Happy New Year indeed and here’s hoping its easier than last year eh! I’ve taken a moment to review my thoughts on 2020, my feelings, successes and my less successful moments. Most important to me though are my thoughts for the futures of gardens and how we as gardeners can really make a difference to everyone’s lives…
Best intentions as I sit here on this quiet January morning, its been a hell of a year and I, like everyone else for the most part have often felt like I’m drowning not waving. However there have been many excellent moments throughout 2020, it would be unfair to say it was a complete waste of a year.
The wonders of friendly Fungi! Its taken a year to trial this product and I cant tell you how glad I am that its been such an amazing success having lost so many bulbs in previous years. Find out exactly what I did with the Bulb Starter packs from Empathy…
In order to be completely transparent about this blog post id like to say up front Empathy did bung me a couple of packets of their mycorrhiza Rootgrow and Bulb Starter for gratis. They haven’t chucked any money at me (not that id object if they did) and they have neither sought nor have I given them any say over what is written here. Right! now we’ve got all that awkwardness out of the way, I’ll begin!
Some of you may remember the absolute trauma I had with some of my Snowdrop bulbs in the spring of 2019. Possibly due to the ridiculous heatwave of 2018 or to be honest any number of reasons I lost around 50% of my special snowdrops including 7 bulbs of Wendy’s gold that I had been treasuring since 2016. One thing I did know wasn’t the problem was Narcissus Bulb Fly.
I was given the opportunity to see the park first hand and a copy of their new book about the gardens… and its brilliant!
A visit to the park is wonderful but how do the gardens staff create this perfect environment for the flora and fauna that live there?
Find out a bit more for yourself!
I have had the pleasure of visiting and having a tour of the gardens with Tim Miles twice now, yes I am that greedy, but with so much to see its worthwhile to make repeat visits to this wonderful venue.
The most recent visit was to cover the book launch ‘A Celebration of the Gardens’ written in collaboration by Harriet Rycroft and Tim Miles. Now most of you will have heard of Harriet who’s expertise in arranging seasonal floral displays is legendary to say the least. This book is utterly enchanting.
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.
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!
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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!
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!
Following on from my last blog post, this time im talking about the flower seeds. You’ll have to forgive the lack of pics in this instance of real examples as I’ve only seen a few of them, never mind grown them! Thompson & Morgan have been lovely enough to let me trial a few of their range. Im hoping to be able to fit these in alongside Philippas choices in various places throughout the garden, if we cant find the right space for them though they will most likely find a place in my new garden (if the rabbits dont eat them!) or even on the plant sales which of course all the proceeds from go towards NGS charities.
I’ll start with a plant that’s seen an amazing resurgence in popularity. In recent years several plants which I remember as a young’un have made an comeback from being viewed as something your grannie grew to hip happening showstoppers and rightly so as far as im concerned! I guess it started with Dahlias but it seems to now encompass Pelargoniums, Begonias and of course the wonderful Zinnia. They have all been given a makeover and sent back out on the plant catwalk to strut their stuff
Zinnias in particular seem to have been given a somewhat punky new look and looking through the T&M range I think ive been given the chance to try out one of the funkiest!
Zinnia Whirlygig mixed
Growing to around 45-60cm tall, that’s 18 to 24 inches in old money, these semi double cactus flowered style blooms promise a great colour range. They can be used either as a bedding plant, intermingling happily with your Dahlias & Salvias or grown as a cut flower, if youre feeling particulary generous with the seeds you could end up with both! As the packet contains around a 100 seeds this could easily be the case.
Sow between March, if you have heat & protection, to May. They are half hardy so wont appreciate getting cold. A second later sowing in June/July will guarantee flowers until the first frosts.
Now as far as I knew there was only one yellow flowered Cosmos on the market and that was xanthos which makes me quite excited to give Lemonade a try. Interestingly I do have a packet of Xanthos handy so thought I would compare and contrast the blurb on the back.
