You have no items in your shopping cart.
RSS

Blog posts tagged with 'winter'

Keep the winter chill at bay

 

Before the winter weather really sets in later this month, can I advise you to do yourself one big favour? Buy a pair of Charnwood Boots. I cannot recommend them enough to be honest. I have worn them for the past two months at work and at leisure and I cannot fault them. Perhaps, if I am honest buy yourself a set of sports insoles – I suffer from ‘over-pronation’ so need to enhance any footwear.

So far the boots have survived several longish walks (up to 10 miles) through mud, stone, sand and shingle. Through woods, over dales, across streams, up the North and South Downs and along the South Coast they have performed wonderfully. I can attest that they are fully waterproof (and cow-muck proof), sturdy and thankfully easily cleaned.

An extra bonus?

They are undoubtedly warm. At this time of year I always wear a couple of pairs of socks and still feel the cold, but these boots have taken the edge off any truly frosty morning. I will say here that they are not ‘safety boots’ so do not use them on building sites or in areas where you may need the steel toe, but they are nonetheless useful work boots. Ideal for horse stables too – unlike the similar competitors boots which are merely splash proof.

In the garden it may be an idea to start looking at your fruit trees. If you have a problem with frequent fruiting or disease it always a good idea to prune apples and pear trees on a yearly basis. However, last year I left them well alone as the wet winter was enough stress. Leave the Prunus varieties such as plum and cherry until spring or even mid-summer as they have a different physiology. Remove dead, diseased or damaged branches if that is all you are confident in doing. If you want to learn a  bit more, I have published online a pruning guide at my website pages: http://guydeakinsgardening.com/blog/herb-guide/

Try not to walk on the lawn during heavy frost or even the snow. Grass is easily stressed and susceptible to destructive slime mould at this time of year, so try and keep off it as much as possible. If you do see it waterlogged, using a board to walk on (and to spread your weight), spike it with a sharp garden fork or even better a hollow tine aerator to add air holes. Add a mixture of compost and sand to help drainage.

Winter Gardening

I am looking forward to winter in the garden.

The truth be told, last winter was so mild, I psychologically missed the hard frosts and snow. I know that sounds odd, but they have a very useful role in the garden. If you dig over your vegetable areas now - leaving the soil in large lumps - not only will mother nature help break the soil up properly, but the pests like slugs, wire worms and soil living aphids will be killed.

Last winter was so mild for many of us that all these pests continued to multiply causing headaches for us all spring and summer.

I am also looking forward to winter, because I am confident my feet and hands will be warm. The T & C premium suede gloves have never let my fingers down, (when combined with latex gloves for really cold days) and to top it off, I have purchased the Town and Country ‘Charnwood Boots’. Combined with a pair of boot socks, I will be warm and dry for the foreseeable future!

                                            

In the garden things are just slowing down so now is the time to start cutting back the perennials that need it – remember, some need the foliage for protection so look at your guidance notes. In the cool greenhouse,  you can also look at planting some sweet peas in pots for a good display next year. There are some lovely old varieties. On the veg plot, now is the time to sow broad beans and if you are so inclined, winter hardy peas. I am told that those that over-winter have less black-fly, but I have never truly found that to be the case. Either way, the plants get a head start and if the winter is another mild one, you will have a crop of broad beans in April as I did this year. You can always keep sowing from Spring all the way to June to get a succession of crops until September!

If you like tulips, now is also the time to plant them. Last year I must admit was a disaster as many bulbs rotted off or were eaten by the marauding slugs as they pushed up through the spring soil. If this is a recurring problem for you, I suggest you try a different area where the soil is not so wet. Tulips are beautiful, but not necessarily as hardy as narcissi.

Finally, add manure or other mulch to your borders. You will help the plants survive the worst of the weather by supplying the roots with a nice covering. Never apply mulch in Spring as you will keep the cold trapped in the ground for longer.

Trimming your hedges

 

Hedges are a major part of many of our gardens, but we rarely look at them with any discerning eye until they are either suffering from some malaise or have grown rampant and need immediate work.

