It’s been a roller coaster of a year 2012 though on the whole as many ups as downs. It started brilliantly well and sort of coasted in a bit from there.
6 weeks between posts is long even by our standards but December has been busy, mostly thwarted by rain and wind and then of course the freezing frosts entwined with sub-zero temperatures. Plans have been planned and re-planned, cancelled, re-booked and some even met on time!
The herbaceous garden held on in sterling show well into December and it took some ruthless moments to cut back and tidy up while plants still flowered and flounced about. In the end a worthwhile sacrifice.
For photographers the thought is ‘what’s not to love about dead umbel seed heads and grassy fronds frosticled up and glistening?’ as a gardener by midday the soggy brown mess of after frost is ugly and not to be admired. Sometimes it’s a toss up, this year with the rain and wind it was not. Down it all came ready to be chopped up and composted.
The compost heap suffered this year too, too dry, too wet, too many ants, too much brown, too much green, too little of anything…and on it goes. We’re am fast coming to the conclusion that ‘hot composting‘ is the best route, although next year we’ll be trialing a method passed on from another National Collection holder who likes the idea of the ‘low-to-no work’ gardening. That will be green manure grown, trampled and covered with a layer of weed control fabric pinned down, leaving the mulch to rot and then planting. Moving towards the no dig movement is a definitely gaol for 2013.
The media was peppered with Mistletoe stories, learning about it’s history and uses from social to medicinal enlightened one and all. One of our clients is growing some from seed embedded deliberately in a wonderful old Bramley. It’s thriving but surprisingly slow to start. Growing a plant is a favourite way to get to know it.
New Years Eve and New Years Day are a favourite time to retreat from the world and write todo lists, goals, resolutions, mind-map, doodle, cogitate, re-write and re-write again letting the imagination flow and take form (write it down, write it down, write it down!). This years cogitating will include Monty Don’s ritual (GWM Jan) of laying out seed packets on the dining room table, bed by bed and then make up the lists of when to plant and how much (space is at an optimum).
Here is to 2013 regain some equilibrium lost in 2012 with snowdrops just poking up their leaves it is possible to ignore the flowering Hammamelis and the blooming Lonicera Winter Beauty (both a month early).
Exciting times ahead and we’re looking forward to the new projects of 2013
Wishing one and all a Happy and Prosperous 2013.
I studied this rather dry topic at college and was sufficiently terrified following the seminars to do plenty of reading. Following up 2 years later to update on new legislation and pick the brains of an expert I attended the SGD (Society if Garden Designers) DDD (Designer Development Day) day at the very quaint Greyhound Inn at Lutterworth with Nigel Thorne.
It’s sobering to realise just how ‘on the hook’ one is as a designer, how much the Law of the land holds the Professional accountable for their actions and words, even words spoken in passing can be used against one and as British society becomes increasingly litigious (thank you America). I cam away with the idea that one can anticipate the threat of being sued at some point in ones working life. Clearly here a GREAT Professional Indemnity insurer is crucial and one that actually understands Landscape matters even more so. I will be moving to McParland Finn next year as they are the recommended insurer for the LI and the SGD and likely to have more experience of landscape issues as a result. Interesting advice to pass any liability or law matter straight to ones insurer, obvious I suppose but well not so obvious if you have not done it before.
Some clients may not be aware that designers carry both Public Liability and Professional Indemnity insurance (or should!). In a way it reassures that not only is the designers a professional but takes their responsibility seriously.
I’m sure at some point during school we must have learned about the law of the land , the levels of court and what is tried where (BHS cannot have been so remiss as to fail in that?). Actually I am pretty sure we did nothing of the sort but we jolly well should have! Running through Civil vs Criminal prosecution, County Ct vs High and Supreme Ct and of course EU intervention and directive. Then there was Common Law and Act of Parliament, Statues of Law. My ignorance of my own countries governing law process is shocking and I will be researching at least some of this in the very near future, not least because as a small business owner I am expected to know at least my businesses part and potential interaction with and in all this.
