Camellias, a very British love affair

What makes you fall in love with a plant? Do you long for acid soil to grow these wonderful, elegant shrubs?
How about trying them in a pot! I fell in love with them whilst working in Kent and I’ve just added one to my garden, I think it won’t be the last…

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Camellias are of course not native to England but the plant has become so firmly embodied in British culture it might as well be our National flower. You probably have it every single day, a cup for breakfast at the very least. Camellia is of course the source of your very British cup of Tea!

We as a nation have been obsessed by tea since its arrival in the 17th century, oddly coffee up until then was more popular but coffee shops were seen as hotspots for political sedition! King Charles II became worried that the intellectuals at the time were becoming too ‘woke’ and banned the sale of coffee in 1675.

But back to camellias! Continue reading “Camellias, a very British love affair”

Snowdrop mania!

Given my disastrous failure this year you would think id be put off spending more money on these ephemeral beauties but not so, I have a cunning plan with fungi!Record breaking prices and galanthophiles abound!

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The interest in these tiny flowers seems to be gaining in popularity in the last 15 or so years, some of them reaching phenomenal prices! I myself have succumbed to their lure and can be found lurking around tables at snowdrop fairs looking wistfully at the ones far out of my budget, scanning for my must haves at a price I can justify to myself. It is not a hobby without heartbreak though, for myself it has been a disastrous spring. My small collection despite all my efforts took a severe beating, maybe due to the prolonged heatwave in the summer, maybe I had the dreaded fungal/viral infection which eats snowdrops alive? Whatever the cause I awaited patiently for them to emerge and when 3 varieties had I finally lost patience waiting on the others and tipped the pots out to investigate only to find either no evidence of them or sad soggy brown husks where once had flourished what I humorously termed my “pension fund”…. not so funny now eh! Continue reading “Snowdrop mania!”

2018 review

Another year has passed in Ulting Wick and what a year! Gardening has never been so challenging with our extremes in weather. That aside, there’s been good things, scary things and exciting unexpected events!
Writing this has given me a chance to go through it all in my head, how has your year been?

 

 

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Just to warn you, this is a picture heavy blog post, I wasn’t sure what I would take from it on a personal level, I thought I was just doing a step by step monthly review, I’ve been surprised. Surprised at what I’d forgotten, surprised at how many emotions which I haven’t talked about either here or on social media I’ve been through. Going through pictures for me is often cathartic, I take pictures every day, its almost my way of diarising my life. I hope you enjoy my year in review and tell me your highlights from yours! Continue reading “2018 review”

Christmas gifts for gardeners

Running out of time?Stuck for ideas? Here’s a few that won’t leave your gardening loved one grimacing! From tools to courses give them something they’ll love this year and appreciate for years to come…

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This post is was inspired by some of the worst gifts, given with love and misguided ideas on what a gardener values obviously, I have received over the years. Saying this feels really ungrateful as the people who bought them for me really did care and had taken time out to get me what they believed were things id find useful etc but the reality was I never did find that radio shaped like a watering can useful and would actually have valued a watering can far more.

So in the spirit of helping non gardening folks to present their loved ones with gifts that will bring huge smiles to their faces upon opening them, that they will treasure for years to come I give you my top selections for gifts for gardeners!

Continue reading “Christmas gifts for gardeners”

Warning plants want to kill you! Part 1 – the edible killers

Warning plants want to kill you! Part 1 – the edible killers
We often hear dire warnings of plants toxicity on the internet but how bad are they really?
Heres some fun facts on poisonous plants you can eat and survive!

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Ive been threatening to write this for a long while now, if youre easily disturbed, prone to nightmares, find it difficult to watch Day of the Triffids, Little shop of horrors or have an unfounded of fear of a plant leaping out of the border to wound, maim and kill you in a vicious, unprovoked attack then this will be your only warning!

There will be graphic scenes of killer plants malevolently growing!

Some of these vicious, psychopathic killers may be just outside your door. Worse! you may have even welcomed some of these murderous felons into your house! Stop, look very carefully at that plant on the windowsill, you’ve lovingly watered, repotted and fed it for years…. all the while its been sitting there, waiting for you to drop your guard so it can thrust its leaves down your unwilling throat and poison you!