Over the years I have always been surprised by the lack of interest in such a common garden structure because they are often what we first see. They either skirt the edges denoting a boundary, create privacy where you feel it is needed or are merely left over from a previous owner who must have had a vision but nobody can work out what it was.

The same goes for the treatment of them. Pruned badly, clipped tightly or left to do their own thing until they are difficult to manage. Little care is ever taken to actually work out what the hedge may need to survive and are sometimes expensive to replace.

In fact, hedges are a vital part of our man-made ‘natural’ flora today as many agricultural hedges have been grubbed out or pruned with a flail leaving them weak and thinned , with little value to wildlife.

In law many are protected, especially during the breeding season when hopefully small chicks and perhaps dormice are nesting. In winter the bases of hedges are also vital for hibernating mammals and insects, out of the way of the worst of the winter weather. That is why it is illegal to trim hedges during the spring and early summer and also now during the later months of the year unless you know it does not have any nesting animals ensconced amongst the branches or in the leaf litter.

If you are wanting to cut your hedge, now is the time to do it. However, first be aware of what type of hedge you have. Some hedges will not take a hard prune, (such as with some coniferous trees) – if you cut back to bare branches on some plants, they will not grow back. If you have a holly hedge, it will grow back slowly. A privet hedge on the other hand will continue to grow at a rapid rate once established. If your hedge is very leggy (i.e it has bare stems or trunk and lots of growth at the top), it will only grow leaves on the ‘legs’ if you cut it down closer to the ground and let it start again! However  be advised this only works with certain plants, as some plants don’t like being cut back hard at all. Also, if it flowers, is now the time to prune it if you want flowers again next year?

Now you see the nature of that one simple ‘green thing’ that has always been there may not be as simple as you thought. Best get the plant identification book out and think carefully about how you want to proceed.

Preparing for Harvest
If you are keen on growing veg and want to continue the harvest well into autumn and winter, now is your chance to sow.
 
 
 
You still have a window for Broad Beans and Peas, for a September/October harvest. If you plant potatoes in planters, pots or grow bags from now until August and keep them in a frost free area, you will have crops of new potatoes until Christmas.  You will also now have to think about the winter veg. Black Kale, Brussel Sprouts, Chard are all plants that you can harvest through autumn and winter – not forgetting the winter cabbage and winter salads. Perhaps you can turn your attention to Onions also, which can be planted in august for an early harvest next year. Not forgetting research those plants like Collard and Turnip-tops that fill the ‘hungry gap’ next March.
 
In the ornamental garden, your flower beds should now be looking spectacular, but I have no doubt there will be areas you are not happy with. Make a note in your gardening book of the things you need to do, ready for autumn. This year has been great for many plants, but it has also been great for fungus. The hot damp air giving them ideal conditions to grow. Check your roses, hollyhocks, and iris. These are all very susceptible to an attack of rusts, wilts and other horribles. If you see any sign of disease try to cut the area from the plant and burn it. If the plant is too far gone, make a note and remember to treat early next year or remove the plant entirely if seriously damaged.
 

 

An interesting garden fact? Until the discovery of the ‘Persian Yellow’ variety and the use of it in the breeders’ gene pool, roses never suffered from black spot fungus. So if your rose suffers from this problem, at least you know part of its fine lineage. In Autumn, pick up all the fallen leaves and burn them so the fungus does not sit dormant for an attack next year. An old wives tale states garlic planted amongst your roses prevents such attacks – making sure to stop it from flowering else your roses take on a smell of alliums…
Blackthorn Winter
 
Well, we are at the end of the blackthorn winter. If you are not sure what the blackthorn winter is, I shall endeavour to educate. In old country lore, there is a plant called the blackthorn, or if you prefer scientifically it is the Prunus spinosa. Anyway, it is said, when in flower, there is always a second winter. If you are unsure of what you are looking for, it is the bush with the horrendous thorns, the beautiful white cherry-like blossom and the incredibly tart fruit known as a sloe.  So now you know.

