Thursday, 22 December 2011

Bring the Garden Indoors to the Christmas Table

The big day is almost here. You have wrapped the presents, decorated the house and got the turkey, but have you thought about how you are dressing the dining table on Christmas day?

You can create a simple yet elegant centrepiece for your table by using foliage from your garden. The look is very natural and organic.

Experiment a bit with Fresh fruit, tall sturdy candles and your foliage until you are happy.

I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas!

-- Gemma Dray

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Christmas dinner - veg grower style!

So this month people have been asking me if I'll be eating anything from the garden over Christmas. And the answer is yes! If you've been canny like me you'll still have some spuds left. Potatoes need digging up before first frosts, so ours are long out of the ground. But if you grow good keeping varieties and keep them in a cool dry place, you can definitely be eating homegrown on Christmas day.

So what of the other Christmas dinner veg possibilities? Well sprouts of course. They have a long growing season so need starting off in the Spring and covering with netting like all brassicas, to keep butterflies from laying eggs which equals caterpillars which equals distinct lack of edible greens! Sprouts are of course perfectly ready for picking at this time of year - infact we've been enjoying ours for a month or so in readiness for the Christmas feast.

If you cover your carrots with fleece or a cloche you could still have some in the ground for your Christmas enjoyment. I have to admit though, after over sowing last year, this year I was probably a little too cautious and we've already polished all our root veg off of this year. However, we do still have kale and cabbage - again started off in Spring and Summer and protected with netting, so these will be joining our potatoes and sprouts on Christmas day.

So enjoy your feasts and happy Christmas!

-- Holly Rowan Hesson

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Leave your seed heads for birds this Winter

December is an interesting month in the gardening calendar. Almost all the garden societies I am a member of are offering tips or even seminars on making those vital Christmas decorations – surely the children's show 'Blue Peter' is the best place for such things?

In the garden usually the frosts have bitten hard by this time, and lets not forget it is now not unusual to have had the first heavy snows. But the main question I ask myself is, should all the perennials and grasses be cut back hard, as so many gardeners are want to do? I suggest some should be kept tall. I have noticed plants such as Amaranthus, Helianthus, Michaelmas Daisies, Helenium and Rudbekia are excellent sources of food for the finches and sparrows. A client of mine is trying to structure their entire garden along the lines of William Robinson, that not-so-gentle Irishman who kick-started the cottage garden movement in the UK. It is an exciting place to work as the borders are always alive.

However, the winter aspect has been a little harsh - the previous gardener had been cutting everything hard in November, leaving nothing but short stumps and next years buds showing. This year, I have left some of the spent flowers and have noticed the large number of birds enjoying the bounty. With the decline in garden birds approaching worrying levels, I am always overjoyed to see Bullfinches or Yellowhammers -that little burst of colour on a wintry morning exciting the senses and making me realise in my centrally heated ivory tower, life is hard for those literally on the bread-line. So whilst gardening, I suggest you not only leave the now standard nuts and seeds, but leave the plants as well. It can only bring benefits.

-- Guy Deakins

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Things to do in the Garden in December

1. Keep the winter blues at bay by heading into the garden and feel the fresh air and listen to the birds. Don’t forget to plant your tulip bulbs this month for a lovely array of colour in the spring. Order your seeds if you haven’t already.

2. This is the time of year to find your shrubs for free after the leaves have fallen, by taking cuttings from hydrangeas, cornus albas, salix and buddleja of young, strong and healthy looking stems. Insert lengths around 20cm into pots. To take the cutting, cut at an angle just above a bud. Ensure about about 14cm of the cutting length is buried in the soil. They will root and be ready for planting next autumn.

3. Ensure your brussel sprouts are supported with cane and harvest from the bottom when they are 2cm in diameter. If you want to save having to go to your allotment or garden each time you want some sprouts, you can pick the whole stem of the plant and put outside your kitchen door in a bucket of water, so that the water just covers the roots. This will be fine for 1 week so you can always have a week’s supply of sprouts.

4. If you have any fruit or onions stored away, have a quick look through and pull out any rotting ones to save the rest of your crop from contamination. Watch out for any slugs.

5. This time of year, clear all your weeds. A good tip for paths is to ensure all the weeds are pulled out from the root and to prevent them from returning, water the cracks with salty water. They will never return.

6. Sow onion seeds thinly in seed compost trays from late December until mid February. These need to be kept around 15 degrees centigrade so a kitchen windowsill is ideal. When the seedlings have looped after germination, transfer to single cells in a cooler place but ensure it is frost free, so that you are gradually building them up for the outdoors in the late spring. When you plant outdoors keep 30cm between each plant. Onions will be ready in August for picking.

7. Keep your compost covered to avoid excess rain destroying all the nutrients

8. Fit boxes for birds, bats, butterflies and bees. Apples, nuts, cake and cooked pasta are all good for feeding the birds. Wooden Hanging bird feeders are available in purple, red, blue or white at just £9.99 from Town and Country.

9. Piles of leaves, a compost heap, piles of twigs and long grass are great habitats for hedgehogs, earthworms and other creatures.

10. Protect tender plants from the wind and frost.

-- Rob Amey

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The "Not so Hardy" Garden Plants

We really were spoilt this November with unusually mild weather. If that is a good thing or not remains to be seen. But this time last year we certainly were in the trows of winter with snow already covering much of the UK. Gardeners across the country saw plants, which we have come accustomed to think as hardy, killed or severely knocked back by the prolonged cold weather, snow and ice. Some plants that were knocked back have recovered slowly, others devastated by the bad weather last winter never made it back to their former glory. I've compiled a short list of plants that suffered during the winter that will benefit from some winter protection if this years temperatures drop as low as they did in 2010.