The cads! Continue reading “Warning plants want to kill you! Part 1 – the edible killers”

Beloved and annoying! Salvia madrensis

A look at a plant that’s teaching me new things about Salvia’s. Propagating itself and teasing us with its flowers

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Aka: Forsythia sage

Native to the Sierra Madre, Mexico. Grows at 4,000-5,000 elevation in warm, wet areas. First documented by botanist Berthold Carl Seemann (1825 -1871) who worked extensively in South America.

In a tip of my virtual hat to Alison levey’s blog ‘The Blackberry Garden’ where she regularly features a plant that has been causing problems Id like to tell you about mine. Continue reading “Beloved and annoying! Salvia madrensis”

Apple pruning courses 2019

Apple pruning courses 2019
Wanting to tackle that tree but don’t know where to start?
Learn a new skill or brush up on old ones?
Treat a loved one to a surprise Xmas gift with a difference!
Heres the details for an exciting day course, get in touch and book a place!

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As some of you will know for the last few years myself and Nick Black have been running Apple pruning courses, these have been growing in popularity and we try to find a new venue every year to challenge people and also to give people the best experience possible.

I think this year we may have surpassed ourselves and its with much delight I can reveal the venue for our upcoming courses is….. (please imagine a drumroll at this point!)…. Continue reading “Apple pruning courses 2019”

A year in the life of a Sweet pea grower – Johnsons Sweet Peas

A year in the life of a Sweet pea grower – Johnsons Sweet Peas
Ever wondered where your seeds come from? I did!
I was lucky enough to see how Phil Johnson a UK grower from Kent produces his so you can have beautiful Sweet Peas.

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Have you ever wondered exactly how seed companies get all the seeds they sell you? How they keep varieties true to type? How they breed new varieties?

I have and last January I decided to go and find out with the help of a British seed firm specialising in Sweet Peas. Continue reading “A year in the life of a Sweet pea grower – Johnsons Sweet Peas”

Potty about #Glee18

A quick look at what’s new at #glee18 the horticultural & gardening trade show
Pots and tools that caught my eye. @woodlodge_uk & @BurgonandBall stood out from the crowd

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It was that time of year again when a myriad of the Horticultural trades trek up, or down depending on your perspective, to Birmingham. GLEE is the trade show behind the horticultural industry attracting all the big names, suppliers of tools, products, sundries, you name it they are there. It’s a chance for the likes of myself to see what’s new, meet people who are incredibly knowledgeable in their chosen areas, listen to seminars and catch up with friends.

This year I only went for the one day, I would’ve loved to have stayed longer but real life is just way too busy at the moment. This did of course mean I had to stay focussed … and I almost managed it!

I found myself very drawn to look at stands featuring glossy pots, perhaps im nesting? I kept imagining how wonderful my life would be if I could finally achieve that minimalist look ive always dreamed of and failed to achieve as im a horrendous hoarder of clutter. I have real issues with throwing anything away. Seriously its painful! It drives me insane that I can’t let a set of candlesticks go just because they belonged to my gran. They match nothing, add nothing to my life but they thought of giving them to the charity shop fills me with horror. I may well have found a cure though!

If I can declutter I feel I can reward myself with a few nice, well chosen beautiful things now I have a lovely house to go with them!

The first to catch my eye and please forgive me that this is a ‘trend’ at the moment was a stand featuring all manner of houseplants. Houseplants have seen an almost ,meteoric rise in popularity. Driven partly by a need to have green things in a life which feels increasingly removed from nature. Writers such as Jane Perrone have helped bring this to the forefront of people’s minds and her ‘Off the ledge’ Podcast

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I fell totally in love with these glossy jars, a modern take on the 70’s terrariums I saw as a kid. I’m pretty sure we had one, at least until I was 3, I can’t remember it after moving though. Im sure it never held a bromeliad, in fact I think the only thing in it was probably a spider plant.

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Javado are trade suppliers only, these are the guys that sell in bulk to your local garden centres and probably a million other outlets so although you can’t buy direct from them looking at their stand gives you a good idea how strong the houseplant and sundries market has become over the last few years. catering to the super chic tastes right through to a beautiful bit of kitsch madness!

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Going potty for pots? Another trade supplier which had some fabulous examples is Scheurich

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They were good enough to take me on a tour of their stand and show me their new range of retro plant pots. Their colourful industrial style make them the perfect home for tiny cacti and succulents.

The full range look delightful together!

