Making Hypertufa

Many years ago I remember watching the great Geoff Hamilton on Gardener’s World making “fake rocks” from something called hypertufa and even though I was too young at the time to do it myself I always recall wanting to try it when I was a grown up.

I’m not quite sure I’ve ever actually “grown up” but I do love my garden and I also love trying to be creative, successfully or otherwise, it doesn’t matter, as long as I’ve had a go!

With that in mind, a few years ago I made my first batch of hypertufa, I made pots, used boxes for moulds and actually was quite pleased with the results, I have moved a few times since then and the pots either got left behind, or broken so it was about time I made some more!

The recipe

There are various mixtures all over the internet, I used 2 parts cement to 3 parts compost and 3 parts perlite, you can add some synthetic strengthening fibres to the mix but as I was only making small scale so I didn’t need them. If you are planning on making something huge then they would be a good idea to stop it breaking when you lift it.

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  • 2 parts cement
  • 3 parts perlite
  • 3 parts compost

As with any cement mix, add water and thoroughly combine the materials – the important thing with hypertufa is not to make it too wet! If your mixture is sloppy then it will crumble back to dust when it dries and all your hard work will be wasted! A consistency of clay is almost ideal, if you hold a handful, squeeze it and let go, it should hold it’s shape without falling apart or oozing between your fingers. (I should have worn gloves by the way)

Moulding and making

The mix was ready and I had found a few things to use as moulds for the first few pots, one of them was an old glass kitchen lampshade which was going to make a nice shallow bowl, I covered it with cling film – to make sure it didn’t stick later on – and started pressing handfuls of the mix inside it, starting near the middle and working my way out, I tried to make it about an inch thick all the way around until I had covered the inside completely.

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I also used an old sweet tin (sprayed inside with WD40 to stop any sticking) a small cardboard box, a fruit box and, bizarrely, I decided to fill up a latex glove with the mixture too to see what it came out like and I also made a small, free-form, shallow container too

Patience is now vital, I covered over the various pots and troughs and left them for nearly a week to completely dry out, I’m not usually this patient but I knew that to interfere with them now would probably break the things I made and mess them up completely.

It was worth the wait, with only one mishap – my tub of builders PVA came in handy at this point..

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Further waiting followed to let them cure even more, however, this was a good time to go out and buy lots of lovely plants to put in them!

I chose alpines including Sempervivum, saxifrage, mazus and delosperma, that will all look good in this particular setting, all being low growing ground cover type plants. They are low maintenance plants, making them ideal for a beginner too!

I planted up some of the pots I had made, using ordinary multi-purpose compost but not using any additional feeds etc, top dressing it all with a silver grit finished off the look nicely and I found a few large “rocks” to decorate the top a little.

Overall I’m very pleased with the result and the plants are already filling out nicely and looking very “natural” in their new homes.

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I have been gardening since I was knee high to my Grandad, he taught me as much about gardening when I was a nipper as I learnt at school about reading and writing! I have been working as a self employed gardener/landscaper for approximately ten years. I have a passion for gardening, growing things is one of the most rewarding things anyone can do. I would like to share with you some of my experiments and who knows, they might just work!

Acer Starfish

I’ve got a medium sized garden and have spent the past year trying to transform it from a concrete mess, to something I can sit and relax in. I’ll paint a picture of what I’m dealing with; there are two rectangular borders with good quality soil in and a large square area in the middle too. They’re surrounded by uneven patio areas and a concrete monster at the back. Unfortunately it’s not an easy task to just remove the mess at the back of the garden, so I’m working my way from the front until I can sort out the back.

The middle square patch of garden has been tormenting me for months! I really couldn’t decide what would suit this area, what I wanted and how to make it look good. However, I couldn’t help but pick up random plants and shrubs in every garden centre I visited. It also doesn’t help being signed up to T&M’s newsletters with their tempting deals every week. I’ve potted up the smaller plants and am growing them on a little bit more before deciding their final positions, and have planted out the rest in a very sporadic manner. You can clearly tell I’m an amateur gardener- but I am loving the adventure I’m on with it all!

After visiting Beth Chatto Gardens earlier in spring (highly recommend a visit – so beautiful), I came across a beautiful Acer in a large terracotta pot and fell in love. Light bulbs were going off in my head and I knew exactly how I wanted that square patch to look all of a sudden. I wanted a stunning Acer tree in the middle as a feature, and shrubs that would slowly take over the patch around it. Maybe a few stepping stones through the area would look good too.

