Guest Posts, Mrs P

There are days when I could think of quite a few things to keep me in the house. There are times in the garden when the graftiest of graft can give pretty lean results. There are moments of quiet satisfaction even when its mundane jobs that have been tacked and done.

And there are days when the magic happens, the plan comes together, a changing landscape emerges and the thought that was in your head comes to fruition right in front of your eyes.
And it’s so worth it!

You’ve seen glimpses of it, right at the back by the shed. This time last year it was knee-deep in overgrowth, out-of-control raspberries, ‘Rhu’ the rhubarb fighting for air with various rampant rogues as well as half the estates’ brambles. And now you get to see the transformation.

First I cleared it last summer, moving Rhu and raspberries to new homes and de-weeding in girly style with my trowel.

Then I got serious and unearthed years of broken glass and other debris and let it settle down over the winter covered in weed control fabric. With spring came break through weeds, and where the wind had blown or rips had appeared, out popped the crop of undesirables that you wish had a place at our menu as they grow so easily.

Then with steady thought, plenty of coffee, a new saw, a change of plan, a delivery of wood, came a frame. More weed control, a shake of gravel, some double checking with the spirit level, a bit of screwing and hey ho, I have my unique decking- Amazing!

I went for scaffolding boards in the end for ease and because if we need the wheelchair up that end I thought they would be nice and strong although I have no doubt decking would do the job just as well. I’m liking the effect- A lot. In fact, so much do I like the effect that it galvanised me into action last weekend and a couple of nights after work to clear the last really untackled bit in the back corner, even getting behind the fence and cutting back massive branches that have wanted to be tackled for years. Yes, it created a bit of a logistical problem, two scrawny arms and enough cuttings to bury the garden, but never mind, I’ll cut it up an bag it up over the next couple of weeks. The brambles are in the incinerator waiting for a dry evening. Some of the roots were huge but the whole back fence is clear of them and with the roots out I am hoping life will be scratch free from now on.

With sunshine on the way I’m looking forward to a gentle weekend of contemplation when I can admire progress so far (because there is always more isn’t there) and think about whether it’s a pond, a water feature, a geometric paved feature or a very yummy jammy, sticky cream cake that I need to be getting my teeth into next. I wonder what will win?!

Mrs P

Flowers, Gardening, Gardening Year, Guest Posts, Insects, Paul Peacock - Mr Digwell, Pest Control

Here’s hoping for a pavement-cracking Indian Summer, where the weather causes us to sleep in the garden around mountainous flowers of every colour and aroma. We need a good rest in the garden after that summer, and are we going to get one? Probably not! Besides, there is plenty to do in the garden in September, and plenty to admire too.

For a start, our lilies are finally going to explode into bloom. It seems they have held themselves back over the last few weeks, staying in bed I suppose, and who can blame them?
Lily about to burst into flower
I always wait with bated breath for them to open, because they are so beautiful – even though I don’t like the smell. They are perfect in form, and I spend the whole summer protecting them from the rain and the lily beetle.

I find the best way to deal with the lily beetle, which nibbles its way through flowers and leaves and causes a mess, is by hand – looking out for them. But you have to be careful! One touch and the bright red beetles fall over on to their backs, leaving nothing but a jet black underside which is almost impossible to see.

When the flowers have finished it will be time to divide up the bulbs for next year. I grow my lilies in pots, and every third year I take them out and divide them up by simply pulling them apart. It’s an easy job – the new bulbs simply pull away from the old. You can either wrap them in newspaper and keep them in a frost-free place until spring, or pop them into new compost in new pots.

If you are growing them in pots, as with all plants really, you need to be sure they are not waterlogged in winter, and kept protected from frost. A pot is not so good an insulator as the rest of the garden, and a plant will not survive the same. I take mine into an unheated greenhouse, and maybe, if the temperature is minus 18 again as it was over the last two years, I might give them a little heat, just to keep the plants around 1 degree or so.

September is also a good time to attempt structural changes around the garden when the weather is still warm enough to get into the soil and there is not much chance of freezing to death out there. (That said, I bet we have snow! It was snowing on my birthday in 1957 at the end of September!)

I have finally sorted the huge holly bush that was taking away so much light, and threatening the roof of the house and the telephone line. If you are going to try to take large branches out of the garden, the thing to do is to tie them with stout rope to the next branch, or something sturdy. That way, when you have sawn through it, the branch will not fall onto something.

This whole area was covered in holly - soon to be an English cottage garden
This whole area was covered in holly – soon to be an English cottage garden

Never, ever saw at something whilst on a ladder, and if there is the tiniest amount of doubt you can do the job safely, get the professionals in to do it. The cost is well worth avoiding injury.

I now have a great space, vacated by the holly bush, in which I am going to plan an English cottage garden, but this takes time. So I will make up the beds – once I have cleared it of roots and stock it with winter bedding.

