Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Make a wreath

So Christmas is approaching and I am sure, being the thrifty and creative person you are, perhaps you are looking at making your own wreath to adorn your front door.

For a start, buy a decent pair of gloves. Warm and robust. A pair that will hold back the most fearsome holly thorn. The Town and Country Premium Leather and Suede gloves with fleece lining are exceptional if I do say so myself.   Next, decide what you want to achieve? A small garland or a huge planet sized object forcing you to use the back door for the season?  
Materials needed:
  • 1m of narrow gauge chicken wire or a 30cm foam ring.
  • 1mm metal wire, florists binding or garden twine.
  • Greenery / Flora.
  • Ribbon or other decorative materials.
  • Imagination.
  Once you have decided, start to create!   If you are using chicken wire, fold it into a size which will work for your design, making sure it is not impassable for the stems to pass through, but tight enough to hold the material. The beauty of using chicken wire is you can shape it. Perhaps a bell shape, or a snowflake, or the traditional circle. Make a loop of wire and attach it to the back of the frame. This will be the place to fix it.   Now comes the fun part. Choosing your greenery.   Go into your garden, or into the nearest area where there is a multitude of flora with your secateurs (making sure you have asked permission from the landowner).   There are thousands of evergreen shrubs surrounding us, but there is also a plethora of coloured plant stems. Ilex (Holly), Tillia (Lime), Hedera (Ivy), Skimmia, Luarus nobilis, Euonymous, Jasminum, Osmanthus, Viburnum, Lavender, Santolina, not to mention all the lovely varieties of fir tree. And if you are feeling really experimental or brave, try some citrus fruits or apples, horse-chestnuts or oak apples – and maybe even feathers and seashells if you are that way inclined.   When you have chosen your material, prune long lengths if you are using the chicken wire, or short if you are using the foam. Always making sure you do not leave the host plant unsightly, bald or indeed beyond any chance of life!   Return home with your bounty and have fun.   The trick is to add small amounts at a time. Keep the design balanced, so evenly spread out the material. If you are having problems attaching the material use the binding wire.   Happy Christmas!

-- Guy Deakins

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Look after your garden furniture

Now that we have had our first frost it is time to protect your garden furniture. Outdoor furniture that’s left outside in freezing conditions or in snow will suffer. Here are some steps you can take to prevent this:

  • Wooden furniture will expand if it’s exposed to moisture and freezing conditions. You can find treatments for your wooden furniture at a local DIY store. It will protect it from moisture and in turn prevent it from warping.
  • Purchase some waterproof furniture covers. They will stop water from getting to your furniture and also add a layer to stop the cold getting to them.
  • Try and raise your furniture from the floor. If you place each table leg on a brick for example, you will avoid the legs sitting in water.
  • If you have space in a shed, try and bring the furniture inside. This is the easiest way to avoid water and temperature damage.
-- Gemma Dray

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ash Dieback Disease - a warning

At this time of year I don't usually recommend the burning of leaves. Indeed I have to say that one of the most important things you do in any garden is to build a leaf pit. As described last year, there are a few ways of doing this, from buying the string bags, to using old pallets and corralling the leaves for a year of gentle rotting. Then, when all is going to sleep next year, you can use the leaf-mould as a vital mulch.

However, with the rise of leaf borne pathogens in specific trees and plants, I would recommend you collect and burn as many leaves as possible. The two trees which are most important in this respect are the Aesculus hippocastanum (Horse-chestnut) and Fraxinus excelsior (Common Ash).

At present we are looking at the destruction of between 50% and 90% of these trees in our fair country. Some of you may have noticed over the past few years that the Horse-chestnuts have browned very early in the year. This is due to an invasive leaf miner moth (originally from Serbia, Cameraria ohridella), which lays its eggs on the leaf and the caterpillar eats its way through the leaf. These leaves fall to the floor and the caterpillar overwinters in the leaf litter. It must be said here, that the moth does not kill the tree. But it does weaken it enough for a fungus to attack the tree itself and kill it. Thus collect up all leaves of the Horse-chestnut and burn them. The moth is not native and should not be here. For more information visit

The second tree under threat of a leaf borne pathogen is the Ash tree. Approximately 80 million trees are under threat of destruction from the fungus Chalara fraxinea. With the same care and attention, if you have one of these beautiful trees in the garden, again collect up all the leaves and burn them. For more information visit Whilst it is admitted both these diseases are now established in the UK, perhaps we can, with care, prevent them from destroying our valuable woodlands.

For a handy hint on how to identify the horrible Ash Dieback disease watch this Youtube video.

-- Guy Deakins

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Bee Kind

At this time of year we begin to look at next year’s planting plan. What seed shall we try? How should our garden progress? Thus we grab those handy seed and plant catalogues with glorious plans in mind, sometimes admittedly on a limited budget, but we still want our garden to impress.

So spare a thought next year for our humble insect friends. Sadly, it is becoming apparent, that bees and bumblebees are in decline. Some species have already become extinct in the UK within the last 70 years. Einstein supposedly once stated that if bees died out, mankind would follow within four years. Whether or not Einstein did say this, the realisation is alarming if a little pessimistic.

Nevertheless bees in general are vitally important to the wealth of plants we have in the garden and in wider agriculture. They are vital pollinators as well as a welcome, familiar sound on a summers day. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is striving to halt this decline. According to scientists the only way we can reverse the current decline is to encourage farmers to introduce a 'mosaic of suitable habitat', from nest areas and hedgerows to wild-flower meadows. But at home we can contribute, growing many flowering plants to help the bumblebee. Choose plants which offer a high nectar content, such as, Bluebell, Clover, Scabious, Thyme, Lupin, Heathers and Hollyhock to name a few.

A full list can be found on the Bumblebee Conservation Trusts website. Also we can provide nest sites. There are a few differing designs, all of which can be found along with factsheets, again on the Trust website. You never know you may even win a 'BEE KIND' prize!

-- Guy Deakins

Friday, 28 September 2012

Easy mulching

Something I love about Autumn is when all the leaves fall to the ground. When they are dry, the brown, red and caramel shades look gorgeous amongst the green grass. However when they are wet, they are slippery and dangerous!

Now that your garden is beginning the process of dying down for the Autumn and Winter ahead, it’s time to think ahead to next years garden. Collect all your leaves., dry or wet. Put them in a mulch bin or a bin liner. Pierce a few holes into the bag around the sides, lightly water the leaves and then tie the top of the bag. Leave somewhere shaded and leave it to naturally mulch down. Leave it till spring/summer for a mulch or leave it a whole year for a great compost.

-- Gemma Dray

Friday, 21 September 2012

September is harvest time

1. It is time to lift the main carrot crop before the cold weather sets in. Cut off the leaves and store in sand or dry soil in a shed Keep the carrots well spaced.

2. Plant out pot grown rooted strawberry runners.

3. Rake out dead grass from your lawn with a spring-tine rake and aerate the lawn.

4. If you have grown more marrows than you can eat, then pick the best ones and gently cradle them in cloth and hang in a dry place where the temperature will not fall below 45 degrees F. They should keep you going until February.

5. Lift and dry onions and hang in nets in a cool, dry place.

6. Lift your celeriac when the bulbous stems are blanched. Remove leaves and store in the same way as for carrots.

7. September is the best month for sowing grass seed and repairing dead turf.

8. In order to have a continuous supply of vegetables and salads during autumn and winter, I think the large cloches are ideal. I have ones with four panes of glass with wire supports which are ideal for growing winter radish, lettuce and parsley.

9. Root cuttings of anchusa can be taken now.

10. Clear asparagus beds when the leaves turn yellow. Cut the stems to within a few inches of the ground.

11. If you’re left with any unripened tomatoes, pick them and wrap them in brown packing paper and they’ll soon turn their colour, or alternatively green tomatoes can be pickled or used to make chutney.