Cordyline australis- The Cabbage Tree
Cordylines have been a favourite in gardens for many years now due to their tropical look, the most popular being the red varieties. I have always advised on winter protection for these although in the mild winters they may come through unharmed. Native to New Zealand they can potentially reach heights of up to 20 metres, although in the UK climate they tend to be fairly slow growing. Cordylines are one of the species that seem to have bounced back from the harsh winter, new shoots developing from the base of the old stump. These shoots can be left on or removed and cultivated in a pot.

Ceanothus- California Lilac
Ceanothus are native to North America and are another plant that seems to have produced new growth after a complete die back of foliage last winter. Again another favourite in many gardens due to their unusual foliage colour and rich, insect attracting flowers. Leave all the dead foliage on until spring to help protect the new foliage against frosts.

It is debatable as to whether the mighty Eucalyptus tree is suitable to most UK gardens due to its eventual size and rapid growth. But they are there and people love them and, yes you guessed it, they suffered badly last winter. Eucalyptus are mostly native to Australia where the winter temperatures rarely drop below freezing apart from in the mountains. So it's no surprise that a winter of temperatures dropping to -18 degrees saw a few lost. Unfortunately the only thing to do with a dead Eucalyptus is to remove it, with the help of a qualified tree surgeon if needed. And why not replace it with one of our beautiful native trees that will be fine and dandy in most winters?

This one surprised me to be honest. I have often thought of Hebes as being a long standing hardy shrub, sadly not. Many Hebes have met there maker this year. Another shrub native to New Zealand, and a few to South America, they are the largest plant genus in New Zealand with a vast variety of cultivars to choose from and many more arriving every year. I have yet to hear of any Hebes pulling through and re-shooting so a bit of winter protection with some plant fleece may be wise.

Trachycarpus- Fan palms

Trachycarpus palms are native to Asia and have been growing in popularity over the last decade or so due to their exotic appearance, many gardens now dedicated to palms. Unfortunately many species proved to be less hardy this year and as these palms usually demand a high price tag due to their slow growth, many wallets also took the brunt. Tying the leaves up and protecting the palm with straw and fleece may be of benefit in colder winters to come.


I'm sure there have been many more species of plant that have suffered in our unusually cold winters, and a bit of research in Autumn may pay dividends. But cold winters as were seen last year are not all bad. They generally help to reduce the overall numbers of many garden pests such as aphids, funguses and bacterias which in a mild winter can attack and damage dormant plants. So a little planning ahead in harsh winters is all that is needed.

-- Tom Williams

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Citrus Peel Birdfeeder Tutorial

As the weather is getting colder, birds are finding it harder to find food (especially when it starts snowing!). A great way to feed them is to re-use orange or grapefruit peel and use it as a bird feeder!

You Will Need:
An orange or grapefruit
A thick needle
String or garden twine
Bird seed

Simple cut the orange or grapefruit in half, and scoop out the flesh until you are only left with the shell of the fruit.

Cut 2 x 30cm lengths of string and thread the string onto your needle. Poke the needle through one side of the orange and bring it through the opposite side . Do the same with the second length of string on the other side of the orange (making a cross).

Pull the string on all sides equally and tie a knot at the top. Fill with bird seed and hang outside.

-- Gemma Dray

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Healthy Living with Houseplants

Houseplants can help combat winter ills and ailments and make your home healthier. Not only do they have a good psychological effect on occupants, but also as natural humidifiers, they have other good effects in addition to generally making us feel more comfortable. So, as we turn up the heating to contend with the cold months of winter ahead and encourage the harmful effects of dry air such as blocked sinuses, do not despair, houseplants can help!

Up to 97 percent of the water you give a plant will be returned to the air, although some varieties are more suitable than others to improve humidity levels in centrally heated conditions.

The air always contains bacteria. Other ailments transmitted by air include eye and skin irritations, but perhaps worst of all are the nasty cold and 'flu viruses which are bountiful this time of year. Houseplants can help reduce these. As houseplants absorb toxins from the air - and also have a good psychological effect on occupants - minor ailments such as headaches, blocked noses and skin irritations are reduced substantially when interior landscaping is installed.

Dust is another potentially harmful everyday indoor substance, because it picks up harmful toxins, which we inhale. But again, plants can come to the rescue as they trap dust particles. Hairy and lipophile leaf surfaces attract the dust in the air directly and absorb the toxins that it contains.

Plants are natural humidifiers and air 'scrubbers' which, given the correct location, light and care, can be effective to create more healthy and comfortable environments.

In effect, plants can transform our interiors into healthier living spaces.

Epiphytic Bromeliads, orchids and succulents exchange Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide at night rather than as most other plants do during the daytime. This makes them perfect bedroom plants to refresh the air we breathe during sleep. Some water loving plants are Schefflera, bamboos and hemp. Ferns, rubber plants and Ivy are good all-rounders for removing toxins. They are good air cleaners for rooms with central heating.

-- Rob Amey

Thursday, 24 November 2011


This month I'm being asked what on earth can still be growing in my garden as the weather gets colder. Well, actually, truth be told is that even though I'm going to tell you about brassicas, the weather has been so unseasonably mild that I've still got all sorts on the go that was unthinkable this time last year - when we were already covered in, dare I say it, snow!

Brassicas - your broccolis, kales, cauliflowers, sprouts, cabbages etc are just brilliant! Brassicas need a bit of a head start, I usually sow mine into separate modules or small pots, and transplant them into their final growing positions when they have a couple of true leaves. They need firming in well - and here's the thing - I cover all mine with netting. If you'd like to actually eat your greens as oppose to have them devoured on your behalf by caterpillars, I strongly suggest you cover them from first off with netting so butterflies can't get at them!