Happily one is not expected to be a lawyer, one is however expected to know one’s professional limits and to say so, quite clearly. A good deal of common sense and risk taking ONLY if seriously calculated is advisory.
It was somewhat satisfying to find I did know much of the required legality stuff, my time as a (mostly terrified of being sued) PM for a build company paid off in spades though I’m not sure the sleepless nights were a good idea.
In a couple of months there will be more about Planning & Legislation and as this is simply a Dark Art varying frmo county to county and person to person all of course loosely based around some Act of Parliament or another and recently updated (April 2012)by Dave and Nick ending in a developer free for all, it should be an entertaining day. Can’t wait!
Spring has sprung and the grass is growing. What more could you want? well an informal presentation on the ins and outs of lawn care might be nice!
I will admit to having succumbed to lawn fever earlier in the year and sprinkled the patchy patch behind my house with indestructible, shade loving lawn seed mixed in compost. Watered lightly and waited, and waited, and waited. Last week it decided to show it’s shoots and then shot up about 3 cm in a couple of warm days! I want a sward by the end of the year, it’s a long time to that point but it’s a modest goal I think.
Lucky for me the Rolawn rep came to visit the SGD cluster group meeting this week. Dave, plied us not only with info and promo literature but also soil and left me with 2 sample patches of their best product. Medallion and Minster Pro. I am gleeful, I will have two patches of fabulous turf in the garden, not exactly what I had in mind but nevertheless 2 patches will stand out and act as a good guide to perfection.
Rolawn are the turf kings. They have been farming, yes farming, hectares of the stuff in Yorkshire for 40 years. Plenty of rain and a cool steady climate apparently, well up until the last couple of dry winters and hot springs that is, so a perfect climate for growing excellent turf.
Having studied lawn care with the RHS I thought I knew quite a bit about it but in fact there is much more to know. It’s not just about mowing, aerating, scarifying, weeding, feeding, top dressing etc but about laying it correctly in the first place. Gardening well, pretty much always comes back to good preparation.Thinking about things like Where, When and What you lay turf on is important.
The absolute basics are to remove old turf, compost it elsewhere in the garden by turning it upside down and leaving for 6 months.
Turn over you soil to a depth of 5-10cm no more, overusing you rotavator can destroy the soil structure making it nigh on impossible for the turf roots to find food, water or purchase.
Raking the area over and removing/breaking down big clods of earth and then firming the soil with your heels. I laugh at this particular step but it is a vital thing to do.
Follow all this preparation with a application of pre-turfing fertiliser in the top 25mm.
Turf needs to be laid on a damp surface so if it’s been dry water before laying and then lay your turf in offset pattern on the fine tilth you’ve just prepared.
Dave says it should take in 3-5 days, so be prepared to get mowing as soon as a good tug doesn’t have you standing with a patch of grass in your hand!
Usefully there is every kind of information on how to make and keep a good patch of turf on the Rolawn TV website with some chap from TV series Emmerdale apparently. One wonders if he now actually knows how to lay turf?!
A bit more on being waterwise.
I love it. I first came across it watch Alys Fowler’s You Tube segments on her allotment. She referred to it at some point as similar to making a lasagne but a mulchy version. What a great visual that has been.
After scavenging any piece of cardboard from friends and family, as well as my own, I have visited the local recycling unit who were only to happy, if a tad bemused, to load up the car with large thick cardboard sections. I have 100m2 of plot so the larger the better.
The way it works for me is that I lay it on grass or a weed patch at the plot and wait for it to decompose, now I know I should dig out and weed first but this way it makes the plant so much weaker that by the time it gets uncovered it’s much easier to remove invasive nasties.
The worm population loves it.
This is a good time to get your mulch down, before the annual weed seed start flowering and scattering their progeny!
So there it is from April 5th we, in the South that is, will be in an official hosepipe ban. Drought has officially hit (21st Feb 2012) due in the main to the drier winters and increasingly warm summers.