12. If you’d like to collect seeds from ripened tomatoes for next season, cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze out the pulp and seeds in to an earthenware bowl and leave for two days. After two days wash and strain through a sieve and clear the pulp way. Spread the seeds out onto a sheet of glass and leave to dry. Once dry, store in paper bags. A dry cupboard is the best place to store seeds.

13. Your maincrops of potato can all be harvested this month, as well as cauliflowers, leeks, broccoli, turnips, celery and beetroot.

14. When gladiolus leaves turn colour, lift and bring them under cover for a week, then remove the soil, cut off the stems about a half inch above the corms. Take off the old corm below the new and save the small offset corms to plant in boxes of peat in spring. Store in paper bags in a cool, frost proof place with a little dry sand over them and keep until planting time.

15. Clear away tired annuals.

16. Take cuttings of roses.

17. Transplant seedling wallflowers.

18. Order fruit trees and bushes.

19. Prune blackcurrant, raspberry, peach and nectarines.

20. Plant violets in a frame.

-- Rob Amey

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Autumn is upon us

Well folks, September has arrived. Odd that, seeing as our summer hardly got going before the first signs of autumn crept into our early morning bones.

As I am sure I have said before, I love this time of year most of all. The weather is still mild, yet things in the garden seemed to have slowed. The last of the summer vegetable harvest is ready to be picked and the apples are sitting heavy on the boughs. I have already pencilled in my visit to Sheffield Park, the garden designed for autumn colour in the heart of Sussex and all is good in the world.

Time to sit back in the deck chair for one last warm snooze, whilst the light is still good? Not on your nelly! Now is the time, not so much of our discontent, but most definitely of much anticipated activity in the garden following the rather dull and monotonous tending of the garden in the previous months. Cutting back all those perennials that are rapidly passing their best is the first chore which must be done, not forgetting to leave some seed heads for the birds.

Pruning the climbing roses is another, as I described at this time last year in this very spot (check the archives if you don’t believe me). If your lawns have had a hard wear this summer, then now is the time to patch those glaring holes. The final sowing of winter green manure Phacelia is also a must for all those that want to return some goodness and compost to the soil later in the winter, not forgetting mulching is of vital importance too - trap the last of the warmth in the soil now and pay dividends later.

Sowings of winter and spring crops can still be made, such as cresses, carrot, turnips, mooli and endive; not forgetting onions sown now for spring. Now is also the time for taking cuttings from your favourite pelargoniums and verbenas. Under glass it is also time to prune you apricot, peach and nectarine trees, removing all laterals, tying in all those shoots that are required for next years fruit.

Finally, in that oh so special place we all have secreted in the vast expanse of the average urban garden, ‘The Pinery’; keep a genial atmosphere of between 70° and 83° among your fruiting plants. Water them with clear manure water, refraining from syringing those in fruit or flower. Not forgetting that pineapples are thought to grow better from fermenting rotting material beneath than from the use of hot water.

So, lots to do, before you clean your tools and shut up shop for winter, reverting to your welcoming armchairs besides the hearth. Just one last thing mind you. Don’t forget, above all other things, the second spring is coming. That curious moment offered by Mother Nature when all plants burn off the last of their stored food, producing a burst of growth reminiscent of early spring. So perhaps don’t down tools just yet.

-- Guy Deakins

Monday, 10 September 2012


Now is the time to start thinking about buying your bulbs to plant out in the Autumn for the following year. If you put in the effort now you will be rewarded with a variety of flowers throughout next year.

Some bulbs I have been looking to plant out are:
· Alliums
· Tulips
· Daffodils
· Snowdrops
· Hyacinths
· Lilies

Look online for a great variety of different breeds of plants and maybe even some bulk buy offers!

-- Gemma Dray

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Good Garden-keeping

Here’s some general good habits for gardeners to keep...

1. Keep all your tools clean and in good condition. Rub sandpaper over rusty tools to clear the rust away.

2. Store your garden equipment in a dry shed. Hang on walls if possible to keep off damp floors.

3. Keep your electrical equipment indoors.

4. Keep shears sharpened.

5. Always wash flower pots before and after use.

6. See a weed, remove it directly!

7. Always keep deadheading to keep flowers going for longer.

8. Always do planting in the morning or evening, never in the heat of the day.

9. Always keep your eye out for pests and deal with them straight away.

10. Always stake fruit trees and plants well so that the wind doesn’t take them away.

11. Keep your soil well hoed and weed free.

12. Keep your greenhouse glass clean in the winter.

13. Pick off suckers directly they appear.

14. Water cacti and greenhouse plants around the sides of the pots and never over them.

15. For tubs, pots and flower baskets, push your finger an inch or two into the soil to be sure there is adequate moisture below throughout the root area.

16. Protect plants especially tender ones from sustained cold and frost.

17. Keep paths and driveways clean to keep them free of mosses and lichens.

18. Pick fruit and vegetables as soon as they are ripe – they need to be eaten when they are at their best.

19. Harvest vegetables as soon as they are ready for maximum flavour.

20. To care for your houseplants, clean dust from the leaves with a damp cloth, control pests, deadhead as necessary, water as required. Keep away from heat.

-- Rob Amey

Friday, 17 August 2012

Meadow Gardens

I have to say, the wild-flower meadows are looking amazing this year. With all the early rain and then the sudden appearance of heat, the grasses, annuals and perennials have all done remarkably well.

At the Olympic site, they have used mixes that are easily available and perhaps the relatively new development of 'wild-flower matting', which you can buy from some of the bigger or specialised landscape companies. The result has been splendid. A few years ago I had the honour of looking about the garden writer and photographer Deni Bown's garden at Yaxham in Norfolk. She has a keen sense of adventure and was experimenting with various mixes of her own creation to see what was the most appealing. She had chosen American prairie plants and native plants as well as some other more exotic species and the result was marvellous.

Indeed many of the towns I visit these days have small spaces enlivened by the use of wild-flowers. Horsham and Reigate are two such councils which have used the idea well. But, how do you create a wild-flower meadow of your own?

There are some simple rules to follow:
1. Ask your self some important questions: How well do you know your climate and situation?Is the soil wet or dry? Sandy loam or clay? Do you have a rabbit or deer problem? Is it in heavy shade or full sun? How big is the plot? Will you want to cut it once a year or more and do you have the equipment to cut it?

2. Make sure the ground you are going to use is prepared well but not fed well. (This will not encourage the grasses from taking over and give your precious flowers a chance to thrive).

3. Once you have looked at and prepared the site, then decide on the flowers. The best thing to do is to ask the advice of a good wild-flower seedsman such as Emorsgate Seeds, or Boston seeds. They will be able to talk you through the process and recommend the best for you. If you want to go down the more expensive route of plants and mats, the internet is awash with companies, including and

4. How much patience do you have? – Because sometimes despite your best efforts, it may not work out the way you wanted. Be ready with that stiff upper lip!

5. Lastly, aim for good luck and good growing weather! If you are still confused, go to the excellent source of information at:

-- Guy Deakins

Monday, 13 August 2012

Top 20 Tasks for August in the garden

1. Weed strawberry beds and cut off old leaves from your strawberry plants to keep plants healthy. You need to replace your strawberry plants every year, so plant out pot grown rooted runners in a new bed next month.

2. The end of August is the ideal time to sow grass seed and repair any bare patches

3. This month, store all apples, pears and plums

4. August is a good time to get ahead by planting hardy annuals instead of waiting for the spring. They can easily be transplanted in the spring. You may lose a few during the winter, but those that do survive will be stronger than those sown in spring. Choose cornflowers, Nigella, larkspur, scabious, eschscholtzia and Shirley poppies.