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What I did find really interesting about GLEE this year was how many manufacturers where showing off their environmentally friendly, recycling credentials! Speaking to a rep from Strata, the manufacturers of Sanky and Ward brands, she was quick to explain that literally everything they produce is recyclable and the factory produces no waste products themselves as it all goes back to the start of the manufacturing process!

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Woodlodge also are at the forefront of recycling with their new range of Eco-Terra plastic pots. Made with the look of permanence and a modern style these pots can be easily recycled. The woodlodge stand is a pot lovers dream though! If you’re looking to pimp your patio their range comes in all shapes and styles including a very funky display in primary colours!

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But personally I fell in love with the William Morris range

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But what of tools?

Burgon & Ball are always leaders in quality products, and this year was no different! As a maker of shears they have always been ahead of the game being in the business since 1730!! They really have dominated the market in high quality gardening tools for at least 50 years and now their range of gardening sundries is beyond compare. Well designed, stylish, dependable and endorsed by the RHS, what more could you want!

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If you’re looking for gifts for the gardener in your life, look no further!

Gardeners are an inventive lot and will use whats to hand, this can often be frustrating when forks, knives, screwdrivers and other tools go missing and end up in the potting shed being used as dibbers or for pricking out seedlings. So get yourself a happy gardener by giving them tools custom made for these jobs!

we’d never buy these for ourselves as we’re saving our pennies for seeds and plants, obviously! But Burgon & Ball have created a range perfect for stocking fillers, birthday prezzies or just an everyday gift to stop your cutlery from migrating to the potting bench…

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and so my flying visit to GLEE was over for another year, cant wait till 2019! Hope you’ve found this useful!

 

 

 

STIHL FSA 130 brushcutter and AR 1000 backpack battery – Review

STIHL FSA 130 brushcutter and AR 1000 backpack battery – Review
Considering going battery? the cordless range from STIHL is worth looking at
Tools of quality from a trusted name

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Disclaimer!

The guys at STIHL have very kindly given me this kit to trial and review. I have received no payment from them.

There, now we’ve got that out of the way I can tell you all about it!

A while back, at GLEE, the lovely people at STIHL told me their battery powered kit was equal to any petrol driven kit on the market, including their own!

That’s quite a claim to make! So I went up to RHS Hyde Hall to see their Chainsaws in action, after all if you’re looking to challenge battery vs petrol a chainsaw would be one of the toughest challenges, right?

So on a chilly November day I turned up to see some of the STIHL products on demo… and see Matthew’s giant pumpkins obvs!dsc_0391

After watching an expert Chainsaw artist at work carving an owl, which really was a truly stunning display of skill – don’t try this at home folks! I got to see the battery powered option in action, ridiculously quiet in comparison.

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Dave
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A battery chainsaw making short work of this log

The guys on the STIHL display stand were really happy to chat to me and take me through the pros and cons of battery vs petrol and reassured me that their battery options have come on in leaps and bounds since id last tried one out including various battery sizes to suit different needs.

I was asked if id like to try out one of their chainsaws but as im not licensed to use one I politely declined and instead went for something which doesn’t get as much visibility as it deserves, a brushcutter!

Most of us know about strimmers and they’re a handy bit of kit for gentle tasks around the garden but if you want something with a bit more ‘WOOF!’ what you need is a brush cutter.

How do they differ?

A strimmer has a nylon cord which feeds through the head and effectively whips things to death by revolving incredibly fast. The downside of this is when you come up against things that have a bit more structure to them, say for example a reedbed, a meadow or even small tree saplings. The strimmer cord wears away very quickly and you find yourself replacing it on a regular basis.

A brushcutter has a metal blade, this allows you to tackle pretty much all the same jobs as with a strimmer head, with small exceptions which ill come back to, and then go on to tackle some of the bigger jobs which a strimmer just isn’t built for.

I figured that if I was really going to test battery vs petrol it needed to be on the kind of work that would really challenge it. Something you normally associate brute strength given by petrol engines on. So they suggested I try out the FSA 130 with the backpack battery AR 1000

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So I started it off on ‘Twist’, this is our annual wildflower meadow bit around the sculpture of that name. After flowering we would normally strim this down so the seeds get a chance to be dispersed but a strimmer isn’t great at scarifying which gives the seeds a chance to get themselves in a position to germinate, a brushcutter can do that. obviously you’re not looking to strip the ground, just cut into the top vegetation sufficiently to allow the seeds to get down to the soil.

