Tag Archives: gardening

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 Winter Smells

We have a pretty small front garden, basically only about 15′ wide down to the lane, but the size doesn’t stop it giving the most wonderful fragrances even at this time of the year.

These are the shrubs whose lovely smells really cheer us up every time we go out into the cold.

This is Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Viburnum 'Dawn'

This lovely shrub grows over the years to about 2.5 metres, but long, long before that it will be giving you lovely fragrant flowers right through the winter. Very tolerant of all soils, just likes a bit of drainage and will even tolerate a bit of shade.

The next shrub is which really cheers up each winter’s morning is a honeysuckle,  Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty

Lonicera purpusii

Again this lovely shrub, which also can grow over 18 years or so 2.5 metres, is not very fussy in liking most soils.

Will also put up with some shade too.

It flowers from about January to April, and it never fails to surprise with its lovely fragrance – even on the most miserable day !

Witch hazels are lovely veratile shrubs, and we are lucky enough to have a mature Hamamelis mollis to cheer us up right through these long, cold mid winter months.

Hammelis mollis

These lovely shrubs can grow up to about 4 metres though, our mature one is about that. Although as the branches are quite delicate it certainly will not be overpowering.

They are pretty tolerant, though prefer acid to neutral soils.

Lastly we have two lovely Box’s in our small front garden, both giving colour and the warmest of fragrances on the coldest, greyest of a winter’s day.

The first is Sarcococca confusa.

Sarcococca

It will grow eventually to about 2 metres, and its small creamy flowers have such a cheerful, almost sweet, smell (and I think the really shiny black berries are attractive in their own right.)

Again pretty tolerant, although tends to prefer shade over bright sunshine, although prefers a bit of shelter from harsh winter winds.

The other Box we are really chuffed about is another ‘Sweet’ Box Sarcocca hookeriana

Sarcococca hookeriana

We have this planted next to the ‘confusa’ and both are now mature at about 1.5 metres. They are pretty similar and tolerant in requirements, but are not very happy in full Sun.

With all these shrubs, happily sitting amongst the snowdrops, the long, essential (but to me sometimes frustrating) dormant period of winter seems a bit more bearable.

Also don’t forget how you will be helping those early rising bees – they will be even happier than you with your oasis of winter colour and fragrance !

Take some cuttings from amenable gardeners in the Spring or Summer, and in a couple of years you could have a fragrant garden on the darkest of days !

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 ?

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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 !

 

Edible Garden – Beautiful Too !

Edible Flowers

Loads of us grow our own fruit and vegetables, and happily there are more gardening converts every day, but has anybody planted an edible flower garden?

Your vegetables give you a really worthwhile, satisfying, harvest but how about a garden, perhaps surrounding your vegetable beds, where all the flowers are edible, as well as being beautiful, and probably beautifully fragrant too ?

We know that the flowers of lots of vegetables and herbs are delicious.

Basil, Chives, Courgettes and Marrow, Fennel,  Mint, Onions, Peas, Squashes, Radishes, Rocket, Strawberry, Rosemary,Sage, Borage and so many other herbs and vegetables have edible flowers which generally have a milder, subtler flavour (with the possible exception of Mint and Basil) than the actual vegetable – and mustn’t forget apple blossom too.

Bee

Yep, we know about them – but how many flowers from garden plants can you name that can be eaten, and enjoyed, safely ?

Most could probably mention Nasturtiums, lovely with a peppery flavour, which are often added as garnish to salads. Rose petals too may come to mind (best remove the white bit at the bottom of the petal) and the more fragrant the rose the better generally, but how many others can you mention ?

Well there are loads and loads; and here are a few which can really add a little something extra to your food and drinks, as well as looking lovely in your garden.

Bergamot – pretty and with a lovely spicy flavour you can use them to flavour everything from salads to pasta. (The leaves can be used to make a tea too.)

Busy Lizzie – garnish your salads with these brightly coloured flowers.

Cape Jasmine and Jasmine- the wonderful fragrance still comes through when you pickle or preserve them, cakes take on that extra something too. Tea has always been made from Jasmine flowers, but it does compliment fish dishes I think.  ( Avoid the ‘false Jasmine’ – Gelsemium sempervirens –  though, it’s a bit poisonous! )

Carnations, Sweet Williams and Dianthus in general – difficult to describe the flavours; floral, spicy, almost like cloves or nutmeg even. Again the more fragrant the better, but they can be added to all sorts of things from cakes to stir fries. (Best to remove the white bits, as with roses it can be a bit bitter.)

Cornflowers – lovely I think, so make a great garnish.They taste a little like cloves too

Evening Primrose – really these can be treated like a salad leaf, add them to the salad for a bit of extra colour.

Fuchsia – so lovely and delicate, look wonderful as a garnish or even added to jellies.

Hyssop – add to your salads again, or make ‘tea’ with it. Try the flavour with chicken, pork, or fish.

Lavender – they add a lovely flavour to cakes and biscuits, and can be added to the topping, but also try adding it to your stock, it can really give something extra to sauces for duck, or poultry in general.

Lilac – beautiful garnish, but also it has a subtle lemon flavour. Try it with ice cream or yoghurt perhaps.

Pansies and Violas – Lettucy flavour can be used like Evening Primrose to really perk up a salad. They look really pretty decorating cakes too.

Polyanthus – Added to salads they give colour and a hint of sweetness or again, crystallised or fresh, they make lovely cake or pudding decorations.

Pot Marigolds – gentle, peppery taste that can be added to soups, or savoury baking. Again they can add that bit extra when added to salads.

Pelargoniums – both the flowers and the leaves have citrus flavour and fragrance and are ideal added to all sorts of desserts and puddings.

Sunflowers – real cornucopia as the buds, seeds and petals are all edible. The nutty taste of the petals adds wonderfully to salads, while you can treat the buds similarly to courgette flowers and toss lightly in butter. The seed kernels can be eaten raw, but I like them fried as a cold snack. Leave lots for the birds though !

Tagetes (Marigold) – as well as being ideal companion plants, and controlling soil born pests too (commercial break – take a look at http://bit.ly/1sa1dUi ) the flowers and leaves of this family have a citrusy flavour which make them ideal all rounders, everything from salads to seafood sauces. Eat sparingly though, not too much in one go or every day!

Yucca – the white petals are a crunchy and sweet tasting addition to salads.

There are other plants that are edible, but may have some drawbacks, for example some people are strongly allergic to Tulip petals (which taste like a slightly crunchy pea) or there are sure to be some I have missed altogether, but you get the general idea.

You can have a beautiful garden and really enjoy a fragrant harvest to enhance loads of your favourite dishes.

Not to mention that lots of the plants above are ideal for encouraging bees and other pollinators – rosemary, fennel, cornflowers, fuchsia, lavender, angelica, crab apple , apple, thyme, lilac, shrub roses, catmint, violas and pansies are just a few flowers that will attract bees and help your garden grow. (Perhaps take a look at my earlier blog, a simple tip bees love purple!)

Remember that not all of your garden is tasty though, and some beautiful plants can be downright dangerous – but that’s another blog!

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.)

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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.

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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