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May 2009

April 2009

Veg plot growing for April

I've had a very busy day today meeting lots of new people, - A consultation this morning and then a speed networking event at lunch time, and a common theme of a lot of my conversations has been Herbs and Vegetables, and what should you be planting now.
This week in my veg plot i've been
Sowing more french beans and peas in guttering to go out in 3-4 weeks when they've germinated, sowing my runner beans scarlet emporer around a teepee or bamboo canes, - 2 seeds to each cane, - but just in case i've done it a bit early, and they get frosted when they come up in a couple of weeks i've sown some in pots as well, - i've planted up more potato bags with my chitted 2nd earlies, - sown another row of beetroot, rocket, coriander and radish to take over when the ones i sowed in early march are finished.  I also planted seeds of cucumber, courgette and butternut squash in pots last week, - the cucumbers have germinated, but it's still too cold in my unheated greenhouse for the courgette and squash to be peeping above the surface yet.  I've also taken out the last of my Mizuna, which was my overwintering spicy lettuce leaves, - they've become very harsh in taste now the weather has warmed up, so i'll sow seeds again in Sep / October for next winter, and rocket will take over from it now.  I've also sown more of the Franchi (seeds of italy) lettuce seeds that are cut and come again,- these are my absolute favourite and only take about 5 weeks until you can eat them at this time of year - Bis de lattughe is the variety I use, and I would highly recommend the Franchi seeds as very good value for money and tasty - click here for their website i've also watered and fed my strawberries to ensure I get early crops, and now my blueberries are flowering, I need to find some netting for them as the birds got all my blueberries last year, - wow when did I find time to do any gardening for my clients......

What to do with Bindweed.

It's almost May and bindweed is starting to rear up and encircle unwitting plants. I've always had a loathing for bindweed, not least because I thought you had to use chemicals to get rid of it effectively, but last year I had 2 notable successes with areas of bindweed attacked by hand weeding at the right time, and as it's been raining lots today, the next few days will be a very good time to prise out the roots and get on top of this horror.


What I found was that if you use a trowel to get underneath the growth and loosen the ground, and then pull gently, (rather than tugging which breaks off the stem at ground level) you can get up to a foot of fat white root out of the ground. The next week or two before it has got a major stranglehold on any of your precious shrubs is a good time to be hunting it down.

If you miss this window, then it's back to the chemical onslaught, so get your bindweed to grow up some cunningly placed canes, and then you can spray it with a systemic weedkiller

School Garden planting

i'm feeling tired but satisfied this morning (and my face is red from too much sun) as i've just been given lots of compliments at drop off about the planting that we did yesterday at William's School.
I was asked by the Parents Association to organise a groundforce day to create borders in some of the bare corners around the school grounds.  For the last few weeks i've been busy planning plantings that are

Low maintenance
Of interest for as long a period as possible during school terms
Need minimal watering and feeding even during establishments
Give a range of plantings for the children to learn from

We had almost 20 families turn up to help yesterday, and after 3 hours of hard work we'd managed to create and plant 3 big borders, 2 raised beds, 6 barrel planters and clear an area for some games tables, plus weed and tidy at the front of the school, and we were rewarded with a BBQ (thanks Emma)

The children will now be able to learn from a shady area, a herb bed, a dry border, and the front of the school will be colourful from Feb to November (that's the plan!)

if you're looking for plants that tick all the boxes for school grounds, my favourite are
Geranium Rozanne
Erigeron Karvinskianus
Bronze Fennel
Nerine bulbs
and Trailing Rosemary

Apple Blossom, Will I get lots of apples?

The trees are blooming, - Malus Domestica (Apple) in particular, - the cold winter has meant that the blossom has been fantastic, and Normandy in France, where i've been this weekend is awash with orchards of apple trees in beautiful white and pink tinged blossom, but... does lots of blossom mean lots of apples.

The answer is, - hopefully yes, but only if the bees can pollinate your tree while there is pollen on it, and to do that there needs to be another one nearby (usually line of sight from yours but in urban areas, there are usually trees near enough) that the bees can flit between, - some apple trees are even awkward enough to be "triploid" which means that they need two other different trees to pollinate them. A severe frost, lots of rain, or very warm weather over the next few days will mean the blossom is around for less time, so that can effect the chances of bees pollinating your trees.

The best way to encourage pollination is to ensure there is plenty in your garden to attract bees, then you can enjoy the blossom, and know that you will have lots of apples in the autumn.

