Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Merry Christmas from all at Town & Country


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Know your wood

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Winter Warmers


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

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

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

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

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

- Guy Deakins

Wednesday, 11 September 2013


Next year is the hundredth anniversary of the start of the vast human tragedy that was World War One. For those who want to commemorate this solemn occasion now is the perfect time to buy and sow the Common Corn Poppy. Papaver Rhoeas is the correct species name, but many of the main seed suppliers will sell it in either name. Indeed if you look online, with some careful trawling, you will find suppliers willing to sell up to a kilo of the beautiful flower seed.

It is a delicate annual flower, lasting perhaps only a day, but is a plant nevertheless which has special meaning and a powerful beauty. It is also profligate in seed, so be aware, once successfully sown it will be forever more in your garden.

The best way for it to grow, is for you to prepare the ground first. It prefers newly broken and well tilled soil - hence its sudden appearance on the fields of Flanders, after the shelling and bombardments had destroyed the well kept fields, turning them to all consuming mud. Thus, when they suddenly filled this desolate land with rich red, it must have been a thing of terrible beauty to those poor souls.

If however, like me you are thinking of filling a lawn or driveway with the flower, the most favoured way is to mix the seed with compost first. 1 bag of compost to 100 grams of seed, but if you have bought a small bag, just sow direct.Then with a slitter or spiker - or indeed with a garden fork - create shallow holes throughout the area. To be fair you should be doing this now anyway to de-compact and add drainage to the soil before winter so every few spikes, should be deeper.

Once you are satisfied, walk slowly over the area, sowing conservatively to make sure of an even spread.Once you have finished, sit back. Hopefully next year, you can be proud to remember all those, friend or foe, who lost their lives in the most grievous of conflicts.

Friday, 30 August 2013

August is an interesting month for many. It is a time when, in the UK, we are enjoying our summer holidays perhaps by visiting other gardens. The weather is notoriously changeable and the garden is at an interesting stage of flux. Many plants have flowered already - thus have set seed for next year and fruit is bending many a branch.
But, August is also a great month for planning your garden - not I hasten to add, because you have any time to laze around; the grass is after all still growing!

Now is the time to take a quick look about your garden and assess what has worked and what is uncomfortable on the eye. This may not be as easy as it sounds, because primarily, you have to work out first what are the main structures in the garden. By this I mean the skeleton.
Are there big shrubs, trees or immovable objects which create the shape and feel of the garden?
If the answer is yes, then these are the bones. If on the other hand you have started a garden from scratch, then it is best that you introduce some before faffing with fiddly perennials, which are beautiful, but offer little in the way of permanence. For this you need to really think about the garden. What is the size, shape and above all situation of the garden?

So, now that you have had a chance to look at your garden, take the opportunity to grab a camera and a pen and paper. Take photos and write notes about areas that you feel could be improved upon. Think about whether the plants could be moved or indeed whether they fit into the overall scheme of the garden. (Now is the time to make the bold decision and admit that perhaps that lovely plant you bought on impulse, perhaps does not work at all.) Once you have made your notes, sit back. Your hard mental work is done for the year. You can now look forward to an autumn and winter of looking through books, exploring ideas and finding that plant which will fill the gaps and not leave your garden feeling bereft of balance!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Holiday Gardening

Can you tell I’ve been on holiday?




It is often with a sense of wonder that seaside gardens are generally overlooked as places of beauty, I suppose because we are so intent on enjoying a thin strip of sand or pebble as if it were the pinnacle of our holiday experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love the beach and love swimming in the great body of water that connects humanity.  But, one cannot have ice-cream every day.

Personally, I love what the resolute and the inventive create, growing plants in what is one of the harshest environments we can attempt to grow anything in. There are the success stories, such as Derek Jarman’s garden at Dungeness or the majesty of the Rock Gardens at Southsea, in Portsmouth to name but two and well worth a visit. Then there are the small victories that go unnoticed, yet achieve something of the sublime and in their own way make all efforts worth a million days further inland. Of course one cannot grow acid loving plants in a place where alkaline salt rules the day, but do we need Camellias and Azaleas everywhere?

