Garden School:


Garden School:
Teaching this week: Rose pruning (as always!) and leaf mold.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness...

Huh, season of cobwebs, slugs, and wet toes, more like!

Here are some of the cobwebs I found the other morning, on my "nursery" plants in the front yard:

Look at that! Layers of them!


What a lovely corner web - I have some of those in my hallway, ha ha!


Here's another lot, on a half-full tray of Fragaria -  layers and layers of them, all highlighted in the
morning mists.











Honestly, it made me feel such a lazy housekeeper... but a day or two later, they were all gone. Presumably destroyed by heavy rain, wind, and the general action of me tidying up the trays, moving plants around and so on.

As for the slugs, is it me, or are there more of them around than in previous years? I've been finding some monstrous orange ones lately, which I assume are too big for my garden's resident frog to get his chops around. He takes good care of all the little slugs, but this year I'm finding quite a few of the orange giants have made their way into my front yard.

And as for the wet toes: *sigh*, yes, it's that time of year again when I start complaining about the water from wet grass working through the toes of my leather work boots, and soaking my socks.

I've tried Dubbin, nikwax, beeswax, vaseline (I was desperate, ok?!) that stuff you get from Gore-Tex, and saddle-soap, and nothing keeps out the water. I just have to have a lot of pairs of boots on the go, so that I can change into dry socks and boots each lunchtime, stuffing newspaper into the wet pairs to help them dry out before the next day.

My latest hope is shoe polish - a kind person has just put a comment on my Dubbin post from October of last year, pointing out that dubbin is a leather conditioner and is not supposed to be a waterproofer, and suggesting that after dubbin or saddle-soap to clean and condition the boots, I should use a wax-based shoe polish on top, for waterproofing.

So I'll give that a go, and will report back in due course. In the meantime, if you have any further suggestions, do please add a comment!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Even trees have Bad Hair Days...

Saw this in the Pinetum at Chatsworth:


Made me feel better about my "I don't comb my hair, this is how I got out of bed this morning" style.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Dipley Mill - lovely place

I wrote about this earlier this year, having driven past it on the way to visit  West Green House again, and having then found it on the internet and established that it's only open a couple of times a year.

Finally last month, I managed to get to one of the open days, and I can recommend it highly.

This was the view that tempted me:


Seen from the road - with thank to Google street view, as it's not a bridge on which you can stop and admire the mill stream - and here it is from the inside, as it were:


Lovely, isn't it? I wandered a little closer to the road bridge, admiring the symmetry of the reflections in the still water:


 Every garden with water should have a boat, even if it's not a real one, and yes! they had a boat.

The label on the side told us that it is came from Thailand, and is very fragile, which is why they screen it off from the garden.

Presumably they no longer use it on the water there - or maybe they never did, as they only have the one stretch of still water, then it's all weirs and so on: as the name suggests, it's a former Mill, rather than a house with a decorative lake on which you can paddle around in a genteel manner.
Other things which caught my eye include this rather lovely part-grown arch into the wild part of the garden.

I'm not entirely sure what the foliage is: I thought it was willow-leaved pear - usually seen as a pendant tree - as any normal willow would be far too vigorous for a small arch like this.

But I didn't really look too closely at it!

I know, I know - "call yourself a Botanist!"

*hangs head in shame*

If the garden were in Oxfordshire, this might be a candidate for Prettiest Garden Seat In The West.

(Award currently held by a seat in one of "my" gardens.)

I particularly like the Bamboo Grove all around it.
Here's a more traditional willow arch, strongly made and growing well.

Stupidly, I took the photo from the right angle to show off the formation of the arch, instead of the right angle to show the "long" view across the water meadows to the elegant statuary at the far end.

Oops!

I'm a gardener, ok, not a garden photographer!

Regardless of  my photographic shortcomings, Dipley Mill is a lovely garden to visit,  so put a note in your diary for early next year, look it up in the NGS Yellow Book, or check the website for opening times. Well worth it.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

"What shrubs can hold brambles back?"

