Jack Frost is Becoming a Bore

JACK FROST IS BECOMING A BORE

Don’t get me wrong, I do genuinely like a nice crisp, frosty morning – but not in May.

Blooming bedding plants

Last year I got caught out due to the pandemic and missed out on buying all my bedding plants for hanging baskets, urns and containers.   It seems the good house-bound people of Staffordshire were all going into container gardening in a big way.   I shopped around and got most – at a price – but missed out on some.

Each year I keep the plastic name cards of the plants and try to get the same each season.  So, in mid-April, I got the whole lot in one giant shopping trip.  I buy six of each plant, just over sixty in total.  Mrs GG is very precise about what she wants in the hanging baskets, she leaves the urns to me.

Weather warning

We’ve got tables and benches outside the greenhouse and my rather expensive purchase was laid out in splendour.   Until the three minutes to six weather forecast – and that’s another grumble.  The Midlands is a huge area and to try and wrap it all up in a general prediction is pointless.

Anyway, back to that mid-April weather forecast.   It had been a lovely sunny day but there was a bit of cloud moving in and that usually spells a hold on cooler night-time temperatures.

No so.   The cloud was expected to thin, allowing in clear skies that would result in frost in the early hours and around dawn.   Sixty odd plants may not seem that many – plus a few trays of brassicas, sprouts and lettuce.    Luckily, there is plenty of room inside the greenhouse which was still overwintering the geranium plants and the standard bay trees.

Extra work

But to cart them in and cover them with horticultural fleece takes me about 35/40 minutes.  Since that mid-April evening, I think I’m correct in saying that there have been less than six frost-free nights.  So the whole exercise has to be repeated – putting them out in the morning, watering and then bringing them back in at night.  I reckon that’s about 18 hours work and, on top of that, I’ve got all my broad beans to cover up with fleece in the veg cage and Mrs GG insists on me wrapping up the pear and plum trees that are in blossom.  Little wonder I sleep well and all to keep that little rascal, Jack Frost, at bay.

Last week they reckoned it wouldn’t get any lower than 4 degrees but that’s still too risky.  Even with that forecast when I got up to start my carting chore there was ice on the birdbath.  Good job I took no notice.

Warmer times

So, roll on some more seasonal higher temperatures and let me leave my lovely little plants outside to harden off until I pot up the containers.

Happy Gardening

15 Minutes of Fame for the Grumpy Gardener

15 MINUTES OF FAME FOR THE GRUMPY GARDENER

I believe it was Andy Warhol who said that everyone will have 15 minutes of fame.  Well, I’ve just had mine.

Regional Radio

The organisers of national Slug Week (5 – 11 April), in which children and families are asked to go into their gardens and count slugs and measure the largest,  asked me to talk about it on BBC Radio Devon.

 

Well, it obviously struck a chord because I then did interviews on radio stations in Manchester, Coventry and Warwickshire, Kent, Derby and Somerset.

The interviewers all thought it was a clever idea to attract the children and encourage them to look into different aspects of wildlife – even slugs.

All things slugs

I did a bit of research and threw in some interesting slug facts. Did you know that slugs can have as many as 27,000 teeth, have their own individual slime trails and a cubic metre of garden soil contains an average of 200 slugs?   Slug Week was organised by the company that makes Nemaslug, a nematode-based slug control.

Most of the interviewers didn’t know what nematodes are so I explained they are microscopic worms that live naturally in garden soil where one variety seeks out and destroys slugs.

Early start

Unfortunately, most of the interviews were over the Easter weekend and I was on air between 7.20am and 7.50am. The Bank Holiday alarm didn’t delight Mrs GG but, despite the early start, all the interviewers said that I didn’t sound remotely grumpy.  However you, dear readers, know better than that!

Happy gardening.

Things I find in the garden never cease to amaze

THINGS I FIND IN THE GARDEN NEVER CEASE TO AMAZE

It is quite true.  Like everyone else, I should love to unearth a crock of Roman gold coins and we do live near to Roman remains.  To date, however, the most lovely thing I have dug up in the vegetable garden is a brass military button from the Staffordshire Regiment.