So the joy at this time of year is twofold - firstly you can remove the nets as the butterfly threat is over and secondly and more importantly - you can start eating the fruits of your labour whilst still being able to munch your way through these hardy veggies all through winter if you plan your planting well! Brilliant brassicas!

-- Holly Rowan Hesson

Thursday, 17 November 2011

The glorious colours of Autumn

I must admit that this time of year is my favourite time - I know that most of the flowers have died back and much of the vegetables and fruit have been harvested- and hopefully eaten- but there is something special about the cold frosty mornings, amazing colours from the changing leaves and that indescribable smell you get in the dark evenings of woodsmoke, earth and cold air!

This was epitomised for our family over the half term week as we went to a cottage in the Lake District - a place I had never been to before and can’t wait to return to. We had a fantastic week walking in Grizedale Forest, Tarn Hows, Coniston and Windermere and even my two boys (aged 11 and 14) were enthusiastic each day as we set out to discover new landscapes and gorgeous pub food. Our Golden Labrador thought he had died and gone to doggy heaven with all those long walks!

Being away, however meant that the tidy up in the garden was put off for (another) week so I had to organise myself when I got home by raking leaves and putting them at the bottom of the garden next to the compost heap. I didn’t put them on the compost heap as keeping them separate means that the most amazing leaf mould will be created next year and can then go back on the soil. Weeding seems easier at this time of year as it is clearer to see the weeds among the plants and I have made a point this week of picking many herbs from the herb garden - namely parsley, oregano, thyme and sage and freezing them as they will be killed off after the first frosts and this way I get to use them during the winter!

The darker evenings mean less time in the garden these days but more opportunities to light the wood burner, sit back and make plans for my garden next year by looking through all the gardening catalogues that seem to have dropped on to my doorstop this week.

I leave you this month with some photographs of our trip to the Lakes which I hope you will like.

-- Jane Dubinski

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Garden Round Up for November

So many Gardeners think November is the month to shut up shop when it comes to the garden and head for the warmth in doors, but if you do you’ll be missing out. Get yourself wrapped up and head out to see the garden delights in the low sun this time of year. Gardening is a wonderfully relaxing activity because it releases tension and as a result, reduces the amount of circulating stress hormones in the body, while the act of cultivation itself is soothing for the soul. I find that I can lose hours pottering about in the garden this time of year.There’s plenty to be doing this month. Here’s my top ten.

1. November is the month for ground work for the Spring ahead and working on any structural changes to your garden or allotment and improving its design.

2. This is the ideal time to dig over all the beds, improve the soil and sort out any unruly areas.

3. Collect up fallen leaves and store in hessian sacks. Next year they will be lovely compost. Net ponds to avoid leaves falling in.

4. The ideal month is November for planting tulip bulbs to provide plenty of colour in the Spring. Plant them in pots covered in gravel to keep them safe from squirrels.

5. Many would not consider November a month for planting, but now is the ideal time for preparing your early crops of peas and beans. Seeds sown now whilst the ground is still warm and with rain will germinate before the worst of the winter weather hits us. Cover young plants with a cloche and if it is particularly cold use a fleece too.

6. Heathers add colour this time of year. Take a visit to your garden centre and see the colour variety on offer.

7. November is the month for harvesting beetroot, celeriac and carrots. When harvesting divide into two piles – one for good sized crops and a pile for damaged. Any damaged ones are great for chopping up and using in soups.

8. Move your herbs by your kitchen door so that you have a handy supply during winter. If you have herbs growing in your borders, transfer some to a window box or pot to keep a supply of mint, chives, fennel and oregano close by to where you cook.

9. This month, cleaning is key – greenhouses, cloches, pots and polythene tunnels to remove dirt and any fungal spores.

10. Plant any onions and garlics. A handy tip is to snip the ends to make it more difficult for the birds to pull them out.

-- Rob Amey

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Winter and plant diseases

Ah, November, that most delicate of months. The great languid breath of damp warmth before the winter slumber of ice and fog takes hold. I am at present busy putting the garden to bed and am enjoying the task immensely.

Which plants remain intact is my choice. Some seed heads I shall leave for the birds to pick over, other plants I shall leave as they look spectacular in the first heavy frosts. Tidying leaves, mulching borders and generally making the garden change in that dramatic way only those in temperate zones can. Last year I worked in the Botanic Gardens, Singapore and was amused to see they have built a huge glass house with air conditioning - so that they too can appreciate our seasons. Although I miss the constant warmth and sun of the tropics, we are lucky. We have a growing climate which removes pest and disease naturally. Black spot disappears from our roses (burn the leaves), slugs, snails and mice go into hibernation or die, and most fungus becomes dormant. November is a time of change to be appreciated. However, there are dark clouds looming on our horizon.

I recently had a meeting with a man from FERA the government agency charged with protecting our borders from foreign pest and disease. To be frank, things are not looking good. Our obsession with cheap imports has introduced new fungus and insects, which left unchecked will not only decimate but destroy our delicate ecosystem. “Sudden Oak Death” or Phytophthora ramorum to give its correct name, is a very real threat to all our parks and gardens. This is a disease that infects and destroys a vast number of ornamental shrubs. The threat list is extensive but includes: Arbutus, Calluna, Camellia, Choisya, Magnolia, Photinia, Rhododendron and Viburnum. The list of our native trees at risk is also horrifying. For a full list, information and images please click here.