Lawn renovation: what to do when you've been away

I've just been lucky enough to spend a long weekend at my Holiday cottage in Normandy.  it's a 2 bed Normandy style modern cottage on a port complex, and so is perfect for a short break away, for a spot of eating cheese, drinking wine and walking along the sandy beaches, but the downside is that the garden although small, grows while we're away. It has a "lawn" - mostly a patch of weeds, surrounded by hedges which need to be kept at the perscribed 5ft high to prevent us getting letters and fines.  This weekend we spent a lot of Friday, and some of Sunday afternoon getting our little patch back in shape, - so here are my tips for those times you've ignored the lawn for too long / been away on holiday / it's rained eveytime you'd planned to get out in the garden.

1 - if your lawn looks like a meadow, don't expect your lawnmower to be able to plough through it, - use a strimmer first on the longest parts and rake the cut grass away with a spring tyne rake
2 - then mow the lawn on the highest cutting height, - if you have anything more than a small garden this is best done without the grass box on, unless you are willing to empty it out after every "stripe" - rake this up as well
3 - now cut on the highest cutting height again, at a 90degree angle to the first cut
4 - let the grass dry out for a few hours
5 - cut it on a lower cutting height
6 - edge the lawn to finish it off

this will encourage lots of growth, so plan to cut it again in 4-5 days,  - you'll now be back on track for weekly mowing again.

Do my plants need feeding?

April is a great time of year to feed all your trees, shrubs and plants, especially in the Guildford area as the soil is generally lacking in nutrients rather than overflowing with them.

All Plants need feeding with different types of food depending on what they are trying to do at that point in the year and most fertilisers have an NPK ratio to let you know what proportion of each is in them.

Nitrogen is a fertiliser that encourages leaf growth, - lawn fertilisers for instance are high nitrogen.

Phosphorus is a fertiliser that encourages cell growth so will give healthy roots

Potassium (K) is a fertiliser that encourages fruit and flower production - think tomato food

A multi purpose feed like miracle gro or something like Vitax Q4 will have a fairly balanced mix,

They are produced in different forms, so you need to work out if it is easier for you to dissolve a plant food and water on, or if you prefer a pelleted / granular form  which is added to the soil around plants lightly forked in, and watered in if rain isn’t expected in the next couple of days. 

It is advisable to always water after liquid feed has been applied to plants so that the nutrients are evenly dispersed.

I use the diluted leachate from my wormery as organic plant food, or you can buy lots of organic alternatives now if you don't like putting chemicals on your garden.

As your bulbs finish flowering feed them to ensure strong root growth for flowers next year.

Award winner at showing Daffodils

Last night, for the first time, I entered a Horticultural Society Show.  I've only been a member of my local hort soc. for the last 4 months, and last night was their annual spring show and supper.  Having looked through the show programme and searched my garden, I found my pot grown hellebores were over, and only 3 stems of daffodils worthy of showing, so I went along with my vases and stems and entered them into the appropriate class (of which there are 11 for daffodils and 26 in total).  after a fantastic supper (most of which was homemade, - so competition will be fierce in the homecrafts later in the year) Our judge, a Mr Peach (think David Bellamy with silver beard) gave us a huge amount of advice about how to choose and display plants and flowers, - here are some of his words of wisdom and some other pearls that I picked up from other members .

HP sauce bottles make good single stem vases
Colour isn't as important as form - someone asked why the white camellias never won, and was told that it wasn't colour discrimination, just that they were more likely to be marked.
Twist and tweak until it's facing the right way
Daffodils should have their largest 3 petals at 12, 4 and 8 o'clock
Make sure you take a close look at all blooms for signs of damage, holes or discolouration
Don't be afraid to take off dead heads to tidy up stems of shrub flowers
Read the rules properly, someone entered a primrose in a polyanthus class, - it was cast aside
If you're growing plants on a window sill give them a 1/4 turn every day so they don't grow one sided.

I learnt lots and came away with an urge to grow all the things on the spring show list, just so that I can have a go at winning the coveted cups or best in show trophy. -
BUT I didn't come away empty handed, my 3 headed Triandrus and Large cup daffodils were both awarded 2nd prizes in their class (yes more than 2 entries in each class!) so beginners luck served me well, and now i'm off to get some Hellebores for floating and some Sauce bottles for soaking! so I can be well prepared for next year.

What's that sticky weed?

Sticky weed, sometimes known as cleavers, - or its latin name of Galium Aparine is starting to multiply everywhere this week.

This weed which can grow very rapidly to overwhelm plants is spread by clinging on to clothing or animals so that the seed is spread round the garden.

Yes Children love it, but the weed is counting on them to spread itself!

Don't let it get to seeding stage, and you can almost eliminate it. - it's easy to pull up and remove, if you're going to add it to the compost heap, let it dry out first. You'll need a good pair of knee pads though as its favourite hiding place is under hedges (always spiky ones in my experience)

Speedwell is also spreading quickly at the moment, - another easy to get out but quick to seed one, and  the Ground Elder is back in force.  If you have this rotter (like me!) then you need a hand fork with you to pry out as much root as possible while the ground is soft.