 

I must say, before the cold weather set in, I was enjoying the display of Magnolia flower. Many of you may be interested to know it is the very first example of an insect attracting flower, so thus it is the oldest flower design discovered in the fossil record.

 

In the garden, you may just about get away with still planting bare-rooted shrubs such as roses and raspberries, provided you give them a copious amount of food and a healthy watering.

 

Now is the time to prune some of the winter flowering plants such as Jasminum nudiflorum, Viburnum x bodnantense, Viburnum farreri and Viburnum Fragrans which should be at the end of their flowering. This early clip will allow them to grow new shoots for next year’s display, without the plant growing beyond the size you want.  This is quite an important tip for all those gardeners who want to know proper husbandry. Don’t just prune in summer or autumn randomly – try to prune the right plant at the right time, to improve the life of the plant and to improve flowering.

 

Another key plant that is in flower now is the Camellia.  All that flowering is going to leave it a little short on food, so now is the time to give it a good boost with azalea food. This will not only help it for this year, but also next. Remember, prune a Camellia just after it has flowered to give it a chance to grow next year’s buds.
Can I speak honestly?
With all this wet weather we have had I have never been so glad to have a sturdy and trustworthy pair of wellies. If you are after the very basic but practical or like to have a little more comfort, Town and Country have yet to let me down. I can’t remember another winter where I have virtually stayed in my boots and they have certainly come in handy!
 
 
 
A major chore this year has been to clean out all the drainage gullies on the large gardens and estates I look after so my feet were in contact with water for most of December and January. Thankfully, I remained warm and dry throughout.
 
To be honest and I am sure you know by now, there isn’t anywhere left for the rainwater to go, as the rivers are full and the ground is full (and hopefully the reservoirs too.) So what to do in the garden?
 
The best course of action now is to stay clear of the lawn altogether. If it was spiked in January as suggested, all you can do now is watch and wait. There is nothing else for it.
 
As for other jobs, we are in an interesting position. Apple trees need pruning in order to stop becoming biennial with fruiting. However, the level of stress they are under at the moment, I hesitate to do anything which may add disease to the mix as fungus loves this kind of weather.  A fork amongst the roots with some dry compost and sand may help aerate and alleviate issues. The same can be done with all your shrubs.
 

 

I would suggest a little known law is quite important to remember now. Any large tree or shrubs that are within ten feet of public access or your garden boundary is now, more than ever in need of inspection as it is your responsibility to make sure it is safe. The wind and rain will have seriously weakened root systems. Given that you are responsible for the safety of others near your tree, this I would suggest is of utmost importance as you may not like the surprise of a hefty insurance bill if something were to happen. A general walk-by inspection is required every year to look for any damage or danger, but once every five years it is suggested  a professional undertakes a survey.
 
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.

Merry Christmas from all at Town & Country


Well, Christmas is almost upon us. I suppose you are looking about for the holly and ivy to adorn your various crevices. This year is particularly good for holly berries so you should get something spectacular above your mantle. A curious custom, it actually predates Christianity. Both plants were representatives of fertility at the mid-winter festivals held across Europe by both the druids and the Romans. However since the 14th Century is has become firmly ensconced in Christams tradition, with an all familiar carol and perhaps a less familiar love song ‘Green Groweth the Holly’ written by Henry VIII no less.

The tradition of the tree itself is of German import and became popular after Prince Consort, Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, decided in 1841, that it was a lovely idea to introduce to the Royal household. Victoria being the smitten Queen she was, loved him and loved the idea, so the tradition was born. To be honest I am not sure what we did before this. Perhaps just stare at the awkward corner of the room wondering where to hide the presents that Santa had so kindly bought us all a little earlier than usual.

Then of course there is the tradition of collecting the Yule Log. This actually refers to a very old idea that has been lost in the mists of time, but has been claimed by modern paganists. The actual theory was at mid-winter (December 23rd) a tree was carefully chosen, cut down and turned into one whole log. It was then brought into the house to burn for the entire winter. The modern take on this is somewhat easier to achieve.