5. Prune rambler roses shortly after the blooms have faded. Detach shoots from their supports. You can use these as cuttings to form roots in jars of water.

6. Clip hedges

7. Plant early flowering bulbs – crocus, squill, winter aconite, chionodoxa and snowdrops.

8. After the last crop of broad beans, cut down the stems to a few inches of the ground, fork the surface around them and water thoroughly. A fresh crop of new shoots will shortly appear producing a second crop of small beans which should be harvested regularly.

9. Boil rhubarb leaves. Use the water as a spray against aphids.

10. Bend onion leaves over at the neck to check further growth and encourage ripening.

11. Harvest spring onions and sow onions for next year’s crop.

12. Sow winter spinach.

13. Pot bulbs of hyacinth, narcissus and early daffodils.

14. Take cuttings of lavender, berberis, aucubas and ceanothus and keep in a cold frame where they will soon root.

15. Clean and paint your greenhouse.

16. Deadhead regularly to encourage flowering to go on longer.

17. Continue hoeing to keep the weeds down.

18. Check fencing and trellis are secure for the winter months.

19. Keep alpine plants tidy by cutting back the stems.

20. Give scruffy bedding plants, such as nemesia and lobelia a trim to keep them producing more flowers by cutting back the plants with secateurs to about half their height.

-- Rob Amey

Friday, 3 August 2012

Coping with a wet summer

Geranium spp.
  So, the English summer has sprung upon us like a damp octopus. Slimy, vaguely warm, uncomfortable and perhaps slightly menacing. If your garden is not now the village pond, then you are lucky indeed. I bet you're glad you bought those lovely T&C wellies now eh? Notwithstanding, I search for the positives – everywhere you must admit is beautifully verdant.

Astrantia spp.

Buddleja davidii.

The plants and trees- the very soul of our gardens- are undeniably happy, displaying their colours with gusto. And yet we cannot seem to ignore the problems. The slugs and snails have run amok, destroying vast swathes of my veg patch in their merciless quest for sustenance - slug pellets or beer traps being rapidly diminished by the sheer weight of water. As for the weeds, oh the weeds, even the panel of the illustrious BBC Gardeners Question Time have raised their hands to heaven. “You can't spray, you can't hoe, so what can you do?” As Adam Ant possibly sang all those years ago.

But there is hope yet for us hardy garden folk. If you have a lawn and are fearful of cutting it, as those books advise against; well, fear not, for as Vita Sackville-West was so fond of saying: Rebel!

Set your mower on the highest cut and cut away. If you have a hover mower this is a bit more complicated but not impossible. If the lawn is impossibly long. Strim it first. Remember electrics and water don't mix so try for a dry spell. After you have cut, spike the lawn, using a sharp border fork, sprinkling compost as you do. Not only will the lawn remain healthy, but you are adding to the nutrients and drainage potential! In the borders, add a good mulch of mushroom compost or if you have Azaleas and their ilk, try ericaceous compost and seaweed. With all the activity of the worms and the constant rain, leaching of nutrients has undoubtedly occurred, so mulch away! If all else fails just sit by the window and watch the swallows and martins scoot impossibly close to the ground in search of their supper. Wonderful. There, feel better? Now, where's that recipe for pan-fried octopus with chilli, coriander and garlic...

-- Guy Deakins

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Top 20 Tasks for the Garden in July

RHS Rose Gloves by Town & Country

Despite the weather, there are plenty of tasks to be done this month. The rainy weather is an ideal time to be budding roses to propagate, whilst the sap is running freely. Don’t forget to wear rose protective gloves which are thorn resistant from Town & Country.

1. When shallot stalks have turned yellow no further growth develops. Scrape soil from around the bulbs and bend tops over to assist ripening. When this has taken place, ease them out with a fork. Dry well for two days by hanging them in the sun or if the rain doesn’t stop, spread them on a shelf in a dry, airy shed.

2. A warm March combined with a cool April has now resulted in early bumper crops of sweet strawberries, full of flavour. With all this rain, you may want to protect your strawberries by moving them under cover. This month is a good time to layer your strawberries. Choose the best runners and using the first plantlet only on each runner, cut off beyond this and peg it down close to the joint or node. Layer into pots of sand to facilitate moving when rooted. When the runner plant is well rooted, usually after around 3 weeks, sever the running stalk.

3. Slugs love this wet weather and can cause damage to plants. Sprinkle lime soot around seedlings, frequently renewing.

4. Sow hollyhock, snapdragon, foxglove, gaillardia and anchus on borders.

5. Summer prune apples and pear trees.

6. Prune raspberries. All old canes which fruited should be cut down near to the ground level and burned, leaving only strong canes of this year’s growth.

7. If you’re going on holiday, place ferns, palms and other pot plants if well rooted in a large container in which the water reaches half way up the pots. Place the container in a shady spot. House plants will be better outside where they will be exposed to rainfall.

8. Clip all hedges and evergreen shrubs and trees.

9. Cut off all dead or dying flowers and untidy shoots from bedding plants.

10. Mow the lawn thoroughly.

11. Hoe the soil well in beds and borders.

12. If you planted potatoes in March, these will be ready to harvest.

13. Its also the time this month to order second cropping potatoes to be planted in August for harvesting in December.

14. Plant out leek seedlings in July.

15. Enjoy a selection of herbs in your salads and harvest garlic bulbs. Dry herbs or freeze in ice cubes to drop in soups.

16. Check your seed packets to see what else is left to sow. You can continue sowing lettuce 2 weeks apart throughout July.

17. Sow winter salad crops and pak choi.

18. Sow freesia seed thinly for flowering in spring.

19. Sow turnip seed to provide roots in autumn.

20. Carry out the main sowing of spring cabbages, radishes and parsley this month.

-- Rob Amey

Monday, 16 July 2012

What’s orange and boring and lives at the bottom of the garden…?

Answer...a garden shed! When we moved house four years ago I needed one to store my tools and do a bit of potting while I transformed the wilderness that accompanied our new home. I built the shed equivalent of Dale Winton. Why do all commercially bought sheds look as if they’ve been ‘tangoed’?

My previous shed had been tucked away under a huge lilac tree. Fragrant roses and honeysuckle scrambled over it and mature shrubs almost hid it from view. It was my little sanctuary, a den to which I could flee and where, while transplanting seedlings and potting up bulbs, I could forget the stresses of the day. My new shed was the only vertical feature on an otherwise bleak landscape of stony soil. I couldn’t live with it but how could I disguise it? Shrubs would take a few years to establish, as would climbing roses. In the meantime it leered ‘orangely’ at me and looked...hideous.

I applied logic and a large gin and tonic to the problem. If I had already had mature shrubs I could simply have painted it black or very dark green so it would have blended with the shadows. No such luck. There was nothing for it, I’d have to make a feature of it. I hit the garden centre to check out colours. I was amazed. Timber preservative manufacturers now produce a vast range of beautiful tints. I could have painted my shed almost any shade I chose.

I toyed with a jolly red and white striped beach hut idea for a while, then spotted a jaunty yellow which I thought might be a laugh. There was also a gorgeous blue. For every colour I could imagine choosing plants to complement or contrast. In the end I settled on a soft sage green, to complement the silver leaved plants which I knew would do well in our dry, stony soil. I also indulged myself by painting the inside a light cream, which is so much brighter on overcast days.

Four years on, the heavily scented, pale pink rose New Dawn scrambles up the trellis attached to the side. The shrubs I planted to the front are beginning to provide cover and the nearby Eucalyptus provides a bit of height. My mother was inspired to paint her shed after seeing mine. Her garden is so tiny that disguise wasn’t an option. She went for vivid blue with a stained glass window! It looks stunning surrounded by vibrant pots and hanging baskets.

