Monday 30 July 2012

Batting for glyphosate

Top gardeners have a dirty little secret. Many of them will tell you that they don’t use herbicides. They then add in a low voice, “Of course, I used Roundup to get rid of the perennial weeds first.”
On the contrary, I am proud to use glyphosate. Here are ten reasons why.
1  As a weedkiller, it’s safe to use and does no harm to wildlife.
2  It leaves no residues in the ground.
3  It is translocated in plants and ‘reaches the parts others can’t reach’. It does not just kill the top.
4  When used to clear weedy ground, all the organic matter and nutrients in the dead weeds go back into the ground. There is no wastage of organic material by burning or dumping in the dreaded wheelie bin. (Believe me, you would be horrified where it actually goes!)
5  Although it will take a year and more to clear a weedy plot, the actual work you do is minimal.
6  Often the soil structure of a weedy new plot has benefited by years of plant growth. Why destroy this structure by digging?
7  Gardeners who have omitted to eliminate perennial weeds such as couch, ground elder and bindweed, continue forking it out for ever more. 
8  Where there are no perennial weeds, weed control is so easy.
9  It facilitates minimum cultivation systems, which preserve soil organic matter, worms and soil life.
10  When used to enable zero cultivation, its effects become more interesting. You might not like the liverwort and moss, but as a habitat for wildlife at the bottom of the food chain, they are superb.

An added bonus for me - liverwort and pearlwort stabilise the walls of my ponds. Here, an orchid has been able to self seed in my liverwort encrusted soil.
And I have not even mentioned preserving the world’s organic matter or global warming.
I have recently been reading a republished book, The Living Soil, written by that much loved pioneer of organic farming, Lady Eve Balfour. I think that, if glyphosate had existed in her time, she would have embraced it.

Friday 27 July 2012

Damn Pests!

The pigeons have really gone to town this year. As soon as I remove the protective fleece in the vegetable garden, they swoop. 
B****y pigeons!

Another stunted brussel sprout! Cabbage root fly maggots will have tunneled out the stem base. Perhaps if I earth them up, that will help new roots grow. It seems I need my spade yet again.
B****y pests!

Oh no, the dreaded lily beetle. This recent arrival from the South continues its spread north. Handsome beast. Perhaps I should just grit my teeth and spray? 
B****y beetles! 

Even if I do spray, the rabbits will probably still get them. This year they have learned that lilies make very tasty rabbit food. 
B****y rabbits!

I retire to the conservatory. These jumbo jets have inelegantly landed on our bird table that is parked in the field. Nature did not design them for this. Gentle creatures. 
Lovely Pigeons! 

Thursday 26 July 2012

More Sparrowhawk Pictures

We think this is an adult male who followed a small bird into the garage, then couldn't get out. Harry next door came to his rescue and held him while I rushed for the camera! We are kicking ourselves that we didn't take a small video clip too. He was extremely calm and just looked at us with that piercing gaze without trying to struggle or bite.

Corn Marigolds

To the farmer they are weeds, to me they are wild flowers.
‘Nice annual chrysanthemums,’ I say, all technically correct, during a chat with the East Riding farmer who is ploughing the field next door.
‘Them’s marigolds, lad.’ (He’s even older than me)
My mind whirls, surely marigold is the common name for both tagetes and calendula. 
‘Them’s corn marigolds.’
So I learnt that, in farming, they are corn marigolds throughout the land. Confusing, these plant common names.
He carefully fails to spray a strip next to my garden. This allows ancient seed brought to the surface by the plough to germinate. Result: a gorgeous band of colour around my garden that is also a haven for insects.

Jump to the future to see my latest post about corn marigolds

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Picking Blackcurrents

Years ago I had a client who loved picking blackcurrents. Sadly she had a bad back. Solution - pick them in the kitchen! Or sitting outside in the sun!
The pruning of blackcurrents requires the removal of old wood. It is exactly the same growth that carries the mature fruit, and now is precisely the time to prune. Ergo, combine the two operations, picking and pruning. I now always pick them sitting down!

Pruned for the year
Ready for picking!

