Garden Notes for February 2022.
Talking to a local gardener recently I was advised on the benefits of warming the soil early in the season using horticultural fleece as a protective and warming barrier. In this way any seedbeds that have been protected under cloches or garden fleece can be started to be sown with hardy vegetables such as parsnips. You can also start to consider sowing some early cabbage and Brussels sprouts. Divide and replant chives towards the end of the month.
Remember to keep your garden furniture in good shape for the coming season. If you can bring them inside to dry off, and then lightly sand down items made from natural sources. Then apply a mix of equal parts turpentine and linseed oil (raw, not the cooked type). Apply at least two good coats of this mixture.
Towards the end of the month dogwoods/cornus that have the lovely wood stems in brilliant reds and yellows should be coppiced, to encourage new growth for the next year’s winter show. Usually I am cautious and only cut about one-third to one half, but if you are brave, have a go and do the whole bush.
As the buds on the gooseberry bushes begin to swell, they will become ever more attractive to bullfinches and other birds, so give them some protection. Ideally, they should be protected by a fruit cage. Alternatively use the old trick of straining black cotton thread from branch to branch over the bushes.
If you sow sweet peas in mid-February (in a greenhouse) they will produce plants to flower later in the summer. Trim back winter flowering heathers as the blooms fade, with shears to prevent them from getting overgrown and straggly.
Now is the time to bring the stools of outdoor chrysanthemums into the greenhouse and give them a little warmth and all the light possible so that they make sturdy cuttings. Towards the middle of the month start dahlia tubers off in gentle warmth.
Consider starting some annual flowering plants such as larkspur, cornflower, godetia, clarkia and calendula under cloches. With care, they could be in bloom early and provide those lovely cut flowers in June.
Purple Buddleia davidii should be pruned towards the end of the month. You will be well rewarded provided you prune quite severely, but always leave at least 3 or 4 buds for the fresh growth, in case there are late frosts.
Keep an eye out for slug and snail damage on emerging plants, as this will cause severe damage. Use appropriate control measures.
Early onion seedlings raised under glass should be pricked off into boxes, 5cm apart each way to give them the best opportunity to develop before being planted out. Towards the end of the month it is a good idea to divide and replant chives.
Garden notes for January 2022
After the haze of all the Christmas and New Year jollifications, the good gardener starts to look ahead. Even though the garden is asleep, it is surprising just how soon it starts to burst with life. So, think about what was successful last year and what might be a good idea to experiment with this year. How about growing a blend of salad leaves, like the ones seen in every supermarket. They can be grown, with a little bit of heat to start them off, in the early spring, don’t take up much room and are very healthy.
Another idea might be to try some different culinary herbs, for example Basil Lime (Ocimum americanum) which adds a twist of lime flavour to any dish. It can been grown on the window sill. Then there is Dill (Antheum gravolens), Oregano (Origanum vulgare) as well as Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) which is an evergreen and Myrrh (Myrrhis odorate). All can be grown relatively easily from seed.
Remember, even if we do get a few mild days towards the end of the month that any seeds that are sown need a constant temperature to start them off, at least 8 to 10 degrees Centigrade, so do not be tempted to sow outdoors, as temperatures drop well below these levels at night time, even when it is mild.
Check trees, shrubs and roses that may have been planted in the autumn to make sure they are secure. If they have become loosened through wind or frost damage, re-firm them thoroughly. Do this when the soil is reasonably dry.
Use horticultural fleece or cloches to protect early seed beds so that the ground can be used for early sowings of vegetables such as lettuce, parsnips and so on.
This is the time of year when houseplants are most appreciated. Azaleas, cineraria and cyclamen will all help to cheer things up. Do not over water, and most of these plants like cool conditions.
Towards the middle of the month start to make preparations for taking chrysanthemum cuttings. If you have a cold frame make sure it is ready and make up the necessary soil. A good mixture is two parts loam, one part peat, and one part sand to ensure good drainage. Any pots or boxes should be cleaned and the chrysanthemum stools brought in to start them growing sturdy cuttings.
Garden Notes for December 2021
What a wonderful autumn display of colours by the trees in November! Better than any firework display, in my view. Of course it is all down to the weather we have had previously. Now the plants have their winter ‘sleep’, and it is probably best to let them lie in peace. However there are a number of things you can do, as ever – a Gardener’s work is never done.
