Wednesday 22 December 2010

No longer dreaming...

...of a white Christmas - it looks like a reality. Having moaned for the last few weeks that we hadn't had any snow, today it's bucketing down in Peterborough, so a 'whitey' on December 25 is a good possibility. As long as it hangs around for the next few days.
I'm not the only one that's pleased. Garden plants that have been suffering over the last few weeks because of the bitterly cold weather (down to -9.5C) are looking a little more perky - the snow will give them some insulation - and the temperature has reached a balmy 0.5C.

The winter conditions are costing me a fortune in bird food though, and I'm waiting for a delivery from the RSPB of high-octane suet treats, which the birds love. Hope it comes soon, otherwise it'll be like a scene from Hitchcock's The Birds next time I venture outside, as my feathered friends have come to rely on me for their winter repasts.
Recent additions to feeding time include a pair of mistle thrushes, who have become very brave over the last few weeks and now eat with the others from the table, which is just outside the back door.
The frenzy of bird activity at Hodge's Bird Bistro has encouraged another new visitor - a sparrowhawk, who has taken to devouring his dinner on a tree stump at the bottom of the garden.

Hope all your garden plants survive the winter, but I'm here for help and advice if there's anything worrying you.

Have a cool Yule and a happy New Year.

Monday 20 December 2010

OMG - say goodbye to peat-based compost

In March I blogged that peat-based composts were on their way out and by 2020 us gardeners would have to be 100% peat free. I kinda had my fingers crossed when the new government were installed in May that they would think this was a rubbish idea and would drop it like a steaming hot peat bog.

It looks like keeping your fingers crossed just isn't enough these days – Defra has published a consultation outlining proposals to phase out the use of peat by 2030. Another 10 years grace? No sadly not, the 2030 date is for nurseries. So, here is the proposed timescale:
  • Phase out peat use in local authorities and the wider public sector by 2015.
  • Phase out peat in the amateur gardening market by 2020.
  • Phase out peat use by growers and producers by 2030.
There is one glimmer of light. The proposals recommend conducting a comprehensive review of progress in 2015. Maybe then they'll realise it's a bad idea. Or maybe I'll be dead by 2020 and won't have to worry about it!

Bah, humbug - merry peat-free Christmas.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Google Adwords want to thank me

I've just received a personal thank you from Google Adwords for advertising with them.
If you want to see it, go to
Makes me feel all warm inside.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Unemployed TV & magazine gardeners

I'm glad I got made redundant last year, as I've had 12 months to get my feet under the table freelancing. If it had been this year there would have been a bit of extra competition. Toby Buckland and Alys Fowler have just been dumped from Gardeners' World TV and Monty is back as main presenter. I understand it'll be filmed in his garden, so having wasted two years of my TV licence money building the TV garden in Birmingham, it'll now be dismantled and I'll be donating my money to Monty to develop his back yard. Hmmm, what a waste.

If you want a good laugh, visit  The GW RIP video is hysterical - well I thought so.

Also, my good friend Ian Hodgson has been made redundant, sorry his position as Editor-in-Chief has been made redundant, from the RHS The Garden magazine.

And then I hear that Bauer, who own the lovely Garden News, which I write for every fortnight, is looking to buy BBC magazines - which includes Gardeners' World Magazine.

It's all go in the heady world of garden journalism and it's not even Christmas yet.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Winter woes

Looks like the British nursery trade will be getting some more money from me next year.
The weather this winter means that some of the plants in my garden are going to struggle to make it through. It's not only that it's cold - flaming cold - but it's the extent and duration of the cold snap.
Currently it is -5.5C, the coldest it has gone down to in the last two weeks is -9.5C, but apart from Sunday, the temperature hasn't lifted above freezing during that time.
Extensive, long cold periods mean that plant roots freeze and, as a result, can't absorb water so it's like they're in 'drought' conditions. Also, as water freezes, it expands, so plant cells literally explode as the mercury drops.
It's even worse for plants in containers as the roots don't have the surrounding insulating soil to keep them warmer.
At the beginning of this year, after the 2009/2010 winter I got inundated with e-mails from people worried about plants coming through the winter. Surprisingly in some respects, the one plant that got most enquiries was cordyline - even those that had been growing in gardens for many years. I'm expecting another e-mail avalanche after this cold snap.
The one good thing is that it hasn't been windy, which puts even more stress on frozen plants, literally sucking moisture from the leaves that isn't replaced as the roots can't absorb anything from the soil. Oh great, I've just heard on the radio that the next few days are going to be windy. Pass me my credit card!
At least I haven't had to drive anywhere recently and so haven't been stranded in my car for 10 hours trying to battle against frozen roads/snow. Every snow cloud has a silvery lining.
The picture shows a shivering Pittosporum tobira.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Lunch munch bunch