Monday 23 July 2012

Pot compost - breaking the rules

I used to ridicule gardeners who used soil in pots. Now I do it too, almost all the time. There are very good reasons NOT to use garden soil – it is full of weed seed, weed root, pests and disease. Worse, soil in a container does not behave like it does in the ground. It will usually hold too much water in proportion to air.  It will have insufficient nutrients and clay soils will crack when dry.

Pots in the courtyard
 My Seaton Ross soil is unusual and is almost pure sand. Sandy soils are not usually water retentive. Mine, because the sand has very fine grain, is both water retentive and aerated. This is indeed a stroke of luck. Very few gardeners share such a suitable soil. So the bad news is, I really cannot recommend use of soil in seed trays and small pots without a lot of provisos!

Now the good news!  What if you want to fill large tubs and planters? Your soil might just be suitable, especially if it naturally contains plenty of organic matter. You will have to mix in fertilizer and, perhaps, lime. I add dolomitic limestone and a ‘coated’ slow release fertilizer such as osmocote. Limestone or chalk are alternative forms of lime. The hydrated lime sold at garden centres is probably too soluble.

Mixing my soil compost is another reason for the no dig gardener to use his beloved spade!

These pots are the right  sort of depth to be suitable
for a soil compost
Many gardeners do not realise that growers’ suppliers will usually also sell to amateur gardeners (although they will not usually sell professional pesticides). It is necessary to buy in larger quantities and to know what you want. My dolomitic limestone (called dolodust) comes in a 25kg bag from our local East Riding Horticulture at Newton on Derwent.

And finally…
My ears are burning - I can hear you saying ‘no wonder he is a no dig gardener, he’s on sand’! The truth is that clay soils benefit much more from no-dig than do sandy soils, which bring their own special problems.

Friday 20 July 2012

The good, the bad and the ugly

A healthy marrow plant

If the virus that causes the variegated markings on Abutilon is beautiful, this is the other side of the coin. Photographed in my vegetable garden, this is a virus on a young courgette. Most viruses are not seed-borne, but this one is. A packet of marrows usually carries at least one infected seed. Cut out any infected plants straight away! The virus will spread to your healthy marrows. You will get virtually no courgettes on such a diseased plant.

There will be no courgettes on this diseased plant

A plant remembered:abutilon megapotanicum

Abutilon megapotanicum variegata graced our courtyard for five years.
This plant, (and what a mouthful it is) is only marginally hardy in York. It thrived thanks to the protection given by the walls of our house.

It was finally killed by the double winter of 2010. The worst winter for fifty years started in January. The winter that followed in November of the same year was even colder. There was continuous freezing, as low as minus 17 degrees centigrade, for more than a month. We lost a lot of plants, but the loss of this one especially hurt.
This abutilon is a wall shrub that flowers for many months. It’s lovely, variegated, almost evergreen foliage, lasts even longer. For the botanically curious, the variegation is caused by a virus. Viruses normally cause plant disease. This ‘infection’ brings pure joy.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Her Indoors: streptocarpus

We do love our houseplants.
Streptocarpus, The Cape primrose
What a beauty. This is the ‘Black Panther’. It will flower for six months. We really got to grips with our ‘streps’ when they were moved to the west facing kitchen window - not too much sun and some humidity.

The real secret, however, is in their watering. Brenda only waters when they start to wilt. They are then plunged into the sink for a minute or so, stood to drain, and returned to their saucer. They must only be watered when really dry.
How to water houseplants? The gardening media are generally most unhelpful. Keep wet, keep dry, don’t overwater. What do they mean?
Here are some key points about watering house plants.
  • It is almost impossible to give a plant too much water at a single watering, provided that surplus can drain away.
  • Watering may be by soaking in the sink, or more usually from above by watering can.
  • It is useless to give a tiny amount of water each watering.
  • Overwatering is when a plant is watered too often, not too much.
  • Some plants are only watered when dry. Others should be watered when still a little moist.
  • Never leave plants standing in water (unless they are bog plants). Waterlogging will kill them. Waterlogged plants often wilt! So check the compost before watering again.
We recently nearly lost our bougainvillea because it was too dry.
Roger in the doghouse

As I write, Brenda has come in to chastise me. She has found our candle plant (Kleinia) standing in water. Mea culpa. The plant will go into convalescence and I am banished back into the garden in disgrace.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Why gardeners dig, Part 1: It is healthy and enjoyable

A new series that examines the merits of digging. 
I cannot promise not to give it my own ‘spin’.

