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June in the garden

We gardeners are great tea drinkers whether we garden in our own private gardens or on an allotment there is nothing better than having a brew and a few digestive biscuits while taking a well earned rest.

But what do you do with teabags, throw them away in a bin I hear say, that’s okay if it’s a compost bin, seriously though there are lots of uses for used teabags around the garden.

They can be used in hanging baskets mixed in with the compost before you plant it up which will give the plants in the basket an added feed also the bags hold extra moisture which is beneficial in hot weather as the plant roots dry out quickly.

They can be used as a mulch in big containers, they can be left in an old bucket and as the rain fills the bucket it makes a very cheap plant food, roses especially like a drop of tea.

If you’ve made other homemade plant food ie using nettles or comfrey, pour your mixture into a jug and then place a few teabags in the spout of the jug this then filters the comfrey or nettle juice stopping the fibres clogging your sprayer. The list is endless in use of used teabags.

If you are a regular waterer of your containers and you should be, your plants believe it or not will be in a routine and if you go away on holiday for a few days don’t despair too much about your plants they will recover but they have to recover slowly so don’t give them gallons of water all at once, water gently give the water time to soak in and repeat the process at the first container you started at, then get back into your routine watering for a few days before feeding the plant.

Regular sowing of salad crops should still be continuing especially in these summer months, my mizuna salad leaves are coming to an end now but the lettuce leaves are just about ready and the next salad leaves are ready to pot on.

Now I know that the salad is cheap in the shops at the moment but really the benefits you get from growing a small amount of food for yourselves are universal, think about them and then take time to smell the roses.

Until next time Good Gardening

Posted by on June 7th, 2016

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May in the garden

If you’ve got plants that you are not entirely happy with their position in your garden, you can move them even at this time of the year. With care they will recover from the stress of being dug up and replanted, l know because I’ve just done it again.

Only yesterday I moved three clumps of comfrey and two lavender plants, the comfrey was moved from front to back garden and the lavender plants suffered a bit in the winter but were recovering.

The care that you give the plants after replanting is important, if you can reduce water loss by cutting back or trimming the leaves then do it, easier with comfrey than lavender.

Now comes the important part – watering, remember the plant is stressed (an over used word nowadays) but in this case true. The secret to watering is don’t just water it and walk away and leave it for a few days, water it well and go for a walk around your garden checking other things and come back to the plant and water well again, go off and potter about and come back with a rose on your watering can and water the leaves.

Repeat this everyday using rain water if possible until you see the plant has recovered and then ease back on the water. A lot of work for I hear you say, then I say to you maybe you’re not a mindful gardener.

The poor nesting birds in our garden are having a bit of a rough time at the moment. The collared doves, wood pigeons are being persecuted by magpies, crows and starlings searching for the young and eggs, even the dunnock can’t get no peace as I’ve found broken dunnock egg shells. The blackbird pair cannot decide whether to nest in the ivy or the bay tree as they have built a nest in each of course they will probably nest in an entirely different place but that’s nature.

I’ve taken our seed feeders out of the pear tree now as it’s in full blossom and placed them by the bird table trying to reduce the amount of seed we give them which encourages the birds to eat more natural food. Water is essential for our birds as well as our plant, please try to rig up some kind of bird bath for them or splash out and install a pond.

Until next time Good Gardening

Posted by on May 10th, 2016

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April in the Garden

Hi, my name is Peter Frances a.k.a. the Hairygardener

The weather has turned a bit chilly, its nature testing us gardeners to see that any tender plants that we have planted out have got protection from the cold.

As a rule of thumb I like the soil temperature to be 7 degrees centigrade, I've found the plants are not just sitting in the soil they are actually beginning to grow at around this temperature.

If you are a vegetable grower you can start your potatoes growing in bags as long as they are chitted, if you’ve read my articles before you will know I am a great fan of this method of growing potatoes which taste far superior to shop bought ones no matter which variety you choose to grow.

Onions grown in window boxes were another success so I’ve expanded the amount I’m growing this season, planting onions in widow boxes these can also be under planted with radish, salad leaves or herbs, the choice is yours as long as you water and feed regularly, which brings me to the topic of watering containers.

