January 2014


Happy New Year!! Well here we are, all bouncy and ready for a myriad of good deeds, full of extremely good intentions and bursting with plans.  I have great swathes of fruit bushes ready for a good cut back. I really enjoy it as it feels like a great big fresh start and is a good test as to if I can bend over after all the Christmas, birthday and New Year feasts.  I am gagging to get back out there, but first I may need to apologise for my recent absence (I don’t really want to flag it up if you didn’t noticed!). Ever so slightly apt for a gardening company that everything went a little pear shaped at ‘the Plot’ in recent months. Only on the admin front as I was domainless.  I don’t have the wherewithal to go into detail about my dilemma, but happy to say it has gone away, the dilemma that is, and the domain has returned.  For a while back there my email and website didn’t exist anymore, all was very, very quiet.  But crikey didn’t the outdoors make up for the lull within my home. It said storms and it stormed alright! Trees down at All Saints church and the doctors on Church road. Huge ones!  Hope your garden is still standing, if you do need a tree surgeon I can recommend Sam Jones, hes very good. I hope it is less timber yard and more mudfest in your garden so if you are going a bit stir crazy and managed to top up your blood sugars to an all time high you can still get out into the garden and do a bit of raking, digging or just hiding. So let me offer up jobs that can be done this month, please have a look below and let’s go gardening.  My bit of blather in the middle is my traditional ‘where to recycle your real Christmas tree’ bit.  It is my only regular bit of newsletter offering, I have been told it is a useful reminder so it will appear until I hear differently! Finally the days out bit has a few ideas for us all to get out there to wobble off the excess and get back to having fun for free that doesn’t need wrapping up.

clemetisSeasonal Jobs

Bit of rain!  So let’s make sure we have on our waterproofs (button undone for a week or two I thinks!) and waders and lets squelch out there to have a go at some of these gardening jobs:

  • Start cutting back grasses and other perennials that you left for winter interest.
  • Spread any left over compost around the garden and let the worms do the work.
  • If your roses or gooseberries had a visit from sawflies this year then have a light dig around the base of the plant to uncover the lava that is lurking there – leave these little cocoons uncovered and if the cold doesn’t get them then a hungry bird will.
  • This is a great month for getting your lawn mower serviced. Or do a good clean up yourself and replace any blunt blades. The offer is there for me to take it to the guy I use so get in touch.
  • Dig all available ground. As long as there hasn’t been a hard frost and the soil isn’t too wet, dig, dig, dig!
  • Plant your lily bulbs in pots.
  • Clean and sharpen your tools and, if necessary replace some tools. If you are throwing anything out, please let me know as the school gardening project I help run can always do with tools no matter how elderly or broken!!
  • Prune currant bushes by shortening side shoots and remove old stems that are crowding the centre of the bush.
  • Prune autumn-fruiting raspberries back to soil level.
  • Prune your apple and pear trees.
  • Try not to walk on frosty grass as it leaves big black footprints come the thaw.
  • Cut off any blotchy leaves that appear on your hellebores, new healthier ones will soon replace them.
  • Plan and plot your vegetable garden for the coming year, buy in seed and get excited! Whether you have a whole allotment or a few odd patches in a flower border we can provide you with a tailor-made plan so please get in touch.
  • Cover soil in your vegetable garden with black polythene (bin bags do just fine, just pop a brick on each corner to anchor it) this will warm up your soil ready for sowing early veg and salads in the Spring.
  • Start forcing rhubarb – place a large bucket, dust bin or forcing jar over the crown to encourage fresh, pink shoots.
  • Cut back ornamental vines, Ivy, Virginia Creeper and Boston Ivy. It’s a good idea to keep them away from windows, doors, gutters and roof tiles. It is much easier to remove live ivy, so try not to cut the base and hope to pull it off once brown.
  • Cut back your wisteria, taking back all side shoots to finger-length. This job does take ages, so it is advisable to take your new iPod/old radio out with you.
  • Order your potatoes and save your egg boxes for chitting them next month. With the potato fairs coming up please let me know if you want me to pick some up for you.
  • Berries, seeds and natural food sources have been exhausted now, so feeding birds becomes more important. It is the big garden bird watch on the 25th and 26th of January so have a look at the RSPB’s website.
  • If, like me, you are itching to sow something, then tomatoes, peppers, onions and sweet pea seeds can all be sown in the green house or on a window sill.
  • Sort out any trees, roses or shrubs that need a winter prune.
  • For any advice or help then please get in touch.

xmas-treeRecycling your Christmas Tree

 This bit is for all of you with real trees out there – I hope it will make your life easier if you are out there looking to dispose of your tree:

Croydon:  From Thursday 2nd until Saturday 11th you can take your tree to The Secret Garden or Sainsbury’s on Whitehorse Lane. For other collection points in Croydon then click here for the Croydon Council website.

