March 2013


I love going to Upper Norwood Library, so imagine my double delight when I saw the leaflet with the headline ‘Free Pint?’. I almost stopped strangers to try to dance with them. The idea is to grow a hop plant in your garden, give your harvest to a local pub who will turn said bounty into a local brew. This, you then get a free pint of!!!! Oh! Growing! Local! Pint!!!!! Some of my favourite things.  So put your order in with thepalacepint by 8th March and pick up your hop plants on 17th March. To get the best out of your plant see my botanical blurb below.  Besides planting hops this month there are a myriad of wonderful jobs to be done as the soil warms up so have a look at the seasonal jobs list to see if I can tempt you out. I have just realised that March has Mothers Day in it. It’s on Sunday 10th March, I feel like my public service obligation has been met!  Oh hang on, I’ve only announced it, and not solved it, so what to do? What to do? Where to go? Have a look on the days out bit at the bottom of this gardening warble…

Seasonal Jobs

Sow and scatter the good seed on the ground, then you can get on with this little lot if you fancy:

  • Sow sweet peas directly outdoors. Once they start to grow pinch out the tips, as the side shoots produce better flowers than the main stems.
  • Plant some Rhubarb.Go on!
  • Plant Gladioli. To lengthen the flowering period it is well worth doing successional planting. So pop in a few every week for about 6 weeks.
  • Crocosmia can also be planted now but no need to fiddle faddle around staggering their planting they can all go in at the same time.
  • Start dreaming of warm summers nights as your strawberries can be planted out.
  • Remove any brown camellia flowers.
  • Give your borders, trees and shrubs a top dressing of compost, manure and composted bark.
  • Plant out your spring bedding. Maybe add a few bits and bobs to flagging pots, or start all over again.
  • Prepare a trench for your runner beans….for sowing in June.
  • Still not too late to be removing all the moss and dead grass from the lawn by giving it a good raking.
  • Once the lawn starts to grow again then give it a feed with some lawn fertiliser.
  • Last chance to plant your fruit trees.
  • Hand-pollinate peach, nectarine and apricot trees. There just aren’t enough bees around at the time of year when these flower so get out your paintbrush and get busy.
  • This is a great month to repair old lawns and lay turf for new ones.
  • If you have a rampant climber then now is the month to renovate it.
  • Last chance to have a living willow sculpture or play den built in your garden.
  • Just as clumps of perennials begin to spring back into growth you can lift and divide them, free plants always worth smiling about.
  • It’s time to get the pump and lights back into your pond. If you have fish in there then start feeding them again now.
  • If you don’t have a pond but yearn for one then this is the best month to dig yourself one.
  • Divide clumps of herbs – chives, sorrel and bergamot.
  • Prune your soft fruit canes and bushes. Best to do this before the first bud opens, so get your skates on!
  • Did I mention that indoors, most annuals, perennials, vegetables and herbs can be sown now? Some hardy annuals and also brave veg can go directly in the garden. Check packets or get in touch if you need any help.
  • Clip Ivy on walls.
  • Move any evergreen shrubs. First be sure all chance of frosts are over. Once the move has been made then make sure you water it in really well.
  • At the end of March sow your early potatoes. Traditionally we’d do this on Good Friday, which is perfect this year as it falls on 29th March. So dig a trench, put in some organic fertiliser and plant your potatoes with the eyes/shoots/rose pointing upwards, 30cm (12″) apart, then cover. If you did chit your spuds then just leave 2 or 3 sturdy sprouts. Knock off the rest.

A hop, a skip and a jump (if you’re lucky!)….

What? – Hop plants are twirling, twining vines. They are really hefty growers, they love to grow.  They are dioecious so you get either female or male plants, this is unusual as the majority of plants are hermaphrodite.  The  flowers are called cones and carried on the female plants.  The cones are what are used in the brewing process to make beer taste yummy.  The hop plant (Humulus lupunus) is a member of the very small Cannabaceae family which includes, you guessed it, Cannibis and also Nettles.  Of all the families to belong to, wow what a Christmas!

