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March 2012

The new greenhouse

Well it's here, fully erected (by us) and almost stuffed with plants and seedlings already.

My new greenhouse, - probably my last ever greenhouse, (this one should last a lifetime) is in place.


it's got a few things that I need to sort. There were a few bits left over. The erection over the weekend could have been smoother if the packaging and the instructions had been better, - but to their due Hartley Botanic were on the phone at 10am on Monday, after a couple of frustrated Twitter exchanges to find out what they could do, and there will be detailed feedback given.

I would like to show you more pictures of the features I love, - the guttering, staging, lovely finishing. - but I havn't got time - I've got seedling to pot up, and seeds to sow.

If you want to find me, - i'll be in the greenhouse

Border planting- Hiding a busy road without an evergreen hedge

Just over a year ago, My lovely builder Mick, finished my Kitchen. After 4 years of managing with a 70's monstrosity (that friends looked aghast at) I have a lovely open plan, properly designed space, that is easy to work in to turn my fruit and vegetables from the garden into delicious meals.

This week, I got the opportunity to help Mick turn his monstrosity of an overlooked outside space, into what will be a sheltered and colourful and interesting garden.

Not all of us can live in seclusion in the countryside, and that means that there are plenty of houses out there situated right next to busy roads, and in this case, Traffic lights2012-03-23_001

Last February when I went to look at the garden for the first time, - there wasn't a lot in it. - Lots of concrete, a big change in level, some scrappy grass, and the only decent tree, a large holly was slap bang in the middle of the garden. Plus there was a huge sickly hedge.


Initially this dieing hedge of Privet, ( probably a combination of traffic pollution and suspected Honey fungus) plus lots of ash saplings, was going to be replaced by another, - but after lots of discussion, between us (Mick and his partner Gill), and the council. The decision was reached to put up a fence, and plant on the inside.

The entrance to the garden was also changed, to move the driveway further from the traffic lights, and when all the hard landscaping was taking place last year, the garden looked awfully exposed.

Being a Builder, the hard landscaping side of this project didn't phase Mick and his team, - so this week I got the wonderful job of planting up beautifully prepared border areas


We're aiming for as much shelter from the traffic as possible here, without having a solid line of plants, - so first in were 5 different Trees. - 2 Prunus, Kanzan and Pissardii Purpurea, Amelanchier lamarkii, A multi stemmed birch, plus a wonderful evergreen Cotoneaster Frigidus.


I've then gone for some lovely large shrubs, - These won't need pruning, and as some will grow up to 3-4 metres in height will be tree like in their shelter qualities


Gill had wanted colour and scent, so I picked plenty of fragrance to ensure the garden was good for the sense of smell


And to hide the rising wall of the driveway, we've got a great selection of perennials, small shrubs and grasses.


I'm really looking forward to how this garden progresses, and whether the shops and traffic lights will be completly hidden from view in a couple of years time.


A hosepipe ban, that'll hurt your border planting business won't it?

I'm in the business of Plants, and planting, and propagating, - So a lack of water, DROUGHT, when the water companies are forbidding you to use a hosepipe, that's a nightmare isn't it?

Well no, - not really.

You see my business is built on me knowing the right plant for the right place.

Advice that I give clients is always about plants that will thrive in the conditions thrown at them, not just survive. As a lot of my clients have very free draining chalk, that's pretty dry conditions anyway.

I've always told customers to install waterbutts, mulch soils, ensure water goes to the roots of the plants, not the leaves. Also water deeply, but not daily, and never bother wasting water on lawns


Even when planting borders, I've used drip irrigation, to prepare the soil,  and hand watering rather than overhead sprinklers.


With below average rainfall in 19 of the last 24 months here in the Southeast, - it's not suprising that the water companies need to do something. Maybe this season will finally teach people in the 'burbs that you don't need to leave your overhead sprinkler running every night, and that a green lawn isn't that important.

The HTA and waterwise have been lobbying on gardeners behalf, and 3 water companies have given exemption for drip irrigation, and they are discussing whether newly planted borders can be exempt (read the whole article here)

In the meantime, - if you havn't already got waterbutts on every downpipe, greenhouse and shed, then now is the time to do it, and don't forget to raise them high enough to get a watering can under the tap.


