Snow problem; vegetable patch preparation!

Snow problem; vegetable patch preparation!

The first snow forecast of winter resulted in an early gardening start as I had to remove the small gauge netting from the roof of my vegetable cage to prevent the frame collapsing under the weight of the white stuff.

Dawn on a very frosty morning in Staffordshire found me unclipping the netting from the sides and then rolling it back.  It is a very large cage and it took two of us almost an hour to remove the netting.   I keep it in the greenhouse over winter and the winter sprouts and other greens are protected from the pigeons and pheasant by a two-inch square net roof.

I was glad to see a heavy frost as my leek crop is being damaged by the unseasonal warm weather and they are still growing and splitting.  I hope the cold will help them recover.

Graham Paskett



One of my aims this week is to complete the planting of my almost complete collection of native British trees in my Staffordshire garden.

There are 32 native British trees of which I have 14 already growing in my garden.  In 2017 I bought from Hillier 12 of the missing 18 and decided to pot them on to grow to a larger size and plant out now.   The first three, the Goat Willow (Salix caprea). The Crack Willow (Salix fragilis) and the Bay Willow (Salix pentandra) have already been planted in a very damp area of the garden.

So, to mark National Tree Week, the other nine will be going in before Saturday.  They are:

  • Bird Cherry (Prunus padus)
  • Rowan Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia)
  • Downy Birch (Betula pubescens)
  • Aspen (Populus tremula)
  • Wild or Gean Sherry (Prunus avium)
  • White Willow (Salix alba)
  • Field Maple (Acer campestre)
  • Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
  • Hazel (Corylus avellane)

We have got enough space for them but the ground is still pretty dry and I don’t want to have to spend December watering them.  So I shall be doing my own version of the rain dance!

The six missing trees are the Small Leaved Lime, Wych Elm, Sessile Oak, Ash, Black Poplar and the Midland Hawthorne.  If anyone know where I can obtain any of these – do please let me know via email . It is terribly important to grow native British trees because they are an important genetic link to our history and the natural hosts to all wildlife and insects.

The challenge I am facing is trying to find labels that will identify these trees – including the ones already growing.  I really would like something with the Union Flag on it but, as yet, have failed to identify something that will last the life-time of the tree and be attractive.  It will also be interesting to find out whether the willows already planted actually help to dry out the land in which they now live.

Graham Paskett

Should gardening be on the curriculum?

Earlier this year, at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers’ annual conference in Liverpool, delegates voted to urge the government to put gardening on the curriculum. It was suggested that teaching gardening skills would help to combat obesity, but there are many other benefits to it than just that. Yes, teaching gardening gets children to be active and spend time in the fresh air, but it also reconnects them with nature.

Growing up in rural Suffolk, I remember a time when, on holiday from university, a friend of mine brought some friends ‘from the city’ to visit the farm she grew up on. I was really surprised when they exclaimed that they had never seen fruit and vegetables actually growing, having only ever seen them in their pre-packaged form. This disconnection with where food comes from surely has an effect on children’s enjoyment of it, and appreciation for the time and energy that goes in to growing it?


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The regeneration of train station gardens

In my last blog I wrote about the amazing High Line in New York.

Since then I’ve read about another train station which has been transformed by the addition of some greenery! So, at the risk of sounding like a train spotter, I’m writing about another train station!

This time it’s the turn of the Crossrail Place station in Canary Wharf and its newly opened tropical roof gardens.

hollys blog

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Changing Tracks

Despite Central Park being one of New York’s most famous sites, occupying 843 acres, Manhattan isn’t exactly synonymous with green spaces. When you think of New York you think of skyscrapers; crowds of people; traffic; shopping; bright lights; and blaring cab horns – not green spaces and parks!

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The Tomato Sitter??

Are homeowners still really getting in a tomato/plant sitter while they go on holiday to look after their crops – the horticultural equivalent of a house sitter?
I must say I was surprised to read this in a recent Times article. Surely in today’s modern day and age more sophisticated methods could be utilised, such as the Irrigatia system.