Why not get creative this month? Say no to orange and yes to red, blue, yellow, grey and lilac!

-- Rob Amey

Tuesday, 3 July 2012


One of my favourite flowers at this time of year is the Allium. It’s a great flower as it adds interest to your garden with its tall round purple head. It is also known to attract bees.

I did not know until recently that you can collect seeds from the Allium. Once the Allium has lost its petals, the green middle of the flowers swell and eventually dry out, revealing black seeds. These seeds can be sown the following spring and will reach flowering size in a few years.
-- Gemma Dray

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Jobs to do in June!

1. Uproot the suckers growing at bases of lilac
2. Prune early blooming shrubs
3. Take measures to destroy pests on roses, trap ants and spray against aphid on fruit trees
4. Plant out dahlias
5. Sow hardy plants on a reserve border
6. Restrict sweet peas to one or two stems.
7. Don’t allow fruit trees against walls to become dry. Shorten their side shoots to within six leaves of current year’s growth.
8. Make a final sowing of peas and French beans
9. Plant out brussels sprouts and celery
10. Keep your greenhouse ventilated, shade roof glass and moisten floors and walls.
11. Take cutting of pansies and violas if you have a greenhouse
12. Rid your lawn of daisies and plantains
13. Pick off seed-pods of rhododendrons and azaleas
14. Reduce the number of fruits on clusters on trees bearing heavy crops
15. In the greenhouse, you can place dormant bulbs in pots on their sides in a frame.
16. As the weather gets warmer pond weed can get of control. Remove this with a kitchen sieve or small net.
17. Direct sow brassicas and leeks for winter harvest
18. Deadhead flowers this month to gain a second flowering.
19. Propagate hydrangeas
20. Hoe soil to keep down weeds or pull them by hand.

-- Rob Amey

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Companion Planting

In my constant search for titbits of perhaps best forgotten garden knowledge, I am constantly reminded of the idea of companion planting. I must profess to having read many, many tomes on the subject, some inspiring, some less so. In fact, if I am honest the Internet is full of websites declaring the virtues of various pairings, but not being one to give up at the first hurdle, I shall endeavour to briefly introduce you to this subject.

Firstly, you must understand that this line of horticultural experimentation is not foolproof. Who in their right mind decided that it was a good idea to plant nasturtium next to broad bean in the vain hope that the winged pest that is 'Blackfly' (Aphis fabae) would somehow prefer to live on the former more than the latter? Notwithstanding I persevere to understand the concept that planting one plant betwixt others somehow enriches the growth or eliminates pests and, I must admit, I have had some success.

For example, did you know planting onion or leek in alternate rows with carrot, not only deters the dreaded Carrot Root Fly, but also the Onion Root Fly. This process of using scent is a common theme, planting rosemary next to roses apparently deters aphid or the planting of garlic in flower beds offers some protection from insect attack.

Another tried and tested companion plant relationship is Brassicas next to a bean. This may at first seem odd, but there is scientific method. Beans hold nitrogen in the soil, brassicas need nitrogen to grow nice healthy leaves. Thus a match made in heaven and you should include in this list spinach and chard. Similarly, the native Americans in their wisdom, used to plant climbing beans with maize. The maize prospered due to the increased nitrogen, the bean gained a free trellis.

Finally, chemical warfare is a useful ally in the garden. By this I do not mean expensive and ecologically damaging pesticides. I am of course referring to naturally released oils and hormones. Tagetes, otherwise known as the African marigold, has a useful chemical which has been scientifically proved chemical to ward of soil born insects such as wireworm, so plant them liberally amongst potatoes and other root crop for a bumper harvest. They also provide a food source for beneficial insects such as hoverfly.

So next time you look at your planting plan, have a thought for what goes with what and how you can help your garden look after itself.

-- Guy Deakins

Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Dry Garden

Water is becoming an increasingly precious commodity. What’s a gardener to do? We want our patch to look beautiful yet we can’t rely on our hosepipe. It’s a dilemma. But if we think of it in terms of a challenge, a puzzle to be solved, the whole concept of gardening with minimal water can be a delight...honest.

A sunny patch with poor soil is the perfect place to start gardening with plants that don’t mind dry, sun-baked earth. Mediterranean plants are the ones to seek out. They include lavenders, rosemary and curry plants.

First enrich the soil with organic matter so that plants can hold on to moisture during dry spells. Well rotted compost or bagged planting mixture from a garden centre are best. You could also use spent mushroom compost. You’ll need around one bucket per square metre. Once this is dug in you can start planting. Don’t forget to include a few upright plants such as towering verbascum for contrast and interest.

Once planted, water everything thoroughly. Then cover the soil surface with a 2 inch / 5cm thick layer of small gravel. This acts as a mulch, sealing in moisture and suppressing weeds. It also acts as a canvas, showing the plants off to their best advantage. During the first year the plants will be establishing so you will need to water them when the weather is dry. After that they should be pretty self sufficient. It is possible to have a beautiful garden and save water. It just takes a little imagination.

My guru for gardening in dry conditions is Beth Chatto. Her books ‘The Dry Garden’, and ‘Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden’ are full of helpful information. They’re available at garden centres and good bookshops.

Plants which thrive in hot, dry conditions
· Allium
· Cistus - Rock Rose
· Curry Plant
· Euphorbia
· Helianthemum - Sun Rose
· Lavender
· Phlomis
· Rosemary
· Salvia Argentea
· Santolina
· Sedum
· Senecio
· Thyme
· Teucrium
· Verbascum

-- Rob Amey

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Nicking, Notching and Rubbing

May is full of wonderful surprises and is always a welcome month after the rigours of winter and wet early springs. There is plenty to be getting on with, but there is also still just time to finish off the jobs that were not done at the end of April. One job, which should be done about now is "nicking" and "notching" in the apple orchard. Traditionally, apple trees were pruned more than once through the year and this is one of those jobs you can do alongside "rubbing". If you are not sure what I mean, then I shall endeavour to explain.

If you have a tree which is lacking or is sparse in bud then notching is your game. Simply cut a small triangle of bark above a dormant bud to stimulate growth.

If you have a tree with odd or no bud growth toward the end then nicking is your man. Simply cut a small triangle of bark below an active bud to prevent its growth and thus allowing sap to rise further along the branch.

Rubbing is the age old practice of removing flower buds from the over burdened branches. This will help the fruit form in a more healthy manner and allow for a larger fruit! You can do this by simply rubbing the flower off the branch with your thumb.

If your tree is still refusing to give any fruit, then you may have a problem with suitable pollinators. Check the Brogdale National Fruit Collections to see if your variety needs specific treatment. One last thing, remember the golden rule of all fruiting and flowering branches: Vertical promotes growth, horizontal promotes fruit!

-- Guy Deakins

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Protect your plants

These past few weeks we have been having so much trouble in the garden. An animal is coming into the garden at night and digging up all our seedlings and plants. Our broad beans have gone missing and some of our leeks have been destroyed. To make things worse some of the soil has had newly sown seeds which has been scattered everywhere, so who knows what plants are going to pop up where!

Since then we have foiled their nocturnal escapades by using bamboo structures covered in netting and small polytunnels! I didn’t realise how versatile netting can be so it’s a great thing to have on standby and best of all it’s very cheap to buy. If you don’t have any, I advise you to get some.

-- Gemma Dray

Friday, 11 May 2012

Hanging Baskets

Want to know the secret of beautiful hanging baskets? Read on...

Properly planted hanging baskets are a glorious sight, so it’s a pity that all too often they end up looking like abandoned bird’s nests. A fabulous basket can be yours with a little preparation and lots of easy aftercare.

