Gardening with Children

Flower photography workshop at Hill top farm

After a couple of manically busy weeks, and a few days away leaving Paula in charge (during which time she managed flowers for 3 weddings, and 2 florists and lots of bouquet orders - Thanks) i've indulged myself this week, with a couple of day trips.

The first on Monday was with the Farm as the venue, but William and I took part in Emma Davies Flower photography workshop.

When Emma held her 1st workshop of the year, back at the beginning of June, - I was planting frantically, so couldn't join in, but I promised myself that this time, i'd have a go, and William my 10 year old was keen to join in too.

William taking photos (1 of 1)

we started the morning learning about light. - This involved looking at the shadows on wooden eggs, and then we moved on to light needed for taking photos of objects and flowers.

Everyone had different cameras, and was at different levels, but Emma took that in her stride, helped us all work out how to get the right settings for what we were trying to take pictures of, and before lunch we were all sent out to try her 7 "better photo techniques"

Gladiolus white-1

(photo credit William Brown)

This involved us moving round flowers to find their best side. Getting down low as well as taking pictures from standing height. - Looking for leading "paths", - using the rule of 3rds, & focusing on one key flower.

Polytunnel leading eye (1 of 1)

(Photo credit William Brown)

After a soup / sandwich lunch at Quaich in Horsley, we were ready to turn a bit more technical, and Emma encouraged us to "get off auto" - With the help of some lovely old props, we learnt about Apertures, and F- numbers. How to Blur backgrounds, how to work with wind, fast moving objects and low light levels, and then we were off to practice again.

Blurred background example-1

There was plenty of wildlife just waiting to be captured on "film" (I know we were all using digital, so not quite) and William loved this bee, while it was loving the Artichoke.

Billy bee on Cynara buzzing (1 of 1)

(Photo credit William Brown)

and I found a another who was finding the Hyssop tasty.

Bee on blue herb (1 of 1)

Then we finished up with some staged shoots in the polytunnel - brilliant for its diffused light.


Staged shoot in polytunnel (1 of 1)

By this stage, William had wandered off, but when we downloaded the photos in the evening, in addition to the flowers, - there were quite a few staged "lego" shots!

A fantastic day was had by all, It was lovely to Meet Clare, Janet and Suzanne, -thank you all for indulging and encouraging William. I'm looking forward to seeing the results of our first "homework" in the Facebook group for workshop "graduates".


RHS London Design and Spring Plant Show 2013

The RHS Spring Design and Plant show, always seems to clash with half term. - Last year, I took my son, - It cost me in bribery, but we had a good time, - you can read our last year's exploits here.

Today he was with a friend, so I had a couple of hours to schlep up to London on my own.

The first view in the design hall was this amazing painting by Susan Entwhistle.


I stood for ages admiring her pictures, until I reminded myself i've a cut flower farm to pay for.... The design hall had good displays from the main Design and Landscape organisations. - If you want to see a range of portfolio work, it's a great place to start.

The main plant hall was really crowded, which is great for the future of the shows, and had some amazing displays. One nursery (didn't write down the name, sorry) had used dried Lunaria seed heads as height for their displays of Snowdrops, and the first thing that caught my eye was an Acacia Baileyana in full bloom.

These were other high points for me.


With my cut flower hat on, I asked the ladies of the Nafas stand, but no, not all the flowers in their display were English, - somehting to work on for next year I think.

I loved the Mcbeans orchid display, - I remember a visit to Mcbeans when I worked at Wisley, and being fascinated by their displays and glasshouses. - If you want an english grown Orchid, then they have an open day happening this weekend on 23rd/24th Feb.

The show is on again tomorrow Wednesday, - if you're in London, it is free for RHS members, and well worth a visit even if you have to pay entrance. - Enjoy the first plants of spring.



Runner beans, - pretty flowers before the food

When I was child, my parents grew fruit and vegetables. Some like the Raspberries and Apples, I was happy to help them with. Some like the Runner beans seemed to come in such abundance, that I remember with a shudder the huge sessions as a teenager of slicing and blanching beans. (to the point where my sister still can't eat them).

I love them fresh and recently picked from the plant, so I just grow a small tepee of them for end of summer Sunday veg. But now I have a dilemma

Runner beans montage for web
because instead of the plain red flowers that my father always had. There are now fantastic tasting beans with different colour flowers, that make your tepees pretty as well as productive.