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I already had a stunning Hosta ‘Guacamole’, a selection of Heuchera ‘Patchwork Mixed’ and ‘Purple Palace’, a Dicentra Bleeding Heart and a Hydrangea ‘Love’ which I placed close to the borders and spread out to allow room for growth. Now was my mission to find my dream pot for the main feature; my beautiful Acer. Thompson & Morgan were kind enough to suggest the Starfish Acer for me. Quirky foliage and not too large for what I had in mind. I loved the illustration of the basket container, but didn’t think it would suit my garden vision. So I went off on my mission. Unfortunately the search took much longer than I expected, and my poor Acer was left in the pot it arrived in for much longer than I wanted it to. It was starting to look a little sorry for itself – after research I think it’s due to over watering and being in a non sheltered position. I’ve quickly moved it to a semi-sunny spot where it’s protected from winds. It turns out Acers suffer from scorching and doesn’t like sunny positions where it’s hit by blazing midday sun, or windy spots. I think the middle of my patch is ideal – gets the morning sun, and is sheltered from roaring winds by the nearby wall.

So, back to pot shopping, I have to discuss my ultimate bargain with you. Everyone knows large Teracotta pots are quite expensive; maybe £50-£70 in a local garden centre or chain garden shop. Well, I found one for £25 reduced in Katie’s Garden (in Suffolk) which was pretty much exactly what I had in mind. However, it had a large chunk taken out of it, so I managed to haggle it down to £15! So chuffed with myself.

Thompson & Morgan do a great selection of pots now too which I have only just discovered. These would have been a close second choice; the bee hive planters.

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I got the pot back home and moved it, very slowly as I have tiny muscles, around the area to see where looked best before potting up my Acer in it. (Please ignore the back of the garden in the photographs! It really is hideous but by next year should have some pukka decking put in). I decided on the middle to make it the ultimate feature. I’ll see how the Acer gets on with the sunlight in that particular area, and will be happy to move it across towards the wall if needs be.

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I’ve given some more thought to what other perennial plants would look good around the Acer, rather than just buying more on a whim like I have been doing, but if you have any suggestions at all please feel free to drop a comment below. I’d love some advice from less amateur gardeners!

With some stones in the bottom for extra drainage and some John Innes compost I’ve potted up the Acer successfully. I’ve also added, temporarily, some slate stepping stones around the pot to give myself a clearer idea of how the area will look once fully finished. I’ll see how my Acer gets on over the next month or two, and I’ll come back and let you know how it’s coming along in my garden and what other changes have been made!

Karen Pratt
Karen works in the Customer Care Department at Thompson and Morgan assisting customers in their orders and gardening queries. After growing up watching her dad and granddad in the garden, she is now keen to improve her own gardening knowledge and expertise. Karen likes to try out new and quirky ideas in the garden, and appreciates any tips or advice!

Vacuuming The Pebbles

If you were circling North London on 16th July in a helicopter (and why wouldn’t you be?) you would have witnessed a curious phenomenon – gardeners of the Hampstead Garden Suburb on their hands and knees vacuuming their plots – the London Gardens’ Society judges were on their way! Now don’t get me wrong, we are not at loggerheads over this, indeed we have been referred to as a formidable bunch (also the Witches of Eastwick but I digress) and are at great pains to reassure each other that we are not competitive, but – well, if you believe that you will believe anything. One of us usually gets mentioned in dispatches so if you work on the theory of reflected glory then we are all winners.

Caroline Broome's Garden

Welcome to Caroline’s Garden

If anyone tells you that they don’t buy plants at the last minute for Garden Presentations then they are naughty little fibbers! A last minute decision to remove Cephalaria Gigantica, a real cuckoo in the nest, resulted in a gap with the potential for at least 5 new plants. Oh joy! And so the last plant went in @ 5pm the previous day. My revamped blue and lemon border was now complete. (Well nearly, I am sure I could heal another heuchera in if I tried).

So Judgement Day dawned bright and sunny, no strong winds, no clouds on the horizon. To deadhead or not to deadhead, that was the question: Was it better to let the judges see nature taking its course? Do recent plantings look too contrived? So anyway – I decided to deadhead – that was half the colour in the garden gone. Veronicastrum verginicum, filipendula, thalictrum, tansy, all firmly staked; hanging baskets watered, fed, deadheaded and watered again. Petunia Mandevilla is totally stunning, and so is the little unnamed trial bidens outshining its shady corner and much admired Petunia Cremissimo, a perfect match for the beach striped bench beneath. The judges came, photographed, made notes, exchanged anecdotes, and now we wait until October for the results (bit like A Levels!)