This is only one disease which is a threat to plants in the UK, so it is essential we check the plants we buy for any sign of disease. Remember also many foreign insects, such as the Asian Longhorn Beetle and Thrips palmi have also found a home in our continental neighbours and are a serious threat here too. If we work together, these threats can be addressed and hopefully eradicated from our small island.

-- Guy Deakins

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Winter - the veg beds go on!

I've been asked this month what happens to all the veg beds and pots and troughs over winter - and the answer is they continue getting good use! I keep growing veg all year and use basic crop rotation in the beds and pots - ensuring you don't grow the same types of crops in the same space for more than one season.

Great veg for overwintering include all sorts of brassicas - cabbages, caulis, broccoli, kale, sprouts etc and also leeks, Japanese onions, some winter lettuce varieties - to name but a few!

If you do have any empty spaces you can grow green manures which revitalise the soil. As I add manures and fresh compost to every area I grow veg in the spring anyway and have little unused space, instead I plant winter friendly flowers in any gaps to perk up the growing area. Winter pansies are a special favourite for this sort of strategy as they're inexpensive and flower over and over even through the harshest weather if you take care to dehead regularly.

This is also a good time to note what you've had growing where and what will remain in situ until what point in the year - as this will be important for planning your veg strategy for the following growing season - more on that in a future blog post!

-- Holly Rowan Hesson

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Chutney making

A great way to use up a glut of homegrown green tomatoes is in the form of chutney. Chutney goes with cheese, sandwiches, cold meat, in burgers, with dinner...the options are endless. It can store really well too if it is prepared and sealed correctly. That way you can use your harvest throughout the year and even into next year.

Green Tomato Chutney
This makes around 7-10 medium sized jars.

· 2.5kg green tomatoes, roughly chopped (I used some red ones to bulk it up a bit)
· 500g onions, finely sliced
· 4 tsp / 30g salt
· 1L malt vinegar
· 500g soft light brown sugar
· 250g sultanas, roughly chopped
· 3 tsp / 20g ground pepper
· I prefer a bit of spice in chutneys so I added a little ground ginger and paprika also.

You will also need:
· Preserving pan or other large lidless pan
· 7 - 10 jars with lids
· Food wrap / cling film (to seal the jars)
· Sticky labels

Slice your onions and washed green tomatoes, cutting out any bad bits. Add to a large bowl and stir. Add the 4 teaspoons of salt, stir again and then cover with food wrap or a large plate and leave overnight. (Make sure you do this as it draws out the excess water from the tomatoes).
Once left overnight, Place the litre of vinegar into a large pan. Add the 500g of light brown soft sugar and stir over a medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved and bring to the boil. Roughly chop Sultanas and add them to the vinegar. Bring to a gentle boil. Drain the Tomato and Onion mixture (do not rinse!) and add to the vinegar mixture. Then add the pepper and any chosen spices you wish to add. Stir.

Once all the ingredients are in the pot, gently boil for 1-2 hours (stirring every now and then so it doesn't burn to the bottom) , until the chutney has thickened and has a golden appearance in colour. You will know that it is definitely done when you drag a wooden spoon down the middle of the chutney and you can see the bottom of the pan for at least 5-10 seconds.

Now is the time to get your jars ready and sterilized. Wash your jars thoroughly with hot water and soap. Then set your oven to a medium heat and place jars upside down in the oven for 5 minutes. They will be HOT to handle after five minutes so ensure you are wearing oven gloves.

Spoon the chutney into the sterilized jars (or use a jam funnel if you have one) and place two layers of cling film over the top of the jars (this acts as a seal). Allow to cool, add sticky labels saying what’s in the jar and when it was made, and place the lid on top.

You can either eat the Chutney now or allow the flavours to mature for a week or so.

-- Gemma Dray

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Garden Round Up for October

Now that the days are starting to draw in, it is time to remove the greenhouse shading so the plants inside get as much sunlight as possible – just do this by rubbing with a cloth. This is especially important for your winter plants – cinerarias, cyclamen and tender bulbs.

October is the month to plant parsley . It is a biennial and will provide fresh leaves through the winter and reach their peak in the spring. Parsley likes moist rich ground and you can easily pop a few plants among your flower beds.

This month is the time to pot up all your winter pots for colour. Use evergreen grasses and carex, euonymus, hebes, ivies, lamiums and colourful pansies and spring bulbs. October is a good month to get your pots sorted so that they have enough time to establish before it gets really cold. Use a standard multi-purpose compost.

This month is the month to complete all your weeding and tackle any that caused you problems during the summer. Tidy up everywhere. You will need somewhere to put your old bedding plants so empty the compost heaps and spread the compost as a mulch. Any material that is not fully decomposed can be put back into the heap with the new material.

If you haven’t already, give privet hedges a final cut for the year. It will be May before you need to do this again.

This is a good time of year to take leaf cuttings of begonias. Cut off a mature healthy leaf, trim the stem to about 2cm and place this so the leaf lies flat on the surface of some gritty compost. Within a month or so, you’ll have roots appearing and then leaves. When these are large enough, separate the small plants which will have their own roots and pot separately.

-- Rob Amey

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Autumn Leaf Mulch

With the onset of autumn, many will be sweeping leaves from their lawns and paths. The big question is what to do with them?

Rather than burning, which seems to be the preferred tradition in the UK, leaves are a valuable source of structure and basic nutrient. Creating a leaf mould pit is a good way of recycling nature's bounty and gives you a source of soil improvement, a rich mulch for the borders and reduces the need for watering.

There are several ways to make a leaf mould area depending on the size of your plot;
• For a big plot, you can build a large leaf pit, from pallets or wood.
• For the smaller garden, buy the purpose made string/plastic bags and fill them accordingly.
• Make a small area for leaves decomposition using plastic or metal mesh.