What an interesting question!

The simple answer, unfortunately, is that not one single shrub/tree/fence/barrier can  hold brambles back.

They are pernicious, invasive, destructive, and their only redeeming feature is the fact that they bear delicious fruit.

Any shrubs that you plant as a barrier to brambles will simply be infiltrated by new growth, which will then root where the tips touch the ground (another charming habit of this plant) and continue to grow, entwined in and around the shrub(s).

Eventually, the shrubs will be swamped by the brambles, and may even die from the competition.

Solid fences and even walls won't stop them: I've seem brambles appearing over a wall at least three feet above head height, and I've seen them appearing at the base of what appeared to be solid garden walls, having tunnelled underneath from next door.

So what solutions can I suggest?

As you'll already know if you've read much of this blog, I frequently talk about clearing brambles, and the importance of cutting them off just an inch or so below soil level, but that's where they are already present.

Things are quite different if you have already cleared the garden, but are troubled by next-door's brambles coming back in to your area. If next door has occupants, it's always worth going round and  knocking on their door, asking them to deal with the problem on their side before it gets to you.  Do this now, before you get too worked up and angry about it - just ask them, in a friendly manner, if they would be kind enough to deal with the brambles. In about 80% of cases, they have no idea that they are causing a problem, and will willingly deal with it. In about 10% of cases, they are aware but have been too lazy to do it, and your call might just prompt them into doing some work. As for the remainder, well, there is always the chance of getting "Tough" and a door closed in your face, but it doesn't happen often. And at least you will now know where to throw the snails... [That was a JOKE, ok, a JOKE!]

In many ways, it's actually quite easy to keep invaders out, you just have to arm yourself with a spray-bottle of a glyphosate-based weed-killer, to spritz any new growth - bramble, ivy, ground elder, anything you see - as soon as it dares to poke a nose over your boundary.

And whatever you do, don't cut or snap off any long growths - just post the loose end back over the fence, then push as much of it as you can back onto their side. If you cut the stems - and this applies to brambles, ivy and many other climbers - they will respond by creating two or more new shoots, all blessed with enormous vigour, so you are only making things worse for yourself. By pushing them back, you are adding weight to their side, and in time they might just fall away from the dividing fence, which would be a bonus.

If you only have something like chickenwire between Them and you, things are much more difficult, although continued vigilance with the glyphosate can work. And at least you can spray a little more than your own boundary - and no, I'm not suggesting you lean over the fence and weedkill as much of their garden as you can reach, I'm suggesting that you can spray through the bottom inch or two of the wire, to try to catch anything rooting very close to the fence.

If you possibly can,  I would suggest erecting a solid fence of some kind, leaving enough of a path for you to access this fence all the way along, then planting screening shrubs inside it. You can then walk along the boundary once a month or so, with your spray-bottle, spritzing any new growth.

And if you can always keen this area clear of invaders, it will make it a lot easier to deal with the ones which will invariable self-seed within your garden.

There, hope that helps!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Horse Chestnut Leaves for Leaf Mould

Aha, it's that time of year again - the questions about leaf mould are starting to appear!

Leaf Mould is a subject dear to my heart, nearly as much so as proper compost,  and I'm always writing (and talking) about it, so here is a brief overview:

Compost = garden waste, aerobic  process (needs air) done by bacteria (and worms), takes 6 months to a year.

Leaf mould = leaves only, anaerobic process (does not require air, ie no turning) done by fungus, takes two years.

The result is also different:

Compost = nutritious, full of goodness.
Leaf Mould = not a lot of nutrition, mostly to be used as a soil conditioner or mulch.

"Not much nutrition?" I hear you say, "So why make it?"

Well, if you have a lot of leaves and put them on your compost heap, you will ruin the compost. Leaves take a lot longer to decay than green waste, and it's a different process, so if you pile them into your compost bins they will still be there in a year's time, and will have interrupted the worms in their digestion of the green waste.