Whenever, I venture to the seaside, I always make it a rule to pay attention to the planting. Be it the habitual and architectural such as the Scots Pine and Holm Oak, to the fine feathery beauty of the Tamarisk, not forgetting the heat and colour of the Kniphofia  and Rudbeckia – both favourites of the seaside. Or perhaps the delicate carpets of Sea Thrift or Osteospermum catch your eye. But we in the UK have such varying micro-climates, we are lucky to explore many different styles, from the sub-tropical Scilly Isles and Scottish west coast, to the semi-arid Suffolk coast and the wind blasted North East.

Basically, rather than me giving you a lecture on how to create your very own seaside garden in the hills of Derbyshire, I ask of you one thing. Keep your eyes peeled. You may find a gem of undeniable beauty hidden away behind an Escallonia hedge.




Thursday, 13 June 2013

Mid-Summer Roses

So, we have reached Mid-Summer, which in gardening terms is a great marker point.
The beds should be full of glorious colour and if you are wise, scent too.
One of my favourite plants for scent is of course the rose, which despite being just an ugly stick for 5 months of the year - as described by the previous head of the RHS - has the remarkable reputation of being one of Britain`s favourite plants.

It is not without reason that roses have such a special place in our hearts.
They have been in cultivation for thousands of years; indeed the Babylonians and Egyptians had them and they are mentioned in the Bible, Tora and Quoran as well as Shakespeare and other literature. The English crown of course has a white and red rose as it`s symbol of unity and the Empress Josephine had one of the greatest rose gardens in history - which was sadly destroyed during the Franco-Prussian War. If you like roses and want to plant them in your garden, look at the David Austin or Peter Beales catalogues for ideas - there are others, but these are the best.
Read carefully, deciding on flowering time, scent, colour or height.
Personally I love sticking my nose in a rose and smelling that particular fruit scent you get with some of the dark reds like ‘Ena Harkness’ or ‘Crimson Glory’. “In general, roses with the best scents are darker colors, have more petals, and have thick or velvety petals” – to quote Dr.
Leonard Perry of Vermont University.
But there are down-sides. Thanks to the introduction of the `Persian Yellow` variety, we now have many plants that are susceptible to fungus such as black spot. Which means if we want perfect rose leaves, we have to spray with toxic fungicides. There is also the problem of leaf pests such as the Rose Leaf-Rolling Sawfly, which has usually done it`s damage by mid-July and is very difficult to eradicate.
The aphid is also a major problem from March onwards, effecting not only the leaf, but also the flower buds and the residue proves a great host for yet more fungus. These can be sprayed against with a systemic insecticide, but given we are talking about a plant that attracts bees, I suggest you try not to.
There are some methods which supposedly put pests off. The planting of parsley, calendula and alliums all aid the gardener in his or her attempts to ward off pests. I am also told a garlic spray mixed with crushed and boiled horse-tail acts as a good insecticide and fungicide.
But to be honest the best thing one can do with your roses is enjoy them for what they are. Appreciate the variety of flora and fauna that the rose attracts. We look at an oak and understand it provides a home for thousands of animals, fungi and mosses, so why look at a rose any differently?
As long as it is fed well and pruned at the correct time, it will go on giving the pleasure of flowers and structure to even the smallest of gardens.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Is your garden secure?


With the recent increase of thefts from gardens across the UK, I thought it would be prudent to write about ways of making sure your tools and even plants are safe from light fingers. Putting a good lock on the shed is a good start. It may surprise you to know, many people still think a simple latch will suffice when it comes to looking after your expensive tools.  However, a policemen friend of mine recently told me, in the majority of cases in a domestic garden, a simple but sturdy brace and lock will put off many burglars.  But you may want to go further and reinforce the doors and roof? Also try to lock any external gates if you have them. Anything that slows a person down will add to your security. Basically, you have to assess what your garden machinery is worth. If you have gone for the top end of the market, with a beautiful Stihl leaf blower etc, you are looking at close to £500 just to replace one item.

