Spring makes it all worthwhile Spring is coming, plants emerging in spring, first flush of spring
The dark winter days when daylight time was limited are over. The days when the list of jobs to do in rain or frost was never ending. Digging compost heaps, spreading it as mulch, cutting back gently decaying growth at various stages so as to maintain the elements of interest. On each occasion cursing as awkward winter boots and coats were donned. Spring makes it all worthwhile.
And there is not even much yet in the way of flowers, no extravagance, just the simpler and more subtle presentations of daffodils, snowdrops, primula, crocus, cyclamen and hellebores.
The first flushes of exuberance are just about to start with kaufmannia tulips about to open.
But the real joy is in the myriad shades of green that are contrasting with the soil and with their emerging adjacent neighbours. Add to that the variety of forms and shapes and patterns. Spring makes it all worthwhile.
The simple peach red flowers of the quince, the deep bronze shoots of roses. And the self-sown plants just revealing their implausible choice of location; you can’t move them and undo what might be the most brilliant positioning you never thought of.
Fronds of ferns just forming, and the relief that some of these delicate specimens have survived another year. That applies to pretty much every perennial showing itself, you welcome them like old friends, warn them of the monsters lurking nearby waiting to consume their fresh growth, and of the imminent cold snap trying to catch the unwary.
Gardening in winter jobs to do in winter, winter tasks in the garden, winter gardening jobs
When I started From the ground up in early 2016 many detractors suggested that I’d have nothing to do across the winter. They could not have been more wrong. Gardening in winter is not only plentiful, but essential.
Many jobs can be done in winter, allowing more time for essentials in the spring.
Two key winters gardening jobs are pruning back trees, hedges and shrubs, and planting bulbs.
We traditionally think of planting bulbs in September, maybe October. God forbid you forget, you can get away with November. But the cold months are different now to the traditional view; winter does not really kick in until December. And even then, the ground is often warm still, and perfectly OK for planting bulbs.
This coincides with bulbs suppliers reducing their prices, meaning that you can get twice as many bulbs for your money.
There is still that concern that you might not get exactly what you want, so if there is a “must have” selection, order then early and pay the price. Places where any “late red tulip”, or a generic small stemmed daff will do can often be filled cheaply. Just wait for prices to come down. Tulips are able to be planted out later than Daffodills, which can always started in pots under cover. These are ready to be planted out in February – or sink the pot – where there is a gap.
if you are planting 10 tulips or crocus then this will matter little. If you are creating a garden for impact, or developing themes year on year then saving time and money really makes a difference.
For a few years I have coveted Allium Globemaster, with 20cm globes on robust 1m stems. But at £3 to £5 each form many suppliers I could not justify the cost of creating an impact. In the sale this year 10 bulbs cost just £11, a reasonable cost for adding this element into my plan.
But the real gardening in winter is in tree, shrub and hedge care.
Gardening guides suggest that many shrubs require pruning in early spring. Again this is subjective, depending on where you are in the country. And how you define spring.
But lots of trees need attention while the sap is not rising, including Apples. And many shrubs are preferably pruned while dormant. Rejuvenation pruning, where hard pruning back is required after a period of overgrowth or neglect, is best done between November and March. That fits with the majority of definitions of “before spring”.
Examples include Berberis, coloured stem Dogwood, Spiraea, Deutzia
Fuchsia, Corylus, Leycesteria, Philadelphus, Cotinus and Salix.
Deciduous hedges should also be pared back now. This is the ideal time to cut back those hedges that have become ever wider. Prune back to a stouter more rigid frame, so the bush can present a softer more manageable face. This will need trimming as new growth gets to two – three buds. And it should be cut to form an upward slant from a slightly wider base. This slanting or “batter” enables light to reach the bottom, allowing more even growth.
Doing this gardening in winter should leave more time for the spring essentials, like clearing ornamental grasses, and dead heading day lillies; things that cannot be done at any other time.
Restorative or maintenance pruning in winter is done at the expense of future flowering of the shrub, so you could lose some of this year’s flowering. With large shrubs or hedges do it gradually, allowing the chance for recovery. Shrubs should be reduced in stages over two years, and hedges one side at a time, and the height at another time to the sides.
A good feed and mulch will help the plants recover.
Attending to the hedge sides separately means that it still maintains some integrity. When the side cut back in winter has recovered fully, the other side can then be reduced. This may be the following autumn. Otherwise wait until the gaps have filled in.
I have an overgrown elaeagnus that has a few leaves on the very outside of a large empty space. I don’t like it as a hedging plant; it not dense enough. So I am going to cut the outside face back hard.
Hopefully it will become dense enough to work as a hedge for both privacy and security. If not I will replace it completely.
revitalise a flower bed, Planning new flower beds, reworking a flower bed, redesign flower bed, design a flower bed, revive a mature bed
Not so much planning a flower bed, but I have had a plan to rework and revitalise a flower bed for 9 months now. But I could not recall what was growing in there, and was loath to just dig it out and discard anything. So I waited to see what all seasons provided and find out for sure what grows there.