(I say "green waste" , by the way, when I mean the mixture of green and brown stuff that goes in the compost - soft herbaceous material, annual weeds, and a smaller amount of small woody twigs and so on.)

But leaves arrive in copious quantities, and they are free, so if you have the room to make some pens for them, and the patience to wait two years for the result, then why not?

How To Do It:

1) Make some pens - they don't have to be particularly sturdy, unlike compost bins, you can use just chickenwire and a post in each corner.

2) Fill with leaves, preferably wet ones.

3) Leave for two years.

Yes, it really is that simple.

If you really want more detail:

1) Make the pens about a yard square or more if you can. Make several - they will need to sit there for two years, and the leaves will come down every year, so you need at least two sets of them. Just as with compost, three sets is best: you can manage with fewer pens if you are prepared to put in some work, but if you want the best result for the least effort, make three sets. If you don't have enough leaves to justify making permanent pens, you can make quite decent leaf mould with black plastic rubbish sacks: stuff them to the top with wet leaves, tie the tops, and leave them in a stack somewhere out of the way.

2) Which leaves, why wet, can you shred them, and can you mix them? Wet because the process is fungal, so they need to be dark and damp in order for the fungi to flourish. Shredding is not necessary, so why waste effort/fuel? In my experience, the shredded pieces do not rot noticeably faster than the full sized leaves. Yes, you can mix all sorts of fallen leaves, as long as you avoid the following:

Horse Chestnut - they take a long time to rot, and the rachis (central ribs) never do.
Evergreens - holly, laurel, conifers.
Road sweepings - they will be contaminated with dirt/pollution/spilt fuel etc.

3) Leave them undisturbed. Really! That's all you have to do. Fungi like it dark, and wet, and they don't like disturbance. The leaves shrink massively once they start to rot, but don't be tempted to put the new season's leaves on top of the old season's ones, otherwise you can't get to the good stuff to use it - start a new pen for the new autumn.  There is always a temptation to combine two old pens, when they have shrunk down to just a couple of inches, but it really is better to just leave them.

"Why three sets?"  Ah, to avoid work, that's why. You can manage with two sets - I say "sets" because one pen is never enough - if you don't mind having to turn out the "first" set into bags so that you can re-use them for that year's leaves. But if you want to do the minimum of work, then have three sets.

The resultant "stuff" is lovely, dark, crumbly, non-smelly and wonderful for improving the texture of your soil. It loosens up clay, helps all soils to retain water, gives body to poor, sandy or dusty soils, and it can also be used for potting up and for seeds, if you mix it 50/50 with whatever you normally use.

As mentioned, it does not contain much in the way of nutrients, but is very beneficial in these other ways: and has the massive advantage of not containing weed seeds! This makes it additionally useful as a mulch - you can spread it around on the surface of the beds, where it will suppress annual weeds and help the soil below to retain moisture.

Most of my clients now have leaf mould pens, and whenever I am planting out, or digging over a bed, I add a barrow-load of mixed home-made compost and leaf mould. Lovely!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Wanted: left-handed gardener...

... who uses Gold Leaf "Winter Touch" gloves, and who wears out only their right-hand gloves the same way that I wear out only the left-hand gloves.

Exhibit A, m'lud:

My current Gold Leaf glove pile, five pairs of gloves: five ruined left-hands, four perfect right-hands.

Now, in case you're thinking "what about that one damaged right-hand glove, then, eh?" I'm still confused about it:  I seriously think this came from a faulty batch, as the rights never normally show any damage at all. I shall be sending it back to Gold Leaf, to see what they say, as these gloves are not cheap, around £25 a pair, but they are brilliant winter gloves: toasty warm, with the Thermalite lining, and they really, truly are waterproof.