DEFRA is asking all of us to help by taking shorter showers, 4 mins which to me sounds like a ship shower (dowse, lather, dowse!) and not running the tap whilst cleaning your teeth – who does that, didn’t your Mother ever tell you about wasting the worlds resources? and pushing up the family water bill!
I have mixed feelings about a hosepipe ban as unlike many gardeners I abhor sprinklers and the mostly inefficient auto-watering systems one sees about the place. Of course I speak as someone with a small enough patch to not worry about watering by hand but then I don’t water anything unless it’s in a pot, in it’s first season of growth or a crop of some sort. Plants shouldn’t need it and doing it just creates bad habits in the plant/tree!
So how can we help ourselves with this imminent water shortage?
Yes that’s right improving your soil can help with water retention. The more organic matter it contains the better it stores moisture. Organic matter can be added as compost, well rotted farm yard manure or green waste from your council. Typically this is done in late Autumn (November) or Early Spring (Feb/March) when the ground is moist. Spread a thick layer (50-75mm) on top of your soil leaving a 7-10cm gap around the stem/trunk of plants and then let the garden worms do the rest.
Right Plant Right Place
I know I know broken record stuff but it holds true for a reason. Planting moisture loving plants on dry slopes of sandy soil is going to cause a headache even if we didn’t have a drought. Beth Chatto‘s wonderful Dry Garden has shown that even in areas with low rainfall, and they have one of the lowest in the country, it is possible to plant a fabulous garden that won’t guzzle water but will still make a breathtaking display right through from Spring to Autumn.
Good plants to aim for are those you might find in mediterranean countries, silver leaved Lavenders, Salvia’s all sorts of furry and silver leaved plants and of course succulent Sedum, Euphorbia and Sempervivums. The hairy leaves capture any moisture that falls and traps it for the plant, small leaves transpire less, grey reflects more light, fleshy leaves hold water well and so on. These plants have adapted well to their native environment and we can make use of them in our bid for low water, drier gardening. The RHS do a good drought tolerant plant list but then also investigating your own local varieties is half the fun.
My favorite topic and a favorite pass time - I definitely need to get out more – A bit like improving your spoil mulch helps in the retention of water, stopping it evaporating as quickly so the plant has more chance to sup it up. There are lots of types of mulch from black plastic and bark chips to aggregates including gravels.
I get my bark chip from a local Arboriculturalist for paths but for anything going on the border it has to be well seasoned or there is a risk of nitrogen leaching from the bark and causing imbalance in your soil, most shop bought bark chip will be well seasoned.
As with soil improvers make sure this is laid between AUtumn and SPring so that the soil is good and moist before the mulch goes down. Mulch acts as a barrier both ways, so if your soil is dry it will take much longer to get wet.
More solid barriers, like Terram (a permeable black membrane), can be very useful in weed suppression and water retention but I find them a bit annoying if I want to have a fluid planting style – i.e. planting all those things that have tempted me in the local nursery! – it can get tatty if cut too many times and basically should be reserved for industrial style mulching and weed suppression
So we’re back to those sprinklers! Water garden plants in the evening, after the heat has gone out of the day. Water at the base of the plant don’t waste if on the leaves, really dowse each plant, soaking it once a week rather than watering every day. The soaking of the soil makes the plant send roots down in search of water rather than noodling about in the top 10cm, which is more prone to drying out and consequently not a great place for a plant to have all its roots!
For pot watering I challenge you to a test, take a couple of pots and water them as normal, after 15 mins take the plant out of the pot, soil and all, and see how far down you watering has gone. I suspect, unless you already know this one, that you water will have gone down a mere cm or two and nothing like the depth of the pot. A good rule of thumb is to soak your pot from below for half an hour, so a deep drip tray or bucket is good. This encourages the plant to send it’s roots down and also it takes up the water it needs.