Petunia Mandevilla, Cucamelons and Fernery in Caroline's Garden

Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’, Cucamelon’s and Shady Fernery

And lo and behold, a couple of weeks later we were doing it all again for the 2nd NGS Open Day! 31st July was a new date for us, quite late on in the season, and with summer holidays in full swing we were expecting a quieter turnout than June. Oh how Fate laughs! It was so packed at one point that I had to queue to get into my own house! We had to put extra chairs and tables on the front drive, and almost ran out of cake (rioting in the streets). Amazing day: 160 visitors and over £1000 raised for charity. Plants of the day? Ricinus communis, grown from T&M seed, Veronicastrum Virginucum Fascination covered in bees, and towering Tree Lilies in containers either side of our front door, flooding the entrance to the garden with their fragrance. Talking point? Cucamelons – one of my visitors actually pointed out my first fruits to me as I hadn’t noticed it yet.

Perhaps the most notable moment of the day for me was when one of our visitors was looking at David’s story boards of our garden adventures, and, admiring a photo of Rachel De Thame and me taken at the Perennial Fund Raiser in winter 2015, asked if she was my daughter! (Hmmm, I am 58 and I think Rachel is in her early 50s).

Caroline and Rachel De Thame

Caroline and Rachel De Thame and Caroline in her garden

Having taken the following Monday off work I ventured down to our allotment for a change of pace. I must have harvested 3kgs of blackberries (blackberry fool, blackberry coulis, blackberry ice cream – yummy), Hurst Greenshaft peas, broad beans, Patti Pans ‘Summer Mix’ F1 hybrid and Courgettes ‘De Nice A Fruit Rond’ (the latter two are fantastic in stir fries). Dozens of Tree Lilies are in flower, sweet peas keep coming and coming, and I was able to make up a small posy of dahlias & Buddleia ‘Buzz’® for my 104 year old friend Ethel, (whose brother survived the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, but that’s a whole other story.) Although Ethel had to give up gardening at the tender age of 100 because she could no longer balance on the top rung of her ladder, she did however manage the climb down her basement stairs to her wine cellar until she was 101.

Part of the reason I am able to continue trialling plants for T&M is the availability of space to experiment on my allotment. In fact really and truly I should register it in the name of T&M as most of the plants growing on it are from trials past and present! Some shrubs like the lilac are now in their third or fourth year and flowering reliably every spring. Daffodil bulbs are transplanted there after flowering on my patio, and annuals for cutting are sown to bring colour and fragrance into the house, as I won’t cut anything from the garden.

Caroline's Allotment

Buddleja ‘Buzz’®, Lilies and recent spoils from Caroline’s allotment

We have one more Open Day scheduled this summer on Sunday 4th September for The British Red Cross and then perhaps I can relax and go on holiday! As long as I have something new to try I am happy, and as gardens are never static I should be gainfully occupied for some time to come!

Katy’s The Good Life in Practice

An update from The Good Life In Practice:

So a lot has been happening in the growing season these last few months! The weather has got truly warmer and the rain has indeed helped the plants to push on. Here is a quick round up of what has been happening here…

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The tomato plants have well and truly flourished and I have added supports (small canes) for each of them so they can grow straight upwards-cannot wait for juicy tomatoes from these! The mixed salad seed mix, watercress seed mix and sorrel seed mix have been so easy to use too. I simply planted them in pots around the patio and they have sprouted up fresh leaves. This has been perfectly timed for making summer salads for dinners.

Katy's produce

Katy’s produce

Additionally, another supplement to salads has been the different varieties of nasturtiums I have tried. I have included some photographs of two types I have been using thus far in salads and in nasturtium leaf pesto recipes. Herbs such as chives have flowered and the beautiful, deep purple blooms on top have again been perfect for topping salads or pasta dishes. Moreover, when I get low on salad leaves between cropping’s I add pea shoots to the mix – these are so easy to simply cut off the top of pea crops and they quickly grow back. The spring onions tapes have been a triumph and are gradually growing as we speak. The easy seed tapes have meant I haven’t really had to worry about spacing or weeds as it is self-sufficient in this respect – a great, revolutionary idea.