Flowering heights and times are comparable, max 60 cm (2ft), July to Oct. Lemonades blurb says it has a white eye but the pic on the front is distinctly yellow. Now it might be that Lemonade holds its flowers on a longer stem? Maybe its more floriferous? Honestly, im not sure. Only one way to find out, grow them side by side and see if I can spot a difference! Which is no real hardship as either way it looks a lovely plant.
Cupcakes mix & Cupcakes White
When cupcakes came on the market a few years back it caused an absolute storm. Very much a marmite plant, I came down on the loving it side of the fence, I get the feeling Philippa not so much & she does have a point in her reasons for not liking it. It doesn’t look real and shes right it doesn’t.
A genetic mutation has caused this varieties petals to fuse, instead of having 5 or more separate petals it has one entire frilled cup, sometimes double, having a smaller cup held inside the outer one. A lot of work went into making this variety stable and it received the peoples choice in the trials ground at RHS Wisley.
The mix variety comes in shades of deep pink through to white & the white… well… comes in white. It can get up to 1.2M (4ft) in height if its happy & if deadheaded regularly its flowering period is greatly extended. A half hardy annual it has similar sowing requirements to the Zinnia. Also like the Zinnia a second later sowing will extend its season right up to first frosts.
Its also worth mentioning another cosmos worth growing if you like an oddity, seashells.
The last 2 on the list are both perennials, the first we already grow at Ulting wick but certainly no harm in increasing the amount we have, the second is giving me a slight headache in trying to work out where exactly it might fit in… but ill come back to that!
An odd but gorgeous plant, the RHS A-Z gives an entirely uninspiring description of it so you would be forgiven for overlooking it. Even if you were to see it in its unflowering state you would probably look at its spiny rosette of leaves and think thistle, and move on. Take a moment though, for its well worth your time and attention.
The description on T&Ms packet is a ‘thistle that thinks it’s a sunflower’, which personally I think is pushing it a bit but it does have a modicum of truth in it. In full flower it stands around 2ft tall. An incredibly useful plant for difficult dry conditions. Once established it can withstand long periods of practical drought conditions. Ive seen it grown at the QE park where everything else was wilting this plant was thriving! The flowers themselves are a delicate lavender colour, asteracea in form, up to 2 inches across and it really deserves garden space as its no prima donna. It has very few, if any, pests and diseases, the only thing it really objects to is having wet feet. In a moist position it can be prone to flopping a bit, in worst case senarios it may rot off, so keep this in mind when finding the right spot for it. Ooh! One last thing! You can, if this is your thing, cut off the entire flowering spike and hang upside down to dry. It will keep its colour and shape for many months in dried flower arrangements.
Sowing can start early in the year under glass, or you could sow in autumn if you haven’t got room. If sown in autumn you might get flowers the following year but remember this is a perennial so they like to bulk up a bit prior to flowering. Annuals are under pressure to get everything done before the frost hits but perennials don’t have that rush. Give them some time.
Which brings me to my final and most perplexing conundrum!
Aquilegia skinneri ‘Tequila Sunrise’
I have a love/hate relationship with Aquilegias, they are beautiful, delicate and enchanting… but they are also prolific breeders. In my first garden I had a few lovely double ones that I left when I redesigned it, the next year I had a few more, mostly double but in slightly different shades. In 5 years time I was on a seek and destroy mission with them. They had cross bred and become invasive, popping up in cracks in the pavement, walls, in between other plants, under shrubs, basically everywhere! I learnt very quickly to take the flowering spike off the instant they had finished and woe betide it if I missed one. Theres a saying in gardening ‘1 years seed, 7 years weed’ and it really rings true with Aquilegas.
Forget that though.
They are wonderful & I will always forgive them for their promiscuous ways.
So, Tequila sunrise, what makes this different? Special? Other than its colouring..
A bright red hood over a canary yellow petals, that’s pretty special, right!
But Aquilegas only flower in the spring right?
Not this one apparently! This one claims to flower from May till sept! Giving a profusion of flowers upto 3ft tall throughout the summer, im absolutely desperate to find a place where I can put this to the test. It has a preference for moist soils and there are a few places that could qualify at Ulting Wick. All I need to do now is persuade Philippa that it would work as it could be quite difficult to place colourwise.