In that time I have grown some Iris and Sedum that I knew would thrive there, and about 40 Buxus plants to use as a backdrop and border. So the time has been useful and saved me about £60 in new plants.
I also used the project as a cost exercise, timing how long each aspect took.
I had to:-
remove existing planting
clear any weeds and roots
rejuvenate the soil with compost
dig it over
and plant the new plants
Clearing out existing plants took two hours, involving the lifting of huge blocks of Crocosmia, and an invasive ground cover Campanula. The area is overshadowed by a large Pyracantha, which has both sheltered the ground from rain and deposited a deep mulch of dead leaves, making sure no water penetrated.
Then digging it over, deep enough to crack the “pan” that has formed about 8 inches down, and adding 200 litres of compost, 3 wheelbarrows full from the compost heap, took another hour. Digging it in so it was well distributed consumed another hour.
It was then ready for new plants. The Buxus where laid out in two tiers, one that will eventually grow higher than the other. And the other plants dependent on where the sun would strike most in the afternoon.
Planting box in straight lines and evenly spaced is essential. If you have concerms about box blight, a reasonable alternative to Buxus for such framework is euonymus microphyllus, I saw it used in some national trust gardens recently.
My plan calls for a small space in front of them for the Iris and Sedum, Digitalis and Lysimachia firecracker. There was also some Convallaria that was salvaged to add back in.
Finally I added about 10 Echinacea plants that I have grown from seed. Six hours in, revitalising a flower bed is not as easy as it might seem.
Plan now to revitalise a flower bed
Draw up plans to show what is growing, what you want to keep and what will be discarded. Consider when is best for you to do it. Allow for weather and how much compost you can generate from your heap. And also plan to have plants ready to fill the empty space.
If you need a flower bed replanted or revitalised, call us for a quote. Or email us here.
Gardener Bourne End, cutting high hedges Bourne End Marlow Flackwell Heath
Cutting high hedges, trimming high hedges, hedge trimming Bourne End, hedge cutting Bourne End, Marlow, Flackwell heath
A few years ago I had quotes to have my Leylandii hedge cut. It was not overgrown, but rather tall, and long, and the warm weather really gets it growing.
The prices I got then for my 40 meter long, 3.5 metre high hedge were £80 and £95. For each side!
It sounded a little steep so I tested it with a time and motion study.
When I have cut the hedge myself in the past it has taken over 3 hours to cut each side. This was mainly because of the requirement to constantly climb on to an access platform and then down again to move it along. And the fact that I used a comparatively short cutting blade. 70cms would normally be considered long, but when faced with 140 square metres it’s small.
Cutting the top involves a trapeze act with two ladders. So cutting from the ground instead is infinitely safer, as well as faster.
But that is all in the past. Now From the ground up has long reach and extendable hedge cutters and high access equipment. These commercial cutters with 30mm teeth made light work of the hedge in an hour and a half total. On my current garden rates that would cost less than £60 per side.
Cutting tougher hedges
But Leylandii is not a measure of robustness, so I took on the neighbours Laurel as well. The machines did not flinch. Memories of struggling to place an access platform between shrubs came back, reminding me of hours wasted and scratches all over me.
So if you’re fed up of cutting high hedges, and the hedge is up to 14 feet tall, we can cut it well and for a good price.
A hedge that is overgrown and requires larger branches cutting out will inevitably take a little longer. This would be renovation more than a cut or trim.
Hedge trimmings can be taken away, depending on volume and nature. Compostable materials are shredded and taken to our local compost plot, or put in the green recycling bin. Some residue can be burned, or worst case it will be taken to local authority tip. This is a last resort given the expense.
August and September is the time to cut hedges. Call us for an estimate to cut your hedges now. Or email us here.
Collecting leaves in autumn, collecting leaves Bourne End, Marlow, Flackwell Heath, leaf collecting Bourne End, remove leaves Bourne End, collect leaves Bourne End Around this time of year leaves start to fall. First those despatched by trees and shrubs desperate for water, and in just a few short weeks by the majority of the nations trees.
For many gardeners this presents a dilemma. To start collecting leaves “as they fall”, or to wait until they are all down and do it in one go.
Consider then what a carpet of leaves actually does to your lawn. Leaves bind together when wet, especially the larger varieties, making an impenetrable mat that blocks light and air from the grass. That is the two primary sources of life removed. This may cause patches, weakened areas or even kill it off.
But grass is tough stuff, it will be back in the spring, right? Maybe, but not for sure. It can take months for grass areas to heal themselves, leaving lawns unsightly and even unusable.
And it’s easy to do something about it.
