Wednesday 24 December 2008

It's Christ-massssssssssss!

Praise the lord it’s Christmas – well, that’s what you’re supposed to do at this time of year, isn’t it?!
I need a break before I simply wither away like a rotten courgette slung on the compost heap or, worse still, my head explodes.
The autumn/early winter is one of my busiest times of the year. Apart from trying to hold together all the threads that make up my normal working days, I also put together the Garden Media Guild Yearbook and produce the trade catalogue for Greenacres Horticultural Supplies. A bit of extra work and a lot of extra strain making sure they’re sent to the printers on time during the normal Christmas rush and festive shutdown.
This year it has been compounded by the ‘day job’ – editing the RHS website, RHS Online. We’re having a complete overhaul of the site – redesigning, restructuring, re-editing and any other re- word you can think of. This has meant talking to all the various RHS departments about their needs for the new look, having redesign team meetings and visiting Vincent Square and the four RHS gardens to tell them what we’re up to. All in all, a lot of zooming around the country and a lot of time taken up with meetings – time when I should be trying to put into operation the action points that arise from all the meetings. So, basically, I’m knackered!
Anyhoo, the Yearbook and catalogue stuff is mostly finished, the RHS Online redesign is simmering away nicely in the background and so I’m off to enjoy at least several days of eating, drinking and general merry making. With a bit of luck I may even be able to stagger to the allotment.
Wishing everyone as merry a Christmas as you can possibly have, a fantastically prosperous (credit crunch, what credit crunch!) and happy New Year and I hope you don’t get too many rubbish Christmas presents; or if you do, remember that’s why they invented ebay.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Keeping pests at bay - or not

I don't have a philosophy over many things (too much else to do to sit and contemplate my navel), but I kind of have a philosophy towards gardening. That is - I enjoy it, I enjoy my garden and I enjoy the plants in it. And if they're not happy I'm not happy.

My attitude towards pests is - get in quick and stop them before they take over. So, I like to 'walk the garden' - often after work to rewind and more often than not with a glass of wine/beer/gin in one hand (gardening is meant to be enjoyable, you know). I'll look closely at plants that are known to be subject to pest & disease attacks, looking under leaves, at growing tips, flower buds and the rest. I'm now so good at this that I can spot a pest problem at 500 paces. By doing this as often as possible, pest and disease problems rarely get out of hand and if I see a problem I can use my organic pest control - my forefinger and thumb - either to squash a pest or to remove a problem leaf.

But, if I do miss something and a problem has got out of hand then I'll want something to zap it to knock it on the head as soon as possible. I try to be organic, but not to the detriment of my plants - if I need to use a zapper then I will.

So imagine my disgust, fear and hatred when I heard that due to EU legislation nearly all garden (and professional chemicals) are probably going to be removed from the market. This includes just about every chemical we have in our arsenal - including the tried & tested weedkiller glyphosate. Basically, it means that the only thing you'll be able to use as a pest control in the garden is a couple of house bricks to squash them with!

The gardening industry has been lobbying local MPs and MEPs to ask the powers that be to rethink their draconian attitude to this. It's not only your garden that will suffer - you're going to be so worse off; without some chemical controls the cost of producing plants by nurseries (and your supermarket fruit & veg) will rocket and, with the possible recession/credit crunch, this is going to dramatically reduce the amount of free cash in your wallet/purse for spending on your garden.

A number of peers are debating the issue in the House of Lords on November 11 - so let's hope they ensure everyone comes to their senses on this one. Well, that's my philosophy.

Friday 31 October 2008

Bitch fest

I’ve been part of the gardening trade/horticultural industry for about 25 years – yes, really, that long! And I’ve always been impressed about how friendly an industry it is. When you go to trade or flower shows or press days you usually bump into the same people – many are now old friends (others you try to avoid!) – and you have a good catch up, find out what they’re up to and generally have a good gossip about things - and try to find out about the latest rumours, or even start some. All in all, it’s good clean fun and even the bitching and gossiping is done in good spirits.

But now, all that seems to have changed. Or maybe there’s something in the air – or the water, or maybe it has all been a sham and the masks and gloves have finally come off.

I’ve been checking out numerous blogs and forums recently and on just about every one someone is saying something nasty about someone else, or the company they work for or just having a general moan about life/people/the industry in general. Maybe it’s the pressure of having to blog or put up posts regularly that’s to blame; what/who can I write about/take the mick out of today!

In no way am I in favour of the internet/blog police coming along with their big plodding feet and truncheons and putting a stop to all this – generally it brings a smile to my face (even when the work I do is the subject of some abuse), sometimes it can be very interesting and gives you an insight into people’s characters. And as Oscar Wilde once said: “The only thing worse than being talked about – is not being talked about”!

