February 2013

With all the snow in January you are sooooo lucky you didn’t get me writing a gardening version of war and peace for this February’s newsletter!  You’re only saving grace was the fact I needed to sort out ‘The Plot’ finances.  I do love gardening.  I love everything about gardening: my little team of the -most-delightful-people-you’d-ever-want-to-spend-time -with, the great gardens we get to visit, with the loveliest clients you could ever wish for.  I am genuinely a jammy git!  But the tax, the invoicing, the money side of it, I do have to focus on, with the power of  levitating a table with the pure strength of my gaze, type concentration.  So the snow fell and made me do the business side of gardening.  Boo, hiss! So why am I telling you this?  No idea! Probably for some sort of sympathy.  Stranded indoors, with only receipts for company… yes definitely sympathy. But the snow has sludged and slipped away.  I’m back out there skipping and raking with delight.  I’ve found a few snowdrops, which makes me smile. I was so very ready to bounce out and get busy, and so I’m delighted to be able to offer some very erstwhile gardening jobs to stave off insanity, so have a look in the seasonal jobs bit.  One of my favourite jobs at this time of year is chucking on a good topdressing of manure and letting the worms do the work, and Matt is here to let us know the mysteries of this wonderful beastie. As well as topdressing, my veg beds I’m also planning my greenhouse and I’ve decided to try bale planting again, so why not join me and have a look below to see what I’m on about. Then finally lets go out, I love the dark side of horticulture and you don’t get more powerful or dark than the flower that killed Alexander the Great, so lets go hellebore hunting.

Seasonal Jobs

If you did the RSPB ‘s bird watch you’ll be able to feed the specific birds in your garden, you could also:

  • Give established borders a top dressing of organic fertiliser such as bone-meal, seaweed meal, pelleted chicken manure or any fertiliser that is fairly high in phosphates and potash but low in nitrogen.
  • If you have light soil you can plant out your garlic and shallots, for heavier soil wait a month or two until the ground warms up.
  • Prune late flowering shrubs such as buddleias, santolina, hardy fuchsias and lavatera. These flower best on growth made since the spring so be brutal and cut right back to one or two buds, almost to the ground. Get in touch if you want more help.
  • Jerusalem artichoke tubers can be planted now; remember they get very tall. It is also a good idea to dig a trench and then plant them on top of a water permeable membrane so they don’t spread like mad!
  • Plant anemones and ranunculuses.
  • Prune hardy evergreen hedges, and it is a great time of year to be renovating overgrown deciduous hedges.
  • It is still a good time to get any tree work done. If the task is too much for you to tackle, then Sam know and he’ll sort you out a quote.
  • Prune winter flowering jasmine. When it has finished flowering cut the shoots back to a length of 5cms.
  • If you grow your tomatoes in a cold greenhouse in April then sow the seeds on a windowsill.
  • Give lavender, rosemary, bay and any shrubby herbs in pots a top dressing of fertilizer and some good compost. Don’t do this to the ones in the ground as they prefer to be left alone!
  • Chit your potatoes or don’t! You don’t need a vegetable patch to grow potatoes, a large pot or compost bag will bring you in a healthy crop. Please get in touch if you want more information, it will make me happy!
  • You can plant your sweet peas outside now. Pop them in 1cm deep. If you like then you could pop a bottle ‘cloche’ over them (cut a plastic bottle in half, take off the lid and put the top bit over the seed – little mini greenhouse)
  • If you have worm casts on the lawn then brush them away. I often find that impossible as they are all claggy and just smear, so be prepared to pick them up and pop them onto a border or into your pocket!
  • Sow early crops of peas and broad beans.
  • You can still plant fruit trees.
  • Check pots and window boxes and water, if needed, in the mornings – don’t water if a frost is forecast.
  • If you want any Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, shallots, seed potatoes or any other plant then please let me know by clicking here.