Plants in containers cannot access moisture and nutrients beyond the confines of its container, in effect a plant in a container can be likened to an animal kept as a pet it relies on you as its keeper for all its care, once this is understood success will come your way. But don’t become a slave to your containers, gardening should be enjoyable not a chore.

Rain cannot always be relied upon to water container plants because the surface of the compost is usually covered by a canopy of foliage that even the heaviest downpour will penetrate sufficiently. For your plants to flourish you must replenish food and water manually. The most efficient way to water is slowly and thoroughly using a watering can.

Remove the rose and direct the water at the roots, not the foliage. Pour on a little and allow it to soak into the compost rather than running off to the sides. Repeat this process from different sides of the container until the entire rootball is saturated. Large pots may need 2-3 gallons at a time, although they will usually dry out less quickly than smaller pots but the rate at which they dry out is also governed by the crops they contain.

During summer many containers may need watering twice a day depending on their position, the weather, the thirst of the individual plant and the type of container. I find watering first thing of a morning to be the most beneficial time for the plant, it will use the water and nutrients during the daylight hours when it’s really needs them, for me watering of an evening leaving the compost wet only encourages slugs and snails even more than usual.

Remember most plants will forgive you the occasional missed watering but you will miss out as watering is therapeutic to you and the plant.
Until next time Good Gardening

Posted by on April 4th, 2016

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March in the garden

Hi, my name is Peter Frances a.k.a. the Hairygardener

With the dry spell that we have experienced over the last week or so, practical work could begin in ours and I suspect your gardens.

I never fail to alter something in the garden every year, this year I’m underplanting our fruit trees with useful plants (every plant is useful).

Planting herbs around fruit trees such as marjoram, lemon balm will benefit the tree by attracting beneficial insects, providing interesting ground cover options and us gardeners with more herb beds.

But don’t leave it there become more radical grow black currant bushes underneath trees, grow thornless blackberries up and through the tree branches, the options and combinations of plants are endless.

Hanging bird feeders on the branches of your trees is both beneficial to you and the trees and birds, the birds that you attract into your garden feel a bit safer feeding in a more natural environment of a tree away from predatory sparrowhawks and cats.

Over the last two articles I’ve wrote brief articles about foraging,with this months I’d like to focus on one particular forage plant per article and this month I thought I’d start with the Nettle.

Nettles are one of the most useful plants,despite their nutritious, a natural vitamin and mineral supplement.

Medicinally the leaves, seeds and roots are used to treat a wide range of conditions including anaemia, arthritis. Nettles can also be used to make rope, a linen – like cloth and paper, a dye, insect repellent and green manure.

Nettle was the Anglo-Saxon sacred herb, Wergulu, and in medieval times nettle beer was drunk for rheumatism. Nettle tops helped milk to sour, as a rennet substitute in cheese making.

Nettle’s high vitamin C content made it a valuable spring tonic for our ancestors after a winter of living on grain and salted meat with hardly any green vegetables. Nettle soup and porridge were popular spring tonic purifiers, but a pasta or pesto from the leaves is a worthy nutritious modern alternative.

Nettle soup is described by one modern writer as “Springtime herbalism at one of its finest moments”. This soup is the Scottish Kail. Tibetans believe that their sage and poet Milarepa (AD 1052-1135) lived solely on nettle soup for many years, until he himself turned green, a literal green man.

Modern lifestyles need the kind of nutrition that nettles can offer. It is now known that the mineral content of intensively farmed foods has decreased dramatically over the past half century, so even people eating a healthy diet may be mineral deficient.

Mineral deficiency contributes to a wide range of health problems, nettles can improve diverse conditions purely through their mineral content. Nettles have an antihistamine effect which is valuable for treating hay fever and other allergies.

They can help reduce the severity of asthma attacks and for treating hay fever they combine well with elderflower. Nettles enhance natural immunity helping protect us from infections.

Nettle tea drunk often at the start of a feverish illness is beneficial. Information like this I hope makes you look at the Nettle plant in a different way.
 

