Category Archives: Gardening

Keeping Slugs Away !

We all fight what is normally a losing battle against slugs and snails.

Whammy them with nematodes, but new generations keep rolling (slithering) in !

So how about a rethink ?

How about planting your garden to make it very unappetising for slugs and the like (does anybody like slugs ?)

Where to start, well how about alphabetically, original huh !

Astrantia isn’t just a lovely, delicate plant, its a plant that really repels slugs. In fact if it didn’t grow so high, about 70 cm, I would suggest it as a protective border against the things.

Astrantia

This is Astrantia ‘Ruby Wedding’.

Plant them in soil which is not too dry, and preferably in a light or lightly shaded area.

They are not really fussy, but much prefer damp to dry conditions

How about Alchemilla mollis , ‘Ladies Mantle’

Ladies Mantle

Particularly if you like a green ‘spread’, although I think their small yellow flowers really offset the dense green of their leaves.

Not the slugs idea of breakfast at all, although the plant itself is not fussy.

It is fully hardy, likes being moist but well drained and prefers sunny or lightly shaded areas. It will grow to about 50 cm up and round.

Fancy something a little more colourful ?

Aquilegia_columbine_magpie_cultivar_2

How about an Aquilegia ? This is ‘Columbine.

Again not really a fussy plant, happy in sunny (but not to hot) or partially shaded areas.

Weekly watering should do, but I add some wormcast extract to the water to really keep their colours bright.

They can get a bit tall, although 50 cm is normal, but they do look lovely gently swaying in the breeze.

Do you like flowers looking softly elegant in a gentle breeze ?

Well I do, and so I love Astilbes.

astilbe

We have quite a moist bit in the garden, not sure why, but these plants are perfect and so easy to grow !

All they ask is never to be dried out and then they will gracefully grow to about 1 metre.

There are Begonias which I could have included, lovely plants but a bit tender I think.

I prefer plants that stand up for themselves, so I’m going straight to the lovely Crocosmias.

Crocosmias

These lovely plants are happy in partial shade, and just ask to be kept moist.

(Although starting them off with some biohumus rich soil would give them a real treat !)

They welcome being divided each spring, and can grow over a metre tall.

Can anything look more delicate and dainty than a Fuschia ?

Fuchsias

Although these are really shrubs , they are quite small shrubs being only 50 cm high and wide and could give you colour throughout the Summer and early Autumn.

Keep moist and well drained, mulch in winter, and these lovely plants will really give you a a long lasting display, just nodding away to the humming of the bees.

Now I just have such a soft spot for Hellebores.

Hellebores 2

Their shy bobbing heads come out in the darkest months, just when you’re really in the dumps !

There are so many different colours, and so many self seed.

Cannot remember ever having to look after them,  but there they are, just cheering me up every year.

If you can bring your self to cut them, float the upturned heads in a glass bowl.

It makes a beautiful centre piece !

Another lovely plant that just gets on with it is the Japanese anemone ‘Praecox’.

Praecox Anemone

So long as you do not let it get too wet in the winter, it will pop up again in the Spring to give you colour all late Summer and  Autumn.

Divide it in the Spring though, it spreads by suckering and growing to over a metre you may like to tame it a bit.

(But I think a large patch of these Anemones looks absolutely beautiful.)

Simply couldn’t exclude from these suggestions for keeping slugs away without including Penstemons.

Penstemons

Delicate, beautiful, lady like flowers which will repay a bit of feed with lovely flowers from Summer to Autumn.

Just give them a good start with good soil (recommend some biohumus again) in a sunny, or partially shaded position then let them get on with it.

They do not like the cold mind, so mulch well in the winter. Also after the frosts have gone  late April or May say – cut back the old woody stems a bit.

Lastly, because I suspect your getting bored now, there is Lavender.

Particularly god old English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia

(Because it puts up better with British weather !)

English Lavender

It loves the Sun, but does not like heavy soil much so get that compost well dug in !

Prune in late Summer, or early Spring if you like, and enjoy that lovely, genteel fragrance  all summer long.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list of all plants that slugs will try and avoid.

They tend to hate plants with hairy or bitter leaves, they don’t like waxy or glossy ones much either.

(Roses in particular I could have included. Even a Hosta, the ‘Blue’ types, are said to be definitely not on a slug’s menu.)

There are other defences too, all organic.

I have mentioned Nematodes, but  coir mulch mats work wonders for my brassicas

( and my Cosmos come to that, no idea why slugs seem to love it so.)

And how about a small pond ?

It doesn’t have to be big, get a few tadpoles in there and they will really get stuck in when they grow up.

common-frog-

Encourage those endangered Hedgehogs, perhaps with a ‘des. res’

and perhaps a little cat food at night, just to wet their appetite.