Selection of Katy's flowers from the garden

Selection of Katy’s flowers from the garden

The big success has been the fruit bushes. My raspberry canes from Thompson & Morgan – including Glen Moy have been so successful again this year. It has been marvellous to pop down to sort the chickens of a morning and graze on fresh, plump raspberries on the journey down the garden! I have been lucky enough to have a successful blueberry bush, currants and gooseberry bush as well.

Katy's kitchen garden

Katy’s kitchen garden

The dwarf runner beans I am excited for too. They are just perfect for pots on the patio if you haven’t got a mountain of space in your garden – mine are potted up near the peas and thriving. Again runner beans are a firm favourite not just for eating on their own but also they are a great addition to chutney making.

More of Katy's great produce

More of Katy’s great produce

Lots more to share next time and hopefully some recipes too, Katy, The Good Life In Practice

Katy Runacres
Katy is a smallholder, cook and writer. She keeps Chickens, Bantams, Meat Rabbits and has a resident cat called Podge. She takes an interest in all aspects of homesteading and has written pieces for a number of magazines including Backwoods Home, Bushcraft, Country Smallholding, Home Farmer and Smallholder. Katy is a member of the Essex and Suffolk Poultry Club and has a Diploma in Countryside Management.

Summer Gardening

Hello Everyone,

Hope you are all well, and enjoying the beautiful summer days. Our weather in Neyland has been erratic, if there’s one thing we can bet on at the moment is that there are no two days the same. If it’s not twenty seven degrees Celsius and cloudless it’s foggy, damp humid and uncomfortable. Oh and don’t forget the heavy rain, thunder and winds. The poor plants have taken a battering. Although luckily for me most have bounced back, it’s only Petunia ‘Anna’ that seems to be struggling.

Petunia 'Anna', Cosmos 'Xanthos' & Hollyhock 'Excelsior Hybrid Mixed'

Petunia ‘Anna’, Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ & Hollyhock ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’

Like last month I have not done as much in the greenhouses as I would have liked to, this is because I have been unwell again for over two weeks, with a gastric bug, that put me in hospital for five days and because I was in my local hospital the specialist hospital sixty miles away had to cancel my operation as I was too unwell to attend, which is frustrating as I have to wait for a new admission date.

Whilst in hospital I used my visualisation technique to help me through the procedures including trying to name in alphabetical order plants growing in my garden whilst I was having a brain scan. I was quite impressed on two accounts; one that I only got to the letter K before the procedure was over, and two I have a brain! In case your interested I have apples, biden, cosmos, Dianthus ‘Elephants Ear’, foxglove, gazania, hollyhock, ivy, Viola ‘Jonny Jump Up’ and as for K well it was all over then. I am saving the rest of the alphabet for when I go for surgery.
I was discharged on Friday the fifteenth and as soon as I got home I did another garden inspection. The corcockles had gone to seed as had most of the wildflower border, the peas had finished and the Lambs Ears had flowered.

On Saturday I felt really well so I thought I would spend ten minutes in the greenhouse cutting the lower leaves off the tomatoes as they had gone wild. It was warm in there but not uncomfortable, when I got to tired to continue, I realised I had been thirty minutes instead of ten, which really made me smile as it made me feel that I was stronger than I thought I was, happy, relaxed and grateful to be alive. And I was rewarded with my first ripe Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’.

Amanda's Tomato 'Magic Mountain' in different stages of growth

Amanda’s Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ in different stages of growth

To eat my first tomato of the season was so special, firstly because it’s a new variety for 2016 and it’s the first tomato I have ever grown from seed (I usually buy plug plants,) and secondly because there had been days when I thought I would never get to try them as I felt so ill. Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’ are really tasty, the smell of the vine stays on them long after they are picked, which makes them feel super fresh even if you eat them a day or two after picking. They are bigger than a cherry tomato but smaller than a salad one. The skin was a little bit hard, but that may be due to not having enough sun here. The flesh is thick for a small tomato, but it’s firm and succulent. There are hardly any pips, so fussy eaters should be happy. As there have only been one or two that have been ready since Friday they didn’t get as far as a sandwich or anything more interesting, however, I can’t wait to fry them with some butter, mushrooms, aubergine, sweet peppers basil and oregano. Then scatter them with some cheddar cheese on a warm crusty roll.