Until next time Good Gardening

Posted by on March 7th, 2016

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February in the garden

Hi, my name is Peter Frances a.k.a. the Hairygardener

To continue on a foraging theme this month, I came across legislation which to be honest really surprised me. Foraging is covered by two pieces of legislation; the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Theft Act 1978.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act makes it illegal to collect wild plants or fungi on a national nature reserve (NNR) or a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), without the express permission of Natural England.
A number of plants are protected under Schedule 8 of the Act, making it illegal to collect them without a special license. Licences are not granted to collect for human culinary use so these plants are off the menu. The Act also makes it illegal to dig or uproot any plant without the landowners permission.
The Theft Act makes it illegal to collect any wild plant or fungi for commercial purposes without the landowners permission. It is not an offence to collect for personal use.
Enough of this, let’s get back to collecting usable parts of the plants, mostly you will forage leaves and stems, these are least controversial parts of the plant to pick as they generally grow back with no loss to the plant.
However, plants vary in the degree to which they can tolerate being regularly stripped of leaves. Grass, for example, is relentless in its growth, no matter how often it is cut back, and many plants of lawns and other managed turf are the same, e.g. plantains, dandelions, self heal and mallow.
However some plants simply won’t tolerate this treatment and will eventually die if all their leaves are cut back repeatedly.
Plants in the rose family fall into this category, as does sea purslane. Sea beet on the other hand along with most plants in the cabbage and daisy families can tolerate quite regular and thorough harvesting, although they must be allowed eventually to flower and set seed.
Seeds and flowers are the future of the plant population so don’t harvest them exhaustively, although trees, shrubs and perennials are obviously affected less. Annuals will simply not grow back the following year if all their flower or seed is harvested, therefore with annual plants take no more than a fifth of what is to be found in any given place
With roots, in most cases if you gather the roots of a plant you kill it, although for plants with especially deep roots it might be possible to take only part of the root and leave the plant to grow as when taking a root cutting of a garden plant.
For this reason harvesting roots requires more thought and restraint, only collect roots where there are plenty of plants even then only take a very small fraction of what is there.
However in some cases, digging up roots promotes the growth of new plants. For example, burdock seems to thrive after the roots are harvested, as the process of digging them up also works seed into the soil.
Likewise, horse radish is virtually impossible to eradicate by digging its roots as the smallest fragment will produce a new plant.
Until next time Good Gardening

Posted by on February 19th, 2016

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New Year in the garden

Hi, my name is Peter Frances a.k.a. the Hairygardener

This month I want to say a few words about foraging, maybe there isn’t a lot of plants and herbs growing well at this time of year but this is the time to familiarise yourself with basic foraging plants by recognising them from the countryside and your gardens and also from guide books. So this topic I think will be what I write about for most of the coming year.

Foraging for wild food should be a way of life for all serious foodies whether you live in the countryside or in the city. Kids should be encouraged to get out there and forage away from technology, even if it’s only for blackberries.

You and the kids will feel an enormous sense of achievement and satisfaction that comes from being involved in the creation of something that is food you have foraged for. It is a healthy way of shopping (I might keep that as a slogan).

The first step in foraging is to familiarise yourselves with a few plants in the analytic sense, then quickly follow this up by cooking and eating them.

Before the day is out when the time is right for you, go outside, into your garden, a local park or a nearby country lane and try and locate a familiar edible plant.

You will almost certainly recognise one of the following: nettle, dandelion, blackberry, rose or rose hip. Other likely candidates are elderflower (or elderberry), chickweed and crab apple.

Take a pair of secateurs or scissors with you and gloves for nettles and cut a good section of the plant and a good quantity of the leaf, flower or fruit with which to cook. In case of dandelion cut it just below all the leaves so they stay together.

Once you get home, refer to the description of the plant you have gathered and look at each detail: the shape of the leaf, the length of the leaf stalk, whether the leaf has toothed edges or is divided into leaflets.

By starting with a plant whose identity you already know you have a distinct advantage, rather than using the description to identify the plant, you can use it to familiarise yourself with various common characteristics of plants.

For example you can notice perhaps for the first time that nettle leaves are cordate or oval, have toothed edges and are arranged in opposite pairs (they also have stalks, the presence or absence of which identifies many plants.)