The 2 tone flowers on the left are in the School garden, and are from seeds given to me by Thompson and Morgan for getting the answers right in a competition. They have the name of EXP09 (experimental?) and  they were sown by children age 5-8. Only one pot out of 45 failed to germinate. Luckily lots of them wanted to take their beans home, so it was only gardening club children that planted them out.

i'll let you know the results of the taste test next week. I'm hoping they fail abysmally. Otherwise they are so pretty that next year i'll end up growing 2 tepees of runner beans, and my son will also grow to shudder at the thought of blanching them for the freezer.

Allotment progress 8 months on, - and special visitors

Last September, - you might remember that my family were allocated a rather special allotment. I havn't written about it much, - but that doesn't mean that we havn't been (regularly) working it, and harvesting our crops, - particularly to go with our Sunday Roasts.


It's been a real family affair. - I've been down there on my own only a handful of time, - mostly it's all 3 of us.


This is our plot in all it's glory yesterday, - when we were visited by His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester, and lots of other important local people including our Mayoress. We were asked lots of questions and William proudly showed them round, - including pointing out the eaten pea plants (rabbits or deer we're not sure what's evading the perimeter fence)


The rest of the volunteers at the Grace and Flavour garden (over the wall in the photo) also got to show off their acheivements and then in the best of british traditions, there was lots of tea and cake.

Well done to Su and Bob for organising the day, and all the G & F community gardeners and allotmenteers for being there to show off what we've acheived in the last couple of years.

Gardening Club - 2 years on.

So it's official, - i've been running Gardening club for 2 years now.

On April 23rd 2010 I took this shot of the Patch behind the gym.


I'd read Dominic Murphy's The playground potting shed from cover to cover. - I'd asked advice from those I'd found on Twitter running gardening clubs (don't worry about the mess being the best piece of advice ever). I'd planned at least one if not 2 tasks for each session that term, and i'd begged borrowed or stolen plants, tools, pots and props.

I started off with 2 groups, - one of 7 year one and twos, (6 & 7 yr olds) and one of 4 yr three and fours (8 & 9 yr olds), plus I had a volunteer mum helping me with the little ones.

That first Summer, we just cleared the ground and planted seeds and a few plants that i'd grown in my greenhouse. Of course they were all so eager, that those 2 tasks per week lasted about 15 minutes, and I had 40 minutes to fill, but I became adept at finding 3 different types of tasks for each group to carry out, and then there was always hole digging to practise.


I discovered that the older children knew no more than the younger ones. That most of the children actually need to be given permission to get dirty (go on kneel down and use your hands, has become an oft repeated refrain)  That all of them were willing to taste things they hadn't before (Peer pressure?) and that Radish is obviously not a childrens favourite salad no matter how easy they are to grow.

We were sent the most amazing pack of free seeds to get us started (Thank you sooo much Seed Parade, Suttons and RHS Schools), which was just as well, because we've had to fight against Slugs, Ducks (yes it's right next to a pond) rabbits, mice, as well as blight. On top of School holidays falling exactly when you really need to be planting, watering or picking crops

The School vouchers from the supermarkets were put to good use to get us gloves, tools, and a grow house, and i'm indebted to all my clients who've put up with me filching anything they've finished with or don't want, or have too many of.

By Last summer, we'd added a seed sown lawn. (By now I had a group of year 7 lads, very willing to help me with lawn mowing) Some flowers, and we'd actually marked off some planting beds with decking boards, so they didn't get walked on.

During the Summer Holidays, Our Fab parents Association funded a Polytunnel, and I came back to school to find it erected and waiting to be filled.


We also came back to find that the rain had helped our Sunflowers


But that our Tomatoes and Potatoes had succombed to blight and the slugs had eaten most of what was left.

Undettered  (well not much) We've pressed on, and I now have 3 groups of intrepid gardeners each week. i've even got a waiting list as I'm only taking 10 at a time maximum.


I'm selling mixed bags of Salads and herbs to the parents after school each Friday, and this year we plan to create a full cut flower garden as well in the place of a horrid big Prunus laurecerasus bush. I've had 56 different Children do gardening club for at least one term (i've got several who are on their 4th, but usually they tell me that they know it all after 3 terms!)