Boozing at the Brewery
On Wednesday the great and the mighty of the gardening world assembled at the Brewery, London, for the annual Garden Media Guild Awards Lunch.
Despite the rubbish weather, which did prevent several people from actually getting there - sorry Beanie - everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, especially the 'warming' pink fizz that welcomed us as we arrived.
The food was fabulous as was the table wine - which was more than just table wine - it was very, very quaffable. We all then shot off down the pub to celebrate and commiserate in equal proportions.
If you want to see who won what, then visit The Garden Media Guild website.
For some, just as exciting was the fact that Martyn Cox hijacked the day to announce his alternative OMG! Gardening Awards. Again, there were very few surprises and the gardening police are looking into whether these major awards are now fixed and whether Martyn is going to retire on his 'bungs'!

Monday 29 November 2010

Going back to blighty

This year, it wasn't too bad. The previous two years were quite bad. The year before that was awful. What is it? Tomato and potato blight - the scourge of veg growers.
OK, we have blight-resistant varieties - the Sarpos, for instance. But I like to grow the varieties I like to eat.
Years ago, when blight was bad, I was happy to spray plants with Dithane and the control was excellent. Then that got taken off the market and so this year I used Bayer Garden Fruit & Vegetable Disease Control with good results. Then horror of all horrors, I read in Which? Gardening that copper-based fungicides are being withdrawn. Cheshunt Compound (which contains copper sulphate) is no longer available to buy from November 30, 2010 and any existing tins must be used up by November 30, 2011 or disposed of safely. The report goes on to say: ”Other products containing copper sulphate, copper oxychloride...are also being withdrawn. Bordeaux mixture, which contains copper sulphate, is currently approved for use until the end of 2013." Bayer Garden Fruit & Vegetable Disease Control contains copper oxychloride. So, I did some checking around - including the PSD website - and also got this information: "Bayer is going to continue to support Fruit & Vegetable Disease Control and so it will go on beyond 2012/2013." So I'm happy.
There were some reports in the summer about genetically-modified resistance to potato blight and then I saw this today on the Horticulture Week website ( Researchers from the University of Dundee, the Scottish Crop Research Institute examined the behaviour of Phytophtora infestans and how it interacts with potato plants, and identifying the proteins secreted by the pathogen that play an essential role in infecting the plants. The researchers now know a lot more about how P. infestans gets round the potato plant's natural defences and what it takes for the plant to resist infection. They can now look at a potato plant's genetic make-up and say whether it will be sustainably resistant to late blight. All good news.
The other weapon in my blight arsenal is the Blight Watch website ( where you can put in your postcode and get a warning when blight is forecast in your area. All very clever.

Saturday 27 November 2010

The fall & rise of raised beds

Finally, after eight years, my raised vegetable beds have bitten the dust - literally. For the last year the wood has slowly started rotting away. Now the sides have given up the ghost and started to go awol.
Good time to replace them I thought. So I ordered four new beds - 2 x 2.4m long and 2 x 1.8m; the two old 4.8m long beds were too long - they bowed in the middle and took ages to walk round. Lazy? - me!
Last week I cleared away enough soil to put down one bed, with the intention of filling and moving the soil to get the others down and filled in a logical (kinda) manner. Yesterday the beds were delivered and I stood out in the freezing cold treating them with a wood preservative. Now, today, we've got 5cm of snow, the ground is frozen and everything is on hold.
Thank gawd for the conservatory. After clearing out enough rubbish to give me some room, I've started building the beds indoors. I just need to remember, like someone I knew who built a motorcycle in his attic and then couldn't get it out again without partially dismantling it, that I need to ensure I can get them out of the patio doors.
No doubt, despite my excitement to get them finished asap, we'll have another bad winter and I won't be able to start using the beds until May. Good job I've got some frames to start everything off from seed.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Gardening shows, events and weeks

I need help! Each year I compile a list of national and major flower shows and other large gardening events in the UK, but I want to extend it and ensure I capture all the major gardening events going on in 2011.

