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February 2011

Family Sunday's - Cooking, Sowing seeds and coffee with friends


I love family Sunday's, - those days where you have nothing planned, and you get to slob around and do your favourite at home things.

Today was one of those days, - a lie in, a visit to a garden centre and farm shop, (Garson's in Esher since you wondered) Coffee with friends (and a chance to show off the new kitchen), then a whole afternoon in the greenhouse.

My new chickens are not fully part of my garden yet, as they still havn't fully figured out that the slugs I give them are a treat that they should run and grab from me, - but we gave them a good clean out in the hope that the two that are currently rather hen pecked (Rapunzel and Cinderella) will finally manage to beat the boss (Fiona - think Shrek movies) to the food, and have enough energy to lay us some eggs.

I'm growing lots of salads at the moment, - partly because for the 3rd year running I want to be self sufficient on the salad leaves front, and partly because of my Herbs and Salads Workshop in a couple of weeks. This afternoon, I gave all my overwintering salads a good water. Then I planted up into troughs or pots, or out into my veg beds all the salads which I sowed in mid October and were now bursting out of their seed trays. Tatsoi, Arctic King Lettuce, Chervil, Parsley, Rocket, Mizuna, Mustard and Coriander are all mini leaves now, but will be giving good harvests on a weekly basis by the middle of March.

I then started off the spring salad crops which I hope will start feeding me in 6-8 weeks time - the middle of the hungry gap. - (Mustard, Hearting lettuces, Salad Bowl lettuces, Mizuna Red Knight, mixed lettuce leaves, wild Rocket, Beetroot, mini Carrots Mignon, plus broad Beans and Kelvedon Wonder Peas)

I came in from the garden as it got dark, just in time to finish off the Sunday roast chicken, - the only shame being that the pigeons ate the calabrese in the snow, so it was shop bought veggies this week.

What's your ideal Sunday, - and does it involve cooking or gardening?

Border planting - shady borders in dry soil

A shady border under a tree, is often a place that i'm told by my clients "nothing grows there". There is a more limited range of plants that can cope with and thrive in a dry shady place, but in this garden we've been developing this border for the last 5 years, and it is now looking great, and proving there are some hardy varieties.

This is how it looked in March 2006

The daffodils flowered wonderfully in spring, but then it was just empty for the rest of the year.

The beech tree, shades most of the border in summer, and at the far end, the fig and lilac between them, create a really shady patch.

With so little light, plus very well drained soil, the flower colours are not going to be very bold, but with careful planning, we do have something flowering every month of the year.

Spring is still the best


After cyclamen and snowdrops to start the year, the Hellebores, Epimediums and daffodils take over. plus some fantastic Dicentra (although we had to plant them in groups to get them to show off like this)

By late spring, even last year when we'd had 10 weeks with hardly any rain, (the lawn is parched) the Alchemilla, Alliums and geraniums had taken over to give colour

Acanthus spinosus, which can take over on better fertilised soils, gives us wonderful plumes of flowers in this border, and hasn't spread out of control.

Summer is the hardest in a dry border, so we've added some fuchsias to give some interest when the sun is at it's highest.

and by the autumn, the Asters are doing their thing, and sedums are giving a touch of pink.

With lots of lush foliage, this border proves, that although more difficult, there is plenty, not "nothing" that will grow in a dry shady border.


Pruning autumn fruiting raspberries


Last year I had a fantastic harvest of Raspberries. My Autumn Bliss did me proud and were producing from August until the snow at the end of November


But now is the time to be pruning them back hard to the ground, as the new shoots of this year's growth are starting to appear.


If you've only got autumn varieties, then this is easy, - cut them all back, but if you have a mixture of the summer fruiting canes (which fruit on old wood) and autumn canes (which fruit on those green shoots, when they've grown into canes all in one season). Then you need to find those that have fruited.


You can be quite hard with cutting them back, - the new shoots come up from beneath the ground, so no need for long canes to be left. Just a sharp pair of secateurs and a slight angle so that any water drains off


In my personal opinion, Raspberries are the most luxurious of summer fruits, so if you have got room for a row of canes, plant some this year, - Autumn fruiting ones are the best and Autumn Bliss are my favs.

Border planting - Cricket ball proof.

Most gardens have more than one use - Sunbathing and dining, Views from the house and cutting flowers, Somewhere to store the bikes and hang the washing. But by far the biggest proportion of my clients gardens have - room for the children to play,  as one of the options. When they are little that means climbing frames and swings in view of the house, when they are older that means dens and hiding places, and in my experience if there are teenage boys, it means making room for Cricket and football practice. So if you have to make a border that will stand up to the occasional "howzat" - what do you need to look for.


This was a large border that was created to give a flowering view from the house, but that wouldn't be destroyed by the balls that were bowled it's way by the ajoining pitch/lawn.

There were some plants in the border before we started, but because of the light sandy soil, and the Prunus hedge that was behind that had taken a lot of the moisture from the soil, a good percentage of the plants weren't thriving


We added lots of organic matter to the soil, and kept the healthy plants, - moving those that weren't in suitable locations. The plants that were added were divided into colour sections, - so that pale silvers and pinks near to the house went through stronger purples, yellows reds and oranges in the middle of the border, to blues at the far end

The perennials were clumps, not plants with individual stems, - Unfortunately tender bulbs were out in this border, and hardy shrubs and groundcover plants in different colours were the order of the day.


It was planted in May, which meant the ground had warmed up, and there was no risk of frost.

It filled out quickly and by the following April was flowering well


By July, it was preforming both duties of being a great garden backdrop, and protecting against cricket balls



By the end of august it was providing a great finale backdrop to a summer of cricket.

Buttercup and Celandine weeds & how to get rid of them

This week, the weeds i've been fighting against the most are Ranunculus varieties


This one picutred is Ranunculus Ficaria, - the Lesser Celandine, which usually covers borders that are a bit damp and shady. They have a yellow flower if allowed to get to that stage, and in my experience they can cover borders very quickly and swamp out other plants that are trying to get through at this time of year. - If you have a troublesome area, then you can use a systemic weedkiller on it. If it is in among plants or in isolated clumps, the only way to eradicate it is to dig it out.

In this case I do mean dig, as just hoeing off the top growth, or burning it off, won't work on these babies. - if you look at what's below the ground, then it becomes clear that breaking the top of the weed off will just create more.


The multiple bulbils are just waiting to break off as you pull it out of the soil!

In the same family is Ranunculus repens,- the creeping buttercup.


These are often mistaken for perennial geraniums and left in borders until they have spread and allowed their surface runners to colonise large areas. At this time of year, they can be easily lifted out of the ground with a hand fork. - Again, don't hoe these, as root left behind will reshoot.  Larger areas can again have weedkillier applied, but as this gets in amongst other plants, it usually means killing everything in the area to get rid of it. - This also roots in lawns, and because it is low to the ground is difficult to control with mowing.


(with thanks to Dana Leigh for shaming me into revising my latin names for weeds!)