How to improve clay or sandy soils with leafmould

How to improve clay or sandy soils with leafmould

Leafmould is the black gold of gardening. Ten or more years back, I worked in nursery on a rare hill on the Suffolk Essex border. We are talking small scale, husband and wife team, working all hours of day and days of year. The only time off was to load a large blue van with unusual and mouthwatering plants – arisaemas, trilliums and the like and drive to London to set up a mini fairy garden for the Chelsea Flower Show or exhibitions in the RHS’s Floral Halls. Bulbs and other woodland plants were their speciality. Anyway, I digress: their potting medium was leafmould.

Why I love leafmould

New tree mulched with leafmould

So what exactly is this stuff? Simply leaves that are well rotted, nothing else added. The final product has no nutrients but crumbles down like rich dry chocolate cake – Sachertorte – to be precise. In this form it acts as a soil conditioner. Those with an open sandy soil will know how fast minerals get leached out and moisture too. The leafmould will bind the structure of the soil to help improve water retention.

Clay is more of a problem to work with than sand. Clay soils are intrinsically fertile but the individual particles grab each other so tightly that hallmarks are swamped out wet in winter and cracked dry in summer. Leafmould, by a weird process known as deflocculation, persuades the soil to open up, drainage improves and digging and otherwise working the soil become a good deal easier.

Why I love leafmould

A cage for storing leaves – yours can be much more simple though

Leaves do not rot down in the same way as other garden waste. For this reason store them separately in a cage made of chicken wire. If you can soak them thoroughly now and again in the hot long summer days and turn them once or twice, decomposition will be accelerated.

Why I love leafmould

Leafmould for sale at Fairhaven Trust, Norfolk

The best way to use the leafmould is to put it on as a thick layer over your beds in the very late autumn. It will help conserve soil warmth and act as a mulch. It is almost impossible to buy this fabulous product – I have only seen it for sale at the Fairhaven Trust in Norfolk. But get ahead and make your own. All you need are some stout stakes and chicken wire. And as mentioned above, it is a great medium to use for potting up plants.

Catharine Howard
Catharine Howard is a designer, garden coach and garden writer. Topics are anything to do with horticulture and the inspiration behind design. She lives and gardens in Suffolk.

How To Landscape Your Garden and Backyard Like A Professional

How To Landscape Your Garden and Backyard Like A Professional

Outside, the temperatures are dropping. In New York, it has started snowing on a regular basis and residents are getting used to bundling up and trekking through snow and slush. But while the winds outside are gusting and homeowners are cuddling up on their sofas and sipping some hot cocoa, a lot of people are already thinking about the upcoming spring. Dreaming of warmer weather, fresh vegetables at the market, and a lush and blooming backyard, many of these people start to make some plans on the landscaping front. Are you thinking about how to landscape your garden and backyard like a professional? Then good news is on the way. Below are some tips and pointers for making your outdoor areas look their best without paying a pricey professional to do it.

Like with any major undertaking that will take serious time and some financial investment, it is important to think ahead about what you are going to do. In the long run, taking a little bit of time to plan your landscape will save you a lot of wasted and lost time down the line. Think about what you want to do. Do you want a vegetable garden? A Koi pond? A flower garden? There are almost limitless things you can do with your backyard, so take the time to research them and pick what works best for you. Don’t start buying things until you know what your big picture plan is.

How To Landscape Your Garden and Backyard Like A Professional

Careful planning is essential

If you want to save the money on hiring professionals, that leaves only one person to do the (literally) dirty work: you. So put on some old clothes, roll up your sleeves, and get ready to shovel. Ever notice how dirty professional gardeners are? That’s going to be you now, so be prepared.

How To Landscape Your Garden and Backyard Like A Professional

Hard work = great results

If you do not have a lot of experience in landscaping and gardening, then you are in luck because you can still do a very good, professional looking job without needing a high skill level. (Sorry, no Koi pond for you.) Make your garden look like it was professionally designed by keeping it simple. Try sticking to different shades and textures of greens, with just one or two pops of color. This will keep it from looking busy and confused, while still maintaining an interesting diversity of plant life.

How To Landscape Your Garden and Backyard Like A Professional

Keep it simple

During the winter, if you live in a cold climate like the Northeastern states, you are not going to have any flowers in your lawn. But if you plant trees when it warms up, they will grow and stay in your landscape during the winter. Mix up the different kinds of trees. Include evergreens like pine, and some deciduous trees too. Feel free to put vines on your home, too, which looks especially good on brick homes.