Plant a basket at the beginning of May to give it a fortnight or so to thicken up before hanging it in place. It can be left in a porch or a cold greenhouse or even in a sheltered spot protected with polythene.

To plant…
• Balance the basket on a large flowerpot or bucket
• Line it with a fibrous liner
• Make sure all the chosen plants are well watered in their trays or pots
• To retain moisture, place a circular piece of polythene in the base of the basket on top of the liner
• Use a soil-less multipurpose compost and mix with water retaining granules
• Put a little compost in the base of the basket
• Take each of the plants which are to form the first layer, tip it from its container and squeeze the rootball to make it small enough to fit through the basket mesh and liner - you’ll need to push a hole through the liner with your fingers first. Never feed the foliage from inside to outside, always feed roots in from the outside as the plant will suffer less damage.
• Space the plants between 10cm / 4inches and 15cm / 6inches apart around the edge of the basket
• Build up layers of compost and plants
• When the basket is filled to within 2.5cm / 1inch of the top, plant up the top with bushy plants.
• Water the basket well and make sure it never dries out. Lack of water is the biggest cause of failure. Once hung in place water every single day!
• Feed with dilute liquid tomato fertilizer once a week to keep it flowering well

NOTE: Don’t forget to check your brackets and chains before hanging. You don’t want all your hard work unceremoniously dumped in a heap on the path below!

And some plant suggestions...
Trusty Trailing Plants
These bedding plants come in beautiful trailing varieties.
- Lobelia Bidens
- Ivy-leaf pelargonium
- Lysimachia
- Fuchsia

Brilliant Bushy Basket Toppers
These cast their stems out sideways making them suitable basket toppers.
- Verbena
- Petunia
- Begonia
- Pelargonium
- Fuchsia

-- Rob Amey

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Getting Some Salad on the Go!

May Flowers:  The spring colours are so vibrant - especially with a bit of sunshine

Drought? What drought you might be thinking - it doesn’t seem to have stopped raining here in East Anglia although one helpful news report said recently that it would have to rain continuously for about six months before the drought would be officially called off! I have been taking the opportunity to make sure that my raised beds are getting as much water as possible ahead of planting out salad crops at the beginning of May. I mentioned before that I am going to concentrate on the two raised beds near the greenhouse and not cultivate the ones in the main part of the vegetable garden, due to the problems with irrigation so I am drawing up a plan to plant crops close together from seed to see how this works - a new idea for me as I usually grow seeds in the greenhouse and then plant out the seedlings when they look nice and strong! Watch this space to see if this works!

Salad leaves are always a good starter as they germinate quite quickly (some within three weeks) and as long as it warms up a bit and the soil is at a decent temperature then we should have success! On a sadder note this month, I have to report the loss of four of my five ‘girls’ due to a visit from a very nasty Mr Fox. Up to this point the beauties lived in a barn with a locked stable style door and chicken wire fence but this doesn’t seem to have deterred the wily critter. Much to my upset my two black rocks had completely disappeared and the two mid-sussex were left behind - which makes it even worse as the violence seems to be somewhat gratuitous. The only one left is my bluebell who has a useful habit of getting into the rafters - a skill that obviously saved her this time round.

As horrible as it is, I can’t be without my lovely girls as they give me so much pleasure and lovely eggs, so a chicken coop has now been purchased and new girls introduced. The coop is much nearer the house and whilst small, is only used at night as the girls free roam during the day. When it stops raining I will take some pictures so I can show them off. Until then I leave you slightly damp around the edges! See you next month.

-- Jane Dubinski

Thursday, 26 April 2012

April Garden Projects

April is the month when our thoughts turn towards the garden. It’s easy to be overwhelmed at the size of the task ahead but the simple solution is here...

What you need is a project, one which can be achieved in a morning or an afternoon and which improves a few square metres. You’ll feel you’ve achieved something wonderful and if you break the whole garden into a series of small projects it suddenly appears more manageable. Here are three to get you started...

Strawberry Pots
You don’t need a huge patch to enjoy growing strawberries. Plant a few in pots as a treat. Buy young, rich green plants certified virus free. Plant 3-4 to a 12 inch (30cm) clay pot. The crowns (where shoots meet roots) should be level with the compost surface. Water them in and stand in the shelter of a house wall. If you have a greenhouse or a cold frame they will establish more quickly and fruit earlier. Pinch off any runners (slender, horizontal stems) which form.

Don’t forget an all-weather seat so you can sit and contemplate all your hard work over a cup of tea or a nip of something stronger. Teak from renewable resources is fantastic but cast iron or aluminium is good though you’ll need a cushion to protect your posterior on cold days! Position it in a sunny area. Buy a few flowering daffodils, tulips and pansies and plant them in a pretty pot next to the bench...lovely.

Lawns always look bedraggled after the winter. Remove dead grass by raking the surface with a wire toothed rake. Improve drainage on heavy soil by spiking it with a garden fork every 6 inches (15cm) or so to a depth of about 4 inches (10cm). Give the fork a good wiggle each time. Sweep sharp sand into the holes with a broom. Then mow the lawn with the blades set on high and remove the clippings. Two weeks later apply a combined weed killer and fertilizer. If you’re lucky it will rain within 24 hours. If not just water it in. Mow weekly to keep the lawn thick and healthy.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Beware the frost- even in April!

So, Oestre has been and gone. That famed pagan festival we all celebrate by eating chocolate eggs and dressing up as rabbits or chicks. It is also the time many people descend on the local garden centre to buy their summer colour, veg seed and other things which perhaps are later regretted.

With the weather we have been having recently, we could be mistaken for believing it was summer already! But, there is an old lore, which you must be made aware of: The Blackthorn Winter. If you are unaware of this small piece of country wisdom, then now is your chance to out-do your neighbours.

It is said, (and I am one who says this regularly), when the blackthorn is in flower, then you will have a second winter. If you are unsure of the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), it is the tree or shrub with the horrendous thorns and white flower. It's bark is a dark almost purple hue. It is also the plant we get sloes from to make that wonderful gin. (Thinking of Christmas already? Surely not). If you are a keen naturalist, be aware these thorns easily break off and harbour a fungus which can cause blood poisoning, so carefully does it!

So in these times of cooler air, be of the knowledge the frost season is still upon us. Many would say it is not gone until early to mid May, so look after those tender plants. Keep the fleece at hand should Old Jack threaten to visit. It may be 23 degrees in the day, but the soil is still not warmed. So it also advisable not to mulch your borders lest you trap this cold into the soil. Wait awhile. If you are again unsure of just when, touch your elbow to the soil as you would a baby's bath water. If it is cold, then do not mulch. If it warm, then add that all important improvement. (Mid May should be okay).