Walk into a local wood or forest and choose a log. This should be approached with reverence and you should ask the earth spirit for permission. Once you are satisfied the sky will not fall on your head, return home and place the log in the Christmas or Mid-Winter fire – making sure to thank the Gods. When the fire is well lit, remove (safely) what is left of the Yule log and put it away (once it is fully without embers). This then should be stored until next winters first fire - bringing you luck for the year ahead.

 
Know your wood

Now the nights are drawing in and the temperatures are finally getting colder, there is nothing better than enjoying an open fire after a day in the garden collecting leaves or pruning the perennials.  Many of the gardens I work in are large enough for a steady supply of wood, but it can always be bought if this avenue is not available. Some of you unlucky ones in modern houses don't have access to a fireplace or indeed the facilities to enjoy a wood burner, but there are many who live in older houses. But a brazier in the garden is always a lovely thing to have in these late autumn evenings.

Before you start to build your fire, always get the chimney checked by a professional chimney sweep. It is also imperative that you make sure the area around the fire is clear, with no carpet or easily flammable materials nearby. Once you and they are satisfied that the airway is clear, you are free to build a fire worthy of Versailles. But please bare in mind, fire and children don`t mix well unless they are made aware of the dangers or younger ones are monitored closely.

However, as you rush off to the wood yard or petrol station to buy the wood, there are differences in the wood you burn.


The king of wood is Ash. Even if it is not well seasoned, it burns well, with no spitting - giving a good temperature and a good burn time. Oak is also good, but needs to be seasoned to burn well. The chestnuts, both sweet and horse, are also good burners, but be aware they may spit, so best invest in a fire guard and watch the carpet. (By spitting I mean small hot lumps of wood get thrown from the fire into the room).

Pine, which is commonly bought at petrol stations, burns well, but fast.
It also leaves a residue in the chimney so another visit from the sweep will be needed before winters end. Another that leaves a residue is cherry so try to avoid this.

Silver birch, burns very hot, as does apple and maple, but both burn very quickly so not ideal for a good fire all evening, but perhaps useful amongst other woods.

The worst I have yet found is Tulip Tree. A light spongy wood, it refuses to catch unless under intense duress and will happily go cold if left alone, but I admit, there are not many tulip trees on offer in wood-yards.

Finally, a tip I was once told with regards to that most dangerous of fire
- the chimney fire - keep a large bag of salt by the hearth. If such an event does occur, throw the bag of salt on the fire immediately and call the Fire Brigade! You may just have saved the roof.

 
Winter Warmers
 

The internet is awash with predictions about what this winter is going to be like. Across the Atlantic, the US has already had its first major snow storm and is expecting more to come.

Traditionally of course, the gardener’s old lore states that in years where there is an abundance of acorns and apples, a hard winter is sure to follow. But I have to admit, not having seen any statistics to back this up, this is perhaps dubious.

The climatologists are predicting, whatever happens, be it snow or rain, it will not be slight. In some quarters it is a stark appraisal - the declaration being that the precipitation won`t be for a few days, but stretch out to a number of weeks, perhaps months. So if we get snow, it will stay. However, I have to say here again, in the South East, there is yet again a serious lack of rain, which will lead to problems next year if the weather does not change.
The meteorologists are less specific. Their long range forecasts state that November will be cold, but mild in comparison to previous years, but of course, they readily admit that they can`t accurately say beyond 5 days what the weather offers.

Either way, it is best to get the right clothes early. Personally, I can`t recommend highly enough Town and Country`s new Rutland neoprene wellies, which are well priced in the market and a bargain considering the manufacturing processes involved. They are warm, hard wearing and comfortable - which, coming from a man who suffers plantar fasciitis this is important. Gloves too play an important part for the brave winter gardener. Last year we had a hoar frost which was so cold I had to wear 3 pairs of gloves at once - a neoprene base layer, the Town and Country Bamboo Textured gloves as secondary layer then the Town and Country Premium Leather and Suede Gloves for warmth.

Trust me, if you buy before the cold really starts, you will not regret the decision.

- Guy Deakins