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.


September 2013


Oh dear, a genuine bit of big bad news, brace yourself, for one of my trusty helpers is well and truly braced.  Poor Terry fell a long way down off the Crystal Palace Park foundations on a night out and has really hurt himself, he is very broken, a whole vertebra and, not happy with just that he managed to fracture his pelvis in four places…..ouch!  Sorry for such a nasty bit of news to open with, but thought you should know, he is very very sore and broken but in good  spirits and hoping to be back gardening in about three months. I was actually bubbling over with news, wanting to tell you all about my great time in Devon, the Samphire I found, the amazing walks, the seaweed I brought back for the vegetable beds. The ‘Mikado’ winter spinach I’ve sown to replace my potato harvest, the amazing tomatoes in our greenhouse and the new dinosaurs I’m about to make out of willow for a school, but I feel the exuberance I’d bring to any of that would be a bit wrong and galling for Terry who gives a very good dead leg, so shhhh….  Instead lets all send our best thoughts to him and then creep, into our gardens and tackle some of this months jobs.  As for my burble bit I have gone all out for capturing wasps. This is a bumper year for wasps and it is typical that in the month when we want to sit out and enjoy our gardens it is also the month that the wasps go from annoying to an absolute pest, so let me suggest a few ways of dealing with them.  September is a brilliant time for gardening outings, the summer holiday pressure is off, the days are long but the weather is mellowing and as our own gardens don’t need as much attention we can glide off and enjoy other gardens.

Seasonal Jobs

This is the month for gentle gardening, a bit of watering, wandering, dreaming and planing but if you’re out in the garden let us tackle some of these jobs:

  • This month we can look forward to choosing and planting our bulbs, sorting out the lawn and dig, dig, digging.  
  • Keep mowing lawns, but less frequently and raise the height on your mower.  As autumn roars up behind us then I’d suggest getting a compost bin . Build one, buy one or call me in and I’ll sort one out for you. 
  • Great time of year to give your lawn some t.l.c. A feed, scarify and add a bit of seed to bare patches.
  • Give your shrubs and hedges a high potash liquid fertilizer feed.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for earwigs on your dahlias. If you see any sign of nibbling then set up flower pots rammed with straw onto bamboo canes. This traps the earwigs, so you can burn, squash or gently re-home the blighters every morning. 
  • This is the best time to plant some evergreen shrubs. 
  • Once your beans and peas have exhausted themselves providing food for your tummy, cut them to ground level but leave the roots in the soil. Don’t pull them out as the roots fix nitrogen into the soil and provide fabulous nourishment for your greedy brassica crop that you’ll be putting in next! 
  • Pick apples. Don’t force the apple off by twisting. Just cupping a hand underneath will show if an apple is ready or not. 
  • Dig up the last of your potatoes before the slugs get them.
  • Pot up and bring in tender herbs such as basil.
  • Hang wasp traps onto your fruit trees to prevent the wasps damaging your fruit, have a look below for a few suggestions.
  • If you have a problem with vine weevil then now is a wonderful time to set the nemetodes free and get some biological help.
  • Take cuttings, it’s easy.
  • Order rooted fruit trees and bushes for planting later in the autumn, I can recommend Ashridge Trees and Keepers Nursery.
  • Prune rambler roses, tidying and tying in. 
  • Have a look at your pots and hanging baskets and be brutal. If things are looking sad and limp take drastic action and pull out and revamp for the autumn. 
  • Sow some hardy annuals outdoors for some early spring colour. Some that you might like to scatter are alyssum, calendular, candytuft, clarkia, coreopsis, cornflower, godetia, larkspur, limnanthes, nigella, poppies, scabious, viscaria. 
  • Any spare pot fill with bulbs. Come spring these can be placed into bare patches in your garden giving an instant lift to your borders. Choosing one variety of flower often works well, but I’ll leave the decision up to your artistic temperament (don’t plant tulips yet – wait until November). 
  • Put a net over your pond to catch falling leaves.
  • Start to think about buying your garlic to plant next month.
  • In your veg beds get sowing some lamb’s lettuce, land cress, winterpurslan and some shallots.  
  • Turnip’s traditionally aren’t worth growing unless you have a field – but I have a bit of empty space in my vegetable patch that isn’t holding any crops so I’m going to give it a go. 
  • Get your vegetable plot sorted for next year. Dig in well rotted manure and fertilizer and if you dare, add some green manure.
  • Blimey that was a list and a half, and we are looking to wind down for the year! As always if you need any help or advice then please get in touch.