What do you do? - A week in the life of Plantpassion

I'm going to admit to shamelessly pinching the idea for this post from Rona at Flowerona, who posts an update of her (always very exciting) week each Saturday.

As i've been asked several times just this week, - what is it that you do?, - I thought i'd give you the behind the scenes look at the glamourous ! life of an expert gardener.


During the winter, I get weekends with my family, - but as soon as spring appears, Saturdays are for seeing new customers and doing consultations in their gardens.

The morning started with my 6 weekly Chiropractor appointment, with Alain at Guildford Chiropractic Centre

Then I went off to see Mrs W, who i'd done a consultation and planting plan for last year, but life got in the way of completing the plant move.

This is the border last year, - the aim is to add more height and interest later in the year, in a traditional cottage border style (without quite as much work) in pinks and purples.

We reviewed the border in it's 2012 state, - we also talked through redesigning the herb bed on the other side of the garden.

I then went to do a new Consultation for a couple very locally to me (I walked, that's the 2nd customer in the last 3 months that are soo close) They've recently had a deck built so that they can sit outside and enjoy entertaining friends. However at the moment the rest of the garden isn't much to look at, so we talked through the plants they have, what we can improve and move around, and i'm doing a planting plan for them to give the colour and effect they want at the edge of the decking.


The key project for today was to take down our old greenhouse, to make way for our new one. As I wasn't quite tall enough to help without getting directed (shouted at) We called in help from our friends Dana Leigh and David, So while the guys did the greenhouse, we went and pruned some apple trees at Grace and Flavour - (yes in the rain, and I did moan incessantly, but we didn't stop until we'd finished) We then had a lovely lunch in front of the fire to defrost and dry out.


Monday morning is almost always admin for me. I hate paperwork, so try to get it out of the way early in the week. Invoices, emails, phonecalls updating my website and blog are all monday morning jobs. Then I also found time to visit a couple of local nurseries for bits and pieces needed for clients this week, before pick up and my Son's swimming lesson.

The evening was a meeting for the organic team of Grace and Flavour. - Really for me, this is a chat in the pub about plant varieties. I unwisely took my ipad with me to look up details, and by the time I got home i'd ordered several books -  for research obviously



A regular gardening session today, - one of the 5 gardens I go to every month. This town garden has a very sunny side and a very shady side, and this was the first time since November the shady border had been defrosted, so I had a great session cutting back, weeding and pruning everything into shape. This was the garden I keep the ivy trimmed to its junvenile form.

After finishing there, I had to dash across Guildford to take photos of a project that I gave advice for last year, where the hardscaping has now been completed. I took lots of pics so that I can plan the plants and trees for the borders, and the transformation that has taken place is amazing.


Another regular client, and one where i've now developed 4 borders over the last 6 years. There are now plans to move the garden on even further, so a garden designer has been called in to give a big picture of how to change things. I was introduced to her today, and she seemed very nervous to meet me, saying she didn't want to take over, but i'm far too close to this garden, having been in it monthly for the last 6 years to come up with something completly different in a concept design.  I'll get the pleasure of moving the current plants around into the new borders that will be created.

Most of the session was made up of weeding, but I pruned roses, moved around some seedlings, and dug up some Asters that were creeping too close to the lawn. These will be potted up and sold at the plant fairs i'm taking part in May.

I also planted up a container with some spring colour, using the fantastic homemade compost that's been brewing at the bottom of the garden.


Luckily there was football on TV this evening, so there were no complaints when I spent the evening doing planting lists


The start of today was totally non garden related, - A coffee morning for School mums, - although it was held at Squires, and gardening did come up in conversation. (so actually can't get away from the garden stuff can I)

I then headed off to my local nursery to pick up an order - and off to my client for planting 2 woodland edge borders with Hellebores and Sarcococcas. Plus 2 trees to add to a border I planted there last spring. The 2nd tree took longer to plant than I thought (serves me right for getting a good deal on a multistemmed birch and upping the spec) but luckily Hubby was working from home, so did the school run.

I got home just in time to gather up all my bits together for this evening's talk.  - To the Southern Branch of the National Vegetable Society, about Herbs. It was just down the road in East Horsley Village Hall, so not far to go, and they were a very appreciative audience who also totally destroyed my preconceptions of Vegetable Society members being older gents with caps who grow Vegetables far too big to be edible.


