Saturday, 29 November 2008

Day Trip to London

Willow leaves

Yesterday I had to go down to London for work. I am very lucky in that I work from home but occasionally I have to go to meetings. It's funny I was born in London and lived there until 2006 when we moved out here, I now really hate going there although yesterday wasn't quite as bad as I could travel in later in the day missing the rush.
It was a pretty miserable day weather wise grey and foggy so I settled myself down on the train listening to a podcast on my iPhone staring out of the window at the gloom. As the train moved towards London I remembered an article I had been reading by Nigel Colborn in the RHS magazine 'The Garden' ( Nigel has an excellent blog at
which is well worth reading) in which he was talking about plant spotting from a car and possibly writing a field guide. Well as I looked out of the train window it struck me how much there was to see along the embankments, normally I am birdspotting across the fields but I couldn't see them through the fog. They are wonderful examples of what ecologists call successional flora, or land left wild to be re-populated naturally. As I looked out of the window there were stands of silver birches glowing white through the mist with a few golden yellow leaves hanging on after the recent gales. Willows with yellow stems are also present in large numbers. As you get nearer to London the railway cuttings are older so you begin to see the second phase of succession with beeches and small oak trees appearing some of these are quite big suggesting very little disturbance. As the train enters London it crosses the grand union cannal in Haringay, the banks of which at this time of year are alive with colour from the mature Weeping Willows along the banks. So what was potentially a very boring trip to London turned into a botany field trip, you can also study the geology along the route by looking at the plants, more of that another time.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

In Bloom 2009


Well first let me say that the picture above has nothing to do with what I am writing about, I just found it on my hard drive and thought it would brighten up the page.

Last night I attended the first planning meeting of the Village in Bloom organising committee. For those of you who don't know about 'In Bloom', it is a national competition between villages and towns to improve our environment. This does not just mean who has the best hanging baskets or ornamental tubs but the whole environment. It includes conservation activities, anti litter campaigns, community activities and anything else that improves the area in which we live. The villages and towns that take part are judged by an independent team and medals are awarded. Last year the village achieved a Silver medal which ideally we would like to improve on but the important thing is taking part and getting more people involved.

I have agreed to help project manage the planting and redesigning an area of grass and flowerbeds at the entrance to the village. The existing beds are a little tired and also block the view of traffic coming into the village. It is quite a large space and will be quite a lot of work but well worth doing. We also agreed to do several wildlife projects which we hope to get the village kids involved in which should be fun.

I have also been asked to document the work we do as we have to produce a portfolio for the judges, so I will also share some of the photos we you over the next few months.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Sun,wind,hail,sleet,snow,rain and how was your weekend?

I got nice and early on Saturday as I wanted to take the dog for a walk before the advent fayre in the village. It was a lovely morning, bright sunshine but crisp as I walked across the fields. We got home had some breakfast and went round to the church. It was a very good turnout and the coffee and cake stall was doing a roaring trade. I stayed for about an hour but wanted to get back to make the most of the rest of the day in the garden.

The forcast for the rest of the weekend was dismal so I wanted to get quite a few jobs done . one of which was to dig over our herb garden.

As you can see from these before and after shots it needed doing.
When we moved in this area was covered in 4ft high thistles and full of old junk including the gate which was buried under some concrete fence posts.

I also took the chance to tidy up the edges of some of the beds and mow the lawn (hopefully last time this year!). The sky by mid afternoon was looking fantastic (seen here with my Cardoons)

One of the great things about East Anglia are the huge skies.

Overnight the weather broke and when I got up we had a thin dusting of snow

Sadly this turned into sleet and freezing rain. I was mean't to be going to RHS Hyde Hall to see the Chilli festival but my friends who I was meeting and I decided it was not a good day to go walking around a hillside in Essex. So I spent the day lazying reading some gardening magazines.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Leaf sweeping time

Well it is now worth sweeping up the leaves! This was the state of the walnut tree yesterday. It was a really good year for walnuts this year, the tree was laden with them, however I only got to eat 2!! Squirrels got the lot and not just mine one of the local farmers lost all his as well.

Walnut leaves do not compost well they take a couple of years to break down so I just pile them near the compost heap and forget them.

I have also been pruning back the Buddleja that is growing in the hedge at the bottom of the garden. I normally have problems dragging the branches out of the hedge as they get tangled up in the brambles and hops growing through it. This time I had help, 4 paw drive, Boris our dog decided to help, as I cut he pulled! He was really effective although I did have to collect them up from all across the lawn. Sadly I didn't get any pictures, I will next time.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Autumn sunshine

It's so nice to be sitting in my office looking down a garden in full autumn sunshine. The low light picks out the shapes, colours and structures of the plants so well, such as the willow at the end of the garden.

