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Be weather wise!
 
If we are lucky, we have warmth in the day, but the nights can still be cold. As our ancestors recognised, it is a month that can easily turn back into winter. If I look at the past few weeks, the day temps have been up in the high teens, but the nights have been down almost to zero on some occasions. If you recognise that this is quite a large margin of difference, then you will realise just how remarkable plants are. Then you have the rain, hail and frosts to contend with too.
 
All this proves that the soil is still not very warm - hence the old custom of putting your bare elbow or perhaps your bare bottom on the soil, to see if it is ready for some of the more delicate plants. Some plants like Cymbidium orchids need a few cold days to help them flower, but a frost is definitely a no-no.
 
I am quite often frustrated by the weather news on the TV or internet as it is massively generalized to cover several hundred square miles - although I must admit they have got better in recent years. Once, in the middle of the last decade, whilst living in Norfolk, the weather girl reported it was going to be a lovely dry night, yet outside my window some 20 miles from her studio, the rain was hammering down. Did I see a hint of embarrassment on the poor girls face? In those days, my obsessive temperament noted they had only got it accurate on 15 days in the entire year. Which is better than a soothsayer I suppose.
 
But of course for you at home, there are ways of telling if the air and soil is warm enough and what the weather may bring for yourself. Buy a weather station. With a glance you can tell if the air has been chilled to uncomfortable levels overnight whilst you were tucked up in bed with Gardeners World. You can also have an inkling of what the weather is threatening to do with a barometer as your guide. If you are like me and become lost in the green world, a clock will help you realise supper was 2 hrs ago and perhaps the kids need feeding at some point.
 

 

In truth the UK has a fantastic array of weather and micro-climates from the abhorrently wet, to the surprisingly dry. Do yourself and your plants a favour and get a bit scientific.
What a start to the New Year!

I doubt many would want to be out and about in the current weather, but spare a moment to think on your plants. You may think that they will be loving all this rain, but understanding that a plant needs air as well as water, you a chance to stop the rot, before you have to expensive replacements. If you garden is well and truly sodden, now is the time to get out there and address some immediate issues.



The lawn is still growing, given the mild air currents, but it will be sitting wet – something it hates. If your garden is on anything but sand, its roots will be struggling to breath and you will need to slit or aerate the lawn. First sweep away all the debris that has collected. Then, grab a fork. Starting at a corner where you will not have to walk over it twice, insert the fork at a 45 degree angle and lift the turf slightly. It needn’t be by much, just enough to allow an air pocket. Remove the fork and repeat. The best method is to create a zig-zag of forked columns or rows across the lawn. Once you have done this, a light dressing of compost would be welcome. Try not to walk on the lawn for a week or so, to let it settle.

Alternatively, you could just use the special shoes or aerating machinery that is available, but given the amount of water that has fallen, and given snow is approaching, I am not sure this will suffice.

If there are any areas in your garden, where shrubs sit wet, try to fork the roots to give them air. Some trees even – such as the Southern Beech (Nothofagus spp.) – will rot quite quickly if in wet soil leaving you with a dead plant and an expensive headache to replace.

Mid-Summer Roses

So, we have reached Mid-Summer, which in gardening terms is a great marker point.
The beds should be full of glorious colour and if you are wise, scent too.
One of my favourite plants for scent is of course the rose, which despite being just an ugly stick for 5 months of the year - as described by the previous head of the RHS - has the remarkable reputation of being one of Britain`s favourite plants.


It is not without reason that roses have such a special place in our hearts.
They have been in cultivation for thousands of years; indeed the Babylonians and Egyptians had them and they are mentioned in the Bible, Tora and Quoran as well as Shakespeare and other literature. The English crown of course has a white and red rose as it`s symbol of unity and the Empress Josephine had one of the greatest rose gardens in history - which was sadly destroyed during the Franco-Prussian War. If you like roses and want to plant them in your garden, look at the David Austin or Peter Beales catalogues for ideas - there are others, but these are the best.
Read carefully, deciding on flowering time, scent, colour or height.
Personally I love sticking my nose in a rose and smelling that particular fruit scent you get with some of the dark reds like ‘Ena Harkness’ or ‘Crimson Glory’. “In general, roses with the best scents are darker colors, have more petals, and have thick or velvety petals” – to quote Dr.
Leonard Perry of Vermont University.
But there are down-sides. Thanks to the introduction of the `Persian Yellow` variety, we now have many plants that are susceptible to fungus such as black spot. Which means if we want perfect rose leaves, we have to spray with toxic fungicides. There is also the problem of leaf pests such as the Rose Leaf-Rolling Sawfly, which has usually done it`s damage by mid-July and is very difficult to eradicate.
The aphid is also a major problem from March onwards, effecting not only the leaf, but also the flower buds and the residue proves a great host for yet more fungus. These can be sprayed against with a systemic insecticide, but given we are talking about a plant that attracts bees, I suggest you try not to.
There are some methods which supposedly put pests off. The planting of parsley, calendula and alliums all aid the gardener in his or her attempts to ward off pests. I am also told a garlic spray mixed with crushed and boiled horse-tail acts as a good insecticide and fungicide.
But to be honest the best thing one can do with your roses is enjoy them for what they are. Appreciate the variety of flora and fauna that the rose attracts. We look at an oak and understand it provides a home for thousands of animals, fungi and mosses, so why look at a rose any differently?
As long as it is fed well and pruned at the correct time, it will go on giving the pleasure of flowers and structure to even the smallest of gardens.

 
In the age of austerity, dig for victory and grow your own food

Gardening doesn't have to be a chore, it can also be a rewarding past time, fitting right in with the "Make Do and Mend" resurgence of late....

 
  1. Choose a fine day to get yourself sorted for the year ahead and consider what you’d like to do in 2012. You could take a trip to the library to browse through some books.
  2. Have a blitz in your garden, sorting out pots, tools and odd jobs in readiness for the Spring.
  3. Jot down a planting plan and check your seed stash.
  4. Draw up scale plan to create your own kitchen garden.
  5. Plan and enjoy colour in your garden. Colourful containers can be both for decorative and eating purposes. Colourful lettuce leaves look great and will keep you stocked up with fresh salad. Peas, beetroot, chard, courgettes, onions and carrots can all be grown on your patio. A packet of spring onion seeds costing 99p can provide up to £30 worth of produce.
  6. Start a mini orchard. No longer do you have to have a huge amount of land to grow fruit with the development of cordon trees. They don’t grow more than 2m and can be grown in pots.
  7. Make raised beds and save your back. You can buy these in kit form or make your own and they look great.
  8. Make your own herb garden. They taste good, smell good and are good for you. Choose a sunny spot for your herbs and ensure you use containers with good drainage.
  9. Peanuts and sunflowers are great to attract garden birds. You can also leave them your left-over cooked potatoes, rice, pasta and cake crumbs. Remember feeding birds bread is a no-no. It fills them up without giving them energy.
  10. Consider the front of your house. A colourful spring flower basket or containers can make all the difference.

-- Rob Amey

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