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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 !

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.

Dreaming of …….anything but mud !

“Really welcome the seasons, each has its joys”, that’s what I’m supposed to say.

But really I hate being cold, surrounded by greyness and constantly having my wellies pulled off in the mud !

O.K., O.K. I know it’s essential, that this dormant period really is part of the overall ‘design’, and  so many plants needing the cold – but I don’t have to like it.

Particularly needed cheering up today as we have had to take down a lovely old apple tree that grew outside our back door.

People who know, practical people, said it was causing the cracks in the wall, causing subsidence ; they were right of course, practical people nearly always are.

But where are the blue tits and sparrows going to squabble when they wait in the queue for the bird table ?

        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And what is that beautiful, wonderfully smelly, Musk Rose now going to grow up ?

Mind you, it was when I thought of this glorious, if short flowering rose, that I began to cheer up.

Cheer up by planning what plants, what climbers, I could plant on perhaps a trellis or pagoda to if not replace at least partially compensate for the loss of our old tree.

(And I’m sure the birds will squabble quite happily on the ‘cross’ pieces – sorry terrible pun !)

There are so many to choose from, and here is just a few ‘contenders’.

I love the fragrance of Woodbine (Lonicera periclymenum) and Fragrant Virgin’s Bower (don’t you just love the old names – we call it Clematis flammula)  although I know I would have to keep both under control.

             Clematis - Virgin's Bower

         ‘Virgin’s Bower’

But there are so many others, Forsythia Vermont Sun (Forsythia mandschurica), Chocolate Vine (Akebia quinata ), Lemon Vine  (Aloysia triphylla), Pink  Jasmine ( Jasmine x stephanese), a  lovely Honeysuckle (Lonicera delavayi )

                                              lonicera delavayi                                                            Lonicera delavayi

or then there are  roses: the ‘Dublin Bay’ with so many flowers, the ‘Maigold’  really cheering us up with early flowering and then on to ‘Golden Showers’ which will bloom well into the Autumn.

But then thinking about Autumn made me think of winter again, and was warmed by the idea of another Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), which blooms when Spring seems so far away.

  Winter jasmine

Winter Jasmine

Broadly though, for both colour and beautiful fragrances, I think I will concentrate on three particular families, Jasmine, Honeysuckle and Roses.

But which to choose ?

Think I have decide – for today at least !

Jasminum officinale ( Poet’s Jasmine – so much nicer than calling it ‘Common’ Jasmine) with its summer long white flowers would be wonderful, particularly if planted with  Lonicera x heckrottii ( Goldflame Honeysuckle) as both really release some wonderful fragrances in the evening – or white wine time as the period is also known . Evergreen ( ‘ish’ in the case of the honeysuckle) and easy to care for, both love the Sun but will tolerate a bit of shade at least – I just can’t be doing with fussy plants ( or kids !)

An added bonus is that birds love the red berries of the Lonicera, and so that got me on to roses, or rather rose hips.

One of our summer evening delights, as well as sipping chilled white wine surrounded by fragrant climbers, is watching the birds feed.

So next I think it will have to be, as I say for now at least, a ‘Francis E. Lester rambling rose.

This is a really tough, strong rambler which may need a firm hand and, as with most roses, you must watch out for the thorns.

But it is so beautifully fragrant in the summer, the dark foliage really setting off the pale pink and white flowers, and in the Autumn there are simply masses of small orange/red rosehips which the birds will absolutely love !

So these are my three choices on this particular grey winter’s day – birds, bees and us all catered for.

But I may have other ideas tomorrow !

The choices we have are so wide, and so wonderful, that thinking about planting new fragrant plants is a perfect way to put grey, damp, cold days into the background.

There is one thing about these winter days in this dormant period though, it is the best time to plant your bare root shrubs and roses.

Just drop me a line if you need any help, but one thing I would definitely recommend is organic Mycorrhiza for the roots.

(O.K. I know, we just happen to sell it http://bit.ly/mj7NKw  – but buy it anywhere you like because it really is one of nature’s ‘wonder drugs’ !)

On to tomorrow now…… perhaps on reflection something really practical would be a real boon, a real addition –  and I love the flowers of runner beans ….. sound of the bees ….

Runner bean 2

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 !

 

It’s Time To Take Those Cuttings

The best way to increase you garden’s stock is to nurture cuttings into healthy, organic and sustainably sourced plants ready for the spring.

We did want to offer some input in your plans, which all gardeners know is needed if you’re going to spend your time efficiently, but watching cuttings grow into healthy plants is one of our favourite parts of gardening. Isn’t it just amazing how a whole plant can continue to grow from a small cutting and become a new, individual member of your garden?

It’s not all about beauty and replicating your favourite plants. By taking cuttings you’ll add extra insurance for your Lavender, Rosemary, Bay, Caenothus in case of a severe winter, and that’s only a few of the plants that would be damaged or lost over the cold months.

If you’re pushed for time, concentrate on the tender plants to take your cuttings from. It’s also a lot warmer to stay in the green house around now, and you will have already stored up your tender plants ready for the winter, so it’s a good place to start.

We’ve found the best mixture for cuttings is about 15 per cent sand, 20 per cent biohumus and about 10 per cent biochar added to the equal balance of peat-free compost. It’s always worth carefully watering out air pockets and sprinkling Mycorrhizal Fungi to help boost root production before spring.