Some are just down right funny and are essential reading. Undoubtedly, the best of the bunch is Garden Monkey. No-one that I know of knows who he/she is as they blog anonymously – which adds to the fun. But I do know that the Garden Monkey police are on his tail and are digging around to try and find out who she/he really is; slowly, slowly catchee Monkey! Lots of names have been put forward – including mine; how I wish…! And, of course, there are lots of people trying to copy the Monkey, but none so far have come anywhere close.

If you’ve not looked at the blog then I can thoroughly recommend you go now. Now hopefully that will keep the doubters off my back and promote me to a friend of the Monkey so he doesn’t ‘talk’ about me. One thought: there is an English idiom “Speak to the organ grinder not the monkey”, so who pulls the Garden Monkey’s strings?

Tuesday 28 October 2008

Where has the year gone?

Is it really the middle of autumn already? Judging by the first frost last night I guess it must be. Maybe it’s my age. But this year has just shot past and I’m already getting ready for the winter onslaught.

I’ve spent the last few days starting to put the garden to bed for the winter. I’ve started digging up all the half-hardy bedding plants, potting them up individually and putting them in the greenhouse. What was full of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines is now rammed to the gunnels with bedding, tender bulbs, succulents that can’t take winter wet and just about everything else that needs protection. I’ve still got the dahlias, cannas, hedychiums and colocassias to find some room for.

On Gardening Plus on BBC Essex on Saturday, we were inundated with calls, e-mails and texts from people who are all still keen on getting the best from their gardens and desperate for some timely advice. Whether it’s because they want to talk to a human being or whether they’re yet to discover the wonders of the internet I’m not sure, but there still seems to be a place for the ‘old fashioned’ means of information gathering.

Gardening clubs also look like they’re holding their own in the massive tide of new technology. Although, sadly, it seems that it’s the older gardeners who still attend their local club regularly – there aren’t that many where I turn up to give talks that have a good representation by younger (that is under-50!) gardeners. Again, I think it’s having human interaction and having a real place to gather socially that keeps them going; even social networking sites, forums and blogs and other recent web developments can’t offer that – not yet anyway!

So, although I’m firmly in favour of the joys of virtual gardening, let’s hear it for the old technology and the great British tradition of gardening clubs, magazines and local radio stations.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

With much Glee

I’ve just got back from Glee at the NEC, Birmingham. Glee is the UK’s gardening industry’s biggest trade show taking up several halls at the NEC. Here many of the major gardening product manufacturers and suppliers show off their wares for the following year.

One of my first ports of call was the new products area – and several things caught my eye – not necessarily for the right reason!

Many of the new products were centred around the grow your own bug that is sweeping the nation. There were lots of patio growing kits, raised bed kits, containers and compost specifically for veggies - including fat growing-bags, including some specifically for potatoes - and even new feeds and fertilisers, crop covers and other bits and bobs.

One of my favourite new products was an inflatable/blow up greenhouse – a bit like a transparent, greenhouse-shaped airbed. The air in the walls would provide excellent insulation – but I’m not sure it would be that practical in a windy area. I also thought it would be fantastic for Glastonbury Festival – although everyone could see what you’re doing inside!

I also loved the Bosch battery powered secateurs. This uses lithium ion battery technology, as I’ve got in my Bosch lawnmower, and will make up to 900 cuts with one battery charge. It was much lighter than I thought and well balanced. Perfect if you\’ve got a lot of pruning to do or you have arthritis or similar affliction that doesn’t allow you to grip secateurs handles properly.

And for the squeamish among you a slug grabber to pick up and dispose of the number one garden pest. It’s basically one of those long-handled rubbish picker-uppers with the trigger activated grabbing mechanism. Not sure about this one – just wear gloves.

Wildlife attracting gizmos were also much in evidence – including an all-in-one friendly insect overwintering station. The same company was also promoting its new ceramic bumblebee overwintering hive, which looked great until I saw the instructions: “First fill with material from a mouse nest or old bumblebee nest – OK, so where on earth do I buy/find either of those!

All in all some winners and some losers in next year’s race to remove money from your purse or wallet when you visit your local garden centre.

Sunday 7 September 2008

Gardening Plus...

We had a busy day on Gardening Plus on BBC Essex yesterday. I think the wet weather meant everyone was indoors catching up on their gardening advice – rather than outside actually doing it.

The morning started with some interesting pictures of an unidentified plant – Cannabis sativa or marijuana, the seed from which had come from a batch of bird food. The owner thought it probably was and was off to destroy the plant.

