to admit that I’d picked a bad time to prune my roses as half way through the heavens opened and because I like to finish a job once I’ve started it, I stubbornly refused to head indoors until I was done. When I eventually managed to peel my water proofs off my soggy body, I was so wrinkly I resembled one of those bald cats.

Once dried and clothed it seemed only right to indulge in my other passion, biscuits. For over a week now I’ve managed to hide a pack of Caramel and Chocolate Digestives from the present Mrs Cox. It would appear that maybe we have mice in the house as my darling wife promises me that she never had any?. Thankfully they left me with a couple.

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Never Ever Ever Ever

First published 20th October 2022

We’ve all been there haven’t we? The wine is flowing the food is fantastic the company is great and you know you shouldn’t but your “no-valve” is not working so you agree to another bottle or wine and the more you consume the more you believe who needs a “no-valve”.

Well it’s not actually until you climb into bed that you realise that you wish you’d checked your “no-valve” was in full working order earlier as now the room is spinning and you wonder why it was a good idea to buy a water bed, then you realise that you don’t own a water bed. That last cheeky glass of Rioja wants to show you in great detail what it feels like to be on-board the deck of a North Sea fishing trawler as it battles it’s way home through a perfect storm.

By 2am I think I would have sold a kidney to anyone who could stop the room moving, in fact I was quite prepared sell both.

Inevitably just as the sea calms the alarm goes off and that’s when the real regret sets in. With what felt like the entire massed pipe and drums band rehearsing in my head I hauled my limp almost lifeless body out of bed.

Earlier in the month I’d purchased four Blackberry canes and in a drunken stupor I’d promised the present Mrs Cox to get them planted today not thinking that I would be only seconds from death.

On recommendation from a friend of mine I’d chosen the blackberry variety called Oregon-Thornless, simply because they don’t try to tear your hands and arms to shreds when it comes to harvest time.

Now the majority of all fruit canes ideally should be grown up a frame or trellis to support the fruiting branches. The key to good fruit is sun, the sun makes sugar. Therefore it makes sense to carefully consider the best place to plant your fruit canes to get maximum sun, just remember thought that they’ll need well-draining soil, they won’t do well with water logged roots.

I’m quite fortunate as the fence at the bottom of my garden is usually in full sun most days and because there’s a structure already there I can quite simply attach a trellis to it. As the plant grows I will need to keep tying the new shoots against the wooden trellis grid. It’s best to soak the roots in a bucket of water before planting out. I’ve planted my canes about 1m apart at the base of the fence in front of the trellis. I have fanned the shoots out and tied them against the frame to make a nice open shape.

Planting fruiting canes is not difficult and shouldn’t take long to accomplish, though in my case given my self-inflicted disability this simple procedure seemed to take all day.

When complete I dragged my body back indoors for a celebratory cup of tea with the current Mrs Cox , it was at this point that she reminded me that it was my turn to take our number one child to her drumming lesson in half an hour.

Should I not survive the next couple of hours it has been a pleasure knowing you all!

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Wise Words

First published 13th October 2022

A very wise friend of mine called Jim, that’s not really his name as to protect his anonymity I’ve changed his name from Graham. Well during a meeting many years ago of the Bottom End Allotments society, Jim was invited along to give a talk on fruit and ornamental trees. He opened with the question when is the best time to plant a tree. I remember Arthur the chairman of the allotment society raised his hand and answered, the spring. Actually Jim said the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, however the second best time to plant a tree is now.

Jim during his talk said that there is pretty much a tree for any position in the garden and any soil type that you find yourself with. I know this idea is widely agreed with throughout the gardening fraternity including many high profile television gardening personalities including one Chris Beardshaw or Mr Dreamy as the present Mrs Cox refers to him as.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before in several autumnal articles, the soil is still relatively warm during October and because of this anything planted this month has a great chance of establishing itself before the onset of the colder winter months.

Plant and tree names can be quite confusing especially if you don’t speak fluent Latin. So I tend to keep things simple. I like Silver Birches, Acers and Mountain Ash trees.

Fortunately for me I’ve kept in contact with Jim and I am able to tap into his encyclopaedic knowledge of trees. Fear not though because if you don’t have your very own personal Jim you can always find an expert to speak to at Baytree. (For those under the age 25 an encyclopaedia was the Google of the day except it was a book or a series of books).

A great piece of advice Jim gave me was to keep the trees in their pots which makes it much easier to move them around whilst deciding upon their final positions.

It’s a good idea to add Bone meal to the bottom of each hole that you intend to plant your tree in; Bone Meal is rich in phosphorus which plants find easy to take up. Don’t forget to give the hole a good watering before planting the tree into it.

When you’re planting a tree remember to try to place it in the hole you’ve dug so that it is a vertical as possible. It is so much easier adjusting the alignment of the tree at this stage than in a few years’ time when it’s growing at a strange angle and is too heavy to move about.

Trees need to be planted with 2-3 inches of their trunks below the top of the hole and then secured into place with a tree stake. Drive the stake into the ground at an angle of about 45 degrees. On that kind of angle the tip of the stake can be driven into the soil well away from the tree’s delicate roots. All that remains then is to gently tie the stake to the tree, specialist rubber tree bands work really well for this as they will allow the tree a little movement in the wind.

Should you a have a problem with Rabbits in the garden then a £1 investment in a tree guard will stop your fluffy terrorists from gnawing the bark off the base of your newly planted tree ultimately killing it.

There you have it, head down to your local garden centre this weekend, get yourself a new tree, plant it and then enjoy it for many years to come.

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It Has Happened

First published 6th October 2022

I fear that I have reached a significant milestone in my life this week. It is a milestone that I have tried to ignore for several months, unfortunately despite my best efforts time has caught up with me. Having made the switch from Radio one to Radio two a decade ago I’ve now had to accept that I can no longer read the text on my phone and consequently I’ve been forced to increase the font size to absolutely massive.

I have to ensure now that when I’m texting or reading emails on my phone that I do so whilst indoors for fear of overflying aircraft being able to view my messages. I’m also very conscious of when the international space station passes overhead; I don’t won’t mission control to know that my DPD delivery of Garlic bulbs will be delivered between, 11:47 and 12:47.

To make matters worse I now have to use the zoom function on my phone’s camera in order to read certain planting instructions just like to ones on the back of my new packet of Garlic bulbs, hmmm.

The one getting old bodily change that I’m really dreading is when I’ve got more hair coming out of my ears than on the top of my head, just like my uncle Bob. Why do we need hairy ears?

Anyhow the time is now 10:18 and the international space station has already passed over so I know if anyone should text me it’s safe to read the message whilst I’m planting my Garlic bulbs.

Just as a side note there are two types of Garlic bulbs called Softneck and Hardneck. Softneck is the variety that you are more than likely to be buying in the supermarkets as they are generally grown in warmer climes and produce a large number of cloves per bulb. Hardneck bulbs on the other hand produce fewer cloves per bulb but are better suited to our slightly cooler clime. That said Hardneck varieties won’t do well if planted in a part of the garden which tends to stay wet in the winter. You may have to just like I did, need to prepare the soil into which you’re going to plant your Garlic. Just make sure that you remove any weed and the remains of any other crops that had previously grown in that planting bed. I like to mix into the soil well-rotted farmyard manure which I dig into the soil with a garden fork. With the tines of the fork I break up any large clods of soil.

Using a rake smooth the surface of the soil, you’re trying to make the soil as level as possible. If you have a dibber make a hole deep enough for the top of the bulb which is the pointy end to be about 2.5cm or an inch below the surface of the soil. Your cloves should be spaced around 15cm apart and there should be a gap of 12 inches / 30cm between rows.

Now our feathered friends which I have a lot of affection for do tend to have a soft spot for Garlic bulbs and will endeavour to pull them out of the soil at every opportunity if left unprotected. I find it best to lay fleece over the plants until the shoots from the top of the cloves have reached around 2 inches / 5cm in height.

Once they are at this height you can then to leave them under a cloche to protect them from the worst of the cold winter temperatures. The care that you take now will pay dividends. In the spring the protection you’ve given the plants now will have encouraged really strong root growth which, is essential for a good crop of Garlic at harvest time.

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Never Surrender

First published 29th September 2022

October is just around the corner which means it won’t be long now before trick or treat and carved pumpkins that resemble a certain relation to the present Mrs Cox start adorning people’s homes and gardens. I have nothing against Halloween nor pumpkins and to be perfectly honest I enjoy carving a pumpkin as much as the next man but that might be down to the fact that when I’m scooping the innards out I like to pretend that I’m in “Waking the Dead” as I go about performing a post-mortem on the pumpkin.

There is no doubt that the autumn is a riot of colours, whichever way you look you’re greeted by beautiful vistas that could very well inspire the classic painters of old. I’m sure Turner would have made an incredible job of painting the woods near me where I take Teddy dog for his walks.

Sadly for me my enjoyment of the autumn spectacle in my garden lasts for about a week before Mother Nature decides that leaves are so last year and within 2 minutes all of my trees and shrubs are reduced to just sticks.

I usually get nightmares at this time of the year and will often wake in the middle of the night much to the present Mrs Cox’s anger shouting “leavessssssss”. I think it’s because I know that at any instant my garden sanctuary which I call the shed can so easily be cut off from the rest of the garden buried under a thick blanket of leaves. Worst of all I’ll know that this much needed sanctuary will be lost until the spring when the path is passable once more. Quite frankly this cannot be allowed to happen.

This year however I have formulated a four point plan, using mainly crayons and felt tip pens I’ve created a fantastic looking wall chart to help visualise my battle plan.

Stage one involves marking the edges of the path to the shed with garden canes that way when the leaves do fall and cover the path I’ll know where to sweep the leaves away from. As you all know wet leaves when left on a path invariably leads to a trip to nearest Accident and Emergency department.

Stage two is more reactive than pro-active. I’ve invested in a super duper set of leaf grabbers with the sole intention of harvesting every last leaf to go into my compost bin. No leaf is going to get left behind on my watch.

Stage three will see me raising the blade on my lawn mower and mowing the lawn fairly regularly. I’ll not actually be cutting the grass but the blades will be chopping the leaves on the lawn which will be neatly collected in the hopper. Again the contents will go straight into the compost bin.

Stage four is designed for the days when the sun is shining and the air is cool as it will involve raking up any remaining leaves into large piles for jumping in later should the mood take me.

I have also built into my plan rest days, on these special rest days I am not allowed to lift a leaf nor allow myself to think about a leaf. These enforced leaf picking rest days where a stipulation from the present Mrs Cox via her solicitor.

It’s just a waiting game now. Mr Bradshaw at number 41 had his leaves fall on the 18th and Mrs Jamiesons of number 38 had hers fall on the 20th so I know it won’t be long before it’s my turn. My best guess is that I have just five days left to prepare and fine tweak my plan.

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A Small Tribute

First published 22nd September 2022

Without doubt the most significant worldwide event that I have lived through has to be the passing of our beloved Queen, whatever your thoughts on the monarchy you have to acknowledge and respect her devotion and love for our little part of the world.

Witnessing the pageantry that has been on display this past few weeks and that incredible queue that snaked around our capital with people waiting up to 24hours to file past the queen as she laid in state to pay their respects has made me want to pay my own personal tribute to the Queen.

It’s not a big thing but it will be a constant reminder to me and my family of the women who has been in the background of our lives for so long.

Together we are going to plant a Queen Elizabeth Floribunda rose into our rose garden. The rose has lovely pink full blooms on long stems.

This variety of rose is much like many others and will happily grow in most places in the garden as long as they get at least 6 hours of sunshine on average a day. Some varieties will tolerate less as roses on the whole are quite a hardy plant.

Fungus can really damage your roses so it is good practice to plant your roses in an area where there is a good movement of air, that way you reduce the chance of fungal disease taking hold because the air flowing in and around the plant will help to keep it fairly dry.

To prevent disease transfer, do not plant a rose where you have had a rose growing before. Luckily for me as a family we had decided upon a perfect spot for our new rose. Roses really like rich, loamy, free draining soils in which to grow in.

With any rose that I plant a rose I always incorporate Mycorrhizal compound into the planting hole. This special fungal compound works with the rose and helps improve nutrient and moisture uptake through the root system, because of this the rose establishes quicker than if no compound is applied.

With a garden spade I dug a hole to a depth of 45cm – 18 inches deep and to a width of about 30cm – 12 inches. The reason for the deep hole is that you want the graft union that is the point in which the rose has been grafted to the rootstock (this union will be obvious when you look at the rose) is just above the level of the soil. Into the bottom of the hole add some well-rotted farm yard manure and tease the roots from the rootball before planting. Once the rose was in position it’s just a simple case of back filling the soil, firming into place and then giving the rose a good watering making sure that the water gets right down to the roots.

At this time of the year as it’s a Floribundas rose I know it will benefit from light pruning. With a sharp pair of secateurs I will cut back any really long growth. Next February, once established is when I will begin pruning again.

As the rose grows I will have to keep an eye out for Aphids and other diseases. Now while Aphids will not kill the rose they can distort the foliage and flower growth. That said it is treatable.

I’ve never met the Queen and I was sadly unable to go to London to join queue but that said, at least I feel like a have honoured her in my own way in a small part of my garden.

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So Many Changes

First published 15th September 2022

Our world has changed virtually overnight and we are all slowly coming to terms with the new normal. With the passing of our Queen a new era begins much as can be seen with the changing of the seasons as one passes another comes into focus.

13 years ago to this day my daughter was born and if Harry Enfield is to be believed it’s all downhill for me now. As much as we wish we could turn the clock back we understand to do so would be to deny the splendour of what is to come.

It’s the “what is to come” that I’m focusing on today as I endeavour to get my lawn ready for the autumn ahead and to ensure that it is in the best possible condition to endure the cold winter ultimately returning in the spring lusher and more verdant than ever before.

Fear not though, I’m not going to spend the entire day of my teenage daughter’s birthday in the garden, I’m only planning on working for about an hour as the first stage of my plan is to simply go over the lawn with a mower to tidy it up a bit.

I have used the same product called Aftercut Autumn All in One Weed and Feed for a number of years now as I find it so simple to use and you can see real benefits in the spring.

As I said the first step was to mow the lawn. The second step is to wait a couple of days before applying the product. It’s best to apply the feed to a dry-ish lawn by sprinkling the feed either by hand or by machine to the surface of the lawn.

I prefer to do this by hand; you are aiming to spread 35g of product of per metre squared. A handful is normally around 35g. With this product I do like to wear a glove just for protection.

The iron in the formulation will help to kill the moss in your lawn which in turn means the grass has less competition and can dominate the area. The Potassium in the product is taken down into the roots and helps the grass store energy through the winter.

At this time of the year I don’t bother to water the product in because if it’s not raining generally it’s about too. However if it has not rained after 48 hours then you’ll have to water it in by hand. Until it has been absorbed do not allow pets onto the lawn.

Around seven days after watering in you’ll be able to notice a real difference in the appearance of your lawn and it’s at this point that I’ll take my rake from the shed and scarify the lawn which is the process of removing dead moss and thatch. It will look like you’ve destroyed your lawn after doing this so please do not worry, it’s normal.

The final stage is to take a garden fork and to aerate the soil. Don’t worry it’s a fancy name for just pressing the tines of the fork into the soil to a depth of about 6 inches which you repeat all over the lawn leaving about 12 inches between each neat set of holes. These holes will allow any rainfall and nutrients to be transported directly to the lawns roots.

There we have it, another job ticked off the garden to do list. Now instead of taking my daughter out for her birthday as in previous years she’s going out instead with all of her friends for a girly shopping trip. I’m not cool enough to be seen with her now and on reflection that is just how it should be.

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It's A Kind Of Magic

First published 8th September 2022

I feel quite lucky to have enjoyed the last couple of weeks of the school summer holidays with my daughter. We’ve managed to get out most days and enjoy being in the great outdoors. Though we have both noticed during our nightly spot the wally walks which happen just after dinner when we take Teddy Dog for a walk, that the evening temperatures are cooling somewhat. You can also notice the cooler morning temperatures which can only mean that autumn is on its way, but believe it or not the autumn is a great time for planting and establishing plants before the onset of winter.

My daughter said that she wanted a project to do that wouldn’t take too long, that she could do before she went back to school. To that end I suggested that she have a go at planting an autumn / spring flowering container. With quite a puzzled look on her face she asked “how do you keep a container flowering for that long?” Magic I replied.

The magic is achieved by layering the container with selected plants and bulbs which flower and grow at different times.

Into the bottom of a large container (my daughters container was about 45cm in diameter and 50cm deep); fill it to about a third of the total height with a good quality All Purpose Compost with added John Innes.

If your container is really large then I’d advise that you place the container in situ and before you begin to add any compost, raise it off the ground with pot feet. This will allow for good drainage and more importantly if the container becomes really heavy after planting you then haven’t got to have muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger to move it. For the record I have the core strength of a Marshmallow.

Anyhow onto this first layer add your short stemmed tulip bulbs such as Cape Cod, push them gently into the compost with the root end facing down and the pointy end upwards. There is no need to press hard I told my little girl as we will be adding more compost to the container so as to just cover the tops of the bulbs. Into the next layer I suggested she plant Tete a Tete daffodil bulbs again pressing them gently into the compost in between the tulip bulb tips. As before cover the daffodil bulbs so that the tips are all but hidden.

We went for a mixture of bulbs for our next layer by using Pansies, Forget me Nots, Polyanthus and Crocus bulbs. On this layer add a little extra compost and plant the bulbs around the edges of the container, same drill, push them in gently, cover with compost. Into the centre of this top layer we planted Dwarf Wallflowers like Tom Thumb. We clumped 3 to 5 of them together for better effect and to give greater colour. When you’re planting this top layer remember to not plant them too deep as you don’t want to damage the bulbs beneath.

In early the early spring I’ll ask my daughter to feed the bulbs in the container with a Tomato Feed or anything with a high Phostrogen content.

Come the spring it’s like magic when the new flowers appear and grow through each other.

True to my word this took just over an hour to complete which made my daughter very happy. Happiness and harmony that’s what counts in this world.

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Keeping The Dream Alive

First published 1st September 2022

I received a letter from Mr McKay winner of “Best Onions” this week, well it was more of a reference stating that if ever I found myself in a pickle again with the authorities, he would be more than happy to limit my freedoms in fact he even goes so far to say that it would be his pleasure.

It still feels a little strange at the moment being outdoors after 6pm but the evening are still warm and with the fire pit lit we’ve been enjoying many a glass of something red on the patio.

Unfortunately for me the present Mrs Cox has been binge watching hammer under the homes, force ground and SOS DIY. This had led to extensive digging in the garden in order to lay a concrete base for a new summer house to sit on. I have to admit the idea of creating a room in the garden is a good one.

With pretty much every muscle in my body aching and muscles that I didn’t even know that I had from the digging, sleeping was impossible, every time I moved it felt like someone was sticking red hot pokers into my body. I was glad when the sun came up as it gave me an excuse to get out of bed. Getting up and out of said bed took some time, the best way I can explain it is it felt like I was wearing a heavy Victorian divers suit.

Once upright, dressed and with tea in hand I wandered through the garden. With summer coming to a close the trick now is to keep the summer memories alive and the best way to do that is to keep dead heading any flowering plants that you may have in your beds, borders or containers. I know I say this often but dead heading really extend the flowering season. Herbs need picking, the more you pick from your herbs the more this encourages them to produce new growth.

Also remove any dead foliage from your beds and borders you’ll be amazed at the extra light that can now get to your plants. Collect fallen leaves and compost them, stay on top of mowing your lawn. Mowing your lawn regular will also help with removing the fallen leaves, the blades chop them into a million pieces which are then collected.

In the Greenhouse you should be starting to remove any shading you’ve put up as the length and intensity of daytime light is reducing. If like me you use fabric shading then removing it will be a whole lot easier that scrubbing painted shading from off the glass panes.

Don’t forget to test your Greenhouse heaters now, testing them now will give you time to either fix or replace it before the colder temperatures sweep in. Talking of sweeping, disinfect the floor, staging and glass to prevent diseases from taking hold.

You don’t have to do all of this at once thought just keep doing a bit little and often. That will help you keep on top of things in the garden.

Next week Gerry is popping round to help me erect the present Mrs Cox Summerhouse on the newly laid base. I’ve suggested that we maybe look at putting a wood burning stove in the summerhouse for the chiller evenings ahead. That way should I ever feel the wrath of the present Mrs Cox again at least I’ll have somewhere warm to retreat to.

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Back In Town

First published 25th August 2022

Last week’s celebrations for helping Mr McKay win the title of “Best Onions” was certainly a high point in my gardening career. I can say that after drinking nearly 2 pints of bitter shandy chased down by a shot of Bailey’s that no one can say that we gardeners don’t know how to party, especially when you add in the fact that the night was topped off by the attempted consumption of one large donner kebab.

I should have learnt from my youth that it doesn’t matter how carefully you approach a donner kebab or for that matter what end you start with its sole aim in life is to spread itself liberally over the floor as soon as you try to take a bite, and why is it that the first bite you take always contains the whole chilli.

Within seconds your mouth is on fire, and your trouser legs are now covered with the contents of the exploding kebab.

That said I was able to enjoy said kebab the following morning simply by peeling the now crusted kebab contents off the bottom of my trouser legs. Though I think Teddy my Ruby Cavalier may have enjoyed my trouser feast first as he was panting quite badly and drinking huge amounts of water when I first woke up.

With breakfast done it was time to head out into the garden for the first time since my acquittal. Sadly as I had been incarcerated for longer than was strictly necessary, (I’m still working through that one with the present Mrs Cox.) My normally abundant vegetable patch was just a huge tangled mess of weeds and garden debris.

So I sincerely hope that all of the hard work that you have put into sowing your vegetable seeds, hardening them off, planting them out, feeding them and weeding them has finally paid off and that you have a bumper crop of home grown vegetables to enjoy this autumn winter.

With potatoes I would suggest that when you lift them that you leave them on top of the soil for a few hours so that they can start drying out. Store them in paper or hessian bags in a cool dark and well ventilated place within your home or garden shed. Make sure that you don’t store any diseased or damaged potatoes, as one rotten tuber can spoil an entire bag of potatoes. Whatever type of bag you choose to store them in must be breathable if not your potatoes will sweat then rot.

French and Runner Beans can be cropped little and often. Continue to feed and water them to prevent them from setting seed too early. Keep harvesting your pea pods if you have them. Once they have finished cropping, cut them down to ground level. The pea plants roots will then slowly begin to release nitrogen back into the soil. It’s always best to work with Mother Nature rather than against her especially when she’s giving us a free helping hand here to re-invigorate the soil.

I’ll have a little bit of a head start as because I have nothing to harvest I can focus on clearing the garden before autumn starts to take hold. In addition I’ll be giving the greenhouse a good clean ahead of my autumn planting. In around a month there will be an abundance of dead leaves and other dead plant material in my garden to which I’ll add to my compost bin. So if you don’t yet have a compost bin get one as to any keen gardener they are worth their weight in gold.

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Judgment Day

First published 19th August 2022

Mr McKay and I have been busy preparing for the show of the century this week. On Sunday we endeavoured to find our five best onions. We tried to ensure that each onion chosen was uniform in shape, of similar size, colour and when I say similar I mean as close to identical as possible. As the day progressed we revisited these five and replaced them with those that we thought where better matched until at exactly 4:28pm we had arrived at the perfect grouping of five.

Our chosen onions where now ready to begin their dressing procedure so on Monday morning we gave the onions a gentle but thorough wash to remove any soil and dirt from their skins. At this point if Mr McKay could have given his onions a facial I’m pretty sure he would have, these onions where going to get the full spa treatment.

Once clean we dried them with a soft cloth and gently dusted them with a thin layer of talcum powder. They were then locked away in Mr McKay’s kitchen pantry.

On Tuesday we washed the talcum powder off the onion skins with all the reverence of a state coronation. One by one they were soaked in warm water for around five minutes. The actual time is a secret that I am sworn to uphold. This short soaking allows the neck and shoulders of the onion bulb to soften to the point where the stalk can be neatly folded over and tied with a small length of raffia. With a sharp pair of scissors we trimmed the excess stalk off below the knot. The real skill is folding the remaining onions in exactly the same place.

Thursday soon came meaning today was the day that we would compete for the biggest prize in Prison Warden Gardening – Best Onions. All of the effort and hard work myself and Mr McKay had put into growing the best onions we could would all came down to the opinion of an expert judging panel. For transportation Mr McKay had invested in one of those aluminium brief cases with black shaped foam inside, ours had five perfect little circles which made our onions look like small organic hand grenades.

Mr Bronson, Mr McKay’s arch enemy was already at the competition venue when we arrived. As we approached the competition staging area we could see our space. I carefully lifted each onion grenade out of their secure transportation vehicle (the briefcase) to which Mr McKay then formed them like a master painter into a perfect triangle onto the black felt lined plate that Mrs McKay had made in Craft club on Wednesday. There was no time to sit back and admire our work as we were soon asked to leave the area for judging.

After an hour the results were in. We’d only gone and blooming done it Mr McKay was now the proud owner of a Prison Wardens Gardening Association Gold Medal for Best Onions. Overcome with emotion Mr McKay shook my hand and said we should go and celebrate. I said to Mr McKay that we couldn’t celebrate as I was still at Her Majesty’s pleasure to which he then let slip that my case had been heard several months ago and all of the charges against had been thrown out and that I’d been a free man since July…..

The soon to be not so present Mrs Cox it would appear had cut a deal with the authorities for an extra couple of weeks of peace and quiet.

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Def Con 4

First published 11th August 2022

Tensions have been running high this week within the Shawshank walls, for starters my brief visited me this week to role play various cross examination questions for my upcoming hearing. I really enjoyed it and found myself really getting into character but Mr Pendleton having seen my performance first hand has instructed me not to say a word at the hearing for fear of making matters worse.

Mr Brown Shawshank’s Governor has placed us all on half rations this week following news that his wife had been caught in a compromising state of undress with Jake Cruise from B Wing during a recent laundry visit. They both claim that all of their clothes just fell off following Jake’s demonstration on how the large spin dryer works. Mrs Brown claimed that the lipstick marks all over Jake’s body must have been caused when she clung to him for safety.

To top it all Mr McKay has decidedly been on edge after choosing this week to lift his onions. Now normally that’s not such a stressful thing to do but when those said onions are going to be entered into the Wardens National Gardening Show at Wandsworth correctional facility in under seven days’ time, I’m sure you can understand my panic.

About a week ago it became apparent that our onions where nearing harvest time. The tell-tale signs that they are ready for lifting are when their leaves turn brown and wilt over. I used a hand fork to carefully lift the onion bulbs out of the ground. Now you can use a normal garden fork however, I chose to use a hand fork in order to be extra careful given the gravity of their importance to Mr McKay and his bid to win “Best Onions”.

Knowing that the weather is going to be set fair for another week I and Mr McKay agreed to just gently lay the onion harvest on the soil in order for the outer skins to dry out. Though that said if the weather were to change suddenly we did have the option of bringing them inside.

We moved from onion to onion trimming the leaves from the bulb leaving about 2.5 inches of leaf above the bulb. In addition we trimmed the roots to about 1 inch.

It was obvious that we had a good showing of onions with good uniformity across the harvest, all we have to do in a weeks’ time is to choose the perfect 3 onions that match in size and colour.

In an effort to prevent Mr McKay’s arch enemy and onion growing nemesis Mr Bronson from sabotaging his onions the G-Team have been given special permission to camp out next to Mr McKay’s vegetable garden where his onions now reside. He has good reason to be worried as on Monday I received a coded message from Mr Bronson offering me my own cell, a transfer to an open correctional facility and as many Hob Nobs as I could eat should Mr McKay’s onions suffer a freak accident involving a petrol can and a box of swan vestas.

As tempting as the offer was, I mean that’s a lot of Hob Nobs I had to decline, I am a man of principle and cheaters should never prosper so bring it on. Plus Mr McKay’s offered me Chocolate Hobnobs, so bad luck Mr Bronson.

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Brimming with Confidence

First published 4th August 2022

Confident that in just a few weeks’ time my case will be heard in a fair manner the present Mrs Cox on her last visit left a number of glossy holiday brochures for me to look through. The plan is to jet off somewhere warm after I am fingers crossed released. Having only recently been brought back from the brink following heat exhaustion, you can imagine just how keen I feel about jetting off to warmer climes. I would rather holiday in Scotland; if it’s not raining you can be pretty sure it’s about too! Drizzle I would be so happy with drizzle right now.

My head warden Mr McKay is on holiday this week with his wife, just like them I’m sure lots of you are now jetting off to seek golden sand and turquoise sea. Mr McKay being a stickler for routine and order has left me clear instructions on how to look after their garden whilst they are away. I’d imagine that for many of you reading this you probably don’t have anyone like I who can look after your garden as you relax by the pool with a large Piña Colada in one hand and the latest bestselling crime thriller in the other.

Before you do jet off there are a number of simple things that you can do so that when you get home following your two weeks in the sun you won’t find NASA testing their latest Mars rover because your garden closest resembles the surface of the red planet, dead and baron.

You will need to move your container plants to a cool shady spot in the garden. Special wheels that can be placed underneath your containers are fairly inexpensive and will pay dividends when moving your pots around the patio.

Place deep saucers underneath your containers and fill the saucer with water. For containers that are just too big to move you’ll need to use irrigation spikes. Irrigation spikes are a brilliantly simple invention, you screw a normal plastic bottle filled with water into one end which you then upturn and then you drive the spike end into the soil of your pot. The water in the bottle then slowly ebbs away into the soil thus watering the plant over a long period of time.

Weeds are the bane of most gardeners lives as they always grow where you don’t want them too and you feel like you’re constantly chasing your tail. However, keeping on top of weeding you beds, border and lawns means that your plants will not be competing with the weeds for moisture and nutrients from the soil.

Deadheading your flowering plants before you go encourages stronger growth and stops debris from accumulating around your plants.

Give you lawn a cut before you go on holiday, lower the blades slightly and leave the grass clippings where they fall on your lawn as this will help the lawn retain moisture.

In the evenings a good 2 – 3 days before you leave give all of you plants a good watering and repeat this right up until you go. Essentially you are filling the tank, and by watering in the evening less moisture will be lost via evaporation. Mulch after you have watered to lock in as much moisture as possible.

All you can do then is sit back, fasten your seat belt and relax. Though if you’re like me usually at this point you’ll start stressing over whether or not I’ve left the gas on!

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Nurse Peterson

First published 28th July 2022

It was whilst drifting in and out of a medically induced vanilla flavoured soft scoop ice cream coma on the medical ward at Shawshank, following my frankly pathetic showing at the bi-annual inter correctional facility five a side football tournament that I met Nurse Gabriel.

During a bout of delirium I felt an unusual sensation wash over me and I found myself looking down at my very red body lying there on the bed, beneath me. A strange but very familiar white light appeared and I could feel myself being drawn up into it.

At the end of this bright white tunnel was a man dressed all in white holding a clip board and calling out names from some kind of register, to his left was another man holding a garden fork. Thank heavens you’re here he said. Can you take a look at my tomatoes please? Michael’s look fantastic whilst mine at the beginning of the season were strong and healthy but the tomatoes that then developed on my trusses have now grown no bigger than a frozen pea.”

It sounds very much to me that your tomato plants are under; now at his point I mouthed the words under-sexed just in case anyone else was listening in. When I say under-sexed, again mouthing the words, I mean they’ve struggled to pollinate. I can talk you through the procedure to perform IVP (In Vitro Pollination) on your tomato plants if you so wish.

Wait until midday tomorrow and then go into your greenhouse or in your case your white house and give your tomato plants a really good shake or a sharp jolt. I became aware at this point that quite a crowd had gathered around me and the man with the register was getting more and more agitated.

Look I said, your tomatoes are suffering because the pollen within the stamen has failed to make it successfully to the stigma. By shaking the plant you are realising any trapped or stuck pollen and allowing it to find its way to the stigma. Once there, pollination can begin.

Leave the plants for about half an hour after shaking them and give them a really good hose down before closing the doors and vents of your white house. This will raise the humidity levels and should encourage germination of the pollen grain and help the grain travel towards the Ovules of the flower. Ovules, I felt it necessary to mouth that word; are where the plants eggs are stored.

At this point the man with the register had decided to give up and was now listening intently to me.

Don’t forget to open the vents before dusk as you really don’t want to leave the leaves damp overnight and keep the white house well ventilated to avoid disease. Repeat this all throughout the growing season. People were now patting me on the back and applauding my answer even the grumpy register man. Then all of a sudden a very strange feeling began taking hold in an area of my body that should quite frankly never experience such an experience.

I thought that is was death’s icy cold finger but I’m told that it was Nurse Gabriel’s skillful use of ice cream and strategically placed ice lollies that ultimately brought me back from the brink.

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Just Like I Remembered

First published 21st July 2022

On Saturday it was the bi-annual inter correctional facility five a side football tournament held here at Shawshank. Despite my best efforts during my youth to be at least adequate at said football my effort never quite matched my ability which, throughout school always saw me as last picked. This is something that after many years of expensive therapy I have managed to come to terms with.

So you can imagine my surprise when Mr McKay ‘D Wings’ head warden said that I should play and he would take no for an answer as it should be seen as an honour to represent Shawshank.

The morning of the tournament arrived and specially converted coaches with metal bars on the windows were parked around the football field. It was like looking at a scene from Mad Max.

Now I couldn’t remember seeing grass that brown since I was a young child playing kick the bucket during the six week summer holidays. The pitch was more straw than grass and baked hard like concrete. With the temperatures forecast to hit record highs this week I could imagine Steven Spielberg choosing to use this location to film his next post- apocalyptic block buster.

My heart sank when the referee ran onto the pitch wearing a boxer’s head guard. After 10 minutes of unsuccessfully wafting my foot at the ball I couldn’t be certain if the red colour I was turning at this point was as a result of the sun tanning more legs or the more likely case that I was only moments away from appearing on Channel 5’s ‘Deadly Inmate Football Matches Gone Wrong’.

I awoke 5 hours later in the medical centre having been placed on a drip to replace lost fluid. This brings me nicely onto ensuring that the plants in your garden retain as much moisture as they can.

Last week I talked about watering in the evening and conserving water. This week we all need to try to ensure that whatever water we use in the garden it is locked into the soil for as long as possible.

For those of you that take regular baths please rather than just pull the plug out at the end use you used bath water which is called grey water to water your plants in the garden. If you take regular showers, put the plug in to collect your shower water and again use that for your plants.

To lock moisture into the soil, please mulch around the base of your plants. Laying bark chippings around the base of your plants stops the sun from baking the soil underneath dry therefore the plant keeps all of the water from the ground. You can’t control how much water the plant loses from its leaves due to evaporation but you can control to a certain extent what happens below ground.

Move your plants that are in containers if you can to a shadier spot and place a saucer of water underneath the pot for the plants to draw the liquid up. This is where buying garden plant pot wheels can make this task easier.

Your plants may well wilt in the hot sun just in the same as I did but hopefully this heatwave will pass through quickly. However since the medics here won’t let me leave until my temperature has dropped I’m going to enjoy another ice –cream. You have to follow Doctor’s orders!

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T-Dog to Top-Bee

First published 14th July 2022

As part of Shawshank’s’ reform policy I was invited to a local school on Wednesday to give the children a talk centred around caring for our bee population and key to this would be to show them just how important these little creatures are.

In order to engage the children I asked Billy, D Wings resident graffiti artist to design and construct a Bee costume for T-Dog to wear at the upcoming presentation. Mrs McKay provided an old pair of tights and a metal coat hanger which Billy turned into wings. A large black bin liner adorned with yellow strips cut from medical waste bags made the perfect stripped belly for T-Dog. The pièce de résistance was the black fortune teller’s hat provided by X-man’s Auntie Joyce which really finished the costume off.

I began with there are over 250 different species of bee in the UK but probably the one we all think about is the Bumblebee of which there are around 24 different species. At this point I’d gone full David Attenborough whilst T-Dog who’d now fully embraced his role was flapping his arms and making buzzing sounds, this was causing much hilarity with the young audience.

Bees provide us with so much more than just honey. Without them many of the foods we eat would simply disappear. Bees are responsible for pollinating so many of the worlds flowering plants. Without Bees we simply wouldn’t be able to exist. br>
As a consequence of more and more of their natural habitats being destroyed the bee population in the UK is shrinking. Thankfully there are a number of simple things that we can do to help our native bees.

At this point I thought we might be arrested as fuelled by the children’s laughter T-Dog was now chasing the head teacher Mrs Adams around the hall in an attempt I believe to sting her, I’m not sure if she was enjoying it but the children certainly were.

Over the insuring ruckus I explained to the children that one of the easiest things we could do to help our bees is to plant lots of bee friendly flowers such as Foxgloves, Lavatera and Buddleja. Mrs Adams, who was now only a few seconds away from a full scale Cardiac arrest, said that they were hoping to create a nature area in the coming weeks.

That’s great I said as that means you can all help to make a Bee Hotel within your wildlife area. Not all bees live in hives many live on their own and these bees live and build their nests in hollow stems. Into these hollow stems the bees lay their eggs. Bamboo canes cut into small 10cm lengths will provide the perfect habitat for them when stacked on top of each other. Your stack of canes when you look down on them will resemble a honeycomb you can also add reeds and any other hollow stems to your bundle of canes. The bees will move in and then nest inside the hollow stems.

Having now been caught Mrs Adams finished straightening her clothing, regained her composure and thanked us both for attending. To my delight she asked Mr McKay if I could be allowed to come back again and help the children plant their nature area and to construct the schools bee hotel.

To my great surprise she insisted to Mr McKay that T-Dog reprise his role of giant bee, obviously he was a hit. So if you know of anyone who needs a 6ft bee you know where to ask.



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It's a Conspiracy

First published 7th July 2022

The present Mrs Cox was in good spirits this week as news had reached her that Mrs Perkins of number 18 had suffered a severe setback with her preparations for the annual Quadring Dahlia show. Jenny, Mrs Perkins next door neighbour had confided this information to with my wife in the strictest of confidence during their weekly bums tums and thighs workout in the village hall. And because it was in the strictest of confidence my wife had obviously told everyone she knew.

It was on Tuesday morning during one of Mrs Perkins brunch events that the setback was discovered. Jenny and several selected other prominent villagers were invited to into the garden to admire her Dahlia blooms. Unfortunately her Dahlias which in her words looked stunning yesterday now sported shrivelled leaves covered in what at first glance appeared to be talcum powder.

Mrs Cox agreed with me that it sounded very much like her Dahlias were suffering from mildew and the mildew fungus in particular was attacking the plant and causing the damage to the leaves. Whilst in most cases powdery mildew will not kill the plant it is always best practice to treat it and remove any infected leaves whether it’s in the garden or greenhouse.

Powdery mildew is caused by humidity in the atmosphere. When you have warm sunny days followed by warm wet days this creates the perfect conditions for the fungus to grow. This is the exact same weather pattern we’ve been experiencing for the last few weeks. When it rains water falls onto the infected leaves, the fungus then mixes with the rainwater which, in turn transfers the fungus onto the healthy leaves which, then become infected.

Mrs Perkins first step would be to either, move home and never be seen again, or to improve the air circulating around the plant by remove anything which is overcrowding it. She should not put any of the infected clippings into her compost bin as they may well contain the fungus spores thus spreading the infection.

Next Mrs Perkins will have to treat the leaves with a good quality fungicide such as Fungus Clear Ultra. This type of fungicide is a systemic product which means the treatment is absorbed through the leaves and is circulated around the plant. Now with all chemicals she should take time to read the label and follow all of the safety instructions.

To treat she will need to mix 15ml of Fungus Clear Ultra with 1 litre of water, then using a pressure sprayer, spray the infected leaves on both sides upper and lower. This will have to be done daily for at least the next two weeks until the fungus is removed.

Sadly for Mrs Perkins, now that the mildew has already formed on the leaves the damage is done, the deformity it has caused to the leaves will never recover. However that said these leaves will eventually die and fall off and in its place will be disease free growth.

Now Mrs Perkins Dahlia blooms have won first prize for the past six years and with her unable to compete in this year’s competition there is growing speculation I’m told within the village that Mrs Perkins was the victim of sabotage by a jealous grower.



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Water Water Water

First published 30th June 2022

The two foot wide steel reinforced concreate walls of my temporary abode are perfect for keeping my living quarters cool during the day and not too warm throughout the night. This has been a blessing these past few days as the summer temperatures have sky rocketed.

I did receive a visit from the present Mrs Cox this week and my solicitor who told me in no uncertain terms that at my upcoming trial that I am not to try to represent myself again, nor should I under any circumstances pretend to be a barrister by wearing a barristers wig fashioned from a used mop head and to close any potential loop hole a new mop head is also banned.

Mr Jones my solicitor said that all I needed to do would be to stay out of trouble and that he would take care of the rest. With his words ringing in my ears and with my wife’s powerful Medusa like do as you are told stare, I concluded that it would be best to do as I am told.

Back to the chain gang it would be for a few more weeks, but at least they were summer weeks. For me the summer months of July and August are all about enjoying the fruits of your labour from earlier in the year. It is harvest time for Strawberries, Raspberries and Currants plus many other soft fruits. You can really taste the sun in them.

From now until the end of the summer watering should be like mine your main priority, if you can try to use grey water instead of tap water as at this time of the year water consumption increases and so does the risk of a hosepipe ban so wherever possible try to use water that you have captured yourself. Getting a water butt is a great way to collect and store free rainwater for use in the garden. Mr McKay has two water butts which are attached via drain pipes to his greenhouses; it’s not difficult or particularly expensive to install yourself either.

Most people will have finished planting their summer bedding. However that doesn’t mean that the work is over. Regularly dead heading your bedding plants and your hanging basket plants will encourage new flowers and stronger growth plus you lengthen the display of colour and scent that these plants provide into early autumn.

Dead heading your flowering plants is a great pottering task. You can spend a few minutes dead headed a section of your garden or several hours that’s up to you.

In this warm weather you’ll find that your container plants are drying out quickly. When watering your container plants or any other plants in your garden including the lawn please do so in the evening so that the plants have all night to drink up the water rather than watering during the day which will see most of your work evaporating.

On unglazed terracotta pots if you have any is to dampen down the outside. These un-glazed terracotta pots whilst beautiful to look at have a habit of wicking moisture away from the soil. If you place a hand against one of these pots on a warm summer’s day, you’ll feel that the pot is very warm, and because terracotta pots are usually quite large this means that they have a sizable surface area in which to evaporate the water from.

Finally if you have a greenhouse, make sure you open the doors or vents during the day and close them again at night to regulate the temperature and to encourage a good flow of air.

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Change my View?

First published 22nd June 2022

Growing up as a child I can vividly remember the pea harvest we’d get every year on my dad’s allotment. Thinking about it now I can smell the fresh pods and my mouth is watering. The same cannot be said for his runner beans. My dad grow what seemed like millions of them, every day after work he would pop up to the allotment and return with enough beans to feed a small nation. I could never understand why my mum and dad enjoyed eating them so much. As far as I was concerned they tasted horrible and you spent most of the time pulling string from your mouth. All of which has led to my strange eating habit, where I have plate hierarchy, favourite things first, grim last this system works well for me as by the time I’ve my way down the scale I’m genuinely full and cannot justifiably eat anymore.

So you can imagine my lack of enthusiasm when Mr McKay asked me to plant his runner beans out that he had been growing in his greenhouse. The variety I was to plant out was called Polestar. After doing a little research on this variety I can tell you that Polestar is noted as being easy to grow and at harvest time it bears heavy crops of stringless and smooth, fleshy pods and it’s claimed that they taste pretty good too.

Well I’ll be the judge of that. Runner Beans are a climbing plant and the easiest way in my opinion to grow them and to harvest them is to create a bamboo wigwam for which the growing plant tendrils can wrap and climb around.

To begin with prepare the soil you’re going to be planting in by removing any weeds, turning the soil over with a fork, levelling the soil and smoothing to a fine tilth with a garden rake. There’s quite a lot of work there but it shouldn’t take too long.

I had eight plants to sow which meant I needed 8 canes for them to grow up. Using the end of one the 2m canes I drew a circle roughly 60cm in diameter into the soil and inserted the first cane at 12 o’clock then the second at three then six and nine. Next I inserted four more canes around the circle roughly spacing them equal distant from the original four. With each of the canes inserted into the soil to a depth of about 30cm all I needed to do to finish the structure was to just tie the tops together with garden twine to create my wigwam.

To plant Mr McKay’s runner beans I gently teased them out of their pots and using just my hand I made a hole in the soil at the base of each of the canes. Once the plants were in I firmed them into place, they are still quite tender plants so don’t overdo the firming in process. To help kick start the plants natural desire to climb I gently wrapped each of the eight plants tendrils around there respective cane. This is where Mother Nature is incredible as the tendrils only need to touch an object to wrap around it so don’t be too precious during this step. (This doesn’t happen instantly).

A final watering in and the job was done, though when I saw Mr McKay walking from his second greenhouse with a tray full of 20 more plants I knew I may be there a little longer.

After all of this effort they better taste good or else Mr McKay might just be found in a couple of months time tangled up in his own runner bean triffids!

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Mad Dog

First published 15th June 2022

The early summer temperature’s here at Shawshank has encouraged the large muscular men who normally pump iron in the gym to now exercise in the courtyard. I have to confess they are an intimidating sight, most are tattooed from head to toe and all of them have the power to eclipse the sun.

Mad Dog who is the leader and largest of these walking mountains summoned me over on Wednesday for a chat…… Now most people whom Mad Dog needs a chat with invariably return soaking wet from being used as a toilet brush.

With my entire life now flashing before me I puffed my chest out, dropped one shoulder and walked over to him like John Wayne.

I stood there for what seemed like an eternity with my heart beating out of my chest when Mad Dog turned around and told his crew to leave. When they’d all left he walked slowly over and said…..

“I needs you elp”. Okay I said anything for you Mr Mad Dog. My Auntie Rose is going to The Costa Del Sol in a few weeks’ time to drop off some presents and I promised her that whilst she’s away her garden will be looked after. “Are you asking me to escape again to look after your Aunties garden Mr Dog”? “No” he said. Little Jamie will do the looking after when he can, the problem is little Jamie knows nothing about gardening, though he is good at driving very quickly.

Okay I told him with a little planning and investment it could be done. The key to the whole thing is irrigation, irrigation is the process of applying water to the soil which allows plants to absorb nutrients from the ground and grow into healthy plants. Without water the plant becomes dehydrated, wilts and dies.

A simple solution to irrigating your Aunties plants whilst she is away is to simply ask a next door neighbour to water her garden for you. However with special branch watching your Aunties every move from the neighbouring houses in the hope of locating the proceeds of your last job I guess that’s not a good idea.

In recent years the cost of automatic irrigations systems has tumbled in price, and the biggest advantage of an automated system is that it requires no human intervention. Meaning Little Jamie wouldn’t need to be there all the time.

In my garden I know that there are two main areas that are pretty much in full sun all day long. They are my main lawn and the patio area where I grow flowers and herbs in small containers. These two zones need the most help from drying out. I use a Gardena Flex system which is available from all good garden centres and is a little under £50. It consists of an electronic timer which connects to my outside tap into which my hosepipe connects. On the other end of the hosepipe I have attached a sprinkler which oscillates from side to side covering the lawn with an even coverage of water. A great benefit of using one with a timer is I can program the system to water at night when risk of evaporation is greatly reduced.

My solution for irrigating my herbs and container plants is decidedly low tech. For the price of a couple of sandwiches you can invest in a pack of water spikes. They have a thread on one end and a small hole in the other. You simply take an empty plastic bottle, fill it with water, screw the water spike on top and plunge it into the soil in your containers. The hole in the spike then gently releases the water into the soil over a number of days. “Cox” bellowed Mr McKay and with that my meeting with Mad Dog was over.

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Let The Games Begin

First published 9th June 2022

Billy excelled himself this week by tying his red, white and blue pairs of boxer shorts together to create bunting to adorn his cell in honour of the Queens Platinum Jubilee. Mr McKay honoured the Queen by polishing his shoes to a mirror like finish and X-man entered into the spirit by doing his best Prince Charles impression, quite frankly it was rubbish but nobody had the heart to tell him otherwise.

Thankfully for me I wasn’t subjected to X-Man’s full 4 hour Prince Charles show as Mr McKay had asked me to attend a special Jubilee garden party with him that afternoon. At this event which was to be held at Wandsworth the home of his arch nemesis Mr Bronson, the assembled wardens would officially announce the categories that they’d be entering into at the highly prestigious Wardens National Gardening Show which would take place in late July.

As I looked around the event it was clear that each warden had their own gardening secret weapon in tow with them and everyone was sizing each other up, trying to work out who was the best of the best. I felt like a gardening version of Tom Cruise in the original Top Gun film.

All was going well until Tarquin, Mr Bronson’s gardening wingman asked me in front of the other competitors to give my opinion as to what was ailing Mr Bronson’s plum tree.

Mr McKay gave me a reassuring nod to say take him down….

Well I said, I guess from you leading question that the fruit you expect to harvest this year will be well down on the crop you harvested last year. I could see Dougie twitch so I knew I was on the right lines.

