Not Quite Spring

Hello

As I write this it’s the beginning of March and we’ve had a lovely warm spell but are now experiencing some wetter, cooler weather, and today it is blowing a gale here in mid-Wales. Rain is never a bad thing to be honest, it’s good to have rain sometimes, if not for the fact that the water butts are full again!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

Since I last wrote, I’ve put in the Spring Onion sets, and I finally got round to buying some ericaceous compost so that I could take up the three, small blueberry bushes form the garden. They have now been put into planters and are getting a good rainwater drink as they sit. They have survived the Winter very well and are now happy in the pots.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

In my last, and first, post here I wrote about overwintering a couple of things – so first off let’s chat cabbages! Here are my Cabbages transplanted from the greenhouse. I’m quite chuffed with these as I kept them covered with netting during the latter part of the year ,but after a while, I didn’t expect anything to try and eat them so I didn’t bother. Now they are looking very healthy indeed. I think I may perhaps be able to harvest them in about July.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I overwintered some Pea ‘Meteor’ climbing peas in the greenhouse and, with my hand as a guide, you can see how they are coming on after being planted in the poly house bed. Harvest is set around May time I think.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I also sowed, and left in the greenhouse, some Sweet Peas at the end of September. I think they’re ready to be planted out I would say!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

A couple of failures were Beetroot and Turnip in the greenhouse. I had lots of greenery and leaves grew but nothing underground. Shame as I’ve grown these both outside quite well in the past; never mind, we live and learn.

Talking of the greenhouse….

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

This is what happened when Storm Eric hit. I was about as devastated as the greenhouse was because I’d hardly made any use of it and had lots of plans for it this year. I intended to grow all my tomatoes in there so as to leave space in the poly house, but that has been put paid to. However, I’ve adapted and bought some Tomato ‘Outdoor Girl’ seeds which I’m told by a friend are a good outdoor cropping variety. I’ll let you know how I get on.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

Over the Winter I thought I’d lost my rhubarb crowns for various reasons, including the area having become very overgrown. But the other day I discovered one, and then the other. I made the decision to clear it and created a frame so they won’t get lost again, or damaged by my husband when outdoor jobs are being done! I built this frame out of ash branches, following him cutting back some trees in the garden. I have to say I love it!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I don’t grow flowers in general although this year I’ve decided to sow some Nigella. Although we have lots and lots of Daffs and Snowdrops in the garden, I’ve sown some Daff and Tulip bulbs in pots and happily found Crocuses pop up with no effort at all!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I think Spring may be on its way but we need to take care when the weather takes a turn and keeps us on our toes.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I look forward to writing again about how the season progresses.

Bye.
Louise

Planting Bare Root Peonies

What a lovely day, a day out of the office and back to the Private Estate where I work as a Gardener.
I have been here for about fourteen years and have seen the garden develop, hedges have been removed, planting changed, refreshed and new borders developed.
It has been an unseasonable day for February, bright skies and warm sunshine, I won’t complain. Spring is around the corner!

So, today’s job was to plant a Tree Peony Collection I had ordered. Within the collection, Paeonia suffruticosa, are ‘Ruby’, ‘White Crane’ and ‘Lu’s Pink’.
I chose this collection as I particularly like the lime green leaves with the rich cerise pink flower of ‘Ruby’ and the double petals of the lovely ‘Lu’s Pink’. ‘White Crane’ has a lovely open habit of the flowers.

Bare Root Peonyx2

©Thompson&Morgan

This is how the Peonies arrive, they need a soak for at least an hour to hydrate the roots.

Right now, is the perfect time to plant bare rooted plants. Bare root plants or trees are supplied in a dormant state and can be transported and planted at this time of year. Then when the warmer weather comes, they can burst into life.

I dug site holes in the border before planting, I removed any weeds from the area around the holes. There is perennial Geranium phaem ‘Mourning Widow’ starting to grow in and around the area I am planting the Peonies. These will look great!
I added some Chicken Manure pellets to the planting hole for a slow release feed as they will be hungry when establishing.

Bare Root Peony

©Thompson&Morgan

All Bare root plants need to be well watered in, and then regularly watered afterwards, while they are establishing themselves during the first season in their new position.

It does look like you are planting a ‘stick’ but I can safely say, you will enjoy seeing your newly planted plant ‘Spring’ into life.

Ellen Mary’s Top 5 Houseplants

Houseplants are bang on trend at the moment and rightly so because not only are they aesthetically pleasing and a great way to soften interiors but they are unbelievably good for us to have around. Many house plants remove large amounts of common toxins from the air around us. My own house is full of them; somewhere in the region of 100 plus cuttings, but who’s counting!? There is a plant for everyone, but these are my top five favourites for any home.