-- Guy Deakins

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Round the garden in April

  1. Encourage hedgehogs, frogs, toads and thrushes into your garden to keep snails and slugs at bay. Bird baths are good to attract thrushes. A small garden pond will encourage frogs and toads. Attract hedgehogs by ensuring you have a safe place for them to nest, such as compost heaps, pile of leaves and twigs to nest in. Leave food out for hedgehogs at sunset, don’t put out any earlier or you’ll attract flies laying eggs and always collect anything uneaten in the morning. Hedgehogs like cat and dog food, chopped peanuts, crunchy peanut butter, muesli and any leftover cooked or raw meat.
  2. Check anything growing under cloches to ensure it is not too dry and check if they need watering. Air your greenhouse on warm sunny days and open the vents mid-morning and close after lunch.
  3. Enjoy your vegetable and salad garden this year, by sowing direct this month carrots, peas, spinach, chard and beetroot. Sow quick growing half-hardy annuals like basil, French beans, sweet corn, squash and pumpkins. April is the month for planting potatoes too.
  4. You can get going this month with some salad by sowing undercover or in your greenhouse or conservatory – rocket, spring onions, radish, chard and lots of different variety of lettuces. Keep growing further batches of lettuce, beetroot, peas, spinach, spring onions and radish every 2 weeks so you have a regular supply over the summer.
  5. Deadhead larger bulbs such as Tulips, Narcissus, and Hyacinths. Be sure not to cut the foliage! This will encourage bulb development and better flowers next spring.
  6. April is the month to get on with planting trees, shrubs, roses, strawberries and perennials. Also get dahlia tubers potted up.
  7. Keep on top of weeding. Use hand tools and get down on your knees to pull out the weeds, rather than using chemicals. Aim to get rid of perennial weeds early whilst they are young and their roots can easily be removed before they set to seed. Wearing Town and Country kneepads makes this task comfortable and easy.
  8. Containerised plants need plenty of fertiliser and frequent watering, especially during warm weather.
  9. After the last chance of frost, (around mid-April but can vary) you can start planting hardier annuals. Start growing your own flowers this month – Marigolds, honeywort and poppies are favourites for me. Seeds can be directly sown outside and any seedlings you’ve been nurturing indoors can be planted out.
  10. Tie down roses so that they keep growing healthily and produce good flowers in the summer. Bend over upright stems, this will produce more flowers. If you don’t bend uprights over, you’ll only have a flower at the end. Tie them in so they lie horizontal.
  11. Directly sow herbs under cover. Favourites are dill, fennel, coriander, chives and chervil.
  12. Give your lavender plants a haircut this month – short back and sides and shape them into domes. It helps them from looking sparse. Don’t prune hard into old wood.
  13. Plan for possible water shortages by installing water butts and adding mulch to borders to conserve soil moisture.
-- Rob Amey

Monday, 2 April 2012

Seeds Seeds Seeds!

I've been asked this month about growing. Growing veg from seed is a fantastic experience - there is nothing like seeing your tiny seeds grow into seedlings within a matter of days in some cases. Last month I wrote about starting off your seeds in propagators which is a great way to start your seedlings off, and the only effective method for some seeds that require a constant temperature for germination.

The key is to do your research - read seed packets, maybe some online research - I have a couple of trusty veg growing books I use just to check a few things here and there. The research is all part of the fun and a little plan of what you're going to grow where, and crucially, when things need to be started off, moved into your growing space and when they'll vacate the space to be used for something else can really help things along.

You'll need to think about crop rotation - not growing the same family of vegetables on the same plot in consecutive growing seasons, too and here again a little research and planning can really help.

So why not invest in a little notepad and pencil, and maybe a simple veg growing book alongside your seed packets, trowel and gloves and get growing!

-- Holly Rowan Hesson

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Make your own ladybird house

This is a great little project for yourself or to do with children.

You will need:
An empty and clean 2l bottle

Cut your drinks bottle in half. Cut your bamboo and sticks to the length of the half you are using. Pack it tight with sticks, bamboo and leaves, creating a nice dark hiding space for ladybirds and other insects.
Place it in your garden hidden in foliage, preferably near a plant that attracts lots of insects. Quietly observe during the summer to find lots of insects to identify.

-- Gemma Dray

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Drought Forecast - Take Action Now!

It’s all doom and gloom in the news just now, with the imminent arrival of a hosepipe ban, especially in my area of the UK, East Anglia when a ban will be imposed on 5th April 2012. So I have been thinking about my vegetable plot this year and making plans to scale down production for the coming season.

In some ways I should be expanding my plot this year as there are stories in the media which indicate that the price of vegetables, particularly potatoes, are set to rise as crops in this area may fail or be greatly reduced, but to be honest, the thought of planting lots of seeds, growing them on and planting out, only to have them die because I can’t give them sufficient water is a bit soul destroying, so I have decided to manage just one of my raised beds and plant a little of several things.

Packing the plants in tightly will help a little, as water evaporates from bare soil quicker than in a bed where the plants cover the ground and the one I will be using is near the greenhouse and therefore has access to a water butt, so this should also be of help in the coming months.

I will also choose varieties carefully and not include some of my family favourites - runner beans for example (or in fact any bean), which are hugely popular in my house, need a lot of water to yield a good crop so may not be a good choice for this year.

However, vegetables from the beet family and kale family, such as swiss chard and several herbs such as rosemary, thyme and lavender are all good choices as they need less water than fleshy types. Tomatoes don’t need a huge amount of water, although they must be watered regularly - little and often - otherwise they will not thrive. Other tips to ensure a healthy crop include adding compost to the soil, a mulch to stop evaporation and to water your crops at night rather than in the morning and certainly not in full sun.

It’s going to be a challenging season this year, so keep following to find out how I get on! And however you decide to deal with the drought, happy gardening!

-- Jane Dubinski

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Round the Garden in Spring

Spring is finally here, shrubs and trees are in bud and all my bulbs are starting to bloom. This month I have cleared up herbaceous rubbish, burnt woody cuttings and put the resultant (cooled!) ashes around my fruit trees and roses. Last month I planted bare root plants and a couple of trees, so had to make sure all were well watered, firmed in and staked against the roaring March weather. My children have planted sunflower, salad and herb seeds in pots (these sprout quite quickly so are good for the kids) and whilst occupied, enabled me to have a last good prune, aerating shrubs. Evergreen plants are entering their dormant phase so its ok to prune them now. If the morning frosts are over, risk planting out perennials and other herbaceous plants. Fill out your gaps with medium height plants, leaving room for them to stretch and flourish and loll over walls and pathways.

If you’ve got the space, why not start making your own compost bin / heap? Put in peelings, newspapers, cuttings and cover with an old curtain / polythene sheet. You can buy compost bins or wormery from Garden Centres, Hardware Shops and many DIY stores or build a rectangular box, split down the middle out of slatted timber. Try not to put too much woody stuff as this won’t compost (decompose) down. Do not put anything cooked or egg shells into your compost, unless you want to help increase the rat population.

A good tip this time of year is to look at all the bulbs varieties around in flower and make a note of the names of ones you like so you know what to order in the Autumn.

-- Rob Amey

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Playing catch-up: lawn advice for the armchair gardener

Hurry and you’ll miss it my young ants. Winter is almost at an end and the garden is starting to grow once again! The fruit trees and wisteria have been pruned, the pots, tools and garden shed should be spick and span. Early seeding like Lobelia, Lathyrus and Pelargonium should have been done long ago, and the beds should be in prime condition. You should also have thought perhaps, of what vegetables are to be grown this year and what perennials need to be divided imminently.

But in the reality of an armchair gardener - that oh so rare beast who never steps into the garden from October to Easter - what does the end of winter actually mean?

Well, it means from now on, you are playing catch up. All those small little winter jobs that needed to be done will have to wait until next winter.

The grass needs to be fed, first and foremost. Personally, I hate the chemical treatments which so readily burn lawns. A sprinkling of blood fish and bone, should instead be applied. Blood for the instant nitrogen kick, the fish for a longer lasting green and the bone for feeding the roots.

If you have moss, apply lawn sand now according to the instructions and no later than April 1st - but be aware you may be adding to the acidity of the soil. This can be addressed at a later date by adding a dressing of lime water or crushed chalk sprinkled in healthy amounts (brushed in). Do not scarify. At this time of year the grass needs a root system to grow healthily. If you scratch the soil now, you do nothing but make the grass grow roots instead of leaves, starve the plant of food and water and weaken an already struggling plant that is just waking up.