Perhaps you have insurance and think it will all be replaced if stolen?

Most insurers now will not consider replacing any items unless it can be proved that the utmost care was put into protecting your tools, then even if you can prove due care was taken, your premium will go up in the following years. A second way of protecting your tools is to mark them. The police will give you, if you ask nicely and flutter your eyelids, a UV marker pen. Write your name and postcode on everything you wish to trace. If you want to go one step further, you can get the items engraved, etched or stamped. Again the police can do this for you. The third way, is to be vigilant. If you see anybody loitering at the rear gate of a garden or looking over fences furtively should be reported. Or indeed, any unwanted visit from people offering their gardening or tree expertise, with no form of ID, should be reported to the police on the 101 number. Equally, anybody offering to tarmac your drive, suggesting pest control or just turning up 'lost' is also to be reported to 101. I am told by a senior police officer, that this will help in future intelligence work. When you do hire someone, make sure your gardener is qualified and insured, with the proper credentials. They may be remarkably cheap, but are they who they say they are? Try to get references and evidence of previous work. Again a policeman has informed me, that some who advertise as 'gardeners' you wouldn't particularly want near your property.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Ants in your lawn

I was recently asked by a client how to get rid of ants in the lawn. I have to admit that this is a difficult subject to tackle. A plague of ants in the lawn can be uncomfortable at best and at worst will destroy the lawn by creating mounds of finely tilled earth that can kill the grass.

There are proprietary branded products on the market that are supposedly good at killing ants, but from experience they have no use in the lawn as the ants do not take them back to the nest, which is what needs to happen in order to stop this problem. An old wives tale states that boiling water poured onto the nest will do the trick, but to be honest if you want a scorched lawn and a more visible ant’s nest, then this is the path for you. The problem here is the nest will be deep underground so the trick is to upset the natural balance.

Personally, I have found that the best action is a multiple approach.

The first approach is to buy a besom or a Town and Country stiff brush and just brush the mounds away; making sure the soil is dry first of course. If the soil is wet, you get an ugly smear so best wait, or instead hose the mound away. The idea here is the ants do not like to be disturbed and you will give the local jays and robins some food into the bargain.


The second phase, given the British weather is usually damp, is to dress the nest with a mixture of Armillotox and water from a watering can (follow the instructions carefully). The scent will put the ants off the lawn altogether as they communicate by chemical smell, but this may take a summer of repeat treatment to work.

Finally, there is the ultimate solution. Buy borax powder from the hardware shop and mix it with a sugar solution, making sure it is not entirely dissolved. (A sugar solution is basically a cup of water mixed with two table spoons of sugar). Place the mixture next to the nests in a small open container. The worker ants will take the concoction deep into the nest and will unwittingly poison their sisters. If the sugar solution proves too hard, mix the borax with honey. Please be aware, when dealing with poisons, be sure to wear suitable clothing and to make sure it is safe from harming others - children and pets should be kept away from the areas.

If all goes well the ant problem will disappear never to return.

- Guy Deakins


Thursday, 14 March 2013

Understanding Spring Grass


Imagine if you will, that you are a perennial plant that is just in the early stages of waking up from a long winter slumber. Imagine, your leaves warming in the spring sunshine. The soil about your roots is slowly warming too, creating within you the need to grow. In these first weeks of warmth your growth is slow, deliberate almost - you don`t want to destroy your vital cells by going all out into growth only to be hit by a late hard frost.

Then imagine that you are not alone. Around you are millions of similar plants, all doing exactly the same, all competing with you for the limited resources that are available. Some of these plants are your exact species, some of them close relatives. But some other plants are different, nasty aggressive plants (like buttercups) or simply those that just like to fill the gaps left by the unfortunates that didn`t make the trials of life and some, (like snowdrops), appear and then disappear, not causing you any bother at all. Your roots find a small source of nutrient that the human who keeps on walking on you has kindly provided and your xylem goes into overdrive, sending sap and food into your leaf cells. It is great to be alive, despite the occasional haircut. For those of you who haven`t yet guessed; you are a grass plant. Perhaps an American Timothy grass, perhaps a Creeping Bent, it matters not. You have a function to perform and all that matters is that you grow well enough to carry out this task, which is of course to spread your pollen or rhizome, to perpetuate your race.

