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January 2010
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March 2010

February 2010

Pruning Dogwoods, - Cornus Midwinter Fire

The end of February is a very busy time for pruning, - so no apologies for 2 pruning posts in a row.  Today, as well as pruning 27 Roses, i've been cutting back Cornus.

This one is Cornus Midwinter Fire, and is a fantastic Winter colour addition to your garden. It's flame colours start to show as soon as it gets really cold, and the stems have the brightest colours in their first year of growth, which is why you need to prune them back hard each year.  By doing it now at the end of February, you may be getting rid of the bright stems in the garden before all the new foliage comes out, but you can enjoy them indoors in a vase.

It is fine to cut it back hard, - this is what you should be aiming for.


The downside of this variety as compared to the red stems of Cornus alba Elegantissiama, or Cornus Sibirica, is the the summer foliage is downright boring. I've also found that it takes about 3 years to get established to the point where it's new shoots each year are long and straight. The first couple of years it tends to have (bright coloured, but) feeble branches.

This is it in the summer (yes those yellow leaves behind the wooden chairs!)

So if you've got a space where your eye will wander in winter, but doesn't need a huge amount of summer interest, then Cornus Midwinter fire is excellent for you.

Pruning Roses


The Rose comes out consistently as one of the Uk's favourite flowering plants, and when you get a plant that flowers for months, and has scent and full colour, it's not surprising it should be taken to the nation's heart, but what most gardener's aren't quite so certain of is - how do you prune Roses?

I have a vivid memory of being marched around Hadlow College one Monday morning while being given the plants for that week's identification. A question was asked about the Roses which had been pruned a few weeks before, and our tutor proceeded to shock us all by pruning off even more of the already short stems to an even lower bud. - Of course they came back and flowered magnificently that summer, because pruning promotes and encourages growth, but beginners are often far too nervous when pruning.

So here are the basics.

Continue reading "Pruning Roses" »

Compost for seed sowing

Compost is one of those words that can mean lots of things.

It can mean the pile at the bottom of the garden where you put a mix of lawn clippings, hedge and pruning shreddings, kitchen waste, chicken droppings and dead bedding plants. That wonderfully changes from a heap of waste to a rich organic matter.

It can also mean the stuff you get sterilised in a bag from the Garden Centre, that you use to fill pots.

And there are all kinds of mixtures in between the two. - But what do you use at the beginning of the season to sow your precious seeds? These will be your babies for the year, giving you food and flowers to brighten up and feed your summer.

This photo shows you some of the different types available that could be used.

This is one of the few times in the year that I don't use my own compost from my bins at the bottom of the garden, - the reason being that in my normal garden size bin, the compost mixture doesn't heat up enough to kill all the weed seeds, or seeds of some of the vegetable matter i've put in there. - This means that I don't know if my emerging seedlings are what I planted or a hanger on from the compost. If i'm planting up a shrub or potting on, those weed seedling are easy to spot and eliminate, but for seed sowing I resort to the garden centre stuff.

The top left is a John Innes (JI) mixture.- This is a soil (heavy) based compost that is a mixture of loam (sterilised soil), peat, sand and nutrients.  These are great for planting up shrubs that will be in pots for a long time and hold water and nutrients well, but they can be too much for some of the smaller seeds.

The top right is a Coir, which I got in compressed bricks from wiggly wigglers, and rehydrated in a bucket (one of William's favourite jobs to help me with) This is great for making mixtures lightweight, but doesn't contain any nutrients or wetting agents, so not good if you let it dry out.

Bottom left is my local garden centre chain's cheap as chips multipurpose compost. - It is peat based, but is a decent texture and has some nutrients, but does contain clumps, - not great for helping small seeds come through.

The bottom right is my seed mixture. I use sieved multipurpose compost, with some John Innes and some coir added to reduce the peat content and increase water holding properties. This makes a great mixture with all the right properties for vegetable seedlings and annuals to get off to a great start.

Growing Vegetables all year round

 I've just, come back from an amazing day trip out to the Sarah Raven gardening and cookery school, where I've spent today learning about growing vegetables all year round. Excuse me if I sprout effusively for the next few paragraphs, as I started the day thinking that I knew a lot about vegetables, and have ended up knowing that I've got lots more to try and I'm really excited about getting on with it.


Sarah Raven has always been one of my plants growing heroines. For those of you not familiar with the sometimes Gardeners World presenter, She is famous for knowing about cutting garden plants and dahlias and gardens in skirts, fabulous boots and big woolly jumpers and still looks cool. It was reading her book - The great vegetable plot, (recommended to me about 5 years ago)  that really got me started about thinking which vegetables I should be growing as a busy mother with little time and space.

Today's course, had a good smattering of all ages and range of ability of gardeners and was aimed at letting us know about Sarah's philosophy of growing veg. Her thoughts are that a crop is viable because of the amount of harvest (measured in colanders) that they give you from a 1m square space, because they can't be found in the shops or because they taste huge amounts better when grown in your own garden.

The morning started off with dash for the School early club and then onto the M25 for my Journey to Perch Hill farm in East Sussex. This was at least two hours from home and is the the longest commute I've done in years, so by the time I got there I was very grateful for the cup of coffee waiting for us.

