In which the larches needle the Grumpy Gardener

Needles everywhere

Think before you plant!  I wish I had done that more than 25 years ago when I planted a number of larch trees in my garden.  Some of them are now about 35/40 feet high and are lovely, particularly when spring’s green growth starts to split open.  But oh my goodness, do they make a mess.

We’ve known about it for years but this autumn the needle drop – millions of short orange/brown splinters about half an inch long – cover everything.  And I mean everything.

They are inches deep in some part of the garden.   They coat the paths and patios and block out the light for the pond.   They cover the drain grids.   Mrs GG is adamant that I walk them into the house and even the bedroom.  They don’t, of course, stick to her shoes – only mine.

They are in my car and I even scooped thousands of the little blighters from the electrical control box that operates our gates.  That’s all bad enough but the very worst feature is how they manage to infiltrate every single vegetable growing in my garden.   The nearest larch to the veg cage is a good sixty yards (I don’t use this Continental measurement) but, none the less, there they are in the sprouts, broccoli, spinach, kale and leeks – millions of them.   The really rotten thing is that I have nobody to blame but myself.

Acorns galore

I have no idea who – if anybody- formally declares whether it is or it isn’t, but by my calculations 2020 is a major year for acorns.   Last weekend I shovelled up four builder bags of them from beneath just two mature oak trees down my drive.   I can tell you that such a bag full up of acorns is really heavy to move about.   We’ve got a bit of space and I dumped them behind some trees – four mountains of potential oak trees.

Within 24 hours guess who had discovered them.  No, not the squirrels but a pair of cock pheasant.  I’ve seen them pecking about on tops of the heaps and they spend a lot of time there.

And up in the sky

We do have a new resident in the garden – a lovely mature buzzard.   He arrives around 7.45am and perches on one of the larch trees where he surveys the entire landscape.  Everything else keeps well out of his way.  He occasionally flaps down onto the ground where he appears to be feeding – on what I do not know – before flying back up to his perch.   He flies off on occasional forays into the countryside and usually leaves us around 3.00pm.

Last weekend I was helping Mrs GG peg out some washing when we both heard a crow calling from overhead.   Looking up he was annoying a red kite that appeared to be circling the garden on a thermal.  It’s only the third time we’ve seen the red kite over the garden and it’s a lovely sight.

I’ve got an awful job coming up that, with a bit of luck, I’ll be able to put off for a week or two.  All the bamboo canes that we used for the runner beans and tomato plants are now standing, dirty end up, against a wall.  When I eventually run out of excuses I’ll get a bucket of hot water with a strong dose of disinfectant in it, pinch one my wife’s kitchen sponges that has a green abrasive pad on one side and a pair of her rubber gloves, and set to work scrubbing off the old soil.  I’ll leave them outside to allow the frost to do its work, before drying off in a shed for next season.


Soon be time to sit by the fire.  Goodbye from the Grumpy Gardener and enjoy a safe Christmas and New Year.



The highs and lows of nature

The highs and lows of nature

Strangely, I am not feeling all that grumpy today as last night Mrs GG was able to cook five vegetables to accompany our dinner, all of which came from the garden.  We had some delicious new potatoes, Golden Acre cabbage, broad beans, spinach beet and chard – all of which were delicious.

A sad loss

On the grumpy side of the garden we have had a sad loss. We share the garden with a number of wild pheasant who seem to spend their days with us and fly off towards a little used railway line where they stay overnight in the bushes and hedges along the bank.

Hen Pheasant

There is a small piece of pine woodland in our garden – not more than 40 trees but now very dense. To our delight we saw a hen come out on Thursday with a very young chick – no more than a couple of days old – which she proudly showed off to the other visiting pheasant.

An hour or so later we heard a lot of commotion with the cock pheasant making a lot of noise at a cat from a nearby house.

That darn cat!

We saw hen and chick on Saturday morning – and the wretched cat – but have not seen the chick since. The poor old hen did seem rather despondent but by Monday was back to her normal self. We have not seen the cat since. I know its nature, but it is nevertheless sad.

Water pain in the neck

On an equally grumpy note the weather forecasters continue to talk about heavy rain in our neck of the Midlands but, somehow, it manages to skirt around us.

So I’m continuing to have to water – a two-hour job – whilst villages no more than five miles away are under a deluge of rain.

We cannot even compensate ourselves by saying we are at least enjoying the sun – its grey and mirky and quite nippy at nights. Hey ho. Happy gardening, folks.