There were quite a few calls, texts and e-mails from people whose trees, shrubs and woody climbers had suddenly died this summer. Although difficult to do an exact diagnosis over the radio, the likely culprit is phytophthora root rot – a soil-borne disease that has become prevalent this year due to the wet weather and waterlogged soil.

One listener wanted to know how to control rust on pelargoniums that had spread from her hollyhocks. This sparked an interesting discussion that, although some diseases, such as botrytis, will spread from different plant species, others, such as rusts for instance, are specific to a particular plant or group or plants. So, rose rust only attacks roses, onion rust only attacks onions and other members of the allium family, pelargonium rust only pelargoniums and hollyhock rust only hollyhocks. Rusts are some of the most difficult diseases to control; carefully picking off affected leaves and spraying the rest of the plant with Dithane being just about all you can do – or assigning the plant to the dustbin if all else fails.

Another disease that provoked some interest is a new one in the UK – impatiens downy mildew, which appeared in 2003/2004 and kills busy Lizzie plants. Full details are available on the RHS website.

We had a call from someone who had taken over a neglected allotment and whose potatoes were riddled with wireworm and wanted to know how to control it. Sadly, there aren’t any cures, but wireworm are usually only present on undisturbed soil, and so tend to decline as the soil is cultivated – in a few years they should disappear altogether. We then had a text from a listener who said they controlled them by cutting old potatoes in half and part burying them in the soil. The wireworm start to feed on the potatoes and they can then be lifted and the wireworm removed – or fed to chickens, according to the texter.

Probably the most interesting call of the day was from a man who was trying to grow his own field mushrooms at home. He had cut an old mushroom into pieces and buried them under the turf of his lawn. He wanted to know when he’d start to get mushrooms. I answered it was more likely if rather than when as I doubted this would work. However, he was convinced it would and we asked him to keep us informed when he saw his first mushrooms – and to send us some!

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Radio, radio

It's weird how I can go for weeks without doing any radio programmes and then they come round like proverbial buses.
On Monday I was recording my monthly pre-record inserts into Jane Smith's Saturday breakfast programme for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. I'm so glad we now pre-record them as they go out at 7.45am ish and I used to hate having to get up at that time on a Saturday to do them over the phone. And after a heavy night out on Friday I'm sure they didn't sound that great either! We've also started recording a new item called granddad's garden (I'm not so hot on the name - being a young chicken and all that!). It's aimed at trying to beat the credit crunch by going back to first principles, doing things like they were in the olden days and so saving money.
Next on the agenda is a trip down to BBC Essex on Saturday for Ken Crowther's Gardening Plus programme. This has replaced Jane Smith's phone-in for the Saturday morning hangover slot; they used to start at noon but now they start at 9am and it's a one and a half hour drive down to Chelmsford. Never mind - it's all good fun. Just must remember not to overdo it this Friday night!

Thursday 28 August 2008

Committing a sin...

Yes, I've committed the ultimate web/blog owners sin - I haven't updated for ages; but I can't believe it was pre-Chelsea Flower Show when I posted my last blog entry. I've been away and I've been busy - not much of an excuse but the only one (or is that two?) I can use.
I've also committed the ultimate gardeners' sin and been away on holiday during the summer. In my defence, the mother-in-law did house-sit and made an excellent job of looking after the garden while I was away.
The day job at the RHS has been very taxing as we've been working on our show coverage and running some major projects, and to be honest I just haven't felt like sitting in front of a computer screen when I get home. I don't make resolutions, and I'm not going to start here, but I will try harder to keep the blog up to date.
I have been answering gardening questions by e-mail that have been sent to me, so I don't feel totally wretched with myself.
It's also been a hard year in the garden. A few weeks ago, what with all the rain, wind, cold weather (we're all doomed!), I did feel like giving up gardening too! Everything has grown up tall and lanky and then been bashed about by the weather. The veg garden isn't performing as I'd like either - well, it's mainly the tomatoes - they've been rubbish.
However, I did spend all three days of the bank holiday getting things back into shape and now I feel more positive and up for the fight. The garden has also been plagued by vine weevil - the first time ever - and I've been spending time and effort dealing with the little beggars; they do make a lovely crunching noise when you stamp on them.
So, if you've thought that 2008 has been a rubbish year in the garden, take heart - you're not alone. And, as us gardeners always say: "Well, there's always next year!".

Saturday 17 May 2008

It's Chelsea time

Oh no it does not move me. I don't want to go to Chelsea! At least that's what Elvis Costello thought about it. I, on the other hand, love going to Chelsea - the Chelsea Flower Show, that is. And that's where I was today and will be for the next three days - so don't expect any replies to your e-mail enquiries until I get back.