The warm sunshine also helps bring on the plants in the greenhouse, I am not heating the greenhouse this year, although I might build a geothermal heat pump at some point. i am using it as a large cold frame to start things for next year such as these sweet peas.

I have also got some lettuce in there so hopefully we will have
homegrown salad for Christmas, although judging by their size
at the moment it might be Easter!

Monday, 17 November 2008

A busy weekend

I thought I would start the week with a photo, unfortunately there is not much in flower in our garden at the moment so here is one I took earlier, hope you like it.


We were pretty busy over the weekend. As I have said before we try to get actively involved in village life and I have been co-opted onto a couple of village committees one of which is to write a Parish plan. On Saturday morning we ran focus groups to get ideas from the villagers, this was great fun and really worthwhile.

Whilst the groups were running I had a couple of free hours and managed to get out into the garden. Last year I decided to leave the area at the bottom of the garden wild, mainly for wildlife but also as a visual trick to blend the garden into the fields beyond. I also made a fake gate out of an old pallet which I sat in the hedge and mowed a path to it. It works really well, loads of visitors have tried to use it! Anyway back to Saturday. I have been sowing this area with wild flower seeds, but the grasses are really dominant. To try and control them I have decided to sow Yellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor which is parasitic on grasses and reduces their vigor. The seeds turned up on Saturday morning so I decided to sow them , I had already cut the grass right down to soil level. I then raked the soil to create small furrows and spread the seed over the area. I will report back on how well it works.

On Sunday I carried on digging our flower bed, trying to get rid on the Meadow buttercup Rannuculus acris which takes over if you let it. When I got bored with this I carried on sorting out the potting shed making tool hangers for the wall. My shed is coming on quite well, I have all the essentials, chair, radio, and a camping stove to make coffee, at some point I want to run power in so I can have a light in there. I also want to put a green roof on it planted with wild flowers and short grasses, has anyone done this as I would love some tips.

Friday, 14 November 2008

A very tired friday

You must excuse me today if I drift off to sleep whilst writing this, I drove down to London last night to see Leonard Cohen at the O2. We didn't get back until about 1.30 which was ok, until the alarm went off at 6.30 this morning. The main thing was the concert was great. Trouble is I have got to go down again tonight to meet some friends for a drink, I hope the bar has a nice quiet corner I can have a doze in!

Anyway I digress, I got some nice responses to the old family picture I put up, so here is another one.

This one shows my great grandfather (2nd from left) at theBeccles Flower show prize giving , we are not sure about the year. I love the clothes, I think we gardners have turned into a scruffy mob these days, standards are slipping! I was told the other day about one of the ladies in the village who used to garden wearing a mink waistcoat (no I don't approve of the fur trade, and this was a long time ago) these days it's all old jeans and tatty tee shirts.

Some Asters and a Chrysanthemum I ordered a while back have turned up, too late to give a display this year but something too look forward to next year. I suppose I had better go and plant them, now where did I put my shirt and tie?

Monday, 10 November 2008

Inspiration and what to do on a wet day.

Everyone needs some inspiration especially on yet another cold wet November day. One of the things that inspires me with my garden is this photo that hangs on the wall of my office. it is a picture of my great grandfather George with his wife Nellie, my great aunt Eva and my Grandmother Margery. They are standing in his greenhouse in Beccles, Suffolk, where he grew prize winning Chrysanthemums. I would love to grow blooms like the ones behind him.

So what can you do on a day like this?

One of the things I like to save up for the short dark autumn days is ordering my seeds for next year. Over the last couple of months there has been the regular thump of a seed catalogue coming through the letter box, followed by the sound of the dog launching himself at the door trying to exact revenge on the postman for daring to wake him up.

These catalogues are stored in my office to be thumbed through during the boring moments of the day. The lists are compared against books and articles that I have read and notes made of who stocks what. Then once decisions have been made the order forms can be filled in. I love the little specialist nurseries that still only work by snail mail. There is something pleasing about filling in the list and dropping it in the post, you feel that you are dealing with someone who cares more about the plants than all that high tech stuff!

The most important list does not come do me by post but by via the net. This is the RHS Seed list, about October each year the Royal Horticultural Society produces it’s seed list, members can select 20 packs from this selection of seeds collected from the Society’s gardens. This is not a simple job, firstly only Latin names are used, no pictures are shown only height, colour and some indication of preferred conditions are given. This is why it is a job for a rainy day. You find a comfy chair, a large cup of coffee, pencil and paper and a lot of reference books. The first thing you do is scan the list for any of the things you made a note of from the seed catalogues or genera that are a particular favourite, in my case Dianthus. Once this is done the real fun starts looking up things you have never heard of, will it grow in my heavy, cold clay soil. What about some greenhouse plants (Do we really need to grow as many tomatoes next year)?