Give the lawn its first cut on a high setting once the feed has had a couple of days to settle in. The lawn could also do with a little de-compaction therapy. Get a sharp fork and walk over the areas most prone to walking damage; sinking the prongs into the areas and wiggling lightly to add air and drainage. Don’t worry if the lawn is left with noticeable holes. Brush in some compost. If it is a big lawn, buy a walk behind lawn aerator or a tow behind tool for the tractor. Please also note as we are in a drought and good honest drinking water is scarce, a lawn does not need to be watered constantly. I know we all like a nice green lawn all year round, but it can survive quite happily without water for about eight months. In fact I would go as far to say, if it is watered you will not encourage it to dig deep to find sustenance, making your lawn more prone to disease.

Also remember for the year ahead, if you cut a lawn too short, it does not stop it growing or mean you have to cut it less often. It merely makes the grass weaker, encourages weeds and moss and causes more headaches in the long run. If you'd like to spend hard earned money paying a gardener like me to re-turf or reseed, go ahead.

In short, a lawn has a complicated life and must be viewed with the eyes of a concerned naturalist. It is not simply a patch of green that takes the rough cutting treatment, but a group of individual plants all crammed together and all competing for the same food and water. Think on, Wise Grasshopper.

-- Guy Deakins

Friday, 2 March 2012

Re-use your toilet roll tubes!

Instead of purchasing bio degradable pots for this growing season, start saving your cardboard toilet roll tubes!

They are a great substitute for seedling plant pots and work especially well with long rooted plants, like runner beans or sweet peas.

Treat it like a normal pot and sow your seeds. When the plant is ready to be transferred outside, simply plant it straight into the ground. It’s as easy as that! The best part is the tube will naturally disintegrate into the soil.

-- Gemma Dray

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Round the Garden in March

There's plenty of jobs to be getting on with now spring has sprung!
  1. Prune your repeat-flowering roses and remove dead or frost damaged wood. Prune apple and pear trees before the blossom comes out.
  2. Prune hardy fuchsias, hydrangea, machonia, spiraea japonica, roses, sambucus and santolina. Prune ornamental grasses. If you need to lift and divide, March is the best month.
  3. If the weather is mild, plant out hardy seedlings and new plants. This is a good time to start moving and dividing existing garden plants.
  4. There’s still time to sow sweet peas. I use toilet rolls to grow the seeds.
  5. Remove the remains of any winter veg plants and tidy up beds and check anything that needs repairing such as fruit cages.
  6. Rhubarb stems can be pulled in March for the first fruit of the season.
  7. Dead-head any bulbs as they fade and feed with a good slow acting feed to build up the bulbs for next year.
  8. If you want to sow French beans, wait until the end of March. Beetroot, radishes, peas, carrots and lettuces can all be sowed direct into prepared raised beds or in patio containers this month.
  9. Give the garden a complete weeding and general digging-over where needed. Apply a mulch to help conserve ground moisture.
  10. Prepare a seed bed for herbs and sow as soon as possible.
-- Rob Amey

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Get the propagators out!

People this month have been asking me what I'll be growing this year and when I'll be starting. Well the short answer to that is that I'll be growing pretty much a little of everything as per other years and that I'm starting now! True it might be wet and cold outside - but that's where propagators come into their own.

Essentially trays with plastic lids featuring handy vents, I have about a dozen propagators I use to get seeds started off indoors. Placed on windowsills and in light spaces in the house they're ideal to raise seedlings until the weather gets a little better and the soil outside has warmed up.

They key thing to remember is that all seedlings raised this way will need gradually hardening off. Which means once they've had a few weeks (depending on the seed growing time of the particular crop) or so in the propagator with the lid on, then take the lid off. After that I have another stage for my seedlings - putting them in the outdoor coldframes - sealed up first and then opening the doors. Only after all of those transitions does the seedling make it into the soil outdoors! It's important to check the seed packets and reference books especially when it comes to frost hardiness or otherwise.

And it's fun! Sowing indoors means you get a little feeling of the veg growing delights to come as Spring arrives!

-- Holly Rowan Hesson

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Cold Weather Watch

As I have mentioned before on this blog, I keep five chickens, mainly so that we can have fresh eggs throughout the year, but also because I love to watch them on a daily basis - they make me laugh!

I have been a bit worried about them during this cold snap - they were very reluctant to come out of the barn at all and were slightly perplexed as to what snow was - but now they seem to come and see me on the patio most days, mainly in the hope of a treat. I have been cooking them pasta and rice to keep them stocked up against the cold, along with their normal pellets and corn with grit and they seem to love the extra carbs - I hope it keeps them warm as it’s been mighty cold at night recently!

Chickens are such good entertainment and mine can be quite naughty! They have a habit of eating the windfall apples from under the tree. Now, I let them do this as I thought it was a treat for them to have all those apples, but that was until I realised that they were in fact drunk. This became apparent one Sunday afternoon when they tottered across the patio and started walking into the window. It took me a while to realise the problem but then we had to catch them (not easy) and get them back in the barn. And there they stayed, confined to barracks, for a few days until they were back to normal!

Wild birds should not be forgotten during the cold either and I have been putting out bird seed every day so that they can get a bit extra to eat. Remember to put out fresh water as well and change it when it freezes over - this is often forgotten during the winter but birds don’t eat snow very well so they need fresh water on hand at all times.

The garden lies dormant under the snow at this time of year so it’s a good opportunity to continue with your plans for the growing season and wait for the frosts to clear. But there is always something going on - we have bulbs coming up aplenty - I can’t wait for Spring and the promise of beautiful flowers, bluebells and the onset of warmer weather.

Happy bird watching. Until next time.

-- Jane Dubinski

Thursday, 16 February 2012

In the age of austerity, dig for victory and grow your own food

Gardening doesn't have to be a chore, it can also be a rewarding past time, fitting right in with the "Make Do and Mend" resurgence of late....
  1. Choose a fine day to get yourself sorted for the year ahead and consider what you’d like to do in 2012. You could take a trip to the library to browse through some books.
  2. Have a blitz in your garden, sorting out pots, tools and odd jobs in readiness for the Spring.
  3. Jot down a planting plan and check your seed stash.
  4. Draw up scale plan to create your own kitchen garden.
  5. Plan and enjoy colour in your garden. Colourful containers can be both for decorative and eating purposes. Colourful lettuce leaves look great and will keep you stocked up with fresh salad. Peas, beetroot, chard, courgettes, onions and carrots can all be grown on your patio. A packet of spring onion seeds costing 99p can provide up to £30 worth of produce.
  6. Start a mini orchard. No longer do you have to have a huge amount of land to grow fruit with the development of cordon trees. They don’t grow more than 2m and can be grown in pots.
  7. Make raised beds and save your back. You can buy these in kit form or make your own and they look great.
  8. Make your own herb garden. They taste good, smell good and are good for you. Choose a sunny spot for your herbs and ensure you use containers with good drainage.
  9. Peanuts and sunflowers are great to attract garden birds. You can also leave them your left-over cooked potatoes, rice, pasta and cake crumbs. Remember feeding birds bread is a no-no. It fills them up without giving them energy.
  10. Consider the front of your house. A colourful spring flower basket or containers can make all the difference.
-- Rob Amey

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


I can't bear to have wet knees. For that matter I hate to be wet and cold at this time of year, but that is a story of trial and error which led me to the conclusion, German and Swedish army waterproofs are the best in the world for the price. However, we are talking of knees and more importantly knee pads. It may seem an odd idea, but upon arrival at any garden between October and April, I put on a pair of knee pads and will wear them throughout the day. This saves me an uncomfortable day and protects the joints to boot. So, I could not wait to trial the Town & Country knee pads and excellent they are!

At this time of year I find I will be constantly on my knees in the garden, tidying borders, digging out old plants (to be moved elsewhere) or just simply doing that kind of maintenance in the garden that I could not do at any other time and there are of course those moments where you see something that needs to be done and requires instant attention.