Now imagine that in these spring days, all you want to do is grow your leaves, which after all is how you make food, some of which you will use immediately and some you will set aside for next winter. Then some fool of a human comes along with a big metal rake and scrapes the living daylights out of you and the soil around you in order to remove the moss that is very kindly snuggling up to you, holding the mositure in the soil. Now, instead of growing your lovely leaves you have to spend the next few weeks regrowing your roots, in order that you don`t dry out in the rigours of summer.

The moral of this story? Don`t scarify the lawn in spring. If you truly want to rid the lawn of moss, which is perfectly acceptable in some cases, now is the time to consider a dressing of lawn sand. It can be bought from any of our wonderful garden centres and the instructions given are quite simple, offering your grass with the best opportunity at this time of year to grow, whilst ridding your lawn of your bugbear. However, a word of advice. Before you go and try any chemicals, always read the label - some are not pleasant on the skin or indeed if ingested. Also, make sure your `lawn` isn`t going to look a little bald once the moss has gone. (It is surprising how much moss can be in a lawn.)   If however, after all I have said, you are intent on using the tined rake, wait until Autumn. The grass will love you better for it and have time to recover over the autumn months, if given a little bone meal root feed as way of recompense.

-- Guy Deakins

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Town & Country throws down the gauntlet for Garden Re-Leaf

Town & Country has risen to the Garden Re-Leaf challenge to raise vital funds for the Greenfingers charity and is calling on retailers and consumers to play their part in helping them make as much money as possible for this worthwhile cause.


For every pair of their unique Weedmaster Damask and Floral gloves sold instore during the months of March, April and May, Town &Country will donate 25 pence to the Greenfingers charity.

Barry Page, chief executive comments, “We are delighted to continue our efforts to support the Greenfingers charity. We will be doing all we can to promote sales of our Weedmaster Patterned gloves during this period, to maximise the amount of money we can raise through this special Garden Re-Leaf promotion.”  

These gloves are the UK’s first all-over patterned, nitrile-dipped gloves. Town & Country has developed the technology to produce a clear dip which means that for the first time patterns and designs can be applied to all areas of the gloves. There are two designs - Weedmaster Damask and Weedmaster Floral - each available in a choice of three colours and in small and medium ladies sizes.

RRP is £5.99 with a special offer price of £4.99.

Friday, 22 February 2013

New Year, New Garden

As much as I long for sunny days, winter is a great time to make structural changes in your garden and get some key jobs done. I’ve been repairing the rabbit fencing, putting in the foundations for a new shed and generally getting myself sorted in time for spring. I’ve also put up my new clock. There’s a good range available at Town and Country.



Practical advantages of winter work include the fact that you can transplant even large shrubs this time of year without damage. Any changes won’t mean newly planted flowers drying out before they’ve had chance to establish.

Pen out any design ideas you have for your garden. Large borders with generous soft landscaping cost less than lots of hard landscape. You may wish to introduce new materials or new plants into your garden. Or perhaps you want to go all out this year with a water feature, hot tub or swimming pool!

Many people consider their garden to be a place to relax and socialise, so a comfortable, low-maintenance environment is popular. A patio or timber deck is ideal. You can keep costs down by choosing decking over paving. A more affordable option still is to lay an aggregate material such as gravel or chipped wood for a patio. This is a much easier option for the DIY-er.

Once you’ve chosen a location, ideally somewhere sunny and not too overlooked by neighbours, clear the sites completely of weeds and debris. Remove as many of the weeds as possible, then lay a layer of good-quality geotextile membrane, overlapping any edges by 500mm. You’ll need a raised edge to retain the aggregate, but simple timber boards supported by stakes should do the trick. Lastly, spread your chosen material evenly with a rake to a depth of 50mm. After a couple of weeks it will have compacted so top it up as necessary.