After you have spent an hour or two picking your list your problems are not over, they might not have enough stock! Back to the list to pick five reserves, This is pot luck, there is no way of knowing what stock is available so how do you pick a reserve the Geranium oxonianum may be replaced with Daphne mezereum both lovely plants but hardly interchangeable. This is the real fun as it will not be until the box arrives in the New Year that you know what you have got. Then it is back to the books to plan the propagation.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Autumn clearing and an attack on my Brussels

Chrysanthemum Elizabeth Lawson

I thought I would brighten an otherwise dull day with a picture of this Chrysanthemum from my greenhouse.

Well today is a typical dull, damp autumn day. It is the sort of day that makes you feel you should be out there tidying and clearing, but what to do? Well sweeping the leaves up is one possible job, but is it worth it when the tree still has as many left on it waiting to fall, probably not! So i decided to have a go at the flower bed. As I said in a previous post I like to leave some dead material in the beds to give some colour and winter structure. It is important however to remove decaying matter from around the base of perennials to prevent crown rot. I have found a nice easy way to do this. When I went to the Hampton Court Flower show a couple of years ago I bought an antique muck rake, this is brilliant for dragging through the beds to pull out the rubbish.

I had a suprise when I went into the veg patch this morning, my Brussels had been attacked!

Large White butterfly Pieris brassicae I was quite suprised to find them still going strong after last weeks frosts although according to my books they can still be around in December. I thought I had cleared the plants about a month ago and they had been recovering well. Now I know that Sprouts aren't everyones favourites, Sharron loves them, I don't mind them, however to me the best bit to eat are the Brussel tops or leaves sadly the caterpillars agree with me!

Finally I have found a way of recycling all those old plastic flowerpots!

Friday, 7 November 2008

A not so wet Friday.

When I got up this morning I was greeted with another wet damp morning, this week has been really depressing weather wise. By the time I got back from dropping Sharron at the station the rain had actually stopped and as I settled down in my office with some coffee and toasted crumpets the sun was breaking through.

At this time of year with the sun low in the sky it reflects off the damp leaves bringing out the colours to the best effect. A couple of my favourites are this Dogwood (seen with associated Dog!) which colours up with wonderful reds.

Also this Crocosmia lucifer which I have left in the flower bed, I leave this over the winter not only for the colours but also it looks fantastic with frost on it.

In the late afternoon the low sun picks out the medieval ridge and furrows in the fields at the bottom of the garden. Normally by this time of year there would have been cows grazing these fields but this year they have been left for hay. This has meant that for most of the year barn owls have been hunting in the evenings and if it stays dry I would expect to see them today. They don't hunt in the wet as their plumage becomes waterlogged so after 3 days of rain they will be keen to restock the larder.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Notes from the Potting Shed

Well a week into November so what is going on in the garden?

The sharp frosts last week have knocked down a lot of the remaining annuals in the garden allowing me to clear the remaining Cosmos from the flower bed. I now have no excuse not to do a bit of digging.

The Veg patch is also showing the signs of autumn. the raspberry canes have all been cut back, The rhubarb has all gone over in the frost and is looking very sorry for itself. We are down to our last outdoor lettuce although I have some more coming on in the greenhouse along with some radish.

The Leeks, Parsnips, and Jerusalem artichokes are all doing well. The Broccoli and Brussels are recovering after a summer of constant attacks by cabbage white butterfly.

I have been planting some broad beans this week. I try to get them started early in the greenhouse and planted out before Christmas, this gives a nice early crop before they get attacked by blackfly. On the downside we live in pigeon central so any young plants need a lot of winter protection.

The Walnut tree by the house is about half way through dropping it's leaves. These are a useful resource for the garden, however they do not breakdown as quickly as other leaves. This year I am going to bag some up in old onion sacks and store them. The rest are going to be piled under the willow at the bottom of the garden where they will not only slowly rot but also make a winter home for hedgehogs.

Welcome to my blog


Well, welcome to my blog. When we moved to the village just over 2 years ago I promised myself I would set up a blog and finally here it is. The idea is to produce a garden journal and to record other events and observations from around the village. The Garden is about 150 ft long, slightly sloping and is South facing. The soil is a very heavy clay and when we moved apart from the vegetable patch was all lawn.
A short history

The first thing I did in the garden after we moved in was to attack the veg patch. No one had touched it for about 3 years so it was covered in weeds. So a fair bit of digging was needed, but by early Nov 2006 I managed to get some winter veg and garlic planted.

I garden organically although the temptation to nuke the brambles, field buttercup and their associated mates with weedkillers is a difficult one to resist.

Over the first winter I erected an 8 x12 greenhouse and dug a large semicircular flowerbed. At this time I was on a bit of a mission, we were planning to get married in April 07 and I wanted to get some colour into the garden for the wedding and for a party in the garden in July 07. this meant raising lots of annuals and didn't allow a lot of long term planning.

A year or so on I am now beginning to plan and structure the garden with a view to the future.