I also want to include all the national gardening 'weeks' and 'days' that relate to plants and gardening - like National Tree Week, National Conifer Week, National Allotment Week and National Tomato Day - yes, there is one!

There's so much info out there about shows and events, but no-one seems to produce a really comprehensive list. This is my aim for 2011. Don't worry I won't be following up and asking people to give me money for advertising - honest.

So, if anyone knows of an event going on, or is even organising one, or who knows of a national week or day that needs to be more widely known and promoted to gardeners then please let me know. You can either leave a comment on this blog or e-mail me direct at

If there's a website with more info, it would be great if you could let me have the web address.

And no funny quips about me needing 'help' please!


Wednesday 30 June 2010

New plants - old plants - best plants

I've just been to the HTA's first ever National Plant Show. It's a trade show aimed at garden centres looking at which suppliers to use for their plants, who's doing what in the industry and showcasing new plants being launched to the trade. There was a real buzz at the show, lots going on and lots of new plants to tempt us to buy and plant in our gardens.

New Plant Awardsd were handed out for the best new introductions. The results are:

Best in Show
Begonia 'Glowing Embers'

Category winners
Best Annual Begonia 'Glowing Embers'
Best Shrub Coprosma ‘Tequila Sunrise’
Best Climber Clematis 'Guiding Promise'

Begonia 'Glowing Embers'
Coprosma ‘Tequila Sunrise’
Clematis 'Guiding Promise'
Nemesia Maritana ‘Bleuberry Ripple’
Nemesia 'Framboise'

Gazania ‘Apache’
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bombshell’
Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer 'Twist-n-Shout'
Leucanthemum 'Real Galaxy'
Nemesia Maritana ‘Vanilla Lady’
Rosa 'Joie de Vivre' - Rose of the Year 2010 

Coprosma repens 'Pacific Sunset'
Gazania Garvinea
Geum 'Totally Tangerine'
Nemesia 'Mirabell'
Nemesia ‘Sugar Frosted’
Salvia eigii ‘Christopher Fairweather’
Sambucus nigra ‘Black Tower’

I saw Begonia 'Glowing Embers' earlier this summer at Frosts Garden centres and fell in love with it at first sight - a great new introduction.

Some of the plants are excellent new introduction, most of which I liked. But a few are just a slight improvement on what's already existing in the plants market place or part of the never-ending strive for something 'new'.

This got me thinking. I know it's important to have new plants to excite and interest gardeners, but are there too many? Plants may be seen as 'old' to the gardening trade and people like me who have a handle on what's available, but to people new to gardening an old plant may still be 'new' to them, since they don't know the difference between old and new, having just been bitten by the gardening bug. Some plants have been around and grown in our gardens for hundreds of years and they're still as good now as they were then. So maybe, rather than always getting excited about new plants, we should get excited about good garden plants.

Thursday 1 April 2010

Back to school days

I did my bit for the community and der yuff yesterday. I went back to school to give some six formers at The Abbey School, Ramsey, a taste of what it's like to be a writer/journalist and how to get on in the wonderful world of writing.

It was a bit of an eye opener and brought back memories of my school days. The kids were studying media studies (something that never existed when I was a lad) and English and were (supposedly) all interested in becoming journalists or working in newspapers/magazines. To be fair, most were interested and some even had some good questions; including the expected: "How much can you earn?"

