Category Archives: Act now

Time and tide waits for no man

I am lucky enough to live by the sea. My evening stroll, to stretch out after a full day of gardening, now involves a walk along the beach. Where once there were groups of people sitting or lying around chatting and enjoying the gentle lapping of the waves, now every single person is on the move. Exercise time. People are not allowed to sit for any length of time. As I make my way along, I am searching for clues as to whether the tide is coming in or going out and I am really aware of time. When everyone else feels like time is standing still and one day merges with another, the rhythm of life interrupted, my life as a gardener is acutely marked by the speed of nature progressing along its seasonal path.

The leaves of the Horse Chestnut tree are only just now held aloft to catch the suns rays and already it is smothered in spires of flowers.

My first job of the week was to cut down the stems of Tulips that have flowered and faded, the petals scattered on the grass from the wind. This was followed by an hour of watering pots and whilst doing that stopping to tie in the clematis tendrils before they cling onto each other and form a crazy mass. Onto the greenhouse for potting up seedlings, tying the tomatoes to their supports, moving the potted Lilies outside to give us more room and spraying them (organically) to prevent Lily beetle.

More seeds of annuals need to be sown directly into the soil, especially those of Cosmos but the area where I want to grow them is thick with weeds. The weeds are flowering and turning to seed or are putting down really strong tap roots. Some ephemeral weeds can flower and set seed 4 or 5 times in a year. We got stuck into removing them all and then, before we knew it, the day was gone.

We’ll have to leave the seed sowing until next week… but make sure we start the day with seed sowing or we’ll repeat all the jobs to do including more weeding and miss our opportunity yet again.

Back home, back down to the beach, and those waves keep rolling in.

End of an era

I understand, I do. This pandemic is costing thousands of people their lives and many many their livelihoods. For those that survive ventilation their health will be compromised. The physical and mental toll will be nothing like many of us under 80 have ever experienced before. It’s knocking us all for six. In comparison to that my horticultural work losses are nothing. How long we must continue in this lockdown period, not being able to see and be with our friends and family, while the virus still has the upper hand is the great unknown. I am so grateful to be able to continue working in the beautiful Spring sunshine.

So far my losses have been minimal. . Hopefully the clients who can no longer afford a gardener will be able to manage their gardens with the extra time they have and will find the joy in doing it themselves. We can’t predict anything.

By far the biggest loss for me (and in comparison), such a small and insignificant loss, has been being asked to rethink a border, in one of my larger gardens, so it becomes maintenance-free.

When we started on this border over 12 years ago it was full of Himalayan Balsam (a notifiable weed), knee high in ground elder, smothered in bind weed, and perennials all growing into one another.

It has been a labour of love. With no budget to spend on new plants we had to separate the plants, remove some and bulk up others with repeated divisions. We moved them all around into a more coherent rainbow of colours , added height where it was lacking, texture in the form of grasses (donated), made natural arches for the clematis to explore and grew many annuals such as sunflowers, poppies and marigolds to change up the experience every year.

Regular bunny invasions, the odd stampede of sheep and the ever increasing army of ants, biting horseflies and midges have tried to thwart our every move. Hours were lost in conversation in trying to dig out the ground elder every year and fight the invasive Spanish bluebells and catch the ‘sticky willy’ (Galium) before it gets a hold on everything. Year on year the border has got better. To the point where it has really come to be my favourite place to be.

Well, that is it, such is the life of a gardener. We are temporary custodians that is all. It has been an honour and a pleasure.

The most practical and inexpensive solution to making this area less costly to maintain, will be to remove all the plants and grass it over. Mowing the grass will gradually kill off the perennial weeds.

I would like to plant an avenue of beautiful small trees instead. Maybe either crab apples with their vibrant red fruit dripping from the branches for 4 months of winter or perhaps a row of Hawthorn with its sweet smelling blossom in Spring, underplanted with blue bulbs such as anemone and camassia naturalised in the grass.

The client will make the final choice and we can dedicate the walkway and border to all those wonderful NHS staff who have held the front line during this incredibly frightening and tragic time in many peoples lives.

I’ll then be able to walk down it and away with my head held high.

Blossom

 

Where would we be without it?

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We are still eating our lovely leeks from last year. Chopped and sautéed in butter. So sweet, so tender, so delicious … and today we sowed some more. Directly into the soil outside.

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Leeks from last year
Leeks from last year

The rest of our day was spent weeding and preparing beds for our cutting garden this year.

I think we, as gardeners, as much as the plants, are looking for the sun to give us energy and invigorate us from the winter doldrums.

Today we were rewarded.

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Here we go..

If I find you sitting around thinking there is nothing to do…???

…then I need to correct you right now!!!

Certainly buy some seed. Tomatoes are so easy to grow on a window sill right now.  No excuses!!

Prepare some beds

Get rid of unwanted, un productive plants..

Think about what you really want. You can really grow it.  If you don’t believe me, just prove me wrong.  Now is the the time to try..

A rolling stone gathers no moss

After an industrious weekend indoors with my leather work, I was delighted to be outside again – come rain or shine.  In fact we had both,  plus a massive, if short lived, hail storm.

My photos of today tell a different story – one of pure blue skies and sunshine, I wonder why?

A small but nevertheless important job to do right now is cutting back the foliage of the ferns that are now beginning to look tatty.

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They were doing a grand job of retaining some greenery through the monochrome months but they need to make way for the new fronds unfurling themselves next month…IMG_3245

 

Next on the list today, cutting down the Miscanthus:

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To about 30cm from soil level.

