I am no gardener but I do want to get better at gardening. I have a large garden at home which fills me with dread every time I look at it.
My neighbour’s gardens all look so much better than mine.
Should you be in the same boat as me, please keep on reading. Together we might, given enough time, become competent gardeners. I’m not sure if you dream like me of owning a gorgeous garden with beautiful planted flower beds and colourful hanging baskets. I don’t desire a Chelsea Flower Show garden, just a nice garden. I thought to have a really good garden you needed access to closely guarded secrets that only the very gifted gardeners are allowed to know. Well it turns out all you need is the will to have a go and seek out good advice. The best place to get this information from is your local garden centre. Now whilst I’d admit I work for Baytree Garden Centre, I have the least green fingers across the entire site, you are more likely to find me buried in network cables and internet issues rather than with dirt under my finger nails, but lets have a go and see what happens!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
Things seem to have settled down nicely this week following the recent heavy rainfall that said my heart goes out to all those affected by the recent floods whose homes and gardens have been seriously damaged.
As we begin to approach the middle of the year the majority of major gardening tasks have been completed and now is the time to slow down a little and enjoy the hard work you have put into your garden. As I have tried to show throughout the year thus far the main enjoyment to be had from gardening is just simply being outside in the garden. There’s the sound of the wind blowing through the trees, the rustle of the tall grasses, the scent of herbs and flowers in the air, the gently trickling of water flowing in my pond plus the sound of birds calling in the tree tops. Then there’s all the other wildlife and insects that have made my garden their home. That’s the joy of gardening.
My garden is my sanctuary and my haven from the world. I’m not looking for perfection I’m just looking for harmony. Unfortunately my Plum tree seems to have become less than harmonious over the past 3 years. To put it into context my Plum tree is suffering from “Bi Annual Bearing” which is nothing to do with women who fall pregnant every other year but the irregular production of plum fruit.
It started about three years ago when my first crop of plums was harvested, that year the tree was full of blossom in the spring and come the summer it was bursting with fruit which made hundreds of delicious plum crumbles. The year after there was a noticeable decline in blossom and fruit production which lead to a poor harvest, no plum crumble that year.
So here we are three years on and fruit production is back to normal and if I don’t intervene I’ll be sure to be crowned the plum king of Quadring 2019. I’ll be like man from Del Monte but more local. Except that’s not going to happen because as counter intuitive as it seems the solution to breaking this bi annual cycle is to pick every third fruit of the tree. There’s little point in holding out for “June drop” either as not enough fruit will fall from the tree.
This systematic removal of fruit will allow the tree to produce better quality and larger fruit later this year. There won’t be as much fruit to harvest but the production and harvest of fruit in subsequent years will become 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 should be no more major boom and bust years.
It took a couple of hours to pick every third plum from the tree as any stray plums that fell to the ground where whisked away by my little four legged friend Teddy. Don’t worry I retrieved his bounty of plums so no animals were harmed in the writing of this article.
With some regret I will have to relinquish my Plum King of Quadring title for this year and allow Brian at number 28 to take the crown. Though he’d better watch out because next year I’ll be back!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…..
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Nothing beats the sound of laughter especially when the infectious giggle is emanating from my daughter Elizabeth. Multiply that sound six fold and that would give you an insight into the noise that boomed through the house at about 5:30am yesterday morning. It was my little girl’s ninth birthday and in my infinite wisdom I had agreed to Elizabeth having five of her friends for a sleep over.
I headed downstairs to find cushions and soft furnishing everywhere. Then six giggling little girls started attacking me with left over Cadbury’s mini rolls from their previous midnight feast. Other rolls are available.
Reeling from the attack and now covered in chocolate I retreated upstairs. My wife then awoke, saw me and started screaming thinking I was some kind of sex pest with a fetish for confectionary.
Several blows to my head from Claire’s hair straightener’s later and enough chocolate had been removed in order for her to recognise me and for the second attack of the morning to reach a cease fire.
Peace talks began at breakfast and a plan was drawn up as to whom would be responsible for their particular patch of land. Within a few hours the front room had been returned to normal and by 11am the fearsome fives parents / guards had collected them.
I then headed outside into the garden to hang my chocolate stained washing out. It was apparent that a major battle had also taken place in the garden. A two metre square patch of lawn had been desimated.
However all was not lost because a quick trip to Baytree saw me return with several rolls of cracking quality turf. John in landscaping calculated that I needed 4 rolls of turf. He explained how to prepare the ground and how to lay the turf for best results.
I dug out the offending patch of land removing about 2 inches of soil which I then raked over to give the new turf a flat surface to lay on.
I rolled out the first roll of turf being really careful not to walk on it. John advised me to lay an old scaffold board on the turf in case I needed to walk on it. He said this spreads the weight and doesn’t damage the turf.
Within about 3 hours I had finished. My favourite bit was using a bread knife to cut the turf to the correct length. A good watering followed and the job was done. A quick phone call to the UN and a peacekeeping force was dispatched to protect my new patch of land.
Growing up I remember one of my favourite films was Superman 2, it’s the one where Superman takes the hand of General Zod the main villain and crushes his hand after everyone thinks he’s lost his powers. It’s a great scene where the baddie regrets asking Superman to hold his hand, the music builds and the world is saved just in the nick of time.
Well this week I felt like Superman when I managed to crush the plastic handle on my garden trowel. The trowel was part of a gift set of gardening tools that my Mum had given me for Christmas. I think that it was made to the same exacting standards as a seaside plastic bucket and spade.
I had officially broken my first garden implement with just my bare hands, Monty Don would be proud of me.