Fallen leaves are a usable commodity in your garden. Collecting leaves to be part of the regular compost pile, or kept in separate leave bins to create leafmould, will contribute a rich structure and mulching substance for your flower beds over the winter.
Or if you are fortunate enough to have a mulching mower, it will chop it all up and return it to the grass, thereby giving a huge boost to the fertility of the lawn. Otherwise your mower will be able to shred and collect most of the leaves for you to deposit in compost or leafmould bins.
Collecting with a mower or vacuum is easier than raking them up. Leaves that are whole, i.e., not chopped will take a lot longer to break down than the shredded ones.
Collecting leaves action plan
As leaves start to fall collect them regularly, twice a week if possible.
Start a leafmould bin or add them to the compost
As frosts start add them to the flower beds and around trees for the worms to incorporate into the soil.
So far we have not mentioned the other advantages of removing leaves. They are untidy, they blow into the house when its windy, they stick to the dog and cat, they are very slippery on hard surfaces. Trodden in leaves can make a real mess of your carpets too.
So put them to use! Collect them and return their energy to your garden.
Holiday garden care
You can be more relaxed about leaving a well established garden while you go on holiday than one recently established. Or one that has a lot of pots or baskets.
So what can you do to keep your garden living while you go away?
A well-established garden- over three years old – should be able to hold its own. Even in a mid- to high twenties summer week. It may even deal with two weeks. If plants have not established for at least two years they will likely feel the strain of an extended period sans water.
In theory the easy solution is to get someone in- a relative or neighbour – to take care of it for you. But what if you are a very particular gardener, and your friends don’t share the same passion – and ultimately care – that you do?
Then you need your local garden service to come it for you. As long as they are not just grass or hedge cutters and have some horticultural experience, they will know how to provide holiday garden care.
They water yours, you water theirs
An agreement between near neighbours could work well. I am very lucky, in that I have friends that are interested and knowledgeable gardeners. I can trust them.
But I still want to make it relatively simple for them too. You can’t expect someone to spend the same time that you would walking around the plot with a watering can.
I group my vulnerable pots and baskets together, so that there are fewer places to go with hose or can. Grouping pots closer together also maintains a more humid atmosphere for longer.
It’s also much easier to give the pots the required soaking when they are closer together. Remember that it’s better to give one or two good soakings a week than a little every day.
I hang baskets in towers of two or three, so the water from the top one cascades down to the next ones, saving time and water.
From the ground up can take care of your garden while you away. The service is available in the Bourne End – Marlow – Wooburn Green areas.
The upside of a dry week
A dry week or two will show you where plants are vulnerable. Therefore you’ll know where to direct your attention as far as improving the water retention in the soil. You can do this by mulching, or even re-digging the bed with more compost.
Some plants that are suffering in the heat may just be slow to stablish. I have two Astrantias that have taken ages to get going in a west facing bed.
The two beds that I had dug last October – in the hope of winter frosts breaking down the clay – have many distressed plants.
Tender perennials like Dahlias seem to be OK. And the Lillies and Cannas. But Penstemons planted in spring have suffered, along with Achillea and Buxus.
But the bed planted with a Mediterranean or drought resistant theme has managed well in its first year.
A large top dressing of compost will be applied to these beds this weekend. I will slowly be returning pots and baskets to their places.
Dry weather planning
Consider getting a contingency to the hosepipe too. An extended dry period may result in a hosepipe ban.
Fixed installed irrigation is exempt. Drip and micro irrigation systems, and leaky pipes laid throughout the beds can still be used. You can also have these automated, so they will take care of the garden when you are away.
But back it up with rainwater collection systems such as water butts. I say “butts”, as one will not last long if there is no rain for a few weeks.
Storing more water will make keeping your garden alive more cost effective.
Watch out for the effect of hot weather on your pond
Effect of hot weather on your pond The recent hot weather has re-enforced my concerns about pond aeration. The hotter it gets the less oxygen there is for your your fish.
And that can start a chain reaction in your pond with disastrous consequences.
In general fish need more than 5 parts per million of dissolved oxygen. At 90 degrees F, 32 degrees C, the maximum that the water can hold is 7 PPM.
So sustained high temperatures will increase the water temperature reducing the oxygen available. It will also increase evaporation, further impacting the fish.
There is therefore little margin for error.
And pond plants may start to grow faster, further competing with the fish.
And even if the fish don’t die of oxygen deprivation, they will become more vulnerable to parasite attack. Or become stressed, the No.1 fish killer. Your fish will be stressed if the temperature is over 90 degrees for any sustained period.
In my experience koi are much more vulnerable to low oxygen levels. Don’t let them succumb to the effects of hot weather on your pond.
Should fish die when you are away, the rotting corpse will contaminate the water further, adding to your problems.
How to safeguard your pond from the effect of hot weather
The water needs to be shaded from the sun. Your pond is where it is, so unless you planned it to have shade you may not be able to quickly introduce any.