I bet last year the tree was bursting with blossom early in the spring and by the summer it was so full of fruit you thought you’d struck plum gold, whereas this year the fruit on your tree is quite sparse. By next year the tree will be back to producing bumper fruit and you’ll pat yourself on the back that the feed you gave it has brought production back to normal levels and you’ll be heralded as the plum tree saviour. Alas Tarquin that’s where you’ll be wrong. Your tree is suffering from “Bi Annual Bearing” which has nothing to do with women who fall pregnant every other year but the irregular production of plum fruit.

There’s nothing to be done this year as the treatment has to happen next year well before harvest. The only option you have to restore normal fruit production is to pick every third fruit off your tree. Don’t be tempted to wait for June drop either as not enough fruit will fall from the tree to help in any meaningful way.

This systematic removal of fruit will allow the tree to produce better quality and larger fruit later that year. There won’t be as much fruit to harvest but the production and harvest of fruit in subsequent years will be more uniform. I can’t control what Mother Nature decides to do each year during pollination time so there may be years where fruit production goes up and down due to these environmental factors but there shouldn’t be any more major boom and bust years.

I then mimed dropping a microphone – boosh. I looked over to Tarquin who was now redder than the ripest of tomatoes who was being hurriedly escorted back to D-Wing by Mr Bronson’s. One nil to Mr McKay.

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The Final Countdown

First published 2nd June 2022

According to the authorities I’ve just 4 weeks left to my court case and this has come as a great relief to Mr McKay as he now knows that I won’t be set free until after the Prison Wardens National Vegetable Competition. This news has played to my advantage as Mr McKay’s wife now serves me chocolate hobnobs with my tea whenever I’m working in their garden and not the cheap ones either but the real McVities ones.

With the temperatures soaring in Mr McKay’s greenhouse on Monday I decided that it was time move his teenage tomato plants from their individual pots into their final growing positions inside a specialist tomato gro-bag. Now I’d been anticipating that this day would come soon so about a week ago I had laid several gro-bags on the floor of the greenhouse and spent a little time making sure that the compost inside was evenly distributed within the bag. The advantage of this is when you go to plant up your gro-bags the compost inside them is already warm.

I always chose larger deeper gro- bags so that the roots of the plant can really take hold. A larger gro-bag by its very nature has a larger volume and this greater volume of compost holds onto moisture and won’t dry out as quickly as a thinner bag. If you’re trying to grow beef tomatoes then definitely opt for a larger bag.

Using a sharp knife make a 5 cm horizontal slit 2 cm up from the base of the gro-bag. This slit will allow any excess moisture to escape the bag so that the roots of the tomato plant aren’t constantly wet. By cutting this slit in the bag you will allow a little reservoir of water to form. This is okay as the roots will have to dig their way down to get it.

Down the sides of Mr McKay’s Greenhouse, either side of the door I have stretched a piece of wire from end to end about 5ft or 150cm high. This wire will help support the tomato plants as they grow.

I only plant 3 tomato plants per gro-bag, that way they are not competing against each other for food. With only three plants per bag there are plenty of nutrients to comfortably sustain them for the first 6 weeks before feed will need to be added.

Using a sharp knife make three X shaped cuts equal distance apart on the top of the gro-bag. These X’s should be no larger than 10-12cm square. Gently fold the cut flaps inside the bag to expose a square patch of compost. Dig a hole which is deep enough and wide enough for your tomato plants to go into so that base of the stem is just below the top of the gro-bag. Firm them in then pinch out any side shoots from your tomato plants and give them a good watering in.

Make a loop in a piece of soft twine and tie it around the stem of the tomato plant below its first set of leaves. I won’t make the loop too tight as I don’t want to damage the plant. The other end of the twine I will gently draw up and tie to the wire from earlier, leaving a little slack. I then carefully wrap the tomato plant around the twine.

On warm days open the windows and doors of your greenhouse and at night close them again. The aim is to try to maintain an even temperature within the greenhouse.

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Paddington

First published 26th May 2022

In the recreation room this week I was fortunate enough to enjoy watching Paddington 2. I think the wardens had put it on since it was based in a prison so hence in their eyes it was a documentary. Well one scene in particular stood out for me and the G-Team and that was the scene in which Paddington teaches Knuckles how to make marmalade. Now I remember watching the present Mrs Cox once make marmalade. She started with about 100kg of oranges, 50 bags of sugar and every pan in the house on the cooker hob. Fourteen steam filled hours later she emerged from the kitchen holding aloft one and a half jars of marmalade, the sum total of her efforts.

Anyhow my mind filled with visions of creating a herb garden from which our version of Knuckles McGinty who had earned title of Shawshank’s Toughest Chef could cook with.

After several meetings with the Governor whom I’d convinced that spending money on a kitchen herb garden might just attract the attention of a certain high profile celebrity chef called Mr Oliver he agreed.

To start with we selected half a dozen varieties of herbs to grow. After much discussion we decided upon Oregano, Chives, Basil, Coriander, Rosemary and Dill. Mr Davidson who runs the wood work department had his team create long wooden planters for us but you can use pretty much any spare container you have for your version of our herb garden.

It’s important to ensure good drainage in whatever you decide to plant your herbs in, so into the bottom of our wooden troughs which had been drilled to allow the water to run out we placed some broken pieces of ceramic pot. (For safety reasons all of the sharp edges of the broken pots had been filled off) The troughs were then filled with John Innes Number 2 compost. This compost is a mix of loam, peat and sharp sand which young herbs will thrive in. It’s important to note that when planting herbs that they will spread, so don’t plant them too close to each other; allow them a little room to breathe.

Potting is very simple, gently tap the herbs out of their pots being careful not to damage the root system and plant them in the compost so that the crown of the plant is level with the height of the compost. Give them a good watering in when you’re done.

This is where the fun really starts as the best way to keep your herbs happy, healthy and growing is to continually crop them. Do not allow them to form flowers and run to seed. However at the end of the season you may want to harvest some of the seeds. Dill seeds are particularly delicious in homemade bread. There may well be a few days or weeks when you don’t particularly need to use fresh herbs in your cooking, on these occasions it is really important as said earlier to keep cropping.

I have politely instructed Knuckles that cropping our herbs even when we don’t need them doesn’t mean that they have to go to waste. He could dry them out by hanging the herbs in bunches in the kitchen or pantry before placing them into jars for use later in the year. I mentioned that he could create infused oils with our fresh herbs for salad dressing etc. He looked at me blankly so for now we agreed to focus on creating the best vat of Bolognese we can.

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Anyone for Tennis

First published 19th May 2022

Working in the warden’s garden isn’t that bad, as a perk Mr McKay’s wife Barbara furnishes the G-Team with regular cups of tea and occasionally a Jammy Dodger or two. This week as a surprise because we had all been turning brown in the midday sun we were treated to a jug of iced Pimms without the Pimms.

We weren’t the only things turning brown in Mr McKay’s garden. His cottage garden which was full of spring flowers from his spring bulbs only a few weeks ago had now lost their splendour. The leaves and their flower heads were in the process of dying back. To ensure that all of the plants energy goes back into the bulb as opposed to setting seed you need to remove the dead flower heads and any of the loose foliage around the stem. Flower bulbs are organic batteries. The bulbs re-charging now as the upper part dies back and in the spring when the conditions are right the bulb will release its energy again when it bursts into spring colour.

To make it easier next year we placed small plant markers next to were the bulbs had emerged. That way if Mr McKay decides he wants other plants planted in and around his spring bulbs then we won’t disturb the existing bulbs too much.

Over in the vegetable garden Billy is on weed watch and T-Dog is keeping a watchful eye for hungry pests tempted to spoil our harvest. Strawberries are a really easy plant to grow and in Mr McKay’s garden he has rows and rows of them. During Wimbledon week he and his fellow warders and wives relax in his garden to enjoy both the tennis and his strawberries.

Around now for most gardeners including Mr McKay their strawberry plants will have begun to set flowers. It is on the end of these flowers that the fruit will grow and ripen. The problem is strawberries are not just loved by humans. Birds, Squirrels, slugs and other bugs are just as keen to enjoy this sweet fruit.

To help protect them we’ve added a layer of mulch to the base of the plants to protect the fruit from rotting by lying in the mud. Straw works great for this so and makes clearly defined walkways between the rows of strawberries. Over the top we stretched out several metres of garden netting which we raised off the ground by about 30cm/1ft by using everyday garden bamboo canes with rubber stoppers on the ends. These ends prevent the canes from slipping out through the holes in the net and more importantly will stop you from poking yourself in the eye.

Mr McKay is lucky as there aren’t any really big trees near his garden and we hardly ever see any Squirrels running about so we are confident that the plastic mesh we’ve covered the strawberries with will suffice. That said if you live near lots of trees and often see Squirrels in your garden then you may need to invest in some wire mesh.

We were hoping that because it’s T-Dogs birthday tomorrow that his mum might be allowed to bring in a birthday cake, sadly Mr Jackson the prison Governor has told us that the prison metal detector is out of order and since we have previous escape experience the chances of a saw being hidden within the cake is too great a risk to take. Never mind Jammy Dodgers it is then...

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Settling Back In

First published 11th May 2022

Things have moved at a pace this week within the walls of HMP Shawshank. I and the G-Team have settled back into prison routine and it would appear that we have been given celebrity status by the bigger boys for escaping. Billy is talking with film producers to re-create our story under the working title of “The not so great escape”. I think it needs work but at least it is taking Billy’s mind off the withdraw symptoms he is suffering in his attempt to get over his tragic Pot Noodle addiction.

Mr McKay has told us that if we play our cards right he could put a good word in for us with the authorities along as he wins the coveted title of Best Onions at the Wardens National Gardening Show.

Mr McKay has reassigned the G-Team to work within his garden and allotment. At the beginning of the week we spent the day cleaning his 3 greenhouses. Anyone who owns a greenhouse or who is thinking about buying one will know that it is really important to regularly clean and disinfect the space. So between us we removed all of the plants and began scrubbing the glass panes, frame and plant staging with disinfectant. We kept the doors and vents open to allow a through draft before popping the plants back in when done.

It’s good practice as well to regularly open the doors to your greenhouse to encourage good airflow. Greenhouses by their very nature create a warm humid environment in which plants thrive; conversely fungus will also thrive because of the closed eco system.

On Wednesday the team started work on Mr McKay’s lawn. Leather Jackets and Chafer Grubs will be becoming more active now and they’ll be causing damage to your lawn. These pests eat the roots of your lawn. You can tell when you have problem because you will see yellow – brownish patches of lawn and large creamy white grubs in the soil.

Nematodes are a great way to treat these types of infestations. Essentially Nematodes are little microscopic creatures that feed on pests; best of all the solution is totally organic.

It’s best to apply the Nematodes to wet grass, so apply on a day after it has rained. Mix the Nematodes with water in a watering can and off you go. The treatment is pet and child friendly which means Mr McKay’s grandchildren can continue to play on the lawn on their next visit.

I had T-Dog check for possible blackspot and aphid damage to Mr McKay’s roses and had him treat them with Rose Clear Ultra. This is my opinion really is the best product out there on the market at the moment. It’s not organic but it is effective.

After lunch on Friday we started checking for Viburnum Beetle Larvae. They start nibbling in earnest this month and if left uncheck they can cause huge damage to you Viburnum plants.

The larvae are yellow in colour with small black spots and about 5mm long. You can either pick the larvae of the plant by hand or treat with a pesticide such as BugClear Ultra. Though once the larvae start to pupate there is no point treating as the damage is already done. Before we’d finished I told Mrs McKay that she could try hanging fat balls in and around the plant in the hope that the birds will eat the fat balls and maybe take a few larvae while there.

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The Games Up

First published 4th May 2022

I was sat typing away whilst looking out of the G-Team van with the sun gently warming my face on Saturday morning when from out of nowhere all hell broke loose. Sirens were going off, Policemen wearing dark ski googles and wielding guns were everywhere shouting clear to each other every few seconds and cutting through all of the bedlam was the unmistakeable voice of Mr McKay bellowing out of his hand held loud speaker.

My time on the run was over. Within minutes the G-Team was taken back into custody and whisked away to Shawshank for processing.

It was like we’d never been away, upon arrival Mr McKay led me and the G-Team out to his prized vegetable garden where we were assigned the task of ensuring that his potatoes that he’d also be entering into the Wardens National Gardening Show alongside his Onion were worthy of top spot.

Before we had absconded we’d already planted his first early crop of potatoes into the ground and they were now in need of earthing or banking up. Banking up does take a little effort but when done you’ll be well on the way to growing a great crop of potatoes.

Using a garden rake, or the back of a garden spade you mound the earth up on either side of the potato plant so that from the side it looks like one long triangular tent of earth. The height of this tent will be around 20-30cm depending upon the top growth of the plant. What you are effectively doing by mounding the soil up is preventing any growing tubers from becoming exposed to sunlight. Prolonged exposure will cause the tuber / potato to turn green which is potentially poisonous.

With the temperature generally rising, the soil will be drying out quickly and locking in moisture is key. A great way to keep moisture locked into the soil is to mulch around your plants, you’ll also find that the mulch will release nutrients into the soil which will also improve growing conditions for your plants and shrubs. When mulching you want to apply a good 5cm / 2inch layer of product around the base of your chosen plant. Before doing so, carefully remove any weed or unwanted plant growth from the surrounding area.

From now on the G-Team is on “Weed Watch” which T-Dog was quite excited about until I explained to him that it wasn’t the weed that he had in mind.

The weeds if left unchecked will compete for the nutrients that Mr McKays prized potatoes require. For me weeds are like that special person who always wants to reel off their medical conditions whilst sat next to you on the bus. Usually they’ve brought a packed lunch with them. You feel elated when it’s their stop but you know tomorrow morning that they’ll be looking out for you again with a new and unusual skin condition that they can’t wait to show you.

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The Good Life

First published 28th April 2022

On the whole we gardeners are an optimistic bunch, the G-Teams pea crop is going to be the best ever, our potatoes are going to taste better than any potatoes we’ve tasted before and we are going to get sponsored by Pot Noodle as T-Dog eats so many.

On Monday evening Auntie Maureen was paid a visit by our arch enemy Mr McKay who was now under mounting pressure to recapture the G-Team. She told him that he would be the first one to know if we ever made contact with her. To repay her for her frankly amazing ability to lie to the authorities we’d decided that Maureen’s hanging baskets would be prize worthy at this year’s prestigious Bicker Fete.

Many of you including Auntie Maureen have bedding plants that you’ve been sheltering from the cold ready for planting up around now, however fear not Baytree is full of beautiful basket and bedding plants grown on their own plant nursery which are perfect for planting now.

When choosing a hanging basket in my opinion it is always best to go for the largest one you feel you can lift and handle. The reason for this is the larger the container the more soil and moisture it can hold. Small baskets hold less soil and dry out quicker. I’m going to plant up a 14in / 35cm diameter hanging basket which Billy, T-Dog and X-man are going to copy.

Start by lining the inside of the basket. Traditionally baskets would have been lined with Sphagnum Moss, however I as a lot of other gardeners prefer to use a Coco liner which is made from Coconut husk. Into the bottom of the basket place a circular piece of polythene which will be about the size of dinner plate. This will help to retain moisture within the basket.

Mix a good quality basket and container compost with moisture retaining granules, all of these you can purchase all good garden centres and fill the basket to a third full. Using a pair of old scissors or garden knife make several equal distant holes around the outside of basket through the liner so that the base of the hole is level with the top of the soil.

I’ve chosen to plant a selection of Bacopas around the sides. Gently tease the plants out of its plug and pass the roots of the plants through the holes and fan the roots out gently on top of the compost. When finished cover with another layer of compost and repeat the process again but stagger the holes so that they are not directly on top of each other, when the flowers begin to grow and cascade the basket will look more natural.

I managed to plant three layers of Bacopas in my basket before reaching the top. That said I left the compost 2in / 5cm below the top of the basket.

Into the top I added Trailing Begonias around the edge and in the centre I planted upright Geraniums. Make sure that when you plant these that you take care not to damage any of the other plants that are nestled below.

As soon as you water the basket its weight is going to triple. So my advice would be to hang the basket where you intend it to live and either use a hose pipe with a watering gun attachment set to a fine spray or a small watering can again with a fine rose. The chances are the hanging basket is going to be above your head so water the basket with a smaller can, it may take longer but you won’t injure yourself in the process. Image

Time to Stop Running

First published 21st April 2022

In return for helping Billy’s Auntie and Uncle on their farm near Bicker we’ve be given a small half acre plot of land in which to call our own. The arrangement seems to be working well at the moment, for the early part of the week we have been simply tidying up in their back garden ready for the growing season ahead. At this time of the year the days are longer and certainly believe it or not the days are getting warmer.

It really doesn’t take long for the soil to dry out at this time of the year and with young plants putting on fresh growth simply keeping on top of watering can become a major task.

A good idea would be to invest in a Water Butt for collecting rain water. I know it’s not going to help right now but in the long run it will mean you can water your plants with free rain water as opposed to using water from the tap.

There is a couple of do’s and don’ts when it comes to watering your garden. The biggest don’t is watering in the middle of the day when the sun is at its’ hottest. Not only will you waste water but you’ll also risk burning any delicate foliage due to the small water droplets left on the leaves. Each droplets acts like a magnifying glass.

Water the base of the plant to avoid getting water on the foliage, also water in the evening. That way as the temperature drops the risk of evaporation diminishes and the plant then has all night to take up the water.

On Thursday morning we were able to start work on our new small holding. Before we could do that though we had to decide on what to sow. What followed was a pretty intense game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, fortunately for me I won, so Peas it was then. When it comes to growing peas I really love “Hurst Green Shaft Peas” they have never failed me and they taste fabulous too.

Nothing makes you look more like a gardener I explained to Billy than growing peas or beans. Up and down the country right now small but perfectly formed bamboo wigwams are beginning to appear moving steadily northwards as the soil warms up.

As with all seed planting, preparing the soil is the key to success. Using a fork we dug the soil over breaking up any large lumps we came across. Be mindful to remove any weeds including their roots as the weed can regrow from the smallest piece of root left in the ground. T-Dog then raked the soil level which also helped to break up the small lumps of soil.

X-Man volunteered to draw our cane guide circle in the soil which had a diameter of about 18inches/ 45cm. We then pressed four 4ft / 120cm garden canes into the soil keeping them equal distance apart around the circle, if it were a clock face they’d be in positions 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock and 9 o’clock. I tied the tops of the canes together to form the bamboo wigwam with just normal string.

We had enough seeds to make 3 more of these wigwams but I wanted to ensure that we could harvest peas for longer by succession planting. X-Man used his finger to make holes about 2inches/ 5cm deep at the base of the each canes on our first wigwam, T-Dog followed behind by filling the holes with soil and Billy finished off by watering them in.

In 10 days’ time we will sow 4 more seeds at the base of the second wigwam and 10 days after that we will sow again, you get the idea. Image

Going Commando

First published 14th April 2022

The April weather is playing its usual tricks. Yesterday it felt like we’d experienced four seasons in just one day. The temperature within the G-Team van dipped below freezing over night before becoming hotter than the surface of the sun by midday. We went to bed wearing everything that we owned and woke up looking like underwear models minus the sock inserts.

The previous evening we had agreed to help Mr Brown from the Quadring area after he had made a very persuasive argument for the G-Team to assist him in his garden the following day. I’m not saying we were easy but after several pints of fine ale and a couple packets of pork scratchings his argument became very difficult to turn down.

As it transpires Mr Brown was looking for some advice and assistance on planting and training Clematis. I explained to Mr Brown that with the ground warming up, Clematis, Honeysuckles and Climbing Roses will be sending out fresh new growth that will need tying in. Tying the new growth to something firm and stable will support the plant and will allow him the opportunity to train the plant to grow in a way in which he find visually appealing.

Clematis is a great versatile plant that can grow over trees and through shrubs and generally create extra interest in the garden throughout the garden season. I told Mr Brown to avoid choosing fast growing varieties of Clematis if he wants to keep the plant in one area as it can soon grow out of control.

Mr Brown wanted to grow his Clematis up the wall next to his kitchen. It was a lovely spot with plenty of sun but without a frame to climb over he’d be disappointed with the results. T-Dog and Billy headed out to purchase some tantalised trellis from the local builders merchants whilst I enjoyed a quick cup of tea.

Billy’s DIY skills were put to the test and twenty minutes later he had fixed the trellis to the wall. It’s important to make sure that when you attach the trellis to the wall that you place spacers behind the trellis in order for the trellis to be about 2.5cm/1inch away from the wall. The best way to do this is to secure two pieces of baton at either end of the trellis. This space will allow the Clematis to climb over and through the holes in the trellis.

Mr Brown and I then dug the soil underneath the trellis and removed the weeds as we went along. X-Man turned Mr Brown’s plants out of their pots and we made sure that the hole was deep enough for the top of the root ball to be 5-8cm/2-3inches below the top of the soil. Once in place we back filled and firmed the Clematis into place then Billy gave the plants a gentle watering in to say welcome home.

I watched as Mr Brown then weaved the clematis stems and shoots in and around the trellis. These shoots are delicate and I told him to take care not to damage the plant. On some of the shoots we used a soft jute twine to secure the shoots against the trellis making sure that we didn’t tie them too tightly.

With the work complete we said our goodbyes and moved on. That’s the third week now where we haven’t seen Mr McKay our pursuer; it’s only a matter of time….. Image

Trust A Trade

First published 8th April 2022

To keep one step ahead of our pursuers this week we’d disguised ourselves as builders, obviously I took the role of foreman, safety boots, hi-vis jacket, hard hat and brown leather gloves completed my disguise. T – Dog and Billy opted for topless labourer in tracksuit bottoms, trainers and hard hat whilst X – man who we all agreed had the firmest bum sported the low jean, low boxers, and bottom cleavage on show role. It’s high risk because X – Man’s bare bottom does draw a lot of attention but we figured that a gang of builders without some level of top bottom on show would stand out like a sore thumb.

Posing as a high end building contractors we managed to go un-noticed by the surveillance team that had been staking out my home. Finally after nearly 3 months away I was re-united with my wife. To keep the G-Team busy whilst I became re-acquainted with the present Mrs Cox I set the team about growing on my new season tomato plants.

Normally at this time of the year I like to get my tomato plants started so that in a month or two’s time they’ll be ready for planting outdoors. Just a word of warning, whilst Tomato plants are available at the moment it doesn’t mean that they are hardy enough to be planted outside just yet. I tend to grow them in my greenhouse but on a windowsill will work just as well if you don’t have a greenhouse.

I’ve always enjoyed growing cherry tomatoes as I prefer the flavour of the smaller fruit. When you get your young tomato plants home you’ll need to re-plant them in a larger pot so that they’ll have a chance to establish a good root system before planting out in early summer.

Fill the bottom of a 1ltr pot with good quality multi-purpose compost. Whilst holding the tomato plant gently turn it over so that the plant and its roots become free of the pot they came in.

Now plant this into the 1ltr pot from earlier and fill the soil around the root ball, let the new soil just cover the base of the plant and firm it gently into place. Repeat this as many times as you need to. The present Mrs Cox had bought 6 tomato plants therefore we planted them into 6 one litre pots. Place them in a long shallow trough and give the plants a water to bed them in. After they’ve had a drink, move them to a sunny windowsill. They’ll need water every so often as they grow.

We’re now growing six plants, one’s mine, ones my wife’s, ones my daughters and the other three belong to Billy, X-Man and T-Dog. Each one has been labelled with made up names just in case we are compromised. Granville, the present Mrs Cox’s uncle will be judging the best tasting tomato when the time comes later in the year.

At 4pm prompt we would pretend to down tools and leave the site. Just in case the surveillance team did search the house we made sure that we’d left plenty of empty mugs about the house as well as liberally scattering carefully chosen pages from the Sun newspaper all over the floor.

In a couple of days’ time the present Mrs Cox is going to expect to see the dining room wall removed creating an open plan kitchen diner. So if there are any builders out there reading this could you please be on standby just in case……. Image

The Pedalo

First published 31st March 2022

Last month we received a text message from Mrs Wainwaite of Skeg-Vegas asking for our help. With the authorities hot on our heels I explained that we needed to be cautious. I’d instructed Mrs Wainwaite to meet us at the far end of the boating lake where further instructions would be given.

Billy with his 25 metre swimming certificate and a bronze medal in lifesaving said that he would circle the lake first on the pedalo whilst we waited at the boat shed to make sure that the coast was clear. Billy having got lost around the central island returned a good hour later. As leader, I helmed the ship. X-Man and T-Dog agreed to be the power plant for the pedalo. Under my Captaincy we navigated the lake and made contact with Mrs Wainwaite by staging a mock collision. Billy to add an air of realism took the role of man over board.

Mrs Wainwaite, who was now loudly apologising for the collision to the assembled crowd’s asked if we would follow her home so that Billy could get out of his wet clothes. The crowd bought it and we had successfully made contact without attracting un-necessary attention.

Over a cup of tea Mrs Wainwaite explained how we could help her. Her family had decided to create a pond in their modest garden. Having dug a sizeable hole a few weeks ago they had run out of enthusiasm and didn’t know how to proceed.

Once Billy was dry we set about work. Into the bottom of the hole we spread a thick layer of sand to a depth of around 10cm. This we gently worked across the base to make a smooth soft layer for the pond liner to sit on. T-Dog and Billy picked out any sharp objects from the sides of the pond. Once we were all happy we carefully laid the pond liner into place. Before filling the pond Mrs Wainwaite placed some heavy stones on the edges of the pond liner to hold it in place. As the pond fills the liner will stretch a little, so when the pond is full we will trim it back and mask the edge.

A week or two later we returned with a van full of pond plants. Mrs Wainwaite and her children had covered the top edge of the pond liner with pebbles and had removed the excess liner.

All healthy ponds require, floating and deep water aquatic plants, a mixture of oxygenating plants, marginal plants, these are plants that are planted on the margins of the pond usually on shallow shelves and the regularly removal of dead plants and debris.

Into the centre of the pond we planted a couple of Water Lilies. As Lilies are deep water plants, Billy our water specialist volunteered to plant them. As they grow their petals will spread out and cover large areas of the ponds surface.

Mrs Wainwaite’s daughter added the floating plant to the pond. We’d chosen some Salvinia Natans – Water Moss and Stratiotes Aloides - Water soldiers. Floating plants do just that they float on the surface of the water.

T-Dog added the oxygenating plants to the pond, we chose Hornwort Ceratopyllum Demersum.

Finally we planted our marginal plants which help to soften the ponds edges but also importantly will take nutrients out of the pond that any algae could thrive on.

Later that evening we all went out for Fish and Chips to celebrate, before hiding out again behind the main pier. Image

The Net Tightens

First published 24th March 2022

The net certainly felt like it was closing in on us this week when T-Dog spotted Mr McKay exiting American Burger at around 2pm last Friday. We cannot confirm whether it was a regular Cheeseburger or one of their mighty King Burgers, but what we do know for sure is that he enjoyed a large portion of potato fries.

This was a worrying development as we were just across the plaza in Boots sourcing treatment with Tracey for Billy’s raging fungal nail infection. To make matters worse Tracey had recognised who we were. Thankfully she was a gardening kindred spirit and agreed to hide us between vitamins and female hygiene. Fiona her colleague kept watch whilst we hunkered down.

When the coast was clear we separately made our way back to the G-Team van. To thank Tracey for putting herself on the line we all agreed that under the cover of darkness we would drive over to Lutton and prune back her roses ready for the summer season. Billy likened us to the Magic Elves in the Elves and the Shoemaker. I had no idea that he was so well read.

There are many types of roses, Rambling, Climbing, Shrub, Hybrid-Tea, Floribunda, Ground Cover and Patio. Thankfully they all require dead heading which is the process of removing dead flower heads followed by the removal of any damaged or diseased growth. You can also remove the branches that are rubbing against each other by using a sharp pair of secateurs.

When we arrived we waited for all of the house lights to go off. It must have been about 2am when we started. With small LED torches carpet tapped to heads and a sharp pair of secateurs which weren’t tapped to our heads we set about tackling her roses.

To begin with as above we cut away the dead growth that we found and cut back any new growth to just above the lowest bud. As I told the G-Team it’s important to cut about 5cm above the outward facing bud on a downward angle so that when it rains the water runs away from the bud and doesn’t collect or pool.

We were all aiming to create a more open shape to her rose bushes. This ideal shape would allow for a greater flow of air through the plant which in turn would help prevent many diseases from taking hold. As Tracey’s roses looked to be only a few years old it didn’t take us long to give them a bit of a haircut.

With the job done we quietly left Tracey’s cul de sac to return to the relative safety of the McDonalds roundabout near Springfields. Please don’t be fearful of pruning your own roses as there really is no need to be afraid. Roses are incredibly tough and even if you give your roses a severe trim they will grow back.

Following a tip off I heard that Mr McKay had spoken with Fiona on Sunday but thankfully she told him that we were heading to Skegness, that should throw him of the sent for a week or two… Image

Fit For A Bishop

First published 17th March 2022

Following an anonymous tip off to the authorities as to the whereabouts of the G-Team we were forced to leave our secret location near the McDonalds at Long Sutton and relocate to the relative safety of the Greggs near Boston on the A16.

Surviving mostly on a diet of sausage rolls and meat based pies we have managed to evade capture for yet another week. Communicating via a mixture of the dark web and Facebook we’ve been checking our messages daily for gardeners in trouble. Using a sophisticated system of heads or tails invented by Billy we arrived at the conundrum sent to us by the Reverend Peterson.

In just over a month’s time the Bishop will be visiting the Reverend and selected parishioners for tea and cake on the rectory lawn. Sadly over the past couple of years due to Covid the rectory lawn has been rather neglected and is now more moss and weed than lawn.

With the G-Team van having broken down somewhere between Boston and Sutterton we were forced to push our broken down van the final few miles to the rectory. Finally we arrived quietly under the cover of darkness like an elite seal team that had just pushed a van 2 miles.

In the morning Reverend Peterson made breakfast for us which didn’t consist of a sausage roll. It was evident to all that the lawn needed a good helping of TLC. I explained to the Reverend that the lawn was going to have to get worse before it will get better. Billy and I used a leaf rake to first remove any loose debris from the surface of the lawn. T-Dog and X-Man collected the leaves etc. and took them to the compost bin.

Once the lawn was clear we all set about scarifying the lawn which is the process of removing moss and deep down debris from the lawn. It is as brutal as it sounds. Using rakes we scrapped the lawn clean until it was free from moss. Looking down at the bruised, battered and bare lawn afterwards wasn’t a pretty site.

Thankfully all of the raking had stood the blades of grass to attention which made mowing the lawn easier. As the grass at this time of the year is growing quite slowly it’s important to raise the height of the cutting blades as to not damage the tender grass.

With the lawn now given a light short back and sides we turned our attention to aerating the lawn. With the Reverends face now turning a funny shade of grey X-Man gave him a garden fork in the hope it would give him something to focus on. Aerating the lawn is the process of making small holes in the lawn to allow the air and rain to get down to the roots and promote stronger healthier growth. Just like a forensic search team we kept in a straight line and worked from one end of the lawn to the other making 4inch deep holes with our garden forks every 30cm / 12 inches apart.

Billy’s task was to use a semi-circular edging tool to tidy up the edges of the lawn.

The final task was to apply a balanced lawn feed. The lawn feed will feed the grass and as it thickens and spreads it will starve any remaining moss and weeds of nutrients from the lawn.

Later that evening with our belly’s full of the Reverend’s famous Lamb Casserole we turned in. So if you are in need of some gardening help and advice or you know a good Image

Break Time

First published 10th March 2022

Evading recapture by Mr McKay has been at the forefront of all of our minds this week within the G-Team van. Following last week’s lucky escape from our pursuers we’ve gone to ground near the McDonalds at Gedney. T-Dog has been keeping our spirits up by belching the alphabet both forwards and backwards, sometimes in with an accent? Luckily for us Billy has an auntie who lives nearby so in return for bed and board we’ve been helping his auntie get her crop of first early seed potatoes into the ground.

Now I would normally prepare the soil a good few months ahead of I planting my seed potatoes. I’d do this by digging in some good old fashioned well-rotted farmyard manure. However it was evident after speaking with Susan, Billy’s auntie that the soil had not been prepared. No need to worry, I have a plan I said.

Like a finely oiled machine and coordinated with just a series of looks, nods and winks Billy, T-Dog , X-man and I had begun digging the soil over in readiness for her chitted potatoes. Potatoes prefer a soil with a high potash content which well-rotted farm yard manure provides the soil. To create these soil conditions now would add Growmore. Growmore contains a balanced blend of potash, nitrogen and phosphorus which won’t cause Susan’s potatoes to bolt.

T-Dog who has a particular interest in weeds was put in charge of removing any and all weeds including the roots from the soil we were digging over. To break up any large clumps of soil we just used the side of our digging forks. We turned the soil over to a depth of about 30cm or a foot.

It was hard sweaty work and Susan concerned for our well-being insisted that we worked bare chested. On the hour every hour she would provide us with a cold can of Diet Coke which she said we had to drink in slow motion to avoid indigestion.

When we’d finished Billy then sprinkled the Growmore over the soil surface. I told him to make a good handful of Growmore cover a square metre. T-Dog then followed behind with his rake which he used to rake the Growmore into the soil and at the same time smooth the soil over.

We used garden string tied from one end of the veg bed to the other to create straight lines which we could use as a guide when planting Susan’s seed potatoes. Sue’s potatoes need to be planted in two rows about 18inches/50cm apart. To make sure there was room between each row, we spaced the rows out by a good 2feet/60cm.

Ensuring that the potato tubers were planted with their shoots facing up, we planted them to a depth of about 8inches/20cm and covered them with soil. When they had all been planted T-Dog raked the soil flat and Billy give them a good watering in.

I told Susan that after a week or two there should be signs of growth visible on the surface of the soil, at this point she would need to pay a little bit of attention to the weather forecasts. Frost can do real damage to young plants, so if frost is forecast make sure that you fleece or cloche them to protect them until the risk of frost has passed.

At the end of the day our bellies were full, and Susan had her seed potatoes in the ground. I love it when a plan comes together. Image

On Your Toes

First published 3rd March 2022

I received some interesting news this week from a friend whom can’t be named for legal reasons. They told me that all of the charges against me had been dropped. Unfortunately I am now facing charges for breaking out of prison. Heading up the authorities efforts to recapture me is Mr McKay my ex head warden. He has good cause to recapture me too as he wants my help to win the title of Best Prison Onions at the National Prison Warden Garden Show to be held at Pentonville in August.

Picture the scene, it was Monday evening Mrs Anthony had invited her best friend Gloria back for a glass of celebratory sherry after winning £15 playing Bingo in Holbeach. When the ladies returned home Mrs Anthony discovered that her front porch was impassable. It would appear that the Wisteria plant which was once the pride of her front porch and talk of her street had grown into a monster. In order for Gloria to enjoy the Harvey’s Bristol Cream as promised the pair were forced to gain entry through an unlit back alleyway.

T-Dog, Billy, X-Man and I all agreed that Mrs Anthony needed help with her overgrown bush.

We sped over to Gedney Drove End to help Mrs Anthony in our black ford transit with green go fast stripes. We drove at near break neck speeds though, that said we did drive well within the speed limits. We might be on the run but we are not criminals.

Now Wisteria is a beautiful flowering plant that needs to be pruned twice a year. Upon examination it was clear that this had not happened for several years. Fortunately for Mrs Anthony now is the perfect time for its first prune of the year.

Billy began by cutting back the new growth to about 2 or 3 buds. It was obvious that this Wisteria needed major pruning to get it back under control for the summer. Working methodically we cut back any old growth or branches that were obscuring the entrance to her porch. For some of the branches we had to cut right back to a main stem.

To mask the large sections of wisteria that we’d removed we gently tied in the new shoots to train them to grow into these empty areas.

Whilst we were there we gave the plant a good feed to help give the wisteria the best possible start for the growing season ahead. Should you be doing this at home you don’t need a specialist feed just good old Growmore will do the job nicely. Alternatively you could use Fish Blood and Bone. Though, if you have sandy soil I’d recommend that you add a little Sulphate of Potash to increase the Potassium levels of the soil.

X-Man fitted a solar powered spotlight to the entrance of Mrs Anthony’s alleyway, that way if she ever needed to reach her property from the rear in the dark again she’d at least have an illuminated walkway.

Ouh Oh

Match Point

First published 25th February 2022

Storm Eunice was at its peak whilst I was playing my weekly table tennis match with T-Dog in the recreation hall. It was my serve to win the match, I tossed the ball into the air and swoosh, I thought I’d played the perfect forehand smash but the ball didn’t move as it ought to, it was as if the hand of god had caught the ball and was slowly pulling it upward. I watched as the tiny ball gained speed, then just as it reached ceiling height boom it was gone.

The storm had only gone and blown off a section of the recreation hall’s roof as well as a sizable chunk of wall! T-Dog, Billy, X-Man and I were all now on the run.

The following morning we were cold tired and very hungry, so I hatched a plan to find the nearest village or small town and offer to do odd jobs etc. . After knocking of many doors I eventually struck gold with Mrs Jones at number 28.

Mrs Jones, though that is not her real name used to be a keen gardener but she told me that she was struggling to bend down like she used to. I explained to her that my team of crack gardeners could build her a raised bed into which to plant her vegetables. This would mean she could still enjoy her garden.

Mrs Jones said that before her husband had passed away he would often tinker in his garden workshop and we should find most things that we would need in there. Mr Jones it would appear had stockpiled some railway sleepers which were perfect for my plan.

Once we knew where Mrs Jones wanted the raised bed we laid the railway sleepers out on their narrow sides to form a square. We then began digging out small strips of soil to a depth of about 3inches which were wide enough for the sleepers to fit in. Billy who has a City & Guilds in Food-Tech used a spirit level to make sure that the timber frame was sitting level.

Next we ensured that the frame was square by measuring corner to corner when both measurements matched we knew the frame was square. Using a power drill and screwdriver we joined the sections of wood together. Billy and T-Dog placed the next layer of timber sleepers on top of the layer we’d just secured. As to not create any weak points we made sure that exposed timber grain edges were at 90 degrees to the edges of the layer below them. We secured them to the bottom layer with long screws.

In the shed there were plenty of broken pieces of croc / pot that we used to build up a layer of croc into the bottom of the raised bed. This layer would help with drainage. To finish we simply filled the frame with general all-purpose compost from the shed.

Mrs Jones said that we looked like we could all do with a good meal. After dinner she told us we should change out of our dirty clothes and change into any of her late husband’s clothes.

Just as I was about to leave Mrs Jones handed me a set of van keys and winked.

Outside on her drive was a black Transit van with a red stripe.

Having now escaped from a low security prison and wanted for a crime we didn’t commit, today if you have a gardening problem, maybe you can hire the G-Team!

Almost There

First published 17th February 2022

I have to admit that whilst standing there in the courtroom opposite the prosecution I felt very confident. The prosecution team obviously meant business they all wore those really expensive little legal wigs with black robes. As to not be intimidated I sported a wig too though mine was made from a used mop that T-Dog had trimmed and smuggled out of “C Wing”. He’d done a great job it was just the right shade of dirty grey. The black robes were slightly harder to fashion but Billy and X-Man had used the last of their prit stick to glue several black bin bags together. In the dim light of the courtroom my robes looked amazing, sadly every time I moved I sounded like a huge crisp packet.

To my dismay, before I could even give my opening statement, the Right Honourable Judge Mr Lock Imup told me that I was in contempt of court and that I should be remanded in custody for another week. “The wearing of fancy dress is not acceptable in my courtroom” he said.

With his words echoing in my ears I was led away.

Upon my return Mr McKay my warden was very pleased to see me and I have to admit I was a little touched. Though, before I’d barely had time to change Mr McKay whisked me off to his Greenhouse to start sowing tomato seeds which eventually will be planted outside once they are ready in a few months’ time.

As a keen gardener Mr McKay had several large heated propagators which are essentially small greenhouses where you can control to a certain extent the temperature inside. Propagators are not expensive and once you’ve purchased one it will last you for a long time.

To start with I filled what seemed like hundreds of little seed cell trays with general all-purpose compost. Once they were filled I sowed one seed into each cell and sprinkled a thin layer of vermiculite on top. This I then followed with a good watering to each cell before placing the tray into the propagator. If you don’t have a propagator you can cover the seed cell trays with a little bubble of cling film. The cling film will reduce moisture loss and increase the humidity inside. Then place them on a warm sunny windowsill.

Because Mr McKay had several heated propagators all I had to do was load them up, close the lid and switch it on. It a few days the seeds will begin to germinate and push their first leaves up through the compost. When they reach about 2-3cm in height they will need to be transplanted from their cells into individual 5cm pots.

Potting on follows the same process above, you’ll fill the pots with damp all-purpose compost topped with vermiculite. Though when you do transplant the young seedlings to their new home you’ll have to be really careful not to damage their tender roots in the process.

I will show T-Dog, X-Man and Billy how to pot them as they will need potting on several times more before they can be planted outside into Mr McKay’s vegetable garden. Fingers crossed I’m not the one potting them on as that will mean that my court case has not gone well again.

#Free the Gardening Four! Ouh Oh

Art Attack

First published 10th February 2022

I found out this week that not only was I going to be prosecuted for stealing my own bird feed that I was also going to be prosecuted for trespassing and squatting in my own garden shed.

I remain positive as having watched “A Few Good Men” several times recently in the recreational centre I’ve decided to defend myself. I am sure that once I give my evidence I can have the case thrown out. T Dog my cell mate has been busy this week drawing a picture of the layout of my garden, front and back as well as the locations of the bird table I am accused of stealing from and my shed in which I had been sleeping in following a miss sent text to the present Mrs Cox’s mother.

T-Dog who normally creates his artwork on carpark walls with spray paint has done a cracking job with his wax crayons on producing “Defence Exhibit A”, though I not quite sure why he’s depicted me with a machine gun whilst smoking Marijuana.

Billy and X-Man have been playing the respective roles of my wife and mother in law so that I could practice my cross examination technique. A welcome distraction to the court case has been working in Mr McKay’s garden. Mr McKay the prison’s head warden gave me the job of preparing the ground ahead of planting out his prized onion sets which, he will enter later in the year at the Wardens National Gardening Show. Mr Bronson head warden at Wandsworth prison for the past 4 years has pipped Mr McKay to the top spot.

I said to Mr McKay that Hercules F1’s have never failed me and that they stood a very good chance of winning if Mother Nature was kind to us.

Using a blunt garden fork as sharp implements are forbidden, I dug the ground over where Mr McKay had instructed me. T-Dog was intrusted with removing any and all weeds from the soil behind me.

Knowing that onions don’t generally grow deep roots I dug the soil over to a depth of about 9 inches or 20cm. With the side of my fork I broke up any large lumps of soil. Billy’s job was to pick out the stones from the soil. My aim was to break the soil up to a fine tilth. I knew though that at this time of the year the ground is still cold and wet and a fine tilth would be impossible, so we endeavoured to get as close to that as possible.

Under the ever watchful eye of Mr McKay I sprinkled a good even helping of Growmore to the surface of the soil. I told Billy that the Growmore helps to enrich the soil and promote healthy plant growth. Using yes you’ve guessed it a blunt rake I raked the soil backwards and forwards with a very light action until the Growmore was totally mixed in with no major peaks or troughs to the soil.

I explained to the boys that we’d finish it there and come back in a week when the soil has had a chance to rest and to start absorbing the nutrients from the Growmore. Next week we’ll plant Mr McKay’s onions.

T-Dog asked “if that was the truth” and I told him “You can’t handle the truth”. We all agreed I was ready. I was now sharper than a very sharp thing. Bring on my day in court! Ouh Oh

It Begins

First published 3rd February 2022

It is fair to say that I was somewhat shocked last week when the present Mrs Cox did not recognise me in a line up parade. Okay I accept the fact that I looked more like a scarecrow than her loving husband of over 10 years however, that thought doesn’t soften the blow.

With my identity still in question, my incarceration at Her Majesties pleasure has been extended.

My three new friends Billy, X-Man and T-Dog have all told me that I am the victim of a travesty of justice and they will help me clear my name, as they too have been wrongly convicted on 12 counts of theft, 4 counts of anti-social behaviour and an incident involving a melon which Billy refuses to talk about.

My new court appointed solicitor Darren keeps emphasising that times have changed somewhat and todays courts are now taking a very dim view on those caught stealing peanuts from bird tables. He’s worried they want to make an example of me which in turn would send a strong message to those who might be contemplating a life of peanut theft.

To take my mind of the court case of the century I’ve been throwing my energies into working in Mr McKay’s garden. Impressed with my pruning of his prized apple tree last week I have been entrusted to prune his wife’s much loved Buddleia .When I’m done Mrs McKay will have a beautiful plant covered in colourful butterflies come the summer.

As many of you know Buddleia if left unchecked will become a twisted tangle of tall stems around 2 – 3 metres in height with the flowers at the very top. With the days believe it or not getting warmer and we can all see that the daylight hours are increasing pruning now makes a lot of sense.

To begin with I trimmed the top growth of the bush to around half its height. This first trim allows you to see into the plant better and makes the remainder of the pruning more manageable. Using a pruning saw, you can use a pair of loppers, I would have but several months ago an inmate managed to remove another prisoner’s intimate appendage. Affectionately they now refer to him as Adolf. Anyhow with the saw I removed all of the woody growth which was over the height of 30cm – 12 inches. I was careful to prune just above a bud.

Any dead wood that I came across I removed with the saw. When I looked down at the Buddleia it had been reduced to 5 or 6 healthy stubs. You might feel that the scalping I’ve given the plant is excessive but opening up of the plant like this will stand it in really good stead for the growing season ahead.

Pleased with how it was looking I gently forked around the base of the Buddleia just to make sure that the soil had not become compacted as I’d worked around the plant. I asked Mr McKay for some mulch which I applied to the surface of the soil around the plant, this was done to help retain moisture.

Later that evening when back in my cell I began formulating my social media campaign to raise the profile of my case. Unselfishly I am also campaigning on behalf Billy, X-Man and T-Dog.

#FREE THE GARDENING FOUR Ouh Oh

Make The Best Of It

First published 26th January 2022

Events have taken a turn for the worse this week but I am trying to keep my spirits up during this turbulent time. Last week I was arrested on suspicion of stealing bird food from gardens in and around the Quadring area. I tried to explain to the authorities that the bird feed was indeed my own but alas as I had been forced to live in the shed following an argument with my wife’s mother in law over 3 weeks ago my appearance was less than that of a gentleman and more of Worzel Gummage.

It transcended that my wife had changed the locks to the house on her mother instructions this made proving my identity impossible as all of my documents where inside. I believed that my wife after returning home from driving her mother to Leicester would confirm my identity. Unfortunately my wife it would appear had decided to stay for a week or two at her mothers and as I have no phone or no way of contacting her, I am now convalescing at Her Majesty’s pleasure with quite a jolly nice bunch of young chaps whom share my love of gardening. Billy, X-Man and T-Dog as they like to be known are very interested in the cultivation of exotic herbs. T-Dog has a particular interest in how he could grow his exotic herbs indoors as sadly he doesn’t have a garden or any windows in his flat at home.

It’s good to know that these young people who have fallen off the rails are taking a keen interest in gardening.

Now Mr McKay my warden seems to have taken my under his wing I think he’s read some of my articles. His living quarters are only a short walk from my wing and he has the most stunning of gardens. In the middle of his garden he has an Apple tree that was planted maybe 3 to 4 years ago. I said to him that it really could do with a prune and now is the perfect time of the year to do it.

So I set to work pruning his tree, the idea I said to him is to remove about 10-20% of the old wood from the tree. Taking too much away in one season would be detrimental to the tree. Using a sharpish pair of secateurs I removed the old growth that was in the centre of the tree. My aim is to create a more open shape which will allow for better air circulation and more light to illuminate the canopy which in turn will help produce healthy ripe fruit.

Every now and then I took a step backwards to make sure that I wasn’t removing too much wood from one area or pruning at one height. I told Mr McKay that I was only thinning the branches and that a full hair cut would be counter- productive.

Pleased with the result I’d achieved I collected the dozen or so branches that I pruned from the floor and proceeded to follow Mr McKay back indoors. To my relief Mrs Cox was standing behind a glass screen. “No I’ve never seen him before in my life” she said to the detective who was standing next to her.... Ouh Oh

That's a Surprise

First published 20th January 2022

There was a definite change in the wind this week akin to the movie scene when Mary Poppins appears for the first time perhaps my luck might just be changing? The present Mrs Cox had agreed to drive her mother home on Monday as she had an important parish council meeting that she just had to attend.

Having lived like Mr Stink from the popular David Walliams book for the last couple of weeks I thought my enforced exile to the shed was finally at an end. Suffice to say any hope of returning to civilisation namely enjoying central heating was cruelly dashed. It would appear that Gillian, my wife’s mother had insisted that the locks be changed before she left, excellent!

Sporting a beard now of biblical proportions I decided that a little drizzle would not stop me from continuing my work in the garden. At this time of the year you can safely say that if it’s not raining then it’s about to rain and with that in mind I’d decided that the gutters and downpipes that fed rainwater to my water butts could do with a spring clean as to maximise collection.

As expected there was a mix of decaying leaves and goo that all needed clearing from the gutters as wells as thick moss which had clogged the downpipe. It was pretty smelly work but to be fair having spent 3 weeks in the shed without being able to wash as the pond was just too cold the smell of rotting leaves was a welcome distraction to that of my own bodily odour.

Within the hour my water butts were beginning to fill with water once more at a rate they had not seen for a few years.

