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Blog posts of '2011' 'May'

There’s still time to get those veggies growing!
People know I love veg growing and are always asking my advice – at the moment a popular question is, “Is it too late in the year to start growing?”
My answer is no, absolutely not – get out there and stick some seeds in! Great easy crops to be starting now range from beans and peas, carrots and beetroot to salad leaves, radishes and spring onions.
Peas and beans will need some tall supports and a little room. Carrots and beetroot seed will need some relatively fine soil and a little strategic thinning of the seedlings once they start growing, but I generally use salad leaves, radishes and spring onions as my “sow it in every space available” crops. So I’ll sow little and often in any gaps between other crops, around my tomato pots, between my rows of peas and beans – everywhere! Why not have a go – there’s nothing better than marveling at how your little seeds grow into edible delights so quickly!
And talking of edible delights, our baby sparrow visitors seem to be entranced by all my different salad leaf varieties this year, showing their appreciation by nibbling away – leaving little pinking shear marks! I guess that’s another good reason to grow as much veg as you can, as you always have to share a little with your garden wildlife ;)
More on what I’ll be up to this month at
Planting out the tomatoes

So this week we will be planting out our three tomato plants that the girls and I have been growing on the windowsill in the kitchen for about a month now. The girls had a pot each and a few seeds and enjoyed planting them and have been anxious to see them grow. I always grow veg from seed inside first to stop them getting eaten by snails and such before they grow into a decent size plant.

Over the last four weeks they have been watered every morning and turned occasionally so they grow straight up not all on one side. They now are starting to invade my kitchen so its about time they went outside into our raised bed.

1. Dig a round hole with a trowel about an inch deeper than the roots to make sure the roots can spread nicely, if the plant sits above the soil line the plant tends to die and we dont want that!

2. Carefully remove the soil from the pot by squeezing it gently all the way round the pot to create a small gap around the soil and the pot and it should smoothly slide out of the pot.



3. Gently drop the plant into the hole you have just dug out and push the soil all around it, then compress gently on top to make sure its securely in place.

4. Now push in a garden cane as centrally as you can into the soil as deep as it with go and secure with some twine. This will help the plant to grow tall and strong and move up as the plant gets bigger. once you tomatoes begin to grow they will weight the plant down so you need to make sure they are secured well.

5. Now water gently and admire your handy work.

Keep checking on your new planted out tomato plants to ensure you are not being attacked by snails. If however they are then place a circle of salt around but not on the plants to protect from attack.

-- Liz Longworth

French Beans

I have been growing dwarf- or French- beans for 2 to 3 years now and can honestly say they are probably the easiest vegetable plant I have ever grown. They are such a versatile plant that can be grown in many situations and are also a great smaller alternative to the old favourite, runner beans, if you have limited space.

This year I am starting my beans off in seed trays. I did try planting my beans in cardboard toilet rolls last year but must admit that I did not honestly see any massive improvements in growth or crop compared to those planted in normal pots or trays. I planted my dwarf beans in the second week of May, but you can plant them as early as March if they are kept indoors away from frosts to germinate. When planting beans as seeds, make sure you use a good compost and only plant the seed just below the surface of the soil. Keep them somewhere warm and light and give them a good spray with a mister so as not to disturb the soil or seeds. They will start to germinate after a week or so.

I always let my dwarf beans get to a good 2-3 cm high before considering planting them out. This gives them a good head start against slugs and other pests. Last year I planted my beans in the ground and planted a few in large pots. The beans that I planted in pots last year definitely needed more care and attention. They dried out a lot quicker and required a lot more watering. This year I am going to give the pots a second chance but also incorporate some beans into my flower garden too. Most bean varieties will need some support to grow up. This can be provided by a few garden canes or a wicker wigwam. One bit of advice I would give is to always make your climbing structure larger than the size says on the seed packet. I always find that mine go a little further!

Beans should be ready to harvest from late June right through to late September. Don’t be afraid to pinch the small pods as they come, they’re delicious just boiled until tender but not soggy!