As a result of getting a robot iMow this year to do our lawns I had to leave a strip of grass by the beech hedge unmown all season. I have been delighted by the machine that has done a fabulous job throughout the growing season and has saved me a lot not having to pay a quarterly fee to have the lawns fertilised. As usual, most of my garden planning is accidental so I have accidently left part of the lawn to be “re-wilded”. Frankly I don’t think it has worked for me and all I have now is a long, thin patch of browned off grass since strimming it back in November. Is “re-wilding” a lawn all that it is cracked up to be?
Large flowered clematis, like Clematis jackmanii and the many hybrids from it, should be pruned towards the end of the month. They can be cut back quite severely. Prune back to good, well developed buds.
Seeds of helleborus, hosta and primula can be sown in December and January. Use John Innes No.1 compost (or similar) covering the seed with a thin layer of compost. After watering them in, place the seed container against a North wall or in a cold frame making sure that they are protected from mice. Leave them there until the spring. Then bring them into a greenhouse, on a well lit, but not sunny place, and germination should then take place.
If you are planning to sow hardy annuals in the spring, they will benefit from giving the soil in the place they will go to an early preparation. So long as the soil is in reasonably good heart it is best not to put any fertiliser, since annuals do best in a soil that is not too rich.
When picking Brussels sprouts keep the tops, and only use the best when all the sprouts have been harvested. Some of the winter broccoli may be starting to form their curds. Turn in the leaves to protect the curd from frost, and cut regularly as once they have reached their full development the curds soon begin to open and will spoil.
In order to have some early shoots of mint, now is the time to lift a few roots and put them in a fairly deep seed box and cover with potting soil. Put it in a frame or the greenhouse, and you will have nice shoots in a few weeks, when everything else is still asleep in the garden.
If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse vine, they should be pruned towards the end of the month. All side-growths should be cut back to two buds. The spurs carrying these shortened growths should be well spaced apart, at least 40 to 50 cm apart on the main rod so that overcrowding in summer is minimised.
What a great success this turned out to be. The Horticultural Society issued an invitation to join them on the afternoon of Friday 29 October but had no idea if anyone would actually turn up! At 5.30 we opened the doors and children decked out in fabulous fancy dress were waiting outside with their pumpkins, with more arriving all the time. What a relief!
They were greeted by our resident Witch and ushered into a Halloween themed hall filled with games and competitions.
Our Witch had a very hard job judging the fancy dress as there were some brilliant and imaginative outfits. There could, of course, only be one winner and the prize went to Alysha Chilvers looking suitably ethereal as a very ghostly bride.
Outside the hall the beautifully carved pumpkins were then lined up and lit making a fabulous display. They were of such a high standard that we felt it only right to award three prizes:
1. Theo Axtell
2. Ernie Shaw
3. Tess Axtell
The quiz was won by the Axtell family
The Guess the Name of the Bat was won by Theo Axtell as was Guess the Number of Conkers in a Jar.
Joint winners in the Apple in a Bucket competition, Ethan Letts and Corin Batey. Congratulations to you all.
We were delighted that so many families participated and all seemed to have a great time. It looks as though the Pumpkin Pageant will become an annual fixture in the Capel Horticultural Society calendar. Let’s all get growing our own pumpkins in 2022!
The usual stalwarts turned out on a mild November Saturday to help keep the village tidy. Thank you to everybody who helped. (Come on the rest of you, it’s only a couple of hours and always a tasty reward of coffee and cake once finished “picking”!) Over 30 bags of rubbish were collected. Pleasingly this was less than the last litter pick, but still too many. We shall be out again next April and would love to see some new faces amongst our regulars.
Garden Notes for November 2021
Prepare for the spring by digging and manuring the vegetable patch in November. Remember to keep a 3-year rotation so that potatoes (for example) are not planted in the same area two years running.
Remember to get your tulips planted before the end of the month. Try layer planting of tulips in containers. Do this by planting the later flowering varieties first, cover them with about an inch to 2″ of compost and then plant earlier varieties. A typical 12″ diameter container can take up to 40 bulbs in order to get a good display that lasts several weeks if this technique is used.
Watch out for slugs even as the autumn starts to turn to winter. We usually look out for them in the spring, but they can still do considerable damage shoots of delphiniums and campanulas at this time before the hard frosts start.