Some days I take them off after work, and they have to come home in my yellow bucket, as they are dripping water and are too wet to be put back in my tool bag, and yet my hands are dry, warm and comfy. These are the only waterproof gloves I have found - other than Sealskinz, of course, which are so waterproof that you can plunge a gloved hand into a bucket of water and not feel a thing. Which is pretty amazing for a glove that is more or less knitted! However, because they are knitted, they are really not up to the job of gardening.  So in winter, I live in my Gold Leaf gloves.

But as you can see, I am accumulating a pile of wasted "rights".

A couple of years ago, I wrote to Gold Leaf about this, and they very kindly sold me a "pair" of left-hand gloves, ie two lefts, which I then matched up with two of my spare rights, giving me two pairs for the price of one, in effect.

How's that for obliging? I think I'm going to have to write to them again - unless I can find a left-handed gardener who has a similar pile of undamaged lefts. We could then negotiate a swap of half our piles, so that we both end up with some usable pairs again.

So if you are left-handed, and recognise my plight, do get in touch!

Oh, and this is not just a Gold Leaf problem (not wishing to alienate a supplier who, I hope, might once again hand over some left-hand gloves!!),  far from it: I always wear out the lefts first. Here is my current pile of spare rights:


Working clockwise, that's three pairs of Briers very nice leather Gentlemen's Gloves which come up very small, hence me buying the Gents' ones, and not the Ladies' ones: oh, also the Ladies' ones were bright pink (yuk) and cost £9.99 whereas these cost £4.99. Blatant sexism, huh.  I wrote to Briers, returning two of the ruined lefts in the hope of getting replacements,  and they replied that they were no longer making these gloves, which I thought was a shame, as they are very good lightweight summer gloves. However, they kindly sent me two pairs of the next ones in the range, "Professional", to try.

They are retailing for £15.98 which I think is a bit steep for summer-weight leather gloves: they are slightly thicker than the Gentlemen's ones, which is good (although I have already gone through the left of the first pair)  they have some rather  unnecessary features about which I will be writing back to Briers, and they are totally and utterly not waterproof. The slightest hint of wet foliage and they, like most thin leather gloves, are slimy at the fingers, and your hands are getting wet and cold on the inside. The inside of the glove, that is, not the inside of your hand, ha ha.

Oddly enough, reading the website to which I linked, they are described as "synthetic leather" which sounds like a contradiction in terms, quite apart from the fact that if they are not leather, why aren't they waterproof?

Anyway, so far Briers seem to be a good supplier, I'll let you know what they say when I return the Professional lefts, with my comments.

Next are the five current Gold Leaf "Winter Touch" ones, my favourites. Their only drawback in autumn/spring is that the Thermalite makes them very, very warm: and I find that when my hands get too hot, I can't easily pull them on and off. So I'm still looking for a waterproof but cool glove, something with more thorn protection than those thin rubbery "Master Gardener" ones, which are not bad, but aren't warm enough for autumn, when the cotton backs soak up the water and they get to feeling too cold for comfort.

The red ones, bottom row, are very nearly very good for summer/autumn working, as they are fairly resistant to wet foliage, and I can often get through a four-hour morning in one or two pairs of them. Sadly, I can't remember where they came from - I could have sworn it was one of the sheds, but I can't find any more of them, and they have no maker's name on them. Otherwise I would be out there buying more of them, for those days when it's a bit wet, but far too warm to wear the Winter Touch gloves.

Next is the little yellow Town and Country leather glove, which has been a good summer glove: leather, but more resistant than most to the problem of leather gloves failing in the wet. The leather is quite a bit thicker than many of the others I have tried, which might be the reason.

Then we have the yellow-and-red Town and Country ones, which I am still buying, despite the same problem in wet weather.  I have two pairs ready for use, plus a pile of these spare rights, and I'm considering turning some of the spares inside out to become lefts.

