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...