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Blog posts tagged with 'Guy Deakins'

Winter and plant diseases

Ah, November, that most delicate of months. The great languid breath of damp warmth before the winter slumber of ice and fog takes hold. I am at present busy putting the garden to bed and am enjoying the task immensely.

Which plants remain intact is my choice. Some seed heads I shall leave for the birds to pick over, other plants I shall leave as they look spectacular in the first heavy frosts. Tidying leaves, mulching borders and generally making the garden change in that dramatic way only those in temperate zones can. Last year I worked in the Botanic Gardens, Singapore and was amused to see they have built a huge glass house with air conditioning - so that they too can appreciate our seasons. Although I miss the constant warmth and sun of the tropics, we are lucky. We have a growing climate which removes pest and disease naturally. Black spot disappears from our roses (burn the leaves), slugs, snails and mice go into hibernation or die, and most fungus becomes dormant. November is a time of change to be appreciated. However, there are dark clouds looming on our horizon.

I recently had a meeting with a man from FERA the government agency charged with protecting our borders from foreign pest and disease. To be frank, things are not looking good. Our obsession with cheap imports has introduced new fungus and insects, which left unchecked will not only decimate but destroy our delicate ecosystem. “Sudden Oak Death” or Phytophthora ramorum to give its correct name, is a very real threat to all our parks and gardens. This is a disease that infects and destroys a vast number of ornamental shrubs. The threat list is extensive but includes: Arbutus, Calluna, Camellia, Choisya, Magnolia, Photinia, Rhododendron and Viburnum. The list of our native trees at risk is also horrifying. For a full list, information and images please click here.


This is only one disease which is a threat to plants in the UK, so it is essential we check the plants we buy for any sign of disease. Remember also many foreign insects, such as the Asian Longhorn Beetle and Thrips palmi have also found a home in our continental neighbours and are a serious threat here too. If we work together, these threats can be addressed and hopefully eradicated from our small island.

-- Guy Deakins

Autumn Leaf Mulch

With the onset of autumn, many will be sweeping leaves from their lawns and paths. The big question is what to do with them?

Rather than burning, which seems to be the preferred tradition in the UK, leaves are a valuable source of structure and basic nutrient. Creating a leaf mould pit is a good way of recycling nature's bounty and gives you a source of soil improvement, a rich mulch for the borders and reduces the need for watering.

There are several ways to make a leaf mould area depending on the size of your plot;
• For a big plot, you can build a large leaf pit, from pallets or wood.
• For the smaller garden, buy the purpose made string/plastic bags and fill them accordingly.
• Make a small area for leaves decomposition using plastic or metal mesh.

The key to any leaf mould is composting time. Good leaf mould should be left for at least a year, perhaps two if the leaves are of high tanic value (such as oak leaves). If it dries out, water it. Over the period of a year turn it at least once, letting in air and stopping any possible anaerobic activity. The final leaf mould should be a crumbly texture.

Some tips:
• If you collect the leaves on the lawn with your mower, the leaves will have been shredded making decomposition quicker.
• A small amount of leaves can be put into the household compost using the layering method.
• Burn any Horse Chestnut leaves as they are host for the leaf miner moth.

-- Guy Deakins

October and Seed Collecting

"The gilding of the Indian summer mellowed the pastures far and wide.
The russet woods stood ripe to be stripped, but were yet full of leaf.
The purple of heath-bloom, faded but not withered, tinged the hills...
Fieldhead gardens bore the seal of gentle decay; ... its time of flowers and even of fruit was over."
-- Charlotte Brontë.
What better way to celebrate the birth of October with these words?

October; traditionally the months of frosts and revolution, the Saxons actually called it Winterfylleth, the first season on winter - but then it was colder in ‘them thar days’ (the Nile actually froze over in 892AD and again in 1010AD.)
In the garden, there is lots to do, scarifying the lawn, dead-heading and generally tidying of borders, pond work, leaf chasing and not forgetting the addition of those autumn mulches (much more important than the late spring mulch).

Seed collecting is a guilty pleasure. My children love collecting poppy seeds, and whenever I go into a friend’s garden these days, I take a collection of small paper bags and disappear for half an hour – my friends are quite used to this now and are happy for me to do this I hasten to add. A particular favourite of mine is a friend who collects Geranium. She has such a large collection and there is such a great mixture of colours and leaf shape I am virtually guaranteed a ‘new’ crossbreed with each visit. Some seed I have to admit is not strong and the plant is feeble, but others have proved spectacular.

Which reminds me, I have to plant out the new Narcissi bulbs. Are they really pink?
-- Guy Deakins

Pruning Climbing Roses

So we find ourselves in September, the first month of Autumn and a fantastic month for many reasons. The leaves begin to turn, the Michaelmas Daisies and grasses give the garden that last flush of textural colour and let’s not forget the ‘Second or Indian Summer’- which gives plants that final burst of energy before they go into winter slumber. As Rose G. Kingsley says in ‘The Autumn Garden’, 1905 : "In the garden, Autumn is, indeed the crowning glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil. And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil time, do we get such superb colour effects as from August to November."

September is also the month for pruning climbing roses - a task I shall find myself repeating for the coming month before leaf duty is under way.
Like shrub roses, certain rules have to be followed.

