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Gardening Glove competition

Town & Country are inviting all 4-12 year old children to get creative and design a new gardening glove which will be sold across UK gardening centres and online later this year.

The competition was piloted in Leicestershire with great success and we now want to take it nationwide.

Click here to download your template. (If you require a different format, please email andrea.litchfield@townandco.com )

The closing date is Friday 10 June 2016.

All entries should be posted to:

Andrea Litchfield, Town and Country, 22 Bardon Hill Industrial Estate, Leicestershire, LE67 1TE

There are three prizes up for grabs:

1st prize: The winners glove will be sold across UK garden centres and online, plus a glove made for themselves and their teacher, they will also win a Go Ape gift voucher for a family of four and a Skinny Jean Gardeners Kids Tool Set from Greenman Garden Tools

2nd prize: Town and Country gardening goodies and a sweet tree.

3rd prize: Town and Country gardening goodies.

The panel will meet on June 20th to select a winner, joining Marketing Executive Andrea Litchfield on the panel will be:

Blue Peter's skinny Jean Gardeners

Barry Page, owner of Town & Country

Stephen Kiernan, School Coordinator for My Edible School.

We look forward to receiving your designs.

I don't care what the weatherman says

Us Brits love the weather. We use it as a form of ritual, the acceptable small talk at dinner parties when the food is a tad unpalatable. In my opinion, this year has been an interesting one, never quite warming up before descending into the current gloom once again. As we are now fully into the late Autumn conveyor belt of storms and rain, can I be bold and offer you a small glimpse of my memories in the art of bad weather forecasting?

Once, whilst living in deepest darkest Norfolk, I returned home from planting 3,000 trees to a warm fire, a hearty meal and the television weather report. As I sat there, getting the life back into my toes (this was the days before I had bought Town and Country boot warmers), the meteorologist announced the evening would be fine and fair. As I had spent the entire day toiling in heavy rain I was somewhat surprised by the news. To be honest she looked abashed by the statement and as I lived not twenty miles from the studio I can confirm the weather was anything but fine and fair. One cannot blame the poor girl of course, she was just doing what the computer told her - you see the modern super computer cannot lie.  The moral here is I suppose, ignoring your own experience and instead relying on what others insist is true prediction, leads you on a merry farce. As a result of that one incident (I like to think my complaint was key), the BBC has created a new website, just so that we, the humble invisibles can report our own findings. So, with that in mind would you like to be part of history? You can be. Go to 'BBC Weather Watchers' - http://www.bbc.co.uk/weatherwatchers. An interactive website of some merit  it relies not only on a computer, but  on crowd-sourced information, making the weather reports that much more accurate. Wonderful. Now you and I can take photos, write reports and generally cause merry havoc at the BBC without leaving the fire-side armchair. What is more if you really want to get truly involved, then Town and Country has the ultimate collection of weather watching equipment. All you have to do is go to the products page on this very website. Click on the 'Clocks and Weather Stations' link and you can be your very own Francis Beaufort. Buy your Royal Meteorological Society Weather Watchers Logbook  from Amazon, perhaps download a radar app to your phone and hey presto, you'll really be making a huge difference to the recording of what is a national addiction. By the way, for the BBC record, it rained the next day too.

What does autumn say to you?

Chill in the air; the first frosts; golden leaves crunching underfoot?

Personally, I think it is the most wonderous time of year. As Shakespeare put it, " The teeming autumn, big with rich increase, Bearing the wanton burden of the prime, Like widow'd wombs after their lords' decease."  Of course, I was not want of love so the wanton burden is not orphaned to me!

Autumn is the season of tidying, of preparing for what the winter may bring; of taking stock too and thinking on the richness of the spring to follow. Perhaps best described as the slow gentle release of warm breath before the slumber.

Of course it offers much to the garden cognoscente. Visit an arboretum and enjoy the wonderful colours and textures that this time of year offers. If you are lucky, there may be some autumn crocus or cyclamen to brighten your perambulations and temper your mood. Seek out the Katsura tree, (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) whose golden leaves smell of burnt sugar when in hot sun or when crushed. A true gem of autumn.

When you return home think on. Leaf mould is a superb free source of soil improver, so, rather than burning the fallen crop why not collect it in string bags and give it a chance to rot down for a good late summer mulch next year. Nature giving free garden bounty cannot be sniffed at, or in the case of the Katsura, perhaps it can!

After the first frost has bitten, collect sloes and add it to gin. Let it steep for 2 months for a hearty Christmas  warmer. If you are so inclined I am told crab apple vodka is equally stimulating but time is running out for this year's crop as the apples are starting to tarnish!

