Here's an idea for a border, inspired by an infographic from Love the Garden, a gardening advice site. Pack all these in, and you could have a United Nations, all in one bed together.
(Pause for smutty image to recede in favour of floriferousness.)
Here's an idea for a border, inspired by an infographic from Love the Garden, a gardening advice site. Pack all these in, and you could have a United Nations, all in one bed together.
(Pause for smutty image to recede in favour of floriferousness.)
Students of the 1970s will be familiar with Shirley Conran's oft-quoted remark. Last year I worked out my garden equivalent:
Life is most definitely too short to stuff a flower tower.
It also made me realise why, to some degree, gardening becomes easier with time. It's not just down to one's growing experience of how plants behave (though, obviously that helps) but one's gathering understanding of how one's self behaves.
I'd been given both the Polanter and the Flower Tower to try and (blush!) had put them off for a disgraceful length of time. The Polanter is a very sturdy design based on the drainpipe, with the idea that you can buy several, slot them together and make a taller tower. It can be attached to a wall or left free-standing and each section is under two feet high.
The Flower Tower, at just under three feet, is taller and wider and mine is free-standing only, although you can buy a wall-fixed version. On first getting it out of the packaging it seems rather flimsy, but clever construction means that it's light but robust and has handy finger-holes at the top to allow for carrying. Flower Tower's Facebook page has oodles of pictures showing what it should look like fully planted.
Last year, in uncharacteristic enthusiasm, I determined to stuff both to the gunwales, display them prominently, and bask in myriad remarks at the throbbing colour enlivening unloved corners.
There are, no doubt, many, many gardeners (such as you?) who thrive on such containers. Done properly, they disappear behind a cloud of blooms which repeat flower all summer, drawing bees and admiration. However, even more than pots, I would suggest, they devour time. After all, the ratio of soil to the number of plants is really rather meagre. They demand forward-thinking - water-retaining granules and granular feed should, no doubt, have been shovelled in industrial quantities down their gaping maws, along with the compost.
As it was, they required water. Much, much water.
To be fair, both Polanter and Flower Tower have made provision for this. Both instruct users to fill the bottom with a layer of gravel to act as a reservoir (and ballast, I guess). Polanter also provides a Hozelock connection to a seephose that runs down the centre of the pipe. Flower Tower has put an open chimney with holes down the centre of theirs, which you fill from above.
My problem was that you have to do it a lot. And you have to do it with attention. The Polanter seephose did squirt out water, but mostly at the hose connection. This probably wasn't their fault. Having just read Anne Wareham's Outwitting Squirrels, I am now aware that these connectors should receive considerable pampering. However, as it didn't work very well, and I hadn't at that point heard that changing the washers on the connectors might be the answer, I eventually gave up trying to keep it watered, hauled the plants out and put them in the Flower Tower.
Watering-wise, the Flower Tower's system was more successful for me, but that still dried out too quickly for comfort. Husband, with scientific background, queried whether the plants at the bottom of the Flower Tower wouldn't be better provided with water than those at the top because water pressure would be less at the top in the chimney. I have no idea, but certainly when I did water I felt it necessary to water around as well as down the chimney.
The strawberries fared better than the lobelia in their tolerance of my treatment, but look considerably happier now that I've wrestled them from their holes and replanted them in the ground.
All this is not to say that others wouldn't find these the perfect addition to a garden full of colourful bedding. If you're set up for hanging baskets (you might have guessed I'm not), fill them with appropriate media, and enjoy ensuring that everything is thoroughly soaked daily, then you'll probably get a lot of pleasure from them. I still love the idea of a "drainpipe" cascading flowers down the side of a house. But if I do pots, they have to contain loads of soil to act as a buffer against my neglect.
For me, this is the last of the experiments with this sort of container. If there's anything that you know you're totally unsuited to in the garden, I'd be interested to hear what it is (go on, make me feel better).
In the meantime, I comfort myself with the most pertinent approach to better gardening is, Gardener, Know Thyself.
There's something about the underdog that, they say, always appeals to the English. Perhaps this is why I've always had a soft spot for violets. They seem so small, so frail, so much as if a breath of air would crush them.
