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Blog posts tagged with 'Guy Deakins'

Ash Dieback Disease - a warning

At this time of year I don't usually recommend the burning of leaves. Indeed I have to say that one of the most important things you do in any garden is to build a leaf pit. As described last year, there are a few ways of doing this, from buying the string bags, to using old pallets and corralling the leaves for a year of gentle rotting. Then, when all is going to sleep next year, you can use the leaf-mould as a vital mulch.

However, with the rise of leaf borne pathogens in specific trees and plants, I would recommend you collect and burn as many leaves as possible. The two trees which are most important in this respect are the Aesculus hippocastanum (Horse-chestnut) and Fraxinus excelsior (Common Ash).

At present we are looking at the destruction of between 50% and 90% of these trees in our fair country. Some of you may have noticed over the past few years that the Horse-chestnuts have browned very early in the year. This is due to an invasive leaf miner moth (originally from Serbia, Cameraria ohridella), which lays its eggs on the leaf and the caterpillar eats its way through the leaf. These leaves fall to the floor and the caterpillar overwinters in the leaf litter. It must be said here, that the moth does not kill the tree. But it does weaken it enough for a fungus to attack the tree itself and kill it. Thus collect up all leaves of the Horse-chestnut and burn them. The moth is not native and should not be here. For more information visit

The second tree under threat of a leaf borne pathogen is the Ash tree. Approximately 80 million trees are under threat of destruction from the fungus Chalara fraxinea. With the same care and attention, if you have one of these beautiful trees in the garden, again collect up all the leaves and burn them. For more information visit Whilst it is admitted both these diseases are now established in the UK, perhaps we can, with care, prevent them from destroying our valuable woodlands.

For a handy hint on how to identify the horrible Ash Dieback disease watch this Youtube video.

-- Guy Deakins

Bee Kind


At this time of year we begin to look at next year’s planting plan. What seed shall we try? How should our garden progress? Thus we grab those handy seed and plant catalogues with glorious plans in mind, sometimes admittedly on a limited budget, but we still want our garden to impress.

So spare a thought next year for our humble insect friends. Sadly, it is becoming apparent, that bees and bumblebees are in decline. Some species have already become extinct in the UK within the last 70 years. Einstein supposedly once stated that if bees died out, mankind would follow within four years. Whether or not Einstein did say this, the realisation is alarming if a little pessimistic.

Nevertheless bees in general are vitally important to the wealth of plants we have in the garden and in wider agriculture. They are vital pollinators as well as a welcome, familiar sound on a summers day. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is striving to halt this decline. According to scientists the only way we can reverse the current decline is to encourage farmers to introduce a 'mosaic of suitable habitat', from nest areas and hedgerows to wild-flower meadows. But at home we can contribute, growing many flowering plants to help the bumblebee. Choose plants which offer a high nectar content, such as, Bluebell, Clover, Scabious, Thyme, Lupin, Heathers and Hollyhock to name a few.

A full list can be found on the Bumblebee Conservation Trusts website. Also we can provide nest sites. There are a few differing designs, all of which can be found along with factsheets, again on the Trust website. You never know you may even win a 'BEE KIND' prize!

-- Guy Deakins

Meadow Gardens


I have to say, the wild-flower meadows are looking amazing this year. With all the early rain and then the sudden appearance of heat, the grasses, annuals and perennials have all done remarkably well.

At the Olympic site, they have used mixes that are easily available and perhaps the relatively new development of 'wild-flower matting', which you can buy from some of the bigger or specialised landscape companies. The result has been splendid. A few years ago I had the honour of looking about the garden writer and photographer Deni Bown's garden at Yaxham in Norfolk. She has a keen sense of adventure and was experimenting with various mixes of her own creation to see what was the most appealing. She had chosen American prairie plants and native plants as well as some other more exotic species and the result was marvellous.

Indeed many of the towns I visit these days have small spaces enlivened by the use of wild-flowers. Horsham and Reigate are two such councils which have used the idea well. But, how do you create a wild-flower meadow of your own?

There are some simple rules to follow:
1. Ask your self some important questions: How well do you know your climate and situation?Is the soil wet or dry? Sandy loam or clay? Do you have a rabbit or deer problem? Is it in heavy shade or full sun? How big is the plot? Will you want to cut it once a year or more and do you have the equipment to cut it?

