Saturday, 24 September 2016

Pruning box hedge

I have been growing a little box hedge across the front of my what was once patio since 2007!!  It was planted to hide the concrete slabs which edged the patio.


This means the garden side of the hedge appears 'uneven as the garden drops two feet diagonally from the left to the right side.  I have always intended that the hedge would be about 18 inches high above the edge of the patio and on a level looking from that side.

Now we have the conservatory it certainly needs to be in line with the bricks on the conservatory wall when looking from either side.


Box is notoriously slow growing and here we are nine years later (well eight actually as this is a photo from last year) and we still aren't quite there but, at last, we are pretty close.

Every year I have cut it to shape with some hand shears and every year have had a blister the size of saucer on my hand to prove it.

This year I succumbed to a great offer (Groupon? £16.99) and bought some small cordless shears.  I admit to being doubtful that either they would be strong enough or that they wouldn't chew up the box.  Wrong in both cases.  They were sharp and efficient and did the job in about a tenth of the time and sans blisters.

I got my other half to cut me three pieces of wood and screw them together to make me a cutting guide.  I just slide this 'bench' along as I cut.....

and used it as a guide, cutting from the other side of the hedge and keeping an eye on the top of the bench to make sure everything was cut to that height.

The traditional day for cutting box hedges is Derby Day - first week in June - but really you can do it more than once a year and pretty much as often as you like in the growing season.  Otherwise like almost all pruning/hedge cutting the general rule is cut for growth in spring (March/April)and cut for shape in late summer (August/September).

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Regular Jobs

I realised talking to someone who is tackling their first garden just how much stuff 'gardeners' think is 'obvious' when they've been doing it for years!  We had a conversation about how often to do this or that so I thought I'd list the basic stuff I do and how often I do it, in hopes of helping any Newbie.

Feeding summer flowering containers and hanging baskets:  Use half strength cheap tomato food - obviously you can use super-duper 'proper' plant food if you want to but the half strength tomato food seems to do the job.  Water it in once a week.  I try to do mine on a Sunday so I think of it as their Sunday dinner.

Slug pellets: Start killing on Valentine's day (14th February) - the St Valentine's Day Massacre!  Then I do it around the 14th of every month - that makes it easy to remember.  To be fair the frequency may well depend on your slug pellet population - some people do it as much as weekly.  The key to success in keeping the numbers down is start early in the year and go on through until October - you can take November through January off!  The other key to success is use the pellets very, very thinly - READ and FOLLOW the instructions - one pellet about every six inches.  No, you don't have to put them down one at a time but just be sure you are not over-using them - the smell from loads of them actually deters slugs from eating them.

Feed borders:  Give them a good feed in the Spring as soon as you see some decent growth on plants.  Choice of food is down to you.  I generally use any 7:7:7 mix that I can buy cheaply.  Those numbers will make sense to you when you read a box like Miracle Grow/Grow More/Phostrogen.  I have also lobbed chicken pellets at the garden when I've seen a good deal on those.  You could leave it at that but I like to give particular plants a boost during the summer to keep them at their best - things like roses and clematis benefit from a summer snack.

Weed and Feed lawns: Pretty much the same as feeding the borders the grass needs a feed around March/April and again in high Summer (July/August).  You may as well apply a weed and feed product rather than just a lawn food and get both jobs done together.  In the Spring I find I need to rake out the dead moss after a week or so.  In the later session I might do that again if its been a wet summer and might also lightly over-seed with a mixture of grass seed and soil if I am feeling really keen on my lawn.

Cut hedges: the general rule for pruning anything (and hedge cutting is pruning) is that you prune for shape in the autumn and for growth in the spring so choose which it is you want the plant to do.  Hedges like my little box hedge can be done just once a year if you aren't looking for a pristine look all year round.  The tradition for box is to cut it on Derby Day (first week in June) BUT I prefer to cut it once a year in August - this will do for most hedges.  If you want to go for the two cut approach then May and September is fine.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

More saved from the bin....

On the lines of a recent post saying I like to buy 'dying' plants in hopes of saving them - the following is even cheaper.

Lots of potted plants you buy are really 'designed' to be a one-off.  Many people, like me, think that things like orchids and amaryllis (often gifts) are just supposed to do their thing and then be binned - far too difficult to do anything else with?

Not so, I have just discovered......