One more thing on pots, large pots do better as the fluctuations in temperature and water are reduced, aim for 60cm or bigger. Terracotta are the best for root protection and limiting temperature fluctuations but plastic pots will obviously retain water better. Clustering pots together creates a cooler micro climate. Metal pots are the devils work and basically fry the roots!
Water retaining gels
When making pots or hanging baskets for the summer, mix in water retaining gel to your compost. The crystals soak up water and create tiny reservoirs of wetness to be released later. Do not use them in winter pots or baskets as the same dampness is likely to cause root damage and possibly freeze.
It has to be said they are not the most elegant of things but they are fabulously useful in drought a couple of well placed containers connected to drainpipes will really boost your plants. Rainwater is also far better for plants than chemically treated tap water not to mention keeping the water bills down. Some funky new designs are on the market. You might consider grey water recycling as well but this is a slightly more complex occupation, you can find more information about the how’s here.
One final note to all you lawn lovers, a brown summer lawn is the new green, it will re-grow once it rains, don’t waste your water on the sward!
A bit more info about this drought:
and something to annoy the English
Two varieties this year, Pentland Javelin, recommended a one of the best ‘doers‘ by a good friend who is a bit of a Vegetable growing aficionado and Pink Fir Apple because I want to try it out and see if they’re good to eat as well as fun to peel.
I sort of feel as if they are slightly abandoned, no egg box, no special treatment this year. Egg boxes have been pressed into ‘seed box’ type service. That said last year I didn’t even chit them (Charlotte) they went straight into the ground from the packet, very daring, but nevertheless successful for a late planting.
Chitting? oh yes, chitting simply means encouraging your seed spuds to get a wiggle on and sprout before they go into the ground, you don’t have to do it but I like to if I remember.
The kitchen is relatively cool in my house, south east facing and no more than morning to early afternoon sun if there is any, so they are getting off nice and slowly.
The pink fir apple have been taking their time about it too, only just putting out some tiny shoots in the last day of so. If they don’t get a move on they might have to move to the south west facing office window – positively hot by comparison!
Of course all this said it’s not as if I have dug over the bed where they will be planted yet, in fact I still have to work out how they are going to fit in at all. I keep reassuring myself that I am good at space management…. no really I am!
I know I have banged on about Wimpole Hall on several occasions, it is my ‘local’ NT garden after all but it remains an inspiring place to go and is full of ideas to take home and try out, on a somewhat smaller scale of course!.
When I say it is inspiring I am not really talking of the parterre, which is best glanced at through dark glasses. Suffice to say it is a painful homage to bygone trends though may inspire budding Britain in Bloom entrants I suppose.
Making a right on the path to avoid the garish parterre one finds oneself ambling through a rather new woodland area that seems loaded with interesting specimen trees it’s difficult not to get distracted by the unusual selection and find it takes a long while to walk a short way.
Being determine though and knowing where I am headed I resist the urge and head decisively towards the Walled Garden. In fact it is a double walled garden.
The first gated entry, tucked into deep evergreen plantings, leads into a well stocked, expansive orchard.
A well designed path encourages me to move to the inner gardens but it’s tempting to wander in the orchard admiring the uncommon fruit varieties and wondering if anyone would miss a juicy applethat it calling my name. The long meadow grass lies briefly as hay beneath the trees, a gardener tells me it will be collected once dry. It’s evocative of a rural idyll of the past and somehow pleasing. He also tells me of the new beehives installed at one end of the orchard.
It’s not difficult to see how much the bees enjoy the enormous late summer borders that flank the outside of the inner walls. Wide flanks of abundant planting humming with insects.
That said I will say that they seemed to be far more interested in inhabiting a hole in the tall red brick wall a few feet up from the nectar rich border than flying hundreds of yards away to brand spanking new purpose built wooden boxes.
I can readily understand that desire.
The inner wall gate states that rabbits are unwelcome and one can imagine Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton Tail would have a field day in the productive gardens that lie beyond.