The Emperor strikes back!

The Emperor strikes back!

There is a mystery in my vegetable garden that is making me particularly grumpy. I grow my plants from seed and the Scarlet Emperor runner beans are always very productive, providing they have plenty of water.

Each autumn we dig out a trench in different areas of the garden and fill it with well-rotted cow manure then cover it over with the soil. The corners of the trench are marked with canes so I know where the manure is and can plant the beans so their roots reach down into it to feed.

It was all yellow

There is a framework of crossed over canes, tied together at the top with lateral canes to provide stability in the wind. So far so good. I planted out 36 plants four weeks ago and they all looked splendid and quite quickly started to twist round their supports.

At the weekend, Mrs GG came in with the bad news that eight of the plants had gone yellow and were wilting. I pulled up a couple and inspected the roots that hadn’t really started to grow out of the shape from the 3” pots in which they were grown.


I have absolutely no idea what has caused this but it’s a real nuisance and very disappointing. Happily, I have located some replacement plants which are now growing in their own 3” pots.

I have given the remaining beans a seaweed extract liquid feed from ‘envii’ and they look strong. As I have to put the replacement beans in the same spot where the previous occupants kicked the bucket, it will be interesting to see whether they thrive or go the same way as their predecessors. Watch this space.

Where there’s muck, there’s brassica

One bit of good news is that all the brassica plants seem to be thriving, rather indicating that, after almost 30 years, the club root disease has died out.

Fingers crossed. If it comes back I’ll be massively grumpy!


Hot under the collar

Hot under the collar                                                           

I’m thoroughly fed up with this unremitting hot weather. Mrs Grumpy Gardener loves the sun and keeps telling me to come and sit down. No time. As soon as the sun is off different areas of the garden, I’m out with the hose and watering can.

The vegetable cage is the most difficult because the planted-out brassicas, beans, leeks, courgettes, squash and spinach beet are all desperate for a long, cool drink once the oven is turned off.  It’s a two-hour job every evening and goodness knows what the cost will be on the water meter.

The water snake

The herbaceous border is also tricky because most of the plants do like a drink – but not all of them. And then there is the damage caused by the trailing hose. My silent curses plumb new depths with the performance of the water snake. Not only does it damage plants, but it also kinks and stops the flow of water. I stomp off down the line of the hose to find the cause only to realise, once I have been drenched, that I didn’t turn it off first!

Water lot of effort

The real exceptions to my watery grumpiness are my urns, containers and hanging baskets.  I derive a great deal of enjoyment from them – apart from the Sherpa Tensing slugs that crawl up at least three feet to feast on the content of the urns. It’s the order of the boot for those little perishers.

Watering my urns, containers and hanging baskets is quite different from the rest of the garden. I use a two gallon can without a rose and each Sunday I give them a liquid feed. We have four stone urns along one South-facing low wall plus smaller stone baskets and they all need a prodigious volume of water – every evening in this hot weather.

Bird bites

Then I have to look after my little avian friends. Mrs GG puts out crumbs and finely diced pieces of fat onto the bird tables each morning and I fill the feeders with fat balls, peanuts, tiny little black seeds the name of which I have totally forgotten and sunflower hearts.

Almost all the birds love the latter and we have a wide range of tits, gold and green finches, nuthatches, sparrows and, of course, robins that love them.

Grey matter

Two chief grumps: firstly, the wretched grey squirrels (tree rats) destroy the feeders on average every four or five weeks and then, the more easily remedied bird mess.

Do any readers of this column have any remedies for solving my squirrel problem? What I’d really like is a clear Pyrex feeder that the rascals would not be able to dig their teeth into. Oh for the return of the lovely red Squirrel, Nutkins, of my childhood.

No angry birds

As for the other problem: every fortnight I take the feeders down around lunch time, when the birds don’t seem to be active, and wash them with a mild solution of weak disinfectant. I then dry them thoroughly, refill and hang them back up. At least my garden birds are not grumpy!


Pots and panics

Pots and panics                                                           

Strangely, I don’t mind washing up dishes and saucepans etc. I find it quite rewarding.

There is very little pleasure, however, in washing up very dirty plastic flower pots. I am now completing my planting out and have accumulated almost one hundred very mucky 3” pots.  My wife could not believe her eyes when she came into the walled garden to see me sitting on a low stone wall with a huge bucket of hot soapy water in front of me and an accumulation of clean pots drying out on the wall.