Finally, an annoyingly brilliant glove, pink and white, looks like leather, but was surprisingly water resistant, able to hold off water ingress for quite some time,  and didn't dry out into concrete-hard glove sculptures after a soaking. They were made by B&Q, I bought about six pairs of them two years ago, and when I got to the last pair (these ones) I couldn't find them for sale again. Close inspection showed a label saying "made of pvc" which probably explains their water-resistant qualities...  I have just bought some new pink gloves from B&Q, which look rather similar, but are labelled "supple leather palm". Not pvc. So they may not turn out to be any good.

I'll let you know.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Bulbs in Pots: layering

OK, I've never thought that what I knew about planting up pots for spring colour etc was worth writing about, but recently I spent some time coaching a lady with very little gardening knowledge, and it made me realise that, actually, I do know an awful lot about the subject, and secondly that even what seems to be a really simple subject can contain elements that some people might find difficult.

So here, ladies and gentlemen, is my guide to planting up pots.

I have a client who is very fond of his pots, mostly in his front garden, but a few on the rear patio as well: at least twice a year I am given the task of clearing out the pots, refreshing the compost, and replanting with new items.

Today, he presented me with a large box full of assorted bulbs, and the comment "It's a real pity to change the pots over now, as the summer bedding is still looking so good... but I want to get the bulbs in now."

I suggested a compromise - I would lift out the summer planting, plant the bulbs, then replace the bedding on top.

I can't see any reason why it wouldn't work.. although it's not something I've ever seen described anywhere, before.

 Here is one of the four matching front-garden pots - they are quite big, nearly knee-high. Two of them contain white geraniums, still flowering: the others have Gazania which have flowered their socks off all summer, and which are still producing new buds, although you can't see them in this photo.

Oh, and they all contain some droopy lobelia.

First step: remove the plants.
 This is very easy as they are more or less still in the "plugs" from where I planted them.

Here - left - is the pot after I have dug out the plants, using my trowel to "cut" around each one, roughly a 4" square, a little larger than their original plugs, to allow for growth.
There are the de-plugged plants: or should that be the un-planted plugs?

Un-plugged plants?

*in Blue Peter voice*
"Put these aside carefully, children, we will be needing them again later."

I then scooped out the top several inches of tired old compost, and scattered it under the surrounding plants - it will have some small benefit as soil conditioner, even though there is not much in the way of nutrients left in it.


 I then scooped out the bulk of the rest of the compost, transferring it to my yellow bucket, and adding a couple of handfuls of new compost, stirring the two together..

Once I had gone down about a foot (yes, they are quite big pots) I loosened the compacted compost, made it flat and level, then sprinkled on a fistful of Bulb Starter, a special mix of vermiculite and fertiliser that came in a pack with the bulbs. Never seen it before, but hey, it can't do any harm? The instructions on the pack seemed to suggest that you should stand the bulbs directly on this mix, the idea being that the vermiculite would help to prevent the bulbs from rotting.

Personally, I'm not convinced that it's a good idea: I think that having the bulbs sitting on fertiliser would "burn" them, in the same way that too much fish-blood'n'bone can burn the roots of new plantings in the herbaceous border.


So, I scattered a thin layer of the old compost over the Bulb Starter, then added five large tulips - Queen of Night, my ultimate (so far) favourite, with five large daffodils (unhelpfully marked only as King Edward which, to my generation, is a potato) between them.

Here's the view looking into the pot from above.

As you can see, I don't bother too much about making a precise alignment of the bulbs, as they shift about when you add the soil, and the stems grow in all sorts of directions anyway.

I do make some effort to get them all standing upright, even though I have seen bulbs planted upside down, yet still producing beautiful flowers, which says something about the determination of nature.

 I then added several handfuls of the old compost, until the tips of the tallest bulbs were just about covered.

Next goes a selection of smaller bulbs: allium in bunches of threes, interspersed with crocus, and a handful of odd tiny bulbs which I found when lifting out the old compost.

Yes, I know, they should all have been cleared out when I did the summer planting, but they must have slipped past me... so they deserve a second chance, don't you think?

Right, I tip in the rest of the old compost, firm it down well by hand, then top up with fresh new compost, lovely and dark, yum.