If you do get a bit nippy inside the greenhouse then we know a great trick to turn two plant pots into an incredible heater. All you need is a couple of candles, honestly. If you’ve never tried this trick or have no idea what we’re talking about, have a look at the video below on how to create one of these incredible, eco-friendly heaters.

 

If you do want to venture out to plant some cuttings then it’s a good time to take some semi-ripe cuttings. Try to get material that’s soft towards the tip that has a hard green stem and a semi-wooden base or heel. The heel will be an important source of food that facilitates the cutting to develop an adequate rooting system.

Most of the cuttings can be placed in coir trays in a cold frame or green house. Find some form of heat to come from below Heathers, Salvia, Hebe and Penstemon.

Although tender cuttings will need to remain in the warm until the following spring, semi-ripe cuttings need only be protected from the severe cold and frost inside the glass frame or greenhouse. They need a lot of sunlight and on milder days in mid-winter, you could also ventilate the area.

We’ll be out taking cuttings this weekend ready for the cold. If that is what you’re planning then please keep us updated with how it’s all going. It’s always lovely to read your messages with number fingers during a tea break!

Garden Jobs For October

Autumn is definitely here at last following the remaining few days of warmth we saw this September. It already feels colder but this is our favourite time of year with the beautiful variation of colours and the knowledge that warm cosy nights by the fire aren’t far away.

Despite the colours on show, we also understand that autumn often means endless raking only to watch as the wind blows a fresh batch of leaves across your lawn. It can be taxing but just think of all the scrumptious, nutritious leaf mould you’ll be making.

It’s not always raking and sweeping leaves though, there are plenty of other jobs to keep you busy in the garden now autumn’s here. Not only is it time to start preparing for winter, there are also plenty of jobs to get done ready for next spring, and don’t forget about all the ways you can help the local wildlife too.

We know for some gardeners autumn can be a depressing time as the realisation dawns that summer has gone and the flowers will no longer bloom. That’s why we’ve put together this list of jobs to help keep you entertained and ensure you don’t lose that love for your garden.

Look after your lawn:

Autumn is the last chance to cut that green grass and prep the soil if it has a tendency to become waterlogged over the winter months. This can be done by spiking the lawn and raking in some course sand. If you don’t have a hollow-tined aerator to spike the lawn, then stick to your trusty fork.

lawn

It’s also the time of year to begin the regular raking of leaves. If you don’t, you risk damaging that gorgeous lawn which has been getting greener and healthier over the sun-drenched summer months.

If there are any patches in your lawn, repair them now with our unique Supreme Green grass seed, which is fortified with Mycorrhiza to ensure roots grow strong and healthy to stop any patches re-appearing.

It’s time to prune:

Pruning is an important way of improving the growth and flowering of your garden plants so prune your climbing roses if you want to give them the best chance of looking fabulous again next summer.

rose

Harvest:

After taking your last truss of tomatoes, don’t forget to untie the plants from their supports and lie them down horizontally. This will allow them to mature more quickly.

As autumn comes into full swing, harvest your apples, pears, grapes and nuts if you have been growing any. If you don’t get a chance to harvest them all before they begin falling from the branches, make sure you collect up the apples if you want to keep the garden tidy but be sure to put them somewhere for the wildlife to enjoy.

apples

Get planting:

There is plenty of planting to get done now we’re in October. That includes planting new rhubarb crowns, herbaceous perennials and clematis, your spring bulbs and any lettuce you want to grow under some protection (so long as it lets in the light).

You also need to get planting lilies in pots if you want them to flower in May and June inside or July and August outside. If you haven’t done it already, get sowing those spring cabbages as well.

bulb

Store tender plants in greenhouse:

If you’ve got tender plants, such as canna, bring them indoors before they get killed by the frost. If you have a pond, don’t forget the aquatic plants either.

Choose a frost-free place which still gets plenty of light, like a greenhouse or coldframe, and keep the plants dry during the winter so they don’t grow too much. You can start watering them more in spring to gradually bring them back into growth.

Help the wildlife:

This is the perfect time to give the visitors to your garden a little extra help and birds are no different so replenish bird feeders regularly. Now the mating season is over, you can fill your bird feeders with all kinds of seeds and nuts including peanuts.

It’s also a great time to place our handmade nesting boxes around your garden ready for baby chicks come spring, by then your scent should be long gone.

birdbox

Another important animal in your garden, especially if you want your plants to enjoy a fairly slug-free existence next spring, is the humble hedgehog. Why not build a simple hedgehog hibernation box to help keep them warm, dry and out of danger this winter. A few stacked logs could be all that’s needed. The smaller cracks will offer bumble bees and toads a welcomed place out of the wind as well. They’re not fussy about the decor but a covering of some of those leaves you’ve swept up would probably be welcomed during those coming icy nights.

If you don’t mind your garden looking natural, or untidy as some may argue, then don’t cut back seed heads because these will feed the local wildlife that’s so important for your garden’s survival, especially at this time of year.

Tend to your compost:

It’s the perfect time of year to turn your compost regularly and get some air to the damp bits.

Getting air into the compost will encourage it to rot down quickly, although it’s worth remembering that the rate of decomposition naturally slows with the colder weather. So long as it has been slowly breaking down over the cold months, it will soon speed up when the warm weather returns.