A necessary evil

Tedious and boring though this task is, it really is very necessary. One has no idea of what bugs and germs are living in the accumulations of old compost and rubbish left in side and outside the pots.

Anyway, I felt very virtuous when I stacked the lovely clean pots back in the potting shed for use at some time in the future. So, although there is little pleasure there is some reward.



The worried gardener

I am, however, a worried gardener.  The germination rate of seeds this year was tremendous and I had literally hundreds of plants to prick out and grow on.

But it has been so hot in the greenhouse that they were not progressing. I put as many outside as could be accommodated but on the evening of May 15, I took the risk and started planting brassicas, leek, spinach, beet and chard outside in the vegetable cage.

The reason I’m worried is late frosts, and I still have the runner beans to plant out yet and the squash and courgettes.

Weather beaten?

I have become an avid watcher of the weather on my iPhone to check lowest overnight temperatures. So far it says I’m safe until May 28 and should be OK after that. But it will remain a concern and cause for grumpiness until we are well into June.

We used to live more than 1,000 feet up in the Staffordshire Peak District National Park and I remember well one awful overnight frost on June 12!!

Anyway, having got that off my chest, I’ll go into the kitchen and enjoy washing up the lunch things.

Happy gardening!




A Coronavirus free zone – but still plenty to grumble about

A Coronavirus free zone – but still plenty to grumble about                                                                       

Cast your mind back about three weeks and all that torrential rain. Now here we are with Easter just gone and what am I doing?  Getting up an hour earlier than normal so I can water my greenhouse and the outside pots and urns before the sun warms up.

It is quite ridiculous to have moved from flood to virtual drought in a matter of three weeks. One of my two 45-gallon water butts is already empty and the second about two thirds full. I really didn’t think I’d be praying for rain at this stage of the season.

Beware! Slugs!

Beware, the slugs and snails are already active.  I found a snail this morning in the greenhouse, heading up the framework towards my spring cabbage plants. He got more than a headache. But seriously, it has been a warm winter and they will have bred vigorously, so take precautions now.

Take extra care if you have over wintered pots and urns, here is the triple risk of slugs, snails and vine weevils. I use Nemasys nematodes to control the slugs and vine weevils and hand picking for the snails – always look beneath the pots.


The nematodes are poured into a 5-gallon container and mixed thoroughly.   This forms a stock and a fixed proportion of the stock is poured into a watering can which is then filled with water and poured onto the areas to be treated.  The proportions and other vital information is printed on the inside of the Nemasys pack.


The daffodils are absolutely lovely in the garden but, already, we are dead heading the early blooms. This is back aching work but vital if you want to have similarly lovely blooms next year. One tip my grandfather told me is that before the leaves of the daffs die back, give the whole area a good feed with a liquid fertiliser diluted in a watering can with a fine rose.




Winter hasn’t done with us just yet

Winter hasn’t done with us just yet

At the risk of sounding even more grumpy than usual, I have to say that this ridiculously warm weather is really not good news for the garden.

Insects and invertebrates – including slugs and snails – are active in the open garden when they should be hiding from the cold. If the warm weather continues, it means that many of the more devastating pests will have an extended breeding season and our plants will be at risk throughout the season. So, begin to take remedial action now.


I am now watering nematodes, specifically Nemaslug, around the outside of plants and pots, and also inside the greenhouse, as many of the awful little pests will have emigrated into the warmth of the greenhouse in pots, brought in for over wintering.

Many of the pots now look as though they are ready to go back outside and the root and plant munching critters living in their containers are coming back to active life.

In addition to Nemaslug, I am watering larger containers in the greenhouse with Nemasys Vine Weevil Killer. Pests must be brought to book now, before they start breeding.

In bloom

My lawns got their third full mow of 2020 over the weekend – which is a good three months earlier than normal. Snowdrops, crocuses and even daffodils are now in bloom and the magnolia tree looks as though it isn’t far off blooming.

Being a pessimist as well as grumpy, I really do think there will be a price to pay. I really do believe there will be some cold weather around the corner and this will risk damaging everything, including any early nesting birds.

Seed boxes

Friends tell me with glee how many planted seed boxes they now have in their greenhouses. Mine are still in their pre-season disinfected state in the potting shed, where they’ll stay until the end of February at the earliest.

I know that we are all experiencing climate change but, personally, I don’t think winter has done with us just yet.

And on that note, happy gardening from the Grumpy Gardener!