I have no idea how old it is but, as you can see, with a lot of hard work, it polished up beautifully and sits in pride of place on our sitting room mantlepiece.  It would be lovely to think it was off the uniform of someone who lived in the house and was home on leave from fighting in one of the two world wars – and survived.

 

Patterns of nature

Nature is quite amazing. Take a look at the photograph of the log which I picked up in the woodshed.  I have absolutely no idea which insect it was that made that delightful pattern as it feasted on the green moss but to recreate it, as a piece of decorative artwork, would cost an awful lot of money.  We humans do think ourselves very clever – well many do – but when you find something like this it puts our role into perspective.

Learning from each other

Mrs GG and I have been watching one of the robins in our garden trying, in vain, to access the squirrel-proof sunflower heart feeders.  The poor little thing tried and tried but simply could not manage it.  He looked enviously on as the various tits, goldfinches and other birds made it look so simple.

Then, another robin simply flew up to the feeder, nipped inside and scoffed a fair quantity of sunflower hearts.  Our poor little bird sat in the hedge and watched.  We have no idea whether the two of them communicated but lo and behold, our previously not so nimble robin, learned the lesson and now he too is a regular visitor inside the feeder.  We can learn a lot from nature.

Rabbit-proof fence

Three years ago, I planted a long laurel hedge and to keep the young plants safe from marauding rabbits, who immediately started eating them, I erected a wire fence around the entire area.  We called it the submarine and it was shaped like that.

Last weekend I decided it was time to remove the wire and make the hedge look part of the garden.  But I did not take into account the strength of the grass that had grown through it.  When putting it up, I carefully folded about 8 inches of wire flat onto the grass to stop the rabbits digging underneath.  But my goodness, trying to get rid of it was a Herculean task.

At first, I simply tried to pull it up but the grass was far stronger, and I ripped the bottom off the wire and the flat area simply stayed put.    In the end, I had to bring out the old grass hand clippers and push them under the wire and snip away.   The hedge is about 70 yards long but, fortified by Mrs GG’s coffee, I completed the uncoupling in just over an hour.

Wildlife potential

When we put the laurels in they were a couple of feet tall and now, some of them are well over six feet so it is going to be a lovely hedge in a few years’ time and, I hope, home to a lot of wildlife.

Happy Gardening

The Grumpy Gardener

Lockdown – it’s more like a shutdown and as for Monty…

LOCK DOWN – IT’S MORE LIKE A SHUT DOWN AND AS FOR MONTY …….

I had just two items on my gardening shopping list – seaweed fertiliser and a waterproof marker pen for plant labels.  Nothing outrageous or difficult.  Could I get either?  No.   In the end I had to drive 24 miles to my nearest garden centre who had both – and a lot more besides.

When I asked at our local major high street store why they were not in stock, that same old excuse was trotted out.  Apparently, Covid has attacked all waterproof market pen and seaweed fertiliser manufacturers – I think not.

Turf Wars

Mowing the lawn

Then, to make me feel even more miserable, I sat down to read my Times newspaper only to find Monty Don telling me to stop mowing my lawn and let it go wild for the benefit of the planet and wildlife.   He says that mowing grass is “about the most injurious thing you can do to wildlife.”

Poppycock.

Alternative Facts

I’d love to know the factual evidence on which he bases that claim.  He had a go at petrol lawnmowers which are still the major fuel source in the UK but Mr Don missed out a few alternative vital facts.  Firstly, mowing the lawn provides vital exercise for everyone and is claimed to be good for physical and mental wellbeing.  Secondly, there is a massively increasing market for battery powered lawnmowers, strimmers, hedge cutters and blowers and I’m told that it won’t be long before they overtake petrol and mains-electric as the major power source.  The modern batteries are now so good they power big garden tractors.   Thirdly, we all like advice but not instruction on matters as personal as how we cut our lawns.

Wildlife Haven

I mow mine with a petrol powered tractor mower and the garden is full of wildlife,  Why?  Because we create areas specifically for the birds, mammals and insects.  At the last count Mrs GG and I have identified more than 60 different species of birds in addition to foxes, badgers, moles, stoats, hedgehogs, bats and all sorts of little brown things that all seem to delight in my mown and striped lawn.

Wildlife on the lawn

Monty’s television gardening programmes are always enjoyable viewing but do please stick to the facts.