Make sure that two thirds of the surface is covered by large leaves like water lillies.
Moving the water pump to produce more water circulation will also help, as will creating a waterfall or fountain.
Reduce the amount of food, and the frequency of feeding. Also try to feed only when the water is cooler, early in the morning or later in the evening. Decomposition of food in warmer water will cause problems with ammonia and oxygen levels.
I have kept an air pump in my pond as an emergency back up for some time. In the event the circulation or aeration from the filter is reduced or stops the air stones provide oxygen to the water.
Ponds are vulnerable when you are away
Your pond is in danger when you go away on holiday. If the power goes off having a pump will make no difference. Unless it’s solar powered. These are available for about £50.
Arguably the most logical solution to have a solar powered pump, which will be powered when it is hot – when it’s needed – and off when it isn’t needed. And it provides a backup in the event of power failure too.
In the US where it is consistently hotter than the UK a common way to keep the pond area cooler is by misting. A fine mist around the pond can lower the temperature by up to 20 degrees F.
You may have invested a lot of time, money and passion in your pond. Planning for the effect of hot weather on your pond, and a contingency in case of power failure makes sense given the relatively low cost.
Probably less than the cost of replacing just one 12 inch koi.
Making a compost bin – from the ground up. Making a compost bin must be the first consideration in any garden. It will provide a place to lose all the natural waste generated. And no matter how much it is neglected, that will turn into good useful compost or soil conditioner.
The product of the compost heap is where I start my thinking. I need mulches for beds of perennials, which protects and nourishes as well as conditions the soil. I also need soil conditioner for vegetable beds and for any new flower beds. And I need the finer components to bulk out other composts when potting on seedlings or divided perennials.
So if there was no compost heap, I would be facing a hefty bill from the garden centre.
Home made compost limitations
Compost from the heap is not a complete replacement for purchased compost. You still need that assured standard throughout the year. My personal favourite is B&Q’s own brand Verve, which I tried after reading it was rated number one by Which? magazine. I have not since had cause to try anything else.
But making a compost bin and the implied management of it can put people off. It will take space, and it will take time to “turn”, as we are continually told in the garden media.
But I think there is a way that is relatively simple to manage – including the required “turning”. And it takes a fraction of the time that a standard compost bin might.
I have tried this in the smaller of my two bins, and it really works.
Rather than having a set amount of space and filling it all with garden waste, you have a longer and thinner enclosure. This is two to three metres long, by up to a metre wide, depending on the space available and the amount of material likely to be added. Making a compost bin using easily available wooden pallets is easy. One at the closed end, and two or three along each side secured together with some of that surplus timber that every household seems to have.
Pallets: perfect for making a compost bin
Using the 1.2 metre “europallets” gives a good length but not the height, so are easier to lean over to manage. Pallets used to deliver paper to printers are also OK.
Filling starts at the closed end and after a month is “rolled” into the middle section. Meanwhile any new material is added at the first stage. One month later the process is repeated, with the contents of the middle section rolling to the open end. Then move section one to the middle, leaving an open space at section one to start filling again.
Some points to remember that may not be obvious.
Leave the bottom open to allow worms and insects in.
If under a canopy or in shade, leave the top open, but if in full sun or exposed form some sort of cover, something like carpet. there are times to cover, and times not to. This extract from Gardenweb sums up the conflict. If the weather forecast is calling for 25 millimetres (or more) of rain and your pile already had adequate moisture, throwing a piece of plastic over it for the weather event will do little, if any, harm and will likely save some grief in the long run.If the pile had adequate moisture to begin with, throwing a tarp over it will not add more moisture and make the pile too wet, this is not logical. In extremely dry or windy weather, throwing a tarp over it may conserve what moisture it had. If the pile is made up of very dry leaves, covering the pile with a tarp for a few days seems to help those leaves absorb the moisture, through the high humidity. But a tarp thrown over a pile isn’t a ziploc bag, so water may be needed. There are numerous reasons why one might want to cover a pile, as there are numerous reasons why one might not want to cover a pile.
When adding to the compost pile try to mix the addition by the composition, some nitrogen based, some carbon based etc.
The “what to compost” section at eartheasy.com has a great table explaining the various components.
Keep it balanced for good compost
That may then imply that some materials wait for a while before being added, either next to the compost bin, or if there is just too much put it in your green garden waste recycling bin.
To the obvious question “do I use this myself?” The answer is no. I inherited compost heaps in a particular place, and had no need or desire to move them. But I did clean them up and make a two bin arrangement that takes just an hour or so each month to turn. I move new usable compost into tonne bags, rolling the next section forward and filling up from an adjacent bin. But I enjoy the workout!
Making a compost bin will be part of a garden workshop later in the year, as will what to do with all those leaves in autumn.