I had a Tesco orchid (phalenopsis) which bloomed beautifully and for a long while and then was reduced to a few sad leaves and a short stump.  I kept it as I had a sad little landing window sill with nothing on it.  It got very little water and virtually no feeding.  This seems to be roughly the right thing to do.   Look what I have now........

I solemnly swear it has thrived on neglect.

In exactly the same vein I had two Ikea (£3?) amaryllis at Christmas that did their glorious thing and I was curious as to what they would do if I just kept them going.  Mine have done this....

They must be well over three feet tall, strong as an ox and glorious blemish free deep green leaves.  The googled advice to get them to flower again this year is to chuck them in a darkish, coolish place at the beginning of September and let the leaves die off, re-pot the bulb in an inch of fresh compost and bring back in when temperature goes below 10 degrees centigrade.

I haven't the heart to dump this one but I will, cruelly, experiment on the other..... watch this space.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Damson Jam

If you are lucky enough to grow your own damsons here is the quickest and easiest way to make damson jam:

 Put half a pound in big jug.  Cook three minutes in microwave, stir in half a pound of caster sugar, stir until its all dissolved, put back in microwave for four minutes and its done.  Keep in plastic box or jar in fridge.

I had lunch at Park farm the other day and they had damsons for £1.49 a pound - rare as hen's teeth to find these days.  I bought two pounds, divided them into four and put three half pounds of damsons in just simple ziplock bags and then in the freezer.  I don't want a ton of jam just for the two of us so half a pound now and then when I fancy it works for me.... and it makes the damson season last longer.

half pound for the freezer

I followed the instructions I've just given you using a large pyrex jub and keeping an eye on it in case it boiled over - it didn't.

damson jam in a box

I didn't cut the fruit off the stone, it all goes in together.  My mom used to say if you complained about the stones that if you'd found too many then you must be eating too much of the jam!  We just fish them out as we go along - but do be careful when eating it they can hide inside a skin.  You can spend a jolly ten minutes fiddling them out at the finished cooking stage if you want to - but not when its at full temperature - jam is exceedingly hot.

nothing beats a jam butty

I have a ton of damson jam uses - there's a particularly nice almond cake with damson jam threaded through it but to be honest not much beats a jam butty with homemade jam and freshly baked bread - this one is all ready for folding and eating.

I haven't added the recipe to the links at the top of the blog as I already have microwave jam instructions up there and the plum recipe will cover damsons perfectly well.

I thought the recipe given here was over-sweet for my taste so I will go back to my original instructions (see Microwave jam in the recipe tabs at the top) as that has less sugar and added lemon juice.  Each to their own.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Tatton Park

As part of a couple of days break for my husband's birthday we visited Tatton Park.  He and two friends were doing a Segway ride so I was able to wander the gardens at my leisure.  It was the most wonderful experience...

We arrived half an hour before the house and gardens were officially open so I, quite literally, had the estate to myself - not even a volunteer in sight let alone a member of the public.  What an incredible feeling to be able to wander through the gardens in the sunshine in high summer and have it all to myself.  Sheer joy.

I started off in the most fabulous wild flower meadow I have ever seen.  I am so sorry that none of my photos convey the glory of this area to you.  You will simply have to imagine standing waist deep in flowers either side of you on a fairly narrowly mowed path through the centre of a vast field.  Flower upon flower each seeming better than the one before.

breathtakingly lovely

It seemed impossible to top this experience but it was maybe possible to to match it.

Adjacent to the wild flower meadow is a lovely orchard with hundreds of wonderfully espaliered trees surrounding trees in grass, dotted with bee hives.  The clean lines and simplicity of all this brought me down to earth a little.

pristine orchard

I wandered from there through Charlotte's garden which offers an even more serene landscape after all that giddiness and is used by me as my route to a garden I have always loved - the Italian Garden

Charlotte's garden

This way to the Italian Garden passes the wonderful Conservatory which was only renewed in 2011 so it is looking very sharp right now.

You then arrive sort of sideways on at the Italian Garden and only when you walk to its centre and front do you grasp its magnitude.  This garden is a large formal parterre centered on the back of the house.

It drops down a couple of levels from the house, each level as interesting as the one above, finally arriving at the fountain 

and the incredible view across the estate.

Triton flanked by the wonderful symmetrical beds - in perfect harmony

Time was nearly up so I wandered back to the house to meet my companions having only just touched on the vast acres of gardens and glasshouses that you can visit at Tatton.  I did do a quick check of its wonderful vegetable garden - a real hive of production - no messing about in here - serious vegetable growing underway on a vast scale.

