Thursday, 30 September 2010

Weeds & Windfalls

THE WEEDS: This afternoon saw me back at the Raspberry house for more weeding and clearing, this time an overgrown flower bed, which was hoed and then hand weeded to make sure that as much unwanted stuff was removed as possible. You have to be philosophical though as there's always something you miss and you can guarantee it'll be Back to haunt you come next visit.
THE WINDFALLS: Well after gathering up enough rotting apples to keep Bulmer's in business for a year (other cider producers are available - ooh I sound just like the BBC!) and a full compost bin later, job done.
Not sure when I'm going back as the owner has diary issues, but hope to carry on the good work soon - I'll just have to be patient and wait for that call!

Ooh, What's Under There Then?

Well, it just so happens there was an Acer, a Rose, a Clamatis, a Yukka and a couple of hanging baskets!
Wendle's back garden is a constant wonder as I never know what I'll find as I work my way around it, this time removing the last of next doors' vine and chopping back the ivy to release a rather sickly Bay Tree from captivity.
Wendle's owner went out and left me to it, so I was relived when I got a text from her saying that I'd done a "fantastic job" - always a relief!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Cat's Under The Primroses

I realised today what a privilege it is being let loose on peoples garden's. I spent the day working for a lovely lady (a neighbour of one of my allotment buddies) who's husband created and maintained the garden. Unfortunately he died 3 years ago but is still there for her in every plant and blade of grass so, yes, I feel privileged. I was, however a little disconcerted when I realised that I'd been hoeing the cat! Apparently he was buried under the primroses, which were covered in weeds - thank heavens he stayed put. . . People really do form a deep emotional attachment to their gardens and each plant (or deceased pet) has a story and memory attached so there is a responsibility on my part to make sure I do the best job I can.
A day and a half brought this garden back from slightly overgrown to neat and tidy and as the owner's unable to get about as much as she'd like, I'll be going back to maintain it - with due reverence.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Dr Livingstone I Presume?

OK, this might not quite be a jungle, but it took an heroic effort to get this garden into shape.
This is my downstairs neighbour's garden and I've been watching him from on high for some time as he's periodically hacked and mown away at this little plot, secretly wanting to get down there and help out. So, it just goes to show that wishes sometimes do come true! It took me best part of a day and a half to get this little patch of weeds under control and I'm still feeling a complete failure at the state of the lawn, which goes from unruly clumps to totally bald, incorporating some fancy weeds and moss on the way!
The grass edging is something new for me. I used it for the first time in Kansas a couple of weeks ago as edging for a flower bed, but this is the first time for grass. It's a great idea as it won't be seen once the grass is up and running, but it's a bit of a bugger to put it when the soil's as stone-ridden as this was, but it's done and means that my neighbour won't have any issues with encroaching grass and can weed away in the flower beds without worrying the grass seed.
The great thing about tackling this garden was the opportunity to plant (my absolutest favouritest thing ever!) and to choose the plants that went in. As I'm a fan of insect attractors there's an English Lavender, a Rosemary and some Red Hot Pokers for the birds as well as some much needed ground cover. My neighbour also purchased some Lupins, Gypsophilia and Aquilegia to accompany the existing Hypericum and Rose so it should look really lovely out there come summer.
Oh well, off to buy some feed, weed & seed for the lawn - wish me luck!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Grass, Grass, Everywhere

Accept for where you want it that is!
A return to Kansas brought more removal of unwanted grass from below the bird feeders, this time at the back of the garden. I like this garden as it's totally surrounded by greenery but, and I never thought I'd here myself say this, I miss the pigeons! Eh? I hear you say, but let me clarify. Most of the time I think feral pigeons are nasty, dirty things but what I've realised working in Kansas is, they're exceptionally good at cleaning up all the bird seed and bits of fat ball the smaller birds manage to flick all over the place. We have pigeons scrabbling around under our feeders at home all the time (occasionally balancing precariously on them and flapping wildly about too - very funny) and it's only just occurred to me how useful they are - we have very little debris or grass.
Obviously some smaller birds are ground feeders, but I think it's due mainly to the lowly feral pigeon and surely it's got to be a better way of living than risking life and limb in the middle of the road eating squashed burgers and cold rice?