I also coppiced the Pawlonia tormentosa tree and pruned the Cotinus coggygria shrub. This keeps them to the right size for the border and promotes much bigger leaves for both plants this coming season

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I just found myself drifting off looking at those pictures of the late summer and the fullness of that border…

At lunchtime I went for a walk in the woods with Martin.  He has been clearing the fallen trees.  In some places he has made log piles and in others he has just made sure the broken and dead trees are fully lying on the ground so they are safe from falling on people.  Here, they will gradually be reclaimed returning their carbon and nutrients back into the soil.

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I gathered some of the woodland moss for a small hanging basket of flowers

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No time like the present…

Alys Fowler suggested this week that February is a month to sit back and do nothing in the garden… much as I like the idea of that suggestion, I would rather do it in the summer when it is lovely and warm and when I’ve got something beautiful to look at.  Now is really an opportunity to dive-in and re-jig difficult areas in conditions where plants can be dug up and left unattended for a while in their semi-dormant state while you attend to their beds.

In one particular garden the soil is heavy clay.  Couch grass and bind weed has got a hold and is absolutely impossible to get out.  The Miscanthus grasses have got so big, the centre has died, the Stipa tenuissima have self seeded and the old ones have died so are all over the place equally the Agapanthus has randomly spread itself around.  Now is the perfect time to just dig it all up.

Plants have been divided and left on the side

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It will be impossible to get the weed roots out of these plants unless you have hours to spare to wash the soil out of the plant roots and then disentangle the weeds. That is one reason for not offering these plants to anyone else.

However one can make life a little easier in the future by spraying the weed infested area as the weeds begin to grow in the coming weeks.  We will then try and improve the soil by adding some grit and garden compost to a decent thickness and then we will replant our Grasses, Agapanthus and Day- lilies.

It will then be much easier both physically and mentally to return to this border in the summer knowing we won’t be fighting a losing battle with the weeds.

The Stipa tenuissima won’t last for long out of the soil so we have divided it into small pony tails, removed the weed roots and replanted along the length of the new annual flower border:

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Motto of the week “Don’t just sit there, do something…

and life will be much easier in future….”

 

Highs and lows

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This is a rare photo of me gardening! Actually I’m not even gardening,  I’m demonstrating to the girls that I will never lose my hand fork again as I have a handy pouch to put it in 🙂 – let’s see if it works.

However the real reason I am including this photo is the bed behind me and well might I turn my back on it.  I have had a couple of years of disaster trying to grow a wonderful mixed annual, meadow-like border to the tennis court.  It really shouldn’t be that difficult but I seemed to make it so.

Year one, I dug up the existing geraniums and sprinkled some generic wild flower seed mix along the length.  Unfortunately the weeds and grass had the upper hand and there were not enough hours in the day to weed it.

Year 2, I thought, scrape off the top soil and grass and weeds and sow more wild flower seed, mistakenly in the belief that wild flowers don’t require nutritious ground to grow on. That may be a fact but actually many of these wild  flower meadow seed mixes are really just annual flowers that do require some nutrition to get going.

Also a fundamental mistake, I had taken the level down to solid clay and the poor little roots had nothing to cling to.  I had forgotten Rule number one of gardening ‘Prepare the seed bed to provide a fine tilth’ …..Darn.

Year 3, we have spread a layer of planting medium ( a mix of sand and organic compost available from the council relatively inexpensively) along the bed and I am now about to order a seed mix.  I rather fancy one of those lovely ones used in the Olympic park in London 2012!

Phenomenal Moles

All my gardens seem to be deluged by moles right now

1) because the soil is very damp

2) because the boys are looking for the girls – love is in the air..

Unfortunately this makes for an unhappy garden owner…. but a happy/ frustrated Molecatcher, as they are not easy to catch but the catcher gets paid by the number caught!

Winter gardening..

I had to take a photo of the naked tree that looks so perfect, on the way to work:

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I always thought, when I drove passed, that this was the most perfectly symmetrical tree. Today I stopped and took a couple of pics from different angles.  Alas no. Apparently nearly all trees grow more strongly on one side than the other, mainly due to the light conditions.

So not perfect at all, but great for helping one navigate? (I think they grow more strongly on the southern side)

First thing to do at the garden today was cutting back some ivy on the wall that definitely looked neglected (aha me thinks, great for christmas wreaths!) I then got stuck into cutting back the Hellebore leaves to reveal the beautiful flower buds emerging from the ground.

Hello! my pet robin brings me a worm

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then eats it and is gone..

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Not for long.  it sits on my bucket for a photo call

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Wow, I really love this robin.

In the background are beautiful blue flowers in the shade. They really sing out in a dark corner.

The Vinca major (periwinkle) is flowering

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Next stop, raising the canopy of the date palm (taking off the lower branches)

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That fibrous trunk is fascinating.

It is now easier to weed beneath and dig out the bramble roots.

Digging up brambles is another great Winter job.  Satisfying to get the roots out and keeps you warm and that was it for the next 4 hours…

Where did the day go?

 

 

Hops, fuchsias, cake!

Hops
Hops

More hops
More hops

These hops are sadly beyond their best now… Oh well, just cut them right down to the ground and either compost, weave or decorate the house with the dead stems and the actual plant will start all over again with prodigious growth next Spring.  Fabulous.

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Let’s take a moment to enjoy the zingy colour of the Fuchsia on a dull grey day…

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Tea break entails me tucking into a rather alcoholic fruit cake which was so scrummy and because Sophie was not keen on fruit cake, she was offered fresh hot scones straight from the oven with Carols’ delicious home made raspberry jam.  Oh wow, we thought we had died and gone to heaven.  Thank you Carol (our lovely client)!