Boyed by my success I turned my attention to the hedge in the front garden. I wanted to give the hedge a good feed of all-purpose fertiliser ahead of the warmer months to come. It really was just a simple case of sprinkling the fertiliser around the base of each plant. Over the next few days the rain would wash the feed into the soil for the roots to take up.

Just after I’d finished I noticed that the bird feeder was empty, at this time of the year food really is scarce for our winged friends so I headed back into the shed to retrieve a bag of wild bird seed, some nuts and a couple of fat balls. Whilst I was there I also gave the feeders and the bird table a bit of a clean just to keep things looking tidier and a little more hygienic for them.

Now I remember that at this point I’d become quite hungry so I looked the fat balls over and after some time concluded that the bug encrusted balls maybe weren’t quite for me nor the bird seed which looked like floor sweepings ,but as for the peanut feeder that was an entirely different proposition. I know that peanuts that you buy for feeding the birds in your garden are not fit for human consumption and that they might taste horrific, however what I wasn’t expecting was the for neighbours across the road to have telephoned the police to report that a strange tramp like man was stealing bird feed.

As the authorities seem to be unable to ascertain my identity until my wife returns home I’m being detained, but on the bright at least the cell is warm. Challenge Accepted

Location Location

First published 13th January 2022

My personal circumstances have changed somewhat recently and I have been forced to move quite quickly into temporary accommodation. My new abode is basic, but at least it is constructed from sustainable sourced materials, the view is quite pleasant, however at night and during the day for that matter the heating and insulation could do with an upgrade, not to mention the ablutions which are shocking.

The period between Christmas and New Year certainly gives you time to think and in hindsight maybe it was not a good idea to insult the current Mrs Cox’s Mother in Law on Boxing Day. I may have accidentally sent a text message intended for my wife to said Mother in Law in which I stated in quite base language that if she didn’t stop mentioning the disastrous Christmas lunch from Christmas Day where I had inadvertently cremated the Turkey(I got my timings wrong) that I would stick her broom stick… Well I don’t think I should go any further for reasons of decency. Suffice to say the message set of a chain of catastrophic events which somehow led to Mrs Cox Senior moving in and me relocating to the shed.

At least all of my garden tools and composts are now all close to hand. It is always a good idea to look at the positives to keep your spirits up and that brings me nicely onto this weeks’ gardening question which comes from Barbara who lives in Whaplode. Barbara has asked what she can plant in her garden now to add a splash of colour whilst looking forward to spring.

For me Primulas fit the bill perfectly as they are available now, they’re incredibly colourful and can be planted out into your garden immediately, though just avoid planting them out if the ground is frozen.

Primulas will typically spread out to about 30cm in diameter with vibrant flowers in the centre set against textured green leaves. Primula or Primroses are essentially wild flowers that thrive in damp acidic soil akin to hedgerows and woodlands.

When planting them, space them about 15 -30cm (6-12 inches) apart and at a depth of 10-15cm (4-6 inches). Many gardeners plant them in straight lines alongside paths and borders but I much prefer to plant them in big groups of mixed colours.

Primulas because of their heritage are part shade lovers so look fantastic when planted around trees and shrubs. That said they are very adaptable and will tolerate a cool sunny spot.

Another option would be to plant them into a deep container with spring flowering bulbs planted a few inches beneath them. As the soil in the container warms up over the next few months the spring flowers such as daffodils will grow up through them and create a container that has real interest and colour.

I need to go now as my phone is ringing and I hope it’s one of those companies offering free government backed home insulation. I wonder if they do sheds. Location Location

That Looks Great

First published 15th December 2021

As I sat on the sofa watching Santa Claus the Movie with number one daughter we both couldn’t help feel just a little festive, the Christmas tree was decorated, the mantelpiece was adorned in seasonal fair, the walls were covered in Christmas cards which all belonged to number one daughter, you see as it turns out the present Mrs Cox and I have no friends.

Looking around the room there wasn’t a space left that hadn’t been festified, yes I’ve made that word up. Number one daughter then had a brilliant idea, we should go out and buy a real Christmas tree that we could plant in the garden and view from the patio doors that way technically, we’d decorated the world. The great thing about this idea is the tree would be there year after year to admire, well that’s the hope anyway.

Coat on and car keys in hand we sped off to you know where to purchase said Garden Christmas Tree. After asking the assistant at Baytree to un-net just about every potted tree they had number one child finally made a decision on a 4ft Nordmann Fir.

As with all planting don’t plant the tree when the ground is water logged or frozen, thankfully the when we planted our tree it hadn’t rained for a few days so conditions were perfect.

Before we planted the tree number one child gave the root ball a really good watering to make sure that the roots were well and truly hydrated. Whilst digging the hole for said tree I on the other hand kept myself hydrated with several large glasses of alcoholic Eggnog. The hole needed to be a little wider than the root ball and deep enough so that the base of the trunk would be level with the ground. If you bury the trunk to deeply there is a risk of rot setting in, so be careful.

I thought choosing the tree took an eternity but that was nothing compared to positioning the tree in such a way so that it looked best when viewed through the patio doors. After what seemed like days of twisting the tree left and right we eventually settled upon the position we had the tree facing in at the very beginning. Though if I’m honest the Eggnog had now kicked in and I’d gone past caring.

It didn’t take too long after that to back fill the hole and give it another watering to settle the tree into place. To help with moisture retention whilst the roots establish themselves I laid a little mulched organic matter around the base of the tree but left a good inch or two gap around the trunk.

This was the really exciting bit now as we decorated the tree with battery operated lights, I had thought about wiring up some mains powered lights but the present Mrs Cox reminded me that DIY was not my strong point and that she was not prepared to enjoy Christmas day in darkness like last year when I blew the electrics whilst re-wiring the plug to her new Dyson hair dryer.

The time for the grand switch on had arrived, I’d invited many celebrities and local dignitaries along with the promise of homemade mulled wine but alas not even the BBC Look North crew turned up, oh well there loss was our gain as the tree and the lights were spectacular.

Merry Christmas. That Looks Great

Challenge Accepted

First published 9th December 2021

Well I thought I would have ago at making a Christmas Wreath as an early Christmas gift for the present Mrs Cox this week. Number one daughter said I stood no chance with my sausage fingers and even if I did manage to create one it would be hideous.

Now I fully accept that my Christmas Wreath may not look as good as those that you can buy from Baytree and other garden centres because they have the skills and experience to make them. That said mine will mean more.

To begin with you’ll need to assemble a number of vital ingredients just like when you bake a cake, you’ll need: Florists Wire, A Wire Wreath Ring, Moss, Holly, Ivy, Evergreen Foliage and any other embellishments that take your fancy like Pinecones, Dried Orange Slices, Cinnamon Sticks etc.

The first task is to wind about 5cm of florist wire onto a section of the wreath ring, please don’t cut the wire. Make sure though that the wire is fixed on nice and tightly.

Next take a good handful of moss and spread it over a section of the wire ring. Don’t spread it too thinly. You’ll notice that moss has a dark underbelly and a vibrant green top. Make sure the vibrant green is facing upwards as you carefully wind the wire around the moss and wire ring thus securing the moss to the ring.

Following so far? Keep wiring more moss around the wreath ring until the whole ring is covered in a neat Swiss Roll of moss.

Now we can take our evergreen foliage such as Conifer trimmings and layer it with pieces of Holly or Ivy or whatever foliage you have chosen. These layered bunches or sprigs should be no larger than about 30cm. Take the florist wire and begin winding the wire around the base of the first sprig or bunch. Try not to wind the wire to far along the sprig as you really want them to fan out slightly. Ideally the hole in the centre of the wreath should not get smaller whereas the outer edge of the wreath gets wider.

Reach for another selection of evergreen material and lay it over the wired end of the previous sprig so that top 1/3rd of green mater is overlapping the bottom layer. Continue adding layers and wiring them in place until the moss is covered with your chosen plant material.

At this point I was really quite pleased with what I had created and was worried that I might ruin it by adding embellishments. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Using the florist wire I wrapped the wire around the base of some pinecones that I had collected. I threaded the wired into the pinecone by winding it around the opened sections of cone. The free end of wire was then wrapped around the wreath to secure.

I did trip up at this point as I couldn’t tie a nice bow out of ribbon to save my life so I asked for help from number one child who created the most beautiful red bow for me.

I presented Mrs Cox with her wreath this morning and her first reaction was to ask me where I had bought it from. I took that as a compliment! Challenge Accepted

Decisions Decisions

First published 2nd December 2021

The first step before picking a real Christmas tree is to understand the differences between the different types of Christmas trees, how many times have you heard people saying “Are these the ones that drop their needles?”

For many the quintessential Christmas tree is the Norway Spruce which, Prince Albert introduced to Queen Victoria way back when which started the tradition in the UK of decorating a tree for Christmas. These Spruce trees have a beautiful scent of pine and dark green spiky leaves the flip side to all this splendour is that the leaves are prone to dropping.

Nordmann Fir trees are fuller trees with thicker set branches, however they do lack the scent of a Nordmann pine, but they keep hold of their needles for longer.

The Fraser Fir is very similar to the Nordmann Fir Tree apart from the fact it is just a little slimmer.

Keep in mind that the taller you go with a real tree the circumference of the bottom branches increases and if you’re placing your tree into a corner it will need to stand further away from the walls which will encroach into your living space.

As a cautionary note, not all trees are the same, those grown in the UK will last better than those shipped across Europe which are bought in bulk and sold off cheaply. If you can avoid these trees please do so and remember as with all things in life quality is worth paying that little extra.

Before making a final decision make sure that you view the tree from all sides, and importantly know the height of the room you want to put your tree into. It’s not a great feeling when you get your tree home and it doesn’t quite look how you’d imagined and you end up wishing you’d bought the other tree. Get to your local Garden Centre such as Baytree in good time before Christmas rather than leaving it until the last moment as you’ll find your choice of trees will be greatly reduced.

When you’ve chosen your tree and you’ve got it home don’t be tempted to bring it inside straight away, leave it in a garage if you have one or failing that just leave it somewhere safe outside in your garden. The cooler you can keep your tree at this stage the better.

Before you bring your tree into your home cut a 2 inch slither of the bottom of the tree’s trunk. This fresh cut will allow the tree to take up water whilst inside your home.

Make sure that you buy a good quality tree stand which has a large enough reservoir to pour water into. I tell you now that’ll you will be really surprised by how much water your tree can drink. You’ll probably have to refill this reservoir at least every couple of days to keep it looking its best.

This is important so take note, please don’t place your tree next to a heat source as this will accelerate the drying out process which will mean your tree won’t look at its best for long. If you do not keep your tree watered the tree will become stressed as it dehydrates thus causing the needles to drop as it tries to conserve water.

Use LED lights on your tree as they give off next to no heat unlike traditional filament bulbs. Decisions Decisions

Promised Colour

First published 25th November 2021

November is a strange time of the year, we are still in autumn but the icy bite of winter can be felt on occasions and that was certainly true this week as the temperature plummeted on Sunday following a relatively mild period. I’ve said it many times before, this time of year for me means family and snuggling up in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and marshmallows.

There is no doubt that whilst there are lots to do in the garden still during November many of the tasks are repetitive such as leaf collecting, sweeping paths etc. They’re not the most exciting tasks to undertake but they are definitely necessary.

I don’t know how many of you have Dahlia’s in your garden but Mrs Bennet from Weston Hills has a fabulous selection and throughout the summer they produce the most magnificently intricate coloured blooms that are simply stunning to behold. I’ve known Mrs Bennet for a couple of years and when she asks me to pop over and lend a hand I am always all too willing to help. Following a fall last year she has not been as active in the garden as she once was. That said she has managed to remain active in the kitchen, which is great for me as she does bake the most incredible Victoria Sponge cake. I swear she must have some kind of secret ingredient like fairy dust or something as it tastes amazing.

Dahlias can be found growing in many gardens throughout the country and in order for these incredibly popular flowers to create their wonderful displays year after next year then a little work is required now.

Well actually that’s not strictly true. The falling temperatures should trigger the Dahlia plant to begin dying back. What we Mrs Bennet and countless gardeners are waiting on is for the first really hard frost of the year as once this has happened we can lift our Dahlia tubers.

The first real sharp frost will cause the Dahlia’s foliage to blacken and all of the nutrients in the plant to descend back into the tuber. Think of the tuber as a living rechargeable battery, all of the energy the flower needs to grow will be stored in this plant battery.

Using a fork carefully lift them out of the soil being sure to not damage the tubers themselves. Clean any loose clods of soil from the tubers and check them for signs of rot. There is not point storing a rotten tuber so discard any that are not healthy. Fill a tub, container or bucket with dry compost and place the Dahlia tubers into the compost. Make sure you store them in a dry frost free environment, a garden shed or dry outbuilding is perfect for this and they will be quite happy in their new winter home.

Just as a final thought for this week, food is becoming scarce in the garden for our native birds so if you can please put some feed out for them to help them through the winter. Bob the robin is a frequent visitor to my garden and my daughter loves watching him fly back and forth from our bird table Promised Colou

Till Next Year

First published 18th November 2021

Finding time to do anything at this time of the year is like juggling a boiling kettle, no sooner have you have caught the kettle then you need to throw it away again before the searing pain of 3rd degree burns kicks in. This is how my life feels at the moment as I flit from one near disaster to another.

Having nearly fallen through my shed roof last week whilst trying to re-felt the roof I was determined to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground for whatever gardening conundrum I was faced with.

Thankfully for me gardening whilst skydiving has yet to be invented. Mr Caiker from Donnington, the posh end emailed me to discuss his flowering currants and that’s not a euphemism. Mr Caiker had four Ribes that were fully mature and from these canes he wanted to know how he could go about taking cuttings from them to make new plants in the spring.

Fortunately for me Donnington is only a few miles away so with plenty of light left I drove over to meet Mr Caiker. I have to say I was treated like royalty when I arrived, there was a pot of freshly brewed tea on the dining room table and a packet of Jaffa Cakes layed in a circle on a separate plate. Mrs Caiker was lovely too, she reminded me very much of Mrs Chapman from ITV’s Grantchester I don’t know why but she did.

Following a good look over each plant we decided were to take the cuttings from. The skill is to take cuttings from the main shoots which are about the circumference of your little finger and are really woody. You need a good 8 to 10 inches of strong wood before the tip of the cutting gets too whippy.

Carefully with a sharp pair of secateurs we took the cuttings. This for me is where gardening really is wonderful. I took my Mr Caiker’s’ spade and made a small incision in the soil about 4 inches deep, one spade width wide, simple.

Once you have your cutting in hand you have to remove the flexible growth from the top of the cutting to leave you with an 8 to 10 inch stick. This is where you need to either have a very good memory or just work methodically as you need to remember which end was the top and which end was the bottom of the cutting as it has to be planted correctly for the cutting to grow.

Into the 4 inch deep slit made with the spade I placed the first cutting making sure that the bottom end of the cutting was the end that went into the soil. Using my right foot which for some reason is my preferred firming foot I firmed the soil around the cutting. Between us we were done in about 30 minutes.

Over the next few months the cuttings will develop new roots and from these cuttings new shoots will appear and from these shoots we will have new plants that in time will fruit. Mrs Caiker promised me a slice of her homemade Victoria Sponge on my next visit in the spring. Role on April! Till Next Yea

That Good

First published 11th November 2021

Bonfire night went with a bang, my £15.99 box of fireworks provided seconds of entertainment, but what an amazing few seconds they were.

The present Mrs Cox’s bangers were a bit of a disappointment my fizzing roman candle barely fizzed and the super dooper rocket finale exploded with such force it broke two panes of glass in my newly cleaned greenhouse.

Once my number one daughter had stopped laughing we moved onto my favourite bonfire night past time, writing words in the air with our sparklers. “Bang” was the longest distinguishable word we were able to create out of our sparkler art.

I know £15.99 is not a huge amount of money to spend on fireworks and too be fair I knew they wouldn’t be very good but when you light the touch paper you are hoping for a New Year’s Eve style celebration as seen in the capitol but alas without fail the dream never quite lives up to reality.

However this week I think that I have found the exception which proves the rule. I’d received an email from quite a distressed gentleman who due to the high winds we had experienced recently found himself with a significant hole at the bottom of the garden were a fence once stood. Peter was shocked at the rise in timber prices and replacing the missing panels, post etc like for like was simply out of his budget.

Now this is where a natural hedge can save you hundreds of pounds over buying and erecting a new fence. Okay it might take a few years before the hedge reaches the height of the original fence but you can be pretty sure it’s not going to blow over if cared for properly. When I say cared for I just mean trimmed regularly.

The ground is still warm and whatever you plant now will put good roots out before the onset of the colder winter months. Best of all bare root hedging is much cheaper than buying established hedging plants in a pot.

After meeting with Peter we agreed that the remainder of his fence would not last much longer and it would be best to completely remove the fence which would leave him with around a 30ft gap at the bottom of his garden.

I calculated that 20 Leylandii whips or bare root plants would fill that gap when planted about 18 inches apart. Leylandii can put on near 45cm of new growth each year so his 2ft plants would not remain 2ft for long. Before we began digging the holes we filled a bucket with water and placed the bare root hedging plants into the water. This would ensure that the roots were nicely damped.

Together we set about digging 20 holes at a depth of 12 inches for each plant and into the soil we mixed some mycorrhizal fungi, this fungus is particularly beneficial to bare-root plants, finally we sprinkled a little over the wet roots as this will turbo charge new root development.

So for a relatively small outlay Peter is now the proud owner of a 30ft wide Leylandii hedge at the bottom of his garden. Okay it’s not going to break any records at the moment, but give it time and his small investment is going to pay dividends. So there are still a few things out that don’t cost the earth that will eventually exceed your expectations. That Good

Frankenstien

First published 4th November 2021

Sunday mornings are my favourite, I can stretch out on the sofa, watch a politics show or two and chill allowing my brain to transition from work to relaxation mode.

Well that’s normally the case but number one child decided this week to invite her best friend over for a sleep over. Personally I think they should change the name to absolutely no-sleep over as I’m pretty sure they didn’t sleep a wink all night. Suffice to say having not slept they needed breakfast and entertaining far earlier than I had imagined.

I did have what I thought was a great idea, with it being 6am I told them to make a scary silent film thinking that would keep them quiet, Halloween and all that. Unfortunately they made so much noise making said film that I had to cancel their Oscar winning epic.

Scrambling for ideas I asked them to get dressed and we’d do some vegetable planting in the garden. At first they looked at me as if I’d asked them to drink their own bath water but after I’d explained that they’d each earn £5 for their services they seemed to come around to the idea. Though in the end I did end up paying them £7.50 each, they were formidable negotiators. After agreeing the price I knew that I’d bought myself at least an hour of peace as no near teenage girl would ever be seen outside in the garden unless they were fully made up.

With wellies and winter coats on we made our way to the potting shed at the bottom of the garden which is next to my vegetable garden. Fortunately for the girls I’d dug the Garlic and Onion bed over last Sunday so it only needed minimal preparation prior to planting. I explained to the girls that Garlic comes in two different types, Hardneck which produces larger but fewer cloves and Softneck which produces smaller more tightly packed cloves. With their eyes glazing over I thought best to not really explain any further.

From the potting shed I passed them the Garlic bulbs to be planted and asked them to gently break them up into individual cloves. This they almost found entertaining as bits of bulb flew everywhere. Number one child then ran a piece of string with her friend holding the other end across the vegetable bed; they made two parallel lines about 30cm / 12inches apart. I took my hand trowel and ploughed the soil along each line to a depth of about 5cm / 2 inches. The general rule of thumb is that the top of the clove should be 3cm / 1 inch below the surface of the soil when planted.

Into each ploughed furrow they planted their Garlic cloves 15cm / 6 inches apart. I showed them that each clove has a pointy top and a flat bottom and when planting it’s important to make sure that the pointy end is always on top. Now I knew that I’d added some well-rotted farm yard manure into the soil last week but I thought best not to tell the girls as they gently covered the cloves with their perfect manicured false nails.

That was it done, I was now £15 lighter but at least I’d managed to plant my Garlic Bulbs for this winter. The girls headed back upstairs for a lay down I think the fresh air had got to them. Number one child’s best friend wants to come over for another sleepover next weekend so that they can tend their Garlic bulbs. What have I done? Frankenstien

Love it

First published 28th October 2021

I personally love it when the clocks change. I love the cold dark evenings that this time of year brings. I love the fact that it means you’re officially allowed by the government to cosy up on the sofa with a cup of hot chocolate in front of a blazing open fire with your dog fast asleep at your feet.

For those reading this with as ASBO an open fire doesn’t mean setting fire to a car.

For many people including my wife the short days and long nights become something to endure and not enjoy. I wish I could understand why. Growing up as a child I remember fondly running home from school, throwing my coat and lunchbox to the floor in the hall then running into the front room to watch He-Man on the telly or Battle of the Planets. The dark evenings meant one thing – Christmas and time to get out the Argos catalogue. For anyone reading this under the age of 16, a catalogue is something we used to have in the olden days, try to imagine a big book full to the brim with of pictures of camping equipment, watches, jewellery and most importantly toys, well that was the Argos catalogue.

Today everything is on touch screen tablets and smart phones. You don’t get to smell the ink on the page or feel the weight of the publication on your lap. Whilst it would seem many things have changed quite rapidly in my living memory thankfully gardening has pretty much stayed constant, the seasons will always change and the clocks will always go back.

For me as soon as the dark evenings appear it I know that it’s time to start planting my spring bulbs ready for a fabulous display of colour next spring.

I thought I would have a go at planting a spring container with some under planting which means that there will be a succession of flowers and interest in the container next spring. Into a fairly large container which has a drainage hole I’ve placed some broken plant pot pieces into the bottom as this aid with drainage. To cover the crockery I’ve used a specialist Bulb and Planting Mix Compost from Westland. This compost I’ve filled to about a third of the height of the container.

On this top layer is where I’ve planted my Daffodil bulbs. Now I’ve covered these bulbs with enough compost to have created a layer which is about 2 times the height of the bulbs. For example if your bulbs are 6cm tall then you need to cover them with about 12cm of compost. Once you’ve covered the bulbs with compost you can then start on the next layer.

This layer is where I’ve added my Tulips and again I’ve covered them with a good helping of bulb compost which is about twice there height. Next I planted my Crocus bulbs and added compost to cover, yes you’ve guessed it twice the height of the bulb.

In the spring of next year first to appear will be the Crocus’s then followed by the Daffodils and finally the Tulips.

So tonight when I’ve finished, I’ll be cosying up in front of the fire and I may even put “One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing” on through the DVD player. Love it

Was it?

First published 21st October 2021

There are not many days that I can call my own but when they occur I try to maximise my enjoyment of them. When my wife and number one child are out clothes shopping together I know that I have at least 8 hours to spend how I wish and that’s exactly the opportunity I was afforded on Saturday.

I could only have had a few sips of coffee and at most one Hobnob biscuit dip when the ping of an arriving email was announced by my smartphone.

I tried to ignore it, I tried to resist the temptation to read it, I knew it wouldn’t be important, I knew it could wait until later but for whatever reason I convinced myself it was from Her Majesty The Queen as the email had come from RoyalPalace.co.uk surely it would be a burning gardening conundrum that was rocking the corridors of Buckingham Palace and the queen needed my help and if that was the case how as a loyal subject could I refuse.

Dear Mr Kidd, Have you been miss-sold your life insurance….. Bugger!

Well since I had looked at that email I thought might as well go through the rest of my inbox. I did pick this email out as it appeared to be from four people I guess they must have been part of a gardening group, well Eliza, Beth, Reg and Ina, I’m guessing Ina is a continental name were having some issues re-erecting a Windsor Castle Greenhouse. I confess I am not aware of the brand name but a greenhouse is a greenhouse.

Charles whom I understand to be the leader of the group which is named after their founder Roy Al is very keen on growing fruit and vegetables and it was his idea to re-build the Windsor Greenhouse. Fortunately the Roy Al group had plenty of volunteers to help. William was helping to insert the glass panels, Anne who was good with her hands took charge of the structure, Kate was on tea duty and Zara would oversee the bubble wrap insulation.

Edward though was struggling with how best to clean the glass so my advice to him was to simply clean the glass with ‘Jeyes fluid’. The Jeyes Fluid will kill any harmful bacteria and fungal spores that have attached themselves to the glass or greenhouse frame. I stressed to Edward in my reply that it is really important to ensure that you don’t transfer any plant diseases from the old location to the new.

Its good practice to fumigate the greenhouse with a specially formulated greenhouse fumigator such as the one from Dead Fast which we stock at Baytree to treat any flying or crawling pests within the greenhouse that could cause damage to the plants that will be grown within it.

I told Zara to wait 24 hours following the fumigation before attempting to insulate the greenhouse. Bubble wrap is a great insulator in a greenhouse as light can easily pass through the clear material and heat is then trapped by the bubbles. My advice to Zara was to cut the bubble wrap into smaller more manageable strips which would fit the window panes and to use greenhouse clips to hold the bubble wrap in place.

William said in his reply to me the following day that he’d like to formally appoint me as the Roy Al Greenhouse Special Advisor Was it?

Zen Master

First published 14th October 2021

Confucius once said that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. So if like me you don’t own a time machine then I guess we are pretty much up the creek without a paddle. Thankfully as it turns out the second best time to plant a tree is actually now.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before the soil is still relatively warm during October and because of this anything planted into has a great chance to establish itself before the onset of the colder winter months.

There is pretty much a tree for any position in the garden and any soil type that you find yourself with. This point was highlighted on BBC’s Gardeners World this week, Monty Don or her Monty as the present Mrs Cox calls him as in her eyes he can do no wrong, if I tell her that a plant can be planted now she will not believe me, but if her Monty says it then that’s a different story. For Christmas she has asked for a pillow with her Monty’s face on it, what makes it worse is there is a six week waiting list for Monty themed pillows.

Anyhow following the programme we both agreed that we really could do with planting a couple more trees in the garden.

Plant and tree names can be quite confusing especially if you don’t speak fluent latin. So I tend to keep things simple. I want to plant a Silver Birch an Acer and maybe a Mountain Ash if I can find one within budget. Fortunately Graham at Baytree has an encyclopedic knowledge of trees and is great at explaining how each one of them will grow and where they are best suited. For those under the age 30 an encyclopedia was the Google of the day except it was a book or a series of books.

A great piece of advice Graham gave me was to keep the trees in their pots which makes it much easier to move them around whilst deciding upon their final positions. It only took 90 minutes of discussion and moving them back and forth until the position we tried them in first was settled upon. Fortunately for me I have good soil so digging the holes for each tree I knew wouldn’t be to taxing.

It’s a good idea to add Bone meal to the bottom of each hole Graham said, Bone Meal is rich in phosphorus which plants find easy to take up. He then advised us to water the hole before planting the tree into it.

Each tree in turn was taken out of its pot and planted. Once we were happy that they were perfectly upright we back filled them with soil and drove a stake into the soil within 2 or 3 inches of the main trunk, we then tied the tree to the stake and finished them off with a really good watering. If you a have a problem with Rabbits in the garden then a £1 investment in a tree guard will stop them from killing your new tree or trees.

I stood there for a few minutes admiring our hard work when the current Mrs Cox ruined the mood by stating that Monty wouldn’t have taken so long to decide where to plant them and that I really was no help at all……

I know my place. Zen Master

Comedy Hands

First published 6th October 2021

Can you Adam and Eve it we are in October already! This for me means one thing. Leaf Armageddon. Mother Nature has decided that leaves are now rubbish and need to be discarded in any means she sees fit so for the next few months until all of the trees and bushes etc. in my garden are naked, I shall be chasing my tale trying to collect the fallen leaves.

I don’t know why I get so obsessed with leaf collection but it becomes all consuming. I am sure that I read recently in a scientific journal that there is a new name which describes my condition – “Person Resenting Autumnal Tidying” or PRAT for short. I believe I am not an isolated case so I take heart in the fact that I am not alone and that I am just one of a small number of PRAT’s.

Now that I have finally been diagnosed as a Prat I have been able to access help for my condition. Currently my German therapist Dr Leev Grabber is working towards changing my view of autumn and helping me to appreciate the new colours in my garden.

One of my many exercises is to repeat the phrase “I love the way in which my garden is filled with beautiful shades of reds, oranges and golds” as I scoop up piles of dead leaves from my lawn.

My Dr has suggested that I make the exercise of collecting leaves fun, therefore he has recommended I purchase the largest set of hand leaf grabbers I can. After a little resistance from me I eventually purchased a pair and I have to say that they are great fun. You can scoop up huge quantities of leaves in one.

During a group therapy session one of my fellow PRAT’s gave me a fantastic tip. He said that he just raises the blades on his lawn mower and mows the grass as normal. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. He went on to say, you’re not cutting the grass, what you are actually doing is shredding the leaves on top of the grass and collecting them at the same time in the hopper at the rear of the mower. The great thing about this method is that the mower blades are effectively mulching the leaves which, speeds up the composting time. Now anything that can speed up taking garden waste and turning it into life giving compost has to be a great thing.

James we shall call him who was also part of the group told me to think about investing in a good quality leaf blower that will blow all the leaves into a nice neat pile for collecting, he said it’s like having a sheep dog for herding leaves, but as good as they are they are a serious investment that you’ll only use for a few months of the year. It does sound like fun though.

As much as I’d love a shiny new leaf blower I have a 12 year old daughter now who would like a MacBook for Christmas (other laptops are available) and I’d rather see her happy. So using my brawn and not my brains I will continue scooping leaves with my comedy grabbers whilst reciting Dr Leev’s mantra.

On a side note though, when my little girl is helping to collect leaves which, inevitably ends in a full scale leaf fight, the large leaf grabber hands certainly give me an unfair advantage in the battle. Not that I’d ever give them up, as her giggle is infectious when she’s covered in leaves. Comedy Hands

Tread Carefully

First published 30th September 2021

Some may say and indeed they have commented on my agility, physicality and overall alpha male demeanour that I could have possibly been a double O agent. I must clarify at this point and that I am unable to neither confirm nor deny my involvement with MI5.

It is not very often that my unique set of skills are called into action but this week I found myself called out of retirement and thrust into the centre of a bitter turf war that was set to escalate unless someone stepped in. Let’s just say someone called “M” sent me a brown file which was full of intelligence gathered over a number of weeks on a mysterious man named Derek.

Now for the record that is not his real name that would be Dave. I believe Interpol had arranged the initial meeting to happen at a safe location which turned out to be the White Hart pub in Quadring. For security and protocol reasons we had agreed on a secret coded greeting, something that could be asked in everyday conversation without being noticed. Well after I had asked nearly everyone in the pub if they had a spare copy of September’s edition of Woman’s Own I eventually made contact with Derek.

It did not take long to ascertain that Derek was a ticking time bomb; he had been driven to the very edge of his sanity by Acacia Avenues local bad boy Felix.

Felix was Derek’s next door neighbours’ cat and during the past 6 months since Derek’s neighbours have owned said cat, his lawn had become littered with Felix’s soft landmines.

In fact one of Felix’s favourite past times is to climb into one of Derek’s beautifully planted flower pots situated just outside of his patio doors and with his tiny nose pressed against the glass, that’s Felix not Derek, leave a little present within the pot without even breaking eye contact.

Cats being Cats will roam whether they want to roam and will go whenever they need to go, though I have never met an adversary that takes such delight in its actions.

That said the solution will not be a quick one that is unless Derek, or his neighbours decide to relocate. The best course of action would be to treat this feline menace just like any other garden pest. Now nobody wants to see any harm come to Felix not even Derek wants that, he just wants his garden Felix free.

Fortunately for Derek there are plenty of products on the market designed to tackle this issue. Most garden centres including Baytree will stock granulised Cat repellents. The granules within the product contain highly aromatic plant oils the odour of which Cats find really unpleasant.

Unfortunately Cats are stubborn creatures and it will take several applications to the lawn, patio, pots and Derek’s borders before Felix decides that Derek’s garden is no longer the cat haven it once was.

I’d arranged to meet with Derek a week or two later to find out how things were progressing. To Derek’s delight he was winning back valuable territory within the turf war. From the patio doors right up towards his garden water feature were now a Felix free zone, however from the water feature to his veg beds were still littered with soft mines. Though given a few more weeks of treatments I think we will be able to declare Derek’s garden a UN mine free zone! Tread Carefully

Just No Need

First published 23rd September 2021

If anyone out there has ever thought about fashioning a tall raised platform about 8ft off the ground to hold a large waterbutt in order for sufficient water pressure to be created to irrigate a medium sized garden, then having spent yesterday building said structure and then subsequent hours dripping wet in A&E for treatment to a dislocated shoulder, bruising and some quite nasty splinters I can talk with some authority when I say don’t do it!

They say pride comes before a fall and that’s exactly what happened, I stood there marvelling at my construction, with cup of tea in hand and chocolate hobnob in the other. It was at that moment that the present Mrs Cox asked me if it was stable and then proceeded to wobble my highly engineered water tower. Alas I had slightly miss-calculated just how top heavy the aforementioned structure was as waterbutt, timber and over 50 gallons of greenish water not forgetting tea and biscuit washed me to the bottom of the garden where I lay motionless looking very much like I’d been shipwrecked. Thankfully after my nearest and dearest or saboteur depending on your point of view had stopped laughing she agreed to take me to the nearest hospital.

Well I can tell you the present Mrs Cox soon changed her attitude when the consultant at A&E said that I would have to spend a night in hospital for observation. Shortly after I was admitted to the ward my wife said she would just pop down to the hospital shop to get me a few bits and pieces as my stay was not exactly planned.

She couldn’t have been gone long before the gentleman in the bed across from me asked if I was the same Mark Cox that wrote for the Spalding Guardian as he’d just seen my name on the end of the bed. My fingers now individually bandaged meant signing an autograph would be impossible and I certainly was not going to agree to a selfie in my current condition.

Fortunately John, whom I now know is an avid fan just wanted to know what would be in this weeks’ article. I told him that I hadn’t written anything yet but that I was going to talk about getting your garden tidied up ready for the cooler months ahead. For instance if you have pond of any size then now would be a good time to net over it to prevent falling leaves from rotting in the pond and clogging up any filters or fountains etc.

As the ground is still warm believe it or not this time of the year is perfect for planting evergreen trees and shrubs. There is still a good amount of heat left in the soil to get them established before winter. You will need though to water them in well and keep watering them once a week if the weather turns dry.

If you have time I said you could also lift and divide up any large overgrown perennials such as Euphobias and Agapanthus. Dividing them now will prevent them from taking over next year and it will encourage new stronger growth next year.

I will have to leave it there John I said as my wife had returned to my bedside with obligatory grapes, toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, and deodorant. And here’s something to keep you entertained she said as she handed me a copy of Robinson Bloody Crusoe….. Just No Need

Flaaashhh

First published 16th September 2021

It was Wednesday at 10:30am when the Kidd household fell silent. I needed the silence to properly focus my immense intellect. I had spent several days in deep meditation to attune my hearing to the radio. I could easily have replaced a sonar operator on a nuclear submarine. Certainly I could have identified that there was another submarine behind me that sank the trawler in the opening scene of Vigil…..

I was trying to control my breathing but my heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest, I just needed to answer one more question correctly and I would smash my Pop Master score.

Here’s your last question Ken said “Complete the Abba song title, M”. Then the radio fell silent, at first I thought he was just building tension then I realised that it wasn’t tension but in fact a power cut. Thinking on my feet or in actual fact my bottom because I was sat down I headed to my potting shed home of my ancient battery powered radio. Sadly by the time it powered up Pop Master had finished and Queen’s Flash was playing.

With “Dispatch rocket Ajax to bring back Gordons body” echoing in my ears I decided to plant up an autumnal container to calm myself down. There’s something about getting dirt under my fingernails that I find relaxing. To be fair my summer containers were now looking past their best so a refresh was needed anyway.

I love Cyclamen in the autumn as I think their tall delicate stems and flowers with large ornamental leaves look beautiful set against Heathers such as Erica Carnea with their purple and pink flowers.

The great thing about Heather is that never fails to provide height and structure to a planter they form a perfect backdrop in which the other plants can shine.

To soften the edge of the planter I like to use Ivy, as it grows it cascades effortlessly over the edge.

Now I always have a selection of planters lying around the shed and only a few weeks ago I’d purchased a couple of half barrels just for this autumn planter.

As with all planted containers it is essential to ensure that the container has good drainage. So to that end I placed some broken earthenware pots into the base of the container. Onto the top of the broken pots I added enough specialist Basket and Container compost to fill the container to about 2 inches / 5 cm below the top of the pot. At Baytree we carry Westland Basket and Container Mix which is perfect for this job.

You need to make some artistic decisions at this point as to which part of the container is going to be the front and which is going to be the back.

Using my hand I simply made a couple of holes for the heathers to go into, these would be my background plants. To help them to establish I gently teased some of the roots out from the main root ball. Be careful with this and less is more. In front of the Heathers I planted my Cyclamen and continued them almost to the front of the container. I left room at the very front of the container for the Ivy to be planted into. I thought it needed something else so I added a some winter flowering Pansies to the mix.

Mamma Mia when it was finished it looked brilliant. Flaaashhh

Chilly

First published 9th September 2021

There is without doubt a definite chill in the air and dare I say an autumnal feel to the breeze. That said the present Mrs Cox has been wearing a polo neck jump, gilet and thick wool scarf since July, she claims she feels the cold.

As Mrs Cox had to unexpectedly work this week I was given the task of purchasing new school shoes for my daughter who is moving up to secondary school this September. I couldn’t believe my luck, the first pair of shoes she tried on in the first shop we went into where perfect, how lucky was I? Sadly my euphoria didn’t last long.

Time seemed to pass incredibly slowly and I was losing the power of rational thought, I think my daughter had tried every pair of shoes in the shop on and the staff who we knew very well by now where asking if they could order lunch in for us. It looked like I was in for the long haul and it was during this moment of shopping despair that I received an email from Mr Arthur whom had a lawn that was battered by his children during the six weeks holiday now needed some serious TLC if he was going to return it to its pristine state in the spring of next year.

I told Mr Arthur that I use a product called “Aftertcut, Autumn All in One Feed and Moss Killer”. The real selling point of this product is that it does all of the hard work for you. So there is no need to get the rake out and give yourself a heart attack.

However in order for the product to work its magic a little preparation to the lawn needs to happen first. Don’t worry it’s not complicated all you need to do is mow the lawn as normal. Then leave your lawn alone for 2 to 3 days then apply the Aftercut product.

You need to ensure that your lawn is dry when you apply the feed and moss killer and secondly you want to be sure that it will rain in a few days. If it’s not going to rain in a couple days after applying product then you’ll need to water it in.

I’m quite lucky because I have a lawn spreader at home which takes all the hard work out of spreading the correct amount of product per square metre to your lawn. You can buy hand held spreaders now which are just as effective.

The instructions on the bag calls for 35g per square metre, so after setting the dial on my lawn spreader all I then had to do was just walk up and down the lawn and let it do the work.

The iron in the formulation will kill the moss in your lawn allowing the grass to grow without competition. With less competition the lawn will be able to withstand the stresses of an English winter. The Potassium in the mix pulls the growing energy from the grass tips down into the roots for storage over winter. Then there is the Nitrogen in the formula that feeds the lawn to create a greener lusher lawn without over feeding as you don’t want a sudden burst of growth prior to winter.

Fortunately whilst replying to Mr Arthur’s email I was able to return my blood pressure levels back to a safe level which prevented me from transforming into a green muscled monster and performing a Hulk smash as we indeed bought the first pair of shoes she tried. Chilly

And The Winner Is

First published 2nd September 2021

I was asked the other day by Lionel my next door neighbour if I’d picked out what winter veg I was going to grow. Yes I said I’m going to plant Broccoli, some Onion sets, Cabbages and a single Leek, the exact varieties I hadn’t yet decided on but I had started enriching the soil in readiness.

There is no getting round this a little effort is required in the preparation of your vegetable beds. At this time of the year the ground will have quite a firm crust and weeds if left unchecked will have spread like an alien parasite all over the soil.

Using a fork, dig down into the soil and turn the soil over whilst breaking up any large clods of soil with the tines of the fork. Be very careful and diligent to remove any weeds from the soil including small sections of stem or root etc. If you do not remove these small pieces the weed will grow back from them. Take your time with this as it can be hard work especially if the soil is really compacted.

Whatever you do though please do not attempt this during the heat of the midday sun, start early in the morning and break when you feel it’s getting to hot to dig and recommence in late afternoon. It’s not a sprint and heat exhaustion is not pleasant.

Once the soil has been dug over and all of the weeds remnants have been removed mix in some Rose Tree and Shrub Compost. To mix the compost and soil together start by scattering handfuls of the compost over the top of the soil and using your fork gently turn the soil over and keep repeating until well mixed. This compost will help to improve the soil structure ahead of the vegetables that will be planted into it.

When you watch gardeners on the television they seem to make raking the soil look really easy. It is not until you to use a garden rake to level the soil off do you realise how difficult it is!

That said just take your time and keep working the rake backwards and forwards until you have a smooth level surface that you are happy with. Once it’s flat it is important that you do not walk on it as this will compact the soil and make it difficult for you vegetables to establish themselves.

Most garden centres will be getting stocked up with winter vegetable plants. You’ll find both vegetable seed and small baby plants which have been grown in small multi cell trays. I prefer growing from these as opposed to seed as you have a bit of a head start.

Whatever you do plant out, make sure you that you use an old scaffold board or long piece of wood to lay on the surface of the soil. This board will transfer your weight across its length and avoid compacting the soil.

Do not forget to use plant label sticks so that you can remember what is growing in which row. It can be all too easy to get muddled up.

For as long as I can remember within the household we’ve had a competition to see who can grow the best vegetables, this year we have changed the rules to see who can grow the biggest Leek.

Wish me luck! And The Winner Is

Spring What?

First published 26th August 2021

Refreshed from my holidays and pleasantly surprised to see that my garden had not descended into a scene from ‘Jurassic Park’ I felt a new sense of purpose and vigour as I pondered my next gardening task.

With it being the end of August I know Baytree has just taken delivery of their spring bulbs from Taylor’s Bulbs who are based just up the road.

In order to create that stunning display of colour next spring in the garden now is the time to start planning the spring show. In Baytree’s Bulbland you’ll find Sarah who is a bit of a bulb queen and she will be happy to answer any bulb related questions you may have.

There are certain bulb varieties that I love to plant including Daffodils, Crocus, Camassia, Alliums and Tulip bulbs. I particularly enjoy the tall stems of the Alliums with their round flower heads which look like a firework exploding in the night sky.

I have never been a fan of formal planting in the garden I much prefer a more natural meadow look and the best way I have found to achieve this look is to open one pack of bulbs at a time and gently scatter the bulbs in the area you wish to plant. I don’t know why but I always seem to start by scattering the Daffodil bulbs and that means throwing them into the air and letting them land wherever they want to.

Where they land is where you should plant them. This random way of planting will avoid straight lines and look more pleasing to the eye. Don’t be tempted to edit where they have landed as you will find once you move it your brain will start to engage and it is all too easy for it too look man made without realising. However if your bulbs end up in or near a pond or ornament please pick it up and scatter again.

Your next task will be to ensure that the bulbs are the correct way up when planting this is really important. Bulbs have a tapered top which when planting needs to be pointing upwards with the flatter base pointing downwards, sounds simple really.

Once I have scattered my Daffodils bulbs I will plant them to the correct depth following the instructions on the packet. All you have to do is to plant the remaining bulbs in the same way being careful to scatter only one type of bulb at a time to avoid planting them at the wrong depth. It’s a good idea to invest in a bulb planter as they are fairly inexpensive. By pushing the tool into the soil to the correct depth it removes a perfectly round plug of soil that you can use to place back over the bulb.

With Tulips such as the Fondant Fancy bulbs I’d chosen they will need planting later in the year, November – December time so that they don’t suffer from ‘Frost Tip’ when growing.

So now that I have my bulbs I need to store them in a cool dry place until ready to plant. My wife’s craft room would be perfect! Spring What?

Hush

First published 19th August 2021

I hope I am not alone in this but I have become a Love Island widower. For some inexplicable reason my normally rational wife and my daughter have become totally hooked on ITV2’s Love Island, to the point that when 9pm comes round not a word can be uttered until the add breaks and then talk has to be centred around the islanders love antics.

My problem is that at 9pm I’m not tired so I can’t even sleep through it. The only solution open to me is to get up earlier in the morning so that when 9pm comes around I can gently nod off in my favourite chair and hence avoid the daily interactions between Pugo and Margo; I have changed their names for legal reasons.

Well the alarm went off this morning at 5:30am and I woke to the most beautiful sunrise over the fens. Teddy my little four legged friend enjoyed his morning walk chasing after any leaf that happened to blow his way but he did take some encouragement to get up.

For some of you reading this like me you’ll have Wisteria growing in your garden. Wisteria is a beautiful flowering plant that needs to be pruned twice a year, and now is the perfect time for its second prune. Start by cutting the whippy green shoots which will be this year’s growth back to about 30cm typically 5 or 6 leaves. This will prevent your Wisteria from growing where you don’t want it too like your guttering and your windows. Also this pruning you’re doing now will encourage the plant to produce flower buds as opposed to more green growth.

In late February next year we can give the plant its first cut of the year by cutting back the growth we pruned now to 2 or 3 buds. This first pruning should be done when the plant is dormant and leafless. Should your Wisteria need major pruning to get it back under control for the summer, you need to tackle it methodically. Cutting back any old growth or branches that are growing towards any windows or that are growing towards your gutters. You can if needed cut right back to a main stem but just take a little care. Should you have to remove a large well established section, gently tie a new younger branch into place against your frame to train the plant to grow into the empty area left behind.

Once you have finished either pruning you can of course put your trimmings into your compost bin, but remember not to put any diseased wood into the compost bin. I would put them in a garden waste incinerator it sounds flash but it’s just a metal bin with holes in.

Feeling full of energy with my new morning routine I decided to mow the lawn, turn the compost over and re-felt the shed roof. Not forgetting the 20 minutes I spent chasing Teddy round the garden to get my Wisteria clippings back.

The big question on your mind then I guess is did I sleep through Love Island and the answer is yes, however I also slept through the One Show, The Chase and Fake or Fortune, eventually I awoke in my favourite chair sometime around 1am with a cold cup of tea in hand and the crumbs of a half-eaten custard cream gently dribbling down my cheek... Hush

Skeggy

First published 12th August 2021

I have spent at least 15 years trying to convince my wife of the merits of Caravan holidaying and despite my best efforts and this quote from Margaret Thatcher perfectly sums up my efforts, “This lady is not for turning”.

There are some battles that alas you will never win and unconditional surrender is the only option available for a happy and harmonious home. The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly caused major disruption and upset too many people throughout the world and I do not wish to diminish anyone’s suffering but sometimes you have to look for the positive in any given situation.

The present Mrs Cox is not too keen on holidaying abroad this year and has therefore through gritted teeth has instructed me to book a caravan holiday for our annual get away.

The only proviso was that wherever I book must be peaceful, relaxing and with not too many tourists. Well there’s only one place in the country which matches her criteria and that’s Skeg-Vegas the sunshine capital of the east. Okay I haven’t told her that’s were I’ve booked but who doesn’t love a good arcade, slight sunburn, a kiss me quick hat and the smell of fish and chips in the air!

We may only be away from the house for a week but a week is a long time in the garden at this time of the year and before we can go I need to ensure that whilst away both my veg garden and my container plants get watered.

A simple solution to irrigating my plants whilst on holiday is to ask Lionel my next door neighbour to water my garden under the promise of maybe a bottle or two of Sangria but since I’m going to Skeg-Vegas I can’t see a stick of rock doing it.

In my garden I know that there are two main areas that are pretty much in full sun all day long. They are my veg patch and my small herb garden by the kitchen back door. I grow herbs in small containers for cooking, fresh herbs taste amazing. These two zones need the most help from drying out.

Fortunately for me I work at Baytree Garden Centre so there are always plenty of people about to ask advice from. Now for around £45 I was able to purchase a Gardena Flex irrigation system. It consists of an electronic timer which connects to your outside tap onto which your hosepipe connects. On the other end of the hosepipe I have attached a sprinkler which oscillates from side to side watering my vegetable patch evenly when on. A great benefit of using one with a timer is I can program the system to water at night when risk of evaporation is greatly reduced.

My solution for irrigating my herbs and container plants is decidedly low tech. For the price of a couple of sandwiches you can invest in a pack of water spikes. They have a thread on one end and a small hole in the other. You simply take an empty plastic bottle, fill it with water, screw the water spike on top and plunge it into the soil in your containers. The hole in the spike then gently releases the water into the soil over a number of days.

I know my daughter and I will have a cracking time fingers crossed Mrs Cox does too that is once she’s calmed down a bit. However if it all does go wrong then maybe she’ll water the plants? Skeggy

The Wii Harvest

First published 5th August 2021

On Sunday my daughter said that we should all play the Wii (other gaming platforms are available). After much discussion regarding which game to play it was decided that we would play Wii –Fit, for those of you unfamiliar with the title it is essentially a fitness game which requires balance and strength. At school I was always very athletic so naturally I went first in order to set a high bar for the others to follow.

The game begins with inputting you name then height and finally the weight of your clothes. Once that information has been accepted you step onto the Wii Balance Board for it to measure your weight and BMI (Body Mass Index) essentially how fat you are.