The fact it was a gift from my Mother was causing me to feel a little tense. My Mum always whenever she visits asks if I’m still using the tools she bought me.
About six months ago I planted my first container with plants that I gave to my mum for Mother’s Day. I thought that if I were to re-plant the container for her she might not take it quite so bad when I reveal the news that her present is now in trowel heaven. For those of you who don’t know where trowel heaven is, it’s off the A17 near Fosdyke Bridge.
Also I thought it would give her something else to focus on other than the underwear on her neighbours washing line. My mum is convinced that they are far to revealing so therefore she must be a lady of the night.
Into the base of the pot I added some broken pieces of pot, I was told that this would help with drainage. Just how it does I don’t know but that’s what I was told.
I then half-filled the pot with a good quality multi-purpose compost into which I planted some short stemmed tulip bulbs to add surprise in the spring. Once the bulbs where planted I then added another 7 inches of compost so they were covered. In the centre I planted some wallflowers to give a bit of height and around the sides I planted some Winter Pansies, Violas and Polyanthus.
I took the planted container round to my mum’s house yesterday morning. For those of you wondering I can confirm that the underwear is in fact skimpy!
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 middle of August I was not expecting there to be much to do in the garden, that was until I bumped into Sue, Plant Area Manager at Baytree who mentioned to me whilst I was eyeing up her plump hydrangeas that she had just taken delivery of their spring bulbs from Taylor’s Bulbs who are based just up the road.
Sue said that if I wanted to have a good colourful show of spring flowers next year then now is the time to start planting. With her words ringing in my ears I headed across to Baytree’s Bulbland to speak to Sarah as she is their ‘Bulb Queen’.
HRH Sarah helped me pick out a couple packs of Daffodils, Crocus, Camassia and Allium bulbs. She explained to me how to plant them for best results which I will try my best to recount now for you.
For a natural look HRH Sarah told me to open one pack at a time and gently scatter the bulbs in the area I wished to plant. Wherever they land is where you should plant them she said. This random way of planting would avoid straight lines and look more pleasing to the eye.
It is important to ensure that the bulbs are the correct way up when planting. This was news to me as I had always thought that bulbs where like seeds.
The Bulbs have a tapered top which when planting needs to be pointing upwards with the flatter base pointing downwards, sounds simple really.
Anyway back to the task in hand. I had scattered my first packs of Daffodils and had planted them to the correct depth following the instructions on the packets. All I had to do then was 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.
I had also chosen a couple packets of Fondant Fancy Tulip Bulbs because I liked the name. HRH Sarah of Bulbland explained to me that Tulip bulbs really need planting later in the year, November – December time so that they don’t suffer from ‘Frost Tip’ when growing.
Her advice was to store the bulbs in a really cool place. So I placed them on the front seat of my convertible car parked in my garage with a pair of Rayban’s sunglasses on. They looked pretty cool to me.
I was asked the other day from a fellow gardener if I’d picked out my winter veg yet.
I thought he was joking as we are in the middle of one of the finest summers certainly I have ever experienced. What should I say? However rather than say yes or no I asked Bill if he had started preparing the soil for his veg.
Bill paused for what seemed like and age. “Well I’ve started enriching the soil ready for my over winter veg” Bill said. Happy that he wasn’t pulling my leg I replied “No I plan on getting started this week I’ve been on holiday and I’ve just got back”. I then rushed inside the house and rang my gardening guru Sue from Baytree.
Sue confirmed that yes I should be getting ready to plant my winter veg and more importantly she gave me advice on what I needed to do with the soil. The soil at the bottom of my garden in the old veg beds resembles a dried up river bed covered in dead weeds. Before I could plant my Broccoli, Onions and Cabbages these beds needed sorting.
Fortunately my old veg beds are not too big they’re about 6ft x 6ft however it took most of the morning to dig the soil over with a fork and remove the weeds. To celebrate the fact that I had successfully performed manual labour I retired to the house for a much needed rest. Columbo was on the TV so I had to watch it, who doesn’t like a bit of “just one more question mam”. By the time Columbo had finished it was too late to start digging again. Never mind there is always tomorrow I thought.
It was cooler the following morning which was good because I had to mix some Rose Tree and Shrub Compost into the earth to improve the soil. So I opened the bag of compost and scattered it over the top of the soil before forking it through. Once mixed, I raked the soil so that it was nice and flat.
Buoyed on by how great the soil looked I planted my veg cell plants following the instructions on the plant label into the soil and gave them a proper firm planting followed by a good watering.
I headed back inside as Midsummer Murders was about to start, other murder mystery programs are available.
After many months of dreaming about my family summer holiday my two weeks in the sun had finally arrived.
Unfortunately past family holidays have descended into utter chaos after only a few hours. There is the usual argument as to whether I’m driving the right way, I can confirm I was. Then there’s the debate as to whether I’ve left the cooker on, again I can confirm I didn’t.
This year though I was more anxious than before as now I have a young garden to worry about. How would it cope without me around? Would it be like dropping my daughter off to playschool and watching her little face crumple as I drive off into the distance?
My garden had never been left on its own for more than a few days. I knew it wouldn’t throw a party and crash my neighbour’s car, but I did know that after only a few weeks away most of my plants would either be dead or dying.
I desperately needed a plan of action which did not involve my nosey neighbour Lionel traipsing through my garden under the guise of “I’m only too glad to help”. The issue was I had no idea what to do or what needed doing. Step forward Sue, Baytree’s plant area manager: Below is mine, well actually Sue’s plant holiday plan.I moved most of my container plants to a shady spot in the garden, fortunately most of the pots weren’t that bad too move. Under each pot I put a special saucer which I filled with water to irrigate the plants whilst way.