Hydrangeas and the Grumpy Gardeners

Hydrangeas and the Grumpy Gardeners                                                                      

My wife and I both love hydrangeas but disagree about their winter pruning. In 2018 she won the argument and, last year, we had the worst display ever.

The reason? In an effort to make the borders look neat and tidy, she insisted that I prune them hard, cutting off all the brown flowering heads, right down at the base.

I did warn her that the long stems and large but dead flower heads protect tender young shoots from Jack Frost. But off they came, quickly followed by a series of very hard frosts.

The result? The most miserable display of hydrangeas ever.

So this year we are both admiring the fragile beauty of last year’s plants and they won’t disappear until the end of April – or even early May – when the risk of frost has passed – we hope.

Two hydrangea plants currently in our garden. The top picture was cut back too early in the spring and had very little flower. The one below it missed Mrs Grumpy Gardener’s cull and is full of dead flowering heads. Neither of them will be pruned back until all risk of frost has passed so that it will attack last year’s growth and not the new shoots that will bear flowers and leaves to be enjoyed in 2020.

Christmas roses (no, not the choccies)

Christmas came a little late this year in our garden because the Christmas Roses – hellebores to you and me – did not bloom until the first few days of the new year.

It’s always interesting to see who comes out first – snowdrops or hellebores – and this year, by a short lead, the hellebores won.

Some of the later flowering varieties still have 2019’s leaves. I shall not cut them down until this year’s plant spikes are growing through, and then I’ll protect the young shoots with some mulch.

Mucky talk

A farmer acquaintance has let me have two brimming full builder bags of well-rotted cow muck. We put them in the trailer, shovelled the harvest in and drove home with it.

Even I was smiling at this bounty. It was immediately layered onto the surface of the vegetable beds and then rotovated in. It’s a tad late for my liking, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Did you know…

Did you know that St Vincent’s Day was on January 22, and the old weather lore says that if the sun shines on this day “there will be much wind”.

Well the sun did shine – in Staffordshire at least – so we shall have to wait and see.

Another notable date is February 2 – Candlemas. The old lore claims that: “If Candlemas be bright and clear, two winters shall we have this year.” I don’t know where you live, but here we are still waiting for the first one!

Happy Gardening!



Starting the New Year by mowing the lawn

Starting the New Year by mowing the lawn

I read somewhere that Staffordshire is reckoned to be England’s overall coldest county so, on that basis, you’d think it would have a slow start to the grass growing season. 

I found it surprising, therefore, that whilst many people would be nursing hangovers on the morning of January 1, 2020, I was out mowing the lawns.

What is even more surprising is that on St Hilary’s Day,  January 13, traditionally the coldest day of the year, I had to repeat the exercise.

Maybe it is a sign of global warming, but I have checked back through my records and it’s the earliest they have been cut, and we have lived here for 34 years.

The mowing, with my Greenworks battery powered machine, is quiet and relaxing. The problem is what to do with the cuttings. I usually start mowing around Easter so this season will have an extra three months of clippings.


One of the tasks for this time of year is checking the bird nesting boxes in readiness for the upcoming breeding season. I have a number of very pretty triangular boxes from The Posh Shed Company.

The eaved roof can be easily lifted off so you can clear out old nesting material and I brush the bottom with a 1” paint brush, making sure all the dust and rubbish is out.

I then check the fixings to make sure the box will not blow down in a gale.

Graham tackling his wisterias, another job he’s been UP to.

Badgers v Hedgehogs

Another possible reflection of the change in temperature is that the badgers do not appear to have hibernated so far this winter. Their trails are clearly still in regular use.

One of their downsides is that I have not seen a single hedgehog in the garden now for more than ten years. Until Mr Brock arrived in numbers, we had a lot of Tiggywinkles and, consequently, fewer slugs.

Branching out

Over the next couple of weeks my wife and I will begin to cut off the low branches from the larch trees that grow on the lawn. Some are dead and the others bow so low with foliage in the summer that it makes mowing rather difficult.

I have a battery powered long-reach pruning saw that will do the job and a very old electric shredder to deal with the branches.

The chippings rot down very quickly. I’ve already cleared the low growing branches from the mulberry tree. It has now been in for about 15 years and we are yet to enjoy a single fruit – the blackbirds always beat us to it.

It’s the same with our rather large walnut tree. It must have quite literally thousands of walnuts and these are cleared off in a matter of days by legions of wretched grey squirrels that come in from miles around to take them.

Hey ho, that’s enough grumpiness for one day. Happy gardening!