Return To The Land Of Raspberry

Back to work today and back to the Rasberry garden, this time to tackle an overgrown pond and a weedy (full of weeds not weak and feeble) flowerbed. It rained all day, which is great for loosening up the soil, but not so good for the poor gardener. Luckily I've got a rather good waterproof and a barber cap, so complete with wellies I looked a right old treat, but at least I was dry(ish) and was able to get stuck in. I also managed to dig over the veg patch, removing the wild, self-seeding rocket and sweep the paths, so all good. I love this client as she's obviously been gardening for years and knows far more than I do, although I was a tad concerned when she saw the pond and commented that I'd been a lot more brutal that she would've been - eek! Apparently that was a good thing though so phew!

Surely not that brutal???


Saturday, 18 September 2010

Wisley Hosta Shocker!

We're camping at the moment in sunny Surrey for our anniversary and visited Wisley today. I was a bit reluctant 'til now as I for some mad reason I thought my gardening expertise wasn't up to the lofty standards of the RHS, but then I thought hang on you're an A grade student, pull yourself together and get your butt down there. So that's what we did and it was well worth the journey as the orchards were lovely in the mellow September sun and I was secretly comforted by the fact that even at the great and wonderful Wisley the slugs and snails have had their way with the Hostas! I know, I'm really sad. Nevertheless the rest of the gardens were absolutely beautiful and there were lots of activities going on including a fab sculpture exhibition with pieces dotted around the grounds - all unfortunately way out or our price range and too large to get in the car.

Friday, 17 September 2010

This Week's Plant From The Garden - Gerbera G. 'Dwarf Frisbee'

Also known as the Transvaal or African Daisy and B's favourite! Gerbera are more often as not grown as indoor or greenhouse plants although they do go well in the border and there are now some hardy species which can be overwintered in the garden. This one was given to us as a present and I really wasn't sure it was going to last beyond a few weeks. Nevertheless in my usual mood of blind optimism I replanted it and as it's been such a lovely warm summer, it not only survived but flourished in the garden as part of a display at the end of the path. As the days are getting shorter and the nights cooler it's been brought inside to overwinter in the house.
Family: Ateraceae/Compositae. Depending on which reference book your using it can be categorised as just Asteraceae or both.
Position: Full sun in sandy soil. Ours is in normal multi-purpose compost with regular feeding and also in partial shade but still did well.
Flowers: Summer - all summer in our case and still producing buds.
Dimensions: 18 - 25cm high by approx 25cm wide - will keep you posted if it spreads!
Habit: Small evergreen herbaceous perennials - tender to half hardy.
Care: As ours is in a ceramic pot it needs watering regularly. Keep the slugs/snails away from it and when it's inside make sure it doesn't get too hot or cold.
Pruning: Leave it to it's own devices apart from dead heading.
Propagation: By seed in early spring or autumn. Basal cuttings in summer or division of established plants. Ours will be divided when it outgrows the current pot. It did have time to seed in the garden before coming in so who knows?
Origin/Distribution: South Africa and every florist shop and roadside flower van you've ever visited.

Bold/italics = RHS
Everything else = me

Monday, 13 September 2010

Grape Anyone?

Today I went back to visit the adorable Wendel and to make a start on the back garden, which I did by decimating next doors' grape vine which has completely taken over and was marching full force across the border! The poor bay tree it was climbing was a mass of old vine, woody clematis, struggling ivy and roses reaching for the sky, to the point where it was suffocating under the weight of all that debris. I couldn't believe how much fruit the vine had produced with no attention what-so-ever and the first job was to harvest as much of it as possible, which turned out to be 3 buckets full - I was sorely tempted to remove my wellies, step into the bucket and start stomping!
Unfortunately the clematis and rose have suffered a lot at the hands of the roaming vine and had to be pruned right back, but I'm determined to bring them back to full vigour in the spring. I'll also be spending some time each visit cutting out the dead material from the bay tree to make it look and feel better and to prevent further encroachment.
Wendel kept me company by chasing flies, pouncing on anything that moved and climbing up and sleeping in the shrub beside me, but cannily disappeared when it came to bagging and tidying up - little bugger!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Allotment Ballet Dancing

We hosted a little get together on the allotment today so that we could meet our fellow allotmenteers. We're quite lucky that ours is plot 1, the first on the site as you enter, which means we don't have to travel far to get there but also means that we don't get to see any of the other diggers and growers unless we happen to see them coming through the gate. It was a great afternoon/evening and it was generally agreed that we should do it more often, so hopefully someone will suggest it again soon.
We'd asked everyone to bring a drinking receptacle and were really chuffed when people turned up with gifts of seeds and beans, wine, cake and a stove for making tea. For the first time I really felt part of a community. The conversation covered many subjects including the fact that if a stranger asks me what I do for a living I say I'm a ballet dancer (it's amazing what people will believe), which caused much hilarity considering my natural grace and elegance!!!
Lovely day & great folk.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Not In Kansas Any More!

