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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Butterflies flitting by…

Butterflies are one of the loveliest things in a garden, fleeting, delicate and beautiful. True, their caterpillars can decimate plants, and a cabbage white munching its way through your veg patch is a very unwelcome sight… but I try to forgive them all that for their sheer beauty.

Larger varieties can live for up to a month, but many of the smaller varieties only live a week. All that beauty gone in such a short space of time…

The orange tip is one of my favourite butterflies and it is on the wing from April through to June. The males, predictably, are the show offs with orange flashes on their wings! Their caterpillars feed on cuckoo flower and hedge mustard while the adults often feed from plants such as bluebells.

Other favourites include the red admiral, the tortoiseshell and the very lovely peacock with its stunning ‘eyes’ on its wings. The buddleia in my garden is a huge draw for butterflies and, in a good summer, is absolutely covered in many varieties.

If you want to attract more butterflies to your garden, plant nectar producing flowers. Butterflies visit flowers searching for nectar, the sweet fluid produced by the flower as a reward for pollinating insects like bees and butterflies. Many British butterflies seem to prefer purple, pink and yellow coloured blossoms while clusters of short, tubular flowers or flat topped blossoms provide ideal shapes for butterflies to land on and feed.

No matter how hard we try to encourage butterflies, sadly we are all at the mercy of the weather. Statistics tell us that fewer butterflies flew in British skies in the miserable summer of 2012 than for thousands of years, leaving several species in danger of extinction from parts of the country.

Intensive efforts to conserve our rarest species mean that no butterfly has become extinct in Britain since 1979 but conservationists – as well as butterflies – are now struggling to adapt to climate change.

 

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My little flower garden

I love giving people flower arrangements, or just a bunch of flowers as a present. This was a different idea I came up with when I saw some pretty flowering pots of bits and pieces at the garden centre.

I like this basket idea as it’s pretty, but practical too. You can give it to people to enjoy in the house for a while, then they can plant the pots out in the garden and they’ll live on for years.

You can either line the basket with plastic, then plant the pots in earth almost as if they are in a real flower bed, or you can cluster the plants in the basket still in their little pots. I have added a bunch of pussy willow, some moss and some pebbles and polished marble lumps that I have collected – but ordinary gravel would be fine!

It’s simple to do, even if you aren’t a keen flower arranger and makes a lovely and different present. It would work well with masses of different ingredients – there’s always something in flower amongst the little pots at the garden centre – pansies come to mind!

 

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My Favourite Flowers

I have been a massive fan of flowers all my life. From big gardens to tiny bunches, huge floristsHellebore arrangements to eggcups with a child’s posy in – I love all flowers, any flowers. Over the weekend, sitting looking at everything finally starting to turn green in the garden, I was reflecting on which flowers would be in my all time top ten if I was asked. Well, here are my top ten… what are your favourites – and why?

Number One – Hellebores
Hellebores (or Christmas Roses) in all colours there are dozens of varieties both single and double in my garden – I just love them!

Number Two – Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas, pink, blue or white! I love the possibilities of hydrangeas, you can press them, dry them, preserve them – all sorts of things and hung up in the spare room and then sprayed gold for Christmas – gorgeous!Classic English roses

Number Three – Old Fashioned English Roses
Old fashioned English roses – beautiful, beautiful flowers to look at and I love them whether they are on a bush in the garden or in an arrangement in the house.

Number Four – Snowdrops
Snowdrops – they are so pretty to look at but they cheer me up the minute any appear in the garden.

Number Five – Cherry Blossom
Cherry Blossom  – I know this is a tree and not a plant but I hope it counts – we have a huge cherry tree just outside my bathroom window and I just love the mass of white blossom in the spring.

Number Six – Lily of the Valley
Lily of the valley – oh that perfume, so wonderful and such a delicate pretty little flower.Violets

Number Seven – Common Daisies
Happy memories of daisy chains and lovely lawns, picnics and sunshine – it was sunny during the summer months then, wasn’t it?

Number Eight – Water Lilies
Water lilies – because my dream would be to have a large pond in the garden with stunning water lilies – they are just magnificent.

Number Nine – Violets
These flowers always remind me of my Mother, as we were given little posies of violets in church when I was a child to take home to our mothers… and they are a favourite of hers!

Number Ten – Agapanthus
This one sneaks in at number ten because whenever I see them,Agapanthus it reminds me of my sister and seeing them grow wild in the Channel Islands where she lives.

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Murder & mystery in deepest Devon…

The west country, with its dramatic coastline, brooding moors and secluded hideaways is a pretty perfect place for writers to escape to – well that’s what I keep telling myself whenever myAgatha Christie enthusiasm flags! Over the years, this corner of England has been home to some of our most popular authors of the 20th century. Two female literary giants – Daphne Du Maurier and Agatha Christie – both spent many happy years in this part of the world.

South Cornwall was the home of Daphne Du Maurier, writer of the haunting classics Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel and Frenchman’s Creek, among many other excellent novels. She lived a reclusive life down on the wild south Cornish coast and nowadays there is an annual Daphne Du Maurier Literary Festival (now called the Fowey Festival or Words & music) which I keep promising myself I must go to! 

In Devon, we lay claim to Agatha Christie. The undisputed queen of crime was born on 15 September 1890 in Torquay, just a couple of miles away from where I live. Once her fame was established and money no object, there was nothing she loved more than escaping with her family to Greenway, their Devon holiday home.

The National Trust opened Greenway House to the public in 2009 and for the first time, visitors had the opportunity to view the many personal collections and mementoes of this much-loved mystery writer and her family. It’s well worth a visit.

Greenway is an imposing house, sitting high on the slopes of the valley running down to the beautiful riverGreenway House Dart, near Dartmouth – one of my favourite Devon towns. If you take the Dart River Boat trip from Totnes to Dartmouth – wonderful in itself – you get superb views of Greenway from the river and can appreciate what a lovely place it was for her to escape to. 

Outside you can explore the large and romantic woodland garden, with a restored vinery, wild edges and rare plantings, which drifts down the hillside towards the sparkling Dart estuary. Lovely!!

I keep saying to Richard, all we need is a nice mansion by the sea where I can sit and muse while sipping a gin sling and I’ll have no trouble writing all my murder mysteries!! Somehow, I don’t think he is taking me seriously…

 

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