It took me a little while to discover that they're actually tough as old boots. Dug up a violet? Just stuff its wiry stems and roots back into the ground. Anywhere will do. Anyhow. You don't even need to water them in for the most part.
They can also get a little untidy. Once the flowers are over, the plants grow, lifting their leaves and seedpods high. But I do love them. Rarely do I put them in the compost. They add a little to my spring corner, underlying polyanthus, cowslips and anemones.
If they're really in the wrong place, I move them to a different part of the garden. And I'm pleased to say that my plan is finally coming together. In a woodsy area I have a statue and for quite a while I tried to work out what would look good carpeting the very shallow soil behind it, and what would be tough enough to bear stamping on when we pick the plums above.
After various attempts, some involving alpines and small-leaved sedums, I realised the answer was literally all over the garden. I'm now helping violets to colonise the area. They seem to chime perfectly with the Victorian character of the young maid.
Today is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted at May Dreams Gardens by Carol who, I am delighted to see in her blogpost last Saturday, is also a violet enthusiast. Why not pop over and see what else is in bloom this Spring?
Some gardening books are bland expositions, others vibrate with the voice of their author. Outwitting Squirrels is definitely one of the latter. To those who know Anne only by her reputation as the Bad-Tempered Gardener, this might sound alarming, but have no fear. This is great fun.
Encompassing (as its subtitle explains)
101 Cunning Stratagems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Effects of Garden Pests and Honest Advice Concerning your Chances of Success
its cover depicts a villainous squirrel in Victorian-melodrama top hat and moustache. The tone is set.This is no dry rundown of potions and protective materials.
Anne begins by turning her attention to numerous varmints, not just the eponymous squirrel, but rabbits, moles, slugs and snails and others, then moves on to a wide range of insects and infestations, such as honey fungus, box blight, algae and weeds.
Pest or infestations are dealt with by chapter and each problem is approached with a pragmatism that might find you re-evaluating your attitude. Plants that are Trouble are not weeds (those have two chapters to themselves), they are those irritating entities that languish in plain sight, taunting you with your inability. "If you find yourself writing in desperate entreaty to a plant expert," writes Anne, "about what to do with a sick rose, try contemplating for a moment how much happier your life might be without that rose."
The information in some cases was revelatory. I had no idea that the French use explosives to blow up moles. Anne tells you what hasn't worked for her (sadly she's never stocked up on dynamite but some of her experiences with failure will definitely raise a giggle), but, as she says, it may work for you, so the What Not to Do section at the end of each chapter will give you as many ideas for available strategems as the What to Do sections.
It's full of wry humour. For dealing with irritating plants that flop over path-edges Anne recommends cropping. They come back "contrite". And if this approach worries you, think that plants are frequently cropped by cows. "Imagine that you are a cow," advises Anne. A bonus to the reading enjoyment is the generous sprinkling of whimsical and amusing cartoons.
Bracken has a chapter to itself, which is unsurprising as Anne has to contend with its advances into Veddw, her garden in Monmouthshire, but even a chapter on a pest or infestation that I'm never going to face kept me reading. I am now aware that bracken carries sheep ticks (and therefore dangers of Lyme disease) and know that it's been used as the rural answer to grit to prevent slippage on muddy roads.
You're sure to find yourself nodding in agreement with descriptions of standard recommendations. Mealy bugs? You know the suggestion for hosing them off? Don't, says Anne. "If you try that with a pot plant outside, the plant will fall over and you will also be squirting potting compost all over the garden." I can vouch for that.
I'm also sure that, unless you have enormous wealth of knowledge, you'll find numerous suggestions, born of Anne's 25 years' experience, that you'll want to try. Regulars know that codling moth is rather fond of my apples. Anne's suggestion of hanging cardboard in the branches in winter and in spring burning the larvae that have snuggled into it is something I'm storing up for next year.
The final section is, for anyone used to the usual pests and diseases books, unexpected. Dealing with Outwitting Humans, including yourself, Anne's put in chapters ranging from Edges and Spraying, to Plastics, Rain, People and Water. If you're wondering what these can possibly have to to with waging war on pests, you'll just have to read the book. They'll have you thinking.