DSC_0002Hedgehog 2

Loads of things we can do, but perhaps in the end we are just going to have to accept slugs

need if not TLC at least a bit of supper, just don’t let them be too greedy !

Getting Rid of Those Aphids

Have had loads of inquiries about how to deter Aphids without using chemicals.

Aphids
You could plant onions, garlic, coriander and french marigolds to put them off (incidentally they love Nasturtiums so perhaps planting these could attract them away – works to keep caterpillars off your cabbages too, but I always feel so sorry for the Nasturtiums! )

Nasturtiums
Before I suggest other stuff though, emphasise that I’m not trying to sell you anything it’s just that we do have various remedies because that is what we’re all about, using nature’s natural stuff to help solve problems.
Firstly there are bio controls  http://www.thenaturalgardener.co.uk/aphids.php these are mainly little wasps that get stuck in, they are only suitable for greenhouse application though, but they certainly won’t sting you !
Secondly we have had a lot of success with Neem Oil  http://www.thenaturalgardener.co.uk/pure-organic-neem-oil.p… this is quite thick though and you keep on having to shake the sprayer, coating the leaves and stems really helps ( though some people think it’s smelly.)
Then there is a solution made from boiling soap nut shells  http://www.thenaturalgardener.co.uk/soap_nuts.php, let it cool and spray all over.


We have heard of people digging in banana peel around plants, but a surest, most natural, method is getting lacewings, ladybirds and hoverflies into your garden and I have shown below just some plants that will attract them.

LadybirdlacewingHoverfly

(Always feel the Hoverfly gets a really hard time – whopped regularly because people think they are wasps!)

Achillea – ladybirds and lacewings

Alyssum – hoverflies

Alyssum – hoverflies
Angelica gigas – lace wings
Convolvulus minor – ladybirds and hoverflies
Cosmos bipinnatus – ladybirds and hoverflies
Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s lace)- ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies

Queen Annes Lace
Filipendulina – Ladybirds and lacewings
Foeniculum vulgare (fennel) – ladybirds and lacewings
Iberis umbellate – hoverflies

Iberis
Limonium latifolium (Statice) – hoverflies
Lupin – hoverflies
Petroselinum crispum (parsley) – hoverflies
Tanacetum vulgare (tansy) – ladybirds and lacewings.
Tagetes tenuifolia Marigold – lemon gem – ladybirds and hoverflies (This plant deters Aphids by itself.) 

Lemon Gem

There are some weeds that are also ideal to attract these good guys – Dandelions for example – but maybe that’s going too far (but I leave an entire patch ‘cos bees like them too!)

Have a great season.

Wonderful world of colour……..In your vegetable garden

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” they say (in fact who did  first say that) but although we all love growing, and eating, vegetables can we really say they all look beautiful in our garden ?

Well I think most do, but if we have limited space, perhaps a town garden or just a raised bed or two, then wouldn’t it be great if we could combine growing vegetables with something nice to look at ?

Anyway I just thought a few ideas of particularly attractive vegetables, which could give you colour through a lot of the year, may be helpful.

(Just my ideas – sure you have lots of your own !)

How about starting with ‘Bright Lights’ Chard, really love this plant which can give quite vibrant colour from mid summer until quite late in the Autumn.

Bright Lights Chard

Now I know Broccoli is not everybody’s favourite, but an early sprouting purple broccoli can bring a bit of cheer to your veg. bed as early as March.

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Sticking with the Broccoli family, you may even get the kid’s interested with the fascinating ‘Romanesco’

Romanesco broccoli

By seeding at different times, early Spring to July, you can get a crop through Summer to Autumn.

Allow a bit of room though, the plants can spread a bit !

I think the beautiful red flowers on Runner Beans are lovely, but unfortunately they are quite short lived before the beans come along.

runner bean

But how about if you could grow beans where the actual bean pods themselves gave some really interesting colour ?

For example here is the Borlotti Bean

Borlotti beans f

Again you can sow at different times to ensure colour from Summer to Autumn. You can  pick them as ‘Dwarf’ beans or let them grow up a bit.

I love the colours of Borlottis, but how about a bit of a contrast with the ‘Hildora’ Dwarf Bean ?

Dwarf Bean Hildora

This little bean, which keeps its colour after cooking, can be harvested from July onwards.

Some of the prettiest and daintiest vegetables are in the ‘Lettuce’ family ( huge family the ‘compositae’ even includes Sunflowers !)

Have a couple of real favourites though.

First the  gorgeous ‘Red Salad Bowl’ bringing your bed such vibrant colours.

lettuce-red-salad-bowl1-lg

But can you imagine a circle of these lovely plants being offset by some Lollo Rosso, perhaps in the middle ?

Lollo Rosso

You can keep seeding lettuces from February on to late summer, but they may need a bit of thinning.