 

Amanda's produce

Amanda’s produce

Talking about aubergines, the ones opposite my tomato vines are doing much better than last year, the leaves are bigger and they are now starting to flower, the reason they are doing better is because they are receiving a lot more sunlight from early morning than they were in the opposite side of the greenhouse, and as we have kept the tomatoes to only four to five feet tall they are getting the sun for longer in the afternoon too.

The peppers seeds ( T&M Sweet Bonita) that Blogger Jean Willis gave me, have produced some of the best pepper plants I have ever grown, and they are 100% better than last year’s garden centre plant bought. The leaves are even and shiny, within no bare patches or uneven growth. There are a lot more flowers on them than other varieties I have grown, and which the bees are happy to pollinate for me.

Unfortunately, the Rubin be Lemonade Basils have bolted, but the flowers are so pretty I’ve just let them continue as they are. The leaves taste slightly more bitter, but I am wondering if I should collect their seeds to see if they have cross pollinated. It would be amazing if I could come up,with a green and burgundy striped basil, or a new tasting one. Knowing my luck though I’d probably end up with something that tastes disgusting and looks like an alien.

Sweet Pepper 'Bonita' & Cucamelon 'Melothria

Sweet Pepper ‘Bonita’ & Cucamelon ‘Melothria

The cucumelons and squashes that I had from another company, really are not doing that well at all. They are small and weak growing, and the leaves seem to be more of a pale green than they should be,they are having the same care and attention as any other plants we have, with the same watering and feed. Carelessly whoever packed the plants sent the wrong instructions too, as they sent me the leaflet for how to grow your tomatoes and peppers! I have used the company before, but I won’t by plug plants from them again. However the cucamelons in the small greenhouse seem to be ok. The chilli plant that I had from them died after a few weeks too. Poor Mark won’t have any sweet chilli chutney this year as I lost my baby chilli plants when I first got ill in May.

In the small greenhouse the money tree is really thriving, as are the Aloe Vera’s. The shelves are still bare, as I haven’t done any seed sowing, and I’m feeling frustrated as now would be a good time to start off the winter veg, such as cabbage, turnips and swede. I know we are lucky in this region that I can sow seeds even up to September and October and still get a good crop, but I hate seeing things empty. I did think about setting some seeds, but I know in the next few weeks they won’t have my full attention so it would be a bit of a pointless exercise.

Bidens 'Pink Princess' & Gazania 'Big Kiss White Flame' F1 Hybrid

Bidens ‘Pink Princess’ & Gazania ‘Big Kiss White Flame’ F1 Hybrid

For the first time in years, I have nothing to plant in the bare soil now my corncockles have been dug up. Usually the space is filled with dahlias, amaranthus, marigolds and any other plants I happen to be growing, so I am tempted to go to the garden centre and buy some bedding plants. At least these will be established and I can plant them straight away. I did think of getting them from T&M special offers, but being on the cancellation list at the hospital I can’t take the chance on waiting for delivery.

My trial Bidens are still flowering, they are still white, pink, and pink and white ringed. They have taken the wildly fluctuating temperatures, the winds and rain and as long as they are deadheaded regularly continue to bloom.

The trial antirhinums that were in with a pot of petunias survived two days upside down on the grass when the bracket holding the heavy pot fell out of the wall. Not sure how the bracket fell out though, Mark is usually good at DIY. The plants were not damaged at all which really impressed us.

The trial trailing fuschias are just beautiful. The ones in pots out the front aren’t growing as well as the ones that are in the more sheltered back garden. Every morning I open my bedroom curtains and look out at three pots of pinky/purple/red fuschias, roses, veronica, poppies, sage, mint and lavender, the scent in the mornings is delicious.
I am hoping by August my operation will have been done, and that I am on the road to recovery. I have promised my nieces to bring down fresh peppers and aubergines. My brother still hasn’t put up his greenhouse so mum is babysitting his tomato plants, and his aubergines are in pots in my small greenhouse. I have a sneaky feeling he won’t finish his greenhouse until next year.

So here’s looking forward to new and tasty fresh vine fruit and veg, time spent with the family and long sunny days.

Take care, and happy gardening,

Love Amanda.

PS Thank you to everyone who continues to share their gardening adventures with me on Facebook, I love the photos from Geoff and Caroline’s open days for McMillan and NGS open days, to T&Ms Jimmys Farm posts. I love hearing people’s successes as well as problem solving hints and tips. Believe me, it really does make my day.

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

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