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November 2011

October 2011

Layered winter to spring pots

As the first frosts of Autumn 2011 hit here Surrey, i'm feeling organised, as the winter planters that will replace the frosted bedding are already planted.

I think that winter planters are more important than summer ones for brightening up the fronts of houses and shops. During the summer, there is plenty of colour in the garden, but in winter, there are a lot of bare stems and patches of earth, so finding colour in tubs and baskets is important.

Saying that, one thing you need to realise when buying winter bedding is that even the hardiest of pansies and primulas will be green in December when the light levels fall so low that flowers find it hard to appear. This means that using coloured foliage is very important. However as soon as the sun comes out again in late January or February the buds will form for the spring blooms.


When i'm planning my pots and baskets, i'm trying to make sure that there are layers of interest and colour, and i've found that this is easiest when working on a colour theme. These troughs are for a coffee shop, and we're working on a deep red, white and silver foliage theme.

The first layer is for the later flowers, - Tulips for April flowering, so that this planter can take us right through to the summer of 2012. The varieties i've chosen are Uncle Tom and double Red Riding hood,  - both deep reds.

The next layer, is white Crocus for February, and Thalia Daffodils for late March into April. Then on top, but making sure they are not too deep into the pot so they can trail, but not too near the rim, so that they can be watered, there are coloured ivies (Hardy Hedera Helix) Red pansies, Cyclamen and white lavender (for scented silver foliage). The cyclamen won't make it all the way through the winter, even in a sheltered spot, but give an extra colour boost now.

When all the plants are in, i've packed compost tightly round each root ball, to make sure there are no air pockets. The plants will get frozen over the winter, but if they have soil tucked round every rootball, so they have a comforting duvet and a way of transferring water to them, they won't dry out, and will thaw effectively after each frost.

So the trough is ready and waiting in the sunshine, to brighten up cafe visitors this winter, and into next spring.

It's oh so dry - October drought conditions

I know that this will provoke comments from my gardening peers oop north, and in Scotland where they have had waterproofs on for weeks, - BUT, here in my part of Surrey, we are dealing with drought conditions in October, and actually the only months this year when we've had a decent amount of rainfall have been July and August.

The plants are suffering, as can be seen from these plant pics taken in a garden on Friday.

We are on underlying free draining chalk here in Horsley, but even so, these are in borders that have been prepared and planted within the last 5 years, and where there is someone to water deeply at least once a month, so if your garden is suffering in the same way, - here are some suggestions for solutions

1) Mulch deeply - this only works if you do it while the ground is damp, so that it keeps the moisture in. - By deeply I mean at least 10cms. - If you use an organic matter such as leaf mould or homemade compost, then this will be taken into the soil by winter soil movement and worms.

2) Ensure that individual plants that need extra help (such as Hydrangeas) have a water pipe direct to the root system. -This doesn't have to be fancy, - a 2 litre soft drinks bottle, sunk into the ground upside down, with the bottom of the bottle cut off to receive the water, will ensure that you know that at least 2 litres has been directed to the plants roots each time you water. (and the plastic sticking out should remind you to water!)

3) Install soaker hose - this is great for empty patches before you plant, - or for areas where plants are in a line (like a hedge)


Unlike sprinkler systems, you will not have as much run off (water escaping from the beds). As it is dripping/dribbling out of the hose, it all goes into the ground directly around the hose line.

4) Make sure your garden hose is long enough to reach all the borders, has a lance or sprayer with easy to control spray patterns (think of the water pattern from a tap, or a shower, that is what is wanted) and is an easy to use type. If it takes 10 minutes to unwind and rewind your hose, you are less likely to water when needed.

5) When we've had a dry period, it is easy to think that a day of rain will remedy the situation, but if the ground is very dry, then there is no wicking ability to hold onto the rain when it comes, - so you may need to water over the coming weeks until we get back to normal water soil levels.




1st Allotment Harvest

We've had a busy weekend, in both our garden, and on the allotment. There's nothing better as a reward on a Sunday afternoon than a roast dinner with home grown vegetables, and today, to add to the garden and community garden offerings, we had our first allotment harvest.


Ok, so one spear of sprouting broccoli may not be much, but as a favourite vegetable for all in the Brown Household, it was cropped and eaten with glee.


we're hoping there will be plenty more.