Artichokes are another vegetable that doesn’t get everyone’s taste buds going – don’t care though, I love ’em !

The Violetta di Chioggia is a particularly beautiful plant.

Violetta di Chioggia Artichoke

Almost a shame to pick these, particularly as you only normally eat the base of the leaf.

They are perennials, but they may need some protection during the winter .

Ever tried fried Courgette flowers ? They are delicious !

Courgette flowers

Amazing crops you get from a Courgette plant too, for constant cropping you just need to keep picking. They will crop right up to late Autumn sometimes.

I like Borage in salads, and know people who also use it regularly in soups.

I also love its blue flowers.

(It’s used in both a traditional and modern medicine too, for a huge range of ailments!)

Borage

This is not an exhaustive list of wonderful looking looking vegetables, just a taster really (terrible pun.)

But I would like to finish on a real looker, but one perrenial you will need to keep under control.

The ‘Lardizabala’, which comes all the way from Chile.

(Like some of my favourite Sauvignon !)

Lardizabala

This is an evergreen climber – that can turn into a tree.

The soft, pulpy fruit is considered quite a delicacy in Chile and Peru, anybody tasted one ?

Don’t forget that you can add lots of colour to your vegetable garden with companion planting too.

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums for example, lovely edible plants that can attract caterpillars and black fly away from your beans and lettuces.

Marigolds too are really bright and lovely, and their smell wards off the Aphids, but attracts the Hoverflies which feed on them (the greenfly that is !)

Double Whammy !

330px-African_Marigold

This is the Tagetes erecta – the African Marigold.

In fact companion planting is a fascinating subject, but one for another blog.

Help Wildlife In Your Garden this Winter (Then wildlife will help you in the Spring!)

It is estimated that there are over 15,000,000 gardens in the UK, can you just imagine how much we can contribute to wildlife (or destroy it!)

Us gardeners can transform the environment, can really help those bees and other pollinators so, so easily.
How ? With wildlife havens.
Cost ? An odd pallet,few piled logs,couple of sandbags, a natural patch – BIG money !

(The photo shows a real luxury hotel, but could give you a few ideas – although couple of logs mouldering away could be Shangri La for a lot of beasties !)

wildlife-trust-insect-hotel

We can just stick on another jumper or, to be honest, turn up the heating when the weather becomes really cold.

Beneficial insects and animals chilling out the winter months can’t, and many will not make it whatever we do.
But it’s so simple to offer a ‘home’, a haven, to at least help them survive. Survive and get busy in the Spring and Summer pollinating your garden ( or getting stuck into your slugs and aphids !) 

Bumblebees ( hibernating bees are always potential ‘Queens’) hedgehogs, butterflies*, toads, ladybirds …. just so many of beneficial animals which you will really appreciate in your garden.

So it’s definitely in your interest to make sure they do wake up !

Curb all that enthusiasm to cut back and make ‘tidy’ as well, what’s scruffy to you is a well ordered garden city to them.
(And don’t forget to moan at your council next year – we don’t want those verges cut!)

* Some of our favourite butterflies overwinter as adults: Peacocks, Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals and Brimstones for example, but many others try to hang in there as eggs, or even caterpillars.

Peacocksmall tortoiseshellred AdmiralBrimstone

Edible Plants You Should Treat with a Little Caution

In my earlier blog I mentioned lots of lovely garden plants that can be eaten to make a really beautiful and edible garden.

Deliberately I left out a few that can be eaten but could in some way cause problems, but now I’m adding what I know about these plants in case I’m accused of ‘nannying’!

These ‘be careful’ plants come in all shapes, colours – and flavours.

Agastache anisata/foeniculum – I think these are really lovely ‘all rounders’. They not only look lovely, and have a beautiful delicate scent of aniseed, but bees, butterflies and lots of birds really, really love them.

Both flowers and leaves can be added to cakes, desserts, and yoghurts for a subtle flavour and fragrance of anise.

It really is best avoided though if you are pregnant  ( its a real shame that pregnant ladies  have to miss out on stuff so often !)

anise-hyssop-agastache-foeniculumAgastache

Begonia – but only the tuberhybrida, and only the petals. Delicate lemony taste, and the crispy texture is nice, but as they have a high content of oxalic acid so don’t make a pig of yourself ! (And if you have a tendency to gout, kidney stones or rheumatism then avoid altogether.)

Begonia_x_tuberhybrida_1005Pink1

Borage – Another lovely flower I think (although I am partial to blue flowers.) Mix the flowers into salads, fruit salads or drinks to add a cucumber taste, plus they really add to the look of any dish.

Again though, best avoided by pregnant ladies and mums who are lactating . They can also have a diuretic effect, so would suggest no more than 7 or 8 flowers at a ‘sitting’ !