I've been going to, and working at, this show every year since 1988. Being a gardening journalist it's one of THE places to find out what's going on in the world of horticulture, check out the latest trends and see what's new. For the last seven years I've been there to produce the live, virtual flower show for the RHS. This involves long days, early mornings and late nights and a lot of running around with camera and notebook in hand. But I love it!

I'll let you know how I get on over the next few days. In the meantime, to view the full coverage visit RHS Online, the RHS website.

Monday 5 May 2008

Three-day Weekend

You can't beat it - apart from the four days at Easter!
Apart from the antics in the veg patch and my appearance on Dougan Does Gardening on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on Sunday, both of which you can read about on my RHS veg blog, my only other main gardening antic this weekend was to help Clare cut back the large holly and the cotoneaster growing underneath it to reclaim some new planting areas.
The shade and the room covered by the holly meant that this area has been much under-used. The bed was also quite narrow, so we stripped off more turf (which makes the lawn smaller and reduces mowing - hurrah!). Next job was to dig in some old, well-rotted leafmould from two years ago and some compost.
I'm still vigilant for lily beetles - even though I've sprayed them with Provado Ultimate Bug Killer. I've found another four, but they're obviously very drowsy from the Provado and just fall into my hand.
Have a great gardening week.

Sunday 27 April 2008

Pruning & talking - but not at the same time

When I moved into my current house seven years ago, one of the things that persuaded me to buy it - along with the L-shaped garden (I’ve got the bottom of the gardens of the two houses to the right) – was the fabulous white-blossomed cherry tree. Sadly, it looked like it was suffering from bacterial canker, but seemed to be growing fine. Even more sadly is the fact that the canker has been getting worse since then, despite annual sprays with a copper fungicide.
This year it hasn’t flowered as well as it usually does (normally it’s completely covered in flowers) and the new growth looks sparse – I’m worried for it. But it’s such a feature of the garden I’d hate to loose it, so the fight goes on. I spent this weekend starting to prune out as much of the dead, weak and badly diseased growth as possible. But there’s still plenty more to take care of, which will have to wait until next weekend. Then I can give it its spring spray of copper.
As I was in a happy, ‘hacking’ mood, I decided to take the secateurs to some other plants. I’ve given the annual hard prune to the hardy fuchsias, perovskia, penstemon, caryopteris, phygelius and tidied up the cotinus. After pruning I always give a good feed with – usually – a granular rose fertiliser to put some strength back into the plants and ensure a good crop of flowers.
For more information on pruning, why not buy my book!
The daily early morning searches for lily beetles secured another four adults this week that were swiftly dispatched by the boot. Even though this vigil pays dividends I also decided to give all the lilies a quick treatment with Provado to bulk up the protection levels – there’s nothing like a belt and braces approach to gardening!
One of the things I love doing out of the garden is giving talks to gardening clubs and horticultural societies – and this spring has been especially busy. I’ve been up to Bingham in Nottinghamshire and Knaresborough in North Yorkshire, down to Abbots Langley and Olney in Buckinghamshire and Upminster in Essex, as well as lots around Peterborough and Cambridge. Subjects have ranged from pruning and propagation to pests and diseases, weeds and the weed-free garden and luscious lawns. This week I’m going up to Swayfield in Lincolnshire; I think this is the fourth time I’ve been there, so I must be doing something right. It’s probably the prizes I bring for the raffle!
This week was also busy on the BBC Radio Cambridgeshire front. On Thursday I was in the Peterborough studio answering questions on the weekly gardening phone-in. Then on Friday it was off to Jane Smith’s garden to record my monthly items for her programme. These are broadcast at around 7.45am on Saturday mornings. I used to do them over the phone, which meant crawling out of bed on a Saturday morning. Pre-recording not only does away with this chore, but also means we get some great atmospheric recordings, including bird song, tractors, jets flying overhead and the barking of her two dogs when someone walks past!
Next Sunday I’m back in the Peterborough studio for Dougan Does Gardening from 11am to 1pm.
Ah, the busy world of a gardening journalist!
And, of course, this weekend involved plenty of activity in the veg garden. You can read all about this on my RHS grow your own veg blog.
Have a great week in the garden.