  1. Wear good gloves. (I thoroughly recommend the Town and Country Ultimax. Excellent gloves with huge versatility and finger protection.)
  2. Make sure your secateurs are sharp. Blunt blades will damage and tear the plant.
  3. Put up the training wire first. This must be at least 2mm wire to be of adequate strength. Try to use vine eyes or ‘screw-in’ eyes, rather than any old nail - when those winter storms come, you will be happy to follow this advice. Tension the wire as best as you can.
  4. Always tie the rose to the wire. Never use the tensioned wire as the tie.
  5. Always work out how you want the rose to grow before beginning to prune.
  6. First cut out the 3 Ds: The dead, diseased and damaged.
  7. Always prune just above a bud. Not too close or too far, about 1cm is adequate.
  8. Try to prune to a bud that is facing the way you want future growth remembering to cut out any stems growing in the direction of the wall.
  9. Do not worry if you think you have pruned too hard. The rose will come back if well fed.
  10. If your rose suffers from Black Spot, sweep up all the old leaves and burn. This is a genetic problem so do not be disheartened by any apparent resilience to treatments in future. It just means your rose has the ‘Persian Yellow’ rose as part of its pedigree.
  11. Feed the rose with a good root feed and mulch with well-rotted manure.

One more tip, if you are worried about cuts to your arms, a wise old head gardener I served under gave me this tip. Find an old pair of wellington boots and cut off the feet, then use the ‘ankles’ as arm guards.

-- Guy Deakins

Jobs to do in August...


Agapanthus africanus,Tanacetum parthenium, Lichnis cornaria, Oenothera

Well, the summer is coming to an end in the UK. Overall, the first half of the year many of you will agree, has been odd. It has certainly been interesting; as some have put it, we had May, June and July in one month, the rest of the summer has been…let’s not be too negative. I love the month of August. The garden is just beyond its peak of flowering, but seeds are to be collected, fruit harvested, the ground prepared for the autumn sowings and planting of annuals and winter hardy veg. All in the gloriously warm (if perhaps wet) weather we still have.

At present, as well as continuing the ceaseless weeding, grass cutting and disease control, I am mulching borders with rotted leaf mould, a vitally important job to do between now and the first frosts, which given the years odd weather may well come as early as September (where have the Swallows gone?). I am also sowing winter vegetable seed, ready for planting out in September/October - remembering Brussels Sprouts can be ready for Christmas and need deep soil. Italian or Black Kale, Winter Cabbages and Purslane will sit happily over winter, ready to fill the hungry gap in early spring. It may also be worth looking now at some of the Japanese varieties of Onion if you are so inclined. Not forgetting if you have a greenhouse, new potatoes if kept frost free will be fit for the table on Dec 25th . Lastly, sweet peas need to be researched and ordered if you want to get an early sowing under glass. Lots to do, lots more to enjoy.

-- Guy Deakins


I am quite often asked about the tools I use and what are the most necessary items for a gardener. Quite often I reply that it is whatever tools you feel are necessary for your garden, but I do have my favourites.
I love my vintage border fork. The tines are so sharp as to scare me, but used properly it is better than a hand trowel or long cultivator. I can gently aerate lawns with it and lift waste or straw like a pitch fork. It is without doubt my favourite tool.

Second come the secateurs. A good pair is definitely worth investing in. There are the Swiss kind, or perhaps one of the other common brands but again a vintage pair properly made, always seems to work best for me. Lastly but not least, I insist on a good pair of gloves. I cannot stress this enough. Working in comfort and without fear of thorn or blister is something I relish.

On another note, I recently visited Devon and was quietly delighted in finding a hidden gem of a garden in Shaldon. Nestled above the River Teign is a small garden of historical note, which goes by the name of Homeyards Botanical Gardens. Five years ago, the garden had been an abandoned mess of weeds, but today it is a story similar to Heligan (yet less widely publicised). The overall design is in the process of still being discovered as there are no plans in existence, so by visiting and showing your support, not only are you creating history but perhaps one day this forgotten corner will be celebrated as other gardens are today.

-- Guy Deakins

A window into a wider world

I always enjoy visiting other peoples’ gardens.
If they are well kept, models of efficiency and design then, marvellous.
If they are quiet oasis' of delight, slightly unkempt but nevertheless loved, brilliant.
Even if they are total wrecks to our eyes, a cause of polite coughs and smiles, I will always see the beauty. I find from experience one should always proclaim in such circumstances, “A wildlife garden!” much to the delight of the owner.

If it is a big garden, it is also always of interest to me to get to know the ‘backroom team’, be they a local gardener or even the slightly jaded son. This is often the heart of the garden. They see things other people miss and often know when the garden really looks its best. A garden is a place of restful resilience as well as a place of human leisure. Animals visit unabashed by our presence. Birds will perhaps feed their young. Insects scurry in their microscopic jungle, concerning themselves with their own particular needs.

One of my fondest memories is of an early summer dawn on the North Downs, dew heavy on the grass. I was discussing my daily list of tasks from the Head Gardener when a weasel popped out of the clipped box hedge and danced across the large expanse of main lawn on its endless quest for sustenance. I was very lucky to be in just the right place at just the right time to witness this and I find myself smiling each time I think of it. A garden is indeed our window into a wider world.

-- Guy Deakins

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