Of course these are just SOME of the flowers on our extensive list & I cant wait for you to come and see what new things we have at Ulting Wick when we open for the NGS this coming year so please do write the dates in your diary and visit if you can!
Some of you may remember me posting about my visit to GLEE in September last year, some of the people I chatted to were the lovely staff on the Thompson & Morgan stand. I explained to one of the guys about where I worked and what sort of things we grew and asked if he could suggest anything we might find useful… The reaction was amazing! This chap, and I REALLY wish I could remember his name, knew his seeds!
He flew into action pointing out packets, extolling their virtues, talking about them intimately like old friends, it was incredible to behold!
Long story, short, by the end of our chat I came away clutching some lovely packets of seed to try out in the garden, not just flowers but some really exciting veg too.
Now with all of absolutely itching to start sowing I’ll give you an insight into some of the varieties we will be trying out, starting with the veg
Kohl Rabi Kolibri F1
This is such a lovely veg I’ll never understand why it isn’t more commonly grown. Eaten young, golf ball up to cricket ball sized it can be plucked, peeled and eaten on the spot! In fact I highly recommend doing so. I loved using this veg to introduce kids to growing as it looks insane, a bit like a flying saucer. The taste is wonderful, incredible, juicy with a taste not dissimilar to the sweet heart of the cabbage. In over 3 or 400 younguns I gave it to not one said they didn’t like it and more often than not they came back for seconds! If you can resist peeling and eating it the second you pick it, it can be added to salads either grated or cubed. If for some strange reason you don’t get around to eating it this way it can still be used, it makes an excellent base for soups.
Dead easy to grow, start in March and successional sowing can carry on till late sept, it likes regular watering otherwise it can be prone to splitting. Although this in itself isn’t really a problem other than aesthetically…. If you’re like me and have a habit of eating everything the young leaves are quite tasty too.
Next on the plate and these look awesome are…
Radish Bluemoon & Redmoon F1 Hybrid mix
Now we all like Radishes, right? What’s different about these ones though is the colour and oh wow! What a colour! As the name suggests the crisp juicy flesh, which we normally think of as white is shades of violet blue and ruby red respectively. I’m hoping they taste as good as they look because they look amazing!
Sow direct from mid May to the end of Aug, every 2 – 3 weeks, thinly & give them plenty of water to prevent bolting.
Carrot Sweet Imperator mix F1
If I ask you what colour a carrot is you’ll say orange and give me a funny look, right?
Now some of you may already know this and forgive me if you do but no, not all carrots are orange. In fact orange carrots are a relatively recent introduction speaking globally. The wild Daucus carotta is white and although is edible isn’t as nice as the carrots we have bred for eating. They are descended from the wild afghan carrot which is purple!
This colourful mix of specially bred carrots retains some of the more interesting colours they are available in, the mix includes Honeysnax F1, Creampak F1, Snowman F1, Yellowbunch F1 & Purple eliteF1
Sow thinly from April onwards, to reduce the need for further thinning, as the smell will attract Carrot root fly & if you can protect with a barrier such as Enviromesh. If the barrier is over 30cm high it will prevent the little blighters from destroying your crop as they can’t fly high. Carrots are one of the very first thing I remember growing with my granddad and the sweet smell will always bring back fond memories of gardening with him. These memories are treasures that can’t be bought and your children & grandchildren will hold them close as they grow up too.
Squash Coquina Inca gold F1
Everyone in the UK would love to be able to grow Butternut squashes successfully, why not it’s a lovely tasting squash…but! There’s a small problem with growing them in the UK, they don’t like our growing conditions. It can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening for people in their first forays into veg growing to have nursed a plant, loved it, hugged it, grown it carefully all season to get no real results from it.
In a good summer you may get one, maybe 2 fruits to grow successfully & if you do give yourself huge congratulations! Whilst growing for the restaurant at Sissinghurst in our best year from around 60 plants we managed a maximum of 60 fruits… in our worst, perhaps 20. We had a massive field of them and all of our other squashes were producing magnificently. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s the wrong plant, wrong place.