So familiarise yourself with plants around you it’s important.
 

Until next time Good Gardening

Posted by on January 12th, 2016

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The story of holly leaves and berries

Hi, my name is Peter Frances a.k.a. the Hairygardener

For most of us the sight of Holly leaves and berries is inextricably linked with Christmas, whether we celebrate this as a secular or a religious festivity.

Christmas brings with it many traditions and it is probably the one time when many of us still practice at least a few old folklore customs. In some parts of Britain holly was formerly referred to merely as Christmas, and in pre-Victorian times ‘Christmas trees’ meant holly bushes.

Though holly doubtless was, and still is, brought into the house for its shiny green leaves and red berries, which reflect the light and add colour to the dark days of Yule, it has another significance as well.

Christian symbolism connected the prickly leaves with Jesus crown of thorns and the berries with the drops of blood shed for humanity’s salvation as is related, for example, in the Christmas carol, The Holly and the Ivy.

Yet even here the reference to these two plants refers to a pre Christian celebration, when a boy would be dressed in a suit of holly leaves and a girl similar in ivy to parade around the village, bringing nature through the darkest part of the year to re-emerge for another years fertility.

Holly was also brought into the house to protect the home from malevolent fairies or to allow fairies to shelter in the home without friction between them and the human occupants.

Whichever of prickly-leaved or smooth-leaved holly was brought into the house first dictated whether the husband or wife respectively were to rule the household for the coming year.

In Celtic mythology the Holly King was said to rule over the half of the year from the summer to the winter solstice, at which time the Oak King defeated the Holly King to rule for the time until the summer solstice again. The Holly King was depicted as a powerful giant of a man covered in holly leaves and branches and wielding a holly bush as a club.

He may well have been the same archetype on which the Green Knight of Arthurian legend was based, and to whose challenge Gawain rose during the Round Table’s Christmas celebrations.

Just a few facts and fables about the Holly, believe or disbelieve, your choice. I’d like to wish you my reader (you know who you are).

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

 

Posted by on December 11th, 2015

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November and the purchase of another fruit tree

Hi, my name is Peter Frances a.k.a. the Hairygardener
I had a few topics to talk about this month but I was swayed by the fact that I arrived home this morning with another fruit tree, an apple tree in fact.
The variety is Discovery, you know the one with bright red skin, a real nice dessert apple. One of its parent plants is Worcester Permain, a beautiful tasting apple, some gardeners say Discovery surpasses its parent.
In my own experience all my home grown fruit be it apples, pears, gooseberries taste better than shop bought. The fact is I haven’t bought an apple from a shop for 18 months and that is for one reason, they have no flavour, you are just eating water if that’s possible. Get out there now and get yourselves a couple of apple trees it will be ten pounds well spent believe me.
This particular tree is grafted onto a rootstock M26, which is a dwarf rootstock and makes it suitable for small gardens or even pots. Its maximum height would be 12 foot when fully mature about eight to ten years, but if you train the branches to grow horizontally you can keep it at about 6 ft.
At this time of year it is the optimum time for planting out a fruit tree as long as there is no frost and if your trees roots are in a plastic bag remove the bag and give them a soaking by standing the tree in a bucket of water prior to planting.
Planting the tree, this goes without saying dig a big enough hole to accommodate the roots and spread them out. The hole should also be deep enough but don’t plant it deeper than the graft.
Some gardeners don’t add any manure or rotted compost to the hole as they say this confines the roots to one area and they will not spread, I think a gardener as an individual knows his/her own soil and whether it’s poor in organic matter, if I was that tree root and had been confined to a plastic bag I would want a nice meal of organic matter to set me on the way to growing a healthy tree so gone spoil it, the tree will repay you in years to come.
Cover the roots with soil firming in well as you go to avoid air pockets and stake the tree or not. The reason I say not may be a bit controversial but as long as your garden is sheltered i.e surrounded by fences, hedges a little natural movement by the wind on the tree strengthens the roots holding the tree so a good firming in when planting, a big drink of water and all will be well.
Until next time Good Gardening

 

Posted by on November 9th, 2015

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