But one delightful little urchin turned up and asked "How long have I got to be here?"! My answer was that as far as I was concerned she didn't have to be there at all and could leave whenever she liked - sooner rather than later preferably. She replied that she had to be there for at least an hour or she wouldn't get her payment for the day! Payment?! Yes, she got paid to go to school. Even I was doing this for free and yet one of the students was getting paid to attend. Again, that didn't exist when I was at school. Can you imagine - getting paid to go to school. I may have had a better attendance record myself if that had been the case.

I think she'll get a shock when she leaves school and starts her career - or, possibly more likely, she'll just leave school and start a family!

Saturday 27 March 2010

The UK is officially Mediterranean

It's true! I can now officially announce that the UK is Mediterranean. No, it has nothing to do with climate change/global warning. That's another kettle of sunshine and raindrops all together.

It's all thanks to Garden Bargains and Ideal World. For the last year, these two giants in garden retailing have sold tens of thousands of oleanders, Canary Island palms (Phoenix canariensis) and other palms. Is there now a household anywhere in the land that doesn't sport at least one of these beauties? They've sold so many oleanders, that I doubt there are any plants left in mainland Europe for sale.

Luckily, we're going to have a blindingly hot summer this year for all these plants to thrive. You heard it here first. I have decreed that summer 2010 will be a blinder, full of al fresco dining, barbecues and everyone emulating England's stunning World Cup success on their own lawns. So make sure you're ready - get the barbie fired up and treat the grass with any concoction you can lay your hands on to beef it up for the summer onslaught.

If it does pour down all summer and it's yet another wash out, then don't blame me. Blame my holly, my weather stick and lump of seaweed. Eat your heart out Met Office!

Talking of global warming, I've been giving lots of talks recently on Gardening in the Global Greenhouse and it's interesting to see just how many of the audience believe in global warming - hardly any. Like me, most think it's just one of those cyclical weather patterns. Don't blame me if I'm wrong on this one either.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Grow - damn you

Two posts in one day - a new (and probably never to be repeated) record. But I'm desperate for inspiration. How can I make grass grow faster?

After a slight delay, due to 'warehousing problems', Hodge's Gardening Emporium now has its full complement of eight small electric mowers for testing for Garden News. Neil Hepworth, the photographer, has been around today to take all the pictures of them. All I need now - is some grass to cut. Even though I've fed the lawn (twice!) and watered it (the evening before we had a torrential downpour) it's still not lush and green and looking like it's anywhere near needing a cut.

So, any ideas anyone?

I love peat-based compost

Having gardened for more years than I want to admit to, there's one thing I love using in my garden - peat-based composts. Not peat per se as a soil improver or mulch - in fact, peat is rubbish for both jobs and I prefer to use composted bark or home-made compost. I've tried compost alternatives - and although they've improved in recent years - I just can't get used to them.

Now, sadly, it looks like the end is nigh for my first love in the compost arena.

On March 8, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn called for the phase-out of peat-based composts by 2020. The phase out would mean that garden centres and DIY stores would cease to sell peat-based composts for the amateur gardening market and we'd all be forced to switch to peat-free alternatives instead. Why is it that gardeners are always the ones made to suffer?
In Ireland, 97% of Irish peat is burnt as a fuel.
Some experts reckon that in certain parts of the world (especially Scandinavia/Russia) peat is regenerating faster than it is being used up.

So what do we use to replace it, bearing in mind that between 50-55 million bags of compost are sold in the UK alone each year? This equates to roughly 400 million litres of replacement material is needed.
Coir: not enough is produced, it has to be boated across the world.
Composted bark/bark waste and wood shavings: again not enough is produced, we'd have to cut down trees at a huge rate of knots to produce it. The building trade isn't buoyant and wood shavings are a bi-product of the building trade.
Green waste: again not enough is produced, it is of variable quality and it varies from month to month - high in grass clippings in summer, high in wood prunings in winter. This makes producing a compost that produces consistent results difficult for the producers.

All these products are more expensive than peat, so compost costs are bound to rocket skywards too.

So, who can tell me what we've got that is readily available in the quantities needed and has a consistent make-up and gives consistent results. I'm sure the compost producers would love to know too. Believe you me, if there was something out there that was anywhere near as good as peat, the compost producers would have latched on to it and used it.