Then there are choices to be made, ahead, left or right. Ahead one is greeted by a large greenhouse which is literally green and surrounded by a plethora of seasonal plantings both tender and hardy you can’t enter it but you can admire the gourds within.
To the right are blocks and blocks of flowers with enormous wooden labels identifying each variety. Though you have to know your genus and species as these are not well documented.
Leading around the gardens hedges of Gaura froth over the path
and walls of ripening fruit line the inner, inner walls.
To the left the productive gardens are showing off
and alongside education material incorporated into borders. I didn’t know I could grow Woad (Isatis tinctoria)
still and am seriously considering a spot for it in the garden, though painting my face with it may not be on the list of things to use it for.
Though the walled garden is clearly used for educational purposes what stays with me the most is the idea that cut flowers can also be grown like a crop.
Long blocks of them are dotted through the big cultivated areas.
Echinacea, Crocosmia, Lavender, Iris and lots and lots of Dhalia.
There is something pleasing about order in a productive garden, everything has a place and an order presides. The design is formal and symmetrical as are many productive plots, this one speaks of borders designed to enhance views as well as accommodate ‘crops’ .
On every visit I come away with more ideas and plans than can possibly be put into a 30x10ft town garden and that is the joy of it, always something new to try next year. This year though I have an 80x12ft allotment to play with. Last years dahlia crop, grown from 3 packets of seed, in large garden pots is going in the ground once the frosts pass. It won’t be Wimpole but it will be fabulous all the same.
Probably not the most glamorous of tasks completed each year but one worth investing some time and elbow grease in is cleaning stuff. Thats cleaning your tools , soaping down your green house and/or cold frame, repairing wheelbarrows and equipment and emptying out the readies from the compost heap. Winter is a good time for this of course as there is plenty more time (ha ha ha) in our calendars with the planting end of things on the quiet side. I usually have great plans at the beginning of winter, this year December, and often end up scooting towards Spring trying to fit it all into one weekend. Not this year! My tools are cleaned, sharpened and ready for action and last weekend it was the run of the cold frame and free standing mini greenhouses. I had help from my nosey puppy who ended up getting wetter than the cold frame and muddier too. Perhaps not something for her to participate in next year. The recent upturn in temperature and the burgeoning feeling of spring arriving made the task more vital to complete.
All this cleaning has obvious benefits in terms of disease prevention and reducing the transportation of muck about the place and of course in the case of the green house / cold frame in terms of maximising light and warmth to the plants on the inside.
With the top mostly down for 3 months and nothing much in the way of consistent freezing temperatures rather nasty slimy algae has taken up residence on the inside of the panes and some considerable leaf litter has wafted down curtesy of a rather beautiful but very leafy nearby Beech tree. All in all it’s looking in need of attention.
This year we didn’t have the cold really so the bubble wrap hadn’t come out to insulate the plants inside. If you’ve insulated your cold frame (or greenhouse) then take this down before attempting to clean. I hose mine down and dry it on the washing line before folding it away for next year, yes I am mean frugal. Emptying the cold frame being careful not to damage delicate plants, we did this on a warmer day so they weren’t shocked into dormancy again by the outside temperatures. Poppy (the puppy) felt it important to help with this task, sticking her nose in to smell each pot as it came out, not really helpful, but amusing.
I’ve covered the base with 10mm pea shingle over some black horticultural fabric to help drainage and suppress weeds but it also acts as a bit on bottom insulation too. Once empty we raked up the leaves and debris, gathering them into a large bucket ready to go onto the leaf litter heap.
We also found one or two snails lurking in the bowels of the frame so they were duly popped onto the bird table, providing lunch for the local hungry blackbird. A good clean also helps clear out overwintering pests such as red spider mite, aphids, mealy bugs and of course disease such as botrytis and mildew. Cleaning out the gutters between lid and base eases the lifting and closing. For a green house, sweep down benches, rake over gravel and soil and sweep out debris collecting it into suitable rubbish containers.