At this point I had no clue how long the battery would last or how quickly I could get through the job. The backpack battery has a handy little readout on the back which when you press a button it will light up a series of indicator lights to give you an idea of how much charge it has. This obviously isn’t an indicator of time as there are many variables which come into play regarding how long your charge will last. You can also buy different battery sizes to fit your own needs which will fit the entire range of STIHL cordless products. So if we decided to get the cordless hedge trimmers in the future this battery pack comes with an adaptor to fit them and the backpack has the advantage of holding a larger charge and distributing the weight for the user better than a petrol model.

The backpack model I was using weighs just 5.5KG in total which genuinely is barely noticeable in use. I’m not a big person, I weigh 53KG wet through and stand at just 5ft3 so you really don’t have to be Jeff Capes to use this kit. On that note if I have one criticism of the backpack it would only be that its made for someone taller than me. As you can see from the pic getting it to sit right is a bit of a challenge for someone with a short body and a more curvy frame, shall we say, than your average bloke

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It sits higher on my back than I suspect it is designed to do and it has an unfortunate placing on the chest webbing which I can deal with but I suspect if I was more buxom would become a serious problem. This is often a problem when it comes to power tools, and tractors for that matter, as traditionally it has been great big strapping blokes using them and its taking manufactures a while to catch up and take into account that some of us are more slightly built. I am lucky as I find ways round this but it might be something in the future which might be worth considering given that about 50% of the workforce in horticulture is female. Perhaps an option of harnesses could be given?

That said, this is a small criticism, and not one I would reject it over.

It took around half an hour to cut down this area and the brush cutter makes far less of a mess than a strimmer to clean up.

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When I checked to see how much battery life I had left I was pleasantly surprised to find I’d barely dented the charge so I thought id give it a bit more of a challenge!

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Around the edge of our pond we have lots of annoying reeds which have gradually moved further and further out into the grass, obscuring the edge and potential hazards, like tree stumps, when mowing. You can strim these but you go through cord like no tomorrow and it just doesn’t do as good a job. In order to weaken the reeds and re-establish the mowing line cutting them down is the most effective method. Yes I could spray them off but its less than 3M from a watercourse. I couldn’t use a broadleaf weedkiller as it wouldn’t affect reeds so my options on which chemicals I could use are severely limited and we just don’t have the time to physically dig them out.

The brush cutter made short work of these annoying invaders, allowing us to take the ‘edge’ of the grass right back to the more ornamental grass which lurks nicely on the waterline.

We ended up clearing about 6 trailer loads of debris away!

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We can now decide how much of these guys to allow to creep back in for wildlife and aesthetics and keep them looking tidy.

Even at the end of this I still hadn’t managed to completely drain the battery despite running on full power for most of the time.

The FSA 130 has interchangeable heads available for different jobs, as I’ve said we chose the brushcutter attachment, a general all purpose blade, but you can fit a strimmer head. A choice of metal blades for different purposes and a circular saw blade!

This obviously makes it a very versatile piece of kit but it should also be treated with respect. There is always a danger of kickback and flying objects. When you’re using it it’s always advisable to walk the area first to ensure any hazards are noted and small animals such as hedgehogs or snakes have been ushered into a safer place. Also ‘don’t do as I do’ advice. Spot my deliberate mistake in the pics? As the weather was so hot I stupidly decided to wear shorts, something I wouldn’t normally do at work for H&S reasons… I got an excellent reminder why this shouldn’t be done! Not only did I get hit by bits of debris (which isn’t so bad till you hit a slug or something gross) but just as seriously I got bitten by a tic which I didn’t know anything about till a week or so later. On this occasion I think I’ve been lucky but it’s really not worth taking any chances over!

Overall I can say I’m honestly pleasantly surprised by its performance and I’m now looking for more areas we can used the FSA 130 in! I’ve gone brushcutter happy!

If you have any questions on it and want a brutally honest answer I’ll be happy to answer them from an end users point of view, if you’re looking for a more technical reply I’d advise talking to the lovely people at STIHL

Overall how happy with it?

It’s quiet, lightweight, powerful, holds charge for ages!

I’m bloody delighted with it and I’d recommend to anyone!