Toto the Yorkie (Toto, Kansas - geddit?) and friend of the ever resourceful Wendel lives with Chester the ginger tom, 3 other cats & 2 guinea pigs and stands guard over a great garden around the corner. The provider for this menagerie and owner of said garden had a number of tasks ready and waiting for me including weeding flower beds, which had a couple of inches of bird seed encrusted over them and subsequently some very long and lush grass to remove, planting some lavender, phlox and bulbs, digging up and potting a magnolia, putting in some plastic edging, pruning back a rose, trimming the buxus back into shape and mowing the lawn - phew!
The pictures show the flower bed with the grass seed coating before and after. You can see where I've cleared and planted the lavender and the bright pink phlox. I discovered the lovely metal climber frame at the back of the flower bed.
Will be going back in a couple of weeks to tackle another grass ridden section of the garden and am really happy that I now have a few gardens that I can invest some real time and energy in as opposed to just fire-fighting every 6 months or so.

This Week's Plant From The Garden - Achillea

Named after the Greek hero, Achilles, who apparently discovered its healing properties but is better known as Yarrow or Milfoil. Other names include Nosebleed, Thousand leaf, Soldier's Woundwort, Devil's Nettle and Carpeter's Weed and is used to control bleeding/heamorrhaging.
We have two varieties, Achillea Millefolium 'Fire King' (red) and Achillea Millefollium (white). We got them because they attract all manner of insects, they remind me of the countryside and because they provide really good ground cover for our dry garden.
Family: Asteraceae/Compositae
Position: Sunny, well drained soil.
Flowers: Summer. And again in early autumn if the weather is mild. Ours has just produced a second if modest set of flowers following the rain.
Dimensions: 60cm high by 60cm wide.
Habit: Perennial herbs - full hardy.
Care: Leave it to it's own devices - comes up year after year.
Pruning: Not necessary but you can just pull it up in clumps if it spreads where you don't want it.
Propagation: By division in early spring or autumn or soft wood cuttings in late spring.
Origin/Distribution: Europe, Asia & North America, my father-in-law's lawn and almost every hedgerow or piece of scrub land I've ever come across!

Bold/italics = experts
Everything else = made up stuff so don't believe a word

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Raspberry Fool

Wendel's networking has been going great guns this week and I now have 2 new clients, the first of which I visited yesterday - a lovely garden full of flowers and fruit trees. I was asked to prune back some raspberry bushes and do a bit of weeding for a lovely lady (and her gentleman lodger - very sweet lad) who needs a bit of help getting the garden ready for the winter. As I don't have much experience with soft fruits (apart from nicking blackberry's from off the allotment), I went armed with my trusty RHS pruning book and got stuck in.
As I found out raspberry's fruit on the second years growth, so with these summer fruiting shrubs you need to cut back this years dead wood to allow space for next year's fruit. It was easier than I thought to identify the old wood from the new and I spent a pleasant couple of hours thinning and tying in the new growth to give it support. It was great fun and very restful pruning away to the sound of bees in the September sunshine.
As a bonus I also came away with a bag of delicious apples, which were literally falling off the tree as I worked. Back in a couple of weeks to finish off and dig out some old gooseberry bushes so long sleeves and gloves are a must!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Et Voila!

A little bit boring, and. . . . a little bit more interesting!

It's just like magic! Well it's just like a few
left over plants in search of a home - what a difference a few months can make. Back in
March I needed to find a home for some Lupin and Dwarf Hollyhock seedlings and struck a deal with my neighbour, gardening for parking. Here are the before and after photos.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

My Little Willow Weaver

Back down the allotment this weekend. We carried a 3m scaffold board down the high street on a Saturday morning, one of us at each end. What were we thinking?! Actually we were thinking big raised bed, that's what. I wangled 3 slightly battered and bruised scaffold boards from the roofers as they were dismantling a few weeks ago and we've only just had time to get them off the front path and down t'llotment (well only 1 so far, but it's a start). We have to cart them by hand/foot as they're way too big to get into the car even with the roof down and if I try and haul anything else gardening related in the motor B might just kill me, especially as last weekend I packed an ancient baby blue carpet in the boot and the stinky rubber backing flaked off all over the shop. Mind you it does look grand on the allotment and will definitely keep those weeds down.
Talking of prettying up the allotment, B's turned into a willow
weaver and is making a fence. I'm totally impressed as I'm usually the one who happily sews and darns away. I think she's just showing how she earned that sewing badge at Guides!! While B was busy creating, I was busy destroying. I was digging through the pile of earth that'd been heaped up against the fence when the original growing beds were created forming a solid, bramble-ridden ridge between us and next door. I decided to dig it through and use the sifted soil to build the sides of the raised beds up to ground level. Not sure how successful I was as all I seemed to do was create a mess (typical!). The rhubarb's settling in nicely and we've also ordered some garlic and overwintering onions to put in.
Bless all folk who work allotments - one of our neighbouring allotmenteers, Helena, left us a lovely sage plant that looked quite lost sitting in amongst all the carpet, weeds and empty beds so I've commandeered it for the herb box at home.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Wendel In The Window