Too my surprise the game calculated that I was in fact overweight and that I had the BMI of a pork scratching. Up early the following morning as to not be seen I headed out to one of those sport shop places which are generally full of youths and purchased sports clothing and sweatband.

I was advised that shorts are so last season and that to be properly dressed I had to have a pair of specialist sports leggings. Assured that they would look cool on me I handed over my hard earned cash and headed home.

But rather than go straight home I thought I would pop round and see Mrs Wilkinson who a month or so ago had messaged me asking for some help with harvesting her main crop potatoes. They were now ready to pick and store. Since some form of physical exertion would be required it seemed entirely appropriate to change into specialist leggings and sweatband.

I could tell that Mrs Wilkinson was impressed with my physique as she could not take her eyes of me.

Now you can tell when your main crop potatoes are ready to harvest as the leaves will turn yellow and begin to die back. Using a knife cut away the top growth and with a fork start to gently lift the soil under were the main plant stalk has grown. Don’t dig too vigorously with the fork as it is all too easy to spear said potatoes with the tines of the fork!

Try to pick a dry day to harvest your potatoes as the drier they are when you lift them the better they will store. Discard any bruised or pest damaged potatoes and store them in thick paper or hessian bags. It is important to only store perfect potatoes as rotten potatoes can cause others to rot. I knew at some point Mrs Wilkinson would ask how many potatoes had been harvested so as to not forget I kept repeating the running total 124 potatoes, 125 potatoes etc under my breath.

Once bagged store them in a dry, cool and frost free place. Ensure no natural light reaches your potatoes as this will turn them green making them poisonous to eat. Periodically check upon them and remove any that are any showing signs of decay.

Pleased with my progress I stopped to count the number of potatoes harvested. Mrs Wilkinson went inside to make a cup of tea. Sadly she emerged 15 minutes later with two men wearing white coats. Apparently earlier that morning a psychiatric patient had escaped from a nearby hospital. It only took 24 hours for my wife to convince them that I was in fact not the escaped patient. Thankfully following counselling I can laugh about it now….. The Wii Harvest

Bribed

First published 29th July 2021

This week I received an email from a Mrs Ann Nonymous. Her email was heartfelt and beautifully written but most of all she promised that if I could help her there’d be a packet of McVities Hob Nobs in it for me and enough cups of tea to dunk each oaty biscuit into. Obviously other Hob Nobs are available but Ann had found my particular weakness, I couldn’t say no.

Last week she was invited to Jesinta Grahams summer garden party as Ann was her husband’s secretary. Jesinta had everything, a cook, housekeeper, stylist, plastic surgeon on call, private tutor for her two children Tarquin and Allegra plus a large team of gardeners ensuring her garden looks like a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Jeremy, Jesinta’s long suffering husband at the party was reduced to punch bowl duty. Jesinta made it clear to everyone that she had grown all of the fruit and vegetables within the punch and it just simply had to be organic since Allegra now vegan had returned from university.

During the party Jesinta asked Ann if she was enjoying the punch. Yes of course she said and not wanting to be outdone went on to say that you must visit soon as this year’s crop of home grown lemons are ready to harvest and they are divine in a gin and tonic.

Ann was rather proud of herself but her pride was short lived as on the journey home Jesinta called her to say she’d be popping around over the weekend to enjoy said gin and tonic. Now normally this wouldn’t be a problem but Ann had made the whole thing up and was now in desperate need of one a citrus plant and two a crash course in how to look after them.

A quick trip to Baytree Garden Centre will fix the lack of citrus plant issue. You’ll also be able to pick a nice pot or pots for them to grow in so that they don’t look like you’ve just bought them.

Citrus plants are not hardy but you can grow them indoors over the winter and place them outside during the summer months which, is why it’s always best to plant them in a container so that they are easier to move about.

When moving them outside which can be done from mid-June to September place them in a sunny sheltered spot but have some fleece ready just in case the temperature plummets overnight. Lemons will not tolerate temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius.

A conservatory is a great place to grow them and they’ll need a good level of humidity to stop the plant from drying out. During the summer months water them often preferably with rain water and in the winter reduce the amount of watering, do not over water them over winter.

In March each year either repot the plant or add about 5cm of fresh compost to the top of the pot. Citrus plants require regular feeding, from March to October feed them with a high nitrogen based feed and in the winter change to a specific winter citrus plant feed. A Lemon plant that is around 1m tall should only really be allowed to have 20 lemons growing on it so be prepared to keep thinning the fruit from the plant.

I wish you luck Ann and be prepared to sever Jesinta’s internet connection and bribe the paperboy not to deliver this week’s paper when published. I fear he’ll want more than Hob Nobs! Bribed

Downward Spiral

First published 22nd July 2021

You will may well have heard of Pilates and more probably Yoga, some of you may well have participated in the above activities though for me my body shape does not lend itself well to tight Lycra leggings.

That’s why this week after a great deal of thought I have decided to create my own holistic range of exercises. I call my programme the Downward Spiral. It involves heavy breathing, a little stretching, occasional wind breaking, copious amounts of tea and carbon neutral hob nobs. By that I mean you walk or cycle to the shops to source your hob nobs.

The first core exercise which I call the Christmas Potato requires a sweat band, a checked shirt or blouse, brown trousers or long shorts. Shoes should be stout, well made and waterproof. Christmas Potato Zen Masters can be identified by their muddy gardening gloves hanging out of their back pockets.

To perform the Christmas Potato you must start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart. From this position 3 deep breaths will be required before reaching down and picking a pot or container that is approx. 50 litres in size. This container you will place on the floor or bench to your left whilst ensuring that you back remains straight.

With you right hand lightly hold your garden trowel and whilst making level strokes collect a trowel full of multi-purpose compost from your right and deposit said compost into your container which is on your left turning only from the waist. Alternate between multi-purpose compost and John Innes number three compost. Please do not forget to breathe during this exercise, in through the nose and out through the mouth.

When your container is full your trowel can be placed to onside and thanks to the trowel gods can be given. Now this is where the exercise intensifies so please make sure your sweat band is on correctly as sweat in the eyes can really sting.

Take one pace backwards and then one pace left, then breathe. Your container full of the 50/50 mix of composts should now be in front of you. Step forward with your right leg, then bend from the waist and use your right hand to gently make a hole in the soil approximately 10cm / 4 inches deep. Step back with your right leg then step forward this time with your left leg and as before make a hole with your left hand. Repeat this move 5 times.

Into these five holes we are going to sow your Christmas Potatoes. Charlotte is a great variety to plant they have a great new potato flavour with cream coloured flesh, perfect for serving with cold meats at Christmas. In addition they are resistant to blight.

Open the packet then breathe. Step forward with your right leg and place one seed potato into one of the holes made. Cover with soil and step back. Alternate with your left and right leg and hand until all of the potatoes have been planted. Reaching to your left with your left hand, water the potatoes in. You may well need to fill another container based on the number of potatoes in the seed pack.

This is now the most important part of the whole exercise so please pay attention; following any form of exercise you must replenish lost nutrients and hydrate. So open your ethically sourced hobnobs and re-hydrate with a restorative cup of tea. Downward Spiral

That Went Well?

First published 15th July 2021

or months now I’ve been struggling to sleep. I seem to wake every night at 2:30am covered in sweat and breathing heavily. I have to tip toe downstairs and make myself a drink, this calms me enough to get back to sleep.

In the morning a thick layer of Horlicks will have crystalized on my moustache and beard making me look like a mountain climber. It takes a good 10 minutes in front of the bathroom mirror to chip away this virtually indestructible compound I call Horlicksium.

Following months of this I’ve become tired and irritable and I’ve developed deep dark circles around my eyes which have me look like Uncle Fester from the Adams Family.

Thankfully today is the day that all of my sleepless nights have been building towards. At 2:30pm I shall be standing in front of the assembled members and committee members of the Gedney Rose Associations Annual rose competition.

I understand their passion for roses as they are easy to grow and they look and smell beautiful. In fact in my opinion every garden should have a rose growing in it. At this time of year, roses look at their very best and the roses available from Baytree are no exception.

Most roses are happy to grow in a site which receives at least 6 hours of sunshine each day. Some varieties will tolerate less. When planting a rose its good practice to plant them in an area where there is a good movement of air, that way you reduce the chance of developing a fungal disease, the flowing air will help to keep the plant dry. Roses really like rich, loamy, free draining soils in which to be grown in. Whenever I plant a rose I always incorporate a little Mycorrhizal compound. This special fungal compound works with the rose and helps improve nutrient and moisture uptake through the root system, because of this the plant will establish quicker than if no compound is applied.

You’ll need to dig a hole about 12 inches wide (30cm) by 18 inches deep (45cm). The reason for the deep hole is that you want the graft union that is the point in which the rose variety you have selected has been grafted to the rootstock (this union will be obvious when you look at the rose) is an inch below the level of the soil. Into the bottom of the hole add some well-rotted farm yard manure and tease the roots from the rootball before planting. Once in position, backfill the soil and water the rose in well.

At this time of the year a little light pruning with a sharp pair of secateurs may be needed just to trim back any long growth. Roses can be susceptible to attack from Aphids and other diseases. Aphids will not kill the rose but they can distort the foliage and petals. That said it is treatable.

With only minutes before I had to go on stage and judge the competition I bit the bullet and asked my wife to use her make up skills on my eyes. At least I wouldn’t look like Uncle Fester anymore. I thought it event went really well, they were all very friendly, they kept smiling at me, it was lovely. But my wife failed to inform me was that she only had time for one eye. I must have looked like a Giant Panda! That Went Well?

Uh Oh

First published 8th July 2021

Early in the week I received a small item of fan mail, I would describe it as black, skimpy and if you were to break wind, it would perhaps even play a tune. You can now add a new name to the list of UK superstars who have legions of adoring fans, we’ve Tom Jones, Take That, Brotherhood of Man and now Mark Cox.

The present Mrs Cox hasn’t spoken to me for a couple of days now because I have refused to reveal the identity of the phantom thong mailer. I’m sure she’ll come round once she realises that her husband is going to be a global gardening sensation. Move over Alan.

Truth be told I don’t know who sent said thong but it was only a couple of weeks ago when I gave a talk to the WI about caring for our native bees....

Well my garden is full of bees at the moment and in the evening you can hear a low life affirming hum emanating from the bottom of my garden where a few years ago I planted a wildflower garden with my daughter. Sadly she has now become a teenager so anything to do with her father is deeply un-cool. I had no idea that Harry Enfield's television series Kevin and Perry was in fact a documentary.

It was whilst outside in the garden that I happened to chat to Lionel my neighbour over the garden fence. Lionel with the help of his son in law earlier in the year had created a new pond next to his patio. All had been well for a while but gradually his pond had turned from picture perfect to swamp. Lionel’s pond was covered in a thick layer of green gunge that Noel Edmonds would have been proud to use on a poor audience member at one of his house parties.

The gunge obviously was algae and this layer of algae was suffocating the plants within the pond by stealing the nutrients his plants needed. The first course of action was to remove this gooey layer from the pond.

When the pond was first created, it would appear that Lionel and his son in law left too much of the water’s surface exposed. As the light levels increased during the year the algae within the water was able to take over. To prevent this from continuing to occur, Lionel needs to reduce the amount of light entering the pond by half to two thirds. This can be achieved by adding floating plants to the pond. Most garden centres have an aquatic plant department including Baytree.

Water Lilies are also great for reducing light and will survive in your pond all year round unlike the floating plants which don’t tend to be hardy. Water Lilies which are deep water aquatic plants will need to be planted on the pond bed. Simple Oxygenating plants will starve the algae of the nutrients it needs to grow. To round everything off as a final safety net plant a range of marginal plants, these plants are planted on the shallow shelves around the edges of the pond.

I was really thankful when were done to see Lionel’s daughter Penny bring some much needed refreshments from the kitchen. She must have been hot like me as her blouse was undone revealing her black bra. “Can you pop round later and attend to my marginals” she said with a wink…… Uh Oh

Real Deal

First published 30th June 2021

It was whilst watching an episode of Dickens Real Deal, when Lionel my elderly neighbour called me from over the fence. He seemed to be in quite a panic. He explained that someone from BT was on the phone and that they needed to dial into his broadband router as it wasn’t working correctly and he could be liable for a fine. “Hello” I said pretending to be Lionel’s son as I took the phone, I found myself talking to Alan from BT well, he said his name was Alan but from his accent I would bet money on the fact that he had never been called Alan in his life, he wasn’t from BT and that he was actually calling from Mumbai.

Alan told me that they had been monitoring my father’s BT router and that he wasn’t getting the speeds that he should have and that his router was spreading viruses. Luckily Alan and his team of experts could solve this for him and if I’d just let them access Lionel’s computer they could resolve the matter.

Now here’s the thing right from the off I knew it was a scam and if I had let them take control of his computer which wasn’t even switched on to fix his broadband router he would have found himself having to pay a substantial ransom to have them repair the damage they had caused plus, more than likely they would have tried to steal all of his passwords.

I said to Lionel not too worry it’s just a scam and if he gets a similar call to either hang up or come and get me again. He offered me a cuppa but for the past 6 weeks I’ve been waiting for David Dickinson’s tan to reach just the right shade of mahogany so that I could take a photo along to Dulux for them to mix that shade as up as a fence paint.

Unfortunately when I returned home the credits were already rolling. With that I decided to head out into the garden to tackle my tomato plants that were in need of a little tender loving care.

Like many of you this year I am growing several varieties of Tomato’s for our annual household competition to see who can grow the best tasting fruits.

As the tomato plants grow you need to eliminate any unwanted growth, you really want the plant to put all of its energies into producing fruit.

When the first tiny tomato fruits appear is the time to start feeding your tomato plants. When the plant has reached about 4ft gently remove the leaves beneath the lowest truss of tomatoes. This will allow more air and light to get to them and they’ll ripen more evenly. It’s is important to pinch out the top shoot when you can see four trusses of fruit on your tomato plant. Also pinch out any side shoots if you’re growing a Cordon variety, all of this will focus the plant into fruit production. Having lost the household competition for the last 2 years I don’t intend losing again.

I have a secret weapon this year as Lionel my next door neighbour as a thank you for helping him earlier has given me some of his famous tomato feed.

Every week from now on I’ll be feeding my prize winning tomatoes and watering them regularly to ensure that they don’t split or develop black patches.

In all seriousness though these scammers who tried to swindle Lionel only need to scam a few people at a time to make it profitable for them. So please look out each other and don’t be taken in!

Real Deal

I'm Saying Nothing

First published 17th June 2021

It’s been over a week now since my brush with the authorities and I still think I’m being followed. Luckily I have every Jason Bourne film on DVD so I keep watching them over and over again to hone my skills. Though, I’ve scaled back my training program since I broke two vases in the front room whilst attempting a round house kick.

Like most of you I hope you’ve been able to enjoy your gardens this week, I know I have as I’m pretty sure my house is bugged. Being able to breakfast in the garden before work whilst watching the birds fly about has been delightful.

In particular there is a beautiful little Dove which has made a new home perched in the tree above my patio table. He is very territorial as he hardly ever seems to move. I’m sure he likes me because he always seems to be watching me. Sometimes he’s able to get his head to turn through a full 360 degrees, that’s nature for you.

Anyhow one morning whilst checking emails I came across one from Mrs Fiona Bennet-Ingleson. Fiona had written to me to ask why the Hydrangea in her neighbour’s garden was a different colour to that of her own even though they were bought at the same time, same garden centre and they’re the same variety.

Hydrangeas are wonderful deciduous hardy shrubs but when you mention Hydrangea’s the first thing that you’ll picture in your mind are big mop headed showy flowers usually pink, blue and sometimes white.

Upon arrival at Fiona’s garden I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a cup of tea and a biscuit though after a few minutes I did start to feel a little strange as I couldn’t stop talking and Fiona seemed to be really interested in my involvement with last weeks’ Wygate Park incident, I told her everything including the names and a ddresses of all those involved she was so easy to talk to.

It seemed like hours passed before talk turned to her Hydrangea’s and that’s not a euphemism. I looked at her Hydrangea which was pink in colour and compared it that to her neighbour’ over the fence which was blue. Ah I said, both specimens are Hydrangea Macrophylla and the pH value of the soils they are planted in determines the colour of the flower heads. Acidic soils, meaning soils which have a pH value of below 6 produce blue flowers and alkaline soils which have a pH value above 8 produce pink flower heads.

Luckily I had brought my pH testing kit with me which you’ll find in most garden centres and tested the soil and as expected the soils in the two neighbours’ gardens were different. I explained to Fiona that if she wanted her Hydrangeas flowers to be blue she could feed them with a fertiliser which is low in phosphorous but high in potassium such as Miracle Gro Sulphate of Potash.

Before I could show Fiona how my pH testing kit worked there was a knock at the front door. Fiona said it was her taxi to the garden centre and that the man in the dark sunglasses and smart suit was her driver. She said she was excited to buy some Sulphate of Potash.

As she sped off I turned to her neighbour Caroline and said what a lovely neighbour she had, yes she said though I only met her for the first time 2 hours ago……

I'm Saying Nothing

I know My Rights

First published 10th June 2021

After being questioned for over 6 hours my ordeal with the authorities was over I could have elected to have legal representation during my questioning but I’d seen every episode of Silent Witness so I knew how to handle myself.

A few weeks ago I made what would surely have been a BAFTA award winning documentary but alas before it could be submitted for consideration it was recorded over with a wedding video.

My work documented the simmering rivalry between two renowned gardening gangs within the Woolram Wygate area. Had this documentary been aired who knows how many lives might have been changed for the better.

The authorities told me that they were following up an anonymous tip that I was seen near the swings in Wygate Park when a scuffle between the two gangs ensued. I told them that it was more of a bundle than a scuffle and it involved a lot of walking stick waving and possibly the world’s politest of insults thrown at each other.

I’d seen enough crime dramas to recognise Good Cop, Bad Cop and I remember when the bad cop left the room. Don’t tell them anything this is a trick I told myself! As expected the good cop came over and whispered in my ear.

What he said was a total surprise” I’ve just moved house and the garden is twice the size of our old house, it’s well established, is there anything I could do other than stand there every night with a hosepipe to water the plants?”

Well the first thing I would do as we approach the warmer drier sunnier days is to invest in a water butt. Connect the water butt to one of your downpipes and you’ll be able to collect rainwater to which you can water your plants with. Rain water in fact is the best thing to water your plants with and best of all it’s free. Add a pump into the equation and you’ll be able to use your hosepipe.

Mulch around the base of your plants to help retain moisture and you already doing the right thing by watering your plants at dusk, that way they have all night to absorb the water before the heat of the sun dries the soil the following morning.

If you want you can invest in an irrigation system which will water your plants automatically at pre-defined times of the day. They can be expensive if you have a large garden but once you have it you have it. A cheaper alternative would be to invest in a number of watering spikes. They look like plastic ice cream cones with a small hole at one end and a screw thread on the other. You screw them onto used plastic cola or lemonade bottles which you fill with water. All you need do then is place them spike end down into the soil around your plants that need most moisture. The upturned bottle will then slowly drain into the soil over a number of hours.

Before I could say anymore Gene Hunt returned and told me I was free to go but to not leave the country. I didn’t even get a biscuit! But at least I was a free man again.

I know My Rights

Tonight Matthew

First published 3rd June 2021

Tim head of Real-time Productions called me and said there had been a mix up with the tapes of my pilot documentaries and that they had been accidentally recorded over with his daughter’s wedding.

I was furious and told Tim in no uncertain terms that I would never work with him again. My hopes of becoming a renowned hard hitting documentary maker had been crushed. From there I began my downward spiral. On Saturday when I awoke and opened the curtains I could see a bright yellow orb floating in the sky. It couldn’t be the sun because we haven’t seen that since 2019, the only logical conclusion to draw was stress induced hallucinations.

Fearing for my sanity I returned to bed where I stayed for the next 72 hours. During that time I wrestled with my demons, forgave those who needed forgiveness except for Tim and only when my demons had been cast asunder did I emerged into the sunshine as a new man.

Ready to face the world I began reading through my emails to find this week’s gardening question. Mary’s email immediately caught my eye. It read Dear Mark I love Jammy Dodgers and all things baked but since my son went off to university I’ve not been able to eat them as we would share a packet when we were out in the garden together. My son Lee is a passionate gardener and is coming home in a few days and I’m desperate for the garden to look loved when he gets home instead of the slightly over grown mess I can see from my back door.

How could I refuse such as passionate request? Whilst driving over to Marys a thought hit me like a bolt of lightning, “Gardens in Their Eyes”. I’m back!

Mary’s back garden is a fairly typical garden, there’s a lawn, several planted borders and a small water feature. Following all Covid guidelines we set about tidying and bringing the garden back to life. The first task was to simply mow the lawn and trim the edges. You’ll be amazed what a transformation simply cutting the grass makes. At this time of the year your lawn will need mowing at least once a week.

Her planted borders just needed a good weed around her plants to tidy them up. To add some much needed extra colour we planted a selection of summer bedding including Geraniums, Surfina’s Marigolds and Begonias to name just a few. The great thing about summer bedding is that they are readily available. As with all things in the world you pay for what you get, so please buy your plants from a quality garden centre preferably with their own nursery such as Baytree.

Planting them is so simple just dig a small hole into the soil, gently tap the base of the plant pot or pack and plant into the hole you’ve just made.

Summer bedding can be planted in colourful rows of regimented colours or you can mix it up for a more natural look. With the weather now definitely warming, retaining moisture within the borders is a must so when we’d finished with the planting we mulched around the plants with a good thick layer of bark chippings.

Within two to three hours we were done, best of all when finished the Jammy Dodgers appeared.

”Tonight Mathew I’m going to be a Chelsea Show Garden.” Que the smoke!

Tonight Matthew

Second Series

First published 27th May 2021

Since last week’s gardening article I’ve been approached by a television production company to continue my investigations into the gardening underworld.

The word on the street is that the Lucerne Planters are getting ready for a clash with the Wintergold Avenue Gardening Association. The east side of the park by the swings will form the battleground.

The Lucerne Planters favour a square rectangular topiary form while the Wintergolders promote the round, soft cloud like shape.

Through negotiation with an intermediary I am invited to meet the Wintergold Avenue’s leader at their potting shed HQ. Maureen head of the group offers me a Garibaldi biscuit which is the international biscuit of friendship.

Derek her deputy leads me outside to view their topiary creations. You have to start with the right shaped plant to begin with he says. So when buying a plant look at it from all sides that way you can decide how to work with it for the best result. You need to have an idea in your head of how you want it to look, but don’t be too precious as it may not grow how you want. You’ll need a little patience when growing topiary he adds and suggest that novice growers begin with Buxus which is a good traditional topiary plant.

When your new plant has put on about 8cm of new growth you can by using a pair of secateurs or sharp scissors trim back the new growth to 2 or 3 leaves above the new shoot. Work your way around the plant until you have the rough shape you want. Do not cut too much away and do not cut away the old growth. At this time of the year you can give your Buxus a plant feed as well.

As a matter of fact now is the best time to trim your plants as this will encourage more shoots which you’ll be able to trim away in mid-summer. It’s a marathon not a sprint. With those words Darren and Alan escort me off their turf.

The following morning I am snatched from outside the post office by two men who force me into their car. A blanket is hastily put over my head and when it is finally removed I find myself in the kitchen of a large house. Geoff, head of the Lucerne Planters walks in and says come with me. I follow him into his garden which is a sea of white patio stones and perfectly manicured green lines of hedging cut to about knee height.

The Lucerne Planters believe that geometric shaped topiary is the true art form not the mashed potato clumps created by the Wintergolds. Geoff is then handed a large pair of shears which he brings towards me. I can feel a bead of sweat run down my forehead before finally settling on my top lip.

Geometric topiary requires planning and careful trimming and pruning and the secret is a very sharp pair of shears. The bead of sweat has now left my top lip and is now hanging off my chin like that of a dribbling tearful toddler.

We share the same principles of topiary to that of the Wintergold’s Geoff says but eggs are eggs and bacon is bacon. With that my encounter is over.

Surely that’s a BAFTA!

Second Series

Into The Breach

First published 20th May 2021

I have decided that this week I will in-fact shine a light into the murky underworld of hanging baskets.

Like all good documentaries it has to begin with an interview featuring the host me and a shadowy silhouetted figure talking to camera with a disguised voice.

From here on in I will refer to this shadowy figure of the hanging basket underworld as Graham. Graham my researchers tell me has spent over 35 years working within horticulture and is known for creating criminally beautiful hanging baskets. Over his career he has made hanging baskets for the great and good of the Spalding area including Mrs Plummer and Miss Brooks. Though if asked they will deny it!

Graham takes me to his old stomping grounds where some of his most spectacular flowering arrangement where created and he begins to open up to me about how he likes to work.

Graham is an imposing character with hands the size of shovels, it is difficult to believe that from such monstrous digits such fine work is created. I ask him in his own words to explain his technique.

The secret to a great hanging basket is to choose quality healthy plants and good quality compost such as Erin’s Tub and Basket Compost. It is blended specifically for hanging baskets and summer bedding plants.

Line your hanging basket with Sphagnum Moss or a specialist liner such as one made from Coir which is coconut husk.

Once you’ve lined your basket cut out a small round circle of plastic from an old compost bag about the size of a side plate and place this in the centre of the basket. This small circle of plastic will help hold onto a little reservoir of moisture. Half fill your basket now with compost. In this first layer we will plant our trailing plants such as trailing Fuchsias and Begonias. You might need a knife to make holes in the liner, into these holes you will thread the plant with the roots laying on top of the compost layer and the flowers hanging from the outside. Cover this layer with compost so that the compost is about 2 inches or 5cm below the top of the basket.

In the centre of this top section plant your upright plants such as Petunias, Geraniums, Verbenas and Lobelias etc. Around the perimeter you can plant a few more trailing plants which will soften the edge. Be careful when planting as to not damage the roots of the trailing plants below. But if you’re careful you can really cram the plants in. The fuller you make your hanging basket look now the greater and more dramatic the display of colour will be.

Your hanging basket will need feeding to keep it looking its best and to promote growth, now you can either choose to feed it with slow release tablets which will last 6 months, for this method you’ll need as a rough guide 4 tablets for a 12inch 30cm hanging basket. Your other option is to use a liquid feed, though with this method will require more regular feeding.

The mood changes as Graham spots a rival basketeer. I can sense that a basket off is on the cards so fearing for my own safety I ran for cover. I don’t know what happened to Graham after that.

Just for your information Graham our horticulturalist who has worked here at Baytree for over 35 years is definitely not Graham….

Into The Breach

Shine The Light

First published 13th May 2021

It was late evening on Wednesday when I conducted my weekly telephone conversation with my mum. We covered all of our usual topics which included the weather, how the family were and AOG – any other gossip. I could hear in mums voice that we were nearing the end of the call because it was five to eight and the love of my mum’s life Bradley Walsh was just about to host another episode of ‘Beat The Chasers’. Bradley could read the telephone directory cover to cover and my mother would find him hilarious.

So rather than spoil her enjoyment of her Bradley I said my goodnights and hung up. Too my surprise within 2 minutes of ending the call an email alert pops up onto my smart phone, yes smart phone, I don’t know how to use it but it looks good, I’m down with the youth!

b_walsh@itw.co.uk was asking me to name a partial shade loving plant that would do well in most soils, it couldn’t be Bradley could it and if it was, what would I tell my mum. I excitedly opened the email, was it multiple choices, and had Beat the Chasers added a new email a friend round? Well it turns out no; it was from Mrs Belinda Walsh who lives along Pennygate in Spalding.

I scratched my head for a bit because there are many plants that would do well in the conditions that she speaks of. Anyhow I came to the conclusion that if it were me and my garden I’d plant a selection of Heucheras.

The great thing about Heucheras is that they come in so many shapes, sizes and colours and if you plant them in clumps they look stunning. They are slow growing and the majority of varieties will provide colour nearly all year round so you’ll always have interest in the garden the variety Paris for instance is a strong red colour with small frothy flowers. Best of all though is that most Heucheras require very little maintenance.

There foliage tends to have scalloped or wavy edges that really softens a planted border. Heucheras will tolerate the sun but during particularly warm spells the leaves can become scorched so it is always best to plant them in a partially shady spot. They don’t like the soil to become too wet nor do they like a soil that is too dry. I know this makes them sound like a Goldilocks plant but I can assure you they really aren’t.

To plant them is really simple just dig a hole into your border so that the soil level of the pot is level with the top of the hole you’ve just dug. Into the bottom sprinkle a little granular fertiliser and just tease some of the roots of the plant away from the root ball. This way when you plant it you’re giving the roots a helping hand at getting into the soil. Water the Heuchera in, now during the growing season every 4 weeks give them a little liquid feed. It’s always a good idea to mulch around them to help the soil retain moisture during warm sunny spells.

So there you have it Mrs Walsh –Final answer Heuchera, all I need to do now is wait for my winner’s cheque to arrive.

Shine The Light

We Need Looking After

First published 6th May 2021

It’s often said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and in the main I agree with that statement, being partial to a chocolate covered hobnob or two myself however, I draw the line at offal based meatballs. I am of course referring to Faggots.

As a child I remember waiting patiently for my father to return home from work so that we could all sit around the table and enjoy a meal together. Now whether it’s just a coincidence or not I always seem to recall that when Emmerdale Farm was on, and I going back to the classic Emmerdale days of Annie Sugden, Amos Brearly and Mr Wilks we always seemed to have said Faggots. My father would lap them up and I would do everything I could to keep them away from my mouth eventually having to concede defeat when my Mum would force me to eat them. I’m sure there are laws regarding preventing child cruelty now.

For the past 32 years I have managed to dodge having to ever eat another Faggot that was until this evening when I had to pop round to my Aunties house to help her with her summer bedding plants.

Like many people she had visited her local garden centre and purchased a fine selection of summer bedding plants and because as in previous years she had planted them out she had done the same this year, unfortunately some of them where now not looking their best.

The spring temperatures this year especially at night have been colder than in the previous years and these tender summer plants have not fared to well.

I explained to my Aunt that we would need to treat them with care for the next few weeks and at night we should cover the plants that are already in the garden with some garden fleece just to provide some insulation. As for her other plants that she had not yet planted out they could be kept in their pots and placed outside in a sunny spot during the day and then brought back inside at the end of the day as the temperatures fall.

It’s the same with hanging baskets, leave them out during the day and either fleece them or bring them inside overnight. What we are in effect doing is hardening off these summer plants. Now you’ll find a fantastic selection of summer bedding plants pretty much everywhere this month but what you really need is great advice and that’s what you’ll get at Baytree I said to my Aunt.

Fear not as once we approach the middle of May the temperatures should be high enough during the day and throughout the night for your bedding plants to take hold, put their roots down and begin their summer show of colour.

For those people reading this who are concerned about buying their bedding plants now please don’t be. Choose the flowers and plants that you like and when you get them home just keep them altogether in a shallow cardboard box; it makes it so much easier when you’re taking them in or out.

My Aunt lives on her own so she asked me if I’d like to come in and stay for tea, Emmerdale’s about to start and I’ve cooked Faggots, they’re your favourite your wife says.

Someone’s in big trouble when I get home!

We Need Looking After

Okay it's My Fault

First published 30th April 2021

To demonstrate to my wife that I am thoroughly modern man and down with the youth I purchased a digital radio for her. Analogue is so noughties. Now between you and me I thought it would be easy enough to set up, surely all you had to do was switch it on and let it do its thing. Step forward 2 hours and I’d finally managed to set it up. My wife kept popping into the kitchen during this time to ask how I was getting on or if I needed any help. I wasn’t going to admit defeat so my stock answer was “no I’m fine love, I’m just testing all the features”. I think she bought it.

Anyway I’m now sound asleep and I am violently awoken by what sounds like a youth playing boom boom music through their car stereo outside my bedroom window. And like all youths, their music can only be listened too at ear bleeding volumes. I leapt out of bed rushed downstairs ready to tear this ne’er do well a piece of my mind, when I realised that the source of the boom boom music was in fact the radio. I’d only gone and managed to set the alarm on the ruddy thing!

I opened the front door and pretended to berate the imaginary youth as the entire household was now awake. To avoid heading back upstairs to answer any probing questions I decided to fire up my laptop and go through my emails. Stephen from Fosdyke wanted to plant a Japanese Maple in his small courtyard garden and asked what was best way to go about it.

Japanese Maples, commonly known as Acers are easy enough to grow and do well in containers in shady, sheltered spots. The great thing about Acers is the colour of the foliage; they are slow growing and work well in small gardens.

I told Stephen to look at planting one of the Acer Palmatum family as they tend to grow wider than taller this is opposed to the Japonicum varieties which grow taller and slightly thinner. Both will grow to eventually reach about 6ft tall.

Japanese Maples do tend to grow better in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Now I know that Stephen wants to grow his in a container as the majority of his courtyard garden is hard landscaped.

To plant, Stephen will need to fill his container with both a John Innes number 3 and ericaceous compost. For good drainage it’s always a good idea to place broken crockery in into the base of the container.

As we are in early spring his Acer would benefit from a slow release plant food. The soil will need to be kept moist so once planted he will need to give the Acer a good watering but he should avoid allowing the soil to become soaking wet.

It will need regular watering to keep the soil moist especially as it’s been quite a dry April. In the winter Stephen will need to bubble wrap the Acer and the container as the roots of the Acer are vulnerable to frost.

Fast forward 8 hours and there’s a bang at the door it was my neighbour Dan. “Thanks for waking everyone up last night, next time you’re going to shout at the invisible man think again”!

Oops.

Okay it's My Fault

We All Need A Lionel

First published 22nd April 2021

Is it me or do the heads of the water, electricity, telecoms and gas boards, that is if there are boards anymore, all meet up once a year in a dimly lit room, whilst smoking large cigars and enjoying the odd brandy or two, and at this meeting do they all stand in front of a large wall planner whilst taking it in turns to through darts at it. If their dart lands on an empty day then that’s the day they will dig up the road, however they must have a secondary rule like the one in Bullseye which prohibits 2 darts from scoring on the same day.

That’s how it must work or why else would they schedule work on the same road in the same place for 3 different utility companies across a 3 week period. Perhaps that’s part of their quality control, each utility company digs up the work of the previous company and then awards them points out of 10.

Perhaps they should take a leaf out of my neighbour Lionel’s book as his garden looks amazing year after year. Please stay with me here as there is a point coming.

Lionel is getting on in years and is not as spritely as he once was so to keep on top of his garden he gets help from his family which has not been easy these past 12 months. Now Lionel knows from experience how things grow in his garden and when certain tasks need to be undertaken in order to ensure it always looks its best.

That’s no mean feat but like many successful gardeners out there he succeeds by simply planning around the seasons. Whether it be when to give his plants some feed or when they need moving to a more sheltered spot etc. The list goes on.

Now nobody is ever going to know everything there is to know about gardening but the best place to get gardening advice is not of the internet or YouTube, it’s from real gardeners face to face like the team we have here at Baytree or at any other local garden centre. I say local because the further away you move the more the soil and micro climate changes.

Lionel is a dying breed but what’s great about Lionel is his passion for gardening and how he wants his family and his grandchildren to love gardening as much as he does. With lockdown easing and with more people being able to meet outdoors why not speak to your neighbour over the fence and learn how they grow there tomatoes or what they feed their prize winning Dahlias. The question is not really that important. It’s the engagement with someone who understands gardening, loves nature and wants to share their passion with you.

We can all learn something, that missing nugget which elevates even the novice gardener. Gardening need not be difficult, there’s plenty of information out there contained in real people who exist in the real world and not just solely online.

Be more like Lionel and plan how to look after your garden and if you don’t know how to plan ask a gardener and don’t be like a utility planner. That is unless you are a utility planner and if that’s the case then I’m sure you’re a great planner.

We All Need A Lionel

Not with These Legs

First published 15th April 2021

It would be remiss of me not to mention the sad passing of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh last week. Whatever political persuasion you are you have to acknowledge the amazing work this man did for our Queen, our country and to the entire world. He will be sadly missed.

Hopefully in the next few weeks the daily temperatures will increase to the levels where I’ll be brave enough to risk showing my legs to the sun. Unfortunately the queue for masculine legs must have been a long one when I was in the womb and somehow fate had decided that the far shorter queue for skinny lily white legs was the better option.

With that in mind I read through my emails to find a question which required indoor work and fortunately enough I’d been sent a question from Ben who resides near Holbeach, he was looking for some advice on planting hanging baskets.

I told him that it’s still a little too early to plant out hanging baskets at the moment with summer flowers but that doesn’t mean that we can’t grow our plants on in a greenhouse or bright window sill before planting out in May.

Summer bedding plug plants are ideal for this task because since they are still relatively small they are inexpensive and can still be found in most garden centres. To begin with you’ll need to mix some multi-purpose compost and perlite together. The aim is to create a loose, open, and free draining mix for your young plants to be transplanted into.

Gently remove the plug plants from their trays by pushing them out from the bottom, the blunt end of a pencil works really well for this. Once removed give the roots of the plant a good misting of water with a handheld atomiser. Keep the plug plants upright when finished as you don’t want to damage their delicate stems, they are just babies after all.

Fill as many 9cm pots you’ll need with your compost mix. If you’ve bought eight plants you’ll need eight 9cm pots and so on. Using a garden dibber or any other tool you fancy make a hole in the compost which is slightly larger than the plug itself.

The next stage is hold each plant by its root plug and gently tease the roots out. This will encourage the roots to spread out into the new soil. Be careful here not to damage the stem of the plant. Pop your plant into the hole and gently back fill the compost mix around the root system. Firm the compost down, but don’t be too aggressive with this.

This all sounds far more complicated than it actually is, but once you get started it really is a doddle. When all of your plants have been potted on give them a good watering using a fine rose in your watering can as then it won’t deluge the plants with water, or wash the compost away. Transfer your plants to either a greenhouse or windowsill.

They’ll have to live there for about 4 – 5 weeks. The nutrients in the compost should easily feed your plants.

I read someone that during the war ladies used to cover their legs in gravy browning to look like stockings. I wonder if I can do the same with multi-purpose compost and water?

Not with These Legs

I'm Not Ashamed Anymore

First published 9th April 2021

This week I posted a strongly worded letter to my local MP in order for him to set up a parliamentary enquiry into what is in my opinion, the highly addictive chocolate that they use in Easter Eggs. I know chocolate, I have campaigned for years to return the modern cookie sized wagon wheel back to its original proportions, when I was a child they were the size of a dinner plate I’ve also petitioned for the Snickers bar to revert back to Marathon its true ancestral name.

I can happily enjoy a Marathon without immediately needing to ram more chocolate into my face. This I’m sure many of you will agree is normal moderate behaviour but when faced with Easter egg chocolate I cannot stop eating until the entire egg is finished irrespective of size.

At a Covid safe reinstate the Marathon Bar march I met Douglas, he too shared my addiction to Easter egg chocolate and like me Douglas certainly lamented the decrease in the average size of our beloved Wagon Wheels. With tears in his eyes Douglas told me how things were better back then, summers seemed to go on all year, it always snowed at Christmas and every spring the lawn looked immaculate, sadly not this year.

I could see it was difficult for Douglas so I did what any normal human being would do. I offered to pop round and give him some advice on how to improve his lawn.

Douglas’s lawn looked like the vast majority of lawns up and down the land at this time of the year. That said his lawn was in poor condition he had a few bare patches and on the whole it was more moss than grass.

I told Douglas to go and get a couple of rakes from his garden shed and to put the kettle on. To begin with we would use the rakes to remove the moss and thatch which is dead grass and debris from the lawn. I did warn him that when we’d finished it wouldn’t look pretty but it was an important stage.

We applied some Westland Safe lawn to his lawn, the reason why we choose Safe lawn is exactly that, it is pet and child safe perfect for his young family.

The product also contains grass seed which will help seed any bear areas in the lawn. Moss forms in weak lawns so the stronger and fuller we can make his lawn the better. The grass will effectively kill the moss off as it won’t be able to compete for nutrients. Fortunately I had an old lawn spreader in my van which made it easier to scatter the feed over the lawn. However you could feed the lawn by hand but you’ll just need to pay more attention to making sure the lawn is evenly feed.

I asked Douglas to put some netting around the bare patches in his lawn just to keep the children, birds and pets away from it whilst the new grass germinates.

Douglas asked if I wanted paying for my help and advice to which I said no need that was until he pulled a packet of chocolate mini eggs of his pocket.

Next week I’m off to EA, Easter Eggs Anonymous.

I'm Not Ashamed Anymore

Keep Going

First published 1st April 2021

David contacted me a few weeks ago now after finding my card in a phone box, now before your mind starts to run to all the wrong conclusions, I can confirm that I have never owned nor operated a specialist massage service. Those cards belong to someone else who just happens to share my surname, and for the record I have no idea how my business card found its way into a public telephone box!

David like many people has quite elderly relatives and his parents who were both keen gardeners were finding it increasingly harder to enjoy gardening and he wanted to know what he could do to help them.

He could remember as a child his father tending his vegetable crop like a proud expectant father. Fast forward 40 odd years and the once immaculate vegetable bed has gone and has now been replaced with shingle and stone patio.

I scratched my head for a bit as it was itchy and told David that he could always invest in a raised vegetable bed. These raised bed stand on legs and raise the soil to a level where you don’t have to bend or stoop over. Best of all these free standing beds are perfectly at home on a patio.

Most garden centres carry these vegetable containers and for around £100 including vegetable plants and compost you could restore your father’s proud expectant grin that you’ve not seen for many years.

At Baytree we carry the Langford planter this is the one that I heartily recommended.

I told David that putting the planter together really wasn’t difficult anyone with basic DIY skills could assemble it in less than an hour.

One you have the frame built line the planter with a porous line like such as a weed control fabric. This liner will stop the soil from falling through any small cracks and spaces in the planter. It is important also with a raised planter such as this to ensure there is adequate drainage for the soil so it is always a good idea to add blocks of polystyrene to the bottom of the container. This will allow water to drain and it means that the container will not be full of heavy compost.

Jacks Magic which is an all-purpose compost, mixed with a little well-rotted farmyard manure would form a perfect soil into which your father could grow his vegetables.

At this time of the year it is not difficult to get vegetable plug plants so it’s just a case of heading to your nearest garden centre and choosing what you want to plant. The great thing about plug plants is that they are already fully formed plants. They are not quite hardy yet as April can still be a little cold but with a little care your plants will thrive.

I didn’t hear back from David for a couple of weeks and I began to think the worst about what might have happened to his father, then this morning I received this photo.

I hope that come the summer when we are allowed to meet other people that I might get an invite from David’s father to taste some of his produce.

Keep Going

Not Me

First published 25th March 2021

This week in the Cox household we were able to throw a mini celebration. It was quite a small affair with just a few sausage rolls and pizza slices. I wanted volauvents but my wife said that they were too fiddley. We settled for pate on toast, they looked quite posh, not MasterChef standard but definitely passable say on Ready Steady Cook.

For dessert we had strawberry tarts, they are a particular favourite of my daughter. Best of all there’s no cooking as they are available from a certain orange supermarket. As we were celebrating my little girl with jam all round her chops asked me how many strawberries did I think get grown and eaten every year in Britain?

I picked up my smartphone and began googling however it took quite some time to get to an answer which is already a little out of date. I stumbled across a website which claimed that in 2015 the UK grew over 168,000 tonnes of strawberries with 85% of those grown cultivated under a polytunnel. That’s a lot of strawberries. I guessed last year’s consumption of strawberries would be down a little due to Wimbledon being called off. At least we were spared a song from Cliff every time it rained.

There is a point to all of this rambling as quite coincidently earlier on in the week I’d received an email from Mrs Brown who is a teacher at my daughter’s school. Mary aged 7 one of Mrs Brown’s class had asked her if they could grow strawberries in their new fruit garden and what is the best way to grow them.

How could I refuse such as question? Now when it comes to the garden I’ve always promoted working with Mother Nature rather than against her, but this week I will bend that rule slightly so that the balance is more in our favour.

I remember my Dad growing strawberry plants when I was a child on his allotment and often when out playing with my friends I’d raid the strawberries if I was hungry. Between me and friends and the Slugs we filled our bellies, though as I recall the slugs always seemed to get the biggest and juiciest strawberries.

This is where I think we should look at commercial strawberry growing practices. Now as mentioned earlier 85% of fruit production is grown inside a poly tunnel. Not everyone has a poly tunnel or access to one. But we can all raise our strawberry plants off the ground like commercial growers do. We can emulate their technique by simply growing them in hanging baskets. They don’t have to fight for light and they certainly won’t be attacked by slugs, netting them from birds is a good idea though. They will need feeding and watering but you’d need to do that for them even if they were growing in the ground.

That said if Mrs Brown wants her classes strawberries to produce a bumper crop my advice would be to hang the baskets slightly higher than little arms can reach, but not too high so that they can’t enjoy the odd low hanging fruit. The love of gardening has to start somewhere.

Back to our Finding Alice party, we’d finally managed to watch the last episode. Woo hoo, you have to get through lockdown anyway you can really!

Not Me

Crazy Fool

First published 18th March 2021

Relieved of educational duties this week I switch the television on and stumbled across an episode of the A Team. A crack team of soldiers imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit who promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade you have to agree is telly gold.

As I watched them defeat the bad guys with guns made from potatoes and rocket launchers constructed from empty toilet roll tubes and double sided sticky tape all under the command of Hannibal with his improbable plan, I couldn’t help wonder how they would have coped with Covid-19 and lockdown. When BA Baracus, he’s the one with the chains says “I ain’t getting on no damn plane” he doesn’t quite realise how true that statement is.

Everyone has coped with lockdown in different ways and now that there is little light at the end of the tunnel we are all starting to look forwards to some kind of normal-ish life and the email I received from Mrs Julie Anderson perfectly illustrated that point.

Later in the year Julie would like to invite her closest friends around for a dinner party and at this dinner party she’d love to serve food that she had grown in her garden during lockdown. The centre piece to this meal would be a big pot of homemade chilli con veggie. The recipe would contain tomatoes, onions and a selection of root vegetables.

However you can’t really make a chilli without chillies and that’s why Julie had emailed me she wanted to know how easy they would be to grow.

To begin with fill a 9cm pot with seed compost and sow 3 or 4 chilli seeds on top of this compost, cover with a fine layer of vermiculite. If you have a propagator pop them in there if not cover the pot with a plastic bag and secure in place with and elastic band. Place them on a warm and sunny windowsill to germinate, this will normally only take a week or two.

Once you can see the young shoots appear, remove them from their mini greenhouses. Not all of your seeds will germinate but when the ones that have reach about 2.5cm tall it will then be time to transfer them into their own pot filled with good quality multi-purpose compost. Water them and put them back in their warm and sunny indoor spot.

When the roots start to appear out of the bottom of your pots it will then be time to move them into a larger 13cm pot. You’ll find that as they grow they will need a small stake inserted into the pot to help support the growing plant. To encourage more fruit, pinch out any new shoot tips when the plant is about 30cm tall. You’ll create a bushier plant that way.

In late May when any danger of frost has passed you can plant them out into a 22cm pot or growbag to mature They will need a hot sunny and sheltered spot. Cover them at night with fleece for the first few weeks as they harden off. Keep watering them regularly and every couple of weeks feed them with a general purpose liquid plant feed once the flowers have appeared.

I hope later in the year Julie will have a wonderful dinner party with her friends and that the veggie chilli is a hit.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Crazy Fool

Lost Marbles

First published 11th March 2021

Dickie! That’s it, Dickie I exclaimed and with that I went back to sleep. The present Mrs Cox wasn’t too happy that I’d woken her up but I was elated that finally I’d been able to remember the name of the actor in Jurassic Park. I knew I knew it, I could of course have used the internet to look the film up and from that get a list of actors but I wanted to prove to myself that I wasn’t losing my marbles.

Judy, Judy! I shouted. Whose Judy asked Mrs Cox as she sat bolt upright in bed, eyes like dinner plates. Umm, erm, Judy had asked a question a few weeks ago about seed potatoes and I said I’d speak to her when it was time to plant her potatoes and I had completely forgotten all about getting back to her. Obviously Dickie from earlier on had opened the floodgates in my brain which was allowing dormant memories to surface. Sorry I said and then made my way downstairs to type the email I’d promised to Judy. At least if I was downstairs and awake I wouldn’t be able to shout out any other names sub-consciously.

Dear Judy I typed, hopefully your first early potatoes have chitted successfully and your seed potatoes have lots of healthy shoots protruding from the seed potatoes.

You’ll need to prepare your vegetable bed or container before planting them out. So dig a trench about 30cm / 1ft deep & 30cm / 1ft deep. Into the bottom of the trench add a deep layer of multi-purpose compost so that it’s about 10-15cm deep. Now, using a garden fork, break down any large clods of soil from the soil that you have removed from the trench. Remove any weeds as you go.

You’ll probably need a cup of tea by now as digging can sometimes be hard work. Once you have finished your tea or coffee carefully replace the soil you’ve been working on back into the trench whilst adding in a potato fertiliser.

Your first early potatoes will need to be planted 15cm / 6inches deep and about 30cm / 12inches apart and each row needs to be 75cm / 24 inches apart. To plant them use a trowel to make a hole wide enough for the seed potato to go into and orientate the potato so that the majority of shoots are facing upwards. Cover the potato back up with soil and continue onto the next. Make sure that you label your potatoes with a little plant marker in-case you are growing several varieties.

