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.