Compost Contents 

Hands full of compostMy final groan today is what you can find in bags of compost other than what it says on the packet.  I’m thinking of creating a museum of unwanted items from compost.  In the last few bags I’ve found partially charred sections of wood, plastic plant labels, silver paper, bottle caps and lengths of string.

I appreciate that this is indicates the source of the raw material, but the manufacturers charge enough money for a bag, so check the content.

Happy Gardening

The Grumpy Gardener

A tidy mind means a tidy shed…

A tidy mind means a tidy shed…

…and my shed is a real mess. Is that an old gardening saying or have I just made it up?   Anyway, I decided it was time to put a couple of cloches over the perpetual spinach in the vegetable cage.  If I’m lucky this will produce some lovely tender new leaves in the early spring when other green veg in the garden are at a bit of a premium.

Now six-foot-long cloches with clear corrugated plastic covers are not exactly the sort of things you can lose easily and I distinctly remember putting them on a shelf at the back of my pots and seed box shed.  Approximately 40 minutes later I found them in the old dog kennel.  I had serious words with myself and where did that distinct memory of putting them on the shelf come from?  Both are now in position over the said spinach beet.

Muddy vegetables

Now that the deep penetrating frost has come out of the ground, aided and abetted by a not insignificant amount of rain, my vegetable cage now looks very much like the hollow “where we can wallow in glorious mud.”

Picking vegetables in such conditions is a thoroughly miserable affair.  Everything, even the purple sprouting, which is a good two feet off the ground, is filthy, as are the sprouts.   I have to thoroughly clean up the leeks under a tap before Mrs GG will even have them in the kitchen.

Signs of growth

On the upbeat side of things my seedlings are all doing well and the Vanessa and Alicante tomatoes and the aubergines have been taken out of the heated propagator in the unheated greenhouse and, much to Mrs GG’s irritation, are in trays with clear plastic covers in the dining room.

A box of Rocket first early potatoes are supposed to be chitting in an outhouse.  They are covered religiously at night with fleece and they’ve already been there a good fortnight with no sign of any shoots.  I didn’t want to grow them in the first place but was talked into it by you know who.  I selected five that were at least showing basic signs of life, and have planted them in compost in a bag in the greenhouse.   However, I’m not optimistic.

A spot of pruning

I had a good laugh a few days ago when I completed the rose pruning.  There is a gigantic New Dawn rose bush outside the kitchen window.  It must be eight or nine feet high and is one side of a very high and thick yew hedge, forming a passing place to the herbaceous border and lawn on the other side.  It’s about six feet from the bird feeders and the blue and great tit diners sit in it all day, darting over to the sunflower hearts or seeing off the goldfinches.

Anyway, it was the last rose in that particular part of the garden and there I was with the long-handled shears trying the remove dead and spindly growth.  I wasn’t actually being attacked by them but the braver ones were certainly buzzing me.   The others sat in another rose a few feet away quite literally swearing at me and telling me to stop.  Mrs GG was in fits of laughter watching this pantomime through the kitchen window.

A wet winter

Going back to my mud patch of a vegetable cage, the volume of rain we have already had in 2021 is worrying.   Ours is a very well-drained garden but this year we have has surface water accumulating where I have never seen it before in 34 years.  The brook at the bottom of the field has been over the banks two or three times since October.  I’ve planted so many trees in an effort to soak up some of the water, but the impact of global warming is now clearly evident.

Saving the trees

The importance of growing trees and maintaining mature ones is clear to everyone.  I wrote recently about the oak trees adjacent to my drive.   They were identified as having to be retained as part of granting the planning permission for the 142 houses on either side of our drive.

Last week we heard chainsawing from down the field and, looking out of our bedroom window, Mrs GG saw three men in bright orange jackets up one of the oaks.  I was in my 4×4 like Usain Bolt – carrying a slight injury.  When I got to the tree, I recognised one of the men who came over and confirmed they were simply removing dead wood.  He did, however, tell me that the whole process of granting protection for trees as part of a contested planning consent lasts just three years and, in his own words, “after that, it’s a free for all”.  So much for protecting much-loved and old trees.

Happy Gardening

The Grumpy Gardener

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.

Pots

 

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.

Nematodes

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.

Daffs

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.

Nematodes

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!