The key to any leaf mould is composting time. Good leaf mould should be left for at least a year, perhaps two if the leaves are of high tanic value (such as oak leaves). If it dries out, water it. Over the period of a year turn it at least once, letting in air and stopping any possible anaerobic activity. The final leaf mould should be a crumbly texture.

Some tips:
• If you collect the leaves on the lawn with your mower, the leaves will have been shredded making decomposition quicker.
• A small amount of leaves can be put into the household compost using the layering method.
• Burn any Horse Chestnut leaves as they are host for the leaf miner moth.

-- Guy Deakins

Thursday, 6 October 2011

October and Seed Collecting

"The gilding of the Indian summer mellowed the pastures far and wide.
The russet woods stood ripe to be stripped, but were yet full of leaf.
The purple of heath-bloom, faded but not withered, tinged the hills...
Fieldhead gardens bore the seal of gentle decay; ... its time of flowers and even of fruit was over."
-- Charlotte Brontë.
What better way to celebrate the birth of October with these words?

October; traditionally the months of frosts and revolution, the Saxons actually called it Winterfylleth, the first season on winter - but then it was colder in ‘them thar days’ (the Nile actually froze over in 892AD and again in 1010AD.)
In the garden, there is lots to do, scarifying the lawn, dead-heading and generally tidying of borders, pond work, leaf chasing and not forgetting the addition of those autumn mulches (much more important than the late spring mulch).

Seed collecting is a guilty pleasure. My children love collecting poppy seeds, and whenever I go into a friend’s garden these days, I take a collection of small paper bags and disappear for half an hour – my friends are quite used to this now and are happy for me to do this I hasten to add. A particular favourite of mine is a friend who collects Geranium. She has such a large collection and there is such a great mixture of colours and leaf shape I am virtually guaranteed a ‘new’ crossbreed with each visit. Some seed I have to admit is not strong and the plant is feeble, but others have proved spectacular.

Which reminds me, I have to plant out the new Narcissi bulbs. Are they really pink?
-- Guy Deakins

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Fruity Autumn

This month people have been asking me about growing fruit. I've been rather pleased with my soft fruit growing efforts which have been providing breakfast treats and desserts over the summer. The blueberry bushes are still heaving under the weight of the crop and the raspberry bushes are delivering up juicy gorgeousness daily. The strawberries ripen much earlier in the season so we've consumed all of this year's crop already and they were delicious!

We generally call ourselves veg gardeners, but it would be a shame to miss out on fruity delights, so here are my top quick tips and tricks for soft fruit growing. Firstly beware critters after your crop! I grow all my fruit in pots and raised troughs - making it more tricky for snugs and snails to enter the fray. Secondly I cover all my fruit carefully with nets to stop all our hungry birdies demolishing the crop before we get to it! I also do a little research on prefered soils - for example blueberries need erichaceous soil - another good reason for growing them in big pots. Fruit crops need feeding and careful attention to watering when they are fruiting, so it pays to be vigilant on that front. Finally fruit bushes need pruning - and this differs according to which type of bushes you have, so again a little research pays off here.

With a little care and attention you'll be enjoying juicy berries in no time!

-- Holly Rowan Hesson

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Nature of Free Food

We all spend hours cultivating our flowers and vegetables, from the sowing of seed in early Spring in the greenhouse, if we are lucky enough to have one, or straight into the warm earth later on in the season. Then we nurture the seedlings giving them water and food to encourage good healthy growth and plant them out, watching over them as if they were our offspring. And then, depending on their type we enjoy the fruits of the harvest be it flower or food.

This is a hugely time consuming hobby and we do it because we love it but it got me thinking that nature does this all on her own, without human intervention and the fruits of her labour are now apparent in the hedgerows, fields, grass verges and in fact any piece of uncultivated land up and down the country. And do you know the good thing about all of this? Free food!

Now I like a bargain as much as the next person, so the thought of all this free food going spare was too much for me this month, so, bowl in hand I ventured out into the country lanes near my house to see what I could find. You don’t have to live in the countryside to find plenty of places where free food is in abundance but you do need to know what you are looking for.

To this end I got myself a book - a shout out for a brilliant book called Hedgerow by John Wright - it’s one of the River Cottage Handbooks - No.7 to be precise and this gives a huge amount of information on all of the edible things you can find just a stones throw from your doorstop (other books are available!)
A word of caution here - please make sure that you don’t trample all over someone else’s land whilst in hot pursuit of the juiciest, plumpest blackberry or damson as there are rules about trespass and theft (hence the reason for buying the book), but you will be totally safe harvesting said blackberries and damsons from the hedgerows in country lanes. Make sure however that you try to visit a less well travelled lane due to pollution of the fruit from car fumes and try to pick the fruit that is higher up rather than at exhaust level. That said there is literally pounds and pounds of blackberries, damsons, plums, edible berries and the like just waiting to be harvested.

So, what to do with all this bountiful treasure when you get home? The obvious candidates for fruit are jams, crumbles, pies, the latter with a large helping of double cream or custard and the great thing about this type of fruit is that you can freeze it really easily and use it throughout the winter months.

One of my favourite ways to use it though is to make fruit liqueur and this is what we have done with the blackberries and damsons we harvested only last weekend. It’s really easy and there are loads of recipes available online but the basics are to prick the fruit (damsons, plus, sloes etc - not necessary for blackberries) and place them in a sterilised container. Add sugar and the alcohol of your choice - I did rum and gin - and then basically stir and leave for three months or longer to turn into the most amazing Christmas tipple. Cheers!