Southwark: If you live in Southwark and you are part of the garden waste collection scheme then you can just put your tree out on your collection day and your bin men will take it away, or give them a ring on 0207 525 2000 or email (environment@southwark.gov.uk) and they will arrange a free collection for you. If you like to drive around with a dying tree then you can always pop it in the car and from 6th to 31st January you can take your tree to Belair Park, Peckham Rye Park or have a look at Southwarks website.

Lewisham: Yet again it is Lewisham who have gone all previous with their collection points and have opened them on December 28th, whatever happened to the 12 days of Christmas? So from 28th December until 27th January there will be collection points at Sydenham Wells Park, at the entrance on Wells Park Road and at Mayow Park at the entrance in Mayow Road. For other places in Lewisham click here.  They have made me feel like I’m not doing the best by my tree as on their website they clearly state we can dispose of our ‘unwanted real Christmas trees’ as if I wanted it just a bit more, loved it better and saw its potential I could find a new, happier use for it, maybe dress it in my mothers clothes and prop it in a rocking chair in the attic room?

Bromley: The borough of Bromley scares me!  You have to be very organised to live in Bromley so here we go – trees to the temporary recycling sites on Saturday 11th 11am-4pm or Sunday 12th 8am-12 noon only, if you live in Beckenham then Unicorn Primary school is your nearest site!  Have a look at Bromley’s council website to check their funny times and their seasonal message of prosecution!

Lambeth: If you live in Lambeth and are part of the orange sack recycling then they actually come to your door and take your tree away for you! On the week beginning 6th Jan until 31st Jan just leave your tree with your rubbish on your normal collection day and they take it away….you lucky lucky people! If you aren’t an orange sack person or if you miss the collection day then the nearest collection point is on Streatham Common or Clapham Common. For more information then click here to check out the Lambeth council website.

I’m offering the usual service of collecting and recycling your tree. Email me for details as soon as possible, (or we can do our usual and I will take it away in late July when I just can’t ignore the dead tree rolling around your front lawn any longer!).

Recycle at home: If you have an open fire or a brand new wood burning stove (oh yes Tim!) then why not keep your tree, cut it into bits and use the resin filled branches as firelighters.  You can get a double benefit if you strip the branches of the needles, or save your fingers and let the needles drop off of their own accord by leaving your hacked up tree in a bin bag, then use the dropped needles as mulch for your ericaceous plants, so blueberries, azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias those sort of fellas.

While you’re in the mood for recycling then grab all your Christmas cards and take them to M&S and chuck them in the Woodland Trust Recycling bins, they’ll be there throughout January. Have a look in the other big shops as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and TK Max usually do this but I can’t find any news on that this year….and I got a bit bored of big corporate websites!

sydenham-woodsDays Out

It is the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch on 25th and 26th and to get in the mood there is a bird walk on Tuesday 14th January in South Norwood Country Park, it is free and starts at 9.30.

Another birdy walk is happening at Hall Place, in Bexley.  From 10am – 2pm on Saturday 25th January.  Even if you don’t fancy a guided tour, Hall Place is a great day out with the topiary worth seeing, especially if we get a smattering of snow!

London Potato Day and Seedy Sunday, is on 26th January at Sydenham School in Forest Hill, it is a joy to shuffle around, trestle table after trestle table of seed potatoes to buy, some favourites and some unusual fellas (spuds and sellers alike).  If you can’t get there and would like me to pick you up some spuds to grow, just let me know.

At 2pm on 26th January Sydenham Hill Wood and Cox’s Walk has a Winter Tree ID walk…..well you can see in my photo!  If you can’t read it then all the info is on the London Wildlife Trust site.

A little way out in Kent is Bedgebury Pinetum and Forest.  It has acres and acres to explore with loads going on.  The reason it gets a special mention this month is that the ‘Stick man Trail’ is running until 30th Jan and based on the childrens book, it sounds really good fun with den making and woodland sounds and making a stick man to take home…..my children are a bit old for this sort of malarkey so any babysitting jobs out there, let me know!!