Quick Gardening tip - as the leaves start to fall


As our Indian Summer ends, and the winds pick up this week, - the trees will suddenly realise that Autumn is upon us.

Make sure that you protect your lawn, by regularly sweeping up the leaves, - but not with a metal spring tyne rake. That is great for getting moss out, but for taking the leaves off the top, use a plastic rake.

There are plenty of large fan shaped ones in garden centres and the DIY sheds at the moment, - but I love this one from Wolf tools, as I can put it on to different sized handles, depending on where i'm trying to clear.

Make sure you use your leaves. - I've written before about the benefits of leaf mulch. - It takes slightly longer than compost to rot down, but makes lovely organic soil improver.


Border planting - a front garden refresh

Sometimes a border isn't bad, it just isn't working all the year round.

That was the case with this front garden border, which was the focal point as you pulled on to the drive

It was originally planted up 4 years ago, and although some of the plants are working well, the soil has been compacted by workmen replacing windows, and hidden under scaffolding for 3 months, so it was time for a refresh of the plants and the soil.

The Pittosporum and Heuchera's are providing all year round colour, - but the spring bulbs had actually done too well, which meant that after they were finished, their foliage drowned out the growth of the summer flowering plants.

At the back of the border in the  rainshadow of the house, the soil was bone dry and dusty. The prickly Hybrid tea roses, were making it very difficult to get to the back of the border to weed.

I've solved that issue by - taking out the roses, digging over the soil and removing weeds, watering deeply, adding organic matter, watering again, - then planting dry soil loving lavenders. These will fill all the space at the back of the border behind the roses, hopefully smothering any weeds. I've then planted Alliums underneath them, - the tatty bulb foliage will be hidden by the scented lavender foliage.


At the front, we've gone with more of what aleady works well, so more heucheras - This time Creme Brulee, and Alchemilla Mollis, - transplanted from the back garden where it looks fantastic all summer. Aster purple dome and Rudbeckia Hirta, will provide late summer colour, and the Hellebores which are hidden under the vine at this time of year will provide winter colour when the Vitus has lost all it's leaves


I removed lots of daffodil bulbs, from all through the border, and so I replanted some of them, but in groups, so that we get spring colour, but so that the foliage won't overwhelm new growth coming through.

This was the end result



Sowing overwintering salad crops


I've now harvested most of my greenhouse tomatoes. There are just some compact plants and the chilli's left in my pots on the floor of the greenhouse now.

Within a few weeks I want all of those refilled with winter cropping salads. I've already got some lettuces growing, and some chervil, but I needed to make sure that I had sown enough salads to last me through until April, as i've vowed to have another winter with no shop bought salad leaves.

To make sure that I can keep to that, i've filled my staging with module trays of lots of different varieties of winter leaves, and seedlings of lettuces which will be for as soon as the sun comes back next spring.

The winter leaves i've sown are

Rocket, - wild and variety Apollo

Chervil - a favourite now, great for adding to winter omelettes

Red leaved Sorrel - fairly strong so only a few leaves used in a salad, but great for using in sauces for fish

Mizuna - this tastes revolting if grown in the height of summer, but the overwintered taste is milder

Mustard - i've several different types of mustard leaves growing

Chicory -Leaf and radicchio

& Coriander, - (just writing this reminds me I should sow even more of this as I always run out)

plus Perpetual spinach and rainbow Chard


The Lettuces

Winter Density, All the Year round, Arctic King, Valdor and my every present pack of Bis di Lattughe from Franchi.

Although i'm lucky enough to have my greenhouse, most of these are hardy enough to go outside in the ground. In fact the chervil was planted in my raised beds last winter, and came through the snows perfectly and kept harvesting until May. For easiest Winter cropping though, if you havn't got a greenhouse, make sure you've got your salads in pots near the back door.

my seeds are from a variety of sources, but my favourite suppliers for winter lettuce are

Sarah Raven

(amazing selection, and some strong selections)

Wiggly Wigglers

(new to the winter salad seed market, but some different varieties that i'll be roadtesting this winter)

Seed Parade

(smaller collection, but great Rocket, Coriander, basic lettuce varieties, all at budget prices)

plus T & M, and Mr Fothergills (the only one I know that does the red veined sorrel)