Outwitting Squirrels is a book that has definitely come tostay. My one bugbear is that, like most books nowadays, it's been deprived of an index, but that's a minor point. It's just the thing to cheer you up if you find yourself defeated by some dastardly garden afflication, but it's not just light-hearted. It's a thoroughly practical and pragmatic book that will give you ideas and help you re-evaluate your approach, leavened with a dry humour that makes it a pleasure to read. We need more humour in gardening!
Outwitting Squirrels will be published 23rd April by Michael O'Mara Books. Priced at £7.99, Hive has it on offer at £6.75 (click through on the link above).
I'm a bit tardy rejoining the Tree Following meme with Lucy at Loose and Leafy but there really wasn't anything to report last month. Suddenly, in the last few weeks the buds have sprung into action and - yes! - we have flowers.
The tallest branch is now above my head, having spent all winter on a par with it. What should I do? Cut it back to one branch to try to create a new tree, or give it its head as a shrub.
If you were following last year, you'll know that I tried to root a cutting. It was looking pretty good, and until recently the tiny leaf buds were green.
But now they're brown. This is not, I fear, a good sign...
(If you're wondering what happened to this lilac last year, here's where it all started.)
A new garden hove into view on my horizon today (well, new to me) when I found out about Pensthorpe Natural Park near Fakenham, Norfolk.
Now, our experience of Norfolk has not been entirely happy, but Pensthorpe was voted Norfolk's Best Large Visitor Attraction for 2014 (wonder where the small visitors go?), was the home of Springwatch from 2008-10 and has 660 acres in which to roam. Including three gardens.
Piet Oudolf doesn't have the effect on my pulses that he seems to have on other people's, but the purple drifts and banked perennials do look rather splendid in the pictures. Soon to start flowering this year is its Wildflower Meadow, which had a part to play in BBC2's Great British Garden Revival, and The Wildlife Habitat Garden offers ideas for, yes, attracting wildlife. The most intriguing sounds to be The Wave Garden, beside a lake, with hedging and structural planting for year-round foliage, sculpture and snowdrops.
However, the big news is the new addition in this, the 210th anniversary of Nelson's death. Nelson, born ten miles away in the North Norfolk village of Burnham Thorpe, lived again there with his wife between 1786 and 1793 while waiting to be assigned a ship. And in celebration, the (get this) Destination Management Organisation, Visit North Norfolk, approached the GLA and Boris Johnson about translocating Nelson's Column from Trafalgar Square to a location between Pensthorpe's Oudolf garden and the Wensum Wetland area in time for the anniversary in October. Apparently a petition was raised of over 100K signatures from people across the globe, asking for Nelson to return to his home.
The artist's impression really does look rather splendid. He'll be there without his lions, so they'll be left guarding, well, nothing for the summer while the column is taken down in pieces for transportation. Work should start after the Easter holidays. There's no mention of it's return, but I'd hazard a guess at it being back in time for Easter 2016. They could put the Norwegian Christmas tree in its place to disguise the lack in December.
David Henry, Senior Construction Manager of MJS Projects, in charge of logistics, said: “It is entirely feasible to transport and re-erect such a structure with careful planning and the right people on board. According to history, Hitler had planned to relocate the structure to Berlin, had he won the war. And if it was possible to London Bridge to Arizona, moving Nelson’s Column should be a far simpler task.”
Once ensconced, Nelson will gaze across his beloved county and out to sea. With the park's six natural lakes it puts him close to water too. Nelson was, it's said, a keen birdwatcher and, from his new perch, he'll be seeing a lot more than pigeons.
And, for the information of Nelson enthusiasts, of which I must admit I'm one, you can also visit the Remembering Nelson Exhibition at luxury hotel, The Hoste, in Burnham Market. Formerly the Pitt Arms, Nelson frequented it in his youth. He's known to have stayed in Room 5 and to have received his dispatch papers there.
Some things have instant appeal. Often they're the simplest ideas, as I discovered when my salad crate from Suttons' new Stacks of Flavour range arrived. I felt ridiculously pleased.