In the pots that were just too big to move I inserted a couple irrigation spikes. They’re brilliant, you screw a normal plastic bottle filled with water into one end then turn upside down and drive the spike into the soil of your pot. The water in the bottle then slowly leaks into the soil gently watering the plant.
Since I had started dead heading my roses last week, Sue’s advice was to continue dead heading the remaining flowering plants in my garden. Sue said this would promote the production of more flowers whilst way.
On my return what I found was incredible, there was a 200ft bean stalk which had wrapped itself around my house and the top of the bean stalk was way up in the clouds. That’s the last time I’m swapping my cow for a bag of magic beans. It’s a good job Dean at Baytree was able to sell me a box of SBK tree stump killer to get rid of it.
Six or seven weeks ago during my “grow your own fruit and vegetables period” I planted some cherry tomatoes with my daughter Elizabeth and my wife Claire. To make it interesting we placed a bet on whose tomato plant would grow the tallest and whose tomato plant would produce the most fruit.
Well I can proudly announce that I won both contests, it’s not about the winning it’s about the taking part. However for me it was all about the winning!
Below I shall outline my winning plan. These top secret tips are for your eyes only. Please do not let them to fall into the wrong hands Mr Ward at number 23 would kill for these tips.
You have to start with a good quality tomato plant, and suffice to say the best place to buy one from is from a local garden centre.
I chose Sweet Million as my preferred variety following extensive discussions with Graham, Baytree’s Mr Botanist. I bought a large growbag as well as a bag of multi-purpose compost. I cut a round hole into the grow bag in which I then inserted a tomato pot which I found at a car boot sale for 50p. For those of you unfamiliar with a tomato pot it’s just a pot with no base, in other words a tube. Anyhow I filled the tomato pot with the multi-purpose compost. I then planted my tomato plant into the soil ensuring that the support cane was well away from the roots of the plant. After that I gave Derek my tomato plant a good watering mixed with tomato feed to welcome him into his new home.
I regularly watered him so that the soil was moist but not soggy. When Derek’s first truss of flowers appeared I began to feed him with ‘Tomorite’. As he grew taller I tied him gently against the support cane. Once four sets of flowered trusses had formed I removed the top of the plant just above that fourth truss.
Each day you could see Derek working hard to produce the best fruit he could. Slowly but surely the flowers began to form little green balls. At this point it was really important to keep feeding Derek though I was mindful to not overfeed or overwater him as I didn’t want my tomato crop to split as they ripened.
As the sun became hotter I kept watering Derek in the morning and in the evening being careful to water the base of the plant and not his leaves. Well harvest time has arrived and I am dead proud of Derek my award winning tomato.
Many many moons ago right at the beginning of my journey into gardening I decided to have a go at growing my own potatoes. I’d picked the variety Charlotte as Graham from Baytree had advised me that they were easy to grow and disease resistant.
Stage one involved chitting my potatoes in an old egg box in my back bedroom. Stage two saw me plant my fully chitted potatoes into a large pot filled with Westland’s Multipurpose Compost with added John Innes.
Fast forward 3 months and my potatoes had gone into labour; their contractions where roughly one minute apart and considering they hadn’t had any gas and air they were doing quite well.
Okay I thought, what to do now is not to panic I must remain calm in order to successfully birth my first crop of potatoes. I’m not going to lose any potatoes on my watch.
Anyhow after putting my gloves and surgical mask on I was ready for the final push.
Stage three was tense it began with me gently placing my hands in the soil and feeling around for my potatoes. I didn’t have to fumble about in the soil for long before I realised I may have double quadruplets.
I asked Claire my wife to mop the sweat from my brow it was all getting very serious. With my heart thumping out of my chest I gently tipped the pot containing my potatoes onto a small plastic birthing sheet to my side.
I carefully and sensitively wiped the loose soil away to reveal a good dozen perfectly formed beautiful potatoes. A small tear rolled down my cheek. Choking back further tears I asked Claire to pass me a pair of scissors so that I could cut each of the umbilical cords. Clearly moved by the emotion of the occasion Claire gave me a sympathetic smile.
I placed my new born potatoes in a small warm towel like they do in John Wayne films and carried them into the house.
Unfortunately despite my best efforts we lost the potatoes mother, I think the stress of the labour was just too much for her. I said a few kind words about her and then ceremoniously placed her on the compost heap a bit like when Luke Skywalker placed Darth Vader onto the funeral pyre in Return of the Jedi.
With my new midwifery skills and with the latest advances in technology, I am hoping to birth the other two potato plants tomorrow. Wish me luck.
On Thursday my daughter Elizabeth came bursting through the door shouting “daddy, daddy you’ve got to help, you’ve got to help”. She started to explain in that way only children can were they start half way through a sentence and expect you to understand what they’re talking about.
Elizabeth was very worried about bees. Not just one bee, but all bees.
Obviously I tried my best to look concerned and I promised I would help her save the bees. I said “let’s create a poster to tell everyone about the worlds bees”, that way I could leave her drawing in the other room whilst I watched England v Belgium.
During the half time break I googled “Bees” and what I discovered shocked me. Over the last 5 years the bee population has fallen by a 1/3 and if this decline continues according to Sir David of the Blue Planet Attenborough we would in fact only have four years left to live. This would mean that we wouldn’t be able to defend our world cup victory in four years’ time. I guess the upside to this would be we’d go down in history as undefeated World Cup Champions. On the downside no one would know except for Wikipedia because they know everything.