For the entomologists: Vespidae – those ones.
For the rest of us: I’m not talking about gall wasps or any of the many parasitic wasps or even white anglo saxon protestants. This little bit of blurb is about the common or garden wasp – the annoying stinging ones.

Why are they getting so waspish? It is about now that the happy wasp colony starts to break down.  There is a hormone that the queen uses to keep her colony functioning merrily and staying focused and productive throughout the spring and summer then towards the end of summer she just gives up, there is enough food for her to survive the winter and all her male worker wasps are going die in autumn so the hormone isn’t needed anymore.  So the worker wasps get really disorientated, they go on the hunt for sweet stuff which is there weakness, and where is the majority of sweet stuff?  In our homes, in our glasses, on our plates and generally near a human.  So these wasps are the ones that end up stinging us, they can’t remember what else they are meant to be doing except wanting what we have, and we are usually in the way batting at them with a rolled up newspaper – so the battle commences.

The good press – Wasps are carnivores and actually kill lots of pests.  They are usually busy, focused little fellas.  Before the colony begins to breakdown, if you are bothered by a wasp then you are best to stay calm, sit still and let the stripy fella go about it’s business.  Wasps don’t build nests or return to their old nests so if they are in an out of the way place that you are happy to let them be for a season then just hang wasp traps in the places you aren’t happy to have them and let them get on with their lives.

Kill kill kill –  The best method to kill wasps is to spray them with soapy water, it clogs up their spiracles and suffocates them.  This is also the best way to get rid of a whole nest, go out in the evening when all the wasps have settled down for the night, make sure you wear long sleeves and trousers and I’d even put on hat then soak the nest and let them all die, oh here you go I’ve found a website that tells you how someones husband did it….presumably he is still rocking in a corner mumbling about the foaming carnage and so unable to write us his own account. If you do feel like calling in the council or a pest control firm please remember they will use loads of chemicals which may also kill superbly beneficial insects that we all need and that you may like, such as bees, butterflies and fairies.

Trap and kill – wasp catchers are out there. You can buy them, we all know this!  I like the Jasper Grasper Wasp Catcher mainly because I have been having an ongoing discussion that wasps are known as Jaspers and it isn’t just some backwards-Oxford-term.  As for gardeners doing gardening and not being lazy and just sitting enjoying their hard work then there is Waspbane which says it is chemical free, but then says it is entirely disposable so you chuck away a great big bit of plastic which isn’t environmentally great is it?  But have a look and make up your own mind.  I have made my own trap and put in fruit juice, it works wonderfully.

No death just repel – Pop a bit of fruit, a dollop of jam or a tumbler of juice to entice the wasps to a different part of the garden from where you are.  Wear a lemony fragrance I’ve been told Unstung hero (great name!) works on wasps as well as mosquitoes. I’ve heard they hate the smell of mint and also of cucumber but both of these seem to be neutralised if you pop them in a Pimms.

Days Out

Be warned this month oak trees are shedding acorns, and a walk in a wood can lead to multiple bruising.  I’d stay in the open or visit a cultivated garden.  I have just found a Riddlesdown Common in Croydon, shame on me, an amazing open space right in my borough, but better late than never and it is pretty much oak free, and bursting with blackberries so safe and tasty.

From 12th to 15th of September it is heritage open day. The nearest event to my home, so maybe your home too,  is Carshalton Water Tower which leaves it to the last day and opens from 1pm to 5pm on the Sunday.

For London Design week there is the endless stairs outside the Tate modern this month from the 13th. Very Escher it looks superbly awkward but with lovely views of the heniously planted birch trees and bit of river and just the delight of being up high, heading nowhere……

Sunday 29th September from 10am until 12 noon on Riddlesdown there it the Fruit and Fungi hunt.  We will need to book a place but it is well worth it.