When it comes to plants, there are plenty of low budget options that still look great in your lawn and/or backyard. (There are also a lot of ways to even get free seeds!) But there are also times when it is worth spending a little bit more money. Invest in quality gardening tools that won’t break and need to replaced, and if you love a fountain you see, if it’s special, indulge yourself.

Find out more at Architectural Gardens here

Abigail Turner writes about garden design and landscaping for Architectural Gardens. Abigail spends her free time working in her personal home garden.

Under the Weather

‘Under the Weather’

As I sit here at noon on a Wednesday, my home has been enveloped by a huge dark cloud once again and the rain is misting out the houses across the street. It is utterly miserable and I am going to have to turn the daylight stimulation bulb on any minute before I give up on the day altogether. The ground is already saturated out there and I can hear the cars driving through the laying water on the road outside, oh and then there’s the wind. All in all I think maybe today was a day for staying in bed and dreaming of Spring.

Under the weather - guest blogger Carrie Gault

Spring’s on its way

I am an Allotmenteer, I’m a photographer and dog owner and thus this weather somewhat  rings the death knell on all of that. There is only so much joy you can get from thinking about doing those things that make you happy; it’s the getting out and doing it really puts a smile on my face and a song in my heart. However my allotment is a swamp, I have started to term the conditions there as ‘quicksoil’; it simply sucks you down and I swear you could lose tools in there, if  not a limb!

Under the weather - guest blogger Carrie Gault


I gain joy, a sense of pride, a feeling of hope from the act of growing my own. This is such a treasure and is made all the more priceless when you learn that I am a chronic depressive and someone who suffers from suicidal feelings and acute anxiety. My life is a daily battle with the dark, searching for some hope, some joy to grasp on to and fuel my fight and let me tell you winter is my biggest enemy. I am sure that for you the time has come when the planning and dreaming of what you wish to achieve in your garden this year has become more frustration than excitement; we want to get on with it already!

Seeds, I love seeds. I love those little bits of dead looking nothing that come bursting into life with some soil, warmth and a little water. That green tip pushing through the surface, searching out the sunlight, so bright and fresh and screaming of a new start and hope. There is little in this world that is more glorious, more satisfying than being a parent and watching our young grow and flourish, protecting them, nurturing them and then finally eating them.

Under the weather - guest blogger Carrie Gault

Potatoes chitting

Ahh but spring is coming, in the battle of the seasons she always conquers over winter. I have my stash of flower and vegetable seeds at the ready and my potatoes are chitting. Each day sees the sunlight last just that fraction longer and soon, soon my friends we shall get back out into nature, we shall dig the soil, feed it, grow plants, tend to them and all will be right with the world again. Can you feel it? The sadness is lifting, there is a new riot of colour getting ready in those bulbs we planted last year, the trees are getting dressed once more and hope, hope is in the air!

You can read my blog here:

Carrie Gault
Hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you; my name is Carrie and I am a firm believer in Ecotherapy. I have chronic depression, an acute anxiety disorder and just for fun (though it isn’t funny at all), permanent double vision, but I am a fighter and I trust in Mother Nature and the joy she brings. At the moment all is gloomy and far too wet to be doing anything at my allotment but every year Spring triumphs over Winter and we just have to be patient or occupy ourselves with wondrous plans. I have owned an allotment since April 2008 and I have learnt so much and gained so much hope, pride and happiness along the way. I highly recommend growing your own.

Poetry corner – Veg Verse by Kate Williams

Kate Williams is a published performance poet, specialising in humorous poetry for gardeners. Her ‘Veg Verse’ collection is all about the ups and downs of gardening, from slugs and bugs to droughts and floods, and more. She performs her poems for gardening clubs, punctuating her readings with songs (also her own) with classical guitar accompaniment. Details of her shows can be found on her website, Gardeners’ Veg Verse page.

Veg Verse by Kate Williams

Kate Williams

Kate started out as a children’s poet, and has over 100 poems published nationally and internationally in a range of anthologies for toddlers to teens. She also provides poetry workshops for schools, helping kids to get writing, but her real passion is getting adults to laugh, through poetry!

“The great thing about gardening poetry,” she says, “is its rich potential. There’s a landscape of wonder, beauty and humour there to dig up,” and humour is the topsoil of her Veg Verse.