Potatoes can be quite thirsty, so during dry spells you will need to water them so that they can continue to grow. It will be several weeks before any signs of life appear. When the green shoots of the potatoes emerge from the soil, you’ll need to start “earthing them up”. Earthing them up is the process of covering the shoots in soil so that the growing potato tubers under the soil never see the light of day until you’re ready to harvest. Think of potatoes as vampires just look what happened to Dracula when he saw the sun, yes that’s right he turned green and became toxic to eat.

You will often see Lincolnshire fields full of strange triangular shaped rows with bushy green leaves on top. These will be earthed up potato plants.

The time is now 2:32am and I really think it is time to go back to bed.

Deborah!!!!!!

Lost Marbles

To The Rescue

First published 4th March 2021

As I sit here typing this week’s article whilst in my best Spiderman pyjamas I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face and through my kitchen window I can see not a cloud in the sky. These last couple of days of warm sunny weather have certainly lifted the spirits of the entire Fox household.

As lovely as the weather has been please don’t be fooled into thinking that spring has sprung.. Normally in March the number of tasks to undertake in the garden increases, this is in preparation for the beginning of April when weather permitting, spring breath’s new life into our gardens.

Whilst scrolling through my email inbox I could feel my spider senses tingling. Before you ask, no I didn’t need the toilet. I could sense that someone had a burning gardening question that needed my superhero help.

Mrs Miranda Julie Williams from Spalding was looking for some advice on planting her summer flowering bulbs. I decided to swing into action and immediately replied to her email.

Mrs Miranda Julie Williams or MJ as I now call her as we are now good friends had chosen to plant Gladioli, Ranunculus, Lily, Dahlia and Begonia bulbs. I explained to MJ that Begonia’s really need potting on and should only be planted outside when any risk of frost has gone. So therefore she should concentrate on planting her other bulbs.

Fortunately MJ had a bulb planter which makes the job of planting bulbs so much easier. They are a fairly inexpensive garden tool; usually you can buy one for under £5. The great thing about a bulb planter is that it removes a perfect plug of soil leaving a cylindrical hole into which you can plant your bulb. Then you can replace the plug of soil over the top for an invisible fit. I always get a kick out of watching the bulbs push their leaves through the soil as more often than not I forget where I’ve planted them.

It’s always best to plant one particular type of bulbs at a time as they all need different planting depths and once you’ve opened all the packets and mixed the bulbs up it is not always obvious which varieties are which.

MJ wanted her summer flowers to not look too regimented so I told her to throw the bulbs into the air and wherever they land is where they should be planted. (I did tell her to take them out of the packet first).

The great thing about pre packed bulbs such as the Taylors bulbs that Baytree stocks is that’s each variety has detailed instructions on the back of the packet pertaining to planting depth and care etc.

Concerned for MJ’s wellbeing I insisted that she much remain hydrated whilst working so half way through she stopped for a little sit down and cup of tea.

My spider senses are tingling again, I think the present Mrs Cox has just finished baking a sponge cake so I had better be off to rescue a slice.

To The Rescue

Sow Easy

First published 25th February 2021

Have you ever fancied growing your own tomatoes from seed? If not why not? It is sow easy! As with all things gardening the secret is learning how to work with Mother Nature and with the daily temperatures rising. (Let’s forget about the snow the other week, and just call it the exception which proves the rule) Late February is a perfect time to start sowing seeds in a propagator for planting out later in the spring.

Now for tomato seeds to germinate they need a warm and humid environment in which to grow, ideally 18 degrees Celsius. So if you’re lucky enough to have a warm home then you can get away without growing your seeds in a propagator, if not you’ll need to invest in one.

A propagator is essentially a mini greenhouse which maintains humidity and a constant temperature. Now you can buy heated propagators and un-heated ones, heated propagators are more expensive but once you’ve bought one you’ve bought one and it will serve you well for many years.

Preparation is the key with gardening so remember before you start make sure you have seed compost, vermiculite, a cell tray, a propagator and yourself.

The first thing I normally do is to put the kettle on and make a cup of tea, next I dunk a Ginger Nut biscuit into said tea and consume. This does nothing for the planting to follow but it does help me concentrate as I hate working on an empty stomach.

You will find it easier to sow tomato seeds into individual seed cell trays; they look like tiny pots all joined together. Just make sure though that your cell tray fits inside your propagator.

Fill the cells with a good quality seed compost, Westland John Innes Seed & Sowing compost is prefect for this and it also comes in small 10 litre bags. Anyhow leave a gap between the top of the compost and the top of the cell. Don’t compact the compost, we want a light delicate texture to the soil. Lightly dampen the compost with water before sowing the seeds onto the top of the compost. Cover the seeds with a light layer of vermiculite and tap the tray gently to create a nice even layer. Place the lid of your propagator back on and site on a warm sunny windowsill.

Your tomato seeds should germinate within 2 weeks and during that time you’ll be able to see the first leaves push through the compost. When this happens it’s important to keep turning the propagator through 180 degrees. This will stop your young plants from growing on an angle as they grow towards the light.

When your new tomato plants are about 10cm tall you can then plant them on into larger pots. Fill a 9cm pot with compost and using your finger make a well in the centre large enough and deep enough for you tomato plant to go into. Be careful to not damage the delicate roots of the young plant when removing the plug plant from the cell tray. Water it in and cover with vermiculite. The vermiculite will help to keep the moisture in the soil.

Tomatoes are thirsty plants so be prepared to water regularly. In late May you can start putting your tomato plants outside during the day to harden them off but remember to bring them back in again at night.

In June you can plant them into their final growing position. In late August enjoy!

Sow Easy

Just Have A Go

First published 19th February 2021

There really is something quite wonderful about waking up to see snow covering the countryside, children throwing snowballs, parents acting as huskies pulling their children along on a sled as they giggle loudly. It’s amazing how beautiful Mother Nature can make our world look in the depths of winter.

Within the household this week we had a bit of a disaster the freezer broke down and stopped working. So rather than throw everything away or consume vast amounts of oven chips and several bags of peas dating way back to the early 90’s, we put everything into a covered box and left them outside the back door, just until we could source a new freezer. I wrapped the hairy rug from the front room around me so that I could release my inner caveman, I tried to convince my wife to join in but she was too busy watching Celebs Go Dating!

On this occasion we were quite fortunate Mother Nature was with us and with a little ingenuity we were able to solve our problem and it’s the topic of ingenuity that brings me onto this weeks’ gardening question.

On Wednesday I was messaged with a query on how to grow melons. Melons, I thought this is February in the UK not the Caribbean, but as I read on it became clear that this man was thinking outside of the box in his attempts to propagate and grow melons. Within a seed tray inside a propagator he had managed to germinate 20 melon seeds which is a feat in itself. He’d also purchased a light unit to provide red and blue light to the seedlings for photosynthesis.

The challenge he now faced was how to keep them healthy until the end of May at which time he could plant them out into his greenhouse. Now my advice would be to sow more seedlings but wait until April before sowing them in a propagator as the levels of ambient light at that time of year will be sufficient to sustain the germinating seedlings, also by the time the end of May comes the melon plants will naturally be ready for transferring to the greenhouse, after all melons are a tropical fruit so therefore needs a tropical environment to grow.

Now maybe with a Hydroponics set up with humidity control and heaters you may be able to emulate the conditions needed indoors to grow Melons now, but that’s not my area of expertise.

What does strike me is sometimes no matter how ingenious you are Mother Nature always has the final say. That’s not to say he should stop attempting growing melons entirely, no, but if he works with Mother Nature I really think he’ll succeed. I’m looking forward to seeing photographs of his growing melon fruits in the summer as they ripen in the little hammocks which he’ll have to fashion to support the swelling fruits.

These will be the celebrities of the fruit world, pampered and cosseted until the day he’ll be able to harvest his first melon and on that day I know he’ll feel the most enormous sense of pride and all I hope is that on that day, he wears the most outrageous Hawaiian shirt and flip flops, whilst drinking a Pina Colada.

Just Have A Go

Prune Hard

First published 11th February 2021

With the growing popularity of gardening makeover television programmes I thought I’d have a go a pitching my own gardening show.

Picture the scene, a maverick gardener is trapped in a garden which has been overrun by highly trained terrorists. Our hero Mark McBane wearing only a pair of trousers and a white vest as that’s what he likes to garden in is the only one who can save the day. During the course of the show we discover that the terrorists are in fact autumn fruiting raspberry canes and we watch Mark armed only with a sharp pair of secateurs tackle the brutal canes and attempt to restore order to the garden……

The working title for the show is “Prune Hard”. Each episode could be set in another part of the world so I could have Prune Hard 2, Prune Hard 3 and the season finale Prune Hard 4 with a Vengeance which would be a double parter.

Just by pure coincidence now is the perfect time to prune your autumn fruiting raspberry canes. So to really impress the commissioning editor of the BBC I decided that I would shoot a pilot episode and send in with my idea. Double Whammy!!

One of the things I learnt straight away is that trying to prune raspberry canes whilst wearing a vest can be painful but the cuts and grazes sustained to my arms, face and torso only made me look tougher, also as a bonus it didn’t take long for my white vest to get dirty.

Pruning your autumn fruiting raspberries now allows fresh growth to emerge in the spring and for the fruit to form on this new growth which is different to summer fruiting canes which fruit from last years’ growth.

I insisted that my wife film a close up as I pruned the raspberry canes, I wanted it to look like I was cutting the wire to a bomb, so for added jeopardy I kept changing my mind as to which cane to prune first. It worked really well.

When all of the canes were pruned to just above ground level I walked away in super slow motion. I wanted to add explosions behind me but I had to settle with a couple of sparklers left over from Bonfire night.

The camera then pans away to reveal me disguised in one of those paper decorating suits that you can get from B&Q, other paper suits are available from other retailers. In my mind I was a scenes of crime officer, my wife just thought I looked like a wally. Anyway dressed as a top forensic scenes of crime officer I drove a couple of wooden stakes into the ground at either end of the fruit canes and stretched some wire across the gap.

Roll credits. Everyone now expects there to be some kind of bonus scene in the credits so as to not disappoint we cut forward to 6 months later where we see Gardener Mark McBane harvesting his raspberries which have been secured to the stretched wire as they grew whilst enjoying a cup of tea.

Well I’ve emailed this idea to the commissioning editor at the BBC; it’s surely only a matter of days now before I’ll be in high level meetings.

Prune Hard

No Soggy Bottom

First published 4th February 2021

January is over and we are now entering February which means just one thing….. We are well into the new series of Death in Paradise; other murder mystery TV dramas are available. The warm colours and vibrant greens of the Caribbean island the series is set on warms the heart in these cold soggy winter months. This week the detective leading the drama was admitted to hospital and in one scene his gown fell open at the back to reveal his bare bottom which my little girl found hilarious. After she regained her composure she said it reminded me of my bottom. Tight, firm and virial I thought. “No” my daughter said “it looks just like your bum which always pops out when your gardening.”

Well I had no choice but to chase her around the house didn’t I? The following day after her home schooling I told her to get wrapped up warm as we were going to do a spot of digging in the garden. I made it clear that everything would be done to prevent said bare bottom from making another appearance.

Spring is not that far away but please don’t get over excited, as February often tends to have a sting in its tail. Remember the ground is still cold and will not significantly warm up until March / April.

I plan on planting my first early potatoes out in mid-March and before they can be sown, the ground needs preparing so that we have the best chance of success.

Wearing pretty much every item of clothing I owned we both headed out into the garden to dig and weed the new potato bed. Using a fork I turned the soil over to a depth of about 8 inches and my daughter followed behind me picking out the weeds from the soil. The fewer weeds in the soil, the less competition for nutrients there will be for the potatoes.

Digging the soil over in this way can be hard work so after 30 minutes we stopped for a hot chocolate and a Kit Kat other wafer biscuit snacks are available. Once the soil was completely worked over we then raked the soil to as flat a layer as we could achieve.

To the top of the potato bed we covered it with a black weed membrane which will stop light from getting to the soil and therefore kill off any weeds that have been left in the soil and also provide a layer of insulation. This black membrane will also absorb the sun’s heat and help raise the temperature of the soil and give our seed potatoes a really good start when we plant them out later next month.

Pleased with our work I took my gloves off, placed them in my back pocket and we made our way back towards the house. I could hear sniggering coming from behind me, but every time I turned around to look at my daughter the sniggering stopped. It wasn’t until I was inside the house when my wife took my wet, muddy and heavy gloves out of my back pocket did I realise that in-fact my daughter was right as the top of my bottom was once again making an appearance. Note to self, buy a belt!

No Soggy Bottom

Take a Break

First published 29th January 2021

I may well be the exception to the rule but, I am really enjoying home schooling my daughter during this lockdown. For me it is time with her that I will never get back, don’t get me wrong whilst enjoyable it is really hard work especially as it has been such a long time since I was at school and there is no doubt that my daughter is far cleverer than I ever will be.

There is a fine balance to maintain with home schooling though because whilst I want her education to not suffer I don’t want home to feel too much like school. That’s why this week during one of the more taxing maths lessons and just to break her school work up we decided to plant a terrarium with some succulent plants.

The great thing about a project like this is that it could be done indoors out of the elements, on the kitchen table which, is luckily for me is only 4 paces from the kettle and biscuit cupboard so win win.

If anyone out there is in a similar position with home schooling then have a go at planting a terrarium. A plant terrarium is essentially a semi closed eco system consisting of a glass semi enclosed shape into which you can plant succulents and cacti. Plant Terrariums are usually made from glass and come in many shapes and sizes.

To begin with you will need a fresh cup of tea and one of those gold foiled biscuits you only ever get at Christmas. Ingest said tea whilst dunking biscuit, when cup is empty that signifies time to get to work.

Now succulents prefer a well-drained soil and luckily there are plenty of specialist composts available such as Westlands Cacti compost which is specially designed for those types of plants. You’ll also need some gravel, activated charcoal and of course succulent plants.

Into the bottom of the terrarium add a good 2cm layer of gravel onto which you’ll sprinkle a thin layer of activated charcoal. The activated charcoal will help kill off any fungus and unwanted odours.

Using a spoon cover the layers base layers of the terrarium with the cacti compost to a depth of about 2-3cm. Next you’ll need to gently tap your plants out of their pots. Be mindful though that if you’re planting Cacti with spikes or fine hairs that you will need to wear a pair of gloves to avoid the spines embedding in your skin and causing irritation.

Carefully position your plants where you want them and gently press them into the compost. Using your spoon backfill the compost around the root plug of your chosen plants. I added a layer of decorative grit to cover the compost in our terrarium just to make it look a little more natural. Finally water your plants into place, but don’t drench them.

It should only take you maybe half an hour or so to complete. When finished you will need to place your terrarium on a warm and light windowsill, and apart from the odd watering every now and then it will be quite happy to be left alone.

Take a Break

Life Learning

First published 21st January 2021

Last week I talked a little about the benefits of growing your own potatoes and how you can get everyone in the family involved, well that seems to have ignited a spark in Mrs Jamieson who emailed me in the week to ask about how she could also get her young family involved in planting and harvesting onions.

There are a couple of ways in which you can get the family involved in growing onions and it can be quite educational for young minds and during this lockdown it might become a welcome distraction.

By far the easiest way to grow onion is by planting young or baby onions which are called sets. The alternative method is to grow onions from seed.

However to give the best results I always advise to grow your onions from sets.

There’s not a great deal that you can do at the moment apart from choosing a variety or varieties of onions to grow. Again choose a well-respected producer such as Taylors Bulbs who have years of experience in growing and supplying top quality bulbs.

In my household we normally pick 3 different varieties each year and we try not to pick a variety we’ve grown before.

You will need to prepare the soil the onions will be planted into and my advice is to wait until the middle of February following a dry spell before doing so. To prepare the ground you’ll need to dig the soil over and add a bucket full of well-rotted farmyard manure per square metre along with a scattering of growmore. Keep turning the soil over with a fork until the mixture is evenly mixed. Don’t attempt this now because the soil will be so heavy and wet that all you’ll do is lose heart or break your back, so please wait until conditions are kinder.

From the middle of March you can start sowing your onion sets into the ground. This will have given time for the soil to absorb the nutrients you added back in February.

Lightly fork the soil over to create a nice soft bed for the onions to go into. Plant your onions in rows by gently pushing the onions into the soil leaving just the tip showing. Allow around 5-10cm between each bulb and leave a gap of 30cm between rows.

Label each row of onions with the variety and whose onions they belong too.

Before you finish you’ll need to cover your baby onions with some garden fleece at least until the roots have become established. You don’t strictly need to, but if you don’t the next time you go to check on your onions you’ll probably find that the birds have removed them.

As they begin to grow just keep on top of gently removing any weeds that are growing around them. You really want the onions to have all the nutrients in the soil.

So that’s it, put the kettle on, make a brew, dunk a biscuit and exercise your mouse finger for a bit of online onion set shopping. Keep safe!

Life Learning

To a Better Year

First published 14th January 2021

Cor blimey life certainly feels like a roller coaster and we are only just a few weeks’ into the New Year. I love gardening and I love all things to do with gardening and as I have said before there is always something to look forward to, whether that be harvesting, planting or admiring your spring summer blooms there’s always something to lift our spirits.

I have always taken great solace in the fact that the earth keeps spinning and the seasons keep changing and life goes on. Traditionally January is the time to buy your seed potatoes and onion sets ready for planting out in a few weeks’ time.

To give yourself the best possible chance of a bumper harvest of potatoes you must first chit your seed potatoes. Chitting your seed potatoes sounds like a really technical gardening task only to be performed by the most qualified of gardeners, but nothing could be further from the truth, and I advise everyone even those who have never tried growing their own food, to try growing potatoes, especially during these difficult times we find ourselves in. We have a competition every year in our household as to whose potatoes chit the fastest and whose potatoes produced the biggest crop. It’s just a bit of fun we all get involved in.

Chitting allows the seed potato to start developing roots on which your tubers or potatoes will grow from once in the ground. To chitt your potatoes simply lay them in an old egg box with one potato per cell and leave them on a bright but cool windowsill.

After a couple of weeks white tendrils will appear from the seed potato, they will look a little bit like fat fingers. This is a great sign as it means your potatoes are gearing up to produce your crop.

The hardest choice I think you’ll find is choosing a variety to plant. Now potatoes are grouped into a number of categories and these categories determine when the potatoes should be planted. They break down as follows: First Earlies such as Accord will be planted in mid-March and normally harvested some 10 weeks later. Second Earlies such as Charlotte will also be planted in mid-March but harvested around 13 weeks after planting. Main Crop potatoes such as Maris Pipers will be planted out towards the end of March and harvested some 20 weeks later dependent upon the variety. Now because Main Crop potatoes are planted into what is hoped is a warmer soil they do not need to be chitted, they can be planted directly into the ground.

All of these types of seed potatoes are available online and they are also available on the Baytree garden centre website. So you can choose your variety or varieties then have them delivered to your doorstep in total safety.

Please have a go at growing your own potatoes. It is incredibly rewarding and the sense of accomplishment you will feel when you sit down to enjoy your first meal, made from what you have grown is wonderful. It’s great for your health, your pocket, your family and it is a great way of just reconnecting with nature.

Happy New Year.

To a Better Year

Make it Special

First published 3rd December 2020

This weekend coming is traditionally the weekend where the Fox household heads out to choose our real Christmas tree. Every year we watch families struggling to choose the right tree and getting frustrated in the process which is why this week I am not going to answer any gardening questions, I am going hopefully give you the advice you’ll need to pick the best tree for you.

The first step before picking a tree is to understand the differences between the different types of Christmas trees available out there, how many times have you heard people saying “Are these the ones that drop their needles?”

For many the quintessential Christmas tree is the Norway Spruce which, Prince Albert introduced Queen Victoria too which started the tradition of decorating a tree for Christmas.

These Spruce trees have a beautiful scent of pine and dark green spiky leaves the flip side to all this splendour is that the leaves are prone to dropping.

Nordmann Fir trees are fuller trees with thicker set branches, however they do lack the scent of a Nordmann pine, but they keep hold of their needles.

The Fraser Fir is very similar to the Nordmann Fir apart from the fact it is a little slimmer.

Keep in mind that the taller you go with a real tree the circumference of the bottom branches increases and if you’re placing your tree into a corner it will need to stand further away from the walls which will encroach into your living space. If that’s not a problem then happy days!

With any potential Christmas tree make sure that you view the tree from all sides before making a final decision and importantly know the height of the room you want to put your tree into. Try to get to your local Garden Centre such as Baytree in good time before Christmas rather than leaving it until the last moment as you’ll find your choice of trees will be greatly reduced.

When you’ve chosen your tree and you’ve got it home don’t be tempted to bring it inside straight away, leave it in a garage if you have one or failing that just leave it somewhere safe outside in your garden. The cooler you can keep your tree at this stage the better.

Before you bring your tree into your home cut a 2 inch slither of the bottom of the tree’s trunk. This fresh cut will allow the tree to take up water whilst inside your home.

Make sure that you buy a good quality tree stand which has a large enough reservoir to pour water into. I tell you now that’ll you will be really surprised by how much water your tree can drink. You’ll probably have to refill this reservoir at least every couple of days to keep it looking its best.

This is important so take note, please don’t place your tree next to a heat source all it will do is accelerate the drying out process which will mean you tree won’t look at its best for long.

If you do not keep your tree watered the tree will become stressed as it dehydrates and cause the needles to drop as it tries to conserve water.

Use LED lights on your tree as they do not give off anywhere near the heat of filament bulbs. Finally just enjoy your Christmas and see you all in the New Year!

Make it Special

Jack Frost

First published 25th November 2020

There has definitely been a drop in temperature and the present Mrs Cox is refusing to switch the central heating back on until the 1st December. Having spent all night fighting for my half of the duvet I’ve found that in the morning when I am at my warmest and cosiest the prospect of leaving the safety of the morning bed does nothing for my motivation.

Thankfully today I find myself with a day off and as soon as Mrs Cox heads off to work I’ll be secretly putting the central heating on. I just need to remember to turn it off an hour or so before my wife returns home so that she cannot feel any residual heat when she walks through the door.

So as soon as I’d dropped my little girl off to school I headed to the thermostat dial and turned it up to 11. Whilst sat at the breakfast bar with coffee in hand I fired up the laptop to delve into this weeks’ gardening question. Behind me I could hear the sound of the boiler kicking into action, is there a better sound?

Christine had emailed me earlier in the week for advice on what to do in her garden at this time of the year. Now normally I try to shy aware from answering such broad questions but given the time of year on this occasion I made an exception.

Christine’s garden was about average size with an area set to lawn with a couple of planted borders and a small pond at the bottom. I commented to Christine on skype that she was quite lucky because she didn’t have many fallen leaves on her garden. At this time of the year leaves are falling at a rate of knots and can quickly cover a lawn. Whilst collecting them up isn’t the most strenuous task in the world it is a thankless one because a few days after you’ve cleared the lawn the leaf carpet will be back again.

I could also see that she had a number of plants in containers on her small patio. It wasn’t clear if these pots were frost resistant so I recommended wrapping the pots with bubble wrap or hessian to protect the pot from the frosts cracking them in the coming months. This insulation would also protect the plants and their roots that were in the containers. I made sure that they weren’t air tight as you do want air to circulate around then plants.

Although Christine’s pond was relatively small I did ask her to remove the fountain pump to avoid ice damage when the temperatures inevitably fall.

I couldn’t see an outside tap on my virtual tour of the garden but if I had then I would have asked Christine to either cover it with bubble wrap or buy a purpose made tap cover.

On the whole at this time of the year the garden will continue to look a little scruffy and it will feel like a losing battle keeping it from looking dishevelled but keep with it because, in the spring your efforts will be rewarded.

I’m off now to rummage around the biscuit cupboard, Mrs Cox said she bought some new cookies this week.

Jack Frost

Feeding Time

First published 12th November 2020

Another lockdown it is then, though for this lockdown we haven’t the warm dry weather we enjoyed in our earlier national lockdown to keep us occupied. It was whilst queueing for Fish and Chips in Donnington that I came across Gary’s gardening email. Emails on the move check me out!

Gary's question centred on what he could do to encourage more wildlife into his garden at this time of year. Before I offered any advice I wanted to firstly understand the layout of his garden and secondly what he had done to help encourage wild birds and animals into his garden up to now.

Though before that happened I was going to first enjoy my fish, chips and curry sauce, it was large curry sauce as well.

Okay with lockdown in place and greasy salty fingers I video called Gary who was happy to give me a virtual tour of his garden. It was clear that Gary and his wife Debbie where keen gardeners as their garden looked beautiful, well a beautiful as any garden can look at this time of the year. Most of the garden had been laid to lawn with a couple of long borders which ran down both sides of the garden backing up against the fences with their neighbours.

I explained to them that they’d need to start off by focusing on the smallest of creatures, namely insects and bugs. I suggested that they place a pile of logs, rocks and twigs somewhere in their garden. This simple act would provide an eco-system for spiders and beetles to set up home. Many species of birds feed on insects and bugs so by creating this habitat we will encourage more birds into the garden.

Leave some gaps at the bottom of the fences to allow Hedgehogs to roam from garden to garden, in some parts of the county Hedgehogs are becoming increasingly rare.

In your borders plant Buddleia’s to encourage butterflies into your garden, Verbena, Lavender and Hebe’s will also attract Butterflies which in my opinion are nature’s most beautiful insects. It’s really important to plant flowers that will support our bee population and help with pollination. Plants such as Echinacea and Rudbeckia are perfect for this.

For wild birds plant Ivy, Sorbus or Honeysuckle to name but a few. The berries on these plants will become a valuable food source for them as winter takes hold.

The problem with the measures I’ve outlined is that they won’t really take effect until next year which brings me onto what can be done right now, and it’s really simple. Get yourself a bird table or feeding station. You’ll find a large selection at most garden centres including Baytree.

You’ll be really surprised by how quickly word spreads throughout the wild bird population that your garden has food. You’ll be like the McDonalds of the wild bird world; other fast food restaurants are available. Just make sure that you have a saucer or bowl of water for the birds to drink and probably bath in, though I’d hold off at supplying towels for them as they won’t appreciate your extra effort.

Feeding Time

Just Like A Child

First published 4th November 2020

Bill from Gosberton’s email caught my eye in particular this week for two reasons, one he doesn’t live that far from me and two his wife Jean had promised to bake homemade shortbread biscuits if I could come over and help. However Bill had competition from Steve from Surfleet whom was offering home baked hazelnut cookies. Bill then raised the stakes by offering to dip Jean’s shortbread biscuits into chocolate. Gosberton it was then!

Bill and Jean where a lovely couple, they had just bought their first house together and where looking to get into growing their own. Jean wanted to have fresh raspberries in her garden to pick in the summer with their young daughter Evie, just like Jean did with her mum when she was a child. Their garden was quite small so after chatting to them I suggested that they create a raised bed made from old railway sleepers. Bill loved the idea because it meant he could use his new power tools and Jean loved the idea because it would keep everything tidy.

Now June may seem like an eternity away but if you want to have summer fruiting Raspberries in your garden then now is the time to get them into the ground. Because space was at a premium the raised bed built by Bill was only about 2 metres square in area.

I told them that the benefits of planting fruit canes into raised beds are many, one you don’t have to bend down as far and two, by raising the planting level up above the normal height of the ground it helps with drainage and prevents the roots becoming water logged.

Raspberries grow best in a sheltered spot within the garden, strong winds can damage them. The spot chosen for their raised bed was quite sheltered and according to Jean it gets full sun throughout the day; however a partially shaded spot would have also worked. Fruit canes thrive best when planted along a north south axis; this stops them from shading each other as they fruit.

Jean and Evie where keen to get involved so I explained them that they’d need to dig a trench 5inches / 13cm deep and about 18inches / 40cm wide. Into the bottom of this trench we will need to add a bucket of well-rotted farm yard manure and make sure it spread evenly across the trench. Evie was quite keen on helping at this point until Bill told her that manure was poo! I think Evie screamed for the rest of the afternoon.

We planted the fruit canes into the trench spreading the root system out and leaving a good 18inches 40cm between the plants then we covered them with soil and firmed them in.

To either end of the raised bed Bill then drilled and screwed two vertical pieces of timber which we used as the uprights for the fruit cane supports. By stretching lengths of garden wire from one upright to the other we had formed taught lines that Bill and Jean could tie the growing fruit canes into using soft twine. These rows of wire I told them will then support the weight of the cane and they will avoid damage to then plant and will help with fruit production.

I congratulated myself on making the correct decision to help Bill and Jean because her chocolate dipped shortbread biscuits where superb. Better luck next time Steve.

Just Like A Child

Green Eyed Monster

First published 28th October 2020

There really is nothing quite like a cup of tea brewed in a proper teapot served with a chocolate Hobnob and that was what Janet and Phil from Spalding enticed me with this week to come over and give them some advice on their ailing lawn.

It was quite obvious to me that their lawn had taken a lot of abuse over the years, whilst their children were growing up. It had been a football pitch, a tennis court, a rugby pitch and a basketball court to name just a few. Now that their children had all grown up and flown the nest their lawn was looking particularly sad. Janet and Phil had looked into laying new turf but, it was out of their budget and to make matters worse their next door neighbour Jeffrey had the most immaculate lawn which, looked like a really expensive handmade Axminster carpet.

I had to explain to them, creating a lawn like Jeffrey’s would take time and effort and it wouldn’t happen overnight. This didn’t seem to bother them so I headed over to my van and retrieved a couple of rakes and digging forks.

The first thing we need to do I explained would be to scarify the lawn. Scarifying the lawn is the process of using lawn rake to remove any dead growth, thatch and moss from the base of the grass. The resulting debris could then be removed from the lawn and added to the compost bin for use in the garden next year.

When we were done the lawn looked worse than ever. Even though I had told them it will get worse before it gets better I don’t think they’d counted on how bad it would look. Don’t panic guys I said this will really help the grass grow stronger as more light and air can get to the base of the grass.

With the scarifying done I handed out the digging forks and said that the next step is to aerate the soil. By aerating the soil we can improve the soils drainage and get more oxygen to the roots. Standing on the fork I pressed the tines as deep into the lawn as they would go, I gave the fork a little wiggle to make the little holes wider then removed the fork.

We all set to work leaving about a 12inch gap between the forked holes. Eventually the lawn was completely aerated and covered in small puncture marks. Onto the bombsite we now worked in a layer of lawn dressing and worked it into the holes. This lawn dressing will even out any irregularities in the soil and continue to help with drainage and aeration.

Finally as it was beginning to get dark we applied a layer of Autumnal feed and moss killer. This will help feed the root system and kill off the moss and help the lawn through the harsh winter months ahead.

I know they were horrified with how their lawn looked because when we’d finished there was no mention of more tea, or more hobnobs. However that said when I return again in the spring and their lawn is beginning to look healthy and lush I’m sure the really expensive biscuits will come out like double choc chip cookies.

Green Eyed Monster

I Saw Nothing

First published 21st October 2020

Following my encounter with the Devil Woman last week I decided no matter what gardening questions I received, I would only answered a question from a man this week. So this weeks’ question comes from Margaret from Pode Hole.

Her email read: Dear Mark, Please help, my husband of over 40 years has recently retired and whilst I feel we have a good relationship I know that if I do not find an outlet for his energy soon I may end up hiring the services of a hitman. Jerry my husband often talked about before his retirement the idea of self-sufficiency and living like Tom and Barbara from the good life. The main problem is Jerry has never lifted a spade or trowel in his entire life. The closest he has come to digging is playing in the sand as a child at Mablethorpe.

What could I do? A man’s life was at stake here!

I telephoned Margaret and told her that I’d take the case and that I’d be on my way. Jerry and Margaret were in the garden collecting up the fallen leaves on their lawn when I arrived. After a cup of tea and a quite frankly disappointing custard cream we set to work.

Margaret was keen for the vegetable patch to be at the bottom of the garden as to not spoil her view from the kitchen. Fortunately the spot she had earmarked was light and airy. We marked out an area which was approximately 12ft x15ft. I passed Jerry a spade and I could see the blisters forming on his hands even before any digging commenced.

I will not lie to you, removing the top layer of turf from the chosen site was hard work and poor Jerry looked like he was going to pass out at any moment. It’s funny because the brighter Jerry’s face became the more Margaret chastised Jerry for not digging hard enough.

I’m no superman and neither was Jerry so several hours, several cups of tea and several disappointing biscuits later the top layer of turf had been removed. At this point it was getting dark so I bid them good night.

The following morning it was clear that Jerry had discovered muscles that he never knew he had. Unfortunately this limited his movement to that of an 18th century deep sea diver. Okay I said lets fork the soil over, remove any weed and stones and add a good helping of well-rotted farm yard manure. We forked about a wheelbarrow full of manure into roughly a square metre of soil. Fortunately Margaret kept horses so there was a plentiful supply of said manure. We dug the soil down to about 8 inches breaking up the large clods of soil with the tines of our forks. I suggested to Jerry that we double dig the plot but after watching the poor man nearly cry I said we wouldn’t bother.

I don’t think Margaret was too impressed with what I said next. I told them to just let the soil and the manure do its thing. Mother Nature will absorb the nutrients from the manure and the micro-organisms in the soil will thrive and the oncoming frosts will help break the soil down. In the spring you’ll have soil that will be rich and ready for planting.

So if anyone stumbles across a press article entitled mysterious disappearance of newly retired man from Pode Hole then please let the authorities know and I will be in witness protection.

I Saw Nothing

What a Form

First published 14th October 2020

Now growing up as a child I can remember admiring Mrs Lavenders bush, it was beautifully shaped into a Cockerel and as topiary goes it was stunning. On most Sundays Mrs Lavender would be out in the front garden with her shears happily removing stray and unwanted buxus from said Cockerel.

I guess that’s why I was drawn to the email I received from Mrs Plummer who is looking for some advice on how to create a topiary animal to impress her grandchildren when they come around to visit.

Well how could I refuse a plea such as this, so with shears in hand I went around to Mrs Plummer’s house? To be honest with you, I was surprised and a little taken a back when I first got there. Mrs Plummer was very polite and lovely. It was the Cliff Richard wallpaper, Cliff Richard Calendars, Cliff Richard photos and posters that took me aback and just when I thought I’d seen it all Mrs Plummer offered me a biscuit from a ceramic Cliff Richard headed biscuit barrel.

Ever the professional I asked her about her topiary plans and what experience she may have. It was clear that Mrs Plummer would be starting from scratch so I set about trying to explain the process and what she would need.

In my opinion Buxus sempervirens is a great hedging plant that has proved itself a more than capable topiary specimen. The great thing about Buxus is they are relatively inexpensive and can be found easily at most garden centres.

Mrs Plummer had said that she’d prefer to grow the topiary in a container as she thought it would be nice to have a row of them along her patio for her grandchildren to marvel at. Now with all plants grown in containers it is always a good idea to; each spring give the plant a feed with some growmore and a mulch of organic matter, this will keep encouraging strong growth.

As Mrs Plummer was a novice I said that I would help her to choose a couple of plants to start with and I advised her to not be too adventurous in her design and topiary animals was something to aim at in the future, maybe a pyramid or cube would be a good way to start.

Anyway skip forward a couple of days and Mrs Plummer had two Buxus sempervirens planted into two nice zinc effect tall planters. After much discussion we agreed that a pyramid shaped topiary would look great especially given the modern looking containers they were in.

The plants chosen where roughly the height she wanted them to stay at which meant we could skip having to wait for the hedging to reach desired height before properly shaping. I told Mrs Plummer that she could either make a wooden frame or template to cut against or she could cut the box by eye and trust her inner designer. I said that it’s best to trim little by little; you just want to get the rough shape at this stage

In the spring you can begin trimming and refining the shape, however this may take a number of years for the box to mature and fill the desired form.

Just as I was about to leave and head home Mrs Plummer gave me a Cliff Richard badge as a thank you. I felt really awful when I told her I couldn’t accept it. She looked at me horrified and slammed the door. Do you know, it’s so funny that we don’t talk anymore?

What a Form

The Sofa

First published 7th October 2020

Every morning when I wake, I head down stairs, feed Teddy dog, open the back door and make a brew. That’s been my morning routine for the last 6 months and it’s worked well. My wife has recently requested that I close the gate to the upstairs to prevent Teddy dog from running upstairs with muddy paws, following his mornings visit to the outside facilities. That’s not an unreasonable request but for the life of me I keep forgetting to close said gate. Most morning’s I have managed to get away from it. However this morning Teddy dog came bounding in from the garden, mud all over his paws from digging and a frilly rag hanging from his mouth. Bugger! Teddy had only dug up my wife’s frilly knickers that he’d buried last week. It had taken me all week to convince my wife that the courier must have delivered said missing frillies to the wrong address.

It’s routine that brings me onto this weeks’ topic. To give you some background Marjorie from Spalding had been married to Gordon for 30years. As Gordon was in the army she had followed him all over the world as his postings changed. When he finally retired they bought a house together and Marjorie could finally have a garden she could call her own and not have to leave every two years or so.

Gordon being a military man liked straight lines and order. Unfortunately Gordon also liked Mrs Randell from the bridge club whom it would seem 6 months ago left Marjorie for.

Marjorie had emailed me as she was desperate to re-create the riot of colour she had seen last year whilst at a weekend mini break in Grasmere in the Lake District. No longer needing to look at Gordons regimented rows of daffodils and tulips in the spring Marjorie found thrilling. The problem was Marjorie had no idea how to create the “Wordsworth effect”.

Marjorie was fortunate that her garden was quite mature with a small wooded area at the bottom. Arriving at her house I was met with a cup of Earl Grey and a Fortnum and Masons shortbread biscuit. She was a classy lady.

I had brought a selection of spring bulbs including Daffodils , Crocus , Anemones and Dogs-tooth violets. We walked to the bottom of the garden near the wooded area and I handed Marjorie a small handful of mixed Daffodils and I told her to just toss them in the air, where they land is where we’ll plant them. Marjorie took to it like a duck to water, throwing handfuls of bulbs around the garden.

Marjorie’s face was beaming and her enthusiasum was infectious. Several bulbs landed on the lawn that Gordon had manicured with military precision. I told her it really didn’t matter because by the time the lawn would need regular mowing the flowers would be over. This seemed to only encourage Marjorie to throw more bulbs onto the lawn.

We carried on in this way until all the packets of bulbs were empty. Driving home I had that warm a fuzy feeling you get when you’ve done something that’s really made a difference to someone.

Sadly the only warm and fuzzy feeling I enjoyed that evening was Teddy dog as we snuggled up together to sleep on the sofa.

The Sofa

Saucy

First published 1st October 2020

There are certain moments in your life that will stay with you forever like watching the birth of my daughter, watching her first school nativity play, passing my driving test and receiving a pair of knickers through the post from whom I can only assume is a fan. I’m assuming that because the envelope didn’t contain a note or anything so obviously she wants to remain anonymous. I’m guessing my fan is a girl as the knickers were on the frilly side and just a little bit saucy.

I did what any man would do upon receiving a pair of ladies knicker through the post. Yes that’s right, I ran upstairs to the bathroom, grabbed my soap on a rope, opened the buttons on my shirt down to my belly button, revealed my manly chest and began dancing around the kitchen singing “it’s not unusual to be loved by anyone, da da da da da da”, and when I reached the finale, I threw the skimpy knickers into my imaginary crowd.

Teddy my dog who’d been watching me intently had managed to catch the said knickers and ran off with them into the garden where he set about digging a hole to bury them in. I did think about chasing after him but it was a bit cold and windy outside so I left him to it and that brings me neatly onto this weeks’ gardening question from Steve who lives near Crowland.

Steve like the rest of us could see that summer was at an end and those warm sun soaked days and evenings were just a memory. Essentially Steve was asking what he could do in the garden now so that in the spring his garden would burst back into life with a wonderful display of colour.

Wallflowers in my opinion would give tremendous pleasure in the New Year with their perfume and striking colours. I always choose Persian Carpet and the shorter variety Tom Thumb which, grow to 24 inches and 12 inches respectively. When you get them home from the garden centre plant them into the ground firmly and give them a good watering in. Don’t panic if for the first few weeks they look like they are going to die, they will recover once their roots take hold.

For added drama, plant in between the clumps of Persian Carpet Apeldoorn and Golden Apeldoorn tulip bulbs. These will add bold splashes of reds and golds to the display. For the Tom Thumb clumps pair them with Cape Cod tulip bulbs. You’ll get vivid yellows and orange bi-colour blooms from them, plus they’ll add height and drama to the scheme. A benefit of choosing the above tulip varieties is that they come back every year unlike many tulip varieties that seem to be over after just a few growing seasons.

Finally I’d plant, Myosotis (Forget-me-not) and Polyanthus throughout both sets of wallflower and tulip beds. These will give Steve a beautiful blue haze punctuated by colourful primula like flowers. The whole effect is stunning.

Just as I was about to send my reply to Steve, my wife walked into the kitchen sporting a new bra, “You haven’t seen the knickers that go with this have you they were sent separately?”

Bugger……

Saucy

Mr Darcy

First published 24th September 2020

He was dripping wet and his tight white shirt was clinging to his viral muscular body, he shook his head and beads of water flew from his flowing locks. With her breathing quicken and her bosoms heaving, ”Take me Mr Darcy” said Christine. “Yes miss.”

Suddenly Christine leapt out of her chair, her favourite book and gin and tonic was sent flying in all directions. “Hello miss“. Confused and not sure if she was hearing voices or not Christine looked around only to see Ben from Class 9 peering over her fence.

Christine’s perfect little spot in her garden had been ruined. “Hello Miss Jamieson” said Ben. With every syllable he uttered Christine also known as Mrs Jamieson, Ben’s year 9 English teachers heart sank further and further. About a week ago new neighbours had moved into the house which backs onto hers. She had paid no heed to it as the previous neighbours had never bothered her and the 6 foot fence at the bottom of the garden had provided adequate screening and privacy.

That had all changed with Ben and his trampoline. Frantically trying to do the buttons back up on her blouse Christine said “Hello Ben, I didn’t know you live there”.

I guess it was about that point that Christine must have made her excuses, ran indoors and typed “I need help” into Google other search engines are available and found me the Garden Equaliser.

I took her case. Immediately I set to work and following several facetime calls it became clear that Christine didn’t really want a taller fence, she preferred something a little softer that would return her privacy. With Christine’s garden being fairly small I suggested that she look at planting a variety of slow growing tree to screen her from Bob’s unwanted gaze.

I fired up the Jag, put my best black driving gloves on the ones with the holes on the knuckles and sped round Christine’s with two options for her to plant. Amelanchier, Obelisk, I said, it has produces beautiful white flowers in the spring on narrow ascending branches. Later in the year it forms edible berries and in the autumn as a final flourish you’ll have a display of colourful foliage.

Now before you fall in love with the Amelanchier look at this beauty. I’d gone for Sorbus, Autumn Spire which is a type of Mountain Ash or Rowan Tree. The great thing about Sorbus, Autumn Spire is that it is a lovely narrow tree which is perfect for smaller gardens. In the spring you’ll have a wonderful display of pale pink clusters of flowers. Later in the autumn it will form yellow berries which look stunning when set off by the fiery red foliage of the tree.

Both trees would provide adequate screening in the summer for her private meetings with Mr Darcy and they’d require little pruning and maintenance to keep them looking there best. Christine opted for the Sorbus.

I left a packet of Digestives with her to enjoy when she next read her book however I did warn her to be careful because digestive crumbs down heaving bosoms can be quite uncomfortable.

Mr Darcy

A Bourbon Toast

First published 17th September 2020

Every now and again events happen in life that knock you for six and make you re-evaluate your outlook. It was on Wednesday this week that such a moment happened to me. I was reading through my emails looking for a gardening problem to write about when I came across an email from Jenny from Long Sutton. Last week she buried her Mother who had sadly passed away. Jenny and her husband wanted to plant a rose in their garden in Jenny’s Mother’s memory.

My mind immediately went to what rose I would choose had it have been my mother, I’m not sure there is a ‘Battle Axe’ rose currently available. (Don’t worry my mum knows she’s a battle axe).

Jenny had chosen ‘Mum in a Million’ which is a beautiful pink scented rose. Now the reason Jenny had emailed was that the only thing she had every grown was a beansprout in GSCE biology. So Jenny was understandably anxious about looking after such an important rose.

Luckily most roses are happy to grow in a site which receives at least 6 hours of sunshine each day. Some varieties will tolerate less. Fungus grows best in moist and humid conditions so it is good practice to plant your roses in an area where there is a good movement of air, that way you reduce the chance of fungal diseases because the flowing air will help to dry the plant out.

I told Jenny to make sure wherever she decides to plant the rose that it has not had roses growing in it before, again that’s a disease precaution but given Jenny’s plant history I was pretty sure that where she planted it would be fine. Roses really like rich, loamy, free draining soils in which to grow in.

Whenever I plant a rose I always incorporate a Mycorrhizal compound. This special fungal compound works with the rose and helps improve nutrient and moisture uptake through the root system, because of this the rose establishes more quickly than if no compound is applied. Jenny will need to dig a hole or Jenny’s husband Phil will have to dig a hole about 12 inches wide (30cm) by 18 inches deep (45cm). The reason for the deep hole is that you want the graft union that is the point in which the rose variety you have selected has been grafted to the rootstock (this union will be obvious when you look at the rose) is just above the level of the soil. Into the bottom of the hole add some well-rotted farm yard manure and tease the roots from the rootball before planting. Once in position backfill the soil and water in well.

Mum in a Million is a Hybrid Tea rose which like Floribundas will benefit from light pruning at this time of year. Jenny with a sharp pair of secateurs will just need to trim cut back any really long growth. Next February is when the main pruning will happen.

As the rose bush grows Jenny will have to keep an eye out for Aphids and other diseases. Now while Aphids will not kill the rose they can distort the foliage and flower growth. That said it is treatable.

With roses there is so much more detail I could go into but for now this will get Jenny started and I’m sure her ‘Mum in a Million’ rose will look beautiful wherever she plants it.

I’ve never met Jenny’s mum so later tonight I will raise a cup of tea and chocolate bourbon in her memory.

A Bourbon Toast

You're a Star

First published 10th September 2020

As with all things weather related in this country we seem to go from summer to winter in one giant leap. That said I love the English climate, I don’t think I could live anywhere that was hot all year round as those types of places usually require that you check your shoes before putting them on or checking under the bed for anything that sees you as food. I know they are more afraid of us than we are of them but, that’s not much of a comfort whilst the offending beast hangs off your foot as the surgeon contemplates amputation. That’s the great thing about Britain you can go to the loo without fearing for your life.

It was whilst I was pondering on the toilet what to write about in this weeks’ column, I find the toilet is where I do all of my best thinking. I remember my wife called me to say that I’d received a new garden email and that it looked quite a good one. That is it wasn’t a problem per say it was more advice on what would work best. Unfortunately I’d reached the point where my lower legs had gone to sleep so I told her I’d be down just as soon as I could feel my legs again.

Abbie had emailed in wanting to know what to grow up a south facing wall. Her husband Chris had secured a trellis on said wall the weekend before. From what I understand Abbie and Chris are quite fond of entertaining and par-taking in a glass of wine or two with friends. Abbie’s idea is to grow really nice fragrant climbing plant against the trellis that way her evening soirees on the patio will be beautifully fragranced. Her guest would then be naturally fabreezed as they mingled.

My mind immediately thought of Trachelopsermum Jasminoides which is a bit of a mouthful so lets’ just call it Star Jasmine. This climber has lovely evergreen foliage that turns purplish throughout winter and in early to late summer produces the most fragrant white flowers. The scent from these flowers in the evening is quite intoxicating but not in an alcoholic way.

There is a problem with Star Jasmine, it’s not a big problem at all, it’s just that after a couple of years the plant really gets into its stride and begins to grow incredibly vigorously leading to a little pruning every year to keep it in check.

Abbie’s other option would be to look at the Japanese Honeysuckle variety known as Red World. This semi – evergreen climber produces gorgeous red and white blooms from May to September which is quite a long period which means more perfumed parties. The scent from the flowers is sublime and the great thing about Red World is that it is very hardy and will tolerate a number of different growing conditions from full sun to shade.

Red World slightly gets the upper hand on Star Jasmine for me as it will require far less maintenance because it does not grow with the same vigour.

I have heard that Abbie’s garden parties are quite legendary affairs and I hope one day to be invited. I’ve even picked out a pack of Scottish shortbread biscuits from the Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Nothing says quality more than a Scottish shortbread biscuit.

You're a Star

Double Whammy

First published 3rd August 2020

I believe one of life’s simple pleasures is popping the bubbles on bubble wrap, dunking a biscuit into a fresh brew and picking the dry skin of your feet following a bath. It was whilst attacking said feet and checking my emails that I came across Elizabeth010@******.com

Elizabeth seems to have a perfect storm of problems within her garden. Elizabeth writes that when she first moved into her new home she was keen to add some privacy and rather than erect a fence to shield herself from her neighbours she opted to plant a beech hedge. Fast forward 15 years and that beech hedge is now 12ft tall and looking beautiful. Around the same time that she planted the hedge Elizabeth also planted several trees including Eucalyptus and Hazel, plus she laid a new lawn.

For over 10 years her garden looked beautiful but what was quite a small dry patch has now grown to become a real problem. At the bottom of her garden under the shade of the Hazel tree the lawn has become bare and even after heavy rainfall it seems to dry out really quickly and she struggles to grow anything in and around that very dry shady patch.