All that's left is to replant the plugs into the top layer - it doesn't even disturb the bulbs - then water the pots.

When, in another few weeks, the bedding stops flowering, they can be quickly and easily pulled out by the client, without disturbing any bulbs.

I think this is a particularly clever idea, as bulbs do, by definition, come with their own food store, so they really don't need a whole potful of expensive new compost. But the fresh compost in the top couple of inches will hopefully give the bedding a boost, enabling it to carry on flowering for a while longer.

Of course, none of this economical re-using of compost applies if your pots are full of ants, woodlice, earwigs, roots, slugs, snails, eggs of the foregoing (like tiny round pearls, appear in little concentrations) or any horrible larval episodes. Sorry, can't quite bring myself to say Vine Weevil. Damn! I said it! Let's hope they didn't hear me...  anyway, if you find anything other than clean, if slightly tired-looking compost in your pots, then don't take chances, put it in the garden waste bin where it will be composted at high temperature, such that all nasty things should be killed off.

Oh, hang on, what do I mean by "tired-looking" compost? Well, that is one of those things it is much easier to show someone than to describe, but it's a combination of being light in colour, which indicates lack of ability to hold moisture any more, and a "dusty" texture when held in the hands. If you pick up a fistful and it all slithers out between your fingers, then it is "tired" and you will need to replace it with nice fresh material.

Normally, by the way, I would not plant Tulips out so early - traditionally, they don't go in the ground until later October or November, this is because they are prone to infections which are harboured in the soil, so by holding back the planting until later, when it is reliably cold, there is less chance of losing the bulbs.  But as these ones are going into mostly clean new compost, so I don't think there will be a problem.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

The Great Bindweed Experiment.

Well, we've all heard this one - bindweed (along with couch grass, and ground elder) is nearly impossible to dig out of beds and borders because even the tiniest little piece will regrow.

So the question is: Does it really grow back from a tiny piece?

Exhibit A, m'lud: six pieces of really fresh, plump, bindweed root - in this case, Calystegia sepium or hedge bindweed, which is the one I deal with most commonly.

On the 5th July 2013, I cut two pieces each of 3", 1½" and ¾" - that's about 7.5cms, 4cms and 2cms  for the modernists out there - and placed them in modules half-filled with fresh new compost:

I then filled the modules, firmed down, watered well and set them aside to see what happened. They were sitting outdoors, in my cold east-facing front yard, along with all the other plants that I propagate and grow on, so they had the same watering regime as a large number of successful new plants. (I wouldn't want you to think that I had ignored them in any way.)

On the 25th July, just over a fortnight later, this was the progress:

One of the 3" pieces was sprouting, along with both of the 2" pieces, but no sign of the little ones yet.

On the 9th August I decided the experiment was concluded, as the ones which were growing well were threatening to escape from the module tray (below) and although I am all in favour of experimentation, I'm not keen to encourage this particular plant!


On investigation, the non-growing large piece was still there,but had rotted:


And down the other end of the tray, when I scraped away the compost, the two short pieces were still there, complete, un-rotted, but not showing any signs of sprouting.


Interesting, isn't it? You could draw the conclusion that ¾" (2 cm) is just too small to be a sustainable root. But why did only one of the 3" pieces grow?

The whole point of the scientific method is that it is repeatable, so please go on and have a go yourselves, and do let me know the length of the smallest piece you have found to be successful at regrowth.


You might be interested to know that this is my second attempt - I tried this in November 2012 with both bindweed and with ground elder, one piece each of the three lengths.

Here it was - bindweed on the left, ground elder on the right, all clearly labelled with the date, the size and the species, as I know just  how easy it is to forget which one goes where... ask me how I know this....

... and to my surprise, all six failed to grow, and by spring of this year they had all rotted away to nothing.

I don't think that these two simple experiments are enough to draw any great conclusions, but it possibly does throw some doubt on the view that even tiny scraps of these two garden menaces are capable of regenerating themselves and reinfesting the ground.