October 2013


Life is a bit lovelier.  I am about to sneak off from my regular plot gardening duties for a fortnight in a school in the Isle of Dogs to help the children make a dinosaur or two out of willow. How could life be more fun?  Terry is making a splendid recovery with much credit to be taken by his amazing family and his sheer bloody mindedness. He has asked me to thank everyone who sent him get well messages, he is extremely chufty about how lovely you all are.  The weather has been seasonally normal, bit of a shock this year with snow until May and tropical sunshine in August, so here we are with the sun shining in our eyes by 4pm and trees turning a delightful colour.  I do love autumn. In between a bit of willow weaving I will be tackling some of this months jobs, please have a look below and see if I can tempt you out too.  For my free rein ramble I have been asked about making a pond in a pot a burble I burbled a few years ago so here it is rehashed, updated and revisited so do have a look.  Matt has joined us again on this newsletter to add his wisdom about how to encourage wildlife into our ponds, be they in a pot or a hole in the ground.  All this aquatic twaddle links beautifully in with the rhs and wildlife trusts  ‘wild about gardens week‘ which runs from 21st until all hallows on 31st of this month.  Finally this month I have some tasty outings and a really good walk out at midnight – werewolf costume not needed.

Seasonal Jobs

Raking time again – I would recommend that on the last mowing that you keep the mower out and once you have checked for large rocks and the like then you can mow up the leaves from the driveway much easier and very satisfying:

  • Make a leaf mulch bin with 4 posts knocked into the ground and chicken wire tacked on. If you can’t face such a chore then have a look here for biodegradable leaf sacks. They are great.
  • Rake up the leaves to put in one of the above, but leave them in the flower beds for over wintering wildlife. Save your leaves, but burn your twigs and save back some bigger logs to…
  • …make a log pile for a winter retreat for beetles, bugs and frogs.
  • Prune your climbing roses.  You are really taming the beasty, cutting off the dead, diseased and dying bits, the bits that are rubbing and crossing over each other. If you need to give it a good taming then think of leaving at least 2 thirds of the plant.
  • Get vacant ground busy by choosing a plant for your site and preparing your ground now. November is the ideal time to plant roses, fruit trees, shrubs and deciduous trees. Dig the ground, adding plenty of well rotted animal manure and let the ground settle for a few weeks.
  • Check your tree ties. Loosen or replace them if needed.
  • Pot up your strawberry runners and make yourself a new strawberry bed.
  • It is the best time to lay a new lawn.
  • This is the month for seeding and repairing your lawn, but then stop it!
  • Sow sweet pea seeds – put them in pots (not tubes) and keep in a greenhouse or on a cool windowsill.
  • Is the frost coming? If it does and all your dahlias, cannas and begonias go black then cut back the foliage and either dig up to store in dry compost in a frost free place, or wrap up in fleece for the wintertime. Be prepared for this advice to appear every month for a while.
  • If you still have green tomatoes on your vines then dig up the whole vine and hang it upside down in your greenhouse or in a cool light place to encourage the fruits to ripen.
  • Sort out and clean out your greenhouse. Keep it well ventilated or you’ll end up with a mouldy greenhouse.
  • If you do have a greenhouse then it’s time to make your last sowing of hardy lettuces such as Arctic King.
  • Once the ferny foliage of the asparagus goes all yellow and dies then cut it back to 2.5cms above the ground. Pop on a good layer of compost.
  • Keep picking apples and pears and make sure you clear them from under the trees to stop diseases and pests getting a hold.
  • Plant garlic, shallots, onions and broad beans in your veg bed.
  • Chuck a bit of fleece over any beetroot or carrots that you are growing outdoors.
  • Sow green manure in empty veg beds to improve your soil and also to prevent autumn weeds coming up.
  • Plant lily bulbs in pots or in well drained soil straight into the garden.
  • In your ponds take out lights and pumps and remove dead leaves from your water lilies.
  • If you have put netting over your pond to catch leaves then make sure you check them often so you can save trapped frogs, newts and toads.
  • Plant spring bulbs (but hold off planting tulips until November)
  • If you need any help or advice then please get in touch.

Pond life:

(This is my bit)

I sometimes feel like I could slip over the edge and start to turn into the Veruca Salt of the garden, stamping my foot and shouting ‘I want it NOW!’ a lot. So as I work my way around my garden I find that still on my wish list alongside a stumpery, hammock, wildflower meadow and penguin, enclosure is a pond. A pond is a tricky one with two gallivanting children – even if they didn’t tumble, ride or plunge into it then one of their mates was sure to, or in all reality I probably would! But I want one!! So here is my compromise. A pond in a pot, fancy joining me? Here’s what I’m going to do – this afternoon.

In what? Any container that’s at least 45cm across and 30cm deep will do as long as it is waterproof, and if you have fallen in love with a pot but it isn’t waterproof (and that is daft as you’re making work for yourself) then seal up the holes with all-purpose, waterproof sealant, such as Starbrite Epoxy Putty to bung up the holes and then let it dry overnight. In the morning (wishing you’d heeded my advice about not bothering) seal the porous surfaces with waterproofing paint, yes it does exist look! You will need to do this outside else you’ll get as high as a kite.