After looking at some photos’ of the affected area is was pretty obvious to me that the now fully established beech hedge and the towering coppiced red hazel are drawing all the available moisture out of the soil and starving the competition out of existence, hence the bare lawn and empty border.

In effect anything that is planted there will be starved of water and light, a double whammy. Both problems can be solved quite easily but trying to solve both problems at the same time is difficult and some hard decisions and some hard work is going to be required to get on top of this.The easiest thing to do would be to get more light into the shaded area, now since the beech hedge is essentially Elizabeth’s privacy screen thinning the hedge is not an option. Therefore we are left with thinning out or removing the red Hazel tree. Sometimes even though we love them, plants and trees can outgrow our gardens.

Secondly Elizabeth needs to improve the water holding capacity of the soil. By digging the soil over and adding plenty of well-rotted farm yard manure will certainly help the struggling lawn to become lush once more. Elizabeth will still have to use a special shady lawn grass seed though.

I’d recommend planting Aucuba Japonica, Dryopteris, Lamiums, Iris’s and Hedera varieties into this shaded border of the garden as they look great and will survive well in the hostile conditions they find themselves in. Just give them a good mulch of compost every year to aid water retention.

Although fresh rainwater is always best for irrigating your plants when needed you can always use ‘grey water’ which is essentially your washing up water to water your plants when it’s really dry. Now more importantly I’ve just managed to peel a large section of dead skin off from between my toes. I wonder if there’s a Guinness world record for this. I’ll google it as soon as I’ve hoovered the skin flakes off my keyboard and mouse.

Double Whammy

Unwanted Protein

First published 26th August 2020

Thankfully last week we had a good drop of rain, everything in my garden is looking green again apart from the lawn which is the same colour as a digestive biscuit. I know it will recover, grass is very tough. This week’s gardening conundrum comes from Jim who lives in Spalding. I have changed Jim’s name to spare his blushes, you see his allotment friends have always gone to him with their problems. Not all of their problems but their gardening problems.

Jim was having real issues with his Victoria Plum Tree. To add some context, Jim’s plum tree was well established, he had trained it into an ‘Open Goblet’ shape which for many growers is the textbook shape for a plum tree. Jim went onto say in his email that he even removed some of the young fruit every June to prevent ‘Vicky’ as he called her from slipping into fruiting every other year.

To me it sounded like he knew exactly what he was doing. I didn’t know why he was writing to me until I read on. This year a large proportion of Jim’s fruit has ripened far early than expected and these ripe fruits where miss-shaped. Picking a ripe plum and biting into the soft juicy flesh is a real treat. Though biting into the soft flesh and finding a stowaway is no fun. Jim unfortunately had done just that staring back at him was a pink maggot with a brown head. It’s funny, Jim didn’t name the maggot, but he names everything else. I can only imagine the scene, plum debris, spittle and expletives a heady combination.

The little stowaway had been feeding away since early June safe and sound inside the plum. Within a couple weeks I’m sure the maggot would have emerged ready to spin himself a bivvy bag cocoon. In the spring the Plum Moth would emerge looking for love.

To break this cycle Jim will need to hang pheromone traps around his beloved ‘Vicky’. The pheromone traps work by replicating the pheromone that are realised by female plum moths. Unable to resist, the amorous teenage male moths are attracted to the trap where instead of finding love they find themselves in an all-boys night club.

The female moths who now starved of male company now have no one to take the bins out and they have far less chance of becoming pregnant and laying eggs on the developing fruit.

Considering the age and size of Jim’s plum tree I’d have thought that his pheromone traps will be full of moths and he will also need to spray an organic contact spray onto the tree. I’m recommending an organic spray as ultimately you’re going to pick the fruit and eat it so the fewer chemicals used to produce the fruit the better. Jim could also place fat balls within Vicky. I’m talking about fat balls that wild birds feed on. These fat balls hung in the tree would encourage birds to not only feed on the fat balls but also the adult plum moths and any caterpillars that are on the tree.

My final advice to Jim would be to slice the plums open first before sinking his teeth into the fruit.

Unwanted Protein

Save Yourselves

First published 19th August 2020

FROM: Shirley@glook.net.com
Sent 15/08/2020 19.25pm

I believed that ‘The Day of the Triffids’ was a work of fiction that was until I saw with my own eyes the shocking truth. “Triffids are real and very much alive. So far they have consumed ¾ of my garden and very possibly Wendy my neighbour’s wife.”

Within a few minutes of reading this email I had packed my bags, made a flask of tea, grabbed a pack of wagon wheels and wrote a letter to my wife telling her I loved her just in case I didn’t make it home before setting off.

When I arrived, the police and emergency services where already on site and I could see Huw Edward interviewing a man who I found out later was Bill about his wife Wendy’s disappearance for the six o’clock news.

With an impending sense of dread I was led through a series of white plastic tents and tunnels until finally I was there standing in the garden in a full ET The Extra Terrestrial chemical suit…..

Once there it was obvious to me that this was a severe Equisetum Arvense (Horsetail or Mares tail) attack. Horsetail is a deep rooted perennial weed that spreads by spores in the spring, it can traverse large distances and its roots can reach 7ft in depth. The plant has evolved to accumulate silica from the soil and this mutation contributes to its herbicidal resistance.

Roger a fellow gardener who was also on site suggested covering the affected areas with a weed blocking membrane. “It won’t work” I said “All you’ll do is force the weed towards the edges of the membrane where it will continue to thrive.”

I knew it would take a long time to get the infestation under control, years in fact. A chemical treatment for the Horsetail weed is available such as SBK, Glyphosate and products containing Pelargonic acid. However in order for the treatment to work there must be a large enough green surface area for the chemical to be absorbed into. Spraying the weed if it’s less than 20cm tall will have no effect as not enough of the treatment will penetrate the plant.

Fortunately Shirley’s Horsetail weeds were 50cm tall; finally we had caught a break. I instructed Roger and the other expert gardeners to start trampling the weeds under foot. Damaging the structure of the plant would help the chemical treatment be fully absorbed.

The garden would need a further treatment in October to coincide with the natural dying back cycle of the plant. A chemical spray at this point would be transported deep down into the root structure, but this alone would not get Shirley out of the woods. Inevitably we’d have to return next year to tackle the menace once more.

I needed to sit down, I was exhausted so I went to open my thermos flask, when I heard a creaking noise coming from the garden shed behind me. Tentatively I opened the shed door only to find Wendy in a state of undress with Shirley’s husband Dave. Obviously they had huddled together for survival. I offered them a restorative Wagon wheel but they declined. It’s funny really because when I went back later in the year Dave was living in the shed. I’ve put it down to Post Traumatic Stress!

Save Yourselves

It'll cost Ya

First published 12th August 2020

I had to get up early this morning as the boiler had packed up yesterday and Will our plumber said he’d be here first thing. So with coffee in one hand and a breakfast biscuit bar in the other I sat waiting in the kitchen for him.

Rather than just waste time I thought I better put 50p in the metre and fire up the old computer and check my emails. Ding, ding, ding, my email box was full of emails, finally I thought, my little weekly article has garnered worldwide acclaim and I’d be answering gardening questions for important powerful people. I began dreaming of my own television show – The Master Gardner, I’d front it obviously and Teddy my dog would run in and out of shot now and again with his cute little face, he would give the show wider appeal.

After deleting the numerous Viagra deals and the “Very foxy lady wants to me you” emails Will appeared at the back door.

I asked him in and offered him a coffee. “Just checking your emails?” he asked to which I replied yes and I went onto explain how I write a gardening article each week. “Oh” he said, “We have this beautiful plum tree at the bottom of the garden, it was there long before we bought the house and it’s not looking very good this year.”

Will explained that the leaves had all curled up, and the growing tips were all distorted and there was some visible blackening to the leaves.

I found myself attempting to speak tradesman at this point. “Right mate, (Will’s never been my mate) it’s Aphids pal.” “You see the aphids are feeding on the sugars in the leaves that should be ordinarily causing the fruit to swell. The blackening to the leaves you describe is a fungus which grows on the excretion excreted by the aforementioned Aphids.”

I said “You’ve got three options my friend, but none of them are going to be cheap.” (None of the options would be particularly expensive and one option costs nothing but at this point I was well into character.)

“Right fella, option one, is you and the missus don your marigolds and squidge the Aphids by hand, though it won’t be pretty.”

“Option two is you go all Commando on them and hose your tree down with an organic fatty acid or oil based spray which will dislodge some of the little beggars but it’s not going to remove those holed up inside the curled up leaves.”

“Option three Willo (I was really going for it now) is to nuke the insurgents with a systemic insecticide which’ll kill them all. You see the insecticide is absorbed by the plant and transported around the whole tree, even the curled up leaves.”

I was now standing there in the kitchen with my legs slightly wider than normal with my thumbs tucked into the top of my jeans. All I needed I thought was a tool belt and I could go on DIY SOS. I’d even managed to pull my jeans down just far enough so that the top of my bum was visible.

Will said “Cheers mate” mutual respect I thought. Moments later he left as he said he needed to order a new part. Chasing him out of the door I said you can have my Screwfix catalogue if you want I’ve got a spare. He said no, Willo what a man!

It'll cost Ya

The Wind in Your Hair

First published 5th August 2020

Whenever you come across an email where the subject line is typed in capitals you know that either someone is in real pain and needs your help or there’s a deal to be had that is just too good to be true……

I NEED HELP WE ARE SO EMBARRESSED WE CANNOT SEE OUR FRIENDS ANYMORE GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD.

Darren, Bob’s partner was fuming over the fact that his beautiful Hydrangeas which where blue last year had flowered pink this year. According to Darren, Bob should have known that the now pink hydrangea that Bob had gifted to him would ruin his perfect blue and white planting scheme and that Bob must have done it on purpose just to embarrass him because he wouldn’t let Bob have a motor bike. Bob said Darren was so upset with the situation that he had cancelled all of their forthcoming parties at their house rather than face the shame of that pink eyesore as he put it.

So I made contact with Bob and Darren and tried to calm the situation to get their lives’ and social lives’ back on track.

Hydrangea flowers or their colourful bracts (flowers) are very much like the litmus paper that you used back in your old Chemistry Lessons, Bob understood but Darren was struggling as he skipped Chemistry in favour of Media Studies. Anyhow Hydrangea’s that are planted into acidic soils, that is soils with a pH value of less than 7.0 on the pH scale will have blue flowers! Soils with a value greater than pH7 will be alkaline which results in pink flowers.

Darren was beginning to calm down now as he realised that not all was lost with his blue planting scheme.

I told the boys that the major key to success was to provide the plant with Aluminium. It is this element that will return the flowers to a gorgeous blue. Within soils that have a high pH level Aluminium is not readily available, however by applying Aluminium Sulphate to the soil you will not only supply the plant with the Aluminium it needs but you’ll also reduce the pH value of the soil which will make the element more freely available to the plant.

“Bob” I said “Lay a good layer of mulch around the base of your hydrangea mixed with acidic peat each spring, team this with a dressing of Sulphur and Aluminium Sulphate and where possible use rainwater to water it into the soil. By following that routine your hydrangea will produce beautiful blue blooms year after year.”

You could almost feel the weight of the world being lifted off Bob’s shoulders.

Darren thrilled to get his blue hydrangea back then invited me around to meet their friends at their next garden party, so as far as I am concerned job jobbed. Happiness and harmony, that’s what counts in life or a Suzuki GSX-S1000F if you’re Bob!

The Wind in Your Hair

Social Climber

First published 29th July 2020

It may come as a major surprise to you all but I do actual have real and not just imaginary friends and as evidence of that I enjoyed an evening of good food and good wine at a Patricia’s annual summer party. Social distancing guidelines were observed at all times.

Whilst chatting to Bob the husband of the host and my arch nemesis when it comes to growing giant leeks, Bob mentioned in passing that his tomatoes had failed to impress this year. I don’t think he meant to raise the subject as he quickly tried to steer the conversation onto his new ride on lawn mower with diamond tipped cutting blades. Jenny my neighbour but one, who I believe has a soft spot for Bob, asked him what was wrong with his tomatoes.

Fighting hard to hide my growing smile, we all listened to his reply. “At the beginning of the season my tomato plants were strong and healthy but the tomatoes that developed on the trusses grew no bigger than a frozen pea.” He then laughed as if making the world’s best Joke.

I waited for the Jenny to stop giggling like a school girl before I answered as I didn’t want to spoil the moment. Did I really know something that Bob didn’t? This delicious thought kept racing through my mind. I took a deep breath and announced to Bob and the group that he had pollination problems and that he needs to attempt IVF for his tomatoes.

Wait until midday tomorrow and go into your greenhouse and give your tomato plants a really good shake or a sharp jolt. Everyone in the group gave me the ‘what are you talking about face.’

Look I said, your tomatoes are suffering because the pollen within the stamen has failed to make it successfully to the stigma. By shaking the plant you are realising any trapped or stuck pollen and allowing it to find its way to the stigma. Once there, pollination can begin. Both Jenny and Bob looked like a pair of goldfish at this point with mouths wide open. Leave the plants for about half an hour after shaking them and give them a really good hose down before closing the doors and vents of your greenhouse. This will raise the humidity levels and should encourage germination of the pollen grain and help the grain travel towards the ovules of the flower. Ovules are where the plants eggs are stored.

Don’t forget to open the vents before dusk as you really don’t want the leaves to be damp overnight and keep the greenhouse well ventilated to avoid disease. Repeat this all throughout the growing seasons.

At this point the whole of Patricia’s garden party was listening to me. You could hear a pin drop. My wife then came over and took me by the arm and said “shall we head home now?”

When we returned home my wife told me about how proud she was of me tonight and that she wanted to give me something special. So I closed my eyes and felt my shirt buttons slowly being un-done. When I opened my eyes my wife had placed half a dozen Cadbury’s chocolate fingers on my chest. Now that’s true love that is.

Social Climber

Tired of the Commute

First published 25th July 2020

Having been the Greek demigod Perseus for the last week it had certainly taken it out of me, and if I’m really honest commuting to Mount Olympus and back every day was putting significant miles on the old 1.1 Nissan Micra.

Whilst sifting through my emails this week the one that caught my eye was from Bob who claims he lives near the good chippy in Pode Hole. Francis, Bob’s wife had bubbled this week with a group of her friends and whilst sat out in Judy’s garden she had enjoyed her first Apple picked straight from the tree.

Now here is the nub of Bob’s dilemma. Francis was so taken with the Apple that she had enjoyed she now wanted her own apple tree that she could grow in a pot on the patio. Too not seem to be copying Judy, Francis told Bob that it couldn’t be the same variety of apple in Judy’s garden.

Bob told Francis that Apple trees grow to be huge and that they need a pot the size of an Olympic swimming pool to grow in and a 30ft Cherry picker to harvest the fruit. Whilst this may have been the case a number of years ago modern growing methods have eliminated that issue.

Today apples trees can be grafted onto different rootstocks which control the growth rate and vigour of the tree. I put my best tweed jacket with brown elbow patches on and channelled my inner biology teacher and told Bob that to start with you want the apple tree to have been grafted to an M27 rootstock.

With a growing sense of knowledge coursing through me I then put on a pair of thick rimmed glasses which made my eyes look huge. Apples grown on an M27 rootstock will grow to a height somewhere between 5 and 6 feet tall in about 10years. The pot wouldn’t need to be visible from space either. An 18inch pot with a loam based compost which gets watered and fed regularly would do just fine in producing a good supply of fruit.

Into my top pocket I placed every BIC pen I owned then arranged them in order from red through black to blue.

Another advantage of growing a dwarf variety of apple is that within a couple of years you’ll be able to start enjoying the fruit it produces. Now for the 64 million dollar question, what variety did I recommend? Before I gave Bob the answer I quickly ran upstairs to put on a pair of green corduroy trousers which I teamed with a comfortable but not fashionable pair of brown shoes.

I told Bob to opt for Apple ‘Scrumptious’ as it has a complex mouth-watering flavour, with crisp, sweet flesh and thin, bright-red skins. This variety of apple has been especially bred for gardens.

With just a few moments left until the bell sounds I told Bob that he needed to write me a one page essay on this particular apple before the next lesson on Friday. Shortly after the bell had sounded Bob was dismissed and I retired to my staff room for a weak milky tea and hobnob..

Tired of the Commute

Clash of a Titan

First published 19th July 2020

I don’t know about you but I seem to be plagued by flies at the moment which seem to attack in pairs. Every fly I seem to swat brings forth two others. The only conclusion I could reasonably come too was that I must be the reincarnation of Perseus from ancient Greece.

Curiously though my postman Jason left for a 2 week cruise around the Mediterranean yesterday, and strangely enough this morning I had a letter arrive by clockwork owl. The letter was from a Mrs Ann Dromida from Holbeach - the posh end. Ann had written to me in some state of distress, her beautiful Dahlias that were once the talk of the Cul de Sac where losing their lustre and the title of best Dahlias could well be moving to Mrs Hera at number 28.

Ann explained that her Dahlias a few days ago looked amazing but when she went to water them again the leaves where shrivelled and covered in a white powder.

It was obvious to me that her Dahlias where suffering from mildew and the mildew fungus was attacking the plant and causing the damage to the leaves. Whilst in most cases powdery mildew will not kill the plant it is always best practice to treat it and remove any infected leaves whether it’s in the garden or greenhouse.

Powdery mildew is caused by humidity in the atmosphere. When you have warm sunny days followed by warm wet days this creates the perfect conditions for the fungus to grow. This is the exact same weather pattern we’ve been experiencing for the last few weeks. When it rains water splashes on the infected leaves and bounces off onto healthy leaves which then become infected.

The first step is to improve the air circulating around the plant so remove anything which is overcrowding it. Do not put those clippings in the compost bin as they may well contain the fungus spores.

Next treat the leaves with a good quality fungicide such as Fungus Clear Ultra. This type of fungicide is a systemic product which means the treatment is taken in through the leaves and is circulated around the plant. Now with all chemicals you should always read the label and follow the safety instructions. To treat mix 15ml of Fungus Clear Ultra with 1 litre of water, then using a pressure sprayer, spray the infected leaves on both sides upper and lower. You will need to continue this process every 14 days until the fungus is removed.

Sadly once the mildew has formed on the leaves the damage is done and the deformity it caused will not recover. However that said these leaves will eventually die and fall of and in its place will be disease free growth.

After writing back to Mrs Ann Dromida I sat back to enjoy a cuppa with a couple almond biscuits when there was a knock at the door. When I opened the door there was no one there. Apart from a Euphorbia flanaganii plant on the doormat. If only I could remember what the common name for that plant was.

Clash of a Titan

Hello Again

First published 13th July 2020

Hello again, another week has past, more custard creams have been consumed and I have another problem, not a personal problem as this would be totally the wrong place to talk about it publicly, but a gardening conundrum that Barry from Spalding is experiencing.

Barry wrote to me, quite dismayed to be fair because his attempt at growing some 1st early seed potatoes in containers had ended in disappointment but not quite failure. Barry explained in his email that when the potatoes where growing the leaves were always a little pale and when it came to harvesting instead of a bucket bulging with succulent potatoes he had in fact harvested seven potatoes each of them about the size of a golf ball.

Aha the games a foot I thought to myself as began to suck on the end of my pen trying to do my best Sherlock Holmes impression. I deduce that the pale leaves Barry writes about are in fact as a result of placing too many seed potatoes into his container and I further deduce that Barry walks with a slight limp…..

I immediately interviewed Barry paying particular care to listen to his explanation as to how he planted his potatoes. I was correct the pack of seed potatoes Barry had chosen had 10 tubers inside and he had planted 5 tubers into each of his 2 containers. He had placed them into the bottom of his containers and then gradually earthed them up like he was trying to bury the evidence of a heinous crime. From that moment his fate was sealed even with the feed he gave them as they were growing his potatoes where destined to be no more than muddy golf balls.

“Barry” I said, “potato tubers when grown in containers need 10 litres of soil per tuber so into your containers I would have planted no more than three tubers. Barry it is my conclusion that your potato tubers have suffered from too much competition from each other.”

For best results fill your container with compost to about 2 inches / 5cm from the top of the pot and plant your seed potatoes about 2 inches / 5cm deep, this will give the growing tubers plenty of space to grow into. Don’t over water either at the beginning as you can gradually increase how much water you give them as they mature.

Once you have a good canopy of foliage I’d recommend that you feed them with Tomato feed every other watering. Leaf colour is a great indicator of plant health.

Continue caring for your potatoes in this way for about 80 days for 1st Earlies or 100 days for 2nd Earlies and when you come to harvest you’ll have a bumper crop of potatoes and not brown golf balls.

I didn’t want Barry for feel too downhearted so I suggested to him that he have a go at growing 2nd Season or Christmas Potatoes they have been cold stored to prevent sprouting and are ready to go. They enjoy warmer growing conditions and soon romp away.

Feeling very smug with myself I told my wife about Barry’s muddy golf balls only for her to point out that my mouth was blue. Bloody pen I’d been pretending to be a pipe had leaked.

Hello Again

Don't Eat Green Candy Floss

First published 30th June 2020

We’re on a roll now this week I was literally bombarded by 3 questions but the one that caught my eye was from Percy. I have changed Dave’s name to Percy as to protect his anonymity; anyway Percy is having trouble with his pond. Earlier on in the week Percy had tried to tackle the green murky water in his pond. It would seem that he had employed the old stir a stick around for a bit because that’ll fix it, when in fact, all he had succeeded in doing was wrapping said stick in a putrid smelling green candy –floss like substance which I really don’t recommend consuming.

I felt I needed to put my white lab coat on in order to explain what’s happening in Percy’s pond but since I don’t own a white lab coat I opted for a blue parker anorak, the one with the zip that goes all the way to the top and makes you look a bit like Peppa Pig when fully zipped up!

Percy’s pond is covered in a thick gooey layer of algae. The first thing to do would be to skim the algae from the top of the water and then add floating plants to the pond. Percy should aim to reduce the amount of light entering his pond by around ½ to 2/3. Floating plants by definition do just that they just float around the pond bobbing about happily on the surface of the water so these plants are great at reducing light penetrating the pond. Water Lilies are great for reducing light to and will survive in your pond all year round unlike the floating plants which don’t tend to be hardy. Now Water Lilies are deep water aquatic plants that will need to be planted from the pond bed.

The next couple of tasks involve putting the kettle on for a brew with a Jammy Dodger and planting oxygenating plants into the pond. Remember gardening is not a sprint, who’d you rather be Usain Bolt or Alan Bennett? I know who I’d rather.

Oxygenating plants deprive the algae of the nutrients they need to grow; this deprivation effectively starves the algae. The final nail in the algae’s coffin are marginal plants, these are plants that are planted on shallow shelves around the edge of the pond these marginals take any remaining nutrients out of the water.

Sometimes though our Spring months can be warm and sunny and this has the effect of turbo charging the algae. During conditions like these there will be little if any cover on the pond so the algae will bloom. Though don’t be overly concerned because as soon as the pond plants begin to grow again they will soon take charge and beat the algae back into submission.

For a healthy pond it will need:

• All ponds require floating and deep water aquatic plants.
• All ponds need oxygenating.
• Ponds need marginal plants, planted on shallow shelves.
• Should fish be present in the pond, don’t over feed them and don’t overstock the pond.
• Regularly remove dead plants and debris from the pond.

So that’s it, there’s a lot involved in creating and maintaining a healthy pond. I’m now off the find my wife as I can’t undo the zip on my parker anorak and I think I’m going to pass out due to heat exhaustion.

Don't Eat Green Candy Floss

The Antrix

First published 24th June 2020

This week I was literally inundated with one request for help with their gardening woes. When the email came in from Jim I excitedly ran around the kitchen screaming yes like a premiership footballer who had just scored the winning goal. My celebrations didn’t last too long for two reason one I didn’t want to wake my wife and secondly I was knackered after 4 laps of the kitchen table and a little dizzy to boot.

Jim had emailed me with a question relating to his Fruit Trees; here is the summary of his question.

“The fruit on my fruit trees aren’t swelling and the trees leaves are all curled up and puckered at the edges and I have a large number of ants running up and down the tree. Are the ants to blame for the problem”?

Before I could properly answer Jim’s question with any real certainty I email him to find out if the underside of the leaves had any aphids on them. What Jim told me then unlocked the puzzle.

Taking a bite of my Garibaldi biscuit and doing my best to look mean and moody like the lead character in CSI or Silent Witness I told Jim the following:

The reason your fruit is underdeveloped, and the reason the leaves are all curled up and puckered is because of Aphid attack but that’s not the whole story.

You see the ants aren’t killing the aphids they are harvesting their milk by gently caressing them. The ants are using the aphids to create their very own brewery and your tree trunk has become the main road to a fortnights’ drunken holiday in Falarachi. Their milky nectar is particularly delicious and addictive to the ant.

Ants being clever creatures have called in their bouncer ants to come and protect their investment. You can tell which ones they are, as they are the ones wearing sunglasses. These lucky aphids are now being farmed by the ants and can now enjoy total un-interrupted access to the sap and nutrients in your fruit tree. Your fruit tree has now become the Matrix.

I recommended to Jim that he write off this years’ fruit as it is just too far gone. In my opinion the best course of action would be to apply a systemic insecticide. Systemic insecticides are absorbed through the plants leaves and are transported around the plant from the roots to the tips of the branches.

Come the winter time – November to February I’d give the tree a good winter wash, this will kill any eggs and other pest that are looking to make home there.

Because Jim has already had one attack he is going to have to regularly spray the tree during the growing season to protect the fruit and his harvest.

The tree will recover and the fruit will develop properly again in time. With our winters becoming milder, pests like aphids are surviving in far greater numbers so this issue will be on the rise.

(Not being an Ant I cannot confirm the validity of how drunk they become on Aphid Nectar)

The Antrix

Call me Wiki

First published 17th June 2020

This morning I was rudely woken by Teddy the dog licking biscuit crumbs off my face, I can only assume I’d been sleep eating again. Lockdown is obviously affecting everyone in different ways.

Once washed and dressed I headed into the garden to enjoy a light breakfast before starting the day’s work, it was during my breakfastations when my neighbour started chatting to me over the top of the fence. Without warning or provocation Pam told me that she had a dark, leathery and sunken bottom. I tried really hard to not create a mental picture of my neighbour’s leathery bottom but it was too late the image was formed.

Pam could obviously see that something was wrong because of my pale complexion and gestured towards her Beefsteak tomatoes, it was then that it all suddenly became clear.

“Ah” I said. You’ve got “Blossom end rot on those tomatoes.” Feeling quite the Monty Don I explained to Pam that blossom end rot is caused by a shortage of calcium as the fruit grows. Without the calcium cells within the tomato die and rot. It’s exacerbated by dry conditions. When the ground is really dry the roots cannot get the nutrients they need. Pam looked at me as if to say but it’s been raining for days.

Although it has been raining for several days, Pam had been growing her Beefsteak tomatoes in growbags and because of that water was only able to penetrate the soil in a small section. Beefsteak tomatoes are very susceptible to bottom end rot anyway so her growbag had created the perfect conditions for it.

The best advice I could give her was to open the growbag up a little more and remove one of the plants so that she had two in the growbag instead of three. By sacrificing one of these plants there will be far less competition for moisture and nutrients. I told her to remove the affected fruit and to keep the grow bag evenly moist.

Going forwards for next year it is best to either grow large fruiting varieties of tomatoes such as beefsteak in a glasshouse or plant them directly into a border where you can keep the roots uniformly moist. My final advice was to tell Pam to grow smaller cherry type varieties as they are less prone to bottom end rot.

It felt really good to be able to answer Pam’s question and with growing pride I returned to my breakfast, sadly before I could get to my Coco-Pops, I tripped over Teddy dog and ended up with chocolate milk all over my trousers and Teddy licking my face again.

They do say pride comes before a fall. So if anyone else has a gardening related question that they would like to me answer in next week’s article please email me at pleasehelp@baytree-gardencentre.com

Call me Wiki

What's Going On?

First published 10th June 2020

It would seem that shopping for fresh food at times can be quite frustrating, this thought suddenly occurred to me whilst queueing outside a very popular supermarket in town. It was during this moment of clarity that I realised, I really ought to be sowing my own herbs for use on this week’s pizza and not the pre-packed variety that I was indeed queueing up for.

With that in mind I quietly slipped away from the queue and headed to Baytree. Now there are many herbs to choose from out there which all have different tastes and fragrances and uses. That said I knew that I wanted Oregano, Chives, and Basil. (I like homemade Pizza!)

Luckily I had a container going spare in my potting shed that I’d be able to plant the herbs into. It’s important to ensure good drainage in whatever you decide to plant your herbs in, so into the bottom of my container I placed some broken pieces of ceramic pots. I then filled the container which was about 30cm deep by 40 cm wide with John Innes Number 2 compost. This compost is a mix of loam, peat and sharp sand which my young herbs will thrive in. It’s important to note that when planting herbs that they will spread, so don’t plant them too close to each other allow them a little room to breathe.

After some thought, I decided to plant the Chives at the rear or the pot, the Basil at the front and the Oregano in the centre.

Potting is very simple, gently tap the herbs out of their pots being careful not to damage the root system and plant them in the compost so that the crown of the plant is level with the height of the compost. Give them a good watering in when you’re done. Though this week Mother Nature supplied the water!

This is where the fun really starts as the best way to keep your herbs happy, healthy and growing is to continually crop them. Do not allow them to form flowers and run to seed. However at the end of the season you may want to harvest some of the seeds. Dill seeds are particularly delicious in homemade bread. There may well be a few days or weeks when you don’t particularly need to use fresh herbs in your cooking, on these occasions it is really important as said earlier to keep cropping.

Cropping your herbs when you don’t need them doesn’t mean that they have to go to waste. Dry your herbs out by hanging them in bunches in your kitchen or pantry before placing them into jars for use later in the year. Create infused oils with your fresh herbs. Not only do they taste delicious but they also make great gifts for your friends and family.

It’s been a little chillier in the garden this week as I’m sure you’ve all noticed so I am going to fore go my normal cup of tea in favour of a tomato cuppa soup, dunked with a slice of toasted bread, garnished with a deep green leaf of home grown basil. I’m a man of simple tastes and with a little bit of luck in a few weeks’ time my kitchen will be full of pizzas and I’ll be several pounds heavier….

What's Going On?

It Really is Time

First published 12th March 2020

Mother Nature certainly seems be throwing the kitchen sink at us at the moment. It would appear that stepping outside to try to get some gardening done is incurring her wrath with horizontal rain, strong winds and in my case wayward roof tiles. My roof with its 2 foot hole resembles the home of Charlie Bucket.

So what to do this week again, well as it turns out now is a great time to start the process of growing on your summer flowers for your hanging baskets which can go out in May. Now don’t get too excited because it’s still too early to contemplate hanging them outside. All you’ll do is kill the plants and have a sodden heavy planter to take down if you do.

With that in mind the initial preparations will be done within the confines of a greenhouse. If you have a bright window sill that gets plenty of light then that will work just fine as well.

Baytree is full of summer flowering plug plants from Kindergarden plants which is based just a few miles down the road. You really will have a hard time deciding what to plant from Baytree’s range.

Once you have chosen your varieties you’ll need to show them some love and care when you get them home. To begin with you’ll need to mix some multi-purpose compost with perlite together. The aim is to create a loose open free draining mix for your young plants to be transplanted into.

Gently remove the plug plants from their trays by pushing them out from the bottom, the blunt end of a pencil works really well for this. Once removed give the roots of the plant a good misting of water with a handheld atomiser. Keep the plug plants upright when finished as you don’t want to damage their delicate stems, they are just babies after all.

Fill as many 9cm pots you’ll need with your compost mix. If you’ve bought eight plants you’ll need eight 9cm pots and so on. Using a garden dibber or any other tool you fancy make a hole in the compost which is slightly larger than the plug itself.

The next stage is hold each plant by its root plug and gently tease the roots out. This will encourage the roots to spread out into the new soil. Be careful here not to damage the stem of the plant. Pop your plant into the hole and gently back fill the compost mix around the root system. Firm the compost down, but don’t be too aggressive with this.

This all sounds far more complicated than it actually is, but once you get started it really is a doddle. When all of your plants have been potted on give them a good watering using a fine rose in your watering can as then it won’t deluge the plants with water, or wash the compost away. Transfer your plants to either a greenhouse or windowsill.

They’ll have to live there for about 4 – 5 weeks. The nutrients in the compost should easily feed your plants.

Right that’s all from me I’m off now to start a crowd funding site to pay for my roof repairs, but first I’ll take on some brain food with a couple of Caramel Hobnobs.

It Really is Time

Cheer up Charlie

First published 5th March 2020

Would you Adam and Eve it the weather hasn’t been too bad this week and I’ve been able to venture out into the garden. I’m sure Mother Nature hasn’t finished with us just yet but if you concentrate hard enough you can just about feel Spring is in the air.

At the beginning of the year which seems like such a long time ago now, I started to chit my seed potatoes; well the time has finally come to turn chitting potatoes into planted potatoes. As you know with gardening every task begins with good soil preparation and that is perfectly demonstrated by the sowing of seed potatoes.

Potatoes generally like a soil with a high potash content which is why last year I prepared my potato beds by mixing in a good helping of well-rotted farm yard manure.

The manure I applied last year will have been broken down by now and absorbed by the soil. If you haven’t pre-prepared your soil last autumn like I did, then don’t worry you can do that now however, you will need to use Growmore instead of farm yard manure as it has a better balanced blend of potash, nitrogen and phosphorus which won’t cause your potatoes to bolt.

Start by digging the soil over where you intend to plant your potatoes, use a fork for this and with all planting pay attention to removing any and all weeds including the roots. Use the side of the fork to break up any large clumps of soil. I normally dig down about 30cm or a foot.

There is no getting away from this, it’s pretty hard work. Rome wasn’t built in a day so as soon as you find yourself starting to tire or struggle head indoors and put the kettle on. When fully refreshed, head back into the garden to carry on with the battle.

Keep working and resting until the potato bed is done. Then you can sprinkle the Growmore onto the soil if you didn’t add manure last year. Try to make a good handful of Growmore cover a square metre. Then use your rake to rake the Growmore into the soil and at the same time smooth the soil over to a nice flat surface.

My first early seed potatoes need planting about 18inches/50cm apart in a row and the rows of potatoes need to be a good 2feet/60cm apart.

Into the soil plant your potato tubers with the shoots facing up to a depth of about 8inches/20cm and cover with soil using your rake. When they have all been planted, give them a good watering in, mark them and leave them alone.

After a week or two signs of growth should be visible on the surface of the soil, at this point we need to pay a little bit of attention to the weather forecasts. Frost can do real damage to our young plants, so if frost is forecast make sure you fleece or cloche them to protect them until the risk of frost has passed.

Wash you tools off, kick off your wellies and head inside for maybe a nap whilst “A Place in the Sun” is on.

Cheer up Charlie

I Need Colour

First published 27th February 2020

My word I’m getting fed up with the weather at the moment, last week it got so wet I started construction on a wooden ark, unfortunately after storm Clara and Dennis is was last seen floating down the A52 near Horbling. I had planned on getting my own back on the weather by planting my spring flowering bulbs this week but after listening to the latest weather forecast I fear the weather will beat me once more, so I’m going to tackle an indoor job which will at least allow me to stay dry and get some gardening done.

I’ve chosen to start sowing my Marigold seeds to add some much needed colour to my garden this spring. To begin with dig out your heated propagator if you’ve got one, if not head down to your local garden centre as they’ll have one. Heated Propagators are essentially small greenhouses which, are designed to regulate the temperature inside the propagator encouraging seeds to germinate and form good strong healthy root structures, they are essentially their own self-contained eco systems.

These types of propagators are not that expensive with prices starting from around £25.So you won’t break the bank by investing in one as they are incredibly useful and will save you money in the long run. Anyhow back to the job in hand which is to sow some Marigolds but you could choose to sow Ageratum, Impatiens, Cosmea, Petunia, Lobelias or any other variety of half-hardy annual.

To start with fill the tray in your propagator with good quality potting compost, and then sow the seeds directly onto the top of the compost following the instructions on the seed packet. Cover the seeds with a light layer of vermiculite, this helps to keep the moisture in the compost. Place the lid back on your propagator and turn the power on. The moisture in the soil combined with the gentle warming of the propagator creates the perfect humid conditions for seed germination which all being well, you’ll see within a week.

Keep watering the seedling post germination and when you can see two sets of true leaves on the seedlings they can then be transplanted carefully to a bigger pot and left to carry growing on in a sunny spot indoors, a warm windowsill is great for this. With the air temperature rising the unsettled weather we are experiencing is slowing the general temperature rise down so don’t rush to do get them out of the propagator.

Kettles on, job’s done, time to dig out some Shortbread Fingers!

I Need Colour

Cut It

First published 20th February 2020

Blooming heck the weather’s been wild these last few weeks, which has made doing anything in the impossible. So I thought I’d better write about what I would have liked to have done had the weather not been quite so biblical.

For many of you like me you’ll have Wisteria growing in your garden. Wisteria is a beautiful flowering plant that needs to be pruned twice a year, and now is the perfect time for its first prune.

When the weather eventually breaks tart by cutting back any new growth to about 2 or 3 buds. These are the shoots I cut back to 30cm last August. It’s best to do this now while the plant is dormant and leafless. Should your Wisteria like mine need major pruning to get it back under control for the summer, you need to tackle it now and work methodically. Cut back any old growth or branches that are starting to obscure any windows, or that are growing into your gutters. You can if needed cut right back to a main stem but again just take a little care.

Should you have removed large well established sections then gently tie a new younger branch into the void against your frame to train the plant to grow into the empty area left behind.

You can of course put your prunings into your compost bin, but remember not to put any diseased wood into your compost bin. I would put them in an incinerator for later.

Moving on, if you have any colourful stemmed shrubs such as Cornus or Salix I would also be looking to give these a trim whilst I’m in the cutting mood. Just a word of note though, you really only need to start hard pruning established shrubs. So if your Cornus etc. is younger than 3 years old I would leave it until they reach that age.

Cut all the stems back to about 7cm or 3 inches above the ground.

To ensure good strong growth I would advise that you apply a good quality all-purpose fertiliser to your shorn shrubs such as Growmore.

Remember when you do incinerate your garden waste wait for a good dry day with not too much wind and try not to light it when your neighbour washing hanging on the line. Even Fabreese will struggle to mask that smell.

Hopefully next week I’ll be actually able to get out into the garden and get some work done!

Cut It

Time Team

First published 13th February 2020

I’ve just taken my little dog Teddy for a walk this morning, the air was crisp and cold and the ground was covered in a silvery blanket of frost. Teddy loved it, he kept running backwards and forwards and rolling on the frozen grass. With the sun rising over the fens you could easily imagine what it must have been like a few hundred years ago as although much has changed in reality a lot of the scenery hasn’t. I wondered for a moment what those people would think of how my garden compared to their plots of land that they lived off.

That thought resonated with me as I tackled the mid-February Clematis pruning. Would they appreciate the work I was putting in to create a stunning display later in the year or would they think what a plonker, he could have grown cabbages in that space. I decided to park that thought.

Clematis plants are sorted into different group classifications based on when they flower. Group 3 Clematis flower in the summer through to late autumn and flower on the fresh stems grown in the same year. This group contains varieties of Viticella Clematis and low growing, herbaceous clematis such as Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’. This is the group we are going to prune. If you are in any doubt just pop down to your local garden centre or have a chat with one of our gardening experts here at Baytree Garden Centre.

The great thing about Group 3 Clematis is because they grow their flower heads on new growth so you can afford to cut them back quite hard.

Look for a good healthy pair of buds about 20-30cm above the ground and using a good quality pair of secateurs cut off all of the growth above those buds. I’d advise that you now tie these stems to a plant support ring and spread the stems apart so that the Clematis has room to grow into and won’t become too bunched up. Use either soft gardeners twine or plant twists to hold them in place, don’t tie them too tight we don’t want to cut into the stems.

Pruning this group of Clematis back like this will encourage fresh vigorous growth in the spring when the soil warms up. A job like this shouldn’t take long the hardest part is deciding which pair of buds you are going to cut back too. Have the courage of your convictions and don’t try to second guess yourself. Pick the buds then prune.

Should you have found the whole pruning experience a little traumatic I find a nice cup of tea and a “Jammy Dodger” really helps to calm me down.

Then suddenly l had a moment of clarity which in my world doesn’t happen very often, they would think I was a plonker. However I may well be a plonker I thought but I was a plonker with a Jammy Dodger and whilst I agree many of us have lost our connection to the land, we gardeners haven’t.

Time Team

No Need to Change

First published 6th February 2020

At this time of the year Mother Nature likes to throw every type of weather condition it can think of at us, usually all on the same day. However should there be a break in the weather this week and I’m talking about a dry day, you can at least head out into the garden and start preparing the soil for your onion sets. Last year I planted some Hercules F1’s that I bought from Bulbland at Baytree and I have to say they grew really well and I had a really good crop of onions that I was very proud of, I did ask my wife if I could make a garland of onions and cycle around the village whilst wearing them but my wife threatened divorce if I did.

So what to plant this year, well to be fair I could see no reason to change so back to the old trusty Hercules F1’s.

Using a garden fork dig the ground over where you intend to sow your onion sets. Pay special attention to removing any weeds from the soil that you come across. Try to remove the entire weed including their roots. Weeds are like James Bond baddie, just as you think you’ve won they come back with even greater villainy.

Onions don’t generally grow deep roots so when digging the soil over dig down to about 9 inches or 20cm. Use the side of your fork to break any large lumps of soil down, pick out any stones as well whilst you’re doing this. The aim is to break the soil up to a fine tilth. At this time of the year with the ground still cold and wet a fine tilth is going to be nigh on impossible to achieve so endeavour to get as close to that vision as you can.

Once you’re happy with your fork work it’s time for a cup of tea and maybe a Bourbon. You don’t want to celebratory chocolate biscuit just yet as there is still a little bit of work left to do.

To the top of the soil you have just worked sprinkle a good even helping of Growmore over the soil. The Growmore helps to enrichen the soil and promote healthy plant growth. Using a rake with a very light action rake the soil backwards and forwards until the Growmore is totally mixed in and the soil is level with no peaks or troughs. This will take a bit of time. Wax on Wax off Daniel son!

When you’ve finished levelling the soil, let the soil rest for a week before planting your onion sets. During your week off collect as many old cd’s and plastic bottles you can find.

My Hercules onions need to be planted about 3cm or 1 inch deep with the crown above the soil and 12cm or 5inches apart in any direction. As beautiful as nature is as soon as you plant your onion sets the birds will take great delight in picking them out of the soil.

This is where we now take our cd’s and bottles and thread them onto a piece of garden twine and using 2 sticks suspend the twine of bling over your onion sets. The noise from the bottles and the glint from the cd’s should be enough to keep the birds away from your onions.

Now you can enjoy those Chocolate Digestives!

No Need to Change

Keep it Bare!

First published 27th January 2020

Whilst January for many is not their favourite month of the year it does provide a few opportunities for getting work done in the garden. Okay I will admit it’s not the peak of the gardening season where jobs are plentiful but because the ground is cold and most plants are dormant, now is the best time to plant bare root roses, trees, hedging, and bare root shrubs.

By planting bare root plants now it allows the plant to establish itself before the soil warms in the spring. By the time we get to Easter, your plants will have grown and established strong and healthy root systems. Don’t get too excited by planting when the earth is cold as it is not advisable to plant anything whilst the ground is frosty.

For me I have several scented roses that I need to get into the ground so it makes sense to talk you through planting bare root roses for this week’s task. Before you start the most important thing to remember is to source your plants from a quality supplier and grower. At Baytree we’ve been growing roses on our nurseries for 50 years and we are proud of the quality of the roses we supply. Plus by buying your roses from a reputable grower such as ourselves you know you’ll always have expert advice on hand whenever you need it. Okay lesson over.

To begin with, pop your bare root roses in a bucket of water for about 30 minutes to allow the roots to get really hydrated before you plant them in the soil. Use a fork to dig the soil where you intend to plant and remove any stones or weeds as you go.

Now using a spade, dig a hole about 40cm wide by 50-60cm deep and add a good dollop of farmyard manure to the base of the hole. (Farmyard manure is available from all garden centres including Baytree). Here comes the science bit, hold your rose over the hole you have just dug and sprinkle some Mycorrhizal Fungi over the roots. This really helps the roots to establish themselves in the soil.

Next spread the roots out carefully and place your rose into the hole, make sure that the graft union* which is the bit between the roots and the green stems is below the top of the hole by about 2 inches.

Back fill the hole and lightly firm the rose into position with your foot this will also remove any air pockets in the soil. Finish the procedure by watering the rose in followed by a cup of tea. (Please note the Tea is not for the plant).

*All cultivated roses start off from being grafted to a root stock such as “Rose Laxa”. This means the rose you are buying has been grown off Rose Laxa as an example. The Union is the point at which the grafted rose which is the cultivar of rose you have chosen is spliced/ grafted to the root stock.

On a separate note just remember that food is becoming scarce for our feathered friends at this time of year so please put out some high energy fat balls in addition to seeds and meal worms for them.

Keep it Bare!

Blink and You'll Miss It

First published 20th January 2020

With the Christmas and the New Year celebrations a distant memory it’s time to start focusing our attention back on to the garden and all thing horticultural.

The weather is really hit and miss at the moment it seems to be either bright sunshine or pouring with rain and the worst thing is the ground is saturated with water and it’s taking a long time for this excess water to drain away. Rain that fell long before Christmas can still be seen sitting on top of the fields.Fortunately at this time of the year Mother Nature in her infinite graciousness gives us gardeners an indoor job to undertake.

January is Chitting time for us the potato grower. Okay we’re not commercial growers but, I’m sure you’ll all agree our little potato plot in our gardens produces the best chips, roasties and salad potatoes man has ever tasted. However in order to enjoy such delicacies we first need to prepare our seed potatoes.

Potatoes are Stem Tubers for those of you who have a scientific bent. Essentially a tuber is a storage vessel full of plant nutrients. From the seed tuber stolen stems grow which develop into more tubers. It is these new tubers which we then harvest, and fill our bellies with.

Now I am a big fan of Lady Christl potatoes, I think they make the salad potato ever with their delicate thin skins. This variety of seed potato is a “First Early” meaning this particular crop can be planted in mid-March. It’s up to you which variety or varieties of potato you want to grow. As always at Baytree we have a great selection of Scottish certified seed potatoes. Always used certified potatoes as opposed to table potatoes, table potatoes are potatoes that you can buy from supermarkets etc to eat straight away.

When you get your seed potatoes home you need to start the process of Chitting. Now Chitting is the process in which the seed tuber begins to grow stems. The best way to get this process started is to place the tubers in an empty egg box. The cells in the egg box are perfect for one tuber per cell. That’s the complicated work over all you have to do now is leave them in a cool room with plenty of daylight. I’ve put mine on a windowsill in a spare bedroom.

It will take a few weeks in order for the stems to appear and mature to a stage where the tuber can be planted into either a veg bed or a container. Actually if you don’t have a big garden growing potatoes in a container can be very rewarding. In a few weeks’ time I will explain how to plant a container with seed potatoes for the best results as that’s how I plan on growing mine this year.

As I mentioned earlier the ground is pretty wet and completing any outdoor gardening task is near impossible but there is one outside job that can easily be achieved this week. Leave some bird seed or fat-balls outside for the birds to feed on and a bowl of water for them to drink. If the water freezes break the surface so that they can still access the water. We really need to look after our winged friends at this time of the year as they are an important part our garden eco-system.

Blink and You'll Miss It

Thinking of Next Year

First published 15th November 2019

November is a strange time of the year, we are still in autumn but the icy bite of winter can be felt on occasions. I’ve said it lots of times before, I love this time of the year it’s a great time of the year for family and snuggling up with a cup of cocoa and a hobnob, I tried Horlicks once never again.

There is no doubt that whilst there are lots to do in the garden still during November many of the tasks are repetitive such as leaf collecting, sweeping paths etc, they’re not exciting but definitely necessary.

I don’t know how many of you have Dahlia’s in your garden but during the summer they produce the most magnificent intricate coloured blooms that are simply stunning to behold. Now in order for these incredibly popular flowers to create their wonderful display again next year you need to take action now.

Actually that’s not strictly true, as with all things gardening it’s always wise to work with nature rather than against her. The weekly drop in the outside temperature triggers the Dahlia plant to begin dying back and as gardeners we are waiting for the first real frost of the year as this marks the time to lift our Dahlia tubers.

The first real sharp frost will cause the Dahlia’s foliage to blacken and all of the nutrients in the plant to descend back down into the tuber which will store the plants energy for next year.

Using a fork carefully lift them out of the soil being sure to not damage the tubers themselves. Clean any loose clods of soil from the tubers and check them for signs of rot. There is not point storing a rotten tuber so discard any that are not healthy. Fill a tub, container or bucket with dry compost and place the Dahlia tubers into the compost. Make sure you store them in a dry frost free environment, a garden shed or dry outbuilding is perfect for this. Talking of perfect doesn’t tea taste better outdoors with a chocolate chip cookie? But back to the Dahlia tubers, they will be quite happy in their new winter home.

Back at the end of September early October time we planted our Spring Flowering bulbs and containers, well now is the best time to plant our Tulip bulbs. You know my thoughts on flowering bulbs I like them to look naturalistic I’m not a big fan of banks of colour with single varieties of flowers, though that said different opinions are what makes the world go round so as long as you enjoy them, plant them how you wish.