-- Jane Dubinski

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

September Garden Round-up

There’s a lot to do this month in the garden. Take cuttings of your favourite plants and share and swap with friends. It is time to cut hedges. If you do this now for conifer hedges, hornbeam and beech, yew and leylandii, you won’t need to do it again this year.

This month is time for sowing hardy annuals in the garden where they will germinate and overwinter as small plants that will bloom next year. Annual sown in the Autumn are always stronger and flower better than those in spring.  Order your bulbs this month. Enjoy an evening looking through the catalogues and get your order in.

Summer flowering heathers are at their peak now and you can take cuttings. Take small, unflowering sideshoots and trim to 3-4cm long and put them in a gritty compost.

Prune ornamental or fruiting cherries and plums that are getting out of hand.

If you have picked all your summer raspberries, then you can cut down the fruited canes now. Collect herbs so that you have a supply in the winter. Dry herbs in bunches, chop them and mix them with butter and freeze them or pack them into ice cube trays with water and add an ice cube to winter soups. Collect seeds on dry days to avoid them going mouldy. Collects seeds from poppies, columbines and fox gloves.

This month is the time to start preparing your gifts for Christmas. If you plant your hyacinth, narcissi and amaryllis bulbs they will flower in December and make great looking gifts. If you time it right they will just start to open up and begin releasing their fragrant perfume in time for Christmas day. Don’t forget your dead heading and weeding duties this month too!

-- Rob Amey

Thursday, 8 September 2011

In The Night Garden

Like any space in your home, you want your garden to feel warm and welcoming. As Autumn is slowly creeping up on us, people are making the most of Summer by eating outdoors. Eating Al Fresco is my favourite thing to do, especially when the sun is going down and there is a slight chill in the air.
I tend to grab a few blankets, a hot drink and light a few candles to create that warm feeling. Lanterns dotted throughout your garden add some interest aesthetically during the day and serve a great purpose of light in the evening. That cosy glow will fill you with warmth and banish any chills that make you want to run indoors.

Picture from Shoofly Vintage

Reusing jam jars to create your own lanterns is a cheap alternative to shop bought ones. They have the same warm effect and are perfect on a table for social gatherings.

Picture from DIY Network

If you want the ultimate warmth you could always purchase a Chiminea or Fire pit for your garden. They are perfect to huddle around and can be used throughout the year!

-- Gemma Dray

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Pruning Climbing Roses

So we find ourselves in September, the first month of Autumn and a fantastic month for many reasons. The leaves begin to turn, the Michaelmas Daisies and grasses give the garden that last flush of textural colour and let’s not forget the ‘Second or Indian Summer’- which gives plants that final burst of energy before they go into winter slumber. As Rose G. Kingsley says in ‘The Autumn Garden’, 1905 : "In the garden, Autumn is, indeed the crowning glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil. And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil time, do we get such superb colour effects as from August to November."

September is also the month for pruning climbing roses - a task I shall find myself repeating for the coming month before leaf duty is under way.
Like shrub roses, certain rules have to be followed.

  1. Wear good gloves. (I thoroughly recommend the Town and Country Ultimax. Excellent gloves with huge versatility and finger protection.)
  2. Make sure your secateurs are sharp. Blunt blades will damage and tear the plant.
  3. Put up the training wire first. This must be at least 2mm wire to be of adequate strength. Try to use vine eyes or ‘screw-in’ eyes, rather than any old nail - when those winter storms come, you will be happy to follow this advice. Tension the wire as best as you can.
  4. Always tie the rose to the wire. Never use the tensioned wire as the tie.
  5. Always work out how you want the rose to grow before beginning to prune.
  6. First cut out the 3 Ds: The dead, diseased and damaged.
  7. Always prune just above a bud. Not too close or too far, about 1cm is adequate.
  8. Try to prune to a bud that is facing the way you want future growth remembering to cut out any stems growing in the direction of the wall.
  9. Do not worry if you think you have pruned too hard. The rose will come back if well fed.
  10. If your rose suffers from Black Spot, sweep up all the old leaves and burn. This is a genetic problem so do not be disheartened by any apparent resilience to treatments in future. It just means your rose has the ‘Persian Yellow’ rose as part of its pedigree.
  11. Feed the rose with a good root feed and mulch with well-rotted manure.

One more tip, if you are worried about cuts to your arms, a wise old head gardener I served under gave me this tip. Find an old pair of wellington boots and cut off the feet, then use the ‘ankles’ as arm guards.

-- Guy Deakins

Friday, 26 August 2011

Water, water everywhere...!

So what have people been asking me this month? Well, a key question has been, “Why is my veg not growing?” or words to that effect. Pretty easy to tell why these poor specimens are suffering when I can see from a couple of paces off the poor things aren’t getting any water. Yes, newsflash folks – when it is dry your fruit and veg need watering!

This sounds obvious I know, but do keep an eye on your veg in dry weather. Stick a finger into the ground and see if the roots of your crops are getting any moisture – if not give them a good drink. A good drink when they need it is better than a little sprinkling more often. Of course it has been very wet these last few days so you can probably relax a little depending whereabouts in the country you are!

Fruit and veg in pots need inspecting regularly – pots can dry out very quickly. If you have seeds in the ground you may need to water them every day in dry spells. Don’t forget your fruit and veg also needs feeding – so you can combine the two jobs nicely.

I try and take a little time out in dry spells - time to potter and have a little think as I’m filling up my watering cans from the water butts and watering and nourishing my crops – it can be very therapeutic!