That said, this Squash which is a cross from the conventional Butternut and a South American variety Coquina purports to be able to withstand our British summers a bit more successfully! The packet tells me that even in a poor summer it could produce up to 4 fruits per plant which would be a far better use of valuable space in the veg garden than the conventional Butternut.
As with all squashes the urge is to start them early, resist! Unless you have heat and are prepared to repot regularly and the space to keep them inside till ALL risk of frost, or even cold, have passed you won’t be doing yourself or them any favours. They are fast growers so by waiting till the end of May to start them off they will soon catch up & even overtake ones started early. They are incredibly hungry plants too so by giving them sufficient space to really romp away you’ll get the best results. I use a 10 year crop rotation which relates to veg families and cucurbits come in at year no.8, this may seem extreme but it does mean that many diseases such as onion white rot can be avoided (I’ll talk a bit more about this at the end)
My final T&M trial variety is not a new one exactly but still a very useful addition to the winter vegetable garden…
Carrot Nantes 2 – Frubund
This carrot is something of a traditional one in some ways, something of a forgotten tradition for most but still worth giving a go!
I’ve grown it before at Ryton and it really does give you a wonderful early crop of carrots without having to worry about Carrot root fly!
Sow it as late as Oct & it will overwinter to give you fresh carrots from early April, brilliant!
In my plans for next years veg garden I have included some other lovely veg I’m familiar with that not only look good but taste amazing and importantly I’ve included some plants that will help attract beneficial insects, some that will be sacrificial plants & others as herbs. These are normally referred to as companion plants.
One of the best companion plants I tried new last year is Calendula ‘Snow princess’ she is gorgeous! The traditional Calendula comes in shades of vibrant orange through to a pale yellow but this one is almost a pure white with a dark eye. A great pollinator it brings in all the wonderful bugs you want lurking in your garden especially the hoverflies. It also appeared to hold up well against the dreaded powdery mildew which Calendula is a martyr to. I intend on doing 2 sowings, one early around late April and another in late June. This should mean I get flowers all summer long and when the first sowing succumbs the second should take over.
Other companion plants you could consider are
Tagetes minuta – great attractant, its smell deters whitefly from your Brassicas and Solanacea. It’s also reputed to deter eelworms in the soil.
Nasturtium – I call this a sacrificial plant because blackfly will attack it over and above your more valuable crops. A level of pests in an organic garden will always have to be tolerated otherwise your predators such as ladybird larvae & hoverfly larvae will have nothing to eat. This can serve as a nursery for your predators and if you want to you can move the babies around to attack on your other plants!
I mentioned earlier I go for a 10 year crop rotation, this may seem extreme but it’s actually not so bad. Some of the worst diseases can stay active in the soil for several years and by splitting your veg up into families it makes managing these much easier & allows you to plan far into advance.
Miscellaneous – Lambs lettuce, basil, put to green manure
Personally I find this so much easier than a 3 or 5 year rotation which throws the families out of the window but of course the choice is yours. One book which I found immensely useful & still do is Carol Klein’s book ‘Grow your own’ if I was allowed just one book on growing veg this would be it!
I’d love to share with you every variety I’ll be growing this year in the veg garden and the sowing times etc. but honestly it’s a massive list! I’m sure I’ll be sharing more of the successes, and of course failures as we all have them, on twitter and the blog throughout the year and I look forward to hearing about yours!
Some months ago I was given the opportunity to review a wonderful book. Although I had wanted to do it as soon as I received it circumstances forced me to put it on the back burner. A new job in Ulting Wick, lack of internet signal, blah blah blah & then there were so many other wonderful bloggers writing about it!
With a feeling that the market was somewhat saturated at that point I decided to wait till now as a reminder to all of you struggling to find that must have gift for the gardening love of your life for xmas!
Also, it gave me a bit more time to savour the sumptuous photographs of the late Marcus Harpur, sadly Marcus died shortly before the book was released and was honoured at this years Garden Media Guild Awards. He was posthumously awarded the prize for “Garden book photographer” an honour which he richly deserved.