Am I angry? You bet!

Sunday 7 March 2010

So, is this spring- at last?

Finally, a day of good weather has coincided with a short break in the mountain of work, so I've spent the day in the garden. And in some parts of the Hodge plot there is winter devastation everywhere. It looks like I might rue my normal relaxed approach to winter protection! The banana (Musa basjoo) is not looking great - so fingers crossed it'll come through. A thick mulch may have saved the ginger lilies (hedychiums), only time will tell. Anyhoo, I've given most beds a good spring clean and filled the brown Council bin with all manner of dead material. I usually compost all garden waste, but all three of my compost bins are full and the material removed today has been mostly dry and woody.

I've also fed the lawn, which is looking decidedly yellow and mossy - typical of most lawns across the country following the onslaught of the wet and cold winter weather. As well as trying to get it looking good, I also had to feed it to get some good growth, so I can carry out the Garden News Tried & Tested feature on small elecrtric mowers.

Talking of ginger lilies, we've been selling some massive hedychium rhizomes on Garden Bargains on Ideal World Extra (the new channel dedicated to homes & gardens). I couldn't believe the size of them and covered in buds that will produce great, bushy plants.

Earlier this week I finished writing the RHS Allotment Journal and provided all the copy to Helen at Mitchell Beazley. All I have to do now is wait for the proofs to start arriving so I can edit any copy that needs cutting down or filling out. Good news about the RHS Allotment Handbook - it has sold out! The publishers are hurriedly getting another print run together and I'm sure big retailers (like Amazon, I hope) have bought plenty of stock to fulfil orders. If you can't find it in the shops, you can buy a copy online from my Amazon bookshop.

Hope the weather has been kind to you this weekend and you've managed a few hours getting some colour back into your cheeks after the long, drawn-out, miserable, cold, depressing winter. But spring's here (?) and I've predicted a scorcher of a summer. Yes, I will take the rap if it's rubbish again.

Sunday 28 February 2010

Thanks for all the rain - and snow

I'm so pleased that February has been cold, wet and windy. If it had been nicer, I would have been feeling guilty about not going out onto the allotment. But with sticky, clay soil, any work done there would just cause problems with soil structure.

Instead, I've been up to my neck with work. Writing and editing the RHS Allotment Journal has meant I've been burning the midnight oil, but it's more or less finished - just writing December's copy left to do.

I've also been continuing my Garden News tests and my garage has now been turned into Hodge's Gardening Emporium - 37 pairs of secateurs, the National Collection of Horticultural Fleece, boxes of just about every kind of granular fertiliser on the market and now six or seven small electric lawnmowers. My next request will be for bags of potting composts. I just hope I never need to actually get anything else out of the garage or I'll cause a product avalanche!

From March 3, I'm going to be presenting Garden Bargains on Ideal World three days a week. IW is launching a new channel, and Garden Bargains will be on from 1-6pm every day of the week. So, if you love doing your garden shopping from the comfort of your sofa, tune in and start buying!

Yesterday, I was down in Essex on Ken Crowther's gardening show on BBC Essex. As usual, an interesting mix of questions - although there was an emphasis on houseplants (I wonder why!) with amaryllis and orchids taking top popularity position. A lot of people wanted to know what to do with amaryllis after flowering. The easy answer is keep them growing for as long as possible to help feed the bulb for next year's flowering. Keep the compost moist, feed every 10-14 days and only remove the foliage once it starts to die down naturally.

Another popular question was what to do with shrubs and other plants damaged by frost and snow. Again, the answer is simple - leave well alone and wait until growth starts in spring. Once you know which branches are alive and growing, you can prune out and remove anything that's dead. If nothing regrows (but be patient and wait until the end of April or even May) - then the plant is dead and it's time to dig it up and put something new in its place; maybe from Garden Bargains!

Enjoy your garden - if you can get out in it, that is!

Friday 29 January 2010

Veg & allotment plotting - and other writing

Wow, what a busy week. Can't complain though - it keeps me off the streets, and off my soaking wet allotment. The life of a freelancer is fraught with job juggling, being pulled in all directions and trying to remember exactly who you spoke to and about what.