If you are planting a new tree, put a mulch mat around it or mulch with garden compost. The tree will root much better.
We have had quite good growing weather, and many of the evergreens and hardy trees will have made lush growth. Where possible prune the excess growth back before the winter storms set in, otherwise they will be vulnerable. The main pruning will still need to be done in the spring.
November is the best month for planting bare root roses.
After the first frost has blackened dahlias, cut the tops back to about 4 – 6″ and lay the stems over the plants for about a week. This allows the tubers to ripen and harden. When the weather is fine, dig them up and turn the plants upside down to allow any moisture to drain off from the hollow stems and crowns. Store them in a frost-free place where it is cool and dry.
If you have a sheltered and well drained plot, now is the time to sow winter broad beans such as Aquadulce. Early broad beans often escape the blackfly attacks on the growth tips of the plant in spring.
Provided the weather is suitable keep digging the ground for good crops next year. Where possible double dig in farm yard manure, or well rotted compost from your own compost bin.
Garden Notes for October 2021
“Everyone should take time to sit and watch the leaves turn” (Elizabeth Lawrence). The turning of the leaves does depend, in part, on how cold the evenings become since the tree system does not turn off the supply of nutrients to the leaves until there has been a frost. So that also means that the good gardener should be on the look out for their tender plants and bring them into sheltered accommodation before being desiccated by a sharp frost. Those of you growing parsnips will relish being able to dig them after the first frost when they are at their very best.
Most houseplants will be slowing down their growth. Water and feed less frequently. Cacti, in particular, should be kept dry and frost-free during the winter, that includes yucca.
Plant out wallflowers, polyanthus, sweet williams, foxgloves and other similar biennials for a good display in the spring. Spring cabbage should be planted out while the ground is still workable, keep up a succession of winter lettuce like ‘Winter Density’. Cut remaining marrows, squashes and pumpkins. Put them away in a dry, frost-proof place. Clear away all the pea and bean haulm, then dig over the vacated ground.
Once the ground has been cleared it is a good idea to break it up. If you have heavy clay (as most of us do round here) the best way is to use a spade and to leave it with large clods that will break down over the winter with weathering. If you break the soil down too much at this time of year, it will just become a ‘pudding’ and you will have to start all over again in the spring.
After the first frosts have browned off the tops of dahlias, cut them down to within 12 cm (9″) of ground level. Mark the variety with a label, and lift the tubers so that they can be dried under cover and then stored in a frost-free place for the winter. I have tried this over the years and never have much success. It might be worthwhile just leaving them in the ground and covering the spot with chipped bark or ash, remembering to mark the spot with the name of the variety. Be warned though, if we do have a prolonged cold period in the winter you could lose the tubers in the ground as well, so you pays your money and takes your choice.
If you want early sweet peas, now is the time to start them off. For best result sow one or two seeds in rooting pots as sweet peas have an exceptionally long tap-root. Germinate the seeds in the greenhouse with gentle, consistent warmth. Once they have emerged sweet peas can be kept outside in a cold frame, only needing protection from the worst frosts by having a cover over them.
Garden Notes for September 2021.
Watering plants is always a good topic of discussion. It is either too dry or it’s too wet. The essential thing is to try to get the right balance. When it is dry the closable leaf pores on plants (technically called ‘stomata’) shut down and slow down the process of photosynthesis. When there is enough water the stomata open, transpiration takes place, allowing the air containing carbon dioxide to go into the plant, which, together with sunlight, powers the reaction of water and carbon dioxide to make the sugars that are the plant’s energy source and building blocks. Watering keeps the stomata open in dry spells. As a rule of thumb one square metre of vegetation draws the equivalent of an inch of rainfall every day. Growth of plants in the summer normally requires additional irrigation. There are now numerous automatic systems that can be put in – especially for containers and hanging baskets.
The start of autumn means that many plants are producing seed heads, which we normally ‘dead head’ to keep the succession of flowers going. At this time it might be worth keeping them. With the cost of seed increasing year on year (the average cost is now around £2 per packet, and can be a lot more) it might be worthwhile considering saving some seed head for sowing. Flowers like Sweet William, Love-in-Mist (Nigella), Cosmos, or vegetables like Runner Beans, can be harvested just before the seed pod has fully dried. Use brown paper bags to hang the seed head upside down and store in a dry place. Remember to label the variety, and then when it is all nice and brown shake out the seed and you have saved yourself pounds for a few minutes work. Unfortunately the lovely hybrids that abound now will not breed true and you will have to rely on the expertise of the professional for that, but if you don’t mind a variety of colour in your Sweet William and so on it is fine.