Marcus visited the gardens featured in the book many times which allowed him to capture them at their very best. Sadly for me I never got to meet him but seeing his pictures, particularly of Ulting Wick I found an inspiring experience. He captured the essence of the gardens featured in the book so skilfully and not just the gardens themselves but the owners, having met a few of them, their personality shines through.
What makes this book more than just a “Coffee table” book though are Barbara Seagalls skilful descriptions of the ideas, the driving force behind the creators of these wonderful spaces. Barbara visited and talked with the owners of each of the 22 gardens featured. She weaves the stories of each garden & draws you in till you feel an overwhelming urge to step into the book.
For each garden Barbara starts by setting the scene, giving a short history of the gardens and their owners. Between her words and Marcus’s photographs a skilful tapestry is woven. One thing I particularly liked was the fact that Barbara talks with the owners about the various challenges they’ve had to overcome whilst creating their dream. Too often we see just the finished product, we don’t see the disasters, the hard work, the sometimes crushing disappointments that come with creating something which is essentially ephemeral, temperamental & capricious in its nature. Gardens are a living breathing work of art, they do not stay static and in that require the viewer to be fluid in their own right. I’m often reminded of the old joke line “ you should’ve been here last week!” as the fleeting nature of perfection in a garden makes us gardeners pull our hair out.
Introducing the book is the formidable Beth Chatto, the lady that made gardening in the challenging conditions of East Anglia famous, in introducing the gardens which are so inspiring she in turn mentions the gardens & their creators that she has been inspired by. East Anglia is of course a large area, the soil conditions varying from chalk to clay & everything in between. From the Fenlands to the Thames estuary every garden has its own character
All except one of the gardens, Winterton Lighthouse, are open to the public at various times of year and at the very back of the book is an awesome map which shows their approximate locations and a list of addresses, contacts and opening times so you can easily plan your visits to these wonderful creations.
I had planned to buy this book for my dad for xmas…. But I’d forgotten Dad reads my Twitter feed! Seeing me recommending it so highly when I first received my review copy he only went and bought one himself and excitedly text me to say how much he loved it & could we go and visit some when he came down next! To which of course I replied yes… then he asked very sheepishly if I knew the author Barbara and if I did could I get her to sign his copy, I said I’d ask nicely. If you knew my Dad you’d realise exactly how much this meant that he loved the book, which is one of the highest commendations you can get… in my eyes!
Dad will be coming down for xmas and I plan on taking him to some of the gardens (but don’t tell him obviously). Ulting Wick will be an easy one but given the time of year others may be a bit tricky!
I can understand why Dad loves this book so much, he & mum often visited East Anglia’s Gardens and Barbara’s descriptions combined with Marcus’s pictures have brought back memories of happy times for him and for me also as we would often go as a family.
Heres hoping you all have a fabulous Xmas however you celebrate it, although I can’t think of a better way than snuggled up in front of a fire planning your trips to the various “Secret Gardens of East Anglia”
For those of you on Twitter I’m sure you will have seen a lot of this #glee17 hashtag but for those of you not perhaps I ought to explain. GLEE is and has been for over 20 years the “must go to” show for the horticultural trade. It’s where the suppliers to the retail industry launch new products and as a buyer it’s where you get to make the interesting contacts, see the tools & of course meet friends, eat cake & listen to seminars from the likes of Nick Bailey (heart flutters) & James Wong etc.
I had wanted to go last year but it clashed with the Landscape Show, which was awkward, so sadly I didn’t get the chance but this year I had myself fully booked from as early as March! Then myself & others were invited as VIP guests of Hornby Whitefoot PR, it seems the blogging community is really being welcomed with open arms now which is wonderful for all concerned.
I haven’t been to GLEE since I was a student. My tutor at Pershore pushed all of us to go & see & make contacts. I was young and wasnt as ballsey as I am now so spoke to very few exhibitors and frankly was a bit overwhelmed as the show was and still is HUGE! This year I had a game plan of people I really wanted to see, things that could be of benefit in particular to Ulting Wick & our work there … but best laid plans etc… it’s always easy to get distracted by shiny things and cake!