-- Holly Rowan Hesson

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Tutorial: Recycled and Crafty Plant Markers

This week we have had nothing but biblical rain so we haven't spent any time out in the garden, but being the crafty girl I am, and always on the endless hunt for things to amuse the children with we decided to do a little recycled garden related craft.
Garden labelling is always important especially when growing from seed but the wooden shop bought ones rot with the damp weather so you are constantly replacing them, but not with these!

(originally from Bunny Hill Designs)

Tools you will need:
  • Assorted old silverware
  • Anvil or a strong, durable surface
  • Letter stamping set 1/8″
  • Hammer
  • Black Sharpie Permanent Marker, any size.
The letter stamps aren't too expensive and are widely available in different font and size from eBay.
Simply place the piece of cutlery onto your desired surface and hammer it flat. Take the letter stamp of your choice, hold still and imprint the letter, and subsequent word, into the piece of cutlery by hitting the stamp with the hammer.And voila, your totally funky and unique garden markers.

As you can see from this lovely picture, they look awesome in situ!

--Liz Longworth

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Jobs to do in August...

Agapanthus africanus,Tanacetum parthenium, Lichnis cornaria, Oenothera

Well, the summer is coming to an end in the UK. Overall, the first half of the year many of you will agree, has been odd. It has certainly been interesting; as some have put it, we had May, June and July in one month, the rest of the summer has been…let’s not be too negative. I love the month of August. The garden is just beyond its peak of flowering, but seeds are to be collected, fruit harvested, the ground prepared for the autumn sowings and planting of annuals and winter hardy veg. All in the gloriously warm (if perhaps wet) weather we still have.

At present, as well as continuing the ceaseless weeding, grass cutting and disease control, I am mulching borders with rotted leaf mould, a vitally important job to do between now and the first frosts, which given the years odd weather may well come as early as September (where have the Swallows gone?). I am also sowing winter vegetable seed, ready for planting out in September/October - remembering Brussels Sprouts can be ready for Christmas and need deep soil. Italian or Black Kale, Winter Cabbages and Purslane will sit happily over winter, ready to fill the hungry gap in early spring. It may also be worth looking now at some of the Japanese varieties of Onion if you are so inclined. Not forgetting if you have a greenhouse, new potatoes if kept frost free will be fit for the table on Dec 25th . Lastly, sweet peas need to be researched and ordered if you want to get an early sowing under glass. Lots to do, lots more to enjoy.

-- Guy Deakins

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Enjoying your Garden

The best reward for all the effort you’ve put in over the past few months is to have friends round so they can ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over your fabulous garden.

I love throwing garden parties. There’s something special about being outside in the evening with the scent of flowers in the air and the smell of a barbecue. Light the candles, fire up the fire pit and turn on the patio heaters and there’s no excuse not to enjoy the night air. The clink of glasses beneath a setting sun makes for a mellow mood and easy conversation.

Through experience, I’ve learned that a great garden party takes a bit of planning. Nothing too onerous, but with garden parties details count. Mow the lawn about two days before, a day before at the latest. Mowing stirs up dust and pollen. You don’t want hayfever to ruin the evening. Plump the mulch around flower beds and add a little more if it looks patchy. This makes everything look smart. Deep soak all the plants if you can so they look their very best on the day. I’m not a hosepipe fan usually - water is a precious commodity - but just once in a while they’re useful...if there’s no ban.

The day before, shop for food and clean the patio area. Ensure it’s weed free and position some of your most glorious pots to show them off to their best advantage. As most garden parties are often barbecues, check you have enough charcoal or gas and that a gas barbecue is in full working order.

Town & Country’s Portable Barbecue Grill comes in three bright colours. My favourite is the blue one. It is perfect for me because it doesn’t need any screws or tools.

Make sure you set out enough seating and don’t limit it to just the patio. Guests love to stroll off to explore, or may want to find a quiet corner for a chat. Make sure they’re comfortable. Buy some citronella candles to ward off uninvited guests. No one wants to be eaten alive by mosquitoes.

On the day, string up some fairy lights and set out clusters of tea lights for atmosphere. Create a table centrepiece. My best friend likes to use cut flowers from her garden. I’m a bit precious about flowers and feel terrible if I cut them so I use my potted herbs and arrange them as a centrepiece, or a couple of pots of African violets for colour. Then at the end of the evening I can give each of my guests a pot of something nice to take home.

I fill my wheelbarrow with ice and put all the beers and wine in there. For non-drinkers bottled iced teas make a refreshing alternative to orange juice. Finally, just before the guests arrive use this old Japanese trick: use a fine spray to mist the plants around the patio area. The leaves will glisten and sparkle and provide a magical feel. As I said, success is in the detail. Have fun...

-- Rob Amey

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Meet the Chooks!

Although not strictly gardening - I thought it would be nice to talk a bit about my lovely chickens this month and encourage any of you out there, thinking of having a “chook” or two to definitely consider it - they are easy to keep, great fun to watch and there is the added bonus of beautiful tasty eggs!

This is my second lots of ‘girls’ as the first batch, which arrived three years ago, have sadly all died - they were rescued by a friend of mine from a battery farm, so were not in particularly good spirits when I got them! So this time I thought I would make sure of what I was buying.

I found a local breeder via the internet and got six lovely girls on POL - now this is short for Point of Lay and means that the chickens are just old enough to start laying eggs - this ensures that you get the most amount of time for eggs during their lives - as they don’t lay forever!

I keep them in a shed, with sawdust and hay inside, which I can lock at night so they can’t get out and Mr Fox can’t get it, but you can keep hens in a much smaller space - in fact there are special houses available to buy, or you could make your own - I am just lucky to have the space for a bigger house! They also have a run - a space fenced off with chicken wire but I also let them free range in the garden as they are brilliant at eating the grubs and pests that get into your plants.