Also, start to think over your garden plans. What are you going to plant and where. Look at the seed catalogues. If you are planning an evergreen bonanza, now is the time to purchase and plant. Spring bulbs are also in need of a good home. Just remember, try not to plant them in a fine lawn or in areas of special cultivation. You may regret the impulse.

Add a last mulch of compost or manure whilst the soil still retains some heat. Your plants will reward you next year for all the cosseting you give this.

Autumn Lawncare

It may have escaped your attention, but we appear to be almost at the end of September. Where did that go? Not that I am complaining of course, the sea is still beautifully warm and the balmy, but slighlty wet air has extended a summer feel to the gardens. T-shirts are still needed!

If you haven’t scarified your lawn, now is the time. Many think one does this in Spring, but they would be wrong as it weakens the grass structure when it is trying to grow after the struggles of winter.  You can scarify simply by raking the grass with a metal, spring-tined rake. If you have a bigger lawn, you can hire a mechanical scarifier. Simply put, what you are trying to achieve is the perfect lawn. By scarifying, you are trying to rid the lawn of all the years build up of thatch and dead grass. You are also encouraging stronger root growth, which given we are increasingly having dry summers, you will do well to remember, the better the root, the better it will survive. If you have bald spots on the lawn, buy some lawn seed and mix with compost and cover the patch, watering liberally. If the whole lawn is thin, add seed to the whole thing, once you have scarified. A good root feed will also help – do not add nitrogen now as it will be wasted. There are many root feeds to choose from, but bone meal will do no harm.

Try to spike the lawn before you feed then water well to wash the nutrient in.

If you are wondering why the grass is going mad at the moment and needs cutting twice a week, it is because we are in the period the French call the ‘second spring’. Basically as winter approaches all the plants are burning off all the last of their sugars – which is a liability in cold weather as it crystallizes in the cells and eventually destroys them. Plants like grass do not have a good tap root, so will instead go into a state of virtual hibernation – which is why many other plants by autumn have built huge tubers full of carbohydrate converted from sugars to see them through the dark months.

August - an interesting time in the garden

As the weather changes to Autumnal westerly storms, August is an interesting time in the garden. The Swifts departed at the end of July and many of the Martins and Swallows with them for some reason. What that says about our coming season I know not. If you have a problem with you lawns now is the time to start thinking of how to rectify them. For example, I am about to treat a client's lawn with an Autumn feed and moss killer so that it is ready for scarifying in September. This may sound odd, but one must remember grass is a fickle plant. It cannot be grown too long (otherwise it clumps). By the same token neither can it be cut too short (it gets stressed, dies back and allows moss to take over). It doesn't like shallow roots, nor wet roots and it doesn't like too much wear from footfall. Who'd have a lawn? It is a little known fact that the National Trust replaces vast swathes of turf in the autumn and winter, leaving the impression that somehow they have the magical touch. A green and flat lawn may be every Englishman's idea of perfection, but, truth be told, to get one right deserves a medal or a perhaps a padded cell - I am never sure which.

In the flower garden as plants finish flowering try to deadhead them to extend the flowering season. Some roses especially respond well if they think that all their efforts at propagation have gone to waste. If the plant is a shrub, prune the whole plant back into shape once the flowers are spent. Then feed everything well with a good mixture of blood fish and bone - the poor things must be exhausted after all the exertions attracting the bees!

August is also the month when you get the winter veg in.  Cabbages, Brussels Sprouts, Turnip Greens and Collards are all high on the list of plants that will provide early leaf for next Spring. Remember that these plants like a good firm soil to live in - they hate to be rocked by hard winds. Also add a dressing of garden lime to the soil as you plant, to deter root problems. I have also been naughty and planted onions at this time of year too. If I am honest, the harvest was a little earlier than normal, but nothing truly remarkable despite what the books say. 

Plants to avoid in the family garden

Recently in the news there have been reports of plants causing blisters or being poisonous, as if this had never been discovered before.

Well, as a favour to all the loyal Town and Country customers here is a list of the top plants to avoid in the family garden and why.

1. Monkshood (Aconitum). Beautiful. All parts deadly poisonous.

2. Euphorbia species. The plant contains a sap that burns the throat and eyes.

3. Box. (Buxus). The plant sap contains a substance known as buxine that can burn the throat if ingested.

4. Stagshorn (Rhus). The leaves contain a substance that creates painful blisters on the skin.

5. Giant Hogweed. A Gertrude Jeykll favourite. The leaves and stems contain a substance that can cause the skin to blister in the sun.

6. Laburnum. A member of the pea family the seeds look edible. Don't believe this. I spent a day in hospital having my stomach pumped when I was four years old because I thought they were good snacks. A similar plant with pea like seeds is broom.

7. Solanum. Any member of the potato family has the distinct ability to poison if not treated with care. Some more than others. Deadly Nightshade is one to avoid!