Sunday 20 April 2008

This weekend’s forecast for yet another mixed bag of weather meant that I needed to get cracking early – just in case, just in case things turned really nasty and put the kybosh on my plans. As a result I was out in the garden by 8 o’clock on both days.
The weather wasn’t as bad as expected – although Sunday started out dull, damp, dingy and wet, but by 11.15am (having gone back indoors for American pancakes and The Archers) it had stopped raining and the rest of the day was fabulous.
The plants from the front garden from Beth Chatto had arrived mid-week, so Clare had the delightful job of getting those planted and announcing the front garden complete. Hurrah! Apart from putting back the gravel mulch. Boo! About an hour and a tonne of gravel later, this was also complete. We think it looks great and certainly a vast improvement on what had been there before. And, as it's all planting and gravel we’re doing our bit to prevent localised flooding from hard-standing run-off!
The finishing touch was to yank out a moth-eared clematis that hadn’t been doing well for the past three years and replace it with something a bit more exotic and in keeping with the new look front garden – we chose Campsis radicans ‘Flamenco’.
I felt that this weekend was a good time to start feeding everything in pots. I’m a firm believer in controlled-release fertilisers – they feed just the right amount when the plants need it for anything up to six months. I get mine from Greenacres Horticultural Supplies who do a wide range of feeds and the results are always excellent. I also went around treating those plants in pots that need an acid soil (our water is very hard/alkaline) with Sulphur Soil – also from Greenacres; this included rhodos, Japanese maples and blueberries.
Every day this week I’ve been patrolling the lilies for the red menace – I found one on Saturday, but that has been the first since last weekend’s six; but this is no time for relaxing – vigilance is still needed.
By Saturday evening the lawn was dry and ready for a cut, and on Sunday I decided to rake and oversow some of the thinner patches. I’m not sure if many people realise that up to 25% of the grass in a lawn can die each year and the best and easiest way to replace this is to oversow with grass seed.
Of course, this weekend also involved some activities in the veg garden. You can read all about these on my RHS veg blog.
Enjoy your week.

Sunday 13 April 2008

A damn good catch up

Because we’ve been away the last couple of weekends and haven’t managed to spend much time on the garden or the allotment, jobs were beginning to pile up – and both my girlfriend Clare and I were beginning to get just a tad twitchy about the situation. So this weekend we were going to get on with things whatever the weather. Perhaps a touch too much bravado considering the forecast!
Luckily, we had both outdoor jobs and indoor ones – seed sowing and sorting out the greenhouse. So we had plenty of time to get on with the indoor jobs as we spent the weekend dodging heavy showers, thunderstorms, hail and sleet – all in all, a nice mixed bag!
We more-or-less finished planting up the front garden, just a few plants we’re waiting for from Beth Chatto to finish it. And, of course, the heavy downpours meant everything got watered in naturally.
When tidying up a number of pots I received a nasty shock. One of the lilies had its first unwelcome visitors – lily beetle – six to be precise. Thankfully, I managed to carefully pick them all off without any escaping and put them to the sword – or more correctly the foot; they do make a satisfying crunch! This is much earlier than previous years, so I need to keep a careful eye on them from now on.
On Sunday we decided to risk a few hours at the allotment – there were the seed potatoes and garlic to put out of their misery, languishing at home desperate for some soil to get their feet into. What started off as a really nice morning, soon deteriorated into a day of heavy showers. Luckily, we can get the car onto the allotment, so we dodged the rain in the car, looking at a road map and wondering where in Norfolk we could go for a weekend away; once all the main gardening jobs had been done, of course!
By 7 o’clock Sunday evening we’d finished, thoroughly damp to say the least, but pleased that we’d more-or-less caught up with ourselves. We celebrated with a nice bottle of rosé.

Saturday 5 April 2008

Whether the weather be fine?

April – my favourite spring month. The weather’s warming up and generally becoming more pleasant, allowing me to get on with more things in the garden. At least it better be!! The weather forecast doesn’t sound great for this weekend, but let’s see what can be done.
Talking of weather, the Met Office has released its forecast for the coming summer.
Apparently, it’s expected to be a 'typical British summer' – whatever that is these days. Summer temperatures are more likely to be warmer than average and rainfall near or above average for the three months of summer.
The risk of exceptional rainfall on the same scale as the summer of 2007 remains a ‘very low probability’ – so that’s a maybe, then!
One of the Met Office Directors has said that the long-range forecasts are proving useful to numerous groups and organisations to help them plan ahead. They are not forecasts that can be used to plan a summer holiday or an outdoor event. The Head of Forecasting said that the predictions for last autumn, winter and spring have all provided accurate advice, giving more confidence in this summer forecast. So now we know.
I’ve got the next Garden Media Guild newsletter to produce, so I’m off back to work. Luckily, come rain or shine I can at least get on with the ‘day’ job.

Monday 24 March 2008

Easter - was it really Easter!

