Thursday, 10 April 2014

Blackthorn Winter

 
Well, we are at the end of the blackthorn winter. If you are not sure what the blackthorn winter is, I shall endeavour to educate. In old country lore, there is a plant called the blackthorn, or if you prefer scientifically it is the Prunus spinosa. Anyway, it is said, when in flower, there is always a second winter. If you are unsure of what you are looking for, it is the bush with the horrendous thorns, the beautiful white cherry-like blossom and the incredibly tart fruit known as a sloe.  So now you know.

I must say, before the cold weather set in, I was enjoying the display of Magnolia flower. Many of you may be interested to know it is the very first example of an insect attracting flower, so thus it is the oldest flower design discovered in the fossil record.

In the garden, you may just about get away with still planting bare-rooted shrubs such as roses and raspberries, provided you give them a copious amount of food and a healthy watering.

Now is the time to prune some of the winter flowering plants such as Jasminum nudiflorum, Viburnum x bodnantense, Viburnum farreri and Viburnum Fragrans which should be at the end of their flowering. This early clip will allow them to grow new shoots for next year’s display, without the plant growing beyond the size you want.  This is quite an important tip for all those gardeners who want to know proper husbandry. Don’t just prune in summer or autumn randomly – try to prune the right plant at the right time, to improve the life of the plant and to improve flowering.

Another key plant that is in flower now is the Camellia.  All that flowering is going to leave it a little short on food, so now is the time to give it a good boost with azalea food. This will not only help it for this year, but also next. Remember, prune a Camellia just after it has flowered to give it a chance to grow next year’s buds.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

TOWN & COUNTRY WELLIES RATED ALONGSIDE HUNTER AND LE CHAMEAU

Sales of wellies have soared in the last few months and if, like many, you are bewildered by the choice and the price tags on display - ranging from £10 for a basic boot to upwards of £300 for a designer brand, we have some good news for you.  You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a decent quality, good looking pair that will see you through the wet weather. 

In a recent tried and tested review undertaken by the Daily Mail, Town & Country’s Premium Wellington – at just £45.99 – were rated on a par with Hunter (£95) and Le Chameau (£340) – with all three scoring an impressive 7/10. 

Town & Country’s high quality, British designed boots are hand crafted from natural rubber and designed with style and comfort in mind.  They have a contoured leg and side-fastening buckle to give an extra snug fit, and a soft lining which makes for the ultimate in comfort.  A high grip tread pattern will ensure feet remain firmly on the ground.  They are available in three colours - dark green in sizes 4-11(37-45); navy in sizes 3-12 (36-46) and raspberry in sizes 3-8 (36-42).  The full range of Town & Country footwear can be seen at www.townandco.com

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Can I speak honestly?

With all this wet weather we have had I have never been so glad to have a sturdy and trustworthy pair of wellies. If you are after the very basic but practical or like to have a little more comfort, Town and Country have yet to let me down. I can’t remember another winter where I have virtually stayed in my boots and they have certainly come in handy!



A major chore this year has been to clean out all the drainage gullies on the large gardens and estates I look after so my feet were in contact with water for most of December and January. Thankfully, I remained warm and dry throughout.

To be honest and I am sure you know by now, there isn’t anywhere left for the rainwater to go, as the rivers are full and the ground is full (and hopefully the reservoirs too.) So what to do in the garden?

The best course of action now is to stay clear of the lawn altogether. If it was spiked in January as suggested, all you can do now is watch and wait. There is nothing else for it.

As for other jobs, we are in an interesting position. Apple trees need pruning in order to stop becoming biennial with fruiting. However, the level of stress they are under at the moment, I hesitate to do anything which may add disease to the mix as fungus loves this kind of weather.  A fork amongst the roots with some dry compost and sand may help aerate and alleviate issues. The same can be done with all your shrubs.


I would suggest a little known law is quite important to remember now. Any large tree or shrubs that are within ten feet of public access or your garden boundary is now, more than ever in need of inspection as it is your responsibility to make sure it is safe. The wind and rain will have seriously weakened root systems. Given that you are responsible for the safety of others near your tree, this I would suggest is of utmost importance as you may not like the surprise of a hefty insurance bill if something were to happen. A general walk-by inspection is required every year to look for any damage or danger, but once every five years it is suggested  a professional undertakes a survey.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

What a start to the New Year!

I doubt many would want to be out and about in the current weather, but spare a moment to think on your plants. You may think that they will be loving all this rain, but understanding that a plant needs air as well as water, you a chance to stop the rot, before you have to expensive replacements. If you garden is well and truly sodden, now is the time to get out there and address some immediate issues.




The lawn is still growing, given the mild air currents, but it will be sitting wet – something it hates. If your garden is on anything but sand, its roots will be struggling to breath and you will need to slit or aerate the lawn. First sweep away all the debris that has collected. Then, grab a fork. Starting at a corner where you will not have to walk over it twice, insert the fork at a 45 degree angle and lift the turf slightly. It needn’t be by much, just enough to allow an air pocket. Remove the fork and repeat. The best method is to create a zig-zag of forked columns or rows across the lawn. Once you have done this, a light dressing of compost would be welcome. Try not to walk on the lawn for a week or so, to let it settle.

Alternatively, you could just use the special shoes or aerating machinery that is available, but given the amount of water that has fallen, and given snow is approaching, I am not sure this will suffice.