8. Rhododendron. The leaves are toxic.

9. Chrysanthemums. The leaves can cause an allergic reaction and the flowers  are quite toxic.

10. Wysteria. Another beautiful and toxic plant that has pea-like fruit. Is there a theme here?

11. Sweet Pea. My children love eating peas straight from the plant, but I have to make sure they always ID the plant before they ingest anything!

Whilst talking of ingesting seeds and berries, try to identify what you have in your hand. The fashion for wild foraging is growing and so too are the incidents of accidental poisoning.

There are many plants that look pretty, that are not in any way shape or form to be consumed. A short list of the ones you may come across every day is: Holly, Ivy, Asparagus, Horse-chestnut, Broom, Spindle tree, Oak and Privet. Interestingly Yew leaves and the seed in the berry are toxic. However the red pulp is not - but I do  not recommend you try this out!

Mid-Summer

Seeing as we are now, annually speaking, over the hill - having witnessed last week the `Mid-Summer` solstice- I am sure you are wondering what is left to do in the garden whilst we await patiently for the first signs of Autumn and the inevitable Christmas adverts on TV?

Well, there is a lot.

Despite the fact that somewhere our societal calendar has stepped away from tradition and now follows the schools, the garden believe it or not has much to offer.

Your lawns, I am sure could do with a good feed, but instead of running out to the shops and buying some ecologically damaging chemical or other, try a light dressing of something called 7X. If you are not sure what I am talking about, it is a bag of well rotted manure-cum-compost (not an Australian beer), available at the garden centre, high in the vital nutrient nitrogen and perfect for summer feed. It doesn`t smell either and can be walked on immediately unlike the chemicals.

Also, as I am sure the lawn has already seen a fair amount of use, despite the mixed weather, it may be an idea to spike your lawn, offering the roots some air and reducing compaction damage. This can be done with a fork.

Another job for the diligent is the dead-heading of flowering shrubs and roses. Whilst you may extend the flowering season, you are also helping the plant divert its resources from producing off-spring to the vital role of keeping itself healthy.

Indeed, as shrubs finish flowering, it is a good idea to prune them to shape, or perhaps a little harder in order that they still have a chance to grow back into shape and to grow the buds for next year’s flower. Plants like Kolkwitzia, Philadelphus and Deutzia appreciate this treatment more than a general tidy at the end of this year’s play. In fact, it is directly after flowering that these shrubs do well to have the old wood cut out entirely - letting in more air and light and ultimately producing a better plant.

Another great job for the meticulous is weeding. Many see the task as a frustrating chore, to be bemoaned and avoided, but I myself find the exercise very Zen if that is possible for Englishman. I can let my thoughts wander to ideas of what it is to be a seedling or perhaps an ant, whilst the majority of my frontal lobe is in a well-trained auto-pilot discerning unintentional from the intentional. If during this experience, my mind goes blank, even momentarily, I have become one with the garden and Nirvana reached.

Or that`s what I`m told.

Time for a cuppa I think.

 

Spring has sprung

April is an interesting month. It is the real divider in the year between the warm South of the UK and the still cold Northern counties. You may not be aware but April 14th is First Cuckoo Day - the traditional first day of Summer in West Sussex. I am sure there are those in Scotland or Northumbria who would think this mad and will certainly not be celebrating, but there you go. You can’t homogenise the seasons to suit all. That said, the swallows have arrived back so it can’t be too bad!

Here in the South we have enjoyed warm days and clear nights but at 5am you may still notice the ever so delicate kiss of Jack Frost on the car window or on the grass. If you are unsure what this means to the garden, it represents a couple of things. The older generation will be busy putting down a ‘Spring’ mulch about now, because that is what they have always done. Don’t copy them. Break the cycle of mismanagement and learn the science. If you mulch now you are creating a layer of insulation – so effectively you are creating a refrigerated bed which will take longer to warm up. My tip is to put your elbow on the soil and if it feels warm (just like you would  a baby’s bath water), mulch. If not, leave it. Wait until the soil feels warm, water it, then add a mulch. Your plants will love you more and so will the worms.

The cool night-time temps also mean that the delicate plants should not yet be put outside to ‘harden off’. Some tender plants such as the orchid Cymbidium may need a cool night or two to help propel it into flowering, but if there is any sign of a heavy frost repair them back the glasshouse quick smart! If you are looking at planting out your French beans hold off for a just a few more weeks. Whilst talking of veg, don’t forget, successional planting will create a succession of vegetables throughout the year. For example Broad beans planted now, again in a month and then again in June will give you crops up until September if you are canny.

As an update to my exploits with the Town and Country Charnwood Boots, they are still going strong and still excellent. I have worn them at work on most days for the past 5 months and they really are excellent. Still waterproof. Still warm. Still doing the job they were designed for! I can honestly say, I am very pleased with them and will be ordering another pair.