Prep talk – Whether you buy your plants from your local pub or buy them in yourself lets get the ground prepared, all ready and perfect.  As we know – it isn’t a plant that fails it is the site that won’t support it, so no point beating ourselves up – don’t buy a cat and keep it in a fish tank – how many times people??!  Harness your damn optimism, no you can’t just chuck it in anywhere and blame the plant!

Prep work:

Where – Wet and warm. Nay not just warm –  Hot!  Choose south facing, as hop vines (bines as brewers call them) like 6 to 8 hours of sun a day if they can – I personally do too but have to board a plane to find that so lets just give our bines as much sun as our patch can offer.  You also need a good trellis or a well attached rope for your hop to rampage up and over it, if you have ever taken even a short drive through Kent you must have seen the distinctive hop poles all over the place, so if you fancied, you could fashion yourself one of these in your back garden.  Whatever you build remember hops can get heavy.

Soil – Nice loose, fertile soil, so dig a hole and, if your ground needs it, add lots of compost and a good shake of fertiliser. To be honest it isn’t getting them to grow that is a problem it is getting a good amount of sun to get a good shake of cones.  They love sun and good watering.  So plant them in and then pile up the compost to make a mound and water in well.

Care – Keep watered.  Plant in March or April.  Keep tying your vines in, twisting them around their support.  In May take off some of the young leaves to give light and air to the vine and open the plant up, you can cook these leaves or pop them in a salad. Then in autumn clear up the leaves.

Harvest – In August or, more likely, September check on your female plants.  When your cones are papery and full of yellow-gold lupulin powder then harvest your cones and pop them into a paper bag.  They won’t all ripen at the same time, that would be far too easy, so keep an eye on them and pick each as they ripen.  You don’t want to put them in sunlight once picked (hence the paper bag) so dry them out in their paper bag for a week or two then hand over to your brewer, or brew them, or store them in the freezer in a sealed plastic bag with as much oxygen removed as possible (hops taste bad if you allow oxidization).

Pruning – Once you’ve finished harvesting your hop bine, then cut it right down to 3 feet high.  Winter frost will then kill off the rest, but leave be until spring.  Then pop out into the garden in February or March and this is a great bit about hop growing – take a sharp spade and cut around your hop plant at about a foot out, this severs the roots and stops them spreading out over your garden.  Then cut back the frost damaged stuff, check your trellis/support is up to the job in hand, chuck on some mulch and some fertiliser and off we go again. 

Where shall we get one?  – Ok there is always the palace pint where you get a whole kit and advice and a free pint all for £20 (free?!).  Or for a little kit you get a hop plant for £4.99 at Argos. For a wonderful choice of hops from £7.99 then essentially hops is the website to go to.

Days Out

First things first, not so much a day out more a mothers day gardening treat…the free pint.  I have put in my order and …here is the bite ….it ain’t free it’s going to be a £20 pint! But I am still doing it, I still feel a little excited and it’s still a growing adventure.  So go on – go to to say yes please.

Ok if beer isn’t appropriate then how about sponsoring a bee for your beloved mother?

Or a hedgehog?

I guess you have noticed that I would be very happy to be presented with the promise of the hop plant  – then my lovely little family can rest on it’s laurels a job well done – but if your mother or mother-of-your-children isn’t as easily pleased as me then…. why not go to Claremont Landscape Garden in Esher where mothers are let in free (they have to prove they have children and I’m not sure a flash of a caesarean section scar counts – you do have to take the children with you).

Mothers day catered for onto other gardening outings.  Christopher Lloyd use to go out of a morning to collect molehills as it makes the best potting compost ever.  On the other hand I have known vegetarians take to shovel wielding bloodlust when it comes to moles wrecking their lawn. So with both of those in mind lets go on 21st March to the garden rooms in Bromley as they are having a talk on ‘the fascinating and secret life of the mole‘.

A slight heads up – I’m never quick enough to recommend Paul Tallings walks, they get booked up so quickly, but maybe have a look and see if you fancy them as much as I do! There are some walks in May. I initially found him when his website told me the River Effra is buried under Upper Norwood Recreation Ground, and I’m waiting until he comes back to tell me more about it.