Although that does not mean that I shall be any less thorough in digging out the wretched stuff!

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Ginger: yes, you can grow it indoors!

Quite some time ago I wrote about the possibility of growing a Ginger plant, starting with a leftover piece of ordinary bought-from-the-supermarket-for-cooking ginger, or Zingiber officinale.

If you've read that article, you'll know that one of my clients proudly showed me a pot with a small pointed green sprout, asking me what I thought it was. And I had no idea.

Well, I have never quite forgotten this incident, so a few weeks ago I decided to have a go myself, as I had a bit of ginger root left over from cooking.

Zingiber officinale
And here it is!

I now understand why my client was so gleeful at having successfully germinated the root, and why they were so certain that I would not be able to identify it.

It's a strange-looking thing, starting with a very stout, sharply pointed green tip, then very quickly flinging itself skywards, making slender but very firm stems, with long narrow leaves.

As you can see, it's already a foot and a half tall, despite being in a tiny pot, and despite my irregular watering regime (ie "oh! Little plant! I forgot about you - would you like some water?").

Will it make a usable crop?

I doubt it - it's a small pot, and I am not sure if my living room is going to be warm enough for it to thrive over the winter.

But if it gets through the winter, then I plan to pot it on, into a rather larger pot, to see if I can get a good clump of foliage, as it is rather bamboo-like in appearance, and grows 3-5' tall, which should be quite impressive.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Abbotsbury sub-tropical gardenings: get ready to go!

Ever been there? Right down on the south Dorset coast,  not far from Weymouth. It's a long way to go from, well, almost everywhere, but if you like something a little bit more out of the ordinary from your garden visits, then find the time to get down there over the next couple of weeks.

From Thursday 17th Oct to Sunday 3rd November they are again repeating the fabulous "Enchanted Floodlit Garden" event, where they fix up the garden with theatre-style lighting, and open until 8.30 at night.

I went last year, and it was quite lovely, and very, very different. The lights start at dusk, obviously, but you can spend the afternoon there looking at the garden in daylight, then have something to eat in the restaurant, and after dusk you can go round again, and see it in a wholly different light - literally!

As the name suggests, their planting is very much slanted towards the nearly-tropical, and to enhance the effect they have some very colourful free range attractions, such as these two little fellows:


 Please don't ask me what type of bird they are, I don't have a clue. But you can see the general jungly foliage effect of the place.

I'd driven down in the afternoon, so I had a good couple of hours to wander round in daylight - it was a grey, miserable day, but as usual, I don't let that stop me from enjoying a garden! Besides, I'd come prepared with waterproof hat and coat, walking boots, gloves, and of course a torch for after dark.

The restaurant was a cosy place to while away the hour of twilight: normally they do just lunches and snacks, but for the evening openings they have some good hot food: not a big meal, but enough to perk you up for the evening session.

At last it was dark enough, the lights came on, and oh boy, the word "lights" does not do them justice.

Nor do my photos, unfortunately: having just a cheap cameraphone, I didn't expect much, and in the dark I couldn't even see if they were coming out clearly or not, so I only took a couple of snaps, then gave up and just wandered around, saying "coo!" at every turn.

Here's an extremely ordinary Choisya, made extraordinary by red uplighting:

Abbotsbury Floodlit Garden
And here's a wonderful crown-lifted shrub:

Abbotsbury Floodlit Garden
I'm extremely keen on crown-lifting, of clearing the lower twigs and some branches in order to make a more dramatic shrub -

Abbotsbury Floodlit Garden
...with the added advantage of enlarging the planting area of the garden.  It's clear that someone at Abbotsbury agrees with me!

Although these photos are all happen to be red, there were blue lights, yellow, white - it was fantastic.

One of the most striking ones, I thought, was a common old oak tree: not a venerable specimen, just a lovely straight upright trunk, with the bark uplit in blue, and the bark was just amazing. I had no idea that oak had such interesting patterns and textures to it!