It's cute, nicely proportioned, solidly made and came all ready with a liner to stop soil falling out of the bottom and seeds in a range of salad leaves ready to sow.
It's also neatly stencilled with "Helen's Salad" (blush!). Passing snails take note. And, indeed, it's possible to have your crate inscribed with a message of up to 20 characters, which is a way to make it a very personal gift.
Stacks of Flavour crates, launched today, come in three depths. Three slats deep for root veg, chillies and strawberries, two slats deep for herbs, and one slat deep for salad leaves. Each has a liner which you can cut to size (I just folded mine to shape and tucked it into place) and seeds or plants. There are seven different collections to choose from and all you need to do is add compost.
You can add to your collection by buying individual crates in a variety of sizes, with the liner but without seeds or plants, so you can expand your growing space to encompass more varieties in time with your growing confidence. You can see the full range on the Stacks of Flavour website.
They should last for a bit too, made of FSC sustainably sourced wood that's a sturdy 12mm thick, with extra pins for structural strength. The wood has been treated to last at least three years but I think I'd give them an annual application of wood preservative to prolong it further.
Growing like this is the box equivalent of square-foot gardening. Only better, in some ways. You can move things around, stack unused crates out of sight if you decide to downsize for a time, or add more growing space as it suits. With more people having to rent, these provide an ideal solution to a portable garden.
While the crates are particularly good for people with limited garden space or who would just like to start off in a small way, it doesn't stop them being really cute and an attractive option for anyone, experienced or not, who fancies growing a bit more on the patio or using that porch space that's always gone begging.
I love the fact that I now have a salad "bed" that's been easy to start indoors away from inclement weather and will remain out of reach of slugs. With Strawberry Fields I could segregate my varieties so they didn't get all muddled in the beds, and I could remember which plants were which.
Two Strawberry Fields crates up for grabs!
To celebrate the launch, I've got 2 prizes of Suttons' new and exclusive Stacks of Flavour ‘Strawberry Fields Collection’ worth £32 each.
Included with each are:
To be in with a chance to win one of the crates, please leave a comment below. You can also enter by following me on Twitter and tweeting a link to this post (include @helengazeley in the tweet so I know you've done it).
Do both and you'll be entered twice!
The winner will be drawn at random from all the entries.
Deadline for entries: noon on Thursday 26th March 2015.
This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Ryan and Jan who will each soon be receiving their Strawberry Crate.
Terms and Conditions:
1. This giveaway is only available to people with a UK delivery address.
2. Entry closes at noon on Thursday 26th March.
3. The lucky winner will be notified on 26th March either via the email address used to leave a comment below, or via Twitter. If I have not heard from him or her by midnight on 4th April I will draw another winner.
3. I have two prizes of one Stacks of Flavour Strawberry Fields from Suttons to give away. No cash alternative.
4. Suttons will send it out in May, when it will be ready to plant out.
5. Anyone found using multiple Twitter accounts to enter will be disqualified.
Husband's obsession with Hellebores doesn't quite match up to Juliet Davis's, she who featured on BBC's Gardeners' World this week with her glorious collection found at Kapunda Plants, but he does have the patience to grow them on for years on end from seedlings grubbed up from the borders. We should have quite a few around by the time he's finished.
The one pictured below isn't one of his, but now that the Daphne is filling out nicely (it's about three years old), the two make a lovely combination at the back of a shady border.
Today is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted by May Dreams Gardens. Pop over to see what else is blooming around the world.
If you suffer the unwanted attentions of ground elder, this is the ideal moment to get out in the garden and grub some up. It's just poking its leaves above the ground, and the soil (at least in my patch) is damp and easy to dig, so the roots come out easily.
Some of you may remember that in 2012 I spent three weeks upside-down in the flowerbeds, pulling out ground elder. Well, I was on my knees in the borders again today. About time, I thought, for an update.
The first thing that you no doubt know (it's about the first thing that anyone tells you) about this weed is that it will always come back. (Honestly, it deserves an award for persistence.) Get every little bit of root out, we're told, as it will regenerate from the smallest piece.