Just as a final thought for this week, food is becoming scarce in the garden for our native birds so if you can please put some feed out for them to help them through the winter. Bob the robin is a frequent visitor to my garden and my daughter loves watching him fly back and forth from our bird table.

Thinking of Next Year

A-mazing

First published 8th November 2019

This last week has to be one of my favourite weeks of the year when the Cox household makes their annual pilgrimage to the bottom of the garden for possibly the world’s worst fireworks display.

This year we increased our budget to a heady £15.99 so we knew at best that we’d have 30 – 40 seconds worth of flaming disappointment. I lit the first firework which was called “The Thriller” and I can speak for the whole Cox clan when I say it was definitely not thrilling, though its pitiful display was highly amusing. We had even higher hopes for the current Mrs Cox’s choice of bangers which came with a health warning but they too were sadly underwhelming. We finished the night off by taking it in turns to write rude words with our sparklers in the air, my daughter who turned 10 this year won with “bums”.

The air the following morning was thick with the smell of smoke from all the bonfires, fireworks and sparklers enjoyed the previous night. For me it’s the smell of autumn. Now the autumn is still a great time to get planting and towards the end of November Baytree will be full of bare root hedging plants. Bare rooted plants are considerably cheaper that their potted counterparts. Should you be looking to plant a hedge, wait until the end of the month as it’s the most economical time to do so.

This time last year I purchased some bare root Privet hedging that I’d planned to plant along the edges of my stone paths, though my daughter was adamant at the time that the paths didn’t need edging and that it would be far more fun to plant a maze. I couldn’t fault her logical so I ending up buying twice as much privet hedging as I originally wanted. In the end I’d saved so much by buying bare root plants that the extra plants didn’t break the bank.

Edging the paths wasn’t too taxing. I dug each hole roughly 12inches/30cm deep every 15 inches/ 40cm apart following the paths. Into each hole went the bare root privet and I paid careful attention to not damage the roots. I spread a little Growmore around the base of each plant and gave them a good watering in.

It was at that stage that I decided a cup of tea and fig roll would be necessary as I’d have to do battle with technology, namely the internet in order to find a maze template for my daughter. Thankfully as you all know, children are born with no fear of computers and tablets. So within a few minutes she’d Googlised, downloaded and printed a maze design for me to follow.

I remember my daughter came out to help plant the maze and direct proceedings. It was definitely one of the best afternoons I‘d ever spent in the garden and I can’t remember having so much fun planting. I watched my not so little girl get enthused about gardening for the first time.

Now a year on the maze is about 3ft tall and only the very drunk would struggle to escape its clutches. But that doesn’t matter because to me without question, our little maze is the best maze in the world!

A-mazing

Nothing Changes

First published 1st November 2019

Growing up as a child the dark evenings following the changing of the clocks meant one thing, Christmas and therefore time to get the Argos catalogue out. For anyone reading this under the age of 16, a catalogue is something we used to have in the olden days, and that brings me nicely onto what to do in the garden this week. Whilst technology, new gardening techniques and plant developments has helped gardeners, the basic fundamentals of gardening hasn’t changed in hundreds of years and pruning roses is one of them.

Sadly this week the deluge of rain made doing anything in the garden very difficult but not impossible. My garden looks like a scene from a battlefield following all this rain. Now apart from collecting the fallen leaves on my lawn and paths my main goal this week was to prune my roses.

At this time of the year it is clear to see that the weather conditions are worsening, the wind strength is increasing and as a consequence your roses are running the risk of having their roots rocked loose in the soil. Once the roots have become loose, water is then able to collect around the roots, when that water freezes it can kill the plant. So to avoid that risk it’s best to prune your roses back by a third to a half of their height.

Pruning your roses back in this way as mentioned above reduces the risk of ‘Wind Rock’ and because the plant is more open it will also encourage a greater flow of air around the stems which helps prevent diseases getting a foot hold within the plant.

With a pair of sharp secateurs cut the plant stems reducing the plants overall height. When you’re cutting, cut these stems on a diagonal, this will allow water to run off the exposed stem and not collect on top of it.

It’s not always possible, but when you’re cutting your roses back try to ensure that the centre of the rose plant is exposed. You only want the stems you have left to be facing outwards and not into the centre of the plant as discussed earlier. Whilst you’re working you way down through the plant make sure you cut out and remove any dead or diseased growth. Don’t be too fussy with the pruning now as come February /March we’ll prune the roses properly.

I have to admit that I’d picked a bad time to prune my roses as half way through the heavens opened and because I like to finish a job once I’ve started it, I stubbornly refused to head indoors until I was done. Even after I had managed to peel my water proofs off my soggy body, my fingers where sodden and my Rich Tea biscuit that I’d planned to dunk into my celebratory cup of tea gave up the ghost before reaching the tea. That said just enough of my biscuit broke off and fell into my tea which imparted a sweet taste but gave my tea an unusual gritty texture.

I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned here, I’m just not sure yet what it is.

Nothing Changes

Here I Come!

First published 25th October 2019

I had feared that if we continued to experience further rain fall that I may well end up receiving a phone call from the Glastonbury Festival organisers seeking to use my garden for their festival, as it turns out the conditions at the bottom of my garden, boggy mud and pools of water where ideal for their revellers to enjoy listening to Coldplay in (other middle of the road bands are available) whilst up to their knees in mud.

Thankfully the ground is transforming from quagmire to slightly sodden therefore gardening can re-commence.

June may seem like an eternity away but if you want to have summer fruiting Raspberries in your garden then now is the time to get them into the ground. I’ve opted to plant the variety called ‘Malling Promise’ into my fruit garden. When I say fruit garden it’s just a small 2 metre by 1 metre raised bed that I made last year out of some old railway sleepers.

The benefits of planting fruit canes into raised beds are many, one you don’t have to bend down as far and two, by raising the planting level up above the normal height of the ground it helps with drainage and prevents the roots of the plant being water logged.

Raspberries grow best in a sheltered spot within the garden, strong winds can damage them. The fruit bed I shall be planting my fruit canes into is in quite sheltered spot and gets full sun throughout the day, though a partially shaded spot would also work.

When planting fruit canes such as Raspberries, plant them along a north south axis, this stops them from shading each other as they fruit. Prepare the soil your fruit canes are going to go into by removing any weeds from the soil. Remove all of the weeds roots from the soil as they will quickly re-establish themselves.

Using a spade dig a trench to a depth of 5inches / 13cm deep and about 18inches / 40cm wide. Into the bottom of this trench add a bucket of well rotted farm yard manure every metre, and spread it across the trench. Next plant your fruit canes into the trench spreading the roots system out and leave a good 18inches 40cm between plants then cover with soil and firm them in.

To either end of the raised bed I drilled and screwed two vertical pieces of timber which I used as the uprights for my fruit cane support. By stretching lengths of garden wire from one upright to the other I formed taught lines that I could tie the fruit cane too using soft twine. These rows of wire then support the weight of the canes; avoids damage and helps with fruit production.

Just for a change I’m going to have a cup of Raspberry herbal Tea, I tried Camomile once, never again it tasted like soap to me and I must have gone through at least half a packet of digestives just to get rid of the taste.

Here I Come!

Follow the Line

First published 17th October 2019

Mid October is a great time of the year for planting your overwinter vegetables, the ground while cooling still has a level of latent heat which will allow the root system of your vegetable plants to become strong enough to endure the winter temperatures and weather conditions. So in between clearing the leaves from your lawn, patio and paths, time needs to be made to prepare the soil for our over wintering vegetables.

With the weather in October becoming more and more inclement choosing a day to take on working the soil may be problematic. You’ll find you’ll need to be ready to work as soon as the weather and conditions allow.

Try to avoid digging the soil over after heavy rain as you’ll find after 10 minutes your arms have decided to go on protest and will want to just hang limply by your side.

Anyhow onto the task in hand, I’ve chosen to plant some Broad Beans, Garlic, Shallots and Spinach.

The varieties chosen are: Aquadulce Claudia – Broad Beans, Wight Cristo – Garlic, Onion Electric Shallots, Perpetual Spinach – Spinach.

Here comes the hard work. To begin with clear your vegetable beds of any dead or finished plants. By doing this you stop any pests from overwintering in your veg bed and you prevent them from re-infesting your vegetable plants next spring.

Using a spade dig down to about 30cm / 12 inches and turn the soil over. Take your time with this as it can be hard work especially if you have heavy clay like soil. Once you’ve finished digging over your veg bed use a fork to then break up the large clods of soil. Next we can mix some Growmore into the soil and if you have a heavy soil, then mix in a good quality multi-purpose compost as well. Use the fork again to mix this in.

It is really important at this point if you haven’t already to stop for a cuppa and a chocolate hob nob. The antioxidants and tannings in the tea will speed up muscle recovery and the biscuits will re-fuel the body. None of that is proved yet but I believe it true.

You’re never going to be able to level the soil of like you can in the spring as you’ll struggle to get the soil to a fine tilth, so as best as you can try to rake the soil level and accept the lumps and bumps.

Run a piece of string from one end of the vegetable bed to the other which you will use as your planting line. It’s easier to follow the straight line of the string than trying to follow a furrow in the soil. Remember to clearly write on your plant markers exactly what you’ve planted on each row.

That’s it really just follow the instructions on the back or side of the plant packets and get them planted. A neat well looked after vegetable garden for me is just as beautiful to behold as a colourful flower garden.

Because my body is a temple I’m going to plunge myself into an ice bath now in order for the lactic acid to leave my body just like an Olympic athlete, that is with just the one exception – hot water. Nobody needs to see a hyper thermic prune!

Follow

Do I need the latest kit?

First published 10th October 2019

Autumn is a wonderful time of the year. I love the way in which my garden is filled with beautiful shades of red, orange and gold as the foliage in my garden says goodbye for another year with a dazzling display of colour.

Though as with all things in this world Mother Nature gives with one hand and takes with the other. Whilst the riot of colour is stunning, the flip side is the massive leaf clearing operation that follows.

Last year saw me invest in a better set of leaf grabbers and leaf rakes to stay on top of keeping the garden tidy and my paths clear. It doesn’t take a lot of leaves to build up on a path, before it becomes very slippery. Should you be unfortunate enough to fall over and I’m speaking from bitter experience now, not only is the ground hard but its’ ruddy cold too.

A friend of mine gave me a fantastic tip last week for making the dreaded leaf collecting task easier. He said that he just raises the blades on his lawn mower and mows the grass as normal. I looked at him for a few seconds to see if he was playing a trick on me, I can assure you he wasn’t.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense he went on to say. You’re not cutting the grass, what you are actually doing is shredding the leaves on top of the grass and collecting them at the same time in the hopper at the rear of the mower. The great thing about this method is that the mower blades are effectively mulching the leaves which, speeds up the composting time. Now anything that can speed up taking garden waste and turning it into life giving compost has to be a great thing.

Now I understand that I can’t mow my paths or patio so collecting the leaves by sweeping them up looks to be the easiest option. That said you could invest in a good quality leaf blower that will help you herd the leaves into a nice neat pile for collecting, but as good as they are they are a serious investment that you’ll only use for a few months of the year. That said if you do make the purchase it will last for years to come. A bit like the now threadbare 1970’s artificial silver Christmas tree that my mum brings out every year.

But as much as I’d love a shiny new leaf blower I have a 10 year old daughter who would like an Ipad for Christmas (other tablets are available) and I’d rather see her happy. So using my brawn and not my brains I will continue for this year at least to sweep leaves off my patio and paths and collect them using the giant leaf grabber hands from last year.

On a side note though, when my little girl is helping to collect leaves which, inevitably ends in a full scale leaf fight, the large leaf grabber hands certainly give me an unfair advantage in the battle. Not that I’d ever give them up, as her giggle is infectious when she’s covered in leaves.

Do I need the latest kit?

Bring it On

First published 3rd October 2019

Now that we’ve reached October there can be no doubt that the days are getting cooler the evenings are decidedly chilly and the mornings are definitely dewy. With all this in mind the chances of overnight frosts increases. Early in the month like now that chance is small but the further into the month we venture towards November, then frost damage is going to happen unless you start to take some actions now.

I am planning to over winter my tender plants in my new-ish greenhouse. If you don’t have a greenhouse then now is the time to invest in some cloches which you can get from Baytree. Before I can move my tender plants to the greenhouse a little effort will be required to clean it from top to bottom.

That means washing all of the glass panels and staging with a mild disinfectant, sweeping out any fallen leave or vegetable matter from the floor, so that the greenhouse is empty and free from any diseases.

Greenhouses are great at being warm in the summer but just as good at being freezing cold in the winter. What I do is add extra insulation in the form of bubble wrap. You can buy bubble wrap on rolls with big bubbles and small bubbles. Personally I prefer the larger bubbles as when you finished any scrap cut offs are deeply therapeutic once you start popping them.

The great thing about this type of insulating material is that it will still allow light to enter the greenhouse but forms a barrier against the cold. On nights when I know it will be particularly cold I’ll have my greenhouse heater lit and on the go.

Plants such as Dahlias, Cannas, tuberous Begonia and Gladiola all benefit from being stored in their dormant state through winter. I know this may sound counter intuitive but you have to wait like I for the plant leaves to be blackened by the first frost.

Once this has happened, you can then cut these tender plants down to about 5cm above the ground. Then using a fork carefully lift the plants out of the soil being careful not to damage the tubers. Remove loose dirt and soil from the plants and store them in sand or vermiculite with the crown of the plant just showing.

Now should some of your tender plants be large and well established and clocheing them isn’t an option then mulching them over may well be your best bet. Mulching is the process of covering the soil around the base of the plant to create an insulating layer which will keep the soil under the mulch a few degrees higher than the soil around it.

A good mulch to use would be well rotten farm yard manure, bark chippings or all-purpose composts. All of these materials are readily available from any garden centre. Though whatever mulch you decide to apply just make sure you give the base of the plant a generous covering of at least 3 inches/ 8cm. That’s it, it’s just a waiting game now and all this talk of frost has made me fancy a cup of Horlicks. So I’m off to warm some milk. on.

>Bring it On

Back into Shape

First published 26th September 2019

Despite the incredible weekend weather we have just experienced autumn is definitely here. Too that end it’s really time for me to grab the lawn by the scruff of the neck and bludgeon it back into some semblance of order ready for the winter.

There are many products out there that are all designed to take the hard work out of looking after your lawn. If you still want to work old school though or feel the need for a workout then using a rake you can rake the dead grass and moss out of your lawn. Trust me it will seem like a good idea at the beginning but give it 15 minutes and you’ll look like an extra from Casualty or Holby City if it’s still on.

If that sounds like a pain to you which it is then use technology to your advantage and it’s not cheating to employ advances in gardening science to your benefit either. Too that end I use a product called “Aftertcut, Autumn All in One Feed and Moss Killer”. The real selling point of this product is that it does all of the hard work for you. So there is no need to get the rake out and give yourself a heart attack.

However in order for the product to work its magic a little preparation to the lawn needs to happen first. Don’t worry it’s not complicated all you need to do is mow the lawn as normal. Then leave your lawn alone for 2 to 3 days then apply the Aftercut product.

This is the only complicated part of using the product. You need to ensure that your grass is dry when you apply the feed and moss killer and secondly you want to be sure that it will rain in a few days. If it’s not going to rain in a couple days after applying Aftercut then you’ll need to water it in.

I’m quite lucky because I have a lawn spreader at home which takes all the hard work out of spreading the correct amount of product per square metre to your lawn. You can buy hand held spreaders now which are just as effective.

The instructions on the bag calls for 35g per square metre, so after setting the dial on my lawn spreader all I then had to do was just walk up and down the lawn and let it do the work.

The iron in the formulation will kill the moss in your lawn allowing the grass to grow without competition. With less competition the lawn will be able to withstand the stresses of an English winter. The Potassium in the mix pulls the growing energy from the grass tips down into the roots for storage over winter. Then there is the Nitrogen in the formula that feeds the lawn to create a greener lusher lawn without over feeding as you don’t want a sudden burst of growth prior to winter.

It only took a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to treat my lawn and that was spreading by hand. All I need now is for the rain to fall which according to the Met Office should be any time after 6pm on Tuesday. Feet up kettle on.

Back into Shape

Under the Stars

First published 19th September 2019

I definitely think the autumn thermostat dial has been turned down. There is a definite cooling in the air, whilst the evenings are noticeably shorter they can still be enjoyed with a small Chimenea on the patio and a blanket especially if you’re the present Mrs Cox.

I thought this week that we’d have a go at planting an Autumn / Spring flowering container. You may be wondering how do you keep a container flowering for that long and the simple answer is magic.

The magic is learning how to work with nature rather than against it. The magic is achieved by layering the container with different plants and bulbs.

Hopefully all will become clear when we start:

Into the bottom of a large container (my container is about 45cm in diameter and 50cm deep); fill it to about a third of the total height with a good quality All Purpose Compost with added John Innes. If your container is really large then I’d advise that you place the container in situ and raise it off the flagstones with pot feet. This will allow for good drainage and importantly if the container becomes heavy after planting you haven’t then got to strain every muscle in your body to move it.

Anyhow onto this first layer add your short stemmed tulip bulbs such as Cape Cod which I’m using pushing gently into the compost. There is no need to press hard as we then fill the container with more compost to just cover the tops of the bulbs. Into the next layer we can plant our Tete a Tete daffodil bulbs again press gently into the compost and cover the bulbs so that the tips are just about hidden.

I’ve gone for a mixture of bulbs for my next layer by using Pansies, Forget me Nots, Polyanthus and Crocus bulbs. Same drill cover them with compost but on this layer add a little extra compost and plant the bulbs around the edges of the container. Into the centre of this top layer I planted Dwarf Wallflowers like Tom Thumb. Now I clumped 3 to 5 of them together for better effect and to give greater colour. When you’re planting this top layer remember to not plant them too deep as you don’t want to damage the bulbs beneath.

In early the early spring I’ll begin to feed the container with Tomato Feed or anything with a high Phostrogen content.

Don’t be afraid to have ago at planting one of these as they are so easy to do and come the spring it’s like magic when the new flowers appear and grow through each other.

Planting a container like this shouldn’t take any longer that an hour really and to be fair it’s not the most strenuous task I’ve ever undertaken. This unusually leaves me not craving my obligatory cup of tea but a glass of white wine which I think I might enjoy on the patio under the blanket with the current Mrs Cox

Under the Stars

Autumns Approaches

First published 12th September 2019

Who’s been messing with the thermostat this week, right up until the kids when back to school the weather was brilliant, wall to wall sunshine? As soon as they went back to school autumn appeared and the temperature tumbled. Well that’s certainly the view of the present Mrs Cox. I arrived home from work last Thursday to find her sat in the front room wearing everything she owned with a cup of beefy Bovril(Other beef based drinks are available) in order to keep warm. She’s a stickler for only switching the central heating on after the 1st November.

There can be no doubt that autumn is upon us and with the days getting cooler and shorter it means it’s time to start planning and planting for next spring. For me I find it life affirming to see Daffodils and Snowdrops wake from their winter slumber and bring life and colour back to the garden after what feels like the longest season of the year.

With that in mind I’ll get onto the basics of flowering bulb planting and I’ll talk about how to create a succession planted container in a few weeks’ time. So please look out for that.

When I plant flower bulbs in my flower borders I like to make the planting as naturalistic as possible and the easiest way of accomplishing this is to simple toss a handful of your chosen bulbs onto the soil throwing them in multiple directions. Wherever they land is where you will plant them.

Spring flowering bulbs such as Daffodils, Crocuses and Hyacinths can be planted now or at least by the end of September. I’d normally plant my Lilies, Alliums and Crocosmia bulbs towards the end of September beginning of October and my Tulips I’d plant in November.

The majority of bulbs will grow best in a sunny well drained spot within the garden and a simple rule of thumb is to plant the bulbs to 2 – 3 times there heights depth. So if the bulb is 4cm tall then it would need to be planted between 8cm - 12cm deep. That said just check the planting guide on the back of your bulb packet as there are always exceptions to the rule.

Using a garden trowel dig the hole where the bulb lays and plant the bulb into the base of the hole with the shoot facing upwards. Just a word of note, try to make sure that there’s at least 10cm between bulbs. Again just check the packet. Cover them with soil and gently firm the soil down before moving onto the next bulb. Once planted, try not to walk over the bulbs as there is a chance that you’ll damage the bulb. If the soil is moist then there is no need to water them in. If it’s dry then water them.

I also find that following a freshly brewed cup of tea bulb planting seems easier. Subsequently a cup of restorative tea following the bulb planting task restores best when partnered with Fig Roll.

Autumns Approaches

Harvest Time

First published 5th September 2019

August started wet and windy but ended in a blaze of glorious sunshine. Who can forget that stunning August Bank Holiday Weekend we just enjoyed.

Well September is finally here and it can mean only one thing, harvest time. All of the hard work you have put into sowing your vegetable seeds, hardening them off, planting them out, feeding them and weeding them has finally paid off and hopefully you’ll have a bumper crop of home grown vegetables to enjoy this autumn winter.

With your main crop of potatoes I would suggest that when you lift them that you leave them on top of the soil for a few hours to start the drying process. Then store them in paper or hessian bags in a cool dark and well ventilated place within your home or garden shed. Make sure that you don’t store any diseased or damaged potatoes, as one rotten potato can spoil an entire bag of potatoes. Whatever type of bag you choose to store them in though must be breathable, if not the potatoes will sweat and rot.

Should you have any French or Runner Beans in your garden make sure that you keep cropping them little and often. Continue to feed and water them to prevent them from setting seed too early. Keep harvesting your pea pods if you have them. Once they have finished cropping cut them down to ground level. The pea plants roots will then slowly begin to release nitrogen back into the soil. It’s always best to work with Mother Nature rather than against her especially when she’s giving us a free helping hand here to re-invigorate the soil.

I guess I’m quite fortunate as my wife is great and pickling and preserving the harvest from the garden. The great thing about homemade pickles and chutneys is that it knocks the socks off anything that you can buy from the shops. You can taste the love and care in every mouthful, currently the kitchen is filled with plums which the present Mrs Cox is turning into my favourite plum chutney. You have to have a go. It’s like alchemy you start off with what feels like several hundred weight of fruit which spreads out to cover every available surface in the kitchen and following a few hours of cooking and steeping you end up with four or five jars of the best accompaniment to cheese ever created.

I know I’ve talked a lot about harvesting produce which, for many is going to be the biggest task in the garden this month. However that said now’s a great time to start the garden clear up before autumn starts to take hold. So if you have a greenhouse give it a good clean ahead of any autumn planting. In a month or so there will be an abundance of dead leaves and other dead plant material in your garden so if you haven’t yet, get yourself a compost bin to break down this organic material for putting back into the soil later on the year.

No biscuit today, just a crisp cracker, a slice of Stilton and a healthy dollop of homemade plum chutney, life’s good. Harvest Time

Save what you can

First published 25th July 2019

I don’t mind the heat. It’s one of the things that encourages me to carry on gardening in the depths of winter when it’s cold, wet and miserable. However last week even I began to feel myself melting away like the witch in the Wizard of Oz. Thankfully all of the hours I had spent applying layers of mulch to the bottom of my plants had helped reduce plant stress and water loss. However that couldn’t be said for the present Mrs Cox who, putting it politely had endured swollen ankles, hives and hot flushes for the duration of the heat wave, and is currently lying in a darkened room recovering.

Back in February of this year I gave my wisterias there first prune of the year. This involved cutting back any new growth to about 2 or 3 buds. Well the shoots I cut back have grown on and now need their second cut. So using a sharp pair of secateurs I cut the whippy growth back to about 30cm or 12 inches. Also I looked for any main stem growth that was growing where I didn’t want as they would have needed cutting back also. Wisteria, whilst a beautiful plant to have in your garden, can soon grow out of control and become a bit of a thug. So they do need harsh treatment to keep them in check.

Once the pruning is done it’s a good idea to give the plant a bit of a feed. You can buy a specialist feed but any left-over tomato feed will do just as well. When getting rid of the wisteria clippings make sure that any diseased growth goes into your incinerator rather than your compost bin.

If you have any early flowering perennials in your garden you may that at this time of the year they look a little tired and un-loved, their foliage has become untidy and has turned brown. Well you can give them a bit of a boost by cutting them back close to the ground. In some cases you might even produce a new flush of flowers but certainly you’ll get a fresh growth of healthy green foliage. Hardy Geraniums, Nepetas and Alchemilla are perfect examples of early flowering perennials that benefit from cutting back in early August. When you’ve finished give them a good feed of growmore and within a couple of weeks you’ll start to see the signs of new growth.

Pottering tasks this week again would be to just keep dead heading your flowers and making sure that you water your plants regularly during warm and dry spells. Though, I have a feeling that Mother Nature is going to redress the balance of very warm weather with some very wet weather soon. So my tip is to get yourself a waterbutt so that you can store rainwater for when you need it. Tap water costs money, rain water is free!

Anyway I had better finish their and head off upstairs to see if I can offer my wife a restorative Hob Nob a cup of PG’s finest. Save what you can

Just Stop and Look

First published 19th July 2019

It’s been a week of ups and downs in the garden which is due to the fact that I have been laying a concrete base for the present Mrs Cox’s new Summerhouse. I think she has been watching a lot of those property shows on the TV where they talk about creating an outside room. Too be honest we do spend a lot of time in the garden together so it does make sense.

After barrowing what felt like the world’s entire supply of sand and cement up and down the garden, I can safely say that I am no builder. I am 47 years old and I found muscles in my body that I never knew I had. For the 3 days following I must have looked and sounded like some alien invader from outer space as I dragged my beaten and broken body onwards muttering expletives under my breath with every step.

So what about the ups? Mother Nature seems to know how just to balance life out really, whilst hobbling through the garden like the creature from the black lagoon I happened upon the most beautiful deep red Dahlia with its green foliage glistening with dew in the early morning sunshine. It was at that moment that I then began to notice the other colours and scents in the garden and it was truly a magical experience.

The trick now is to keep that memory alive and the way to do that is to continue dead heading any flowering plants that you may have. I know I say this a lot but dead heading really extend the flowers, flowering season. Herbs need picking, the more you pick from your herbs the more this encourages them to produce new growth.

Remove any dead foliage from your beds and borders you’ll be amazed at the extra light that can now get to your plants. Collect any fallen leaves and compost them, stay on top of mowing your lawn. At this time of year if you don’t cut it your lawn regularly you run the risk of creating the world’s newest jungle rather than a green oasis.

Keep up with your watering routine and where possible try to use rain water that you have collected. Waterbutts are inexpensive when compared with the cost of using metered water from a tap. Also you’ll find that plants will respond better to rainwater than tap water.

The summer is in full swing and the most important thing you can do is just get out and enjoy being in your garden sanctuary. None of the tasks I’ve mentioned above should be taxing. Just do a little bit every day and you’ll soon see the rewards.

Next week Gerry is popping round to help me erect the present Mrs Cox Summerhouse on the newly laid base. It won’t have running water but it will have a kettle and a well-stocked cupboard of biscuits. Now who doesn’t love a jammy dodger in the garden! Just Stop and Look

Decisions Decisions

First published 12th July 2019

Whilst the news teams are gripped with the question Boris or Jeremy? I find that I am wrestling with an equally momentous conundrum, Charlotte or Maris Bard?

Thankfully though after a thorough and frank discussion, the what potatoes shall we grow for Christmas committee which, consists of myself as chair, my wife as secretary and my daughter as special adviser agreed that we would grow Charlotte potatoes. A special condition of planting by the committee was placed. The potatoes would have to be grown in containers so that the 10 year old special advisor could get involved.

At this time of year conditions are perfect for growing potatoes in containers, the soil is warm, the days are long and there is still plenty of rainfall. Normally when planting potato tubers you would put them on a windowsill somewhere cool for a few weeks to chit. However at this time of the year the tubers can be planted straight into the soil and they will get off to a flying start.

Growing potatoes in containers is so easy. That said there are a few golden rules to follow to ensure success.

1. When planting tubers into containers leave a 4 inch / 10cm gap between the top of the soil and the top lip of the container.
2. Only plant 1 tuber per 10 litres of soil.
3. Plant them into good quality Multi-Purpose compost with added John Innes.
4. Keep yourself hydrated with a well brewed cuppa.

I have a 50Litre pot into which I’m going to plant a batch of Charlotte seed potatoes. Using the rule above I can plant 5 tubers into my 50Litre pot.

To begin I filled my container with Multi-purpose compost with added John Innes which I filled to the level advised above. The reason for this is so that as the plant grows more compost can be added to prevent the growing tubers from turning green, this happens when the tubers are exposed to sunlight. A chemical reaction then occurs in the tuber which makes the flesh poisonous.

Into the compost mix I then planted my 5 tubers with the eyes facing up. Each of the tubers where planted to a depth of about 4 inches/ 10cm.

In about 2 weeks I shall be looking for the first shoots to break through the surface of the soil. All being well I’ll be looking to harvest in October.

Once the foliage starts to thicken up it’s a good idea to water the container regularly as the tubers will be drawing lots of moisture from the soil as they swell. High Potash feeds such as those you use for tomatoes are a good feed to give you potatoes at this time.

There is quite a small window to consider when planting potatoes at this time of year. Generally you have July and August in which to get what are traditionally called Christmas Potatoes planted. The aim is to grow your potatoes in the mid to late summer and harvest in the autumn before the onset of any frost.

Once you have harvested your potatoes they are best stored in a cool, dark and dry area. Decisions Decisions

Viva Espana

First published 5th July 2019

What a week of beautiful weather we have had and that’s all down to the fact that I went away on holiday last week. So if you would like to personally thank me then please be my guest.

I have to admit that I had an enormous feeling of dread when I walking into the garden for the first time in a week, did I set the irrigation system correctly? What if the water supply was cut off? What if the attachment had come of the hosepipe? Would there be a celebrity in the corner filming a piece to camera about the decline of British gardens?

To my delight the automatic irrigation system I had set up before heading off to cultures new did a great job of watering my lawn and keeping my container plants moist whilst away.

So the instead of having to work really hard to get the garden back into shape and tripping over hosepipes and watering cans I was able to enjoy some time just pottering about in the fresh air.

The summer months of July and August are all about enjoying the fruits of your labour from earlier in the year. It is harvest time for Strawberries, Raspberries and Currants plus many other soft fruits. You can really taste the sun in them, and you know there are no chemicals in them.

For the time being watering should be the main priority, if you can try to use grey water instead of tap water as at this time of the year water consumption increases and so does the risk of a hosepipe ban so wherever possible try to use water that you have captured yourself. Getting a water butt is a great way to collect and store free rainwater for use in the garden. I’m quite fortunate that I have a well in my garden which is fed by several underground soak away pipes.

Most people will have finished planting their summer bedding. However that doesn’t mean that the work is over. Regularly dead heading your bedding plants will encourage new flowers and stronger growth plus you lengthen the display of colour in your garden into early autumn.

One of my favourite pottering tasks is to simply do the above, except I also dead headed my roses and other flowering plants. I did notice that whilst my containers where irrigated whilst I was away on holiday, they had become dry, not worryingly dry but dry none the less. A good tip would be to dampen down the outside of your un-glazed terracotta pots and containers. Un-glazed terracotta pots whilst beautiful to look at have a habit of wicking moisture away from the soil. If you place a hand against one of these pots on a warm summer’s day, you’ll feel that the pot is very warm, and because terracotta pots are usually quite large this means that they have a sizable surface area in which to evaporate the soils water.

If you have a greenhouse, make sure you open the doors or vents during the day and close then again at night to regulate the temperature and to encourage a good flow of air through the greenhouse.

I’m off indoors now for a cuppa and a pack of biscuits that I can’t pronounce that my wife brought back from Spain. Viva Espana

Check the Cooker

First published 27th June 2019

It’s July and the sun should be shining and the evenings should be warm and the wine should be flowing. In a few short weeks the schools will be breaking up for their holidays and it will mark the beginning of the great British get away.

I for one don’t want to enjoy my few weeks in the sun to return home and discover that my garden resembles a scene from the Lion King with wildebeest and hyenas roaming my lawn which is drier than the plains of central Africa. We all know that when we go away the weather back home will be scorching.

With a little planning and investment you can reduce the chances of starring in a Born Free documentary after returning home.

The key to the whole thing is irrigation, irrigation is the process of applying water to the soil which allows your plants to absorb nutrients from the earth and grow into healthy plants. Without water the plant becomes dehydrated, wilts and dies, which is pretty much the same thing that happens to me should I not get my regular lifesaving cups of tea with maybe a rich tea biscuit, purely for medical reasons only.

A simple solution to irrigating your plants whilst you’re away is to simply ask a next door neighbour to water your garden for you under the promise of maybe a bottle or two of Sangria. However that might not be possible for any number of reasons.

In recent years the cost of automatic irrigations systems has tumbled in price, and the biggest advantage of an automated system is that it requires no human intervention.

So what to choose for your budget and requirements? Well without wanting to run the risk of banging the Baytree drum your best bet is not to consult the internet but to speak to a real human being such as Dean at Baytree. Speaking to an expert can help you not only save money but also save time when connecting the system together.

In my garden I know that there are two main areas that are pretty much in full sun all day long. They are my main lawn and the patio area where I grow flowers and herbs in small containers. These two zones need the most help from drying out. After taking advice I opted for a Gardena Flex system which was a little under £40. It consists of an electronic timer which connects to your outside tap into which your hosepipe connects. On the other end of the hosepipe I have attached a sprinkler which oscillates from side to side covering the lawn with an even coverage of water. A great benefit of using one with a timer is I can program the system to water at night when risk of evaporation is greatly reduced.

My solution for irrigating my herbs and container plants is decidedly low tech. For the price of a couple of sandwiches you can invest in a pack of water spikes. They have a thread on one end and a small hole in the other. You simply take an empty plastic bottle, fill it with water, screw the water spike on top and plunge it into the soil in your containers. The hole in the spike then gently releases the water into the soil over a number of days.

All you’ve got to do now is enjoy your holiday, now did you remember to turn the cooker off? Check the Cooker

Corr Blimey

First published 13th June 2019

In all of my years I can’t remember a time like last week when it rained constantly. I’d imagine like me your garden looks like a scene from a disaster movie. The only ones that I think haven’t been really bothered by the colossal rainfall we have had are my new pond fish. Though they were last seen swimming up the A17 towards Fosdyke Bridge after my pond burst its banks.

So what to do, if your garden like mine was under several inches of water, the important thing is not to panic. Hopefully when you read this your garden will have had a little time to dry out and for the flood waters to recede and the ark that you have built to sit back down on its moorings.

Your lawn is probably looking worse for wear following its underwater adventure. Please try not to walk on your lawn until the water has fully drained away. Walking on your lawn whilst the grass and soil is saturated runs the major risk of soil compaction, which will make water drainage difficult which, in turn will cause greater damage. Finally it will make it very difficult for the grass root system to grow into these dense compacted areas.

Don’t be in such a rush to mow your lawn either it will be nursing a hangover for a few days. However when you do decide to give the lawn a trim, make sure that you raise the blade height on your lawn mower or you will just end up with a yellow lawn.

The heavy rainfall will almost certainly have washed many of the free nutrients out of the soil and into the drains. Therefore it is important to give your shrubs and border plants a good feed of growmore. Again just wait until the ground is firm enough to do so. This supplementary feed will restore the nutrients in the soil and revive your potentially ailing plants.

Let’s be positive now and look at the tasks we can complete which don’t revolve around flood damage. Warm weather and rainfall is all that your garden weeds need to grow out of control like a petulant teenager. Keeping on top of weeding will feel like back breaking work at times but it is the difference between a nice garden and a beautiful garden. There are two schools of thought one is to simply pull the weeds out of ground ensuring that the entire weed including the root is removed. The second school of thought centres on the use of chemicals to control the spread and growth of weeds.

Using chemicals to control your weeds need not be scary, the formulas of modern products are far more environmentally friendly that say 10 years ago. There are a plethora of weed killers on the market but the one I use is Weedol Lawn Weedkiller It’s easy to apply and as soon as the product makes contact with the weed it begins to take effect and more importantly once dry it is not harmful to wildlife and pets.

The wellies are off, the kettle has boiled, and order is restored for another week. Corr Blimey

Scent of Summer

First published 6th June 2019

My daughter came home from school on Monday absolutely fit to burst. During the day they had cooked their own pizzas. Well it turns out that they had made the dough and the sauce and then chose their favourite toppings, sprinkled with fresh herbs. No freezer isle for them.

She was so enthusiastic about how great this pizza tasted and how much she enjoyed picking the herbs that went onto her pizza that I thought I really ought to plant up a little edible herb garden for her. It could sit outside the back door and my wife could also pick fresh herbs whenever she needed to.

There are many herbs to choose from which all have different tastes and fragrances and uses. That said our herb garden is going to be an edible garden, so I settled on these herbs, Trailing Rosemary, Oregano, Chives, Sage, Dill and Basil.

On a recent trip to an antiques and collectables centre I was fortunate enough to buy a ceramic sink for just a few pounds that my little herb garden would look fantastic in. I first laid some broken pots on the bottom of the sink and made sure that the plug from the sink was removed and that the sink was slightly angled forwards towards the plug hole to allow better drainage. I then filled the sink with John Innes Number 2 compost. This compost is a mix of loam, peat and sharp sand which my young herbs will thrive in. It’s important to note that when planting herbs that they will spread, so don’t plant them too close to each other allow them a little room to breathe.

After some thought I decided to plant the Chives in the rear left hand corner, the Basil in the rear centre and the Sage in the rear right corner. The reasoning behind this was simple. These three herbs will grow upwards and provide height and interest whilst creating a background for the other herbs. Right in the centre of the sink went the Dill. The Trailing Rosemary went front left and the Oregano went front right. The Rosemary as it grows will gently cascade over the front of the sink and the Oregano will spread across the right hand side.

Potting is very simple, gently tap the herbs out of their pots being careful not to damage the root system and plant them in the compost so that the crown of the plant is level with the height of the compost. Give them a good watering in when you’re done.

This is where the fun really starts as the best way to keep your herbs happy healthy and growing is to continually crop them. Do not allow them to form flowers and run to seed. However at the end of the season you may want to harvest some of the seeds. Dill seeds are particularly delicious in homemade bread. There may well be a few days or weeks when you don’t particularly need to use fresh herbs in your cooking, on these occasions it is really important as said earlier to keep cropping.

Cropping your herbs when you don’t need them doesn’t mean that they have to go to waste. Dry your herbs by hanging them in bunches in your kitchen or pantry before placing them into jars for use later in the year. Create infused oils with your fresh herbs. Not only do they taste delicious but they also make great gifts for friends and family.

So there you have it in a few weeks my kitchen will be full of the scent of summer. Unfortunately this simple herb garden required no biscuits and no cup of tea to be consumed during its creation, however my daughter has promised to make pizza tonight, every cloud. Scent of Summer

Pond 2

First published 30th May 2019

Following my marching orders from my nearest and dearest to tidy the pond just over a month ago I feel now I’m ready to start on stage 2.

I remember the thought of tiding the pond was worse than the actual physical work involved. However a month on from that task I now want to add to the pond plants and create a little bit of interest with some fish in the pond. My little dog Teddy is going to have a fit when he sees what I have in mind.

Summer is definitely on its way and the water temperature is rising steadily from week to week in line with the amount of daylight we are receiving. The downside to this is that algae and weed can quickly thrive and take hold of the pond turning it into thick green goo!

The natural way to keep your pond water clear is to shade a two thirds of the water with plants and a great plant for doing this are water lilies. Also into the mix you need to sink plenty of oxygenating plants.

The idea is that this combination of plants will take the rich nutrients out of the water and starve the algae of food. Firstly I take an aquatic plant basket which is just like a plant pot crossed with a colander. Into the bottom of your aquatic basket add a generous handful of aquatic compost and pop your oxygenating plants into this compost. Most oxygenating plants have weights around their stems to help them sink to the bottom; however I like to give them the best possible start in these baskets. Gently lower your plants into the pond.

Water lilies which I shall use to provide shade need a little more effort to get them off to a good start. Lilies need to be gradually lowered into your pond, getting deeper week on week. It is important to seek advice from an expert like Graham from Baytree before purchasing a lily as the size and depth of the pond will play an important factor in deciding what size of lily to opt for.

My pond is about 8ft wide and 2ft deep in its deepest part. Following Graham’s advice I opted for a medium sized Lily. Into the pond where I want my lily to grow I placed an up turned plastic crate onto which I sat the lily. This allowed the plants leaves to sit on the water’s surface. As the weeks go on and the plant grows I will replace the crate with ever smaller crates or whatever I have to hand. The aim is to ensure that every time you lower the lily that the leaves are not submerged and sit on the surface of the water. After a few weeks the plant should be sufficiently large enough for it to be at its final depth of 2ft with the lily floating resplendently on the surface.

I now need to head off and do some light reading on how to keep fish in a pond. Kettle’s on, digestives are on the table, and “How to Keep Fish for Beginners” is open on chapter 1.

See you next week. Pond 2

Tomato Masterclass

First published 23rd May 2019

Like a kid with a new toy I have spent most of last week in my new Greenhouse. I wanted to see what it would be like to sleep in it but my wife said no. I can confirm though that my greenhouse is very good at keeping tea warm as I have a habit of putting the cup down and forgetting where it is.

This week though I am going to concentrate on planting up my tomato plants that have been growing on my kitchen windowsill since the beginning of April.

Before planting them into their gro-bags it is a good idea to spend a little time getting the bag nice and level so that the depth of compost is consistent across the length of the bag. Once they are level leave them in the greenhouse for a couple of days. This will allow the compost to warm up.

I have always chosen larger deeper gro- bags so that the roots of the plant can really take hold. A larger gro-bag by its very nature has a larger volume and this greater volume helps to hold onto moisture and won’t dry out as quickly as a thinner bag. If you’re trying to grow beef tomatoes then definitely opt for a larger bag.

A good gro-bag to go for in my opinion is the “Westland Gro-Sure Gro-Bag” which you can find at Baytree.

Using a sharp knife make a 5 cm horizontal slit 2 cm up from the base of the gro-bag. This slit will allow any excess moisture to escape the bag so that the roots of the tomato plant aren’t constantly wet. By cutting this slit in the bag you will allow a little reservoir of water to form. This is okay as the roots will have to dig their way down to get it.

Down the sides of my Greenhouse, either side of the door I have stretched a piece of wire from end to end about 5ft or 150cm high. This wire will help support the tomato plants as they grow.

I only plant 3 tomato plants per gro-bag, that way they are not competing against each other for food. With only three plants per bag there are plenty of nutrients to comfortably sustain them for the first 6 weeks before feed will need to be added.

Using a sharp knife make three X shaped cuts equal distance apart on the top of the gro-bag. These X’s should be no larger than 10-12cm square. Gently fold the cut flaps inside the bag to expose a square patch of compost. Dig a hole which is deep enough and wide enough for your tomato plants to go into so that base of the stem is just below the top of the gro-bag. Firm them in then pinch out any side shoots from your tomato plants and give them a good watering in.

Make a loop in a piece of soft twine and tie it around the stem of the tomato plant below its first set of leaves. I won’t make the loop too tight as I don’t want to damage the plant. The other end of the twine I will gently draw up and tie to the wire from earlier, leaving a little slack. I then carefully wrap the tomato plant around the twine.

On warm days open the windows and doors of your greenhouse and at night close them again. The aim is to try to maintain an even temperature within the greenhouse. Now where did I leave my cup of tea! Tomato Masterclass

What A Result

First published 16th May 2019

Without running the risk of sounding smug, it’s been a pretty good week for me personally. My neighbour has decided to move (not because of me) so that he can be closer to his family. The upshot of this is he has gifted me his old greenhouse.

Several days ago I dismantled it from his garden and re-assembled in mine. When finished I really wished I had worn gloves as I cut my fingers on the glass pains in places I never knew you could cut. However, I managed to stem the blood loss to live another day.

So for anyone who owns a greenhouse or has just bought a greenhouse it is important to regularly clean and disinfect the space. I before putting plants in mine gave all the panes, aluminium frame and staging a good scrub with disinfectant to ensure that I was not transferring any diseases into the greenhouse.

Greenhouses by their very nature will give plants a warm humid environment in which to thrive, conversely fungus will also thrive because of the closed eco system. To reduce the risk of fungal infections regularly open the doors to your greenhouse to encourage good airflow.

To combat the build-up of pests in your glass house hang fly traps which are sticky tapes that flying bugs find irresistible, once they have landed they are then unable to leave.

Neudorff stocked at Baytree has developed a product called Bug and Larvae Killer; it controls a wide range of harmful pests including aphids, whitefly, greenfly, spider mites and thrips. It also acts on the eggs and larvae. The neonicotinoid free product carries a low risk to bees.

Since we’ve tackled the greenhouse it would be wise to tackle pests in the garden this week also. At this time of the year Leather Jackets and Chafer Grubs will be becoming active causing damage to your lawn. I’d recommend using Nematodes to treat these infestations. Essentially these little microscopic creatures feed on the pest, controlling their numbers.

The great thing about Nematodes is that they are a totally organic solution. It’s best to apply the treatment to wet grass, so apply on a day after it has rained. Mix the Nematodes into water in a watering can and off you go. The treatment is pet and child friendly. Speak to Dean at Baytree about Neudorrf’s range.

Check for possible blackspot and aphid damage to your roses and treat with Rose Clear Ultra. This is my opinion really is the best product out there on the market at the moment. It’s not organic but it is effective.

Viburnum Beetle Larvae start nibbling this month and if left uncheck can cause huge damage to you Viburnum plants. The larvae are yellow in colour with small black spot and about 5mm long. You can either pick the larvae of the plant by hand or treat with a pesticide such as BugClear Ultra. Though once the larvae start to pupate there is no point treating as the damage is already done. Another option is to hang fat balls in and around the plant; birds will eat the fat balls and maybe take a few larvae while they are at it.

That’s it for this week; feet up and get that kettle on! What A Result

Back Again

First published 9th May 2019

Can you believe it we’re actually in May, where has this year gone? There are two main points to recognise about May, the first point to mention is that as the month progresses the chances of damaging frosts diminishes. The second and more important note to remember is that it is my birthday on the 16th so if anyone would like to send me any birthday biscuits that would be most appreciated.

If like me you have planted potatoes this year then you will need to start earthing or banking them up. It does take a little effort but when done you’ll look like a prize winning potato grower. Using a garden rake, or the back of a garden spade mound the earth up on either side of the potato plant so that from the side it looks like one long giant toblerone. The height of this toblerone ridge will be around 20-30cm depending upon the top growth of the plant. What you are effectively doing by mounding the soil up is preventing any growing tubers from being exposed to sunlight. Prolonged exposure will cause the tuber / potato to turn green which is potentially poisonous.

With the temperature general rising, staying on top of watering the plants in your garden is key as is preserving moisture in the soil.

A great way to keep moisture locked into the soil is to mulch around your plants, you’ll also find that the mulch will release nutrients into the soil which will also improve growing conditions for your plants and shrubs. When mulching you want to apply a good 5cm / 2inch layer of product around the base of your chosen plant. Before doing so though carefully remove any weed or unwanted plant growth from the surrounding area.

Weeds are like that really boring individual at a party, just when you think you’ve managed to get rid of him, back he’ll come to talk about camera lenses from the 1950’s and how they’ve changed whilst spitting Vol-au-vent all over your jumper. So please keep on top of your weeding routine this month or risk Brian coming back.

I’m going to stop there on that as I’m running the danger of making gardening sound like a chore instead of a joy.

The longer warmer days and rainfall will have supercharged your lawn and it’s going to need cutting at least once a week. If you haven’t applied a treatment to your lawn yet to kill of any weeds and feed the grass you still have time to do it. I’d recommend using “Organic CleanLawn” from Neudorff which you can get from Baytree. The great thing about the product is it is organic and formulated from totally natural ingredients.

Essentially you can apply the product to the lawn and as soon as it’s been watered in you won’t need to worry about it doing any harm to pets, wildlife and any children who may play in the garden.

When mowing the lawn just make sure that the cutting blades are sharp, whilst a blunt blade will still cut the grass a sharper blade will require less effort from you to cut the grass. So I’d recommend renewing you lawn mower blade for the season or having it re-sharpened.

I’m off to work on my birthday present list now speak next week. Back Again

Optomistic Bunch

First published 2nd May 2019

On the whole we gardeners are an optimistic bunch, this year’s pea crop is going to be the best ever, my potatoes I’ve planted are going to taste better than any potatoes I’ve tasted before. I’m going to get sponsored by Rich Tea Biscuits as I eat so many and this year my hanging baskets are going to win prizes.

A beautiful colourful cascading hanging basket in full bloom not only looks beautiful but it fills your heart with an enormous sense of pride when you can say “I did that”.

The plants that you have been growing on from earlier in the year should be ready to plant in your basket now, however fear not if you haven’t any plants to plant Baytree is full of beautiful basket and bedding plants grown on their own plant nursery which are perfect for planting now.

When choosing a hanging basket in my opinion it is always best to go for the largest one you feel you can lift and handle. The reason for this is the larger the container the more soil and moisture it can hold. Small baskets which hold less soil will dry out much quicker. I’m going to plant up a 14in / 35cm diameter hanging basket.

Start by lining the inside of the basket. Traditionally baskets would have been lined with Sphagnum Moss, however I as a lot of other gardeners prefer to use a Coco liner which is made from Coconut husk. Into the bottom of the basket place a circular piece of polythene which will be about the size of dinner plate. This will help to retain the water in the basket.

