For evergreen…

Top to bottom: Pieris, Daphne, Fatsia japonica, Mahonia, Photinia.Where would we be without evergreens at this time of year? Glossy holly and its red berries, spiky scented pine, or delicate trailing ivy – the reliable backbones of so many Christmas decorations! But there are so many more lovely evergreens out there that could not only be cut to add to your Christmas decorations, but also provide interest in your garden for you and your local wildlife!

Evergreen shrubs provide permanent structure in the garden and all-year-round interest. Some have beautiful flower displays or are highly scented in winter when little else is growing, while others have variegated or colourful foliage – a real treat during the deepest winter days.

Here are a few suggestions for interesting evergreens:

Pieris
Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ is an absolute favourite of mine as it seems to keep itself busy doing something gorgeous throughout the year! Pieris are compact evergreen shrubs with leathery, dark green leaves. ‘Forest Flame’ is a large variety and the young foliage is bright red, becoming pink and cream and finally green. It has beautiful small cream bell-shaped flowers in large branched clusters.

Daphne
I love Daphne for their small but incredibly fragrant flowers which appear in winter and early spring, when little else in the garden is growing. There are both plain-leaved and variegated varieties available. Daphne is fairly slow-growing making it a great little evergreen shrub for the garden. Grow Daphne in sunny or partially-shaded mixed borders, woodland gardens and rock gardens.

Fatsia
Fatsia japonica is exotic-looking but surprisingly hardy and copes well with coastal conditions and tricky shady areas of the garden. Large stems of creamy white flowers, appear in the autumn, which are attractive to bees and a great source of late season nectar. Fatsia plants are very architectural and striking and can be grown in borders or large patio containers – they certainly make a statement!

Mahonia
Like Fatsia japonica, Mahonia plants have an architectural form, while their glossy, spiny leaves are similar to holly. They produce late winter and spring flowers that are bright yellow and have a wonderfully strong fragrance. They are also a fantastic early source of pollen and nectar for bees. Coping well with coastal conditions, clay soils and heavy shade Mahonia makes an unbeatable, low-maintenance addition to shrub borders and woodland gardens. You will find several in my garden.

Photinia
Photinias are tough, versatile shrubs, the most popular variety being ‘Red Robin’, whose glossy leaves are bright red when young, gradually changing to bronze-green through to deep green. Photinias light up shrub borders in the spring and make a good foil for summer-flowering plants.

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Salad Days

Well this is an experiment that worked well… I really don’t have the room for a big vegetable patch and I certainly don’t have the time or inclination to take on an allotment! So we have bought a few little raised bed kits. They measure one metre square and I am putting them on the patio where they are close to hand and the kitchen.

Now the next question was what should we grow? I think very sensibly (me, sensible?) no seriously, very sensibly we sat and wrote a list of which vegetables we eat a lot and made a careful plan. I then trotted off to the garden centre and made my purchases… but was a little careless perhaps in checking the quantities!

I really thought we had only bought a handful of lettuce plants – hmm as you can see from the pictures, we now have two beds full of lettuce – anyone for lettuce soup or lettuce smoothies? Does lettuce freeze? Nope… anyway we chose lettuce/salad leaves as we do have a salad every day. Then I added four beetroot plants, four carrots, four spinach, four cabbage and four broccoli.

Everything is currently thriving, which is excellent. I have tried the baby spinach leaves (I have them in green smoothies) and they are yummy – the lettuce and salad leaves are gorgeous and currently being shared around the family and neighbours!

So if you think you can’t grow any veg – maybe you could try a 1m square raised bed, it’s fairly small. Or, in fact, you can get even smaller crates for growing salad greens – why not give it a try?

Our photos show the work in progress… and how quickly everything grew into lovely, healthy and cost-effective veg!

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The wonder of herbs!

There’s no denying it, I am a bit of a herb fanatic. They tick so many boxes – they can transform your cooking, save you lots of money over shop-bought herbs and they often look wonderful too!

At the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 growers were asked to highlight some of their favourite ornamental herbs that offer attractive foliage and/or flowers. Here are some of their suggestions 

Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
This architectural plant, which can exceed 2m in height, is equally at home in the border or the herb garden. Its stems and roots are edible 

Australian mint bush (Prosanthera rotundifolia)
In late spring, this tender shrub is smothered in bell-shaped, purple flowers. Its foliage has a very strong menthol smell, and the leaves can be used in oils and infusions.

Creeping pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
This tiny, low-growing mint looks lovely planted in cracks in a pathway, and is said to repel ants and mice. It’s similar to spearmint and has purple-lilac flowers in summer.

Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium yezoense var. hidakanum ‘Purple Rain’)
Jacob’s Ladder used to be used for all kinds of medicinal purposes but today, it’s mostly grown as an ornamental. This variety has unusual bronze leaves and bright blue flowers and makes an excellent border plant. 

Pygmy borage (Borage pygmaea)
Borage can reach a quite a size in the garden, so if space is at a premium, try this dwarf variety. The star-shaped blue or white flowers have a cucumber taste and can be added to summer drinks and salads. Bees adore it.

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
This semi-evergreen perennial has small, red, globe-shaped flowers and leaves that have a cucumber flavour – I use it in salads. It does best in sun or partial shade and makes a great border filler.

Pictured from the top: Angelica, Australian mint bush, creeping pennyroyal, pygmy borage and salad burnet. 

 

 

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Rising to the challenge!

I’m a firm fan of raised beds as they have so many plus points. They’re a great way of growing all sorts of plants, particularly vegetables. They’re also excellent if you have poor soil in the garden as you can simply fill your raised beds with a different soil type with a mix of compost. Raised beds are also a useful way to garden if you have restricted mobility as they reduce the need to bend and reach.From building these new beds in the spring…

Raised beds should never be more than three to four feet wide, that way you can always be sure to reach into the middle easily. If you’ve got a small garden then a raised bed is ideal as you can plant much more closely and grow more!

It’s easier to plant vegetables in close formation – much closer together than in conventional row gardening. Because they are close together, but evenly spaced, once the vegetables are fully grown, their leaves just almost touch each other, creating a microclimate that helps keep out the weeds and conserves moisture. It makes life a whole lot easier as there’s no need for fiddly hoeing in between rows and constantly grubbing about on your hands and knees weeding! You can see why I’m a fan, can’t you! … to all this veg by the summer!

You can grow almost any plants in raised beds – you could try the following:

  • Most vegetables can be grown in raised beds.
  • Soft fruits, such as strawberries, currants, raspberries and blackberries.
  • Herbaceous perennials, raised beds are a good idea for establishing a cutting garden for cut flowers – I love having flowers in the house.
  • Alpines, ideal for alpines that love good drainage.

Raised beds can be made any height you like, from about 12” upwards. If you need to sit down, or are wheelchair bound, a raised bed can be built at just the right height for you and make gardening a real pleasure again.

Top tipsNo matter how small the space you can build, or buy, a raised bed to fit!

  • To save cost, use soil scooped from paths to fill beds, and fill paths with bark, gravel or other paving materials. I like gravel as it is not only neat it also seems to do a good job of stopping slugs and snails in their slimy tracks!
  • Bury any turf removed in creating the beds in the lower levels of the bed’s soil to enrich the soil as it decays.
  • If you don’t have a handy man (or woman!) to build your raised beds from scratch, you can buy a range of sizes and styles of ready-to-assemble raised beds at garden centres, or online, and you really can grow a lot in a small space! Have fun!
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No need to shell out!

I hate throwing things away, especially natural things, so I’m always interested in ideas for recycling. Egg shells are of course lovely things in their own right, and we’ve talked about blowing and painting them before… but what about the typical broken egg shells that we throw away every day after we’ve used the eggs?

My Hen Pal, Julia Wherrell obviously has lots of eggshells and has some interesting ideas on what to do with them, plus some ideas she’s been told by other hen enthusiasts… see what you make of these…

1. Sprinkle broken up eggshell around your garden to deter pests

Soft-bodied insects like slugs or snails don’t like crawling over sharp pieces of shell, I find it works really well.

2. Give your tomatoes a calcium boost

Blossom-end rot is a common tomato problem and it’s caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant. A very successful veg gardener friend of mine puts eggshells in the bottom of the hole when he plants out his tomatoes to help combat this problem. I’m definitely trying this next year as my tomatoes were rubbish this year!

3. Use them to start seedlings

I think this is a lovely idea, especially if you are short of space. Give your smaller seedlings a start in rinsed-out shells! An egg box fits perfectly on a small windowsill so use this to hold your eggshells. They need to be at least half shell in size, so try and remember that when you’re next cracking some eggs, rinse them clean and then plant up your seedlings as normal but obviously, best to stick to smaller things, like herbs. When you come to plant out, gently crush the shell as you plant it and it will decompose in the soil around your plant.

4. Compost them

Add calcium to your compost by adding shells to your compost bin.

5. Sow directly into the soil

If you don’t have time, energy or inclination to compost, simply dig crushed shells directly into your garden. It’s still better than just chucking them out!

 

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