2. Make sure the ground you are going to use is prepared well but not fed well. (This will not encourage the grasses from taking over and give your precious flowers a chance to thrive).

3. Once you have looked at and prepared the site, then decide on the flowers. The best thing to do is to ask the advice of a good wild-flower seedsman such as Emorsgate Seeds, or Boston seeds. They will be able to talk you through the process and recommend the best for you. If you want to go down the more expensive route of plants and mats, the internet is awash with companies, including and

4. How much patience do you have? – Because sometimes despite your best efforts, it may not work out the way you wanted. Be ready with that stiff upper lip!

5. Lastly, aim for good luck and good growing weather! If you are still confused, go to the excellent source of information at:

-- Guy Deakins

Coping with a wet summer

Geranium spp.

  So, the English summer has sprung upon us like a damp octopus. Slimy, vaguely warm, uncomfortable and perhaps slightly menacing. If your garden is not now the village pond, then you are lucky indeed. I bet you're glad you bought those lovely T&C wellies now eh? Notwithstanding, I search for the positives – everywhere you must admit is beautifully verdant.

Astrantia spp.


Buddleja davidii.

The plants and trees- the very soul of our gardens- are undeniably happy, displaying their colours with gusto. And yet we cannot seem to ignore the problems. The slugs and snails have run amok, destroying vast swathes of my veg patch in their merciless quest for sustenance - slug pellets or beer traps being rapidly diminished by the sheer weight of water. As for the weeds, oh the weeds, even the panel of the illustrious BBC Gardeners Question Time have raised their hands to heaven. “You can't spray, you can't hoe, so what can you do?” As Adam Ant possibly sang all those years ago.

But there is hope yet for us hardy garden folk. If you have a lawn and are fearful of cutting it, as those books advise against; well, fear not, for as Vita Sackville-West was so fond of saying: Rebel!

Set your mower on the highest cut and cut away. If you have a hover mower this is a bit more complicated but not impossible. If the lawn is impossibly long. Strim it first. Remember electrics and water don't mix so try for a dry spell. After you have cut, spike the lawn, using a sharp border fork, sprinkling compost as you do. Not only will the lawn remain healthy, but you are adding to the nutrients and drainage potential! In the borders, add a good mulch of mushroom compost or if you have Azaleas and their ilk, try ericaceous compost and seaweed. With all the activity of the worms and the constant rain, leaching of nutrients has undoubtedly occurred, so mulch away! If all else fails just sit by the window and watch the swallows and martins scoot impossibly close to the ground in search of their supper. Wonderful. There, feel better? Now, where's that recipe for pan-fried octopus with chilli, coriander and garlic...
-- Guy Deakins
Companion Planting



In my constant search for titbits of perhaps best forgotten garden knowledge, I am constantly reminded of the idea of companion planting. I must profess to having read many, many tomes on the subject, some inspiring, some less so. In fact, if I am honest the Internet is full of websites declaring the virtues of various pairings, but not being one to give up at the first hurdle, I shall endeavour to briefly introduce you to this subject.

Firstly, you must understand that this line of horticultural experimentation is not foolproof. Who in their right mind decided that it was a good idea to plant nasturtium next to broad bean in the vain hope that the winged pest that is 'Blackfly' (Aphis fabae) would somehow prefer to live on the former more than the latter? Notwithstanding I persevere to understand the concept that planting one plant betwixt others somehow enriches the growth or eliminates pests and, I must admit, I have had some success.

For example, did you know planting onion or leek in alternate rows with carrot, not only deters the dreaded Carrot Root Fly, but also the Onion Root Fly. This process of using scent is a common theme, planting rosemary next to roses apparently deters aphid or the planting of garlic in flower beds offers some protection from insect attack.

Another tried and tested companion plant relationship is Brassicas next to a bean. This may at first seem odd, but there is scientific method. Beans hold nitrogen in the soil, brassicas need nitrogen to grow nice healthy leaves. Thus a match made in heaven and you should include in this list spinach and chard. Similarly, the native Americans in their wisdom, used to plant climbing beans with maize. The maize prospered due to the increased nitrogen, the bean gained a free trellis.