Borage

Catmint – Nepeta cataria is another of my favourites (blue again you see) and its flowers have quite a strong flavour combining mintiness ( surprise) and spiciness.

Goes beautifully with lamb and can pep up vegetables and pasta dishes, but for pregnant women though, the ‘Nepeta’ is definitely best avoided.

Heb_Catmint

Daisy – You can play ‘Love Me – Love Me not’ as you pull the flowers apart to make a lovely petal garnish to all sorts of dishes from soups to salads. Not much flavour, although some people think they are bitter, and be careful if you a subject to allergies or hay fever.

They can trigger both.

Daisy

Daylily – Admit I do not grow these, they really are so short lived (‘Day Lily’ the clue is in the name !)

However, they really are versatile, almost like a vegetable. The early foliage (tasting a little like delicate onion when fried) later flowers and buds (raw or cooked adding sweetness) and even the rhizomes (nutty flavour) are edible – all are often found in Chinese cooking.  What’s to be cautious about then ?

Well nothing so long as you only consume Daylillies Hemerocallis , just hate anybody to think that all lillies (Lillium)are edible – they’re not, they are poisonous !

Striped_daylilies

Garland Chrysanthemum – coronnarium. There is nothing to be cautious about here either really. The strongly spiced flowers add  pep to salads, and ‘Japanese Chrysanthemum’ soup can be a real signature dish. But I just feel the same as I do about the Daylilly and Lillies in general, only ‘coronarium’ is safe – avoid all other Chrysanthemums.

Chrysanthemum - coronarium

Phlox – paniculata. Really beautiful fragrant flowers, with a spicy flavour that adds real pizzaz to fruit salads. (Some people crystallize them as they look so lovely decorating cakes and pastries.)  Nope nothing wrong at all with the perrenial paniculata, but do not confuse it with the annual creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) this is NOT edible, and this is the only reason it’s on my ‘caution’ list.

paniculata

Poppy – Papaver somniferum and paeoniflorum. Well all poppies are poisonous, and it is only the seeds from these two species that are edible, nothing else. I do love them though baked into, or sprinkled on the top, of bread (they always go everywhere when I’m cutting a slice though !)

Unless you know exactly which poppies are safe though, think they are best left in the garden.

Think every garden should have these cheerful plants though, do you know of any flower which is so poignant, evocative and beautiful ?

Papaver_somniferum_flowers

Hope this blog gives a few more ideas for your ‘Edible Garden’.

Treat cautiously and all of the above plants will really add to your environment, and your kitchen !

 

Autumn Preparation for Clay and Heavy Soil

It’s the ideal time to prepare your clay soil before it gets too claggy and wet.

Digging away on a sunny Autumn day but thinking about the Spring to come I find is a wonderful pastime, but it can also reap benefits.

Digging in those essential nutrients, and then using the winter to breakdown the soil, will give your Spring planting a real initial boost (that’s not to say you can’t plant things now – but that’s another discussion.)

When I say ‘digging’ I’m not a great fan of deep digging, or double digging for that matter. You are probably preparing your veg. beds or raised beds and neither will require backbreaking work, let the coming frosts do that for you! Try and remove any remaining weeds (but I do have a cunning plan) but then dig in as much natural manure (it need not be fully rotted) as you can find plus your green compost. To give an extra boost I would be very tempted to dig in some organic soil improvers like seaweed granules http://bit.ly/nYipdT and some biochar http://bit.ly/KlvCYg ( but leave specific fertiliser and growing aids like wormcast extract http://bit.ly/1BQJxOC until you actually plant.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Turn the  soil enough to give a spread to your natural additions, but again do not break your back by digging in too deeply, a fork is probably best for the task. (An old gardener once said to me “Dig for brassicas, and you’ll keep the green grocer happy” – nothing against green grocers mind!)

Just let nature take it’s course over the winter period, breaking down your soil and integrating all your organic help into its structure.

Remember though that nature is not really that fussy about which plants grow, and weeds are certainly very ‘successful’ plants which will probably arrive before you are ready to plant your vegetables so my cunning plan is why not cheat a bit? How about covering the soil you’ve prepared with a mulch you can easily clear away when ready, and will also improve the ground a little. It may be easier for me as I mainly grow in raised beds, but I apply a layer of straw and grass cuttings then cover with hessian to keep out the light and prevent new weeds both arriving and existing ones germinating (yep, they will be there!)

The winter storms will try and blow your cover and mulch around a bit, but I peg it down using any old thick, short sticks I can find.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just before I finish loads of people have asked me about biochar. I was introduced to it by a lovely, young (she made me feel very old) Oxford Professor Cécile Girardin when we took part in the http://www.bigbiocharexperiment.co.uk/)

If you would like to know more about this ancient organic gardening aid take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNM4CNiSeKE where not just one but three Oxford professors explain it all.

biochar