The garden and cookery school is based in a building on a hillside at The farm.  It has a shop selling a good range of the Sarah Raven seeds to tempt you as you come in which leads through to the conservatory. This is where we had our lunch and there were fabulous views of the surrounding countryside and the swirling snow that accompanied our visit today. The classroom behind the conservatory, was high ceilinged with good natural light through the roof windows.

The day course was a mixture of information from Sarah about the vegetables she has trailed and grown over the years, explanations of why they were successful and how to get the most from your plot, Photos and demonstrations of how to grow seeds, plus explanations of successional sowing and companian planting.

Just before lunch we got to taste a range of the fantastic winter lettuces that she grows at Perch farm, and this was such a wonderful idea to be able to contrast and compare the Mizuna, Mibuna, Rocket, Mustards, and milder lettuce leaves (we had 10 in total to taste).

Lunch was one of the high points of the day, with a Chickpea and Kale Curry accompanied by a grain like couscous and tomato and chilli chutney with a flatbread - all delicious. This was followed up by Rhubarb tart, which has made me realise that i've been wasting the rhubarb hiding behind my greenhouse.

in the afternoon we learnt more about the plants that are unbuyable - i.e different coloured like purple carrots and yellow and purple bean, and did a plan of planting for a small vegetable garden.

We also had a walk round the farm to see how they had laid out their (raised) beds. This for me was great as the spaces weren't enourmous and although they were obviously growing for feeding guests at the garden school, it was easy to see how it could be done in a normal size garden.

For me this was a fantastic day out, A wonderful birthday present (thanks Ashley) and an inspiration for my veg growing for years to come. - Next Winter, i'll be making my own Chickpea and Kale Curry.

are your roots showing?

After a heavy winter of snow, rain and frost, it is likely (particularly if your soil is lightweight) that some of the surface topsoil may have been washed away. This is particularly important if you have newly planted borders on a slope, or if you have climbers in small beds next to house walls.


This is a clematis which is planted in a narrow bed next to the house. The rootball which has been growing well for several years has been exposed, as the soil has been washed off onto the patio. It was quite easy for me to mound up new compost around this rootball, to make sure that it was once again buried several centimetres deep.

If your plants are on a slope, and the top of the rootball has been exposed, you will need to dig them up - preferably this month before growth starts, and to replant deeper.

I tend to cut mini terraces into a border if it is on a slope so that water can pool around the plant, -giving it a chance to drink, and also meaning that run off doesn't destroy the slope and expose the roots.

Apart from exposed roots drying out in the air, and killing the plant that way, - they also mean there isn't enough stability for the plant to reach full height - or with this Clematis, full flowering potential. So a wander around the garden with a trug of compost and a spade searching for roots that are showing, could be a lifesaver.

Slug & Snail Hunt - my quest to start the season ahead of molluscs

According to the RHS, Slugs & Snails were number one on the Top Ten Pests list for 2009

Each year I think i've won the fight against these little blighters, and then a row of lettuce disappears overnight.

I've tried every non chemical method there is, - with varying successes in varying conditions. But one thing bitter experience has told me is that you can't give up the fight, and now is the best time to start war on them

Past experience has told me to hunt them down under unused terracotta pots, in the centre of Phormiums or Cordyline plants, or in the corners of steps and patios, - particularly if the grass is long and covers them up.


I also pick up every pot in the greenhouse, and round the garden and often find little hangers on. - This method of destroying them early in the season can give you a head start. 

They can also be found traipsing across footpaths at dusk, - easy pickings for the salt pot.

Now i've got the chickens to help me get rid of them, maybe this year i'll keep more of my lettuces to myself. I'll keep using bran and grit, and copper bands round my pots.

if you've found a surefire method that works for you, please let me know.

February Seed Sowing

It may be freezing, and still dark in the mornings, but i've aready started  my propagating season.

I love growing new plants. I always grow too many, so some always end up in friends and clients gardens, and there is the Horticultural Society Show's plant sale in May, but this year I can grow even more, as the School is doing a plant sale at the end of May as well.

January/early Feb is way too early for most seeds to be sown outdoors, although Broad Bean Aquadulce is meant to be hardy enough to be sown now (i've never remembered in time and always had to buy plants)

This year, I had a lovely Christmas present in the shape of this great seed tin.

it has different sections for each month, so i've gone thorugh my huge pile of seeds and sorted them into months that they can be sown in. - There are actually quite a few for January, - The Tomato Red Cherry that I sowed on 18th Jan has already germinated on the windowsill in the study, - i'll keep turning the seed tray around every couple of days to stop them going leggy, - that way they don't stretch towards the light.

The other seeds i've already sowed, - Aubergine, Tomato ildi, Parsley, Mizuna and Rocket have all been sown in recycled plastic containers, - those that are for fruit like Blueberries are the best as they already have drainage holes in them, and are mini greenhouses themselves


if you've got a pile of seeds packets, that could be from some years back and you're not sure whether it's worth sowing them, - check out this handy seed viability guide on the fennel and fern blog

i've been saving my containers, so i'll be out there this weekend, sowing a whole lot more.