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Gardening Blog

August 31st 2014

We have a number of apple and pear trees which need considerable attention.  There are about ten in an orchard area, which was formerly surrounded by Leylandii conifers, which were allowed to grow to a height of about forty feet. Most of them were to the south of the fruit trees, with the result that there was a severe lack of light for the orchard.  A few years ago we removed the conifers completely, opening up the area to the sun.  However, during their dark years many of the trees developed bad growth habits, with crossing branches and long leaning branches.  It is easy to see how the trees were searching for light, leaning away from the conifers, and stretching out to any glimmer of light.  We now need to help the trees by judicious pruning, starting with many of the crossing and touching limbs, opening up the crown to allow air to circulate freely.  We might lose some cropping potential for a year or so, but ultimately the tree will be fitter and happier.  Another benefit of removing the tall conifers is the much improved grass, which at its worst was a covering of damp moss, but now is a healthy green underfoot.  The wildflowers are also moving in, with scarlet pimpernel and milkmaids in abundance.

March 2nd 2014

During the course of the past week, I have noticed an increasing number of daffodils either in flower or very close to flowering.  I don’t remember daffs flowering during February before, at least not in Yorkshire.  The snowdrops are still showing bravely, but the first of them are going over now.  Willow and hazel catkins are plumping up and showing definite colour, and some small birds are already finding them tasty! All these signs point to the onset of Spring, but there could still be a sting in the tale of winter.  However, the sun is rising ever higher in the sky, and the days are getting noticeably longer, with evening lighter later.  I was reading about a plan for Britain to join European time, meaning that summer evenings would be even longer and lighter.  However, the downside is that winter mornings would be dark later, a particular problem in Scotland.

We have started on the plan to plant red stemmed cornus (Dog Wood) among contrasting shrubs.  We have an area where, about ten years ago, we planted cornus, and now we have many layered, rooted plantlets, ideal for the above mentioned project.  These newly planted ones will be kept small, so that the red bark will show throughout winter, glowing against the hebes and euonymus.  The weather this past week has been highly conducive to working outdoors.  Long may it last

February 9th 2014

We have decided that it would be good fun to visit as many Botanical Gardens as are reachable within a day or with a one night stop over, as we did in Cambridge.  We have been to a few in Britain, as well as some overseas, but there are still more to see.  The first on our list is Sheffield. These are located to the West of the city. They cover 19 acres, and were opened in 1836. They were originally designed by Robert Marnock, gardener at Bretton Hall, now Yorkshire Sculpture Park.  There are fifteen separate areas, with plants from all over the world.  There are National Collections of Weigela, Diervilla (Honeysuckle) and Sarcococca (Sweet Box)  There are also several listed buildings, including the Glass Pavilions, some of the earliest ever built. These are closed at present for repainting, but they should re-open before the end of February, so off we shall go!

Having recently read that most of Britain has been subjected to more rain in January than ever before since records began over 100 years ago, we have even more cause to be grateful that we live where we do.  We visited the Somerset Levels a few years ago, and I cannot imagine how drastically the region must be affected by so much extra water lying on it.  One problem facing inland wetlands is the incursion of brackish water affecting the food chain for the resident birds, animals and water creatures.

December 29th 2013

This is the last offering of the year, so it seems a good time to review 2013.  We had a cold start to the year, but after a very slow beginning, it became one of the best summers in recent memory.  People from other parts of the country claim that their weather was not as brilliant as ours was, but where we are it was a wonderful summer.  I was most impressed that even during the long, hot and dry months, there were no threats of hosepipe bans or water shortages.  Maybe the infrastructure and overall management are now sufficiently robust to cope with modern times and our somewhat unpredictable weather patterns.
The autumn was also wonderful, extended and so colourful.  Dare we hope for another similar year in 2014? Only time will tell.  However, many people have had a less happy end to the year, with many homes flooded and without power over the Christmas period.  Again, our part of the country was much quieter than other areas, notably Kent and the South East, and Scotland.  Our garden, with is flat and low, sited over heavy clay, is still building up its water levels following the summer.  We have a natural pond which is still less than half full, even after the reasonably heavy rain of the past couple of weeks.  This time last year it had overtopped and spread over a large part of the garden.  There is a small amount of tidying up to do following the winds, but nothing to complain about compared to elsewhere.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year, and a very safe and enjoyable 2014.

27th October 2013

The most needed job in our garden at the moment is tidying up beneath the oak trees.  They shed so much litter of twiglets and dead branches. We have had to move the grandchildren’s trampoline from under one large tree, and the very next day a 3 metre long branch, about 15cm thick, landed just where it had been.  It would seem that woodpeckers and other insect eating birds have been having a feast, as there are large areas where the bark has gone, and there are many holes in the limb.  That is probably why it fell.  

Our Penstemons are putting on a wonderful show at the moment, and there is a new Red Hot Poker flower spike just about to open.  This weekend we are supposed to be experiencing the worst storm for years, with 80mph winds forecast.  What damage will ensue for the garden remains to be seen, although we are quite sheltered.  The tree tops are swaying crazily, but at ground level it is still warm, and quite still.  One of the apple trees has dropped most of its crop in the last few days, and all the neighbourhood moorhens are visiting to feast on the windfalls.

So, we must batten down the hatches, and ride out the storm.  Who knows, it might not be as bad as predicted.


