Saturday, 28 May 2011

Now blogging at...

The Berkshire Gardens Trust website is fully functioning again.  I am now writing for The Association of Gardens Trusts at

Monday, 25 October 2010

Plant for all weathers

Only one plant has coped without complaint through all the strange weather this year, and that is Catananche.  It survived the hot,dry spell without needing to be watered (even in my sandy soil) and didn't sulk when the weather turned wet. The buds are interesting in late spring and the pretty flowers work well in a natural looking planting At this time of year,even the papery seed heads look good. I can't think of a bad thing to say about it.

We can't pretend that it's still early autumn now that the frosts have finished off the late summer vegetables. The whole garden looks a bit limp and blackened until they're cleared away. Once that's done everything seems to come to life again and we start to notice how promising the winter vegetables are looking.

I spent a day looking at the gardens at Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire and hearing about the research that has been done into their history. Created by the Holford family in the 19th century, features include a Pulhamite rock garden. Fundraising for their restoration is underway. With the help of a grant, work started on the unusual Victorian herbaceous borders in the Italian Walled Garden earlier this year. Remarkably, it has been carried out by volunteers and one member of staff on just one day a week. The results are impressive. The gardens are open to the public this week while the school is closed for half term. It's worth a visit or two to watch their progress.                

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


The weeds went into overdrive as soon as my back was turned. I was only away for a week but there must be two weeks worth of weeding to do. I find it quite therapeutic - almost meditative - and the dogs will be happy. At this time of year they can stay wherever I'm working without needing to retreat into the shade.     
It's five or six years since I planted some of the borders and they're starting to look very tired. A few of the shrubs and several of the climbingTrachelospurmum jasminoides were badly damaged in the snow. I left them alone this year just to see whether they'd recover. They haven't. Echinacea that I planted 3 or 4 years ago is slowly disappearing. It bulked up well in its second year, but since then the clumps have become smaller and smaller.  Time for a re-think this winter. 

I spent a few days looking at gardens on the Isle of Wight last week.  The weather was atrocious but the gardens (well chosen by the Isle of Wight Gardens Trust) were worth seeing.  Northcourt Manor - also excellent B&B (  and Ventnor Botanic Garden were two at the top of my list. Lots of exciting plants that we can't grow without protection in this part of the world - yet.

Tomorrow (14th) is a fruit day so I'm planting some early peas.  I've never had much success with autumn sowings in the past. Perhaps planting on a fruit day will make all the difference..      

Monday, 27 September 2010

Gardening by the Moon - Did it work?

Nicandra physalodes

By late summer Nicandra physalodes are in every corner of the garden.  They seem to be particularly happy in the vegetable plot.  I didn't scatter any seeds there so  they must have survived the compost heaps. They add to the slightly unkept, end-of-summer look. They're almost as tall as me and their seed pods are just as good to look at as their flowers.  Everything else is slowing down. We'll be eating the last of the beans this week.  Although there are still plenty of courgettes and leafy things to pick, it feels like the end of the season. The next big treat will be the leeks and sprouting broccoli early next year.

So, this is as good a time as any to think about this season's biodynamic experiment. Was one season enough?  No, I don't think it was.  I didn't get to grips with the 'preparations' that are a vital part of biodynamics, although I do know far more about them than I did this time last year. It's a much bigger subject than I'd anticipated and it's difficult and time-consuming (although not impossible) to carry out on a small scale.

But, I did eventually conquer Gardening by the Moon.  It did make a difference. Seeds planted on the 'right' day germinated more quickly than usual and their root systems were very fibrous. Will I try it again?  Yes I will. isn't just about the quick germination. It changed the way I garden.

Initially, it drove me mad to do certain jobs on one day and not another, particularly as the 'right' day for a particular plant was rarely one that was convenient to me.  Eventually, I seemed to adapt. Being more organised helped.  As soon as I'd noticed how quickly the seeds germinated, the discipline of doing what was right for the plant (rather than what suited me) started to be satisfying rather than irritating. I had to be more measured.  No more cramming all the jobs into one or two madly busy afternoons. Ultimately, by reducing the number of choices I had, it became quite a restful way to grow vegetables.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Natural Farming project?

23rd September
I've seen some very beautiful and productive allotments this year, but the one I visited in Wells this week was possibly the best...incredible views of the Cathedral towering above the rows of beans.  A gardener there was picking much the same (now slightly past their best) courgettes, French, and Runner beans as I am here. We all reach the same stage at this time of year however good the views!

Intriguing to read about Masanobu Fukuoka's 'The One-Straw Revolution' in Jonathan Self's Country Life column last week.  I had heard about Fukuoka's 'Natural Farming' ideas earlier this year from Anand  (my Indian gardening contact).   He's trying them out on the estate in Southern India where he works. He doesn't weed and he doesn't till.  It's obviously working as he produces all the vegetables needed to feed the guests in the estate restaurant. I wonder how easy it would be to carry out in a garden? The book is on year's project perhaps?

A couple of useful Flower hours on Wednesday morning gave me  time to sow some cornflower seed.  I usually get them started in spring but as there was half a packet of seed left it seemed worth trying at this time of year too.  Friday and Saturday are Leaf days (the last ones before October) so I'll get another batch of lettuce seed in this weekend before it's too late.

Still plenty of bees in the garden.  I'd ear-marked this weekend for dead-heading all the lavender but as they're busy around the last remaining flowers I'll put it off for a bit longer.  Borage is also a big favourite. By this time next week the Sedum should be smothered in them too.


Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Update on my Biodynamic Blog

I haven't stopped gardening or writing - there's been a short-term problem with the Berkshire Gardens Trust website (

So, a brief update on progress....

I gave in and watered everything in July. Hoeing in the evening just wasn't enough to keep the vegetables going in the really hot weather.  The French Beans were happy in the heat but the Runner Beans didn't recover until the rain hit us in August. All the lettuces went to seed.  They tasted terrible but looked great!

The Compost Preparations arrived from the Biodynamic Agricultural Association - 5 little packets of dried bits and pieces to be added to the compost heaps.  Waltham Place tell me that they work really well on their huge heaps. Time will tell whether they are quite so good on a smaller scale.  I'm told it will only take six months!

Some surprising reports from people who have been following the Berks Gardens Trust blog....
A friend has been mowing one half of his lawn on 'leaf' days and the other on his usual mowing day. Apparently, the 'leaf' day section is green, thick and lush.The other half looks like a lawn that is still recovering from a hot summer...