What a washout – or snowout this Easter was. This is one of the most unpleasant ones I can remember. Snow, biting cold winds, frosts and cold temperatures. They all combined together to make me feel inclined to stay indoors and eat Easter eggs and hot cross buns. But there were things that had to be done.
Ever hopeful that the Met Office had got the forecast wrong I ordered a tonne of compost for the front garden. We'd decided it needed a complete revamp, so had dug everything out in autumn and dug over the soil for the winter weather to break it down. The weather had certainly done its job and the soil was ready for some invigorating BOM – bulky organic matter. It arrived at 7am on Thursday – which kind of upset the neighbours! It was good stuff, really well rotted, so I started shovelling it in place. I didn’t want to overdo things, so got about half of it moved.
On Saturday it was time to brave the snow, sleet and horrendous driving conditions on the M11 to shoot down to Chelmsford for Gardening Plus on BBC Essex. I think most of the good people of Essex had decided to stay indoors too, as we were really busy with phone calls, texts and e-mails.
We had a range of questions – including plants for an Australian garden and various pest and pruning conundrums. But strangely, most of the discussion was about wildlife – the unwanted sort that can make a mess of the garden – squirrels, foxes and deer. We came up with our stock answers, but the favourite cure of the listeners was male urine. Yes, it has to be male, but apparently to those in the know it really works as a deterrent.
We also had a couple of guests in the studio. The first, Aydin Tanseli, is the Director of Cropaid. The company’s product of the same name is a natural plant antifreeze that increases plants’ resistance to heat, cold and frost – how timely! It contains a mixture of friendly bacteria, minerals and vitamins and is sprayed on the plants. Apparently, it is widely used commercially and so I’m going to give it a whirl at home.
The second guest runs a veg box scheme so we had a big box of organically- grown vegetables to munch on, alongside the hot cross buns and Easter eggs. We ate the purple sprouting broccoli with our Sunday lunch and it was really tasty.
Bank Holiday Monday was spent moving the rest of the BOM onto the front garden – and the back garden, as there was more than we needed just for the front. The rest of the day was spent doing maintenance – mainly watering of plants in the greenhouse and frames, young seedlings in the propagator. Some of the radishes sown last weekend for the RHS radish trial have germinated (well at least ‘Rudi’ has) and so I needed to make a frame to suspend the polythene above them – obviously too cold to remove it completely. Then another snow flurry and a cold northerly squall made me think I'd had enough - time to go inside for more chocolate and buns. Happy Easter!

Sunday 16 March 2008

Getting blown away

Wow, it's windy. And if there's one thing I hate (since experiencing the Great Storm of 1987) it's wind. We've had a few fence panels become dislodged, but managed to rescue them before they completely blew away. Now I'm inside catching up with work - rather than being outside, which is what I'd prefer.
In the lead up to the week before the big gardening weekend - Easter - I've been recording more messages for Garden Radio. Looks like potting compost, young herbaceous plants and a vast array of fertilisers are the big things being promoted in garden centres - and it looks like there are a lot of great offers available.
The broad beans and lettuces in the growing frame are growing at great speed. They even needed a watering this week, as the conditions in there are so warm that the soil had dried out quite a lot. Then typically it started to rain soon afterwards. Never mind, the rain just can't penetrate deep enough, so they needed a good watering. Mind you, according to my Oregon Scientific weather station we had 32mm of rain last night. The pond certainly looks full!
The garlic plants in the lean-to frame, which were meant for the allotment are growing well and have put on a spurt of growth. Sadly, the allotment isn’t quite ready for them yet, so I had a change of heart and have planted out two rows in the raised beds. There’s still a tray of 12 left so these can go out onto the allotment at a later stage. They might need potting up first though as the cells are getting chocka with roots.
I made the first outdoor sowing yesterday of radish - four cultivars in fact as I'm taking part in the RHS radish trial. Can't wait to see how each one grows and, more importantly, eat them.
And I've also managed to sow some chilli and sweet peppers in the propagator.
I’ve just received some young tomato plants from Suttons. These are plants they want to trial. There’s ‘Elegance’ and ‘Hundreds and Thousand’ plus a grafted plant of ‘Elegance’. Suttons are selling grafted plants this year on a rootstock that will give them greater strength to fight off diseases including tomato blight. After last year’s fight with blight I’m looking forward to seeing how they perform – although I’m not looking forward to blight returning as bad as it was last year.