Friday is my gardening club day. I try and get in some exercise after school drop off, - but as i'm walking or swimming, i'm planning at least 3 activities of 10-15 minutes for each of the 3 age groups of children that I take. The first group at lunchtime is the reception children, - who are all very enthusiastic, but not terribly skilled at their hoeing, hole digging and seed sowing. The next group are the year 3's - 7 & 8 yr olds, who are by now worldly wise and think after 2 years they know all about gardening. I then get a break for a sandwich, and have an hour to weed, replant and harvest crops ready to sell to parents before group 3 (yr 1 & 2) after school.

By 4.10pm when i'm finishing clearing up after 3 lots of activites i'm a lot more tired than when i've done a full day of gardening, - or is that just that it's the end of the week?

Keeping your plants as teenagers - Hedera Helix

In real life, - you don't want to keep your children as teenagers, you want them to grow up and leave home at some point. With plants however, there are some that you want to keep in their teenage/juvenile form, as that is better behaved. (unlike real life)

Hedera Helix is a good example of this 2012-03-08_001

In its Juvenile form, it is a great plant for covering walls and fences, - it is evergreen, grows in shade and lots of forms have very pretty leaves.

But keep it trimmed regularly (once or twice a year at least) other wise not only will you loose site of what it's growing on (in this case a lovely wall), it will grow up.

The adult form of Ivy has Larger leaves, and flowers and berries. The berries are loved as winter food by birds (although poinsonous to us and dogs), but the main problem if the ivy is in the wrong place is that the adult form grows a heavy wooden trunk.

if it gets through a fence (like here coming into my veg patch in 2008) the weight can bring down even the best erected fencing posts. and can grow up trees and smoother and break them.

Just 2 years later, this fence was in tatters


and had to be replaced at great expense. - The Ivy looked wonderful from the neighbours side,-A lovely big evergreen shrub that was shielding the fence from view.

So if you've got Hedera Helix - English Ivy in your garden, - give it a trim soon to keep it as a teenager before it becomes too heavy.


Goodbye old friend, Hello new gardening opportunities

This weekend, I said goodbye to an old friend. For the last 15 years, i've spent most Sundays, and quite a few evenings in their company, in the warm, enjoying my gardening.

But now it's time to say goodbye to make room for a bigger more grown up friendship.


For the last 15 years, my Alton Cedar Greenhouse has been my partner in gardening. It was presented to me with a big bow around it for Christmas the year we moved into our first house, we'd asked all our friends and family for money towards it, and still it bust our budget, but it was soooo worth it, and over the years it has produced plants worth many many times it's value.

So at a time of year when most people have greenhouses full to the rafters, - i've had to clear mine out.

My windowsills are full, - and i'm delaying sowing a lot of things as the new one should be arriving in 2 weeks.

In the meantime, - the team from Wimbledon Garden services will be making me a new base and building the dwarf wall for my grownup plant house.

i'll keep you updated with the progress.

Border planting - would you go out without a shopping list?

Do you go shopping for food without a shopping list?

When I do that I usually spend 3 times as much, and then end up throwing stuff away at the end of the week that I didn't use. Plus I never remember the thing i'd run out of completely. - Thanks goodness for Ocado heh?

When i'm designing a border planting, I'm making a shopping list for my customers. 

After the initial consultation, I show them an ideas folder, and get them to brief me on the colours, styles and plants that they have an immediate like and dislike for.

Most people get very excited at this stage, and point out lots of wonderful plants,  and I go away with a long list.


However at this point, what I have to do is ensure that whatever the brief for the border, the plants will suit and thrive in it.

Sometimes in difficult soils and conditions, this means that the plants practically choose themselves, - These Hellebores don't mind some shade, and are wonderfully reliable hardy perennials.

Sometimes if you have better conditions, you have to be more disciplined, A colour theme helps, A time of year you want the border to look stunning in flower. That list that I get from my clients has to be pruned drastically, to get the shopping list that I know will be right for their soil, site, level of sun and their situation.

If you know what time of year you want flower, and how often you are able to look after it, and maybe a colour, it's easy to go to a garden centre and find a plant that fits that need. But if you don't work it out before hand, - or you choose something else if they havn't got that in stock , - beware! Just like food shopping, it could mean that you buy the wrong things, wasting you money and feeding your compost heap with dead plants.