Lots of people will tell also you the only way to get rid of it is with glyphosate, but one day I'll blog about why we should never - never - use it. When I last posted, Kininvie from the (now lapsed) Gardening at the Edge said that burning it off as it appeared had proved fairly successful. This chimes with Bob Flowerdew's recommendation that you will get on top of it if you persist in pulling off every leaf visible, but you have to do it while they're small.
Personally, I weed. I even, sort of, quite like doing it.
But my point is, I'm not having to do that much of it. Really. The weedathon of 2012 reduced sightings to a minimum. This afternoon, I've pulled out a bit, but it's not run rampage as it used to.
You possibly remember that I put forward a slightly wacky suggestion that improving the soil would discourage the ground elder (or at the very least make it easier to pull up). That year I poured quite a bit of soil improver on the beds in winter 2012-13, especially Dalefoot Compost's Lakeland Gold, which contains bracken, a traditional claybuster. I spread home-made compost and I spread rotted manure. I did the same last year. Can't say I buried the beds; they probably got about an inch on average. I also sprinkled Clay Breaker, the gypsum-based pellets from Vitax.
The soil is definitely better, though it's a long, long way from perfect. But I'm sticking to my theory. The worst bit of ground elder I've just dug out? In the really clayey bit that's been compacted by the contractor putting in next door's new fence. (Actually, I get the distinct impression that he might have shovelled some of their stickiest soil over to my side.)
So, really, this post is meant as encouragement. Courage, mes amis. Digging out ground elder is not the hiding to nothing that it's so often portrayed to be. Get rid of enough of it and it becomes a weed that, yes, requires a vigilant eye but needn't make you a slave to it.
Assuming, of course, that you get out there early enough each year and pip it at the post.
Now, what do you do about your invasive weeds?
This is not the blogpost I intended to write. That was about designers' favourite flowers, as discussed at a Futurescape seminar last November. But that's on hold. Why? Because I can't find the blasted notes. Does this happen to you?
The annoyance precipitated, over the last couple of days, a search through paper - and paper is everywhere. Which explains why the notebook has disappeared, and it has me pondering: What do other people about the incoming streams of information? I have piles of gardening and industry magazines - Kitchen Garden, The Garden Design Journal, ProLandscaper, Which? Gardening, The Garden...
My victory yesterday was throwing out a year's worth of The Oldie, to which I subscribed in 2008 to gauge whether it might be a magazine I could write for. I never got round to thinking up quirky articles for it, and such aged mags are useless for market research. It was lovely putting them in the bin.
But what about the gardening ones? In theory, they're an extensive reference (though sadly only Which? Gardening includes an annual index nowadays). If I look through them I'll find articles about things that weren't of interest but now are. From where I am right now I can see that a The Garden from 2011 has an article on selecting cooking apples to grow, which I'm intending to do this year.
(In fact, hold on, I'll just go and get it before that disappears too.)
But it's not just magazines, which since yesterday are now tied in neat bundles of twelve, according to year. Still taking up space, but looking...ordered. What about the notes for blogposts and articles? The press releases that might come in handy for that article that requires more research than you've currently got time for? How do you organise all that paper?
When I first began writing I kept the notes for articles published in cardboard folders. Now, they're bulging and spilling all over the place. My working space looks nothing if not creative, but the tidemark of paper is threatening to wash across the floor.
I could disembowel the mags. But have you ever tried downsizing in this manner? I once trawled through years of writing magazines, cutting out articles that might prove useful. The result was that, instead of mountains of magazines, I had a slippery pile of giant ring-binders, full of ragged pages that I never looked at again. I think they're still in the loft.
Sometimes I imagine I'll be found one day, squashed flat beneath a splayed pile of A4 glossies, paper mites testing out the palatability of my flesh. It would only be just. I've always found it difficult to throw things away, but paper-held information is, by far, my worst vice (let's not contemplate the state of my archived emails).
So what should I do about it? I'm looking for help here. What do you do? Do you find it easy to chuck things? How long do you leave it? Do you have a clear list of subjects that you save information on, and throw away everything else? Have you got an amazing filing system? Or memory?
There's no doubt that Something Has To Be Done. But how do I bring myself to do it? What do you do? Is this even a problem you have? I'd love to hear how you manage to keep on top of things.