Thursday 28 February 2008

Voice in the ether

One of the other things that I get up to on a monthly basis, and really enjoy doing, is recording the monthly gardening and promotional messages for Garden Radio. This is the in-store music and messaging service for garden centres, now playing in more than 90 outlets throughout the UK.
This service is a great way for garden centres to promote their special offers and gives timely tips to customers when they visit the centre.
So, if you've ever wandered around a garden centre and heard a voice over the PA system saying "Now's the time to buy your petunias...!" or similar messages, the likelihood is it's me.
Visit the Garden Radio website if you want to know more

Friday 22 February 2008

Itchy fingers

I'm getting impatient. It’s that time of year when gardeners can’t make up their minds what to do – and either get really frustrated or do silly things too early and regret it later.
OK, yes I’ve done some pottering around the garden – tidying this and straightening that. But I want to get on with seed sowing, major projects and the like.
So what has been happening in the great outdoors? Well, I’ve been hacking back (that’s a technical term for severe pruning!) a large pyracantha screen along one side of the garden and started to revamp one of the borders – it’s tired, the plants need looking at and the soil has deteriorated, so needs some new life putting in it. So we’ve been lifting and dividing perennials and repotting other things ready for the big change over.
I’ve managed to plant out some of the broad beans and winter/spring lettuces under cloches. The onions under lights have been repotted and look like they’re doing OK.
Now if this weekend promises to be as good as the Met Office says – rather than being a miserable, cold fog-bound one like last weekend, maybe I can work off some of the impatience and frustration.

Monday 28 January 2008

Radio Gaga!

This weekend was another radio fest – on Saturday I was on BBC Essex doing the Gardening Plus programme, and Sunday on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on Dougan Does Gardening. Both have a strong element of answering listeners’ questions and having a general chat about gardening.

On Gardening Plus a lively text debate erupted over how to keep water butts clear of mosquito and other insect larvae. My approach was to keep the butt covered with a lid and use either potassium permanganate (1 teaspoon per full water butt) or one of the products available commercially. One listener suggested adding young goldfish to eat the larvae, whereas another suggested adding a covering of petrol! I think the goldfish idea would work well as long as the butt didn’t drain completely, but I’m not sure about the health and safety aspects of adding petrol; I suggested a better solution might be to add a layer of cooking oil. The final note went to the listener who reminded us that leaving the lid on if you were using the goldfish approach may not be conducive to the fish!

Other questions included using sawdust, coal ash and soot as soil improvers; growing auriculas, jacarandas and Japanese wineberry; problems with hellebores (leaf spot), onions (neck rot), kiwi fruit (no pollinator) and swedes (soil too acidic, free draining and not consolidated enough); pruning blackberries, lilac and broom. Finally, a big thank you to the listener who phoned in at the end of the programme. His question flashed up on the screen that he wanted help ‘growing herbs’. When we asked which herbs in particular, he replied ‘you know, herb’. We soon realised he was talking about The herb – or marijuana. After reminding him it was illegal he hung up.

On Dougan Does Gardening we had questions about pruning Campsis radicans; growing potatoes, tomatoes, brassicas and associated problems with blight and cabbage white butterflies; propagating leylandii and rubber plants; dead patches on conifers, woolly aphids on apples and blind daffodils

Both programmes also looked at the problems associated with paving over front gardens, garden grabbing and the effect both have on water run-off and waterlogging. In the UK we’re paving and grabbing at a rate of knots, which is adding to our existing problem of flooding. And if the theories of climate change are correct – warmer, wetter winters – then the problem can only get worse. As I like to tell everyone: “We’re all doomed!” The RHS has a useful leaflet on front gardens; go to for a free download. Personally, I’m helping things go in the opposite direction. We’ve removed all the tired plants from the front garden, removed all the gravel and the thick plastic planting membrane and we’re in the process of improving the soil, adding lots of organic matter to aid drainage (we’re ‘blessed’ with heavy clay soil) and planting up with lots of drought-loving plants. Now, there’s a contradiction if ever I heard one!

Monday 21 January 2008

Weather watching

Being British and, worse than that, a British gardener, I’m fascinated with the weather. It is so important for deciding what to grow, when to plant and sow and whether it’s possible to go outside and do some gardening! And now that the climate is meant to be changing I thought it was time I kept an eye on it.
There are people that do this professionally – the Met Office and the weather station at RHS Garden Wisley for instance – but I want to check things out at home and in my garden.
So, I’ve decided to install a weather station in the garden. I’ve got my hands on an Oregon Scientific Advanced Professional Weather Station (WMR200). This provides ‘the ultimate forecast’; it gives comprehensive weather information, including weather forecast, indoor/outdoor temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, UV measurement, rainfall, heat index and wind direction and speed.
Once it’s up and running I’ll let you know how I get on.
So, is the climate changing? Well, a further indicator that it may be is that the record for the warmest night in January was broken in several places across the south of England on Friday (January 18). The temperature in London was 13.2C, beating the previous record of 12.7C. In my garden in Peterborough the temperature only went down to 10.3C. Anyway the plants seem to be enjoying it. I had to give a radio interview today, discussing daffodils and other plants that are in flower at the moment. January is now the new spring!