Aloe Vera
Aloe vera

Always top of the list! Not only does Aloe look fantastic, but it’s super easy to look after and needs minimal watering. Not only that, but the gel inside those fleshy stems can be scraped out and used to ease numerous skin conditions, heal burns and many other common health complaints. I store some in the fridge at all times. Aloe also helps to remove Benzene from the air which is found in paint and cleaning products.


Senecio String of Pearls
Senecio (String of Pearls)

A perfect trailing plant that looks great on a shelf or in a hanging basket. These always make an impact because they look so cool, especially in a macramé hanger. The long thin stems have small, round, beaded foliage, hence the name. Needing very little water and just indirect sunlight, it will suit most homes and always draws attention.


Monstera deliciosa
Monstera deliciosa

The highly-desired ‘Swiss Cheese plant’ has made a huge comeback. From dark green, glossy foliage to the much-sought-after white Monstera, they are a stunning addition and really very easy to care for. If you place one in bright, indirect sunlight and away from draughts, it will reward you with long climbing stems and huge heart-shaped leaves. If you start with a smaller plant and pot up as it grows, make sure you have the ultimate spot for it because they can get beautifully big.


Strelitzia reginae Bird of Paradise
Stretlitzia reginae

The stunning ‘Bird of Paradise’ is one of my absolute favourite plants. It may take some years to flower, but when it does, it’s so worth the wait! That tropical feel can’t be beaten as the exotic flower head blooms into the shape of a bird. Mine sits nicely in my office which is also a garden room, so ideal for a conservatory and can even go outside in the summer.


Sansevieria trifasciata var. laurentii
Sansevieria or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue!

Here’s another plant that removes toxins from the air. In fact NASA found that just one ‘Mother in Law’s Tongue’ reduced Benzene levels by over 50% and Trichloroethylene by over 13% in just 24 hours. It’s a great plant to have in your bedroom, which is where I have a few, because they are one of the few plants that continues to convert CO2 to oxygen at night time. Sweet dreams!

The list could be endless as I am also a massive fan of orchids, ferns and easy-to-look-after bryophyllum’s. My cuttings are lined up on bookcases and I can’t help but check them every day. It’s exciting to enjoy houseplants and they’re a trend I hope becomes just a way of life for everyone one day.

Green-fingered gardening tips from the experts

No matter how expert you are at gardening, there’s always something new to learn!
Image source: Aya Images

The great thing about gardening is that no matter how expert you are, you never reach the end of your personal learning curve. To help you a little further along the way, we asked some of our favourite gardening bloggers for their expert tips – great gardening advice from green fingered folk.

Community

Visit other gardens to see what grows well in your area.
Image source: A Pentland Garden

Before you plant anything, take a look at your local green space, says Nadine from A Pentland Garden. That’s because local conditions have a big impact on what grows best where you live. Nadine’s top tip? Talk to your neighbours:

“Speak to them and see what really thrives. You may be able to take cuttings or gather seeds.”

There really is nothing better than seeing for yourself what grows well, says Julia from The Garden Gate is Open. She says the best thing to do is simply to:

“Get out there and visit another garden.”

It’s also important to network within your gardening community. Pete from Weeds Up to My Knees suggests trying out local plant sales arranged by allotments. He says:

“If you ever need anything in the garden (plants, seeds and tools), I always ask about. People are pleased to get rid of the stuff.”

Cover up

Put a layer of newspapers or cardboard under wood chip to suppress the weeds.
Image source: An English Homestead

If you don’t fancy spending most of your time in the garden weeding, Kev at An English Homestead says you should remember that “nature abhors a vacuum”, and act accordingly:

“I mulch with compost, cover with cardboard or use landscape fabric to help keep weeds at bay.”

As a smallholder committed to feeding his young family healthy, nutritious, home grown food, he says covering up is “the only way I can manage such a big vegetable garden.”

Another gardener who shares the view that exposed soil leaves the door open for weeds, is Geoff from Driftwood by Sea. His solution is to plant plenty of ground cover. He says “never be afraid to pack plants in.”

Alternatively, you could go no-dig, like Richard from Sharpen Your Spades. He tried it last year and now he’s hooked:

“It’s so easy to cover in the winter, there’s less weeds and fantastic crops. The whole allotment is no-dig this year.”

Plant

Acclimatise your seedlings before planting them outside.
Image source: Mark’s Veg Plot

Giving your seedlings the best chance of survival by starting them indoors protects them from the elements until it’s warm enough to plant them out. But be careful you don’t let those tender stems get too hot, says Alicia from Botanical Threads. She recommends you take the plastic lids off your seed trays when it’s particularly sunny:

“It only takes half an hour baking under the plastic in the sun for a tray of thriving green seedlings to go to brown burnt ones!”