You don’t need a dedicated vegetable patch or allotment to grow a lot of the foods we would normally buy from the supermarket. Two or three wigwams of beans planted within your bedding plants or shrubbery will fair just as well as those planted in a vegetable patch. And picking the right companion plants such as Tagetes and Marigolds can also deter pests improving your crop. Planting a few beans for yourself is also a great way to help reduce your carbon footprint. Most of the beans bought in supermarkets have flown from places as far away as Africa!

-- Tom Williams

I ♥ Astrantia

If anyone were to ask me what my favourite plant in the garden I would have to say Astrantia. I bought my first one from a local farmers market from a stall that specialises in unusual perennials. Just my cup of tea.

I was taken by the delicate papery star shaped flowers, which are, in fact, bracts that protect the tiny flowers in the centre. These dainty central flowers give rise to the common name of Hattie’s Pincushion. They are also sometimes known as Masterwort and their natural habitat is damp meadow edges or woodland so they like to be planted in moist soil and are happy under the shade of trees. Mine are in a mixed border crowded in with Hostas, Lily of the Valley and Euphorbia.

They create a dense dome of leaves early in the spring and flowers rise from the greenery around May and carry on flowering through the Summer. They then dry on the plant and stand tall quivering their seeds to the ground whilst still looking stunning right into Autumn. The first Astrantia I bought was a white one, tinged with green, I don’t know it’s name as the plant tag has long since been lost. Then I found a very pretty dusky pink one and I have now added a deeper red version too. As well as looking good in the garden the flowers are lovely mixed with others in a vase and they also dry well if you like that sort of thing.

Astrantias are very easy to look after and don’t seem to get eaten by slugs. Just chop down the stems and leaves late in the Autumn and they will repay you by growing bigger each Spring. If you see one at the nursery or garden centre this weekend they will be just coming into bud.

-- Claire Sutton

We'll be at Chelsea Flower Show!

This year will see Town & Country’s 19th visit to the world’s most famous flower show where visitors will have the opportunity to see the latest additions to its award-winning gloves, footwear and garden accessory products.

Brightly coloured gloves and matching cloggies, portable barbecues, bird feeders, weather stations and clocks are among the products on show and visitors to the stand can take advantage of some special offer prices, available on selected lines and being exclusively offered at Chelsea.

Comments Barry Page, chief executive: “Chelsea is a great barometer for us to judge how our new products will be received by the consumer audience. We always get a very positive reaction on stand and the feedback we get from visitors is extremely valuable.”

For further information, contact Town & Country on 01530 830990 or by email at

Not an expert, but passionate about vegetables!

Hi there everyone. My name is Jane Dubinski and I have been asked by the very nice people at Town and Country to take part in writing their blog.

As you can see from the title, I am no expert, just a normal person who started growing vegetables to encourage my (then) smaller boys to eat their greens and it seems to have become a bit of an obsession from there! I live in beautiful North Norfolk, having moved from London nearly six years ago and this gives me the space and the opportunity to get growing, but what a season it has been so far!

I am lucky enough to have a greenhouse and raised vegetable beds, which I use for a variety of produce, so I can start things off under glass. I also have an ancient propagator that belonged to my father, but it does the job for veggies such as chillies, cucumbers and courgettes or anything that needs to be started off in a warm environment.

Whilst it has not always been warm in the last few weeks, it has certainly been dry here in East Anglia and this is having a huge impact on tender new plants as they struggle to establish themselves. I have planted carrots, several times now as they haven’t germinated and pots need to be watered twice a day to keep them thriving - the prospect of a hose pipe ban will not be welcome in my household but I wouldn’t be surprised if this happens should the dry weather continue.

Here are some pictures of the garden which should give you an idea of the vegetable plot and I look forward to going into more details next month as the growing season really takes hold. June always heralds the beginning of planting out big style so there will be plenty to do and plenty to talk about.

Until then, however, happy gardening,

Jane x

-- Jane Dubinski

Easy Peasy First Vegetable Growing

When it comes to growing vegetables, I am sometimes way ahead of the game but more often than not a little behind with my plans when the season starts.

We built raised beds last year. So keen was I to get filling those lovely beds that I drew out my planting design in Photoshop and set seeds everywhere. We had chard germinating in the workshop window, cucumbers growing in old profiterole containers and beans growing in toilet roll tubes all over the house. I ended up with too many of some things, which I ended up giving away, plus I had lots of seedlings ready to plant out before the conditions were right.