Digging is a healthy and enjoyable activity.
Cathi fell about laughing at the very thought. But don’t knock it. I used to love winter digging my allotment on a crisp autumn day. Especially when I used to think how much good it was doing.
At the age of fourteen I hated everything to do with gardens. My conversion came when forking out couch grass rhizomes in our new garden in Hartlepool.  I fell in love with soil! It’s beautiful smell! My green genes were switched on - for the rest of my life. I partly jest, but am also serious about the green genes. Something made one of our hunter-gatherer ancestors first till the ground.
I am aware that my mania for minimum cultivation, and the use of glyphosate, does not sit well with enthusing young gardeners. Even at horticultural college, we could not allow students to use chemicals on their plots. Plots which they dug! Far be it for me to take away from young people that first intimate contact with soil...digging!

Monday 16 July 2012

It's all over...till next time!

An Open Day thank you to everyone!
What an exhausting but rewarding day! The sun shone and 150 folk turned up. As always, it was wonderful to meet friends, old and new. My favourite and most regular attender, who comes every Open Day, refused to be identified online!

Many people snapped away for the photo competition. They were reminded that, to get their shots, they could walk anywhere on my soil. There was a great deal of interest in minimum cultivation methods. One lady gave me a most eloquent phrase about the benefits to soil flora and fauna of non-digging, but can I remember it? No, my head is still in too much of a whirl.
Brenda manning the plant stall.
A big thank you to all my helpers.
  • Peggy and Christine for the wonderful teas
  • Angela and Gordon for running the gate and promoting this blog!
  • Marilyn and Dave for organizing the car parking.
  • Brenda for organizing everything.
  • Harry and Cathi who marshalled the rheas.
Apparently, I swanned around doing nothing and taking all the glory! A part I play well.

...a selection of pictures from the day!

Sunday 15 July 2012

Open Day is here!

Woke up to the most glorious and cloudless blue sky. The garden looks as good as it's going to get. My brother-in-law, Dave, has put out all the signs. Everything is ready!

Friday 13 July 2012

Meet the neighbours

Brassica haulm is a bit of an embarrassment for a non digger who has no compost heap, but who likes to recycle ALL his organic matter. We love brassicas as winter greens, especially brussels sprouts, broccoli and curly kale. We ‘eat them to death’. We particularly like what I call ‘sprout sprouts’! These are the green shoots that arise from unpicked sprouts. Harry eats them raw. 
By May, what is left is pretty tatty but is still producing plenty of shoots. I feed them to the neighbours! I cut the brassicas to the ground with loppers, leaving the roots undisturbed. The rheas next door love them. I divide the feast into daily offerings throughout May. They come running whenever they see me. Pure joy for them and for me. They still come running when the greens have gone. Have you ever seen a disappointed rhea? 

When we were young! Sausage and Frilly as youngsters.
It's alive! Quick, hit it with a hammer! Frilly sunbathing on the lawn last year, when we HAD some sun.
I love dandelions!
Phleas waiting for broccoli.
For those non-gardening partners of gardeners coming to our Open Days, the animals next door provide some light relief, so they certainly earn their keep!

...and don't forget the hens!!!!

NGS Open Day Photographic Competition!

So, don't forget to bring your camera or smartphone!
Pictures can be of anything, or indeed anyone, in the garden on Sunday!

Remember - you can walk ANYWHERE on the soil to get your picture!