If you take seedlings straight from your window ledge and plant them outside, the shock can kill them. Make sure you acclimatise them gradually. Mark from Mark’s Veg Plot passes on his father’s advice on ‘hardening off’ his tomatoes:

“If it has been done properly, the stem will be a dark, almost purple, colour. Pale stemmed plants have not been sufficiently exposed to the outdoors.”

Weed

Make weeding part of your gardening routine.
Image source: Sharpen Your Spades

It’s true that some gardeners find weeding therapeutic. But Thomas from Thomas Stone Horticultural Services isn’t one of them. He prefers to get the job done and dusted, saying: “In dry weather, try and get the hoe around as often as you can.” He adds that with the right tools:

“5 minutes of weeding with a hoe can save 2-3 hours of hand weeding.”

Richard from Sharpen Your Spades says it’s best to make regular weeding your priority or it will eat into your gardening time. His advice is to get it done and dusted:

“It gets the ghastly job out of the way and makes the task of staying on top of the weeds so much easier”.

Alternatively, consider embracing your weeds like forager and print-maker Flora Arbuthnott who puts hers to good use. She says:

Use yellow dock roots as a golden dye for textiles projects.” and for a coffee alternative that won’t make your heart race, Flora says to try “roast dandelion root.”

Do you have any gardening tips that you think we should know? We’re always interested to hear from our readers, so please drop us a line on our Facebook page and leave us a message.

Planting tips from wildlife gardening experts

Cotoneaster berries feed birds through even the bleakest winters.
Image source: Artush

If you’d love to encourage wildlife to visit your garden but aren’t sure what plants to grow, this is the place for you. We asked some of our favourite wildlife gardening bloggers for their planting tips and here’s what they came up with – what to grow to encourage birds, bees, moths and butterflies to share your outside space.

Moths

Willowherb is loved by moths and butterflies.
Image source: Real Moment

Nocturnal insects love plants whose scent makes them easy to locate in the darkness. Wildlife blogger Dan Rouse says:

Plants like lavender are great for attracting moths, which in turn will attract their predators: bats!

Nic who writes Dogwood Days was just a two-year-old in red wellies when her father introduced her to banks of rosebay willowherb alongside the vegetable beds. She says:

Willowherb brings in moths and butterflies – especially the beautiful elephant hawk moth caterpillars with their extendable snouts.

Another favourite for attracting moths is honeysuckle. Bill at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog says: “A large potted Honeysuckle is brilliant for attracting many types of moth species on those sultry warm summer evenings, and they in turn provide food for the local bats.

Butterflies

The Brimstone butterfly particularly loves Alder Buckthorn.
Image source: Butterfly Conservation

Attracting butterflies to flutter about your garden is all about planting the right blooming plants whose nectar they’ll sup. Remember – the greater the variety of plants and fungi you grow in your garden, the great the range of butterflies, and other insects you’ll get to see.

Lisa at Edulis Wild Food says encouraging wildlife to thrive is all about “Mimicking nature in her timing and choice of habitat.” In her garden she grows:

Alexanders, sweet cicely, japonica quince, wild raspberry, wild garlic, primroses, sweet violets, horse mushrooms, chicken of the woods, oyster mushrooms and scarlet elf cups.

Emma at Never Mind the Burdocks, meanwhile favours “ground elder, wild mints, and Galium species such as odorata which fill a borders edges perfectly and are easy to maintain.”

Providing myriad food sources is a great way to garden for wildlife, but if there’s a particular butterfly you’d like to see gracing your patch, often you’ll need to provide a specific food source. Dave at Why Watch Wildlife shares this example:

A Brimstone is looking for Alder Buckthorn, so think about planting it. Not only will it benefit the butterfly, but in autumn birds will eat the berries too.

Birds and bees

Forget-me-nots are a vital early source of nectar for bees.
Image source: Ian Grainger

As well as enjoying the host of tasty insects living on your wildflowers, birds need winter foodstuffs to keep them going when the nights draw in and the temperature plummets. To help out our feathered friends, Bill says he planted Cotoneaster. He says it’s quite mature now:

In the winter it retains enough berries to entice the local Blackbirds, wintering Blackcaps and once a small flock of Waxwing to feast on its berries.

Bill says the bees and hoverflies love the alliums he buried last year, and Julie of Garden Without Doors is a great advocate of early wildflowers like: “forget-me-nots, green alkanet and deadnettle”. She says the great advantage of spring flowers is that they’re: “beloved by bees and available to them before other flowers start blooming.”