Matt’s bit


They can be described as a digestive tube within a thick tube that forms the body – sounds a bit like me over the festive period. In the case of earthworms, the body is formed into ring like segments and is is that appearance which gives these useful organisms their latin name. They belong to the phylum called annelid worms, and in latin, anellus means “little rings”, have a look at an earthworm and you can see why. The UK has over 25 species of earthworm. Functionally diverse, there are four living styles (ecotypes) of earthworm, compost earthworms, endogeic, epigeic and anecic.  The compost earthworms as their name suggests like warm and moist environments, they are the red worms in your compost bin.  Endogeic worms live and feed in mainly horizontal burrows in the soil, epigeic worms live and feed in leaf litter. Finally the anecic worms, which were studied closely by Darwin, create permanent vertical burrows and gather leaves and pull them into their burrows to eat.  Darwin observed these worms pulling in leaves by the ‘pointed end’ which made it easier for the worm to bring them onto their burrow.  Not bad for an organism with no eyes…(the worm, not Darwin)

So what do the earthworms do for us? Well, they are found everywhere that there is dead material than needs breaking down, they move organic material deeper into the soil, and with their vertical or horizontal burrowing, they aerate the soil nicely creating little tubes for oxygen and water to come into the soil.  They are also are eaten by many other organisms from birds to beetles and play a vital role in soil ecology. Not bad for a tube within a tube.

Hay diddle diddle ….

Why? – Some parts of your garden might be sunny enough for some lovely vegetable growing but the soil might not be great, or not even be there.  In a greenhouse where I can be found regularly, the ground is either waterlogged or so dry you can’t dig even with my trusty mattock.  So this year I’m going back to try growing things in hay bales.  The idea is you get the bales, wet them so they begin to compost and create lovely heat.  Then add fertilser and grow straight into them.  Hay presto! A lovely raised bed of wonderful fertile growing medium, and only a scant amount of good soil needed. Then once you’ve grown your crops you can spread the hay or pop it on the compost heap to mix with some good nitrogen rich grass cuttings and rotten vegetation and within 3 months you have excellent compost.

The recipe –

  • Get a bale.  Now the whole process takes about four weeks so I get my bale now, but don’t start watering or doing anything to it until May……I know!  But I treat it as part of my veg bed prep like buying in my seeds, and I know if I don’t do this job this month then it won’t get done….things begin to grow, the garden demands more of my time and now is my best time to go off and sort out a bale or six.  So this is why I’m telling you now!
  • Put the bales where you’ll be using them and IN MAY water well. Give them a really good soaking, this may need repeating a few times, depending on how dry the straw is.  Obviously get them in place before all the watering – they get soo heavy.
  • Apply 175g of a nitrogenous fertiliser (e.g. dried blood) and water in. Cover with polythene, black bags will do, to help the heat build up and keep the moisture in. Leave the polythene on for four days.
  • Add another 175g of the same fertiliser, water again and cover up again with the polythene. Leave for further four days.
  • Add 350g of general fertiliser (e.g. chicken manure) and water in.
  • Over the next few days, check the temperature until it reaches its optimum temperature of between 43-54c, after which it will start to cool, you can guess this or get yourself a soil thermometer, and if you’re a bit like me you’ll like a bit of kit! For your bale to heat right up and then begin to cool could take up to two weeks, depending on surrounding temperatures.
  • Once the temperature has reduced to 38c you can start planting.
  • Spread a bucket of compost over the top of the bale and cut/make planting holes into it. Water them carefully before adding the plants.
  • You can plant two to three plants in a bale.  Anything you’d usually grow in a greenhouse are great bale growing so plants such as chillies, tomatoes, melons and cucumbers. Trailing plants can also be added to grow over the edges.


Days Out

Poison! Here come the bulbs…
So many plants can kill us, this is not an advert or a call to arms.  But just eat the safe stuff, most poisonous plants do taste terrible.  But then, if you are worried, lets get out there and get educated. The best poison garden is at Alnwick Castle, but that is in Northumberland.  Nearer to us we can visit –

Hadlow College which has the national collection of Hellebores.

This month the Chelsea Physic Garden have their doors open for their snowdrop day, I had the loveliest lunchtime with my mum today strolling around the snowdrops, but it was the poison bed that caught our imagination, like mother like daughter!

Gatton Park is bursting with snowdrops and aconites this month.  They are open on Sundays under the great yellow book scheme and it is a great day out with lots of room for a bracing walk.