Whilst the desirable seed heads should be kept, do watch out for all the weeds making sure that they survive. Milk Thistle, Shepherd’s Purse, Plantain and Groundsel- the list is endless, all should be removed before the flower has had time to set seed. I have been having a purge on Shepherd’s Purse that became rampant last year. It seems that no sooner than I have collected another bunch than an equal amount appears on another part of the vegetable garden. In a bit of land where I have a few fruiting trees there has been a huge crop of the weed called ‘henbane’ I have learnt my lesson in the past and have strimmed the area several times to stop the flower heads developing. It may keep them down but there are years of dormant seed just waiting for next spring and it will all start over again.
September is the best month to plant daffodils outside, so make sure you have ordered your new supplies. New varieties are always being offered, like ‘Easter Bonnet’ which has a white perianth and large pink cup. Then there is another one called ‘Petit Four’ which has an unusual cup that opens out into a ball of apricot.
Carrots should be lifted and stored before the roots start to split, which they will do very quickly once the heavy autumnal rains begin. Tomatoes should be cleared from the greenhouse so that it can be prepared for autumn and winter flowers. Onions should be dried and ripened off. In our uncertain weather it is a good idea to put them into a greenhouse or bench where there is plenty of air circulating before tying them up into ropes. Alternatively, use the mesh bags that are used in grocery stores. They need to be kept in the light and to have plenty of air round them, unlike potatoes that need to be stored in thick paper sacks with the light excluded.
Garden Notes for August 2021.
Laurel is a very useful plant but it is very vigorous and August is the month to keep it neat by trimming your laurel hedge. Some gardeners say that the laurel hedge should be trimmed using secaturs only. This does give a much improved finish, if you have the time. Using shears is much quicker and does not substantially make much difference. If you can allow your compost more than 2 years to compost, then put your laurel trimmings on to it. If, like me, you can only keep the compost heap for a matter of months, it is better to get rid of the laurel leaves since they take a long time to decompose due to their waxy surface.
Dahlias are supposed to be making a come back, having been rejected as being too gaudy. I have always liked them, and wish that I could grow specimens. To even have a chance to have the large blooms, now is the time to make sure that you disbud them, only one flower being kept on each stem. Dahlias will also need to be tied in as their stems become very heavy with the foliage and bloom and are easily broken by gusts of wind.
Cut out old raspberry canes that have fruited this year. Cut them down to ground level and retain only six or seven of the strongest new canes on each plant for fruiting next year. Overcrowding of the canes can lead to a higher incidence of disease.
Spring cabbage can be sown in the middle of the month; good varieties are Pixie, Flower of Spring or Wheeler’s Imperial. Onions that are reaching maturity should have their stems bent over and the bulbs partially lifted with a fork to encourage full ripening. Well ripened bulbs are much more likely to keep right through the winter.
If you have experienced an attack of potato blight, remember that outdoor tomatoes are vulnerable. In the past there were sprays but now it is impossible to get them so the best thing is to remove the affected foliage and burn it as soon as possible.
Planting up strawberry runners in the later part of August will help provide a good crop next year. If you are buying plants in, make sure that they are certified virus-free stock, as strawberries are very prone to virus disease.
Towards the end of the month, rambler roses that have finished flowering should be pruned. Disentangle the growth from the trellis (use gloves for this!) and cut out all the stems that have carried flowers. It is much easier to do this if you untie all the stems before you start the pruning. All the new stems made this year should be retained and tied back into place. You will really appreciate all the work you have done when they flower next year.
Plant Madonna lilies now, with not more than 2″ of soil above each bulb. Order lilies for autumn delivery. Tiger lilies and some hybrids produce bulbils between the leaves and the stem. Gather the bulbils when they fall at a touch and plant them in a deep seed box, about 2″ apart.
Keep shrubs tidy by dead heading. Especially roses, but do not apply rose fertiliser after the end of July, this avoids late soft growth which will not mature before winter.