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!