Finally, chemical warfare is a useful ally in the garden. By this I do not mean expensive and ecologically damaging pesticides. I am of course referring to naturally released oils and hormones. Tagetes, otherwise known as the African marigold, has a useful chemical which has been scientifically proved chemical to ward of soil born insects such as wireworm, so plant them liberally amongst potatoes and other root crop for a bumper harvest. They also provide a food source for beneficial insects such as hoverfly.

So next time you look at your planting plan, have a thought for what goes with what and how you can help your garden look after itself.

-- Guy Deakins

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

Beware the frost- even in April!

So, Oestre has been and gone. That famed pagan festival we all celebrate by eating chocolate eggs and dressing up as rabbits or chicks. It is also the time many people descend on the local garden centre to buy their summer colour, veg seed and other things which perhaps are later regretted.

With the weather we have been having recently, we could be mistaken for believing it was summer already! But, there is an old lore, which you must be made aware of: The Blackthorn Winter. If you are unaware of this small piece of country wisdom, then now is your chance to out-do your neighbours.

It is said, (and I am one who says this regularly), when the blackthorn is in flower, then you will have a second winter. If you are unsure of the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), it is the tree or shrub with the horrendous thorns and white flower. It's bark is a dark almost purple hue. It is also the plant we get sloes from to make that wonderful gin. (Thinking of Christmas already? Surely not). If you are a keen naturalist, be aware these thorns easily break off and harbour a fungus which can cause blood poisoning, so carefully does it!

So in these times of cooler air, be of the knowledge the frost season is still upon us. Many would say it is not gone until early to mid May, so look after those tender plants. Keep the fleece at hand should Old Jack threaten to visit. It may be 23 degrees in the day, but the soil is still not warmed. So it also advisable not to mulch your borders lest you trap this cold into the soil. Wait awhile. If you are again unsure of just when, touch your elbow to the soil as you would a baby's bath water. If it is cold, then do not mulch. If it warm, then add that all important improvement. (Mid May should be okay).

-- Guy Deakins

Playing catch-up: lawn advice for the armchair gardener

Hurry and you’ll miss it my young ants. Winter is almost at an end and the garden is starting to grow once again! The fruit trees and wisteria have been pruned, the pots, tools and garden shed should be spick and span. Early seeding like Lobelia, Lathyrus and Pelargonium should have been done long ago, and the beds should be in prime condition. You should also have thought perhaps, of what vegetables are to be grown this year and what perennials need to be divided imminently.

But in the reality of an armchair gardener - that oh so rare beast who never steps into the garden from October to Easter - what does the end of winter actually mean?

Well, it means from now on, you are playing catch up. All those small little winter jobs that needed to be done will have to wait until next winter.

The grass needs to be fed, first and foremost. Personally, I hate the chemical treatments which so readily burn lawns. A sprinkling of blood fish and bone, should instead be applied. Blood for the instant nitrogen kick, the fish for a longer lasting green and the bone for feeding the roots.

If you have moss, apply lawn sand now according to the instructions and no later than April 1st - but be aware you may be adding to the acidity of the soil. This can be addressed at a later date by adding a dressing of lime water or crushed chalk sprinkled in healthy amounts (brushed in). Do not scarify. At this time of year the grass needs a root system to grow healthily. If you scratch the soil now, you do nothing but make the grass grow roots instead of leaves, starve the plant of food and water and weaken an already struggling plant that is just waking up.

Give the lawn its first cut on a high setting once the feed has had a couple of days to settle in. The lawn could also do with a little de-compaction therapy. Get a sharp fork and walk over the areas most prone to walking damage; sinking the prongs into the areas and wiggling lightly to add air and drainage. Don’t worry if the lawn is left with noticeable holes. Brush in some compost. If it is a big lawn, buy a walk behind lawn aerator or a tow behind tool for the tractor. Please also note as we are in a drought and good honest drinking water is scarce, a lawn does not need to be watered constantly. I know we all like a nice green lawn all year round, but it can survive quite happily without water for about eight months. In fact I would go as far to say, if it is watered you will not encourage it to dig deep to find sustenance, making your lawn more prone to disease.

