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Blog posts tagged with 'tips'

Good Garden-keeping

Here’s some general good habits for gardeners to keep...

1. Keep all your tools clean and in good condition. Rub sandpaper over rusty tools to clear the rust away.

2. Store your garden equipment in a dry shed. Hang on walls if possible to keep off damp floors.

3. Keep your electrical equipment indoors.

4. Keep shears sharpened.

5. Always wash flower pots before and after use.

6. See a weed, remove it directly!

7. Always keep deadheading to keep flowers going for longer.

8. Always do planting in the morning or evening, never in the heat of the day.

9. Always keep your eye out for pests and deal with them straight away.

10. Always stake fruit trees and plants well so that the wind doesn’t take them away.

11. Keep your soil well hoed and weed free.

12. Keep your greenhouse glass clean in the winter.

13. Pick off suckers directly they appear.

14. Water cacti and greenhouse plants around the sides of the pots and never over them.

15. For tubs, pots and flower baskets, push your finger an inch or two into the soil to be sure there is adequate moisture below throughout the root area.

16. Protect plants especially tender ones from sustained cold and frost.

17. Keep paths and driveways clean to keep them free of mosses and lichens.

18. Pick fruit and vegetables as soon as they are ripe – they need to be eaten when they are at their best.

19. Harvest vegetables as soon as they are ready for maximum flavour.

20. To care for your houseplants, clean dust from the leaves with a damp cloth, control pests, deadhead as necessary, water as required. Keep away from heat.

-- Rob Amey

Round the Garden in Spring

Spring is finally here, shrubs and trees are in bud and all my bulbs are starting to bloom. This month I have cleared up herbaceous rubbish, burnt woody cuttings and put the resultant (cooled!) ashes around my fruit trees and roses. Last month I planted bare root plants and a couple of trees, so had to make sure all were well watered, firmed in and staked against the roaring March weather. My children have planted sunflower, salad and herb seeds in pots (these sprout quite quickly so are good for the kids) and whilst occupied, enabled me to have a last good prune, aerating shrubs. Evergreen plants are entering their dormant phase so its ok to prune them now. If the morning frosts are over, risk planting out perennials and other herbaceous plants. Fill out your gaps with medium height plants, leaving room for them to stretch and flourish and loll over walls and pathways.

If you’ve got the space, why not start making your own compost bin / heap? Put in peelings, newspapers, cuttings and cover with an old curtain / polythene sheet. You can buy compost bins or wormery from Garden Centres, Hardware Shops and many DIY stores or build a rectangular box, split down the middle out of slatted timber. Try not to put too much woody stuff as this won’t compost (decompose) down. Do not put anything cooked or egg shells into your compost, unless you want to help increase the rat population.

A good tip this time of year is to look at all the bulbs varieties around in flower and make a note of the names of ones you like so you know what to order in the Autumn.

-- Rob Amey

Re-use your toilet roll tubes!

Instead of purchasing bio degradable pots for this growing season, start saving your cardboard toilet roll tubes!

They are a great substitute for seedling plant pots and work especially well with long rooted plants, like runner beans or sweet peas.

Treat it like a normal pot and sow your seeds. When the plant is ready to be transferred outside, simply plant it straight into the ground. It’s as easy as that! The best part is the tube will naturally disintegrate into the soil.

-- Gemma Dray


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

Things to do in the Garden in December

1. Keep the winter blues at bay by heading into the garden and feel the fresh air and listen to the birds. Don’t forget to plant your tulip bulbs this month for a lovely array of colour in the spring. Order your seeds if you haven’t already.

2. This is the time of year to find your shrubs for free after the leaves have fallen, by taking cuttings from hydrangeas, cornus albas, salix and buddleja of young, strong and healthy looking stems. Insert lengths around 20cm into pots. To take the cutting, cut at an angle just above a bud. Ensure about about 14cm of the cutting length is buried in the soil. They will root and be ready for planting next autumn.