Worried that by filling your borders with spring wildflowers, you’ll have less blooms to enjoy during the summer months? Don’t be. Julie says:

Your spring wildflowers will die back in time for other flowers to take over.

Do you have any wildlife-friendly planting suggestions to share? If so we’d love to hear from you. Just pop over to our Facebook page and leave us a message.

In the meantime, we’ll leave the last word to Alan at the Scottish Wildlife Garden who, once the butterflies have enjoyed his thistles, finds they “have delicious, tender, juicy hearts that are quite easy to prepare once you have the knack.” As he says, that’s one way to “Have your garden and eat it”.

Expert tips to make your garden wildlife-friendly

A small garden pond gives this song thrush somewhere to bathe and drink.
Image source: Ondrej Prosicky

By making just a few small changes to the way you garden, you’ll really help native wildlife to thrive. To get you started, here’s some expert advice courtesy of some of the best gardeners and bloggers we’ve found – tips to make your garden more wildlife-friendly.

Planning

Plan hedgehog highways as part of your garden design.
Image source: Colin Robert Varndell

Begin by asking: “what does the wildlife need?” says Brian of Brian’s Birding Blog. To answer the question, think about basics like food, water, shelter, and safety. By planning your garden around the building blocks of survival, your garden will be nature-friendly by design.

That’s a sentiment with which Nic of Dogwood Days wholeheartedly agrees – an attitude she inherited from her father who always says:

The garden is an extension of the wider landscape in terms of its links to nature – the birds, insects and animals.

But too often, we design our gardens with privacy in mind without thinking about how our wild visitors will get about. With a little thought, hedgehog-loving Adam of My Life Outside says that’s easily fixed:

By creating hedgehog highways through our gardens we can join up vast swathes of land and give these fabulous creatures a fighting chance.

So get together with your neighbours and create animal corridors by “lifting a fence panel a few inches, cutting a hole through wire netting or drilling through boundary walls.”

And do remember to provide a water source – an oasis for living creatures. As Brian says, installing a pond “gives the birds another food source and somewhere to bathe and drink,” and as Dave of Why Watch Wildlife adds “A source of fresh, clean water is good for invertebrates [and] amphibians.”

Housing

This nest box is a safe haven for blue tits to raise their young.
Image source: Erni

Now your garden works for wildlife, where will it live? Wildlife expert Dan Rouse is a passionate advocate of “messy zones” which she says can be a simple as “a small piece of old carpet and some bricks behind the shed” – the perfect hidey hole for insects and shy creatures like slow worms. She also says:

Nest spaces or nesting boxes and roosting boxes are fundamental for wildlife to survive.

But it’s not just birds who need high vantage points, it’s bugs and beasties too, as Bill at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog points out. His garden features a tree whose “winding twisted trunk and small branches hold a selection of brightly painted bean cans which have been filled with a variety of fibre material”.

And don’t forget to make spaces for “lone fliers” to hang out – Bill says a couple of catering size cans fitted with a wooden plug and drilled with holes make ideal accommodation:

Solitary bees can access the interior to live their lives away from predators.

The same goes for dry hogweed stems which, cut to length, can also be used to stuff a tin – but be careful handling the live stuff, Bill says, because the sap can burn your skin. And because more bugs mean more bats fluttering overhead during spring and summer evenings, you’ll need to remember to install a bat box too.

Planting

An apple tree surrounded by wildflowers provides pollen and ground cover.
Image source: DrimaFilm

Look at your garden through the eyes of prospective wildlife visitors. Do you have a tree? If not, maybe consider planting one, or if space is a problem, make existing structures work for birds and insects. Bill (at Frodsham Marsh Bird Blog) whose garden is on the small side says:

The washing line post has Ivy growing up it and now provides thick cover where robin and wren have nested.

Wildlife expert Dan Rouse says using your planting to create layers ensures there’s food for all: “Shrub-like plants like lavender or fuchsia give off a lot of smell and still carry pollen for our pollinators.”

And remember to make sure there’s plenty of ground cover to provide shelter for bugs and food for predators. Dan says:

Smaller plants like ground creeper are great for our insects and small birds to hide in too.

That goes for grass too. Lisa at Edulis Wild Food says to delay mowing until wildflowers growing in it have had chance to bloom: “The bees are grateful for the early food and you realise how diverse your lawn can be if not totally mono-cultured.”

Do you have any wildlife gardening tips you’d like to share? Just head over to our Facebook page and leave us a message – we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, we’ll leave you with this gem of a tip from Miles at Forager who says it’s not just the wildlife that benefits from wild planting:

Eat your weeds! Bittercress, sow thistle, chickweed, nettles, dandelion are all delicious and nutritious.

Pin It on Pinterest