Jobs to do in the garden..

Chitting potatoes in egg boxesI’m really in the mood for getting back into the garden and I’m thinking of all the jobs I need to get done while everything is still relatively dormant. 

I don’t have time to grow veg myself, but if you do, or want to start, now is the time to ‘chit’ seed potatoes. Chitting means getting the eyes in the potatoes to sprout and its easiest done in old egg boxes, placed eye or sprouting side up in a cool, light frost-free place for six weeks or so before planting outside. Choose ones the size of a hen’s egg, or cut larger tubers to fit. Potatoes can be planted directly into the ground, but this simple procedure really does increase yield. My partner in crime Julia’s conservatory is currently so crammed with chitting potatoes there’s hardly any room to sit in it!

You don’t need lots of space and you can even grow potatoes in a tub, or barrel and they’re great for introducing children to the simple joy of growing your own food.

While the grass is dormant, take your lawn mower for a service so it will be in fine fettle come spring. It’s also a great time to oil your secateurs and sharpen blades on shears. There’s nothing worse (and a chronic waste of effort) than hacking away at something with a blunt instrument – sounds a bit like a murder plot!

Avoid blunt instruments – keep your secateurs sharp!I do adore roses and now is the time to plant them. Make sure the hole is large enough for the roots to spread, and use a cane to check that the base of the plant is at soil level. Incorporate plenty of well-rotted manure and garden compost, and add some slow-release fertilizer such as blood, fish and bone. Fill in the hole, treading around the plant to firm it in and topping up the soil level as necessary. 

You can find lots of useful information on line about growing roses and all sorts of other really useful gardening advice. Here’s a list of ones I use:





A bit of cheer in the garden

Snowdrops and aconitesMy goodness, a bit of cheer in the garden can be hard to find in winter, especially one as wet as this, and I’m often poking about in search of snowdrops, or the first signs of aconites.

At this time of year, it’s the pots by the back doors that give me most pleasure.

The wonderful thing about containers is that all but the largest are easy to move and can be used to create an ever-changing scene throughout the year, including the winter months. Different containers can take on different roles – some providing a dark or neutral backdrop while others take centre stage for their moment of floral glory.

Starring roles at this time of year will, of course, go to plants whose leaves, stems or flowers are especially attractive in winter. This might mean hauling a potted camellia out of the wings so you can watch its tight spherical buds burst into bloom, or bringing some smaller tubs of crocus and other early spring bulbs you planted in autumn to the front.

I have been known to root around in hidden corners of the garden for clumps of snowdrops and primroses that are blooming unseen and unappreciated, dig them up and give them a temporary home in a pot pretty enough to bring inside.

Such evacuees can also be snuck in at the base of larger potted plants outside, with trailing ivy woven in among them to hide that ‘just-dug-up’ look, and can be returned to the garden – perhaps in a place where they’ll be more visible – when the flowers have died down. I do this regularly and the plants never seem to resent the disturbance. In fact, if you want to move snowdrops and aconites now, when they are ‘in the green, is the best time to do it.

It can be great fun to plant a winter container from scratch. If you choose the plants with care, it can give pleasure well into spring. As a centrepiece, I’d choose a winter-flowering shrub – such as witch hazel or a deciduous daphne whose flowers, on the bare branches, are best set off by a backdrop of dark evergreens.

Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ Skimmia japonica and Viburnum tinus both work well – with the surrounding planting chosen to complement the colours of the buds. Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ has the darkest red, which looks dramatic with purple-leafed heucheras and pretty white cyclamen; while the greenish yellow buds of others such as ‘Fragrant Cloud’ would be lovely with white and yellow crocus or violas. All open to pure white flowers in spring, when brighter bulbs or early bedding can fill any gaps around the edges.

Water in, raising the pot on small feet to ensure good drainage, sit back, and enjoy the show.


Valentine card with an unusual message…!

It’s nearly Valentine’s Day and for inspiration I turned to the Jayne Netley Mayhew decoupage collections. This particular design is part of her Summer collection but doubles brilliantly as a Valentine card.

The design is pretty simple to cut out with very few difficult details and red roses always appeal! The backing paper can be picked from any CD you have handy or ready printed papers. The shaped card is made using a Nestability set – but if you want to take a short cut you could perhaps use a shaped corner punch on the four corners of the card instead.

The embellishments are all from the collection that Pam, who made this card, has collected over the years but there are loads of little charms to be found online.

How about making your other half a card and then inside adding an IOU for a little treat once the weather gets a bit warmer, like a picnic or a day at the zoo!?



A tale of tulips, Monty Don & my Dad!