Also remember for the year ahead, if you cut a lawn too short, it does not stop it growing or mean you have to cut it less often. It merely makes the grass weaker, encourages weeds and moss and causes more headaches in the long run. If you'd like to spend hard earned money paying a gardener like me to re-turf or reseed, go ahead.

In short, a lawn has a complicated life and must be viewed with the eyes of a concerned naturalist. It is not simply a patch of green that takes the rough cutting treatment, but a group of individual plants all crammed together and all competing for the same food and water. Think on, Wise Grasshopper.

-- Guy Deakins


I can't bear to have wet knees. For that matter I hate to be wet and cold at this time of year, but that is a story of trial and error which led me to the conclusion, German and Swedish army waterproofs are the best in the world for the price. However, we are talking of knees and more importantly knee pads. It may seem an odd idea, but upon arrival at any garden between October and April, I put on a pair of knee pads and will wear them throughout the day. This saves me an uncomfortable day and protects the joints to boot. So, I could not wait to trial the Town & Country knee pads and excellent they are!

At this time of year I find I will be constantly on my knees in the garden, tidying borders, digging out old plants (to be moved elsewhere) or just simply doing that kind of maintenance in the garden that I could not do at any other time and there are of course those moments where you see something that needs to be done and requires instant attention.

As my grandfather used to say in his broad Devon drawl, “In the garden there are twelve months of hard work. Four of those you can do constructive work. T'other eight months you are playing catch up me boy.”

As is usual for me at this time of year, I am busy in all my gardens reconstructing borders, rockeries and even woodland gardens for my clients. I am lucky that I work in some of the countries most spectacular privately owned forgotten historical gardens which, over the years have been left abandoned or neglected. A job I can honestly say, fills me with such joyous pleasure, words alone cannot explain. Overall the gardens seem to the owners a huge mess, leaving them with the problem of where to start first. My four tips for any of you undertaking such a task?

  1. Stand back and allow the garden to tell you what it needs. My training at art college allowed me to learn how a painting should read and the same goes with a garden - shapes, content and movement are first. Colour and texture always is the secondary consideration.
  2. Take things in small chunks, allowing yourself to rediscover the original architects dream in your own time.
  3. Start from the house and work outwards in the same manner as a ripple on a pond. If however, you wish a different focal point, then start from there.
  4. Always consider what is outside the garden. Is there a view which was incorporated or is it to be omitted now?

In my business, a garden is a sculpture with an exceptional advantage- it can be changed at the will of its owner.

-- Guy Deakins

Adventures in the Garden - January 2012

Happy 2012!
Well, what a year it's going to be! Britain is hosting the Olympics, the Queen is having something of a celebration, and Cambridge will win the boat race - dragging us from the embers of financial meltdown. Let us not forget a new species of tree shall be discovered (according to my tea leaves). Fully hardy, with orange leaves, purple fruit and blue bark, and having an abundance of highly scented yellow flowers all year round, it never outgrows the space it is given!

So what am I doing to brace myself for this wonderful future?
Well, having put my sharp border fork through my last pair of wellies, I am trying my new T&C pair out. Lined with the fantastic Town and Country boot socks which my wife purchased as a Christmas present, I am warm and dry.

The garden or rather the gardens I tend are looking and smelling great. The grass is green, the trees are, perhaps less so, but they are still alive which can't be bad. This month I will be pruning the apples and pear trees. I always like to leave this little chore till after Christmas as then I can be sure they are asleep and not forgetting that January is the Wassailing month - although I don't think jumping around naked at this time of year is a good idea; never mind how much cider is drunk.

There are many ways you can prune an apple, and there are many books which suggest ways it should be done. However, I recently had a meeting with a man who grows about 50 or so acres and he gave me this tip. Prune out the dead, diseased and damaged. Then prune out all the crossing branches and vertical shoots above the height you want the tree to be. Leave all the other fruiting branches that are younger than 3 years old. Oh, and another thing remember the rule, “vertical is growth, horizontal is flower.” so if you want more fruit, weigh a few branches down, or if against a wall, train them. You can't go wrong with simple instruction. Unless you've been at the cider...

-- Guy Deakins