Irrigatia - 5
An online customer survey conducted by our client Irrigatia earlier this year found that homeowners are enjoying complete peace of mind when on holiday knowing their prized plants back home are getting their liquid needs when required, delivered naturally by their automatic watering system – therefore not having to rely on friends, family or neighbours.

It really is the 21st century irrigation solution for domestic gardens that does all the hard work for you, just set it up and go!

Unlike electronic timer systems that deliver water at a set time, this solar powered system automatically judges their needs and waters every three hours. The longer the daylight hours and the greater the light intensity in a day the more the system waters. The volume of water can be manually adjusted to suit individual watering needs.

More than 350 homeowners across the UK participated in the Irrigatia online survey. Over 70% stated ‘holiday watering’ was the key reason they choose the Irrigatia system followed by the fact that it uses rainwater from a water butt, and is weather responsive.

Yes, I believe Irrigatia is the new tomato sitter!


Taking A Fence

I moved house in February of this year. In typical Victorian terrace style, the house came with a cute little courtyard where I could see myself pottering around, planting up containers of sweet peas, foxgloves and fragrant beauties to create a little country-style oasis in suburban Nottingham – I have since managed to squeeze in a blackberry bush, a grape vine, two apple trees, a pear tree, a plum tree, and countless flowers and herbs.

Along one side of the garden is a tall fence, so tall that we cannot see over it. Along the other side was a simple three foot brick wall, over which we could see straight into our new neighbour’s garden. For this reason, as I was beginning to sort out our new garden – surprisingly time-consuming for such a little space – I got to know our new neighbour. We shared stories about what had brought us to the area, she told me all about where to find the best butcher and grocer, and once I even found her sharing a glass of wine with my parents over the garden wall as they had arrived a surprising two hours earlier than expected! It seemed as though I had managed to build a real friendship with my next-door neighbour, something that I had always hoped would happen.

After a few months, as the weather started to warm, we decided that we needed to put a taller fence up – two year old children and inquisitive cats to tend to necessitate these things as, toddlers in particular, just don’t seem to stay where you put them! I discussed with my neighbour, who totally understood the need for the fence, and we put it up the next weekend.

At first not much changed. The fence is bamboo, so it is still partially see-through, and I began to plant it up with honeysuckle, clematis and climbing roses. I was feeling really happy with my little outdoor sanctuary, and was actually enjoying the fact that there was now more privacy. I remembered what I had liked about previous gardens which had no overlooking neighbours – sometimes you just want to have a quiet, uninterrupted glass of wine in the garden.

But then I began to notice a change in my relationship with my neighbour. For the first few weeks we would still shout ‘hi!’ though the fence when we saw the silhouette of one another through the bamboo, but gradually this tailed off. Now, three months on, there are no greetings through the fence, no early evening discussions about how our days have been. It would seem that with the erection of the fence, came the dissolution of our neighbourly rapport. Is this, perhaps, the case up and down the country, and the reason why we feel so disconnected from our communities? Should we go back to the three foot Victorian walls separating our gardens, where we could talk to neighbours three doors down? Or are we simply more private in our lives now?

I won’t be taking the fence down anytime soon, but perhaps I’ll invite the neighbours over for a BBQ…

Caught up in Container Gardening

I say it to my wife every year.

“We are cutting down on the number of pots and containers in our garden.   They are just too much work.”

Now the sun is out and we still have an accumulated total of more than 50 it means getting up an hour earlier to water and then immediately back out into the garden after work to repeat the exercise.  Saturday mornings are even worse.  Its feeding time which means mixing up the feed in a fine-rosed watering can and then tromping round the patch to deliver the vital nourishment.

All this is on top of the regular gardening tasks: lawns; the veg cage; the crops growing in the greenhouse; an herbaceous garden that can turn into a weed frenzy at the drop of a hat and other borders.   So what did I find myself doing recently – buying yet another load of plants for a hanging basket I found in one of the sheds!  Sheer madness.