Thursday 12 July 2012

Plant of the week: Lyhnis coronaria

Lychnis coronaria

To many gardeners this is a delicate plant. To me it’s a thug. The kind of thug I like, it self seeds everywhere. I donate such seed from one of my gardens to another. These are gifts from Bolton Percy churchyard to Seaton Ross village plot. It was introduced by scattering seed on the bare ground. 
It has faired far too well in the cemetery at Worsbrough where there are hundreds of plants. A weed is a plant in the wrong place, so I spray it with glyphosate. That doesn’t always work, it just runs off the silky foliage. It is now taking over; funny how soil conditions make a dramatic difference to plant success.
I went to a garden centre the other day and could have bought a lychnis for a fiver. No thank you! You are welcome help yourself to seed in any of my gardens. But it is banned by Brenda at Boundary Cottage.

Look over the hedge of the Seaton Ross village plot and spot it.

Reason not to dig 2: You can walk on wet soil

You can walk on the soil even when wet!

Correct advice to conventional gardeners is not to go on the soil after heavy rain. I do the opposite and rush out to plant. My soil is firm and settled, not loose and crumbly. Broken up, wet soil is susceptible to damage.
I regularly chastise Elaine, my bridge partner, when she delights in informing me she has been ‘fluffing up her soil today’. She thinks it looks nice. After years of my nattering, she does know it is bad for the plants and also the soil.
Some gardeners would say my settled soil is compacted. They would be wrong. Some experts would also tell you my soil is compacted. Still wrong! My undisturbed soil between plants becomes firm and cohesive. Below the surface, there is is a network of channels made by roots, worms and other soil organisms. It is well aerated and well drained.
Many gardeners wrongly consider ‘aerating’ the soil by cultivation is beneficial. It is actually harmful. Roots that might have benefited are ‘chopped away’. Nature doesn’t do that. I invite visitors to my gardens to walk on the soil and go wherever they want, whatever the weather. 
One day with my students, I histrionically illustrated my point by jumping on the wet herbaceous border screaming ‘YOU CAN JUMP ON IT  - EVEN WHEN WET’!

I have updated this post

Monday 9 July 2012

NGS Open Day - getting the garden ready

Boundary Cottage Open Day: Sunday 15th July

Job list - Six days to go!
  • Weed control. Spray weeds on village plot and at home.

  • Mulch-mow lawn. Have already mowed three times in last ten days.
  • Edge lawn.
  • Dead head and prune out wind damaged plants.
  • Hand pull sneaky epilobiums.
  • Cut out unwanted growth on border plants invading lawn.
  • Remove tired tubs to nursery.
  • Hoe vegetable garden, only if dry
  • Dress and label nursery plants.

I’m afraid that weed control is the only thing on the list that is done!

Brenda edging the lawn, shy to show her face. She says she is a fair weather gardener, not appearing if it’s wet, windy or cold. Not much help there then. And no dinner tonight! Long handled edging shears must be sharp.
It is hugely satisfying pulling out epilobiums.  Their seed comes in on the wind. Here the pink epilobium infiltrates the clump of yellow euphorbia.
Geranium cantabrigiense, is confined to its place. Every time I mow, I cut to the edge and the lawn is ‘boss’. This maintains the line of the borders as the mower ‘prunes’ the plants.

Finding Boundary Cottage
Directions are in the yellow book and on the NGS website. Sat Nav YO42 4NF to bring you to the door. But do not go quite there, go to Nev’s field, a few yards away. It’s clearly sign posted. Brother-in-law, Dave, will meet you there and point you in the right direction.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Great Crested Newts

Boundary Cottage Open Day: Sunday 15th July

Gardening for wildlife is one of those trendy phrases that have cropped up in the media over the last decade. Although my garden is by no means organic, my no dig method of gardening, combined with naturalistic planting, means that the garden at Boundary Cottage is rich with wildlife.

Great Crested Newt

The thing that we were most excited about, was discovering that we have Great Crested Newts in many of our ponds. We knew that they had been observed in the area, and the big field pond next door certainly had a breeding population, but finding them in our own garden was brilliant.

For those of you who may be coming to the Open Day next weekend, if you take the time to gaze into the water, you may just be lucky enough to spot one, although they are quite elusive. The adults will usually be leaving the water in July and August and live on land until they hibernate in September/October. My garden, with its piles of logs and pots and pavers near the greenhouse, provides a good habitat for newts to hibernate.

Two of the Boundary Cottage ponds

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