-- Rob Amey

Monday, 18 February 2013

Autumn bulbs

At this time of year we are all looking forward to the imminent arrival of spring and all the flowers that will burst forth to lighten our days. But how many of you are looking forward to Autumn and how we can improve the garden display before next winter?

There are a number of bulbs which you can buy now and plant when the frosts have passed which you might enjoy and will certainly add colour at the other end of the year. Beside the fact that there are now enough species of snowdrops to provide flower all year round (except for some reason the month of May), there are some less well known but equally beautiful additions to the borders.


1. Autumn Crocus or Colychinum.
A stunning plant, that is actually not a crocus. Plant underneath a tree or similar area to prevent it from suffering from too much rain.

2. Dahlia.
An excellent cut flower and so many to choose from (although it makes the water smell very quickly), this is a must have addition to any border.

3. Crocosmia.
The new name for 'Monbretia', one of my personal favourites and again a beautiful plant for the flower arranger.


4. Nerines.
These pink flowers are so recognisable, yet are much maligned. A personal favourite. Treat yourself.

And if you really want to push to boat out and think of NEXT year, try sourcing some winter flowering aconites 'in the green' and cyclamen. Marvellous for that very early spring colour. Oh, and if you want the 'all-year-round' snowdrops, be prepared by taking calm breaths and be ready to empty your deep pockets of any loose change. One rare bulb recently sold for £750!

-- Guy Deakins

Monday, 4 February 2013

Don’t forget the birds this winter




If you want to help birds over the winter months, then a few careful considerations on planting will do just the trick. To encourage birds into the garden, plant a mixed hedgerow of native species plus some standard edible trees, bushes and berry-bearing vines. This can include rowan, holly, whitebeam, spindle, dog rose, guilder rose, elder, hawthorn, honeysuckle and ivy. Cotoneaster, pyracantha and berberis are especially good forage for a wide range of birds. Pyracantha makes a lovely show of red berries which are only palatable after hard frosts.

Winter is a good time to plant trees, shrubs and hedgerow plants. Nest boxes put up in time for spring may be used by birds as a warm refuge in colder weather.   I also put feeders out full of high energy seed mixes and peanuts. Fat balls made from lard and seeds provide a valuable energy supply too. Keep your bird baths ice free too, so that birds can still take a drink. Activity in your garden will soon pick up and wildlife will become more visible as winter’s grip gets looser and the shoots of spring start to show through.


-- Rob Amey

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Fertilise!

What a year 2013 is going to be in the garden!



With all the recent precipitation, your soil is by now pretty much devoid of air and more importantly the nutrients have been leached away to the nearest river or down the drain, so action must be taken. In this, the month of fervent garden catch-up, we can do many things in the garden to prepare for the coming burst of colour in just a few short months to come. The first thing to do unfortunately involves the outlay of money, which is never a welcome thing to do after the excesses of Christmas.

What you will need to do, depending on the size of your garden , is simple. For a small garden, say 30 feet by 30 feet, buy 3 large bags of compost, one bag of '6x Natural Fertilizer' (if you can't find '6X' try Vitax Q4) and a box of bonemeal. Find an area to mix all the ingredients together well and get your hands dirty. Enjoy the moment, feel the textures and learn to love the soil.



If you don't like your hands getting dirty, buy a pair of Town and Country light duty gloves such as those in the Aquasure or Weedmaster ranges.

When you are satisfied that you have mixed the ingredients thoroughly, walk through your plot sowing the bounty liberally, on your lawn and through your flower beds as if you were a medieval farmer, sowing his furrowed field. Once you have enjoyed yourself, go over your garden with the fork and a cultivator. Spike your lawn as you would every autumn, and lightly turn your borders with your cultivator, being careful to avoid the daffodils and other bulbs rising to the light. If it is very wet, push your fork into the bed and wiggle it lightly – after all a plant needs air as well as water to grow!

When you are satisfied that your garden has been tended, go back indoors, put the kettle on and sit back, smug in the knowledge that you got a march on 'Gardeners World', which doesn't start again for another few weeks. The amateurs!

-- Guy Deakins