This year I have taken a more leisurely approach, so we still have empty vegetable beds waiting to be filled. Salad leaves and beetroot are already happily sprouting and the courgettes and french beans that Mr Mouse hasn’t snacked on are growing well too. At this time of year it can be difficult to know where best to aim your efforts to ensure that you get a good return throughout the season. If you are new to ‘growing your own’ here are some favourites that anyone can get planting.

Kale is such an easy plant to grow. It is happy with most soils and doesn’t get too bothered by pests. The only thing they are not keen on is warm weather as it tends to send them to seed too soon. Cut out the central stalk and use the leaves like cabbage, in pasta dishes or turn them into kale crisps. Cavalo Nero is a variety that looks as good as it tastes and survives right into the winter. Plant them in a seed tray then prick them out when they are a couple of inches tall. Don’t grow too many at a time or they will fill your borders.

Lettuce is a great money saving crop as bags of leaves from the supermarket are costly and they only last days. It’s worth sowing a few seeds every few weeks so that you have a constant supply of baby leaves. I tend to prefer the cut-and-come-again style as they are less likely to run to seed and you don’t have to wait for them to get very big before you can start enjoying them. Salad leaves are great for sowing in pots as then you can keep them right outside your door.

Peas are an essential crop for us. There is nothing to beat the taste of fresh peas straight from the pod as you walk around the garden on a Summer’s evening. If you aren’t able to tend your garden as much as you’d like, a good option might be mangetout. As you don’t need to leave them to fatten up; you can pick a few as and when you need them. They are at their best when young and very tender.

Beans are my absolute favourite thing to grow, especially broad beans which are so tasty. To plant just drop a bean into a toilet roll tube filled with compost. They are ready to plant out when they reach about 10cm and then you will just need a few canes to support them. They are good for the soil as they take nitrogen from the air and plough it back into the soil through their roots. The borlotti beans above are worth growing just for their beautiful flowers and mottled pods.

--Claire Sutton

Growing Potatoes

I've never grown a vegetable before, the closest I've got was sprouting a bean on kitchen towel at primary school. Since then I have had an amazing knack of killing every plant I've owned since and it has been joked that I shouldn't even be allowed to look at them.

This year though, my luck seems to be changing. My sugarsnap peas are blooming now and the tuber potatoes I planted about a month ago are needing more soil!

I chose to put 5 tubers in a sack 1/3 full of compost rather than straight in the ground to maximise my crop. I had "chitted" these for a few weeks in a dark cool place a couple of weeks before, but it is not an essential step.

After lots of water, and a bit of waiting, this weekend I added more soil. The stems had reached 15cm so covered 2/3rds of the plants with more compost. By the next time they reach 15cm I will be able to fill the bag completely. Adding soil encourages the plant to keep growing, and your roots will be much longer underground than if the bag was filled completely straight away. Longer roots means more potatoes, so I am looking forward to a bumper crop come harvest time!

-- Kerry Wilkinson
Spring Blossoms

This year has been an exceptional year for blossom. The trees seem to be abound with the stuff. To me, the coming of spring blossom is one of the most wonderous events in the garden calendar. In Japan, an entire social structure has been borne from the ephemeral nature of the petals dancing to the ground. Known as Cherry Blossom Festivals, groups of Hanami or 'blossom viewing parties', enjoy the spectacle whilst eating , drinking and buying souvenirs from vendors. In the UK, we are lucky enough to have a climate where we can share in this delight. As a child I gathered huge amounts of flowers and petals from the Cherry Walk in Battersea Park, London, whilst my mother quietly accepted floral gifts which filled every available vessel. Having spent some time in Singapore at the Botanic Garden recently, where seasons do not exist, such events are abstract.

As one colleague said, “It is hard to imagine leaves falling from trees in the autumn only to return in the spring.” So my advice is; enjoy the moment. As Shakespeare wrote, “ Merrily, merrily shall I live now. Under the blossom that hangs on the bough.”

-- Guy Deakins