Last month I put my flyer in a couple of news agents' windows to try and drum up some business and fortunately for me it brought me Wendel (a beautiful tabby & white kitten), his lovely owner and a garden to well and truly get my teeth into. It took me a whole day, but thirteen waste bags, two bundles of branches, a cuppa and a few cuts and bruises later, what was an overgrown wilderness is now a tidy little front garden - lovely! I just hope those ginormous Hebes come back again. Hopefully they should as there were signs of new growth at ground level, so fingers crossed for spring.
With Wendle chasing the tops of branches as they passed the window I hacked and slashed my way through encroaching Jasmine, rampant Honeysuckle, carrier bags, beer cans and miscellaneous sweet wrappers to discovered that what I thought was an earthed area was in fact concrete with a few shaped flower beds that used to contain roses. The roses have succumbed under the pressure of the Hebes and the lack of light but thankfully Wendle and his owner are happy to replant with some shrubs from the back garden containing some beautiful plants and grapevines and which I'm going to tackle over the coming months.
Wendle is so pleased he's going to recommend me to some of his friends and their owners - bless that lil' puss!

This Week's Plant From The Garden - Hebe 'Caledonia'

At last, one I can pronounce I hear you sigh with relief. We are a family of Hebe lovers (sounds like an insult?) as my dad, sister-in-law and father-in-law also have them in one form or another in their gardens. I think they're popular because they "do what it says on the tin" and are really well behaved as well as being attractive. Also known as Shrubby Veronica - poor things.
Family: Scrophulariaceae (no relation to the skin disease).
Position: Full sun in well drained poor to moderate soil. Ours are in a dry sunny spot and appear to be thriving.
Flowers: Summer through to autumn. Ours flower well in to July. Deadhead to encourage continual flowering.
Dimension: 45cm high and 45cm wide. Nice and compact for a small border like ours.
Habit: Hardy perennial evergreen shrub. We've had ours for 3 years and they never fail to please and the bees love them.
Care: Looks after itself.
Pruning: No routine pruning but can be cut back to control growth or to re-shape in early spring. This will also keep it from getting leggy and encourage fresh growth at the centre.
Propagation: Semi-ripe cuttings or ripe seed in late summer/autumn.
Origin/Distribution: Australia, New Zealand and temperate S. America.

Bold/italics - RHS boffins
Everything else - would-be RHS boffin

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


I'm not sure how the woman I went to see last night would feel about being likened to the vision-in-pink that is Penelope Pitstop, but as she was asking for gardening advice it seemed somewhat appropriate - well to my twisted brain anyway.
Forest Gate is full of little gardening gems and this house was one of them. It was perhaps the neatest garden I've ever seen and I was quite surprised that the owner needed help as everything seemed to be under control. However, Ms Pitstop was frustrated that most of the plants she'd put in seemed to struggle or die-off altogether and has resorted to bedding plants in place of the perennials she'd prefer. The garden is south-west facing so gets plenty of light and the foxes, slugs and snails are succesfully being kept at bay, so lack of light and pests are off the list of culprits. I did a soil test and found out the soil is
alkaline with a PH of 7.5 - 8, which explains why the azalea was reduced to withered brown twigs at the back of the flower bed. We also put names to some of the plants that were in-situ before Ms Pitstop bought the house, but the attached (of which there are 2) was a mystery. On further investigation I think they're Cordyline Australis (or big yuccery type things), although there are a bewildering number of palms and lillies that all have this general appearance, but this one had a fairly smooth trunk so narrowed it down a bit.
Ms Pitstop now has a list of perennials that can deal with alkaline soil and will be mulching over the winter to make sure the soil is full of lovely nutrients come spring. I'll be going back around March/April time
to prune and discuss planting and hopefully to pop in some plants that are going to thrive. Fingers crossed!