I'm a lot more tired at the end of three 40 minute sessions and a bit of weeding on a Friday afternoon than I am after a full day of planting, -but the sense of satisfaction when they all try Chard, or rocket, and can tell me that it's mint because it tastes like toothpaste is worth it all.




Behind the scenes at the Wisley Butterflies

One of the talks that I give to gardening and WI groups is about gardening for wildlife, and butterflies feature in that talk, but today I got to see some rather different and exotic butterflies and learn a bit about what goes on behind the scenes at Wisley to get these wonderful creatures into their glasshouse to amaze the public in the depths of winter.

The butterflies are sent in Chrysalis form, from Belize to Wisley via the experts at Stratford Butterfly farm. When they arrive, they are hung upside down (stuck on with non toxic copydex) in an emergence cage which is kept warm and humid. These green chrysalis will be Blue Morpho Butterflies in a couple of weeks.


When they do emerge, they need to hang for a few hours for their wings to dry out, before they fly.

(Owl and Malay Lacewing newly hung from the emergence cage)

When they've warmed up (and the glass house at Wisley is lovely and warm for them at the moment) then they'll fly off to find out what tropical delights the glasshouse staff have laid on for them.

Each year the Wisley team find more varieties of plants that are able to flower in an English January, and to provide nectar for tropical butterflies.


Orchids, Calliandra, the Jade vine Strongylobum and Lantana were all being well visited today by butterflies.


But for those that don't like the Wisley specimens, there is a buffet table


Where the guests actually prefer the fruit at the rotting, past it's best stage, and the centre of the flowers are sugar water (10% solution) for feeding and drinking.

I really enjoyed my butterfly trip today. And they are very popular as the queues on Sunday when I went with my family, and the full glasshouse today prove. So I hope they are here to stay as a winter attraction at Wisley. - They are in the Glasshouse until Mid February, so don't worry if you can't get there in the next few days.

Now i'm off to plan more attractive plants for our native butterflies this summer. - Anyone know if they like sugar water too?






Wisley - Sunday morning inspiration

Summer Sunday morning - time to meet with family and friends outside in the sun. I feel fantistically lucky to have The RHS garden at Wisley just 10 minutes down the road. So my Sunday mornings often include a wander and coffee at this world famous garden.

This was the view along the glasshouse borders.

In case you didn't know, - RHS Wisley opens at 9.00am at the weekend. So you get to have fantastic views of stunning borders including the new Rose garden (so good all the Roses have to be smelt)


With the garden almost to yourself.

Then there's the Wild at Wisley playground, where an hour of Den building was the perfect way to let 7 year olds enjoy themselves outside.


Community gardening at its best

I've had the most fantastic day full of gardening, and I only got 1/2 an hour of weeding done in my own garden. I've spent the rest of the day at Grace and Flavour.

Do you remember how empty the garden looked back in April?

Well now after 6 months of hard teamwork, the garden looks completely different, and full of crops


Continue reading "Community gardening at its best" »

Watering in Elephants

i've just come in from the garden, and it's after 10pm. It's been hot the last couple of weeks, - Hot & Dry.

Little boy watering

Now hot sunlight is good for plant growth and floriferousness, as long as there is enough water at the plant's roots, BUT here in Surrey, - we havn't had any decent rain for months (I think i've only gardened in waterproofs for 2 whole days this year!)

I am on a water meter, so I use my waterbutts whenever I can, but they've been empty for weeks. So I have had to hand water, and use a sprinkler in the evening.  This evening I wanted to plant out some of the seedlings i've been growing. - I wouldn't plant any client borders at the moment, but I want to get all my seedlings in the soil before the summer holidays, - they have a slightly better chance of survival in the ground than in small pots on shelving on my patio, but to give them the best chance in the ground I set the sprinkler running on the patch I was going to plant. - Unfortunately in the 35 minutes it was running, the water only soaked down 1 cm. Not nearly enough for even a seedling's rootball (about 4-5cm deep).

So if you want plants to get the most moisture to their roots to help them survive, an overhead sprinkler isn't the most efficient way, - a watering can with a rose, or a hose with a lance spray are the best.