This springs spectacular flowers

This year is going to be a great year for the early flowers! In Sussex the Camellias are spectacular, having had the benefit of no serious frosts for some weeks now. The forests and woods are also remarkable, with Wood Anemones, Crocus, Lesser Celandine, Cyclamen and Winter Aconite all blazing away before the trees come into leaf thus shading the floor in perpetual gloom.

The Azaleas and Rhododendrons are also just coming to the fore. I am told Bodnant Gardens is especially radiant this year and well worth a visit if you live near. But there other gardens with equal displays across the country.

If visiting inspires you to plan your own early flowering garden then make sure to try and copy what nature already does. Just looking at online catalogues will tell you that there are many to Rhododendrons to choose from, with many new hybrids being bred each year. Be advised, read the label well as some species can grow to 50ft high as well as across!

Once you have chosen it is best to think of how your plant grows naturally. Azaleas and for a start grow in shaded valleys high up in mountainous areas (5,000 to 10,000 feet) with a high annual rainfall. They also prefer a soil that is well mulched and high in leaf litter.

The plants are shallow rooted - almost epiphytes in fact -so they really don't do well in shallow or poor soil, therefore it is vital that they get adequate water and food. Of course it should never be forgotten that they are first and foremost ericaceous plants, so require an acid soil. According to the old books on Rhododendron care, the plants thrive best if put in a bed that is lower than the surrounding land. This means that any water will pool adequately to provide a similar environment to the wild lands of India and China, from where the originally came. (It also means you have the space to add a regular mulch of rotted leaf-litter.)

Another thing to consider is the surrounds. Rhododendrons live best in soils where they are not competing with larger, heavier plants that take all moisture, although the paradox here is they cannot tolerate the heat of the full summer sun. Basically a damp, shaded or semi-shaded spot surrounded and overhung by deciduous trees like birch or ash is ideal.

Pruning is pretty simple once the plant is established. Always do it just after flowering has finished. This gives them the time to create new growth over the summer to hold next year’s flower buds. They are pretty disease resistant, although there are a few new fungi to look out for. Just keep them fed and mulched and they should be happy.

Spring - playing catch up!

 

Believe it or not Spring is just around the corner. In Sussex the earliest date recorded to celebrate this most vibrant of months is Feb 22nd, but I have researched the history of the seasons and find the Celts used to celebrate Feb 1st as the first day of Spring.  If you want to know more about our seasonal year, you can go to http://guydeakinsgardening.com/blog/seasons/  for more info.

All that said, we are not quite there yet and there is much to do! As I always say to my clients, we have 12 months in a year, 4 months of that you can actually get things done in the garden with no issue. The rest of the year you are playing catch up. (With this mild winter in Sussex, I am still playing catch up).

At this time of year, I always try to clean the greenhouse from top to bottom. A power washer set on wide spray is ideal for the task of cleaning the glass, however, many of you will have a glasshouse on the allotment so this is sometimes impractical. The best method therefore is to buy a soft broom and a large bucket. If you are organic, fill the bucket with a safe mix of water, detergent and malt vinegar and scrub away – remembering to wear some waterproofs and a face mask as you will undoubtedly get wet. If you don’t follow organic codes, you can also use a single mix of Jeyes fluid or biocide and water.  Remember : Always read the label when using chemicals.

Once the glass has been done, turn your attention to the rest of the area. If you have a hard floor, scrub this. If you have bare soil, turn the soil, adding a slow release fertilizer such as Vitax Q4 and a small amount of slug bait, or set some beer traps. Now your beds are ready for the addition of fresh compost and plants when the air warms sufficiently.

If you like to reuse pots, now is the time to soak them, using the water mixture in the large bucket you used for the glass. Once they have been soaked, use a small stiff hand brush to scrub off any residual dirt or plant material.  Use the same process to clean your spades, forks and any other tool you have been using recently to dig over the wet ground to aerate it. If they have wooden handles a small amount of wood oil, rubbed in with a cloth will not do any harm and extend the life of your prized possession.

Now to your secateurs and other cutting implements. If you have neoprene gloves or similar, put them on. Carefully take the secateurs apart using a screwdriver or spanner, making note of how it went together. Using an old toothbrush, carefully clean the surface of the blades and gently scrub any areas where dirt or plant material could collect (this includes the bolts and springs). If you have a sharpening stone, now is the time to hone the edge to perfection then using a soft cloth, wipe a small amount of oil onto the whole blade. When you are satisfied the tool is clean and primed, put it back together and oil the joint.

If you have machinery, I always try to service mine in November, but if you have not had the chance for whatever reason, then now is the time to get them down to the local mechanic – before the mad rush at Easter fills their books out for weeks!