3. Ensure your brussel sprouts are supported with cane and harvest from the bottom when they are 2cm in diameter. If you want to save having to go to your allotment or garden each time you want some sprouts, you can pick the whole stem of the plant and put outside your kitchen door in a bucket of water, so that the water just covers the roots. This will be fine for 1 week so you can always have a week’s supply of sprouts.

4. If you have any fruit or onions stored away, have a quick look through and pull out any rotting ones to save the rest of your crop from contamination. Watch out for any slugs.

5. This time of year, clear all your weeds. A good tip for paths is to ensure all the weeds are pulled out from the root and to prevent them from returning, water the cracks with salty water. They will never return.

6. Sow onion seeds thinly in seed compost trays from late December until mid February. These need to be kept around 15 degrees centigrade so a kitchen windowsill is ideal. When the seedlings have looped after germination, transfer to single cells in a cooler place but ensure it is frost free, so that you are gradually building them up for the outdoors in the late spring. When you plant outdoors keep 30cm between each plant. Onions will be ready in August for picking.

7. Keep your compost covered to avoid excess rain destroying all the nutrients

8. Fit boxes for birds, bats, butterflies and bees. Apples, nuts, cake and cooked pasta are all good for feeding the birds. Wooden Hanging bird feeders are available in purple, red, blue or white at just £9.99 from Town and Country.

9. Piles of leaves, a compost heap, piles of twigs and long grass are great habitats for hedgehogs, earthworms and other creatures.

10. Protect tender plants from the wind and frost.

-- Rob Amey

The "Not so Hardy" Garden Plants

We really were spoilt this November with unusually mild weather. If that is a good thing or not remains to be seen. But this time last year we certainly were in the trows of winter with snow already covering much of the UK. Gardeners across the country saw plants, which we have come accustomed to think as hardy, killed or severely knocked back by the prolonged cold weather, snow and ice. Some plants that were knocked back have recovered slowly, others devastated by the bad weather last winter never made it back to their former glory. I've compiled a short list of plants that suffered during the winter that will benefit from some winter protection if this years temperatures drop as low as they did in 2010.

Cordyline australis- The Cabbage Tree
Cordylines have been a favourite in gardens for many years now due to their tropical look, the most popular being the red varieties. I have always advised on winter protection for these although in the mild winters they may come through unharmed. Native to New Zealand they can potentially reach heights of up to 20 metres, although in the UK climate they tend to be fairly slow growing. Cordylines are one of the species that seem to have bounced back from the harsh winter, new shoots developing from the base of the old stump. These shoots can be left on or removed and cultivated in a pot.

Ceanothus- California Lilac
Ceanothus are native to North America and are another plant that seems to have produced new growth after a complete die back of foliage last winter. Again another favourite in many gardens due to their unusual foliage colour and rich, insect attracting flowers. Leave all the dead foliage on until spring to help protect the new foliage against frosts.

It is debatable as to whether the mighty Eucalyptus tree is suitable to most UK gardens due to its eventual size and rapid growth. But they are there and people love them and, yes you guessed it, they suffered badly last winter. Eucalyptus are mostly native to Australia where the winter temperatures rarely drop below freezing apart from in the mountains. So it's no surprise that a winter of temperatures dropping to -18 degrees saw a few lost. Unfortunately the only thing to do with a dead Eucalyptus is to remove it, with the help of a qualified tree surgeon if needed. And why not replace it with one of our beautiful native trees that will be fine and dandy in most winters?


This one surprised me to be honest. I have often thought of Hebes as being a long standing hardy shrub, sadly not. Many Hebes have met there maker this year. Another shrub native to New Zealand, and a few to South America, they are the largest plant genus in New Zealand with a vast variety of cultivars to choose from and many more arriving every year. I have yet to hear of any Hebes pulling through and re-shooting so a bit of winter protection with some plant fleece may be wise.