As my grandfather used to say in his broad Devon drawl, “In the garden there are twelve months of hard work. Four of those you can do constructive work. T'other eight months you are playing catch up me boy.”

As is usual for me at this time of year, I am busy in all my gardens reconstructing borders, rockeries and even woodland gardens for my clients. I am lucky that I work in some of the countries most spectacular privately owned forgotten historical gardens which, over the years have been left abandoned or neglected. A job I can honestly say, fills me with such joyous pleasure, words alone cannot explain. Overall the gardens seem to the owners a huge mess, leaving them with the problem of where to start first. My four tips for any of you undertaking such a task?

  1. Stand back and allow the garden to tell you what it needs. My training at art college allowed me to learn how a painting should read and the same goes with a garden - shapes, content and movement are first. Colour and texture always is the secondary consideration.
  2. Take things in small chunks, allowing yourself to rediscover the original architects dream in your own time.
  3. Start from the house and work outwards in the same manner as a ripple on a pond. If however, you wish a different focal point, then start from there.
  4. Always consider what is outside the garden. Is there a view which was incorporated or is it to be omitted now?
In my business, a garden is a sculpture with an exceptional advantage- it can be changed at the will of its owner.

-- Guy Deakins

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Round the Garden in February

If you fancy spending a bit of time in the garden this month then there’s plenty of tasks you can busy away doing whilst you’re outdoors.
  1. If you didn’t get time to plant bulbs last year, then now’s the time to visit a garden centre or DIY store. You’ll instantly transform your garden into an array of Spring colour with tulips, crocuses and hyacinths.
  2. Cut back overgrown hedges towards the end of the month.
  3. Check on any winter container plants you have. Remove dead heads and check if they need some water.
  4. Any bare-rooted plants can be planted now, such as roses or hedging plants, but remember to soak roots for an hour before planting.
  5. Clean down your paths and driveway and clear any moss.
  6. February is a good month to dress beds for your annuals. I use a fish and bone mix for a natural slow release feed.
  7. This month you can sow half-hardy annuals indoors and peas and beans in propagator trays on your window sill. You can plant them outdoors, but protect them from slugs and snails with pellets. Chillies are also ideal for sowing from mid-February.
  8. This month is perfect for buying potato seeds and starting the chitting process.
  9. Alpine and rockery plants often come out in spring, so do a bit of tidy up now and any weeding and removal of debris.
  10. February is good for pruning rose bushes by reducing stems to approximately half in length. Always cut to an outward facing bud.
-- Rob Amey

Friday, 27 January 2012

Don't Bite Off More Than You Can Chew

I really should take notice of this piece of advice myself, rather than making plans to grow enough food to feed a small country. But every January/February brings the sound of seed catalogues dropping on the mat and me grabbing them with excitement, drooling over all the pictures of beautiful healthy vegetables that I obviously need to grow!

So I plan all my raised beds (I have six of them, so am very lucky), making sure that I follow the principle of rotating them so that I don’t grow the same thing in the same one each year. I then place my seed order and look forward to the moment they arrive, hoping the weather improves and I can get into the greenhouse and plant them all!

And that’s where it all goes a bit wrong. It is all down to time, you see, or rather lack of it. I am sure that my plans would all come to fruition if I were able to spend every waking moment in my garden, tending the seedlings, planting out and nurturing them but unfortunately I don’t have every waking moment to spend in the garden due to work commitments, children, dog, chickens, etc....

So I come back to my piece of advice and the title of this blog - don’t bite off more than you can chew. This year I am planning to utilise only a couple of the raised beds and nurture these rather than failing miserably by doing too much. Let’s face it, you don’t need 10 courgette plants or 15 tomato plants and if you feel the need to plant lots of seeds so that you can pick the best ones to plant out, then sell the extra ones outside your house or give them away to friends and relatives.

This way you can make sure everything grows healthily and you will not have to try and keep up with the harvesting - usually of one type of vegetable at a time. So choose wisely and enjoy each crop as it comes along without getting stressed!

-- Jane Dubinski

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Potatoes rock!

People have been asking me recently what my potato plans are this year. We are lucky enough to have a fabulous Potato Day in our local area whereby you can preorder your seed potatoes in single batches and collect them on the organised potato day in mid February.

This is brilliant because you can try lots of different varieties and also get a mix of first earlies, second earlies, early maincrops and maincrops so you can spread your planting, growing, pulling up, eating and storing activities.

I'm really looking forward to another year of potato growing - it really is incredibly simple and so rewarding - digging up potatoes you've grown yourself is like finding treasure!

These are the key stages:
  • Buy your seed potatoes now
  • Chit your seed potatoes - put them in a light cool dry place for a good few weeks so they sprout really well (I use eggboxes which work perfectly)
  • Plant out your seed potatoes in April - sprouted end up
  • Watch out for frost - cover any plants if frost is due
  • Keep covering up the plant roots with soil so no tubers are uncovered (as they'll go green and poisonous if uncovered)
  • Keep well fed and watered
  • Start digging up first earlies in August
  • Dig up maincrops before first frosts and eat or store (perfect potatoes only) in a cool dry place out of the way of any potential pests

-- Holly Rowan Hesson

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Plan your vegetable plot

Whilst it certainly doesn’t feel like it is January, I typically use this month to plan out this year's vegetable plot. Reflecting on last years growing season will help you to decide what worked and what didn’t.

Decide what you would like to grow this year. Are there certain vegetables that your family use often in cooking? Would you like to try something new or unusual like purple carrots? You could even think as far ahead as to what vegetables you’d like to grow to make homemade chutney as gifts next Christmas!

Reputable online seed companies usually have some great deals during January and February so it’s worth ordering them sooner rather than later. Asking family and friends if they would like to split the cost for half the seeds is a great way to keep prices down!

I also use this month to plan where I am going to plant each vegetable. I had a glut of green tomatoes last year so they could really do with being in a sunnier spot. Rotating your crops from last year will help soil fertility and will also help to control insects and pests.

-- Gemma Dray

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Adventures in the Garden - January 2012

Happy 2012!
Well, what a year it's going to be! Britain is hosting the Olympics, the Queen is having something of a celebration, and Cambridge will win the boat race - dragging us from the embers of financial meltdown. Let us not forget a new species of tree shall be discovered (according to my tea leaves). Fully hardy, with orange leaves, purple fruit and blue bark, and having an abundance of highly scented yellow flowers all year round, it never outgrows the space it is given!

So what am I doing to brace myself for this wonderful future?
Well, having put my sharp border fork through my last pair of wellies, I am trying my new T&C pair out. Lined with the fantastic Town and Country boot socks which my wife purchased as a Christmas present, I am warm and dry.

The garden or rather the gardens I tend are looking and smelling great. The grass is green, the trees are, perhaps less so, but they are still alive which can't be bad. This month I will be pruning the apples and pear trees. I always like to leave this little chore till after Christmas as then I can be sure they are asleep and not forgetting that January is the Wassailing month - although I don't think jumping around naked at this time of year is a good idea; never mind how much cider is drunk.

There are many ways you can prune an apple, and there are many books which suggest ways it should be done. However, I recently had a meeting with a man who grows about 50 or so acres and he gave me this tip. Prune out the dead, diseased and damaged. Then prune out all the crossing branches and vertical shoots above the height you want the tree to be. Leave all the other fruiting branches that are younger than 3 years old. Oh, and another thing remember the rule, “vertical is growth, horizontal is flower.” so if you want more fruit, weigh a few branches down, or if against a wall, train them. You can't go wrong with simple instruction. Unless you've been at the cider...

-- Guy Deakins