Stating the blindingly obvious: Before you begin filling it place your pot where you want it to live as it will be really heavy once it’s filled up! I know, but these oversights happen to the best of us. So where to put it? In a sunny position away from trees if you can, as you don’t want to be fishing leaves out in the autumn.

Let’s get busy: In the bottom put a layer of washed gravel. This gives you a good base to put your plants onto. You will probably need some bricks or upturned pots to put some of the plants on so they are at the correct height.

Water water everywhere: Fill with rainwater but if you are using water out of the tap you’ll need to leave your pond alone now for a few days to let the chlorine evaporate.

Planting it up: There are four types of pond plants that we need to get for our pond: marginals, oxygenating plants, floating plants and waterlillies. Go for a good mix of these. Smaller dwarf varieties are what you are after. Don’t cram the pot as it is the water effect that makes it a pond and not a sloppy plant holder. There are some baddies, very invasive, non-native naughty plants so avoid these, here is defra’s list, yes defra so pay attention!

Naming names: If you don’t want to fly solo then let me recommend a few types of plants by name so you can clutch a list then ignore me once in the shop and fall in love with something else. Waterlilies – with glorious names like Nymphaea ‘Pygmaea Helvola’, Nymphaea ‘Perry’s Baby Red’ and Nymphaea tetragona are all little fellas’ suitable for a container. Make sure you have an oxygenating plant such as Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum). I’m going to go with a Corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus f.Spiralis) and a Water solider (Stratiotes aloides), if I can find them.

Where to go looking: I have rainwater so can plant up today – so off I’ll go to the Aquatic Centre behind Wyevales in Croydon, they have a great selection. There is If you are using tap water and have to wait then why not go for it and order your plants on line? I very much like the look of Puddleplants That way when they arrive you will suddenly remember you started this project and can feel happy and smug that you actually finished it!

Wildlife for the pond: No need to help here.  It won’t take long before your little pond will be brimming with things. Some of those things you can identify on this download.  Delightfully, in spring, frogs are tempted into a pond by the smell of algae….so up to you if you clear the algae!

Now once we’ve finished how about a spot of penguin rustling?

Pond Colonisation:

(This is Matt’s bit)

Experiments conducted looking into the colonisation of ponds have shown
it takes less than 3 weeks for life to arrive in a new pond.  The
experimenters create empty ponds that are allowed to fill naturally with
rainwater and that have no other “assistance” from people i.e. not
adding plants or adding a bucket of water from another pond.  The first
living things to arrive are the microscopic animals called zooplankton.
Next come the photoplankton, which are microscopic plants that can
photosynthesize, and the pioneer algae.  The death and decay of these
species helps to build up a silt that the next wave of colonisers can
make use of.

Scientists don’t know with absolute certainty how the first larger
organisms arrive, but current thinking suggests that they may be
windblown, or hitch a lift on other creatures that naturally visit water
such as birds and the flying insects like hoverflies and dragonflies.

Lots of pond inhabitants fly during one of their lifecycle stages e.g.
pond skaters, water beetles, caddisflies and alderflies, and definitely
arrive airborne. However that doesn’t explain how the worms, snails and
the like make their way from one pond to another.  I suspect they hitch
on to amphibians and maybe birds.  Whilst working at The Plot, I have on
occasion seen snails fly, but they were not aquatic snails, were
definitely human assisted and were never going to survive living in a
pond – you know who you are!

Days Out

Crunchy month! Crisp, fresh air, freshly fallen leaves to trample through and loads to do! I love October.

Roots and Shoots Apple Day is brilliant and is on Sunday 6th October this month….so excited!

Thinking of things falling off a tree in to my hand – it is the end of the pick-your-own season. I know I nearly missed it too but I managed to rally the troupes and get off to Garson Farm in Esher.  It is huge, it was so lovely, I left some stuff for you to go harvest.

On Saturday 12th October St Christopher’s Hospice has it’s Midnight walk, superb local cause providing bereavement counselling and support for young people and we get to do a midnight walk, we might hear owls!

This outing is a bit of a way out but looks really good. I found out about this vineyard tour on the kent garden of england website, and then visited the Biddenden vineyard website to find out more but I have to admit that I am a bit baffled by the layout of the website but very impressed by the free tours that are held every Wednesday and Saturday, and you get a free cup of tea!

The rhs have taken the 21st to 31st of October and decided it is wild about gardens week. So Wisley are hosting a sensory day which looks interesting, and Wisley is always a great day out.