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.