I called out to Elizabeth. I said “put down your pen, the time for words is over, now is the time for action”. I felt like Hugh Grant in Love Actually when he tells the American President we won’t be bullied anymore. “Daddy, have you had too much beer” asked Elizabeth.
With the wind knocked out of my sails. I grabbed hold of Elizabeth’s hand and lead her out into the garden. I said “let’s make a conservation area”.
Now this has to be the easiest spot of gardening I have ever done. I pointed to a patch of ground at the bottom of the garden and said “let’s just leave that area alone and let the bees live there”.
I rushed back into the house and grabbed a packet of wildflower seeds that I’d got free with a copy of woman’s weekly, other magazines are available. It was for my wife, she was poorly that day.
Elizabeth scattered the seeds over our new conservation area and hay presto I had single-handedly saved the worlds bees from extinction.
I shall await my Nobel Prize, I’m sure it will arrive through the post anytime now.
All has been relatively calm in the garden this week, I haven’t been arrested, hung up on or kidnapped which in my opinion is a quiet week for me.
It has been several weeks now since I gave my lawn a bit of a once over and following advice from Dean at Baytree I embarked on giving the lawn a bit of a top up feed and watering. I used my lawn spreader to sprinkle my lawn feed and my state of the art Gardena automatic watering system to water the feed into the garden. It was at this point where I began to feel like maybe I was becoming a gardener albeit a very junior ranking one but a gardener none the less.
Whilst I was putting my gardening equipment away in the shed I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was a great big Laurel bush and it looked like it needed a right good trim. Since it was Claire who planted it and possession is nine tenths of the law I asked her to tackle it whilst I made a very deserved cup of tea. Well she began cutting off the wayward growth and managed to get it looking tidy after only few minutes. Just to the side of her now perfectly manicured bush was a beautiful display of rose flowers. It must have been growing there silently waiting for its moment to step into the spotlight. Claire first planted her Laurel bush by the side of the shed nearly 15 years ago but none of us could remember planting a rose bush. Using higher level reasoning I deduced that the roses in fact had originated from our neighbours. Claire said it was obvious they were George’s roses because you could see how the plant had obviously grown over the top of our fence.
The sweet scented roses looked and smelt amazing. In my mind there was only one thing to do. I would pretend they were mine and enter them into Baytree’s National Rose Festival. It’s kind of a celebration of roses and their growers which also importantly has a competition for the UK’s prettiest rose with a first prize of £1000. In the interests of sexual equality I thought I would enter into Baytree’s Rose Queen competition as well. That way if I won I’d have the clean sweep. Anyhow I’ve always thought I‘d look fab in a pair of killer heals. I’ll go for red ones to match the roses. Where has Claire left her ladyshave?
This week I noticed that my Katy apple tree, the one that I planted a few months ago in the hope of brewing award winning cider had started dropping its small but perfectly formed apples onto my lawn. Was my tree dying?
I couldn’t take my apple to A&E because it would take too long to dig it out of the ground, then there’s the problem of transporting the patient safely. It then hit occurred to me, call 111. They’d know what to do with my haemorrhaging apple tree.
Their first question was “Is the patient breathing” “no” I replied. “Is the patient responsive” no was my answer. “How old is the patient”, “about 2 years old” I said. “What’s the patients’ name” “Katy” I said. “Give me your address I’ll get an ambulance sent out to you”. “Is Katy normally a healthy child” the operator asked me. “No Katy’s an apple tree”. The line went dead
I then googled Baytree Garden Centre’s telephone number to speak to Sue the Plant Manager maybe she could help.
Plant Doctor Sue was able to allay my fears and explain that Katy was suffering from June drop and that it was perfectly natural for this to happen. The down side to this is come harvest time I will in fact only have one apple with which to make cider from.
Anyway back to the main story for which I am sure I am not alone in suffering from – WEEDS. They are everywhere at the moment, my paths, my newly planted borders and my veg patch are infested with them.
What I once thought looked like the beginnings of a nice garden now looks like a scene from the Triffids. For those of you unfamiliar with the Triffids they were huge man eating plants that featured in a TV show back in the 1980’s.
Baytree’s resident weed & pest specialist consultant Mr Dean Coad prescribed me a course of Neodorff Fast Acting Weed killer which does not contain Glyphosate but only naturally occurring organic compounds which would be child, pet and bee safe once applied and dried. Mr Coad explained how important it was to look after the bees in the garden.
The best thing though is because it’s organic I can control the weeds in my raised veg bed without fear of poisoning anyone.
Anyhow I need to get on and call Securicor to arrange 24 hour security for my last remaining apple. Other security firms are available.
For the first time last week I experienced an event I can barely talk about but in the interests of self-help therapy I feel I need to share my life changing incident.
It was a normal Sunday night my wife was downstairs watching Countryfile, for those of you unfamiliar with Countryfile it’s a Sunday night show where presenters feature stories from rural communities along the lines of “And tonight on Countryfile we’ll be looking at sheep’s bottoms”.
Anyway as I’m not a fan of sheep’s bottoms I always take that as my cue to take my Sunday night bath. I had washed and was now well into the relaxation phase when I’d realised that I was in fact wedged in the bath. Twenty minutes later my body was still wedged however, I now looked like a soggy fat and slightly hairy prune.
It would seem somehow I had managed to form a vacuum between my back and the bath. My first course of action was to use my toes to pull on the plug chain therefore draining the bath. Ten minutes later the water had fully drained and now not only did I have the skin of an overripe prune but also stage 1hypothermia.
