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Blog posts of '2012' 'May'

The Dry Garden

Water is becoming an increasingly precious commodity. What’s a gardener to do? We want our patch to look beautiful yet we can’t rely on our hosepipe. It’s a dilemma. But if we think of it in terms of a challenge, a puzzle to be solved, the whole concept of gardening with minimal water can be a delight...honest.

A sunny patch with poor soil is the perfect place to start gardening with plants that don’t mind dry, sun-baked earth. Mediterranean plants are the ones to seek out. They include lavenders, rosemary and curry plants.

First enrich the soil with organic matter so that plants can hold on to moisture during dry spells. Well rotted compost or bagged planting mixture from a garden centre are best. You could also use spent mushroom compost. You’ll need around one bucket per square metre. Once this is dug in you can start planting. Don’t forget to include a few upright plants such as towering verbascum for contrast and interest.

Once planted, water everything thoroughly. Then cover the soil surface with a 2 inch / 5cm thick layer of small gravel. This acts as a mulch, sealing in moisture and suppressing weeds. It also acts as a canvas, showing the plants off to their best advantage. During the first year the plants will be establishing so you will need to water them when the weather is dry. After that they should be pretty self sufficient. It is possible to have a beautiful garden and save water. It just takes a little imagination.

My guru for gardening in dry conditions is Beth Chatto. Her books ‘The Dry Garden’, and ‘Beth Chatto’s Gravel Garden’ are full of helpful information. They’re available at garden centres and good bookshops.

Plants which thrive in hot, dry conditions
· Allium
· Cistus - Rock Rose
· Curry Plant
· Euphorbia
· Helianthemum - Sun Rose
· Lavender
· Phlomis
· Rosemary
· Salvia Argentea
· Santolina
· Sedum
· Senecio
· Thyme
· Teucrium
· Verbascum

-- Rob Amey

Nicking, Notching and Rubbing

May is full of wonderful surprises and is always a welcome month after the rigours of winter and wet early springs. There is plenty to be getting on with, but there is also still just time to finish off the jobs that were not done at the end of April. One job, which should be done about now is "nicking" and "notching" in the apple orchard. Traditionally, apple trees were pruned more than once through the year and this is one of those jobs you can do alongside "rubbing". If you are not sure what I mean, then I shall endeavour to explain.

If you have a tree which is lacking or is sparse in bud then notching is your game. Simply cut a small triangle of bark above a dormant bud to stimulate growth.

If you have a tree with odd or no bud growth toward the end then nicking is your man. Simply cut a small triangle of bark below an active bud to prevent its growth and thus allowing sap to rise further along the branch.

Rubbing is the age old practice of removing flower buds from the over burdened branches. This will help the fruit form in a more healthy manner and allow for a larger fruit! You can do this by simply rubbing the flower off the branch with your thumb.

If your tree is still refusing to give any fruit, then you may have a problem with suitable pollinators. Check the Brogdale National Fruit Collections to see if your variety needs specific treatment. One last thing, remember the golden rule of all fruiting and flowering branches: Vertical promotes growth, horizontal promotes fruit!

-- Guy Deakins

Protect your plants

These past few weeks we have been having so much trouble in the garden. An animal is coming into the garden at night and digging up all our seedlings and plants. Our broad beans have gone missing and some of our leeks have been destroyed. To make things worse some of the soil has had newly sown seeds which has been scattered everywhere, so who knows what plants are going to pop up where!

Since then we have foiled their nocturnal escapades by using bamboo structures covered in netting and small polytunnels! I didn’t realise how versatile netting can be so it’s a great thing to have on standby and best of all it’s very cheap to buy. If you don’t have any, I advise you to get some.

-- Gemma Dray

Hanging Baskets


Want to know the secret of beautiful hanging baskets? Read on...

Properly planted hanging baskets are a glorious sight, so it’s a pity that all too often they end up looking like abandoned bird’s nests. A fabulous basket can be yours with a little preparation and lots of easy aftercare.

Plant a basket at the beginning of May to give it a fortnight or so to thicken up before hanging it in place. It can be left in a porch or a cold greenhouse or even in a sheltered spot protected with polythene.

To plant…
• Balance the basket on a large flowerpot or bucket
• Line it with a fibrous liner
• Make sure all the chosen plants are well watered in their trays or pots
• To retain moisture, place a circular piece of polythene in the base of the basket on top of the liner
• Use a soil-less multipurpose compost and mix with water retaining granules
• Put a little compost in the base of the basket
• Take each of the plants which are to form the first layer, tip it from its container and squeeze the rootball to make it small enough to fit through the basket mesh and liner - you’ll need to push a hole through the liner with your fingers first. Never feed the foliage from inside to outside, always feed roots in from the outside as the plant will suffer less damage.
• Space the plants between 10cm / 4inches and 15cm / 6inches apart around the edge of the basket
• Build up layers of compost and plants
• When the basket is filled to within 2.5cm / 1inch of the top, plant up the top with bushy plants.
• Water the basket well and make sure it never dries out. Lack of water is the biggest cause of failure. Once hung in place water every single day!
• Feed with dilute liquid tomato fertilizer once a week to keep it flowering well

NOTE: Don’t forget to check your brackets and chains before hanging. You don’t want all your hard work unceremoniously dumped in a heap on the path below!

And some plant suggestions...
Trusty Trailing Plants
These bedding plants come in beautiful trailing varieties.
- Lobelia Bidens
- Ivy-leaf pelargonium
- Lysimachia
- Fuchsia

Brilliant Bushy Basket Toppers
These cast their stems out sideways making them suitable basket toppers.
- Verbena
- Petunia
- Begonia
- Pelargonium
- Fuchsia

-- Rob Amey

Getting Some Salad on the Go!


May Flowers:  The spring colours are so vibrant - especially with a bit of sunshine

Drought? What drought you might be thinking - it doesn’t seem to have stopped raining here in East Anglia although one helpful news report said recently that it would have to rain continuously for about six months before the drought would be officially called off! I have been taking the opportunity to make sure that my raised beds are getting as much water as possible ahead of planting out salad crops at the beginning of May. I mentioned before that I am going to concentrate on the two raised beds near the greenhouse and not cultivate the ones in the main part of the vegetable garden, due to the problems with irrigation so I am drawing up a plan to plant crops close together from seed to see how this works - a new idea for me as I usually grow seeds in the greenhouse and then plant out the seedlings when they look nice and strong! Watch this space to see if this works!

Salad leaves are always a good starter as they germinate quite quickly (some within three weeks) and as long as it warms up a bit and the soil is at a decent temperature then we should have success! On a sadder note this month, I have to report the loss of four of my five ‘girls’ due to a visit from a very nasty Mr Fox. Up to this point the beauties lived in a barn with a locked stable style door and chicken wire fence but this doesn’t seem to have deterred the wily critter. Much to my upset my two black rocks had completely disappeared and the two mid-sussex were left behind - which makes it even worse as the violence seems to be somewhat gratuitous. The only one left is my bluebell who has a useful habit of getting into the rafters - a skill that obviously saved her this time round.

As horrible as it is, I can’t be without my lovely girls as they give me so much pleasure and lovely eggs, so a chicken coop has now been purchased and new girls introduced. The coop is much nearer the house and whilst small, is only used at night as the girls free roam during the day. When it stops raining I will take some pictures so I can show them off. Until then I leave you slightly damp around the edges! See you next month.

-- Jane Dubinski