Following the successful writing for the RHS Allotment Handbook (which looks like it's either going to be available at the end of February/early March), the publisher, Mitchell Beazley, has now commissioned me to write the RHS Allotment Journal. They only want 40,000 words and they only want the copy in four weeks' time! Typer's cramp here I come - pass me the Red Bull and Pro-Plus. The book is meant to be ready for sale in October, hence the short lead/writing time.

Talking of veg plotting, the lovely Veg Plotting is organising a get-together for all gardening bloggers at Malvern Flower Show in May. Great idea, but sadly I'm going to be 'performing' at Grand Designs Live at London Excel so probably won't be able to make it.

I've finished testing the electric propagators for Garden News - you'll have to buy a copy of the February 16 issue to find out which one I thought was the best. Now I've got secateurs and fleeces turning up by the dozen and coming out of my ears for the next two articles. The curtains in my street are twitching regularly as yet another delivery van turns up with yet another parcel.

And now Garden Bargains want me to write articles for their online magazine, which is available from the website every fortnight.

It's just a good thing that it's so cold and miserable outside - or I might start going stir crazy. But if it's this mad in spring...

Now, pass me another keyboard.

Saturday 23 January 2010

Grafting for supper

I guess I have to put my hand up and admit to being one of those sad buggers who likes looking through seed and plant catalogues and placing orders. I especially like looking at what's new and novel.

I mentioned a couple of days ago about the new flower sprout from T&M, which I'm definitely growing this year. There are other 'newbies' that I've ordered and am having a go with this year, but possibly the one that I'm looking foerward to the most is the new range of grafted vegetables from Suttons. I mentioned these when I went to their Press Day last year, but now I've actually got some coming to grow at home.

I've ordered the pepper 'Sweet Chelsea', aubergine 'Scorpio', chilli pepper 'Medina', melon 'Sweetheart' and the double grafted tomato for something really unusual. If you're interested and want to have a go, visit the Suttons website.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

New vegetable - the 'flower sprout'

Plant breeders have done it again. Produced something that will be loved by many and probably hated by many more - especially children.

The 'flower sprout' is a cross between Brussels sprouts and curly kale to produce a vegetable that produces rosettes of loose, frilly-edged buttons on a long stalk with purple, green and bicoloured leaves. For those desperate to try it, it will be on sale at M&S shops next Monday.

I first saw this at last year's Thompson & Morgan Press Open Day. It certainly looks interesting - good for those who want ornamental veg for their beds and borders - and it has a good flavour, similar to one of my favourite veg - spring greens - rather than Brussels sprouts. Because of its parentage it's very winter hardy.

For those who want to try growing it at home this year - and I suggest you give it a go, you can buy seed of Brassica 'Petit Posy'™ from T&M. Click here to find out more and place your order

Sunday 17 January 2010

Twitchy fingers

Yesterday's trip to Chelmsford to guest on Ken Crowther's gardening programme on BBC Essex, revealed a nation (well, a county) desperate to get gardening. Good news that gardening is still alive & kicking in this cold spell. Possibly, bad news that we tried to curtail people's impatient, itchy, twitchy fingers to get started. Basically, for most jobs it's too early, so stay indoors and browse the seed catalogues and get your orders in. Oh, that's such a gardening cliche for this time of year.

Strangely, we had a lot of questions about pruning. A lot of people have noticed snow damage or plants growing out of control and we gave them the OK to get cutting back, but not drastic hacking as cold weather could cause further damage. Quite a few people wanted to prune cherries and other Prunus species - this is definitely a no-no as bacterial canker can get into the cuts and cause extreme damage - even death. Even more strangely, I didn't use this opportunity to promote my book on pruning. But I did use it to promote my new series of product review features in Garden News; the March Tried & Tested is on secateurs! We even had a question on how to use fleece and again I managed to surreptitiously (or not) promote the February's Buyer's Guide on fleece!

We also had a lot of questions on fruit, veg and grow your own. Not strangely, I did use this opportunity to promote my new book, the RHS Allotment Handbook, which is on sale in February. Oh, I'm such a self-promoting tart! Well, no-one else is going to do it for me.