With voice weakening I managed to let out a cry for help, it may well have been several cries before my fading voice was heard above the sound of bleating sheep.
Claire my wife was first to discover me and rather than show compassion for a man who was obviously in distress, she ran out of the bathroom, fetched her phone and took a photo of me. I felt defiled.
At this stage now I was becoming delirious. Claire managed to slide her hand down my back breaking the vacuum seal. I was free at last.
During the darkest hours of my ordeal I had made a promise to myself to exercise more. The following morning I awoke early, glad to be alive and headed out into the garden. I was going to do manual labour. My task today was to edge the lawn and define my newly planted flower borders.
I grabbed my car keys headed down to Baytree and purchased myself a new Wilkinson Sword Lawn Edger. On returning home I headed straight into the garden gleaming stainless steel tool in hand. Slowly at first I began to work the tool into the ground. Pleased with the 2 metre progress I‘d made I decided to call it a day, well Rome wasn’t built in a day.
All I need now is a bath!
This week in my own garden I was confronted by a killer beast. A beast so terrible he threatens to destroy what I have worked so hard for. His vicious sharp teeth and red glowing eyes would send lesser men running. I am of course referring to next doors cat – Tiddles.
Tiddles has decided that my veg bed is in fact his toilet and that no amount of discouragement is going to change neither his mind or his habits.
Ladies and gentlemen with a heavy heart I must declare that war has broken out in Quadring this week.
The trouble with Tiddles is he prefers to do his business at night under the cover of darkness with the evidence for all to see visible the following morning. I tried to convince my wife to allow me to sit up all night with a super soaker in hand ready to humanly, but also quite amusingly discourage Tiddles, but Claire quite politely reminded me that the last time I stayed up late working in the garden; the police were called as the neighbours thought I was a burglar. This was a fair point but she didn’t seem to have any objections to the use of a super soaker water blaster, 1.3litres of pure watering power. Ask Elizabeth my daughter; she’s lost many a water fight to the awesome power of this WMD(weapon of mass drenching). Tensions reached breaking point over the weekend when he introduced his gang of biker cats to my potato patch. My veg bed had become the hottest ticket in town for trouble making cats. I felt Tiddles was wiping my nose in it and succeeding.
I had to take matters into my own hands. After a quick flick through the yellow pages for Hitmen on a budget I had drawn a blank. So I picked up the telephone and rang the only person I knew who could possibly help. No not the Equaliser but Dean at Baytree. With my voice trembling I explained to Dean how this furry four legged menace and his gang had brought terror to my garden and that an Englishman’s home is his castle and must be defended. Step forward Dean’s recommendation of Neurdoff’s Super Strength Cat Repellent. Not normal strength but super strength. After a liberal sprinkling of these natural granules on my potato bed Tiddles and his gang have moved on, tails between their legs.
Dean we the people of Quadring salute you!
Last week I hosted Quadring’s premier social event in my back garden. I can officially report that no one suffered any ill effects from my cooking including
Her Royal Highness Fiona the BBC Bruce.
Whilst tidying up following the party Claire my wife told me that one of our guests who shall remain nameless, let’s just say their name rhymes with Truce, said “that the garden looked okay but it really needed a water feature!” Claire was worried that since this comment had come from such an esteemed guest; the personification of country style and grace, her subscription to Horse and Hound would be in jeopardy Well you only have to watch Mrs Truce on the antiques roadshow to see why. A choice word from Mrs ‘Truce’ about our lack of water featurette and it could all be over.
Did she mean a large palace of Versailles fountain, a tasteful nude with a pair of large jugs, water jugs? Why in ancient times it was deemed necessary to strip off naked to carry water I’ll never know. How would we power our Horse and Hound subscription saving water feature. Given my DIY inadequacies the thought of mixing live electrical wires and water was a task I felt not fully ready to tackle. That’s before you then deal with the real elephant in the room or in the garden so to speak. The thought of digging a hole for hours then lining the hole and getting said water feature to work brings me out in a cold sweat just thinking about it.
There was only once course of action I could see and that was to sell the house and move out. In time Claire could then apply for a new subscription to Horse and Hound under her maiden name from our new address. In the dark days that followed we could not see a way to solve our problem until I had a chance encounter with Will at Baytree who said that they had just taken delivery of a range of solar powered water features. I could have kissed him but Claire was kissing him first.
I can with great pride announce that our solar powered water feature looks beautiful in the centre of our garden, a tasteful shallow bowl upon a Corinthian plinth, no digging, no wires, no stress and Mrs Truce says it looks wonderful. More importantly thought the latest copy of Horse and Hound arrived through the letter box this morning. Happiness and harmony, that’s what counts in a marriage.
“This weekend we are going to have a garden party” said my wife. My orders where to ensure the garden looked presentable and that I didn’t poison
anyone with my cooking.
With her orders still ringing in my ears a plan began to formulate, I wasn’t worried about the garden it was the comments Claire made around the food that had sparked a new and glorious idea. Operation Burnt Burger was born. I have been hankering after one of those fancy gas barbecues for ages you know the ones that make you look like a barbecue King. Claire had never been keen on me getting one as she felt it wouldn’t take long before I blew myself up. Over the bank holiday weekend I managed to convince Claire to visit Baytree with me as they had a Barbecue demonstration going on. I kept dropping hints about how cool they were and just think how great it would be if we had one say for an upcoming party in the garden. Operation Burnt Burger had worked as she agreed to a new barbecue. It was like all my Christmas’s and Birthday’s had come at once.
