Sunday 29 July 2007

It's not me! I'm free!!

I've just been doing some surfing - and blog spotting - and noticed that there are a few blogs about Gardenforum crossing the line, doing the dirty etc, etc. That is they're now charging for their premium services. Please be aware this ain't me.

GardenForum Horticulture ( - that's me - is different to Gardenforum ( I'm a one-man band offering free advice to gardeners. Always have - and probably always will.

Radio times

As a gardening journalist working in a broad portfolio of mediums, one of my favourites is radio. I appear regularly on BBC Essex and am the gardening correspondent for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. Today was one of my regular slots on the latter. Dougan Does Gardening from 11am to 1pm offers a phone-in advice service, and it's always interesting to hear what people are having problems with and helping them out wherever possible. It's also a good way of learning and finding out if there are any new trends developing.

To listen to the programme visit

So what did today have on offer? Mainly pest and disease problems and mostly focussed around the unusual weather patterns of this year. Potato and tomato blight were high on the list (following my own experience at home), onion blight (although onions don't get 'blight' and this was more likely to be neck rot or mildew), and numerous leaf spots and other fungal and bacterial diseases on hydrangea, petunia, cherry and magnolia to name a few. Other questions revolved around pruning bottle brush plants, using wood chips, growing figs, passion fruit and lemons and moving a Japanese maple. These suggested that we’re all tending to grow more ‘exotic’ plants – maybe one of the few good things about global warming!

It's interesting to find out what's bothering people - but more interesting to realise just how bothered and worked up they can get about things. I think they also gain reassurance knowing that there are lots of other people out there with the same problem. But if I can be a reassuring shoulder to cry on - although usually I'm the bringer of doom and bad news - then so be it.

My next radio appearance is on BBC Essex on Down to Earth on August 11. If you don't live in Essex or can't tune in and have a question, then you can always e-mail me in the usual way.

Have a great gardening week - or at least try to!

Wednesday 25 July 2007

Pestilence abounds

What a year it has been so far! I know I love the subject of plant pests & diseases - but only to help other gardeners get the best out of their gardens. I get as annoyed as the next person when plants that have had lots of TLC, suddenly go down with a nasty problem. I always make sure I inspect my plants on a regular basis for signs of attack - usually for 10 minutes or so after work, and usually with a glass of wine or beer in hand!

I've already mentioned an attack of the horribly destructive vine weevil (that seems to have gone away now, but I'm still vigilant), but the damp weather has certainly encouraged others to the fore. After coming back from the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park I noticed that some of the outdoor tomatoes had been hit by blight. Some of the beef tomatoes in the greenhouse had also started the tell-tale signs. Now I know how the Irish felt when the potato famine hit! Tomato and potato blight is an incredibly destructive disease and when the weather conditions are right (warm and humid as they have been recently) it spreads rapidly. In all the years I've grown these crops I've never been struck by blight. With my heart pounding and panic beginning to strike there was nothing for it but to reach for the penknife and the sprayer. I started by removing all the badly affected leaves and then following up with a quick spray of Dithane. I don't like using chemicals if I can help it - but I certainly don't like having to dig up and throw away diseased plants. So far, the disease is now holding back, but I have had to strip off quite a few of the lower leaves.

Some of the potatoes were beginning to show early signs of blight too, but I've now cut down all the stems to ground level and destroyed them. As long as the blight spores don't reach the tubers, they'll be fine. I've lifted a few - and they looked and tasted fine!

Us gardeners have to learn that there is always something round the corner desperate to have a go at our plants - and be vigilant and deal with anything that comes along. But I do feel sorry for anyone that has just started out in gardening and is having some of the same problems as I have. The rise in popularity of growing your own veg is a case in point; imagine growing your first ever crop of tomatoes this year, only to see the whole plant wither up and die.

Keep sane, keep in control - and keep gardening!

Sunday 22 July 2007

Dirty word...!

Rain, waterlogging, torrential downpours. Luckily, my part of the UK hasn't had any flooding (although I thought the flat East might be at risk), but the garden has become battered by the rainfall. Everything is growing more like ground cover than upright plants. All the rain has washed nutrients out of the soil too, the growth is soft and lush and the battering has resulted in mush! The soil's too wet to walk on, so there's nothing to be done - just wait for the summer! Anyone know when that's going to happen?

But I do feel sorry for anyone that's under water at the moment. Obviously, there's the horror of house flooding, but the garden will suffer too. Let's hope everything dries out quickly. My website has information on dealing with waterlogging and flooding in the garden.

I've just come back from a few days at the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park running the web coverage for the RHS website RHS Online. The show itself was excellent, but the weather conditions affected the planting in the gardens - and the car park was a tad skiddy! And flower shows always look and feel better in the sunshine.

I'm off out to do a sun dance!