Anyway, here are some of the lovelies I saw and in some cases will be trialling over the next year to see how they stand up to constant use (& maybe a bit of abuse) from a full time gardener. After all if I can’t break them you might not be able to either…. maybe?
These guys have been going since time began & have become a byword for quality in the hort trade. I honestly can’t think of a place I’ve worked that hasn’t had a Haws, or several! Wonderfully balanced for ease of lifting and watering, they have a range of brass roses (The bit the water comes out of) for seedlings to a direct jet for hard to reach pots.
Weird fact! I lived opposite the factory for just over a year when I was studying to become a Jeweller. It’s a small little world.
I’ve also had one of their beautiful mini watering cans which was a pressie for around 15 years, it’s still in absolutely perfect nick.
They have a funky range of powder coated rustproof watering cans now to run alongside their classic plastic range. I totally fell in love with their copper watering can on their stand this year. I honestly don’t think I’d ever use it, its way too nice, just keep it highly polished and look lovingly at it.
The lovely chaps also answered a question that’s been bugging me forever about their products. Have you ever noticed that you sometimes come across the odd watering can with a broken handle, predominantly in red, apparently this was a fault in the manufacturing which has since been sorted and the nice people at Haws will happily send you out a replacement handle! Easy to fit too!
Spear & Jackson are a well known name in gardening, constantly updating their range & looking for new solutions for us gardeners
In the next few months I’ll be trialling a couple of their products out, firstly their range of professional quality secateurs…. well, actually it will be my dad, only don’t tell him as he doesn’t know it yet. He has some lovely apple trees which he has grown from maidens that he regularly updates me on but frankly his secateurs are a mess.
I will be giving their most recent introduction a run for its money!
The dinosaur headed zombie killer range!
This is the Allotment Hoe… but wait it’s so much more than just a Hoe. The arrow head shape is designed with creating furrows for sowing your seeds in and the serrated flat head for pulling the dirt back over. How cool is that! why take 3 tools to the allotment when you could just have the allotment hoe!…. I’m so excited to give this one a go and will be reporting back soon!
If you only buy one tool this year make it a Burgon & Ball tool!
It genuinely doesn’t matter which one but if you have heavy clay soil or borders where plants are crowded on top of each other I would recommend this weird looking implement! A genius idea, it’s basically a cut down border fork. Two main prongs which are designed to slip between plants for lifting or aerating the soil but it has a full support for your foot!
Another tool which I look forward to trying out are these wonderful, shaped, stainless steel spades. We have a lot of planting to be done at Ulting Wick so I can see it being very useful and I’d like to see how it holds up against my old favourite spade.
The last genius idea I saw on their stand was a range of flourescent tools! Amazing! I can’t count the times people have told me they’ve lost secateurs, hand forks etc, only to have them turn up in the compost 6 months later!
Fito “Drip by Drip” feeders
Now we all know how incredibly precious I am about my Orchids, right? …. Well I am!
I currently use feeds that have been recommended by other Orchid growers but the lovely people at the Blument stand assured me I would be delighted with the results of their Drip by Drip feeders. The idea being the plant receives a constant, gentle supply of the nutrients it needs (which honestly in the case of Orchids is very little).
I’m still waiting on the technical data, eg NPK ratio’s, but I am going to give these lovelies a go and I’ve chosen one of my most awkward buggers to trial it on. A rescue Orchid which despite being repotted and given various locations in the house has stubbornly refused to thrive…. or die! It just sits there looking at me sadly…
Fingers crossed this may be what it needs to jolt it into action!
Johnsons seeds were established in 1820 & are now part of the Fothergills range which also includes DT Brown.
Their World Botanics range though steps a bit outside the norm for what you would expect from a larger company which is nice.
It gives your average gardener a chance to try something a bit more exotic or unusual, I hesitate to say rare as obviously the seeds offered are easily produced in their millions but they can definitely be a bit different from your normal urban gardens fodder.
We have about 10 different varieties which we will be trialling here at Ulting Wick next year & I’ll be giving you the full run down on these nearer christmas!