Step forward Quadring’s newly anointed Barbecue King. I’m fully expecting a BBC news team to cover my inaugural event, I’ll agree but only if Fiona Bruce presents. Her blend of style and charisma are very similar to my own. I know what you’re thinking, what barbecue did you go for. Well I, following some incredible man to man advice from Louis in Baytree’s Barbecue department opted for a Grill Stream 4 Burner Gourmet Barbeque. I could have gone for a 6 burner one but I didn’t want to appear to be ostentatious. Too be fair the choice they had was amazing.
Louis explained how the Grillsteam technology seals in the flavour and prevents fat from causing the burners to scorch your sausages. No one wants a scorched sausage. Every card carrying barbecueist over time has watched many a promising sausage become cremated. Anyhow the party was great, Claire looked stunning and I was magnificent as the chef even if I say so myself. I even went out and bought one of those tall chef’s hats just so I looked the part. I left the vegetable based nibbles for Claire to sort out. I guess it’s just that caveman instinct for man to burn meat.
As yet I have not heard of any direct or indirect cases of food poisoning from our guests. However Fiona wasn’t on the telly this morning?
Bedding, what the hell is bedding? I always thought it was something you slept under so when people talk about it, I always look at them slightly bemused.
Are they trying to proposition me? You can’t be too careful especially in this day and age and it’s always the ones you’d never expect who bump you off.
A bit like Mr Jones at number 43, who’s developed a language of his very own it’s a cross between a really strong Norfolk accent and a salty sea dog pirate.
With his nicotine stained beard and overcoat he is a site to behold. I was in my local shop getting some milk when in walked Mr Jones and grumbled something
to me which went along the lines of “You be needing teachin’s …….argh” .
He grabbed my arm tightly and led me to his house, 4 pints of milk in tow. I thought if I’m not back soon Claire my wife would raise the alarm.
What I didn’t know at the time was that she was on the phone to her sister. These calls go on for days! Before I knew it I was at Mr Jones house. “Arrg we here” he said, as I stepped into his house. He then led me to his garden. A smile crept across Mr Jones face as he slowly walked me round the garden.
Bedding plants he explained come in all different colours, shapes and varieties. He had Begonias, Fuchsias, Geraniums, etc. “All from the Baytree” he muttered. I didn’t know what any of them where so I took his word for it. He began to explain how he had managed to make such an incredible display of colour. “You see boy, it’s all about the feed”. I feared for my life again, did he bury his victims in the garden to feed his plants? Was I going to be next?
“Miracle Gro Slow Release me lover” he said. It turns out that he mixes it with the compost he plants his bedding into. The slow release formula feeds his plants for about 6 months. He pointed out that in his containers he also adds Gardman water retaining gel.
We walked back into the kitchen where he asked if I wanted a cup of tea. I agreed and went to make it “Don’t touch me teapot lad” His bellow froze me in an instant. “It’s ott”. On reflection I think Mr Jones had only dragged me to his house because he had run out of milk.
My wife and I have been together for nearly 20 years and we both felt that we needed to re-introduce some spice back into our lives.
Following some very hands on guidance from Sue at Baytree this week I’ve learnt to not feel embarrassed or inadequate about the size of my instrument.
Without this one on one training on how to use my tool to greater effect, I think I would still be nervously fumbling around in the dark trying to put
it where it really shouldn’t go.
Sue taught me that size does matter and this case having a smaller one helps to get the seed to the right place more effectively. Sue also showed me how to introduce a gentle flourish once fully inside. Timing is everything with this operation of course you can just go poking around if the times not right as they won’t appreciate it.
Many years ago I had a go a growing my own chilli pepper plants on the kitchen window sill, unfortunately in ended in disaster. I had managed to grow a beautiful looking plant for which I was only able to harvest one tiny Chilli from. This was the moment when my burgeoning gardening interest was snubbed out! Nearly 20 years later I feel ready to tackle growing Chilli Peppers once more and re-introduce some spice back into mine and my wife’s life. You see it turns out that what I had done wrong was to not help stimulate the plant in the right way. It would seem that some plants find it harder to reproduce than others. I needed to become like Professor Robert Winston, I would give IVF to plants.
You have to wait for the flowers to open on the Chilli plant as they struggle to pollinate indoors. Normally bees would do this job but they don’t know how to ring the doorbell be invited in. Because of their lack on domestication my Chilli’s failed. Therefore if you take a small soft paint brush and brush the pollen gently from one flower to another you fertilise the plant and hey presto a few weeks later you have a litter of little Chilli’s waiting to be picked.
It is the very act that I performed this week which I think will finally put to bed the ghosts of 20 years ago. My wife says I’m incredible and she only wishes I had done it earlier in our relationship
It’s stopped raining and we are in the middle of a ruddy heat wave. I take no delight in telling you that I’m outraged with the BBC weather forecasters.
So angry in fact that I have been forced to take drastic action, I have created a self-help group for “dedicated, responsible, individual, people, sprinkling”
or DRIPS for short. We meet for the very first time on Thursday morning in my local village hall. I expect turn out to be huge following my extensive poster
campaign in the post office. One day there could be drips in every town.
The reason for forming “DRIPS” was simple, I needed to ensure I could survive this drought and still keep my lawn healthy. I had two trains of thought, should I purchase one of those Water Butts things or an automated watering system. Surely it can’t be that hard to water a lawn without standing there. However I do enjoy pretending to be James Bond whilst watering, well you have to pass the time somehow.