If there are any areas in your garden, where shrubs sit wet, try to fork the roots to give them air. Some trees even – such as the Southern Beech (Nothofagus spp.) – will rot quite quickly if in wet soil leaving you with a dead plant and an expensive headache to replace.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Merry Christmas from all at Town & Country


Well, Christmas is almost upon us. I suppose you are looking about for the holly and ivy to adorn your various crevices. This year is particularly good for holly berries so you should get something spectacular above your mantle. A curious custom, it actually predates Christianity. Both plants were representatives of fertility at the mid-winter festivals held across Europe by both the druids and the Romans. However since the 14th Century is has become firmly ensconced in Christams tradition, with an all familiar carol and perhaps a less familiar love song ‘Green Groweth the Holly’ written by Henry VIII no less.

The tradition of the tree itself is of German import and became popular after Prince Consort, Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, decided in 1841, that it was a lovely idea to introduce to the Royal household. Victoria being the smitten Queen she was, loved him and loved the idea, so the tradition was born. To be honest I am not sure what we did before this. Perhaps just stare at the awkward corner of the room wondering where to hide the presents that Santa had so kindly bought us all a little earlier than usual.

Then of course there is the tradition of collecting the Yule Log. This actually refers to a very old idea that has been lost in the mists of time, but has been claimed by modern paganists. The actual theory was at mid-winter (December 23rd) a tree was carefully chosen, cut down and turned into one whole log. It was then brought into the house to burn for the entire winter. The modern take on this is somewhat easier to achieve.

Walk into a local wood or forest and choose a log. This should be approached with reverence and you should ask the earth spirit for permission. Once you are satisfied the sky will not fall on your head, return home and place the log in the Christmas or Mid-Winter fire – making sure to thank the Gods. When the fire is well lit, remove (safely) what is left of the Yule log and put it away (once it is fully without embers). This then should be stored until next winters first fire - bringing you luck for the year ahead.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Know your wood

Now the nights are drawing in and the temperatures are finally getting colder, there is nothing better than enjoying an open fire after a day in the garden collecting leaves or pruning the perennials.  Many of the gardens I work in are large enough for a steady supply of wood, but it can always be bought if this avenue is not available. Some of you unlucky ones in modern houses don't have access to a fireplace or indeed the facilities to enjoy a wood burner, but there are many who live in older houses. But a brazier in the garden is always a lovely thing to have in these late autumn evenings.

Before you start to build your fire, always get the chimney checked by a professional chimney sweep. It is also imperative that you make sure the area around the fire is clear, with no carpet or easily flammable materials nearby. Once you and they are satisfied that the airway is clear, you are free to build a fire worthy of Versailles. But please bare in mind, fire and children don`t mix well unless they are made aware of the dangers or younger ones are monitored closely.

However, as you rush off to the wood yard or petrol station to buy the wood, there are differences in the wood you burn.


The king of wood is Ash. Even if it is not well seasoned, it burns well, with no spitting - giving a good temperature and a good burn time. Oak is also good, but needs to be seasoned to burn well. The chestnuts, both sweet and horse, are also good burners, but be aware they may spit, so best invest in a fire guard and watch the carpet. (By spitting I mean small hot lumps of wood get thrown from the fire into the room).

Pine, which is commonly bought at petrol stations, burns well, but fast.
It also leaves a residue in the chimney so another visit from the sweep will be needed before winters end. Another that leaves a residue is cherry so try to avoid this.

Silver birch, burns very hot, as does apple and maple, but both burn very quickly so not ideal for a good fire all evening, but perhaps useful amongst other woods.

The worst I have yet found is Tulip Tree. A light spongy wood, it refuses to catch unless under intense duress and will happily go cold if left alone, but I admit, there are not many tulip trees on offer in wood-yards.

Finally, a tip I was once told with regards to that most dangerous of fire
- the chimney fire - keep a large bag of salt by the hearth. If such an event does occur, throw the bag of salt on the fire immediately and call the Fire Brigade! You may just have saved the roof.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Winter Warmers


The internet is awash with predictions about what this winter is going to be like. Across the Atlantic, the US has already had its first major snow storm and is expecting more to come.

Traditionally of course, the gardener’s old lore states that in years where there is an abundance of acorns and apples, a hard winter is sure to follow. But I have to admit, not having seen any statistics to back this up, this is perhaps dubious.

The climatologists are predicting, whatever happens, be it snow or rain, it will not be slight. In some quarters it is a stark appraisal - the declaration being that the precipitation won`t be for a few days, but stretch out to a number of weeks, perhaps months. So if we get snow, it will stay. However, I have to say here again, in the South East, there is yet again a serious lack of rain, which will lead to problems next year if the weather does not change.
The meteorologists are less specific. Their long range forecasts state that November will be cold, but mild in comparison to previous years, but of course, they readily admit that they can`t accurately say beyond 5 days what the weather offers.

Either way, it is best to get the right clothes early. Personally, I can`t recommend highly enough Town and Country`s new Rutland neoprene wellies, which are well priced in the market and a bargain considering the manufacturing processes involved. They are warm, hard wearing and comfortable - which, coming from a man who suffers plantar fasciitis this is important. Gloves too play an important part for the brave winter gardener. Last year we had a hoar frost which was so cold I had to wear 3 pairs of gloves at once - a neoprene base layer, the Town and Country Bamboo Textured gloves as secondary layer then the Town and Country Premium Leather and Suede Gloves for warmth.

Trust me, if you buy before the cold really starts, you will not regret the decision.

- Guy Deakins