Once I'd had my fill, I drove off to the local Travelodge for the night, then made my way home next day.

It was well worth the effort, and I would certainly recommend it!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Strata of bonfire heaps

If you leave them for long enough, even bonfire heaps develop interesting characteristics... here is one that I have been filling and burning for several years:


..well, technically, I guess that I am the one that has been filling it, and the client is the one who has been burning it... anyway, it's a bonfire heap of long standing, always in the same place.

Here is it having just been burned off, and you can see that it's developing a conical shape. Almost as though it has delusions of becoming a volcano...

My usual practise, when arriving at work to find that the bonfire heap has been burned, is to a) congratulate the client (I like to encourage them to burn off, then I don't feel so guilty about creating huge piles of material to be burnt...) and then b) to rake out the ashes into a level platform.

If you don't do this, the new pile becomes a conical heap as well, and gets wider and wider as the stuff falls off the top of the heap.  By raking it into a level platform, you can get a lot more on the heap before it needs to be burned off again.

The other useful thing about bonfire heaps is that the ash is sterile - no weed seeds, no germs - which means it has a variety of uses around a large garden. In one of mine, I use the ash to fill in a set of steps made up of thick wooden planks held in place by angle iron, which tend to sink and become trip hazards. The ash has a nice texture for step in-fill, is less muddily "sticky", and is less prone to compaction than using mere earth. And, of course, it doesn't sprout a toupee of weeds on every step.

In this case, I wanted to use the ash to spread around a path made of huge stones set in earth - again, the earth around them had sunk a little, and they were becoming trip hazards, especially for ageing clients and visiting grand-children. So I was particularly pleased to find the bonfire pile was all gone, and set to work digging out the ash and redistributing it.

Much to my amusement, there were clearly defined strata in the ash - rather like those glass ornaments filled with different coloured sands... I dug down about two feet, somewhat surprised at just how deep the ash was -  you can see the scale by my glove, helpfully lying on the new flat bottom of the heap.


Interesting, huh? It was all ash - none of it was soil - but in very different colours.

I then spent the rest of the morning barrowing loads of the stuff out to my working area, which was hard work, but well worth it.

Here's another  bonfire heap which needs to be being raked flat: here it is after a typical "burning" - it's just a mess of half-burned stumps, metal bits, and ash, and it forms a slope which means that as soon as I try to stack more material on it, it slides forward and blocks the path.

This is annoying for me, and for the client as well, as it means I start pestering them to burn it again, quite quickly.


However, if I get to it first, I can rake it all flat, like so:


...which gives me a good big base for stacking the new material, which  you can see is already arriving, even while the ashes are still smelling of smoke.

As an aside, in case you're interested,  I do have views about bonfire technique: when I'm volunteering down at the canal, I never let them burn off the stacked material, I always start a bonfire with a small neat pile of dry material, then pitchfork the stack across onto it once it gets going.

This allows all wildlife in the heap a chance to escape.

Whereas if you just shove a firelighter into a heap that has been building up for months, the residents all get toasted.

I always try to encourage my clients to work to this principle, by creating a burning site in one place, and a stacking site close by. However, I can't insist, and some of them just set fire to the single heap, and that's that: but at least I can encourage them to get a long pole or a fork and agitate the heap from one side (ie not walking all round it) before lighting it, to give anything with legs enough time to scoot away to safety.

So there you have it - if your garden generates a lot of non-compostable waste, and you have room to burn it, designate an area for the actual burning,  and stack everything to be burnt just to one side: pick a spot without overhanging trees, and pick a day that's not too windy. Traditionally people like to burn on still days, as then the smoke doesn't scare or annoy the neighbours, but sometimes a bit of a breeze can help the fire to burn well. Too much wind, however, and you get smoke in your face all day long, singed eyebrows, and if you are really unlucky, a visit from the fire brigade, who will be understandably annoyed if your neighbours have called them out for no reason!