That said we do enjoy our containerised plants and hanging baskets.  It’s a reasonably large garden and they somehow just break up the area into different, colourful units.  But they are very demanding requiring constant weeding, pest control and, when that wretched West wind blows, moving them into more protected areas.

I did pick up a useful tip from a friend a couple of years ago.  Our main hanging baskets are on a sort of wooden gallows.  To stop them blowing around my friend secured them to the upright with a piece of bent wire nailed into position.  It works really well.  I use a piece of bent wire coat-hanger which is galvanised so does not rust.

Another tip to keep hanging baskets and containers watered is to make a reasonably deep hole in the middle and fit this with broken pieces of old terracotta pots.  Fill this with water and it moistens the whole of the basket or container.  The plants grow over so it isn’t unsightly.

Anyway, its 6.00pm so I’d better leave the office and get back to my thirsty containers and baskets.

Happy gardening and if you have any useful tips, do let us know.

– Graham

Keep Creepy Crawlies Out!

We all look forward to summer, the height of the gardening season.  But with warm temperatures also comes insect activity… I’m talking about spiders!

I spend a lot of time during the hot summer period keeping them out of my house with various sprays but they always seem to find a way in.

So I’ve looked in to other ways to keep my house spider free this summer which you may find useful.

Apparently if you place chestnuts around the house it deters spiders.  Some claim they hate the smell, others claim they keel over in the presence of a walnut.

It can be tempting to leave outside lights on in the evening, but this serves as a beacon to insects in the area.  The spiders are not attracted to the light, but will follow the other insects – so remember to turn OFF the lights.

I’ve read that eucalyptus, tea-tree or even peppermint oils might keep the spiders out.  While some might enjoy the smell, the spiders do not, simply spray around windows and doors.  A similar option is vinegar but that may deter your friends and family also!

Apparently lemons, limes, oranges or grapefruit smell terrible to the average spider.  The peels are said to work perfectly, so just save them whenever enjoying a piece of fruit.

And one of the simplest ways to deter spiders is by regular vacuuming or dusting away of cobwebs and egg sacs from around your house, especially in corners/hidden areas.

Don’t leave any leftover food out as this will attract insects that will in turn attract more spiders.

Well I’ll be putting the above methods to the test this year, wish me luck…

– Aroonaa

A Weekend at Kew Gardens

This weekend I had the absolute pleasure of attending a beautiful wedding being held in the magnificent Kew Gardens. I have very fond memories of Kew, having visited many years ago with my grandfather, but for one reason or another I hadn’t been since. For this reason I was particularly excited about this wedding, and this is coming from a committed wedding fan!

I was not disappointed. We were picked up from our hotels at three, and driven to the grounds, where we were afforded the luxury of walking around the garden (very slowly in my 6 inch heels) for an hour or so before the service began.

And what a service it was! The chosen venue, the Nash Conservatory, was bedecked in an array of fragrant white blooms, from (my personal favourite) freesias to roses to peonies, which the bride also carried in an elegant bouquet.

When the ceremony was over, we walked over to the breath-taking Princess of Wales Conservatory, through paths of irises, alliums, lavender and a thousand other types of flower! Once in the conservatory, we were greeted by a vision of green, as we were in the rainforest zone. We sipped Champagne (it was a French wedding after all!), listened to the jazz band who were nestled in the canopy, and admired the marvel of nature, and how it was being so well recreated in a country totally alien to it.


After the (3hour!) champagne reception it was finally time to eat. Our final destination for the evening was the Orangery.


Moving away from the previous pure white and green colour scheme, the couple had here opted to place three large vases of flowers on each table, each one a different bright colour – our table had cornflowers, fantastically yellow and red roses, and delphiniums, whilst the children’s table had sunflowers, gerberas and hyacinths.









Having revisited Kew this weekend, I know that I will not leave it so long until the next time, and cannot think of a more beautiful setting for a wedding, no matter what the season!