Mix a good quality basket and container compost with moisture retaining granules, all of these you can purchase from Baytree and fill the basket to a third full. Using a pair of old scissors or a garden knife make several equal distant holes around the basket through the liner so that the base of the hole is level with the top of the soil.

I’ve chosen to plant a selection of Bacopas around the sides. Gently tease the plants out of its plug and pass the roots of the plants through the holes and fan the roots out gently on top of the compost. When finished cover with another layer of compost and repeat the process again but stagger the holes so that they are not directly on top of each other, when the flowers begin to grow and cascade the basket will look more natural.

I managed to plant three layers of Bacopas in my basket before reaching the top. That said I left the compost 2in / 5cm below the top of the basket.

Into the top I added Trailing Begonias around the edge and in the centre I planted upright Geraniums. Make sure that when you plant these that you take care not to damage any of the other plants that are nestled below.

The plants will need watering now as will you so get the kettle on and enjoy a brew with a couple of the aforementioned biscuits.

As soon as you water the basket its weight is going to triple. So my advice would be to hang the basket where you intend it to live and either use a hose pipe with a watering gun attachment set to a fine spray or a small watering can again with a fine rose. The chances are the hanging basket is going to be above your head so trying to lift a large heavy watering can may not be the best option, watering the basket with a smaller can may take longer to do but you won’t injure yourself in the process. Optomistic Bunch

Peas Peas Peas

First published 26th April 2019

It’s been a really hot and dry few days and the garden is certainly starting to suffer a bit from the lack of rain. So the main task in the garden this week is to simply keep on top of watering your plant. A good idea is to invest in a Water Butt for collecting any rain water. I know it’s not going to help right now but in the long run it will mean you can water your plants from rain water for free as opposed to using water from a tap.

Anyhow there is a couple of do’s and don’ts when it comes to watering your garden. The biggest don’t is watering in the middle of the day when the sun is at its’ hottest. Not only will you waste water because of evaporation but you’ll also risk burning any delicate foliage due to the small water droplets left on the leaves. Each one of those droplets acts like a magnifying glass.

Do water the base of the plant avoiding getting water on the foliage, also water in the evening. That way as the temperature drops the risk of evaporation diminishes and the plant then has all night to take up the water before the sun begins its drying effect again in the morning.

To break up the tedium of watering this week I thought it was about time I started to sow my pea seeds. When it comes to growing peas I’m a bit of a creature of habit. Both my family and I really love “Hurst Green Shaft Peas” they have never failed me and they taste fabulous.

For me growing peas or beans makes you look like a proper gardener. Out of the shed comes the garden twine, bamboo canes in garden centres are inspected up and down the country for their plant supporting properties and small perfectly formed wigwams begin to grow out of the soil in veg patches everywhere.

As with all seed planting, preparing the soil is key to success. Using a fork dig over the area where you intend to plant your peas and break up any large lumps. Be careful as always to remove any weeds including all of their roots as the weed can regrow from the smallest piece of root left in the ground.

Rake the soil as level as you can this will also help break any lumps of soil up. When you’re happy put the kettle on and enjoy a fresh brew. You need hydrating in this warm weather just as much as your plants do.

Draw a circle in the soil which has a diameter of about 18inches/ 45cm. Then press four 4ft / 120cm garden canes into the soil keeping them equal distance apart around the circle, if it were a clock face they’d be in positions 12,3,6 and 9. Bring the tops of the canes together to form a bamboo wigwam and tie them together with your string.

Make 2 more of these wigwams. Using your finger make a hole about 2inches/ 5cm deep at the base of the each cane on your first wigwam. Cover with soil and water. In 10 days plant another four seeds at the base of the canes on wigwam number 2, cover and water. In another 10 days, well you get the idea.

Keep them well watered as they grow and don’t forget to water yourself. Tasty veg

Into the Pond I Go

First published 19th April 2019

On reflection my decision to put off tidying up the pond at the back end of last year was not one of my finest decisions.

Most well planted and healthy ponds work on the principle of zones, each zone within the pond interacts with the other. Aquatic plants use up the nutrients in the water and create areas of shade. These plants then starve green algae of nutrients and prevent your pond from turning green. Oxygenating plants such as Ranunculus Aquatilis - Water Crowfoot are great for this as is Ceratophyllum Demersum – Hornwort, all of which you can get from Baytree Garden Centre.

Zone 1 should be planted with moisture loving bog plants; these plants bridge the gap between the pond and your normal soil.

Zones 2 and 3 are referred to as marginal plants, zone 2 plants are generally planted on shelves or ledges in the pond to a depth of around 6in / 15cm. Zone 3 plants can be planted much deeper to a depth of around 16in / 40cm.

Zone 4 is where you’d plant Water Lilies and your oxygenating plants.

Finally Zone 5 consists of floating plants.

So how to tackle my overgrown pond, well the important thing to remember here is to work on getting the pond back into shape over a few days or preferably a week. Attempting to tidy the whole pond up in one day will result in the delicate eco balance being upset. Also when thinning plants out from the pond or removing them all together, leave these discarded plants on the side of the pond for a few hours before composting, this’ll allow any small creatures the chance to return to the water.

Starting with the plants in Zone 1 the bog loving plants, I removed all the dead foliage and growth and divided some plants up into smaller pieces, some I removed altogether.

After making my way around the edges I begin to work on the marginal plants in Zone 2. It’s an easier process as all I had to do was reach down and pull the baskets up out of the water containing my plants. I removed the dead growth and halved the size of the plant as it was getting root bound.

If you’re tidying your pond too, leave the pond alone for a day or two before tackling the deep Zone 3 and 4 sections of the pond. Depending upon how deep your pond is, waders may be required as you’ll need to get into the pond to clear any dead and decaying organic matter at the bottom of the pond. I’m not going to lie this job can get quite smelly and can be hard work so try not to lift anything heavier than you feel comfortable lifting.

Again leave your pond alone for a day or two. Now we can get some new plants into the pond to introduce a little variation and interest. Water Soldier plants are great for this as they rise and fall during the season in the pond, they are great for filtration and oxygenating the water. Get your Water Lilies in the water now, remember they are Zone 4 plants so will need to be placed in the deepest parts of your pond.

The water in my pond is beginning to clear and the pond looks loved again. I’m off to make a cup of tea before asking my wife what she thinks! Water lily

Summer Flowers

First published 12th April 2019

April is still playing tricks with us yesterday whilst taking the dog for a walk it felt like I experienced four seasons in just one day. That said this morning the sun was beaming through the bedroom curtains. It was one of those morning were getting out of bed is a pleasure rather than a chore.

With the ground warming Clematis, Honeysuckles and Climbing Roses are sending out new fresh growth that will need tying in. Tying the new growth to something firm and stable will support the plant and will allow you the opportunity to train the plant to grow in a way in which you find visually pleasing.

Clematis is a great versatile plant that can grow over trees and through shrubs and generally create extra interest in the garden throughout the garden season. Avoid choosing fast vigorously growing varieties of Clematis if you want to keep the plant in one area as it will soon grow out of control.

I’m going to plant a couple of new Summer Flowering Clematis this week and I want to grow them outside my back door, I have a little patio area which catches the afternoon and evening sun. There’s a fairly plain white wall that I’d really like to cover and add some interest too. A quick trip to any garden centre should see you able to pick up a width of garden trellis to form the frame that the Clematis will grow up. A little bit of DIY will be required in order to secure the wooden trellis to the wall .

It’s important to make sure that when you attach the trellis to the wall that you place spacers behind the trellis in order for the trellis to be about 2.5cm/1inch away from the wall. The best way to do this is to secure two pieces of baton at either end of the trellis. This space will allow the Clematis to climb over and through the holes in the trellis.

Dig the soil over underneath the trellis and remove and weeds as you go along. Turn you plants out of their pots and dig a hole deep enough for the top of the root ball to be 5-8cm/2-3inches below the top of the soil. Back fill and firm into place then give a gentle water to say welcome home.

Weave the clematis stems and shoots in and around the trellis in whatever direction you choose. These shoots are delicate so please take care not to damage the plant.

Repeat this process until all of your plants have been planted and coaxed into place on the trellis. If you need to, you can use a soft jute twine to secure the climbing shoots against the trellis but again don’t tie these too tightly.

At this stage you like me may find yourself getting a little parched and as my Doctor keeps telling me “You need to stay hydrated” and you have to follow Doctor’s orders. Though I’m not sure he’d prescribe the three Jammy Dodgers that will accompany my rehydration ceremony.

During this month you’ll find that your lawns growth is increasing in speed. Don’t scalp you lawn by setting the cutting blades on your mower too low. It’s best to gradually reduce the cutting height week by week.

Whatever you do though, just enjoy your garden! All the seasons

Let the Games Begin

First published 5th April 2019

Can you Adam and Eve it we’ve made it out of winter and officially into spring. April is a fantastic month to be out in the garden, the days are generally warm and sunny without being overly warm. The evenings are getting longer and nature is bursting back into life with beautiful warming hues. The Garden for me at the beginning of Spring is the best place to be in the world.

So then I guess before we get all teary eyed I’d better lay out a couple of tasks that I think any one of any age and ability can tackle this week.

I’m going to start with a really simple but fun way of getting young people interested in gardening, and best of all it will inspire a passion for growing. I’m talking about tomato plants, they are readily available now from Baytree Garden Centre, you’ll find all the popular varieties on offer as well as all the feeds composts and sundries you’ll need.

Just a word of warning here whilst Tomato plants are available at the moment it doesn’t mean that they are hardy enough to be planted outside just yet. What we’ll do is grow them on indoors on a windowsill or a greenhouse if you have one.

I’ve chosen to grow cherry tomatoes as I prefer the flavour of the smaller fruit. When you get your young tomato plants home you’ll need to re-plant them in a larger pot just so that they have a chance to establish a good root system before planting out in early summer.

Fill the bottom of a 1ltr pot with a good quality multi-purpose compost. Whilst holding the tomato plant gently turn it over so that the plant and its roots become free of the pot they came in.

Now plant this into the 1ltr pot from earlier and fill the soil around the root ball, let the new soil just cover the base of the plant and give and firm it gently into place. Repeat this as many times as you need to. Place them in a long shallow trough and give the plants a water to bed them in. After they’ve had a drink, move them to a sunny windowsill. They’ll need water every so often as they grow.

In our house we’re growing three plants, one’s mine, ones my wife’s and ones my daughters. Each one has been labelled. Grandad will be judging the best truss of tomatoes when the time comes.

So heading outside I’m going to use a good all-purpose general fertilizer to feed my trees, hedge and rose bed. However it is important to read the instructions carefully before using any fertilizer and I find I read best whilst sat with a cup of tea and custard crème or two.

Feeling thoroughly versed in the correct application of fertilizer and revived it’s time to get going. All I do is sprinkle some Growmore around the base of each plant, rake the feed and the soil together so it has a bit of a mix then I give it a good watering in. As the month progresses I’ll add a layer of farmyard manure to the beds but we’ll deal with that later. Tomato plants

Chitty Bang Bang

First published 29th March 2019

I’ve been looking forward to this day now for a good 6 weeks, my seed potatoes or tubers which have been sat gently chitting in their egg box have matured into alien looking creatures that can now finally be planting into the ground.

Preparation is the key to the success of a good crop of potatoes, a little effort is required but you won’t need a degree in engineering to get good results.

Potatoes generally like a soil with a high potash content, many gardeners will have prepared the soil into which their tubers are going to be planted last autumn with some farmyard manure.

The manure applied last year will have had a good 4-5 months to be broken down and absorbed into the soil. If you haven’t pre-prepared the soil last autumn don’t worry we can do that now, however we will use a feed like Growmore instead as it’s balanced levels of potash, nitrogen and phosphorus will be give the potatoes a really good start.

Put the kettle on, put milk in your cup and teabags in the teapot. When boiled add the water to the teapot, then head back into the garden.

Start by digging the soil over where you intend to plant your potatoes, use a fork for this and with all planting be careful to remove any weeds including the roots. Use the side of the fork to break up any large clumps of soil. I normally dig down about 30cm or a foot.

There is no getting away from this, it’s pretty hard work. This is where the teapot comes in. Rome wasn’t built in a day so as soon as you find yourself starting to tire or struggle head indoors and enjoy a cup of tea that you’ve made ahead of time.

Continue in this rhythm until the potato bed is dug. Sprinkle the Growmore onto the soil. Try to make good handful cover a square metre. Then use a rake to rake the fertiliser into the soil and at the same time smooth the soil over to a nice flat surface.

My first early seed potatoes need planting about 18inches/50cm apart in a row and the rows of potatoes need to be a good 2feet/60cm apart.

Into the soil plant your potato tubers with the shoots facing up to a depth of about 8inches/20cm and cover with soil using your rake. When they have all been planted, give them a good watering in, mark them and leave them alone.

After a week or 2 signs of growth should be visible on the surface of the soil, at this point we need to pay a little bit of attention to the weather forecasts. Frost can do real damage to our young plants, so if frost is forecast make sure you fleece or cloche them to protect them until the risk of frost has passed.

Wash you tools off, kick off your wellies and head inside for a restorative cup of tea a maybe a nap whilst Homes under the Hammer is on. Chitting potatoes

Who needs a Haircut

First published 21st March 2019

I’ve seen several people out and about this week wearing short trousers. This is nature’s way of indicating to us gardeners that it’s probably about the right time to start mowing your lawn and getting it back into good shape for the summer ahead.

Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day and getting your lawn under control is going to take a little work and some patience. For the first few cuts of the year set the blades of your lawn mower to a high position as you just want to cut the tips of the blades of grass as opposed to a military crewcut.

It took me about half an hour to cut my lawn this morning and whilst mowing it gave me the chance to have a good look at my lawn. On the whole it’s pretty healthy but there were several large patches of moss dotted about, so to give it a bit of a boost I decided to give it a good feed and moss killer treatment.

I’m not a fan of putting man-made chemicals onto my garden if I can help it and for the last few years I have used a product from Neudorff called “Organic CleanLawn”. The great thing about the product is it is organic and formulated from totally natural ingredients. Essentially I can put this down and as soon as it’s been watered in I don’t needs to worry about it doing any harm to my children, pets or wildlife.

You obviously can use any lawn feed you prefer. But with Organic CleanLawn you don’t need to go out and buy an expensive lawn spreader, you can spread it by hand and not worry about putting too much down as it can’t damage the lawn. Even better is after a few days you can generally notice the moss turning brown and dying back. You don’t even have to rake the moss out. (At Baytree Garden Centre it has been one of our best sellers because of its ease of use).

The great thing about feeding your lawn now is that it will help to create a thicker lusher lawn and it is this stronger healthy lawn that will make it harder for weeds to compete.

If you’re going to tackle this job over the weekend try to pick a day where it’s dry during the day with rain forecast for later. If it’s going to be dry all day it just means you’ll have to water the feed in once you have spread it.

On a separate note, if you have a pond in your garden with a pond pump I would be inclined to start running it again for a few hours a day to prevent it from silting up.

As with all gardening tasks it is important to keep your fluid and sugar levels up so purely for medicinal purposes consume one digestive biscuit and one cup of tea for every half hour worked.



If the weather is with us next week I think we should tackle getting our chitted seed potatoes into the ground. Loving the lawn

Ahead of the Curve

First published 14th March 2019

Okay, we’re fast approaching the middle of March and the race towards Spring is well and truly underway. So to get a little ahead of the curve I’m going to tackle getting my summer hanging baskets off to a good start.

It’s still too early to plant out hanging baskets at the moment with summer flowers but that doesn’t mean that we can’t grow our plants on in a greenhouse or bright window sill before planting out in May.

I would advise you to head to the seasonal glass house here at Baytree and take in the incredible range of Kindergarden Plug plants that we have for sale. You’ll be spoilt for choice.

Once you have chosen your varieties you’ll need to show them some care when you get them home. To begin with you’ll need to mix some multi-purpose compost with perlite together. The aim is to create a loose open free draining mix for your young plants to be transplanted into.

Gently remove the plug plants from their trays by pushing them out from the bottom, the blunt end of a pencil works really well for this. Once removed give the roots of the plant a good misting of water with a handheld atomiser. Keep the plug plants upright when finished as you don’t want to damage their delicate stems, they are just babies after all.

Fill as many 9cm pots you’ll need with your compost mix. If you’ve bought eight plants you’ll need eight 9cm pots and so on. Using a garden dibber or any other tool you fancy make a hole in the compost which is slightly larger than the plug itself.

The next stage is hold each plant by its root plug and gently tease the roots out. This will encourage the roots to spread out into the new soil. Be careful here not to damage the stem of the plant. Pop your plant into the hole and gently back fill the compost mix around the root system. Firm the compost down, but don’t be too aggressive with this.

This all sounds far more complicated than it actually is, but once you get started it really is a doddle. When all of your plants have been potted on give them a good watering using a fine rose in your watering can as then it won’t deluge the plants with water, or wash the compost away. Transfer your plants to either a greenhouse or windowsill.

They’ll have to live there for about 4 – 5 weeks. The nutrients in the compost should easily feed your plants.

Make sure though during this intensive period of growth that you take on plenty of tea and biscuits purely to keep your strength up for the gardening weeks ahead. I believe the Bourbon biscuit is perfect for job especially as they make good double dippers. Get set for basket plants

Time to get Organised

First published 7th March 2019

What an amazing few weeks of un-seasonally warm weather we have just enjoyed. As lovely as the weather was please don’t be fooled into thinking that Spring has sprung. That said this month work in the garden begins to ramp up and by the end of March beginning of April weather permitting, your garden will be ready to burst back into life.

This week I am going to tackle planting my summer flowering bulbs out in the garden and then sowing my half hardy annuals in my new heated propagator.

I’ve chosen to plant my Gladioli, Ranunculus and Lily bulbs this week because they are quite hardy. Dahlia and Begonia bulbs really need potting on and planting outside when any risk of frost has gone. I prefer my summer flowers to not look too regimented so what I tend to do is throw the bulbs into the air and wherever they fall is where they‘ll be planted. I have a £4.99 bulb planter which I use to remove a plug of soil into which I plant the individual bulb’. You’ll find them in our tool department at Baytree.

Just a word of warning though, scatter and plant each pack of bulbs one at a time as different flower bulbs require different planting depths. So if you were to scatter them all at once you’d be hard pressed to identify each bulb and how deep to plant it.

The great thing about Taylors bulbs is each variety has detailed instructions on the back of the packet pertaining to planting depth and care etc.

Hopefully you won’t have worked up too much of a sweat planting your summer bulbs, though there is nothing wrong with a little sit down and cup of tea following your successful completion of the first task this week.

Kick of your wellies if you haven’t already and dig out your heated propagator. Heated Propagators are essentially small greenhouses where they regulate the temperature inside to encourage seeds to germinate and form good root structures.

These types of propagators are not that expensive with prices starting from around £25. I am going to sow some Marigolds but you could choose to sow Ageratum, Impatiens, Cosmea, Petunia, Lobelias or any other variety of half-hardy annual.

To start with fill the tray in your propagator with good quality potting compost, and then sow the seeds directly onto the top of the compost following the instructions on the seed packet. Cover the seeds with a light layer of vermiculite, this helps to keep the moisture in the compost. Place the lid back on your propagator and turn the power on. All being well your seeds should germinate within a week.

Keep watering the seedling post germination and when you can see two sets of true leaves on the seedlings they can then be transplanted carefully to a bigger pot and left to carry growing on in a sunny spot indoors, a warm windowsill is great for this.

With both tasks done surely it’s got to be time for another cup of tea and a slice of angel cake! Grown from seed

Tackling the Dreaded Wisteria

First published 28th February 2019

Well I thought the weather last week was going to take some beating but this morning I have woken to the most beautiful sunrise over the fens. Teddy my little four legged friend enjoyed his morning walk chasing after any leaf that happened to blow his way.

Since it was such a beautiful day and the weather was set fine I promised Teddy that we would spend the day in the garden, that way I could get some much needed pruning done.

For many of you like me you’ll have Wisteria growing in your garden. Wisteria is a beautiful flowering plant that needs to be pruned twice a year, and now is the perfect time for its first prune. Start by cutting back any new growth to about 2 or 3 buds. These are the shoots I cut back to 30cm last August. It’s best to do this now while the plant is dormant and leafless. Should your Wisteria like mine need major pruning to get it back under control for the summer, you need to tackle it now and work methodically. Cut back any old growth or branches that are starting to obscure any windows, or that are growing into your gutters. You can if needed cut right back to a main stem but again just take a little care.

Should you have removed a large well established section, gently tie a new younger branch into place against your frame to train the plant to grow into the empty area left behind.

You can of course put your prunings into your compost bin, but remember not to put any diseased wood into your compost bin. I would put them in an incinerator for later.

Moving on, if you have any colourful stemmed shrubs such as Cornus or Salix I would also be looking to give these a trim whilst I’m in the cutting mood. Just a word of note though, you really only need to start hard pruning established shrubs. So if your Cornus etc. is younger than 3 years old I would leave it until they reach that age.

Cut all the stems back to about 7cm or 3 inches above the ground. When I did this I thought I was working quite tidily until I looked round and saw that Teddy had taken great delight in spreading the pruned stems to the four reaches of the garden. I couldn’t be angry with him as he was having such fun.

Eventually after chasing Teddy around the garden I had collected up the stems he had so thoughtfully arranged for me into the incinerator.

To ensure good strong growth I would advise that you apply a good quality all-purpose fertiliser to your shorn shrubs such as Growmore.

Rather than incur the wrath of my neighbours by burning my garden waste whilst there washing was hanging out to dry I waited till it was dark. Then armed with a celebratory Custard Cream and a mug of tea I lit the incinerator, said a few words and enjoyed the moment with Teddy my new furry garden mate. Caring for Wisteria

The First Cut

First published 22nd February 2019

As I sit here writing this article the sun is blazing through my patio doors and the lawn is covered in a silvery blanket of frost. Apart from the fact there is very little growing the garden looks beautiful. I guess that’s why I and many others like me endure the rain and the cold whilst working in the garden for days such as this.

Mid-February is the perfect time for pruning your Clematis plants, now this is where is will get a little complicated so please hold on to your hats. Clematis plants are sorted into group classifications based on when they flower.

Group 3 Clematis flower in the summer through to late autumn and flower on the fresh stems grown in the same year. This group contains varieties of Viticella Clematis and low growing, herbaceous clematis such as Clematis recta ‘Purpurea’. This is the group we are going to prune. If you are in any doubt just pop down to your local garden centre or have a chat with one of our gardening experts here at Baytree Garden Centre.

The great thing about Group 3 Clematis is because they grow their beautiful flower heads on new fresh growth you can afford to cut them back quite hard. A bit like a fresh Army recruit getting their first haircut.

Look for a good healthy pair of buds about 20-30cm above the ground and using a quality pair of secateurs cut all the growth of above those buds. I advise that you now tie this stems to a plant support ring to spread the stems apart so that the Clematis has room to grow into and won’t become too tight. Use either soft gardeners twine or plant twists to hold them in place, don’t tie them too tight we don’t want to cut into the stems.

Pruning this group of Clematis back like this will encourage fresh vigorous growth in the spring when the soil warms up.

A job like this shouldn’t take long the hardest part is deciding which pair of buds you are going to cut back too. Have the courage of your convictions and don’t try to second guess yourself. Pick the buds then prune. I’d imagine that hair stylists would be good at this as they are constantly making decisions about where to cut.

Should you have found the whole pruning experience a little traumatic I find a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake really helps me to calm down, that is apart from Battenberg Cake, I don’t understand why anyone would make a cake that looks like a chess board Stunning Clematis

The Onion God

First published 11th February 2019

At this time of the year Mother Nature likes to throw every type of weather condition it can think of at us, usually all on the same day.

However should there be a break in the weather this week and I’m talking about a dry day, you can at least head out into the garden and start preparing the soil for your onion sets.

There is a fantastic range of onion and shallot sets in Bulbland at Baytree. After several moments trying to decide which bulbs to plant I eventually settled on Hercules F1’s. My final decision was made purely on their name, who wouldn’t want to grow Herculean Onions.

Using a garden fork dig the ground over where you intend to plant. Pay special attention to removing any weeds from the soil that you come across. Try to remove the entire weed including their roots. Weeds are like Rocky Balboa, just as you think you’ve beat them they get back up again and start growing again.

Onions don’t generally grow deep roots so when digging the soil over dig down to about 9 inches or 20cm. Use the side of your fork to break any large lumps of soil down, pick out any stones as well whilst you’re doing this. The aim is to break the soil up to a fine tilth.

Once you are happy with your work it’s time for a cup of tea and maybe a rich tea biscuit. You don’t want a celebratory biscuit just yet as there is still a little bit of work left to do.

Maybe save the Chocolate Digestives until you’ve finished.

The strength of Hercules

Bare Root Rose Planting

First published 4th February 2019

Whilst January for many is not their favourite month of the year it does provide a few opportunities for getting work done in the garden. Okay I will admit it’s not the peak of the gardening season when jobs are plentiful but because the ground is cold and most plants are dormant it is the best time for planting your bare root roses, trees and bare root shrubs.

By planting out your bare root plants now it will allow the plant to establish itself just as the soil slowly begins to warm. By the time we get to Easter your plants will have established strong and healthy root systems. What you are in fact doing is working in harmony with Mother Nature by planting now. Just make sure though that you don’t plant anything whilst the ground is frosty.

For this week though I’ll just concentrate on bare root roses. This may well sound like I’m teaching you to suck eggs but the most important thing to remember is to source your plants from a quality supplier and grower. At Baytree we’ve been growing roses for over 45 years and we are proud of the quality of the roses we supply. Plus by buying your roses from a reputable grower such as ourselves you know you’ll always have expert advice on hand whenever you need it. Okay sermon over.

To begin with, pop your bare root roses in a bucket of water for about 30 minutes to allow the roots to get really hydrated before you plant them in the soil.Use a fork to dig over the soil where you intend to plant and remove any stones or weeds as you go.

Now using a spade dig a hole about 40cm wide by 50-60cm deep and add a good dollop of farmyard manure to the base of the hole. (Farmyard manure is available from all garden centres including Baytree).

Here comes the science bit, hold your rose over the hole you have just dug and sprinkle some Mycorrhizal Fungi over the roots. This really helps the roots to establish themselves in the soil.

Next spread the roots out carefully and place your rose into the hole, make sure that the graft union which is the bit between the roots and the green stems is below the top of the hole by about 2 inches.

Back fill the hole and lightly firm the rose into position with your foot this will also remove any air pockets in the soil. Finish the whole procedure by watering the rose in followed by a cup of tea. (Please note the Tea is not for the plant).

On a separate note just remember that food is becoming scarce for our feathered friends at this time of year so please put out some high energy fat balls in addition to seeds and meal worms for them. Bare root rose

Create Your Garden Dream in 2019

First published 28th January 2019

2019 is the year in which with a little help from Baytree Garden Centre we will help you create the garden of your dreams. It’s going to take a bit of work and some planning but with a little dedication and effort by the summer you’ll have the beginnings of a garden to be proud of.

It looks very likely that the weather is going to turn decidedly colder in the next few weeks which will mean that certain plants will need protecting in order for them to survive the winter months.

Start by moving any planted containers to a sheltered south facing wall. Use a specially designed pot trolley to move your containers around your garden. If the container is too heavy to move then my advice would be to insulate the plants where they stand.

Insulating tender plants need not be a daunting as you think. At Baytree we carry fleece in lengths to suit. Try to tackle wrapping your plants on a calm day; there is nothing more frustrating than chasing large sheets of fleece around your garden in a force 10 gale.

I pretend that the plant or pot I am wrapping is in-fact an odd shaped Christmas present. The trick is to roll the fleece around the circumference of the plant, wrapping it several times without crushing the plant. You want it to be snug but not suffocating, I use a good quality waterproof tape to secure the insulation, however string is just as good but it’s a bit fiddlier. Don’t completely seal the fleece blanket as the plant will need to breath and have good airflow, without this it could sweat and begin to rot.

It may not be the prettiest present you have ever seen but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and come the spring you’ll be really pleased to see your plants burst back into life. Another great job to tackle at this time of year is chitting your first and second early seed potatoes. It’s really simple; the hardest task you’ll face is selecting a variety of potatoes to grow. At Baytree you will discover a large range of seed potatoes including all the gardener’s favourites in Bulbland.

Place your seed potato tubers with the eyes facing the sky into an old egg box. It is from these eyes that the roots will form. The egg boxes individual sections are great for separating your tubers and you can also write the variety of potato onto the box making them easier to identify at a later stage.

Now leave them to their own devices in a cool but bright location. I tend to leave them on a windowsill in my spare room. That will do for now, see you next week! Creating the perfect garden

Rabies

First published 19th November 2018

This is my penultimate article for this year and in a little over 2 weeks I will have to pack away my trusty Commodore 64 with word processing software for a few months until anything exciting in the garden happens again. I have always enjoyed using the most up to date technology but earlier in the year I had a go at using a MacBook pro other laptops are available. It was beautifully shiny and machined from the finest materials this planet could offer, but could I use it?

My mind went to mush and I found myself behaving like the woman at the bank who always seems to be completely confused with how to pay money in and turns around to everyone in the queue and apologises for holding everyone up despite the fact that she’s been paying in money for years!

Whilst a suitable box and location for my Commodore 64 with word processing software has been identified I still managed somehow to tackle a couple of jobs in the garden this week which were more interesting than the picking leaves up off the lawn. However it was while picking up the leaves that I noticed all my Dahlias had black foliage. Disturbed by the thought that maybe my garden had contracted rabies I rushed down to Baytree to seek urgent medical advice. As always after a brief wait in A&E or Baytree’s reception Dr Graham arrived and immediately allayed my fears. Dr Graham BSc (Botanical Specimen Consultant) told me that it was perfectly natural for my Dahlia’s foliage to blacken following a frost.

I was prescribed a course of instructions to follow to safe guard my Dahlia tubers until next spring.

Stage one involved lifting the Dahlias out of the ground and trimming away all of the top growth leaving about 3inches of stem above the tuber itself.

Stage two Into the box that I had been saving for my Commodore 64, I played a couple of sheets of newspaper onto which I placed the tubers turning them upside down to drain.

Stage three When they were completely dried out I popped the tubers onto a layer of dry compost in a plant tray. I gave the tubers a light dusting of Sulphur Powder which Dr Graham told me acts as a fungicide to stop the tubers rotting. To finish off I added another layer of dry compost to cover the dahlia tubers but not the Dahlia crowns.

Into the shed they went having been put to bed for the winter. I’m off to play some Pacman now on my new Atari; I’m so down with the youth. Beautiful Dahlias

Bottoms Not Up

First published 12th November 2018

Finding time to do anything at this time of the year is like juggling a boiling kettle, no sooner have you have caught the kettle you need to throw it away before the onset of 2nd degree burns. This is how my life feels at the moment as I flit from one job to another.

Determined to find some time for me this week I re-arrange my schedule to give me 90 minutes of spare gardening time this weekend to broaden my green fingered skill set. There are still some jobs to do in the garden but as the ground cools these jobs become that of a care taker as opposed to a Chelsea Flower Show Garden designer. That said though after speaking to Graham at Baytree whilst Christmas shopping with my family he mentioned that now is a great time for propagating hard wood cuttings. Obviously I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about but the more I listened to him the clearer the fog became.

Fast forward to Sunday morning were I have managed to schedule 90 minutes of garden time. I headed down to the bottom of my garden in my greenest of wellie boots where I have several Ribes or flowering currants as they are known. Following a good look over each plant I decided in my mind were I would take the cuttings from. The skill is to take cuttings from the main shoots which are about the circumference of your little finger and are really woody. You need a good 8 to 10 inches of strong wood before the tip of the cutting gets too whippy.

Carefully with a sharp pair of secateurs I took my cuttings. This for me is where gardening becomes like witch craft. I took my spade and made a small incision into the soil about 4 inches deep, one spade width wide, simple. Now this is where it becomes slightly technical, you have to cut the flexible growth off you cutting to leave you with an 8 to 10 inch stick. Make sure you remember which end was the top and which end is the bottom.

Put you first cutting into the small slit you have made in the soil making sure the bottom end of the cutting goes into the soil. Using your preferred gardening foot firm the ground around the cutting. 45 minutes later I was finished and I had 25 minutes left of free time which I put to good use by watching The Good Life. All I need to do now is wait till the spring, then I can lift my new cuttings. Margo reminds me a lot of my wife. taking a ribes cutting

Great Expectations

First published 5th November 2018

Bonfire night went with a bang, my £12.49 box of fireworks provided seconds of entertainment, but what an amazing few seconds they were.

Claire bangers were a bit of a disappointment though, my fizzing roman candle barely fizzed and the super rocket finale didn’t even make it out of the ground. That said we had a great time as a family in the garden writing rude words in the air with our sparklers. “Bottoms” was the longest distinguishable word we were able to create out of our sparkler art.

I know £12.49 is not a huge amount of money to spend on fireworks and too be fair I knew they wouldn’t be very good but when you light the touch paper you are hoping for a London’s New Year’s Eve style celebration. Without fail the dream never quite lives up to reality.

However this week I think that I have found the exception which proves the rule. My wife’s sister Mandy visited for a bit of a girlie catch up. Whilst they were together they decided to head to Baytree for tea and cake. Mandy is a bit of a keen gardener so she wanted to take some plants home with her. Mandy’s garden is a little bit shorter than our garden and backs onto open fields. For months now she has been trying to decide what to do with the bottom of the garden as whilst the open views are fantastic. It doesn’t provide a great deal of privacy in the summer.

From prior discussions I know she has talked about maybe getting a fence put up. That said I know she’s not too keen on such a solid barrier.This is where Graham from Baytree come in, he’s there resident plant expert. He leads my wife and Mandy over to the bare root hedging section of the garden centre. Graham explains that if you don’t want a solid barrier at the bottom of the garden why not plant a hedge.

The ground is still warm and whatever you plant now will put good roots out before the onset of the colder winter months. Best of all bare root hedging is much cheaper than buying hedging plants in a pot. So for less than £50 Mandy is now the proud owner of a privet hedge at the bottom of her garden. Okay it’s not going to break any records at the moment, but give it time and her small investment is going to pay dividends. So there are still a few things out that that don’t cost the earth that will eventually exceed your expectations. Planting a hedge

Time to Cosy

First published 30th October 2018

I personally love it when the clocks change. I love the cold dark evenings that this time of year brings. I love the fact that it means you’re officially allowed by the government to cosy up on the sofa with a cup of hot chocolate in front of a blazing open fire with your dog fast asleep at your feet.

For many people including my wife the short days and long nights become something to endure and not enjoy. I wish I could understand why. Growing up as a child I remember fondly running home from school, throwing my coat and lunchbox to the floor in the hall then running into the front room to watch He-Man on the telly or Battle of the Planets. The dark evenings meant one thing – Christmas and time to get out the Argos catalogue. For anyone reading this under the age of 16, a catalogue is something we used to have in the olden days, try to imagine a big book full to the brim with of pictures of camping equipment, watches, jewellery and most importantly toys, well that was the Argos catalogue.

Today everything is on touch screen tablets and smart phones. You don’t get to smell the ink on the page or feel the weight of the publication on your lap. Whilst it would seem many things have changed quite rapidly in my living memory thankfully gardening has pretty much stayed constant, yes there are new varieties of plants being bred all the time and new types of labour saving devices are constantly coming to market. But when you think about it the actual process of growing, tending, nurturing and enjoying the garden hasn’t changed.

This brings me neatly on to my task in the garden this week, which I know is a task that hundreds of thousands of gardeners will be embroiled in across the country this weekend, a job I’m sure that gardeners have done for hundreds of years. I’m talking about just tidying up the garden. Autumn leaves whilst beautiful soon create a mess of the lawn unless you stay on top of them, thankfully I have a compost bin on the go which all of my leaves go into. Some of the paths in my garden are starting to get a bit slippery so a good scrub with a stiff brush and some algaecide should treat that.

So for me dark evening and short days are a throwback to when things were maybe a little simpler. It was a time when social media meant playing a game of monopoly with your friends and family. Texting meant talking and family meant everything. So tonight I’ll be cosying up in front of the fire with guess who. Cosy up

What am I Doing?

First published 23rd October 2018

As I lay in bed staring at the ceiling on Saturday night following a rather alcohol soaked dinner party I found myself prepared to sell my soul to the devil or anyone who might be listening in return for the room to cease spinning.

Eventually I must have slipped into a coma because the next thing I remember is my entire family eating there breakfast around me whilst I lay motionless in bed. Elated with my Bear Gryils feat of survival I tried to sit up when I discovered that I had Japan’s entire Sumo Wrestling team inside my head. They seemed hell bent on destroying what little cognitive functions I had left.

I kissed my wife tenderly on the cheek. “Darling I love you” I said, moments later the room fell silent and I could see a bright white light appear in the room. This is it I thought. Suddenly I felt an icy cold sensation running down my chest. It turned out that my daughter had spilled her Coco-Pops down on me and the bright white light that had filled the room was as a result of my wife opening the curtains. Unfortunately for me I had agreed whilst under the influence of large amounts of alcohol to plant our Blackberry canes today. Both my daughter and my wife where keen to get started, they were excited about the prospect of home grown homemade Blackberry crumble next summer.

Earlier in the week I had taken my daughter to Baytree to choose with variety of Blackberries we would grow. Dave in the plant department was brilliant he told us about a thorn-less Blackberry variety which seemed perfect for our needs. So into our trolley went Oregon Thorn-less, two of them in fact it was going to be a big crumble. Dave explained how we would need to train the canes as they grew and the easiest way to do this is to grow them against a section of trellis. As the plant gets bigger you just tye them to the wooden trellis grid. “Sunlight makes sugar” Dave said. “So make sure you plant them where they can get lots of sun”.

So there I stood at the bottom of the garden head pounding, knees buckling beneath me and eyes burning. Struggling to coordinate my body something amazing happened, my little girl came over and explained what we need to do. She had listened word for word to Dave at Baytree.

Following her instructions to the letter by lunchtime we had erected the trellis and had gently tied the Blackberry canes to the trellis. I don’t even like Blackberries….. Soft fruit

The Fumigator

First published 16th October 2018

The scene was set, my wife and daughter where both out enjoying a girly shopping day together I was home alone. I had full control of the TV remote. Times like these don’t come along very often so into the DVD player went Snatch, not a critically acclaimed film I know but a very cool film none the less. Obviously I turned the surround sound up to eleven….

Though, after the glasses in our side cabinet started to rattle I turned the volume down to a safe eight. Fifteen minutes in and the action was really starting to build when there was a thump at the door. Had I upset the neighbours? Pausing the film I headed for the front door? Sucking my belly in to look more manly like Brad Pitt I opened the door.

“Morning mate, I’ve got the Green house your wife said she wanted”. Since it wasn’t my neighbours I no longer needed to hold my stomach in, but since I had started with the “Brad suck” I couldn’t then release it without looking a little special. I’d better give my wife a call” I said my voice cracking as the need to breath became overwhelming.

Well it turns out my wife had been talking to one of the parents at my daughters school who had a greenhouse that they no longer needed and were looking to give away. Unfortunately my wife had forgotten to tell me this information before she’d headed off shopping! I led Brian into the garden and took him down to where the Greenhouse would live. “I’ll give you a hand bringing it round” I said to which he was thankful. To my surprise Brian then said he would erect the greenhouse. After a few hours and several cups of tea the Greenhouse was finished.

I picked up my car keys and headed down to Baytree to get some advice on what to clean it with without causing a Def-con 1 style biological incident. Dean told me the best thing to clean the glass with would be ‘Jeyes fluid’ that would kill any harmful bacteria and fungal spores that had attached themselves to the glass and frame. Dean went onto explain that it is really important to ensure that you don’t transfer any plant diseases from Brian’s garden into yours via the Greenhouse.

Before I left Dean gave me a Fumigating Can which you light inside the greenhouse and close all the doors and vents and leave for a couple of hours.Content with my work I sat back down, pressed play on the DVD player when my missing shoppers returned. Oh Bugger!

Fumigate a greenhouse

I Just Want to be Normal

First published 10th October 2018

Thankfully I’m fully recovered from my brush with Novichok. I have asked that my blood samples be sent off the ‘Centre for Disease Control’. It’s only right that my DNA is used to save others.

I’ve also asked the CDC to please keep my name out of the media. Obviously I know there’d be huge public interest in me but I simply must protect my little village from the media circus that would ensue. Being the savour of mankind and having to keep it a secret is a burden that I must bear.

To provide and extra layer of privacy should I be named, my wife and I made the bold decision to follow Rapunzel’s example. In order to protect ourselves from press and fan intrusion and to avoid photos of my wifes underwear being plastered all over the front of the tabloid newspapers; we would plant a thick border of trees around our property, that way we could lead normal lives with our privacy in-tact.

Heavily disguised, my wife and I headed down to Baytree. Sue the plant area manager didn’t recognise us at first but it didn’t take long for her keen eye to see through my Marilyn Monroe disguise and my wife’s Dr Who costume.

Sue took us over to Baytree’s tree section where we were able to pick out about 10 trees to get started with. Silver Birch, Mountain Ash, Acers and a Liquidambar were our tree choices.

Sue explained that now is the best time of year to be planting trees but they would need a little bit of care to get them to thrive. As soon as Dr Who and I got home we started to mark out where to plant the trees. We kept moving the trees around until we both agreed on their final positions. Fortunately we have good soil so digging the holes for each tree wasn’t too bad.

In the bottom of each hole we added some Westland Bone meal and used a small garden fork to rake the soil to a fine crumble.

Each tree in turn was taken out of its pot and stood in its hole. We than hammered in a tree stake making sure it was well away from the trees roots. Once the stake was fixed we then gave the tree a really good watering and then back filled the soil giving it a firm press to compress the soil.

We then gave the tree another good watering before finally tying the tree to its support stake.When we’d finished we stood there surveying our work when a drone flew over. Damn the high tech paparazzi.



Planting

I will Not be Broken

First published 3rd October 2018

Last week whilst flicking through a copy of the Woman’s Weekly in my doctors surgery I couldn’t help but think would this magazine be the last thing that I read and did the receptionist know just how close to deaths door I actually was.

I was convinced Lionel my neighbour had poisoned me with the Novichok nerve agent. He had probably dusted his ‘Round Up’ container with it. The same ‘Round Up’ container that he’d passed over the fence for me to take a look at. At the time I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that he was wearing gloves.

He had the means and the motive, Lionel has never agreed with my approach to gardening. Plus I know he’s very jealous of my lawn which, in no small part is down to the advice from Dean at Baytree Garden Centre.

However the real clincher is his surname, it’s Lennon. If you change the ‘o’ in his surname to an ‘I’ what do you have? I have long suspected that higher powers are trying to subvert my attempts at gardening but I had no idea that I’d be at the centre of an international plot.

The buzzer sounded and my name was called. I slowly rose out of my chair surveying the room like Jason Bourne as I made my way to the consulting room. After a thorough examination I emerged from the surgery with what I believed to be the antidote to Novichok, my doctor however insisted it was penicillin and that I had a nasty chest infection.

Over the next few days I could feel my health returning to normal the anti Novichok drugs were working. As the fog of my near death experience began to lift I noticed that the summer bedding in my garden looked like it had been ravaged by a similar nerve agent. However Dean assures me that my summer bedding was just dying off and it’s now time to start planting my winter bedding.

When my strength had fully returned I headed down to speak to Sue at Baytree, I knew she’d be able to help me pick out a good selection of plants best suited to my garden. Dressed in my full mission impossible gear I ventured out into the garden. I removed the dead and dying summer bedding plants from my borders and threw them into my compost bin.

To lighten the soil a touch I mixed in a little multi-purpose compost into which I then planted my Winter Pansies, Violas and Aubrietia’s into. My mission should I decide to accept it is to make my garden even better than last year. I cannot let the dark international powers win.

Novichok

Family Man

First published 28th September 2018

October is just around the corner that means it won’t be long before trick or treat and carved pumpkins with more missing teeth than my aunt Mable.

Worst of all though I will shortly have to suffer the menace they call – leaves. For the uninitiated trees, bushes and most plants look absolutely beautiful in spring with their soft greens which deepen over the summer months into a riot of colour. The garden looks like a scene from a classic painting, I’m sure if Constable was still alive although he’d be 170, he would none the less have wanted to paint my garden.

I could admire the brilliance of his work in the Tate gallery and stand there all day long telling visitors it was my back garden he painted before security escort me of the premises for impersonating a gallery attendant.

But back to the point in hand the palette of summer colour soon fades to browns, golds, reds and oranges as autumn sets in and for about 23.48 minutes my garden looks fantastic. Then it happens, a small bird flies over my garden carrying a small twig back to its nest where it is building its home for his new birdy wife to have birdy babies when, the downdraft from the little family man’s wings causes all of the leaves on my trees and bushes, to fall to the ground faster than lead balloon.

This year however I am going to get myself prepared, I am going to invest in a super duper set of leaf grabers with the sole intention of harvesting every last leaf to go into my new compost bin. No leaf is going to get left behind on my watch.

A quick trip to Baytree and after discussing the different leaf picker upper options on the market I decide to go for the jumbo leaf and grass rakes, there like a pair of great big plastic baseball gloves that you use to just scoop the leave up with.

However I did following advice from Dean also invest in a new leaf rake as Dean said it is a lot easier to scoop the leaves up if they’re all in one place. It all seemed to make sense to me so I now feel fully prepared to tackle the following leaf aerial bombardment.

It’s now just a waiting game. I have spotters looking out scouring the skies who are relaying information back to me on the status of the nest building birdy. Our best guess is that I have just five days left before he makes his fly past. The Red Baron

Bedtime stories

First published 20th September 2018

It’s my little girl’s birthday this week and she turns nine. That means that it has been nine years since I witnessed first-hand the beautiful experience they call childbirth.

It’s 5am in the morning and after regular reports on my wife’s state of dilation our small Chinese midwife asks her colleague for the forceps. After much heaving the baby is not budging so the midwife asks the nurse to help pull. Unfortunately their combined strength is not enough. More people are required.

Soon the room and the corridor is full of people, some were medical staff the rest were made up of anyone they could drag in from the maternity ward. We had husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, cleaners and security guards all helping to pull. It was an epic tug of war.

By the time Elizabeth was born most of the hospital had met my wife. Thankfully she was so high on pain killers she doesn’t remember signing autographs at the end of the ordeal.

This week though it was my turn to go through what I thought would be quite a painful ordeal that would top what my wife had gone through.

It was a task that would require stamina, dedication, hard work and focus. Yes it was time to give my lawn its autumn weed and feed. Whilst I had given my lawn a spring feed I felt I needed to head down to Baytree again to speak to Dean just to confirm gardener to gardener the steps I would need to go through.

The best thing about talking to Dean is he makes looking after your garden seem so much easier. Especially when he showed me a product called “Aftercut Autumn All in One Weed & Feed”. How cool is that, a product named what you need it for.

To begin I gave my lawn a good going over with the lawn mower just to tidy it up. Then I left it for a couple of days which wasn’t very hard.

Over the course of an hour or two I gave my lawn a good even sprinkling of the lawn feed. Dean told me to try to sprinkle the feed on a dry-ish lawn and recommended doing it in the afternoon. He also said not to bother watering it in as at this time of year if it’s not raining it’s about to rain.

There we have it, another job ticked off the garden to do list. Now I’m off to take my daughter to bed and read her a story, it will be the story of her birth popularly known as The Enormous Turnip.

Aftercut

The Gardener the Book and The Wardrobe

First published 13th September 2018

Well it is definitely feeling a little more autumnal this week. My shorts have been consigned to the back of the wardrobe along with my bright purple shirt with green flowers that my Mum bought me for Christmas last year. The shirt really is sight to behold. It is said that because of its garishness it can if taken outside be seen from space. However I have never tried to prove this theory as I have two signed court orders from NASA and the European Space Agency forbidding me to do so.

Interestingly enough whilst searching the back of my wardrobe I happened upon an old gardening book by Geoff Hamilton.

I carried the book downstairs for Claire my wife to take a look at as it didn’t look like the normal type of publication that I would have tucked away in the back of my wardrobe.

Suffice to say the book belonged to Claire and for her, whilst growing up this was her gardening bible. Over the years the fairies in our house had moved it from the bookcase in the front room to my wardrobe upstairs.

Claire opened the book for the first time in years and with tears of joy welling up in her eyes for a moment I felt like a hero. It didn’t take long before the “where did you find that” question came. “Under your dressing table I replied” trying to look honest. It felt like ages before she said “Thank you”. I was out of the woods.

In Geoff’s book he continually mentioned the need for using good quality compost and how the best compost can be made from your own garden waste. Free compost, it was a light bulb moment for me.

A quick trip down to see Dean at Baytree and I had returned home with a new compost bin which resembled the bottom half of a Dalek. Following his instructions I placed the bin at the bottom of the garden in a nice shady spot. Because the compost bit was open at the bottom it could be placed directly onto the soil.

I started filling it with grass clippings, hedge trimmings, dead flower heads, cuttings, vegetable peelings and anything else I could find from my garden.

Dean said to once a month fork it over as this would help the micro-organisms to break down the matter. He said when it’s done you’ll have a beautiful crumbly compost that will do wonders for the soil in your garden.



Composts

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