If you ever can get to Tatton Hall and gardens I recommend you do so.  There is so much to see I would give it at least half a day and if you are lucky enough to have a lovely sunny day and if you are fit enough you can easily spend a whole day there. 

(The house is not open on Mondays)  Here is a link to times and fees as they are a bit complicated unless you are a member of the National Trust and then it is free.  Click here:  Opening Times and Fees

Google them to read up about all the gardens I haven't mentioned like their world famous Japanese Garden.

Click here for more photos:  Tatton Park.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Arley Hall

Arley Hall is a country house in the village of Arley, Cheshire, England, about 4 miles south of Lymm and 5 miles north of Northwich. It is home to the owner, Viscount Ashbrook and his family.

The present Hall stands on the same site as the first house built by the family 1469. The Hall standing was built between 1832 and 1845 by Rowland Egerton-Warburon to the design of George Latham, a Nantwich architect. 

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So, what at first appears to be a grand Tudor House is in fact a Victorian 'homage'.  

We were visiting the hall and garden as part of (my husband's birthday) overnight  stay in a hotel in Lymm.  Being mid  August the English summer was in full flow with a warm day and thoroughly grey skies!

If you like Victorian stately piles this is certainly one to float your boat.  Being a dyed in the wool neo-classical Georgian I can't say it was my cup of tea.

That said, the ceilings in every room were remarkable and the grand hall impressive to say the least.  I can't show you the interior, of course, as usual photography is not allowed inside the house.  It is a family home (the same family for 550 years) and still used occasionally.  I was once told the ban on photos is an insurance issue (?) The fact the house is still something of a home adds some appeal as it looks to be 'lived in' rather than frozen in aspic.

The gardens don't have a feel of a grand designed landscaped but more of a collected hotchpotch of gardens that have been added in over the years by various occupants.  Again, this is all a matter of taste as to whether that makes the landscape a better or worse one .....  sadly, for me it is just not cohesive enough to flow nicely from one space to another.

Arley is especially famous for the long border.  It was one of the earliest of its kind and is said to have set the style for the English long border - simply crammed with every plant imaginable.  This is one small section ......

Turn around and there is more... and more .... and more

A little corner that I loved was the tea cottage.  Imagine having your staff setting up a dainty tea for you here on a summer afternoon.

The vegetable garden is to die for and you are overwhelmed with lettuce envy as you step inside.  It certainly beats my (ex) three six foot long raised beds.  I often wonder where the produce goes in these vast estates.

Yet again though, I still found the area odd as it has a tall hedged area and arbour at its heart - all very formal and something I though you would expect to find in a landscape with a great vista laid out in front of it to be admired from your seat.  The kitchen garden, though lovely, somehow doesn't seem to warrant it. 

The house and garden is still privately owned and it costs £10 for seniors to go in to all the areas.  I suggest you google it if planning a trip as there are various charges according to your age and where you want to go.

Click here for more photos:  Arley Hall

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Take a punt

I like to 'rescue' sick plants!  Strange, but true - not only do I get the satisfaction of having brought something back from the brink of death but they only cost me pennies.  It is always worth the gamble of something making it or not - they rarely fail with a bit of TLC.

This lovely passion flower has three six foot stems and over twenty buds to come out (more to come after that no doubt).  It was a sad little thing in a tiny pot for 49p back in the Spring.  I had bought my friend one for her birthday at the usual sort of price from a reputable nursery which didn't look fantastic for its price and has struggled to do anything as yet.  A short time after giving that away I thought how much I wanted a passion flower for myself and I saw this one.

At the same time as buying the passion flower the shop was selling what appeared to be two dead sticks for a pound - not properly labelled - could have said magnolias?  I genuinely thought these might be consigned to the rubbish bin but I faithfully stuck each of their badly damaged hairy little roots into a pot of their own where they remained all winter as two dead sticks.  Spring arrives and - and Bingo! - I have two very promising magnolias (????).  

I have no idea what variety they are so they could be anything from six feet to thirty feet tall and wide when mature.  Looking now at the stick and the size of the leaf it is reasonable to think they are common old magnolia soulangia, so they are the big ones!!   I am seventy and they take twenty years to maturity so may not be a bother to me when they swamp the garden.  In truth I do have the right spot for one of them.  The other may just reside in a pot for a few years and I will think again then.  Meanwhile whoopee-do, three lives saved; total cost, £1.49.