Trachycarpus- Fan palms

Trachycarpus palms are native to Asia and have been growing in popularity over the last decade or so due to their exotic appearance, many gardens now dedicated to palms. Unfortunately many species proved to be less hardy this year and as these palms usually demand a high price tag due to their slow growth, many wallets also took the brunt. Tying the leaves up and protecting the palm with straw and fleece may be of benefit in colder winters to come.


I'm sure there have been many more species of plant that have suffered in our unusually cold winters, and a bit of research in Autumn may pay dividends. But cold winters as were seen last year are not all bad. They generally help to reduce the overall numbers of many garden pests such as aphids, funguses and bacterias which in a mild winter can attack and damage dormant plants. So a little planning ahead in harsh winters is all that is needed.

-- Tom Williams

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

Fruity Autumn

This month people have been asking me about growing fruit. I've been rather pleased with my soft fruit growing efforts which have been providing breakfast treats and desserts over the summer. The blueberry bushes are still heaving under the weight of the crop and the raspberry bushes are delivering up juicy gorgeousness daily. The strawberries ripen much earlier in the season so we've consumed all of this year's crop already and they were delicious!


We generally call ourselves veg gardeners, but it would be a shame to miss out on fruity delights, so here are my top quick tips and tricks for soft fruit growing. Firstly beware critters after your crop! I grow all my fruit in pots and raised troughs - making it more tricky for snugs and snails to enter the fray. Secondly I cover all my fruit carefully with nets to stop all our hungry birdies demolishing the crop before we get to it! I also do a little research on prefered soils - for example blueberries need erichaceous soil - another good reason for growing them in big pots. Fruit crops need feeding and careful attention to watering when they are fruiting, so it pays to be vigilant on that front. Finally fruit bushes need pruning - and this differs according to which type of bushes you have, so again a little research pays off here.

With a little care and attention you'll be enjoying juicy berries in no time!

Enjoying your Garden


The best reward for all the effort you’ve put in over the past few months is to have friends round so they can ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over your fabulous garden.

I love throwing garden parties. There’s something special about being outside in the evening with the scent of flowers in the air and the smell of a barbecue. Light the candles, fire up the fire pit and turn on the patio heaters and there’s no excuse not to enjoy the night air. The clink of glasses beneath a setting sun makes for a mellow mood and easy conversation.

Through experience, I’ve learned that a great garden party takes a bit of planning. Nothing too onerous, but with garden parties details count. Mow the lawn about two days before, a day before at the latest. Mowing stirs up dust and pollen. You don’t want hayfever to ruin the evening. Plump the mulch around flower beds and add a little more if it looks patchy. This makes everything look smart. Deep soak all the plants if you can so they look their very best on the day. I’m not a hosepipe fan usually - water is a precious commodity - but just once in a while they’re useful...if there’s no ban.

The day before, shop for food and clean the patio area. Ensure it’s weed free and position some of your most glorious pots to show them off to their best advantage. As most garden parties are often barbecues, check you have enough charcoal or gas and that a gas barbecue is in full working order.

Town & Country’s Portable Barbecue Grill comes in three bright colours. My favourite is the blue one. It is perfect for me because it doesn’t need any screws or tools.

Make sure you set out enough seating and don’t limit it to just the patio. Guests love to stroll off to explore, or may want to find a quiet corner for a chat. Make sure they’re comfortable. Buy some citronella candles to ward off uninvited guests. No one wants to be eaten alive by mosquitoes.

On the day, string up some fairy lights and set out clusters of tea lights for atmosphere. Create a table centrepiece. My best friend likes to use cut flowers from her garden. I’m a bit precious about flowers and feel terrible if I cut them so I use my potted herbs and arrange them as a centrepiece, or a couple of pots of African violets for colour. Then at the end of the evening I can give each of my guests a pot of something nice to take home.

I fill my wheelbarrow with ice and put all the beers and wine in there. For non-drinkers bottled iced teas make a refreshing alternative to orange juice. Finally, just before the guests arrive use this old Japanese trick: use a fine spray to mist the plants around the patio area. The leaves will glisten and sparkle and provide a magical feel. As I said, success is in the detail. Have fun...

-- Rob Amey