Tulip Black Parrot.While Joanna is at the Hobby Craft Exhibition at the NEC, she’s let me, Julia Wherrell, her hen pal and partner in crime (writing), loose on her blog – very exciting!

Joanna was very strict and said I’m not allowed to write about making things out of willow (already done that), or my chickens (ditto), so I thought I’d tell you about my bulb planting scheme for pots, partly inspired by my 89-year old Father, and the lovely TV gardener, Monty Don. 

I know Joanna talked about spring bulbs last week, but I’m afraid you’ve got them again as, if we don’t get them planted out now, it is going to be too late.

While I love the idea of tulips I am always disappointed as they seem to collapse easily and get rather messy but, when I was visiting a garden in Cornwall earlier this year, I saw them in a different light. The garden featured same-coloured tulips closely planted in urns and other pots – and they looked stunning. 

The marvellous Monty Don… and my Dad!While Joanna gets all swoony over Pierce Brosnan, I go weak at knees over Monty Don, so I am always glued to Gardeners’ World every week. Recently, Monty was showing us how to plant up containers with tulips. Not only was he planting them much deeper than I had done (probably why mine fell over – poor things!) but he also layered them, so you get a succession of blooms coming up through each other. Jolly clever, I thought.

I was recounting this to my Father on Skype (he may be 89, but he’s no slouch!) and he said “Ah yes, I used to plant tulips deep in tubs like that, but then I’d also plant a layer of daffodils at the top. So the daffodils flowered first, then when they were over, up came the tulips.” Thanks Dad – another brilliant idea!

So, last weekend, I got into the garden and planted up various tubs – some with two layers of tulips, other with tulips and then daffs. Provided you check which bulbs will flower when, so you get a progression over the months, I am sure you could ‘layer’ other bulbs in this way too.

Tulip Burgundy.I love the parrot-type tulips you see now with their pretty frilled edges, and I also like the more pointed petal varieties. As for colours, I adore the darker shades, such as Black Parrot or Tulip Burgundy. I don’t care for the variegated ones and I rarely have yellow or orange in my garden, it is always a very pink and purple palette as I find it more relaxing – a riot of colour can be rather exhausting!

And so, I will trot off now to chat to my chickens and plan another willow sculpture, but don’t tell Joanna…!



Thoughts of spring…

As we enter November my garden is looking a little drab. There’s lots to do to ‘put it to bed’ for the winter but it’s all somewhat uninspiring. So, to cheer myself up I am already thinking about next spring when the first green shoots start to push their way up through the soil.

I always buy far too many spring bulbs and end up running around like a demented squirrel trying to find empty patches of soil to plant them in. I just can’t resist the thought of all those delicate, pretty early bulbs announcing the arrival of another growing year.

As I was planning this blog, I sat and thought about my favourite spring bulbs. Of course the list is huge, but narrowing it down, I came up with the following top five:

  1. Snowdrops (Galanthus) in a drift are just gorgeous. The moment I see their delicate little flower heads pushing up, even through snow, I know that spring is on its way!
  2. Tiny daffodils, or narcissi (Poeticus recurvus) – so delicate and more subtle than the rather lumbering yellow trumpet daffs we get later on.
  3. Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) I am a sucker for bluebells. Loved them as a child and still do. A Devon wood carpeted in bluebells is a sight to behold.
  4. Runuculus – great for cutting and bringing indoors, these pretty bright blooms are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
  5. Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) This little plant is only about 10cm (4in) tall and looks best grown in a group, preferably somewhere that gets the morning sun.

It’s a bit soggy in the garden just at the moment, but the bulbs need planting. The worst thing that can happen is to not get on with it and then find the ground is frozen – disaster! Here are a few tips to help you get a lovely display this spring.

  • Always plant bulbs in ‘informal’ groups, or drifts – don’t plant ones or twos or in regimented lines! Actually throwing a handful of bulbs across the ground and planting them where they land is a simple way of doing it.
  • When buying bulbs, reject any that are soft or showing signs of mould. Small bulbs may not flower in their first year.
  • Bulbs should be planted in holes three to four times as deep as the bulb itself. So, for example, a 1in crocus bulb needs to be planted in a hole 3-4in deep.
  • Fill large plastic pots with your favourite bulbs and, just before they are about to flower, use them to plug holes in the border. Plastic pots can also be slipped inside more elegant terracotta ones and whipped out when the bulbs are over. Clever! 
  • Finally, do read the packaging on your bulbs to ensure you plant them at the right time. Lots of garden centres sell them from July onwards and they want them sold and out the way before the stock up on Christmas baubles, but July is way too early to plant spring bulbs.


Good luck!