I went for both options though I had other ideas for the Water Butt. I need a vessel to ferment my anticipated harvest of cider making Katy apples in and ideally dispense from. Step forward the Ward 210 litre slim line water butt. I told Dean my garden sundries guru at Baytree about “Drips” and invited him to be the first guest speaker. I think he was quite honoured, though he did say he would be busy that day tiding his sock drawer.
Anyhow, Gardena make a neat garden sprinkler, the polo. You attached your hose to one end, turn the taps on and hey presto you have a sprinkler which oscillates from side to side. My dog loved it. It was good but automation was what I craved, my neighbour is always bragging about his garden and all of the latest labour saving devices he’s bought, however he doesn’t have an automated watering system. Let the games begin.
Gardena also make an electronic timer which controls the sprinkler, set the start time, watering durations and days you want it to come on, mine cost £35 from Baytree. When I was setting the system up I deliberately talked quite loudly to Claire about the timer and how great it was. I then headed indoors and watched closely from the upstairs window. I didn’t have to wait long before Lionel my neighbour started peering over the fence. 23.2 seconds, one nil to me!
My favourite chair at home is set up in such a way that I have the perfect angle for my televisual pleasure whilst affording easy access for the placement
of hot or at the weekend cold alcoholic beverages.
To my left is a very large patio door which looks out over my new Katy apple tree and my daughters Peter Rabbit inspired vegetable garden.
Unfortunately the lawn in between these two oases looks more like a scene from a war zone. Only the other week I discovered a channel 5 news crew in my garden.
They were filming a new documentary, due to budget restrictions they’d ended up in my garden. The director said it had the look of a war ravaged garden without
the danger of unexploded ordnance.
My wife told me in no uncertain terms that the lawn needed sorting out as she would not entertain any further news crews. For a job like this I obviously consulted the Lawn Oracle, Dean at Baytree. He did advise me to contact the police beforehand to avoid another incident like last week. I conducted a thorough and comprehensive survey of my lawn and created pie charts and graphs which I presented to Claire later that evening. My survey had revealed the shocking truth that my lawn was more moss than grass. Dean told me to spread Neudorff’s Lawn Cleanse over my lawn. This would kill the moss and feed the grass for up to 100 days. My excitement rose as we discussed lawn spreaders, I knew even if I didn’t need one I had to have one!
The next stage of the process was enjoyable but didn’t start well. Claire had discovered muddy footprints on the kitchen floor whilst I filled my watering can, a red faced Claire ordered me back to Baytree to purchase a new hose pipe. I loved my new hosepipe with variable nozzle spray head. I pretended I was James Bond, licenced to slightly moisten. Out came Little Nell my new lawn spreader, I spread Gro- Sure Smart Grass Seed at 30g per square metre to my barren lawn. It’s not smart like a phone, it won’t let you text, but it does grow virtually anywhere and the birds don’t like the taste of the seed so they won’t eat it.
I haven’t watered the lawn since as it has rained everyday.
During my recent foray into the dark art of gardening I have learnt several key lessons.
Number 1: Don’t garden in the rain, you’ll get wet.
Number 2: Make sure no one is watching you work. They will laugh at you when you fall over in the mud. Mud I must add that would swallow up lesser men.
My wife says she did not laugh whilst watching my life threatening incident and denies that it was her who posted the video to youtube. However if the clip does manage to find its way onto “You’ve Been Framed” I will of course seek my £250. Following my near death experience I wrote a very strongly worded letter to my local MP demanding that he take action against the woeful state of the mud in my garden. Fortunately during this time I was also telephoned by Lydia from a “No-Win No-Fee” company who told me I had a solid case.
I’d spied these “Carpet of Colour” Summer Bulb boxes at Baytree on my last visit which, were only £5.99 on special offer. They were essentially a box full of summer flowering bulbs of different varieties. Scatter and plant that was to be my next covert gardening mission.
Anyway safe in the knowledge that I would receive 100% of the compensation owed which I was sure would just be a legal formality I decided I could afford to risk a brief incursion into the garden. I can tell you now, Bear Grylls would have been proud of me. I even made sure I had some Kendal Mint Cake should I get into difficulties.
Before I started I knew I needed the right tool for the job, I needed one of those small spades. Sarah in Bulbland told me they are called trowels. Anyway I bought a trowel. Under the cover of darkness I followed the instructions on the box. I scattered the bulbs on the ground and where they came to rest was where I planted them.
Unknown to me my neighbours had reported seeing torchlights in the garden. The Police were very understanding once I have explained what I was doing. Perhaps looking like a cat burglar in the dead of night was not such a good thing. However it will be a long time before my wife lets me forget this night! A few days later I received a letter from my MP assuring me the mud in my garden would be dealt with following Brexit.
Since Peter Rabbit was released in the cinema just over a week ago both my wife and daughter have been asking me to take
them to see the new film. Well reluctantly I said yes and resigned myself to 90 minutes of Peter Rabbit animated drudgery.
However, it turns out that Peter Rabbit is actually a very good film which I really enjoyed.
Walking out of the cinema Elizabeth asked if we could have a small vegetable garden just like Mr McGregor in the film.
Since I was going to plant my chitting potatoes in a container I could do exactly the same with the new veg garden. Carrots and radishes where top of Elizabeth’s planting list, for that’s what Peter Rabbit likes to eat. My wife Claire said she didn’t mind what we grew but if the container was going to be near the house then it had to be a nice looking.
I managed to source some timber decking off cuts which I would cut to size and assemble. For a job like this I needed one of those leather tool belts. I filled each pocket and loop with every tool, screw, and nail that I could find. I thought I looked like a highly skilled professional but my wife said I looked like a wally.