As long as you provide food, water and shelter, they will be happy. I feed them a mixture of layers pellets (special food for hens) and corn with added grit which is needed for them to make strong and healthy shells. They also get lots of vegetable scraps and love lettuce, cabbage, courgettes and tomatoes - don’t give them any cooked food though, as this attracts the rats!

My girls are all named after characters from the BBC series Larkrise to Candleford, and I often sit with a cup of tea in the afternoon watching their antics and talking to them - passers by must think I am mad, but I love it. And as I mentioned before there is an added bonus of tasty eggs - and I mean tasty - with beautiful dark yellow yolks which are superb simply boiled or put into a huge range of other meals - particularly cakes! It kind of makes sense - the chickens eat the grubs so the veggies grow and we get to eat the veggies, sharing them with the chickens. Circle of life stuff, if you know what I mean. Happy gardening.

-- Jane Dubinksi

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Summer Berries

Last Spring I finally decided to plant some new berry bushes against the brick wall that runs alongside our vegetable beds.

Redcurrants we already have, as they were left here by the last owner. We used to grow blackcurrants, but we decided to take them out as they were getting old and took up too much space. Wild blackberries we have in abundance, they sneak over the fence from the fields beyond. I also seemed to remember that blueberries are fussy about the sort of soil that they have so I discounted them too.
We love raspberries so that was one in the bag. Loganberries remind me of my Dad as he grew a thornless loganberry plant in the garden when I was a child and we loved it's halfway house between blackberry and raspberry, so I chose one of those. I then remembered a post on My Tiny Plot that spoke of fragrant Tayberries, so I thought I would give those a go too.
Last year we had a mere handful of fruit off each plant, but I didn't expect too much of them in their first year. This Spring we made sure that we covered them well with netting to stop the blackbirds stealing the fruits of our labour and we have been blessed with berries aplenty.
We have had bowls of berries with cream and made several fruit fools with them as well as adding them to cakes and puddings.
The Tayberries are the least productive, they have very spiky stalks and the fruits are so soft that they tend to come apart when you pick them. The loganberries are nice, but you must leave them until they are very dark in colour before picking. The raspberries are the best cropping, seem to get least attacked by insects and are so easy to pick and prepare as the husk gets left behind on the plant.
Soon I must get out there and get tying in and pruning to make sure we have a good crop next year.

-- Claire Sutton

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Enjoy the fruits of your labour!

This month I've been asked lots of, "What next?" questions and it's true, there are always plenty of jobs to be done with a vegetable garden. For example there is still time to be sowing quick cropping veg into those gaps created by harvesting other plants.
But one really important thing not to forget is to enjoy the fruits of your labour! At this time of year you'll be finding you have so much lovely produce to choose from in your garden, it's all too easy to be too busy to really take the time to appreciate it all.

So my advice is to get out there regularly with whatever you collect your fruit and veg in and really enjoy the picking of those strawberries, the digging up of those potatoes - like finding treasure I always think, the pulling of those carrots, the snipping of those lettuce leaves. Growing Your Own really is wonderful!

-- Holly Rowan Hesson

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Inspired: Gardens for Play

In celebration of the beginning of the summer holidays and finally seeing some sun I have decided to do an 'Inspired' post this week. I've always loved playhouses and after having three daughters that all LOVE playing outside and getting dirty I'm currently longing for an awesome playhouse for them to spend more time outside come rain or shine.

I know this isn't something 99% of the population can afford, never mind fit into their suburban garden but Oh My Lord it's the most amazing structure I've ever laid eyes on.

This one reminds me of all the Enid Blyton books I read as a child. It has a thatched roof, which as a grown-up I know it is impractical yet I still want! The size and shape is more fitting to a UK suburban garden, if not made from totally the wrong materials for our climate, but I'm sure you can all take inspiration from this and build something amazing for your children!

Now the obvious course of action here is to follow on to games you can play in your garden, and I don't mean tennis or football but indoor games... MEGA sized for the garden.

Twister has to be my favourite by far, ideal for a children's party or even a wedding reception! And here is it in all its garden sized glory...

The possibilities are- of course- endless and I'm sure the children would enjoy painting the spots on as much as playing the game with their friends and family. The special garden games spray paints are available from garden centres and don't damage the grass. Instead you could cut out fabric or card spots and simply lay them on the grass, or you could chalk the spots onto the patio.

Another family favourite is Jenga and what garden should be without a giant-sized version?

Of course you don't need to buy one this enormous! Argos and other retailers sell a garden version for not very much money but you could always- if you're crafty- make your own. There are many, many others, such as chess and draughts which are also great for garden fun and simple enough for children to understand and take part.

I'm a sucker for pretty things whether clothing, homewares or gorgeous things in your garden and the following pics are no exception! Maybe one day I'll get it looking like this!
I love arches and this is totally beyond belief! 'The Secret Garden' is an amazing book and inspiration just flows from it. This would be an amazing entrance to any garden, secret or otherwise! The possibilities are endless in regard to what you have climbing up and over your own archway. There are plenty of frames or shaped metalwork out there to achieve a fabulous shape for any archway.

I love our garden at night, you can't see the neighbours and we get a great view on the sky but my trouble has always been making somewhere amazing to sit and spend an evening. I long to create a space like this and it's easy and low cost to do. Most importantly, you need trees or a structure to sit beneath for your hanging lanterns, etc.

I challenge you this summer break to create something amazing yet family friendly for your garden, ours is in progress!

-- Liz Longworth