Other questions included aphids on honeysuckle (even in this weather?), propagating chrysanthemums, flower buds dropping off orchids, clivias and amaryllis not flowering and growing lavender indoors.

Anyway, we had a good time and had a bit of a laugh with the listeners, which, after all, is what it's all about.

Wednesday 13 January 2010

Interesting request

Gardening groups wanted for TV programme!

I've just been sent this request. I know I get some weird ones - but this is the strangest yet!

Channel 4’s How To Look Naked needs you! Gok Wan is recruiting a Naked Army to celebrate the shape Britain’s in today! From a Welsh mountain rescue team to a Devonshire running team, they’ve stripped off to make a statement for body confidence.

Now, Gok is looking to meet groups of gardeners who are keen to make a positive statement about their bodies. So, if you fancy getting together with your friends/work colleagues to take part in a naked photo shoot and are happy to show us your favourite bits, then we want to hear from you. Filming is due to start in Jan/Feb (Ed: so nice and cold then and good for goosebumps and other problems!) so please do not hesitate to get in touch for more information. The sooner the better!

Contact us ASAP for further information on 0121 224 8434 or e-mail us at

Tuesday 12 January 2010

It's all about the products

I guess all hobbies are the same, but I think gardening attracts more than its fair share. Of what? Of products, gadgets, tools, equipment, paraphernalia and, in some cases, downright tat!

And I should know. When I was the Gardening Editor of Garden News one of my jobs was to write the new products page and for years my garage creaked under the strain of stashed new products that had either had a nice write up or never again saw the light of day. Don't get me wrong, some new products were great and a definite boon to gardeners. But there were some that you just wouldn't want to part with your money for.

And guess what? I'm doing it all again! I've just been contracted to write the product review guides and tried & tested features for - yes, Garden News. At least this time I've set which product groups I'm going to write about and so, in theory, can control which products come in for review/testing. I've just got a nasty feeling that the garage is, yet again, going to be packed to the gunnels with the leftovers. Or I may donate them as raffle prizes to the gardening clubs I give talks to. Lucky them!

If you're interested to know which product groups I'm going to feature and if you're a gardening company that wants to put something forward for destructive testing, you can download a pdf of the list here.

Sunday 3 January 2010

Mixed blessings

Happy New Year. The 2010 growing season is just round the corner and I'm already starting to get itchy fingers to get sowing and growing. But the experience of previous years has taught me to be patient.
Sowing tomato seeds in early January, for example, has always resulted in stress and anxiety, growing them on in less than ideal conditions and plants that are too tall to plant out at the right time. So, I'm holding firmly onto the leash and waiting for better weather.

The mixed blessings refers to the weather - ah yes, the great British talking point. I've been banging on for a number of years about the disappointment of experiencing mild winters and the lack of bug-killing cold weather. But now that we've had more than a touch of frost this year, I think I, like many, wish it had been mild and frost free. The reason? Well, like many I've been suckered into planting lots of half hardy and tender plants in the garden and been relieved when they've come through the winter more-or-less unscathed. Even last year, nearly everything came through OK, but I'm not sure about this one.
Recent mild winters have lowered my winter defences campaign, no longer protecting tender plants with fleece, straw and the like. And this year it looks like some things are going to suffer. My trusty Weather Station recorded a minimum temperature of -7C last month. That's not necessarily a problem, but continued days of freezing conditions are much worse for plants than a 'quicky' frost and the mercury has struggled to get above freezing for extended periods.
Anyhoo, I'll just have to wait and see just how much damage has been done - and that wait may take until May/June for the full results to be revealed.

This time last year there were lots of things flowering in the garden. This year, most of those plants are struggling to put their heads above the parapets. Only the witch hazel and Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' have produced the expected display - although the viburnum has been in flower since June (global warming?)! Crocuses and hellebores are all reluctant to chuck out a few welcome flowers.

I just wish cold weather would put an end to plant diseases. If we have another muggy summer and tomato/potato blight cause as many problems as the last three years I'll spend the summer sulking. And now that Dithane has gone off the market...