Then the messy bit starts. I used warm soapy water and an old kitchen cloth, being careful not to scratch the surfaces and so reduce light entering the frame. The detergent was an ecological brand with no harmful chemicals to leave a residue, no brands mentioned but you know who I mean!. Make sure you wash the metal bits down too and the outside as well as the inside.
My surfaces were not big enough to require a squeegee scrape but if you have large panes then a window cleaners scrapers is great for getting all the drips off and windows sparkling in the sunshine!. I have used vinegar before (1 vinegar :8 water) to clean the windows but the smell is ghastly even though it evaporates quite fast, it is an option though and works really well on glass.
After all the green gunge had been removed, cold water was used to sluice it down, washing entire frame inside and out. Poppy decided leaping in the chilly back-wash was the most fun she had had that day, clearing her muddy paw marks from the kitchen floor afterwards was not mine. With a cleaned up, de-cluttered cold frame ready for use I found some worthy inhabitants in the form of autumn planted sweetpeas and some fresh seed trays of tomato, brussel sprout and beetroot. Now it just needs to warm up some more and the growing season will be upon us!
Next task? cleaning and sorting pots of all shapes and sizes and de-rusting the rotavator blades…*sighs*
Other writing on this subject:
Not having been to this RHS showbefore I was delighted to find out it was free to members, I knew that membership card would come in handy one day. Half term is not the best time to be schlepping down to the Big Smoke on the first ‘off peak’ train but beggars can’t be choosers I suppose. The London gridlock was much much worse than I recall, according to our cabbie it’s all in preparation for the July Olympics. Seriously Boris? isn’t this a bit ‘day late $ dollar short?’
We made it through the traffic and arrived at the packed show which is located on two sites close together. It works quite well, the hubbub of the jostling plant sales hall versus the slightly more silent and serious hum of the design rooms. Starting in the plant hall I was immediately floored by the rows and rows of gorgeous spring plants that are available and had to put my purse firmly at the bottom of my bag.
The show could feasibly be renamed, the Galanthus and Hellebore show for indeed these varieties were being shown off to their full capacity with block after block of delicate bloom tempting one and all. Avon Bulbs, Ashwood. Foxgrove Plants and Broadleigh Gardensto name a few of the participating nurseries. It was fun to get up close and personal with one or two of the Galanthus without having to grovel about on the muddy ground. I will admit to something along the lines of galanthophile envy at the range and clump size displayed.
The Design Hall was awash with colleges vying for new students and industry bodies selling their expertises. The SGD hosted a HUGE stand offering a showcase of MSGD’s work and offering quick, free garden design consults to all comers. It was exciting to see the photoshopped illustrations of the upcoming Chelsea Gardens and it looks to be another good year in 2012. Personal favourites were Laurent Perrier Garden by Arne Maynard. Is that a brown or purple pleached alle we are going to see I wonder? and The Telegraph Garden by Sarah Price of Olympic Park renown.
A fine lunch followed at the Blanche eatery, not a stones throw along Horseferry Road from the Channel 4 building and a quick jaunt around the British Museum foyer, due to the Grayson Perry exhibition being entirely sold out!
So the South East has been hit by more than a little flurry of snow and much to our collective joy it happened on a Sunday so that one and all could frolick gleefully in the snowy activities of snowman making, snowball throwing and generally larking about in the white stuff.
After that might I turn your attention to rather more mundane but eminently important things such as your plants and your paths.
Paths of BRICK are vulnerable to frost damage no matter how frost proof the bricks. WHY I hear you shout, bad workmanship? not a bit of it it’s more to do with the slow seep that happens with the melt of snow, instead of running off like rain (assuming you have the appropriate drainage ’tilt’ on your path that is) as snow slowly melts the resulting water seeps into the brick, one sharp re-freeze and unsurprisingly all that soaking brick work on your path is liable to ‘blow’.
What to do? well sweeping remains your best option, so before it melts, sweep the snow off the path or wall. Simple and far fewer winter damaged bricks to replace in spring