With my DIY skills snubbed I headed off to Baytree for both the container and the veg plants. We went for Atlas carrots as Elizabeth liked their round shape and they’d be easy to pick and eat, Cherry Belle radishes, I don’t know why because none of us like radishes, and finally Cosmic Lettuce. The wooden “Bisbrooke Veggie Planter” cost £79, it’s really good size and it fulfilled the criteria of looking nice as set out by my wife. My font of all knowledge Sue told me to fill the container with Jacks Magic compost mixed with some organic matter. (I suited up for that bit as you can’t be too careful). Sue also said to put some polystyrene in the bottom of the planter to help with drainage and the weight of the planter. I planted the carrots first following the instructions on the label. The radishes went in next in a pretty similar way, same depth and distance apart as the carrots. Finally our salad crop went in about 5cm deep and 20cm apart. Job jobbed. Later that night when my wife had gone to bed, I put the tool belt back on, wally my ****.
Whilst my Charlotte potatoes are chitting like true prize winning champions in the upstairs back room I needed something to do this week.
What about a Bonsai tree, surely they can’t be that hard to tackle. No, it needs to be something like my potato project where I am going to get something back from my considerable £2.99 investment. Fruit was the answer. I would grow some bananas. Well it turns out bananas don’t grow that well in Quadring. However apples do. I’d be an apple grower and whatever was left over from the harvest would be turned into a fine homebrew cider, there was no downside I could see.
As I have admitted previously I have a medical condition, whenever I try to tackle any type of physical exercise, I find I get very hot, sometimes sweaty, and almost always need a sit down afterwards. It can take me weeks to recover. My wife doesn’t recognise my serious medical condition. Despite of my affliction I decided that the perfect place to plant my “Katy” apple tree was right outside the back door. Sue, the plant manager at Baytree, advised me that the best place to plant my tree is somewhere sunny, sheltered and with well-draining soil. Perfect right outside the backdoor it is then, well more like the bottom of the garden it is then. Technically it’s outside the back door!
I made sure again that I was wearing the correct clothing for the job plus a whistle in case I got into difficulties. I also telephoned my mum to let her know I was in the garden, she does tend to worry. After literally minutes of heavy toil the hole for the apple tree was dug. I put the speed and quality of the hole down to my powerful manly physique. The hole was a little deeper that the pot the apple tree came in and about twice as wide. Sue also told me to sprinkle some “Mycorrhizal fungi” over the roots and into the bottom of the hole. As final tip she advised me to push the tree stake into the hole away from the tree roots. That would stop the stake from damaging the roots.
After a congratulatory cup of tea, I back filled the soil around the roots and firmed it in by stepping on the soil around the tree. For anyone watching, I looked like a pro gardener.
My daughter came home from school the other week having done a project on healthy eating. I listened to her explaining what she had learnt as
I opened a bag of frozen chips and poured them into the fat fryer.
Spurred on by my recent success in creating an Easter planted container for my mum, plus feeling now that I really ought to be following Elizabeth’s advice on how to eat healthier, I thought this week I would have ago a growing my own potatoes to impress my daughter. I thought it would it be tricky as whilst I have a fairly large garden, in essence I’m lazy, the idea of spending hours digging , getting dirt under my finger nails and breaking my back didn’t fill me with joy. Then I read that you can grow potatoes in containers, no need for manual labour, result I thought.
I remember from science at school whenever you do an experiment you should have pictures and a written method so here goes, and for the health and safety conscious out there I can confirm that I wore goggles, gloves and a high-vis jacket.
Buy your seed potatoes, I went for Charlotte as I think they make great salad potatoes and it ticks the healthy eating box too. They weren’t expensive either at only £2.99 for the pack from Baytree. I rushed home thinking great I’ll plant these in some soil and in a few months I’ll have potatoes coming out of my ears. No you have to “Chitt” them first. Chitting turns out to be the process of getting the potatoes to start forming shoots, why they don’t call it shooting I don’t know. Actually on second thoughts telling people you’re shooting potatoes would probably land you in a lot of trouble.
Chitt your potatoes by placing them in an egg box one potato in each section and leave them in a cool room with plenty of natural light. I’m leaving them for a couple of weeks to form shoots. That’s as far as I’ve been able to get. I’ve put my potatoes on the window sill in my spare room. Everyone who visits the house is given a guided tour of my chitting potatoes whether they want a tour or not.
Following advice from Graham at Baytree I’ve bought some Multi -purpose compost with added John Innes, I have know idea who John Innes is and what he is doing in a bag of compost but Graham says it’s the best compost to use.
Here goes then, I thought I’d start off with something quite seasonal since I am informed that we are about to hit the basket and bedding season.
I thought I would attempt a planted pot for my mum for Easter, nothing too showy but something I could be proud to say I’ve done.
I chose a fibre clay pot as they are easier to lift and move around as they are lighter than traditional ceramic pots, so I went with a slate effect pot for just under £18. Next I filled the pot with “Tub & Basket Compost” It cost me £4.99 but there was enough in the bag to do more. This is where I didn’t have a clue, what to plant. Sue, Baytree’s Plant Manager suggested I went for a Hebe Caledonia as Sue said it with give my mum all round colour. I chose the Hyacinths just because my mum likes them. The Primroses went in next followed by the Dwarf Daffodils or “Narcissi” if you want to impress your friends. At the back I planted some Trailing Ivy just to soften the edge of the container.
The whole thing came in at less than £35.00(don’t let mum know though)