Here is a sample of Kate’s poems:

A Vineyard in your Back Yard

Mateus Rose, Muscodet,
Bordeax, Beaujolais, Chardonnay,
Blanc de Blanc, Sauvignon,
Chateau le Chatelet.

Grow a vine! Make some wine!
Brew a classy glass for Christmas time!

Choose a type of which you’re fond,
buy your kit and wave your wand!

Tipple as you shovel, swig as you dig,
but don’t fall into the pond!

Playing ‘Pretend’ on the Patio

Never mind the weather!
Get your friends together!
Make your wet patio a lido!

Dig out the sun cream,
the sun shade, the sun bed,
the deckchair, the swimwear!
Stick a hat on your head!

Call that puddle a pool!
Bring drinks – and make them cool!
Fetch the lilo, the Ludo, the radio!
Get the barbecue on the go!

Think: France, Greece, Italy, Spain,
green oasis, golden plain!

Look cool, not cold!
Let the dream take hold!
here comes the rain!

Wishing for a Window Box

Wish I had a window-box
to line my plants along:
two square feet, all nice and neat,
where they could all belong.

Wish I had a window-box,
where nothing could go wrong,
not this gaping landscape:
it’s far too wide and long!

End of Year Evaluation

January: stark stagnation
February: no variation
March: slug gang infiltration
April: nettle infestation
May: hot sun! Need irrigation
June: urgent deforestation
July: rain: inundation
August: mud; exasperation
September: harvest desperation
October: leaves cause drain blockation
November: bleak dilapidation:
rotting, reeking vegetation
December: time off! Celebration!
Send the garden to dam…
but you can do the pronunciation.

Dear Neighbour!

There’s a cat in my garden,
dear neighbour, dear neighbour,
there’s a cat in my garden,
dear neighbour, a cat.

There’s a dog in my garden,
dear neighbour, dear neighbour,
there’s a rabbit in my garden,
dear neighbour, a rat.

There’s a lama in my garden,
dear neighbour, dear neighbour,
there’s a pony in my garden,
dear neighbour, a horse.

There’s a cow in my garden,
dear neighbour, dear neighbour,
there’s a bull in my… ow!

Our Allotment

We don’t get a lot on our allotment,
except for a lot of fat slugs.

They eat such a lot, their brains must rot:
a lot of fat slugs on drugs!

No, we don’t get a lot on our allotment,
but we sit, sipping tea from our mugs,
and if anything grows in the desolate rows,
we stifle its life with our hugs.

Rebecca Tute
Rebecca works in the Marketing department as part of the busy web team, focusing on updating the UK news and blog pages and Thompson & Morgan’s international website. Rebecca enjoys gardening and learning about flowers and growing vegetables with her young daughter.

Trees for small gardens

Deciding what small tree to squeeze into a modern pint-pot garden can be a real problem. A look at a tree nursery list will have you salivating but if space is challenged, stop right there. Drool away by all means but do not buy anything on impulse.

Never ever buy a tree without paying close attention to the final size that your specimen will reach. Many are parkland trees.

My next door neighbours have a garden 40 metres long and in to it are packed the following: two eucalyptus, one Norway sycamore and a liquidambar. All will make over 20 metres in height. Expensive work for the tree surgeon will ensue and the house itself might suffer from roots questing for water and stability. So what should you grow?

Trees for small gardens

Salix viminalis – the common willow

An elegant solution is the common willow Salix viminalis. With an annual haircut you can keep it to the size you want. Willows put on good growth in one season and new stems are rich and vivid in colour. Give the plant an annual short back and sides and you will have the perfect mini-tree that will not outgrow allotted space.

Trees for small gardens

Give willow a good yearly haircut

An excellent way to treat your willow is to establish three main stems and to cut them back to about a metre and a half. This gives the extra height. The beauty of three stems is that you can rotate your hard hairdo – two one year and the third the following. That way you will always have a framework of branches to look at.

Trees for small gardens

A great tree for small gardens

There is a large selection of willows to choose from – go with the branch colours you like best. There are oranges, blacks, yellow. Their silvery leaves are pretty good too and look graceful all summer long.

Click here to read my blog – Catharine Howard’s Garden Blog


Catharine Howard
Catharine Howard is a designer, garden coach and garden writer. Topics are anything to do with horticulture and the inspiration behind design. She lives and gardens in Suffolk.

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