Sunday 20 January 2008

The early bird...

“I’m late!, I’m late! For a very important date.” So said the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. And if I was an exhibition veg grower I would be late. I’ve just sown some ‘Mammoth Improved’ onion seeds for this year, whereas exhibition growers always try to sow on Boxing Day or as soon after the shortest day as possible.
These are now sitting in the propagator in the garage. Sadly, I can’t get electricity down to the greenhouse, so always have to sow seeds nearer to home. In the past I’ve always used the conservatory, but light levels here (it’s north facing) mean that the seedlings grow a bit tall and lank. But how can the garage be any better. Well, my girlfriend is the Gardening Editor on Garden News and she’s testing a growlight and we’ve set it up in the garage to see how well it does. We’ll be using it to grow on a range of plants; I’ll let you know how we get on.
So how did 2007 end on the veg front? Well the year itself was a complete washout – no pun intended – and one of the worst I can remember for veg growing. I feel really sorry for all those who started veg gardening for the first time, only to be beset with failures, disappointment, doom and gloom. But be positive – this year just can’t be any worse, can it?!
Like most people I suffered (well, not personally you understand, it was my crops) from potato and tomato blight – although a couple of sprays with Dithane did hold it in check and the crops were OK.
The low light levels in summer and resulting cool temperatures did for my aubergines, sweet peppers and courgettes – the crops were abysmal (keep it a secret, but from six aubergine plants I cropped one aubergine!). Thankfully, the chilli peppers were a huge success and in the pantry I’ve still got a couple of jars of dried chillies plus some fiery chilli jam.
Leafy salad crops, on the other hand, grew really well, lasted until November and basically I was self-sufficient in salads for nine months. I also feasted on peas, runner beans, French beans and globe artichokes from the allotment.
So how has 2008 started? Well the garage still contains two types of potatoes and the very last of the onions. The allotment has crops of Jerusalem artichokes, a range of brassicas and leeks. At home the only crop growing outside is kale, but I have broad beans and garlic growing on in the lean-to frame and lettuce in the greenhouse all ready for planting out.
So here’s to 2008 – let’s hope the weather is just a bit more conducive to veg growing and we have a much better year. If you’re reading this please join with me by crossing your fingers, toes and anything else you can lay your hands on.

Sunday 13 January 2008

Gardening in a changing climate

In my last blog I made comment about climate change and the possibility of whether or not we would have to consider gardening in a changing climate. I guess the whole climate change issue is one that raises all sorts of questions - and all sorts of responses. Is it happening or is it just 'one of those weather cycles'?, is it man-made?, is it going to cause real problems? - and, who cares anyway I'll be dead before it happens!
Personally, I'm sitting firmly on the fence. I've got no idea if it's for real and if it's going to affect me and my gardening. And, I doubt if there's anyone else out there that can give me all the answers and reassure me.
The UK floods of 2007 gave everyone reason to doubt global warming as we're supposed to be getting hot, dry summers. But maybe the weather patterns are just shot to pieces and global warming will just produce irregular weather patterns. Anyway, according to NASA recent sunspot activity suggests we're due a new ice age in a few years' time! Ho hum!!
If you do think that gardening is going to be affected by changing climate and you want to know more or simply want to get something off your chest, the Royal Horticultural Society has set up a gardening in a changing climate microsite. To find out more go to
Anyhoo, whatever the weather - enjoy your gardening!

Monday 7 January 2008

Plants in flower on January 1

Are we experiencing global warming? Will we have to garden in a changing climate?? One thing that could provide evidence for this is seeing plants that flower out of season. Plants are very sensitive to changes in weather conditions and patterns.

I went out into my garden on New Year's Day to see what exactly was in flower to see if there were any anomalies. The list was:
Calluna vulgaris (2 cultivars)
Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica
Cyclamen coum
Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
Erysimum ‘Cotswold Gem’
Galanthus nivalis
Gerbera ‘Everlast Pink’
Gerbera ‘Everlast White'
Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida'
Helleborus foetidus Wester Flisk Group
Helleborus x hybridus ‘Harvington White’
Helleborus niger
Liriope muscari
Primula vulgaris
Sarcococca confusa
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn'

A very welcome smattering of colour during the dark, dingy days of winter. But also a few plants that thought it was spring!