06 October

I have been very busy this week making chutney using produce from the garden.  My sister-in-law gave me a recipe for Marrow and Ginger chutney, which is bubbling away on the cooker as I write this. As our courgette plants went into industrial scale production this year, I am searching for any recipes for marrows or courgettes just to ring the changes.  I also make a very tasty and popular Apple chutney, which uses a good number of the apples our orchard produces.  The recipe is one that my mother gave me in a book she compiled when first married, just after the end of the War.  I usually make 2 batches, but this year I think I shall have to make more.

I think I shall also have to make some green tomato pickle.  We were quite late planting the tomato plants this year, and they are still in full flower, but the tomatoes are not ripening.  I shall try the ripe banana trick first, to see if that works.

Another heavy crop is sloes, they are very nearly ready for harvesting; my husband makes sloe gin, which will be ready for consumption at Christmas.

I hope you are all enjoying this very long and warm Autumn, here we are in October, and the temperature is very nearly 20C.

19 September

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.  Yes, the time has arrived for harvesting so many things; plums, apples, pears, blackberries…My mother gave me a war-time recipe for apple chutney, which has become a family favourite, so I shall be making lots next week, as the apples become ripe.  We are fortunate to have inherited a very varied orchard when we bought our present home 12 years ago, and this gives us a wide range of colour, taste and ripening times, as well as covering us when one or two trees have a lean year.  This year seems to be a bumper year for all fruit, including hedgerow fruits like haws and crab apples.

Another task for this time of year has been the taking of cuttings to put into the cold frames, hopefully to increase our stock of shrubs. 

The cooler weather, and a little rain, has brought on a second flush of flowering in some of our plants.  We have created a pergola-like tunnel by positioning three simple arches close together, and on each side of each arch we planted climbers, clematis and honeysuckle.  These are all flowering now, even the clematis which started flowering in Spring.  There are lots of buds showing as well, so the flowering will possibly last until the first frosts.  There are also lots of buds on our rose bush, which usually manages to flower right up till Christmas. 

So, having mentioned frosts and Christmas in the same paragraph, I will leave you till next time.

Hello again

The time seems to have arrived for hedge cutting.  The contractors and farmers are busy tidying up the roadside hedges, and as most nesting birds have completed the cycle, we are looking to our hedges.  The leylandii hedge is well due for its twice yearly haircut. This type of hedge has had some bad press over the years, but the fault lies mainly with the owner.  If kept under control it can make a lovely dense hedge.  Ours however had been neglected, and we had to cut off 30 feet of height, and it has taken several years for the shape to become acceptable.  It is now just beginning to look good.

We recently had a visitor who brought us a number of cuttings, thinnings and plantlets from her garden.  What a lovely gift.  It is a good way of adding to our plant range, and with lovely associations as well.

The Victoria plums this year are magnificent; we are trying to pick them before the branches break under the weight.

The sweet peas are still blooming, although the flowers are less dense than they were.  We grew them up obelisks this year, adding welcome height in the centre of beds of low flowering plants.  This method also creates a three dimensional flowering mass.  They have been really spectacular. Frequent cutting for indoors also encourages further flowering, so it’s a win/win situation.

More next time

Hi, and welcome to the diary of an enthusiastic amateur gardener.  This summer has been so much more conducive to gardening than last, most of our garden was either under water or simply saturated last year, and we lost quite a few plants as a result.

However, it’s a different story now.  We spent the early months tidying up, and starting two new beds in the heavy shade of a weeping willow.  The plan is to create several paths through a wooded area at the edge of the lawn, with either an object or a special plant to encounter on each route. For example, one path leads us through an arch, another leads past a young but thriving Viburnum Plicatum.  A third path opens out onto the lawn.  Our grandchildren enjoy exploring the different paths!

On our visits to various open gardens we are constantly looking for ideas which we can borrow.  Many smaller gardens take a path right to the boundary, using every bit of width to create the impression of greater size.  This is one idea we are now trying out ourselves.  The Viburnum is only a couple of feet inside our boundary, and the path passes behind the shrub, giving an impression of space beyond.   We are also considering cutting a hole in the hedge at the boundary, creating a window overlooking the field beyond, a “borrowed view” as loved by the Chinese garden designers of old.

Well, the sun has emerged again following brief showers, so the garden is beckoning!  More next week




The fence bottom mowing strip has been completed.  The gap behind the pavers and in front of the trellis base has been levelled and covered with weed suppressing membrane which is now covered with gravel.  If we wish to plant climbers up the trellis it is a simple task to scrape back the gravel, make a cut in the membrane, plant the climber, replace the membrane and gravel, and the job is neat and tidy.

The weather seems to have decided that we have had a long enough summer, and the temperatures have dropped significantly.  There is now a lot of dead heading to do.  We have been trying to keep up with this task throughout the flowering season, to encourage more flowering, but some plants are now ready for tidying up ready for the winter.  Also, my herb bed is ready for some major attention, the mint has gone mad, and I need to cut it right back to make sure it has not rooted where I do not want it.  However, the bits I cut off can be dried ready for use during the winter months.

The blackberries are magnificent this year, so we are busy picking and freezing them. Apple and blackberry crumble is a family favourite, so as soon as the apples are ready (very soon) we will be in business.

More next time.

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