I am in a mind for delphiniums, agapanthus, flowering alliums and a few dahlias. Actually, it was a toss up between a cottage garden and an old fashioned dahlia garden, and I would love to hear from anyone who still grows dahlias in the traditional way. You can contact me via my Ask the Expert page.
Verbena - magical in the rain
September should be time for lawn maintenance, but this year, because of all the rain and therefore all the moss, I am hanging out a bit. If you scrape all the moss away in September, and this goes for this year only, you will only get more moss by the time spring comes along. So this year I am going to give the lawn a good cut (if it’s not too wet) and then a good spiking with a garden fork. Make holes half an inch in diameter and about six inches deep. This will improve air getting to choked up grass roots.

In the spring, give the lawn a good scrape with the grass rake, and over sow!

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is involved in an inner city program in Manchester which aims to encourage people to grow their own food whether they have a garden, an allotment, or even a balcony, as well as leading a co-operative initiative to train city dwellers to keep bees on allotments and gardens

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden.

Allotment, Craig, Flowers, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts

Allotment wilflowers
As the season of summer finally starts to show what she can really do (yes, summer would definitely be a lady), we begin to watch in wonder as the flowers and fruits begin to bloom. The previous owners of our allotment took pride in creating a small patch that they dedicated to growing wildflowers on. We have opted to keep this.

I think that some folk see allotments as those bastions of old men, surrounded by soggy crops, homing pigeons, the loud crowing of cockerels and hours of sweat and toil in return for mammoth-sized onions and cabbage. Don’t get me wrong – those types of allotments exist; I have seen them, but the freedom of a large (or small) plot can be so much more.
Allotment wildflower patch
We kept the flower patch. Amidst all the crops at the top of the allotment is the small country cottage style garden resplendent with wild and naturally occurring plants. My Nan would call them “angel comers” as they were planted by seemingly God’s own hand – in truth usually naturally propagated or seeds dropped from the mouth of a passing bird. I love the poetic idea that we are at the whim of something greater and despite our best intentions things will just grow where they wish. In fairness anyone who has tangled with returning weeds will certainly share that feeling!

Take a look – see what you think. In amongst the flowers grows two or three varieties of mint, every hue and shade resplendent in colour. Some of the purists would argue that they serve no purpose – but equally the same critics would care little for making their own garden burst with blooms.
Craig's strawberry harvest
We did get the ultimate taste of summer this year – a bumper crop of wild strawberries. Our boy spent hours picking (and eating!) the best of them. Despite being told he had to save some for the rest of us he was un-thwarted and did his best to consume as many of them as he could! And whilst I would disapprove of such gluttony on French fries or burgers, the produce of our allotment is a very different matter.
Courgette blossomsPink flower
As you can also see, we are looking forward to a bumper harvest of tomatoes and courgettes – we seem to have been over-run in both of our greenhouses. We have already had several of the young vegetables, simply skewered, drizzled with olive oil and grilled – they were amazing! It is fair to say we will be looking for plenty of recipes that use tomatoes and courgettes. Have you got any ideas? I would love to hear them, cook them and then let you know just how we get on.


Gardening, Guest Posts, Lou C

Having caught an old episode of Sex and the City on satellite late one night, my husband joked that I was turning into the Carrie Bradshaw of the gardening world. Although there is no physical resemblance – apart from the fact that we both have blonde hair – By buying and collecting plants in the manner that Carrie does shoes and writing articles about our respective experiences, perhaps she and I, although worlds apart, are more alike than we realise. So to the horror of my husband (who after all was only taking a pop at my shopaholic nature), it began to dawn on me that maybe I ought to take my gardening persona a little more seriously and try and look the part.
Lucy's Garden Rigger Boots
So today I invested in a pair of Riggers. My mentor would be so proud. The Jimmy Choo of the safety footwear world and just as uncomfortable to wear (although perhaps a little heavier). To ensure my transformation is complete, my old tatty sweatshirt and jogger bottoms have been replaced by a pair of jeans and a new (to the garden anyway) hoodie – so very de rigueur. It’s about time I take this garden malarkey seriously and look the part!

And so, to tackle and reclaim a lost patch of a friend’s garden (hence my new-found preference for safety boots over my usual flip flops), tug of war with a rampant ivy that has overtaken a tree is swiftly followed by full body combat with fallen tree branches. An assault on a carpet of weeds and brambles follows and not a power tool in sight – girl power!
Three hours later and the transformation is complete, but not just of the garden it seems. A quick glance in the mirror confirms the truth. The job has taken its toll. My face and hands, despite gloves, are smeared with mud in manner of an army sniper’s combat uniform and Worzel Gummidge’s tatty head looks styled by Toni and Guy in comparison to my barnet. It’s not often that I need to brush my hair over the bath to catch the falling debris!

My husband now calls me Twiggy for all the wrong reasons. I understand from Carrie that camouflage is, like my daffodils, so last season. Needless to say Carrie and I have parted company and my jogger bottoms and paint spattered sweatshirt have been re-instated. I have come to the realisation that it’s me or the garden – we can’t both look good.

Lou C