I teach the children in gardening club that we are watering roots, not leaves, and that they need to count their watering in Elephants. Using this method, the children can't count too quickly (one elephant, two elephants etc) and the plants get a decent amount of moisture where they need it - a tomato plant needs at least 5 elephants, the corn needs 3 elephants each. A row of seedlings needs 8 elephants. The beans 5 elephants each cane of the wigwam.

Are you using enough elephants in your watering?

A Hydrangea needs a can of water a week in this weather. Chucking it all on at once will mean most of it drains elsewhere, so a quarter of a can, then going back in 5 minutes for another quarter etc. My watering can takes over a minute to fill up from the hose (60 elephants) which means that most plants in the garden will need a minimum of 10 second/elephants spraying with a hose.

It is a lot better for the plants to drink deeply on every 2nd or 3rd day, than to have a little sprinkling every day. - Something to think about if we do start getting rain again, - has it been as heavy as 10 elephants?

West Horsley Horticultural Society Spring Show - or, I nearly won the cup!

After all my panicking yesterday about whether i'd have anything to show, I managed to get together a fairly decent set of entries for last night.

My daffodils weren't abundant in the garden, but I managed a group 2 (sepals bigger than trumpet), a group 4 (Double), a triandrus (2 headed tete a tete), and a potted arrangement.


I also had the only tulips to be seen, - wish i'd written down which variety they were when i'd planted them.


I took some leucojum stems, to enter for the 3 stems of other bulbs, but although they looked great in the garden, when I got to the village hall, the competition was fierce and the other leucojums looked bigger and better than mine.

There were several vases of hyacinths added to this class after I took this photo, but I only had 2 of each colour flowering in the garden (blue and white) so didn't have enough for the 3 stems.

When I went to set up, William was with me, - he was impressed by the flowers and loved the pretty vases (someone suggested we should have a prettiest vase category as well!), I asked him if he thought my blooms were good enough to win, - his reply, - of course mummy, but it's not the winning it's the taking part that counts! 


With the hall set up, we retreated to let the judge make his decisions.

We returned at 7.30 for Sherry and supper (yes the choice of aperitif does indicate the average age of the society members!)

The members of WHHS may be mature bunch, but they all have fantastic gardening enthusiasm and knowledge, and are very friendly, so conversation flowed about how awful the weather is, what plants have been affected, tips for slug removal and many other local garden related hints.

By the time several bottles of sherry had been consumed, the noise level had risen and we were allowed into the hall to see who had been judged as winners in each class.

My class 2 daffodil got a first, My double wasn't placed (not far enough out of bud) My Tete a tete triandrus got a third, my tulips were 1st (they were the only tulips!) the leucojums which I almost took home with me, the judge obviously liked my blue vase, and I got third, and my pot of tete a tete got a first.

6 entries, 5 placings and 3 firsts.

The evening supper was excellent, - A fantastic salad buffet with Ham, Turkey, Quiche and Coronation chicken was polished off.The homemade puddings were amazing, and no chocolate in sight, which meant I could choose from all of them - Kiwi Trifle won. Conversation at dinner covered a huge number of subjects, Gardening of course, Morgan cars, children and grandchildren, and even a bit of politics, thank you to Angela, Bob and Heather for welcoming me and being so sharing of their wine.

When everyone was replete, Mr Peach our judge, gave some excellent hints and tips about why the winners had got their prizes, and then the cups and best in show were awarded. - I was runner up in the bulb classes along with the chairman, so i've got my sights on the cup!. The best in show was awarded to Anne Tutt for some fantastic floating double hellebores (snuck in after i'd taken my pictures) 

So now i'm planning my entries for the other 2 shows of the year, and William will be entering the childrens classes. If you havn't thought of entering a horticultural show before, i'd highly recommend it, - i've had great fun planning and preparing the plants, and gardening people are always a friendly welcoming bunch, - Any tips for me as to how I get my hands on that cup next year? (I know it's the taking part that counts!)

Notes for myself for next year. -

Stock up on the bottles for vases in January, and don't recycle them the week before!

Get feeding those Hellebores, i've got lots of work to do to compete with the best in show winner

Grow daffodils for the other 3 classes, and put in clumps of them so I have a choice of which to pick

Bring the doubles in the day before to have them open enough for the show

Don't bring the tulips in until the afternoon, to make sure they haven't blown for next year.

Grow a pot plant