The people on the Thompson and Morgan stand were incredibly helpful and were happy to talk about some of their garden favourites as well as some of their newer exciting introductions, like these Radishes! How cool are they! I cant wait to try them out in a salad next summer. They also had an amazing Breadseed poppy, something unusual for your Kitchen garden & the Tagetes that actually does repel whitefly, Tagetes minuta. I’ll go through the others in more detail in a later post.
A lot of you will have seen a lot of us bloggers raving about Goldleaf on social media recently, there’s a reason for that, they’re AMAZING!!
It’s not just that the products are exceptionally high quality, it’s not just the thought and care that goes into every single detail, the thing that makes Goldleaf so different is that it’s a real old fashioned family business!
Started by Peters father as a hobby after he retired in the early 70’s it supplied gloves to the engineering trade from his fathers garage. When Peter & Kelly took over just before the birth of their first child Peter realised there was a gap in the market for a well made high quality glove in the gardening market. Their gloves are made from deerskin leather and are incredibly soft and supple, giving you the dexterity normal gloves just don’t. Their history of making gloves tough enough to withstand the rigours of engineering has also allowed them to produce gloves which are tough enough to allow you to grip a rose stem, hard, and not feel a single scratch. I tried it, I actually broke the thorns on the rose and they didn’t come close to even puncturing the leather! Awesome!
Goldleaf have just launched their new range, the RHS Collection, for which the won the GLEE exhibitors Award. Kelly regaled me with stories of sitting crosslegged on the sitting room floor prior to launching it going over samples with a fine tooth comb. As a family they REALLY care about what they’re doing.
The RHS Collection has a choice of 3 lovely designs to choose from which makes them a perfect gift. Named after 3 famous RHS shows & on the back is also an explanation for the language of flowers!
Rose, symbolises friendship
Iris, symbolises wisdom
Poppy, symbolises remembrance… a lovely way of telling someone they’re in your thoughts!
For those of you who read this far I wonder if you can spot the deliberate mistake I made on the title of this blog…. 😉
We all have our favourite tools, some have been passed down to us from beloved family members or bought as presents giving them an extra sentimental value. Some are those that we spend years hankering after before finally justifying the cost to ourselves (then wondering how we ever lived without them). Some, like mine, we’re an almost accidental purchase.
You see I wanted a particular Wolf Garten tool, I remember it clearly. My family and I were at the Gardeners World show & I’d set my heart on a small hoe/fork combination tool but it came as a pack of 3 tools, the other 2 didn’t really set my world on fire but I was desperate to have this attachment.
I bought myself the small handle to go with it, I already had the long handle, I figured that between the 2 I’d be well set up.
I got home & like any kid in a sweetshop I ripped the packaging open and tried out the 3 tools one by one, leaving the rather lethal looking claw till last… in a moment my life had changed!
The hoe/fork attachment was exactly what I’d expected & would be perfect for using on the veg beds, it’s narrow profile slipping between the rows easily, the other tool too was satisfactory. If I’m honest I can’t even remember what it was. The Claw though was exemplary!
At the time I was gardening on Birmingham clay, not the toughest in the UK but still gave tools a run for their money!
The Claws three prongs slipped through the compacted surface, digging themselves deep into the ground and breaking the soil with minimal effort! Weeding and hoeing in one fell swoop, I was delighted!
I tested it out thoroughly, weeding the whole of my garden in record time, then took it to work! Work at that point was Ryton Organic Gardens, their soil was far lighter, siltier & generally speaking in far better condition than mine at home but even the bog garden, which was the toughest test I could give The Claw, yielded before its mighty prongs!
I then moved to Kent, where the soil was the heaviest clay going! Seriously you have a 2 minute window between it being like dairylea or concrete to work it. The Claw didn’t care! The Claw bit into the the hard cap like a hungry cougar on steroids! Once more proving it’s worth & securing it’s place deep in my heart.
Then disaster, I had to move as I took on a different job. Financial circumstances meant I had very little storage space & taking your own tools to this job was frowned on so The Claw went into storage, consigned to a friends shed for nearly 2 years along with a lot of other equipment that I dearly loved.
Two weeks ago I finally got some of them back, it was like Christmas! I had remembered my weed burner & also my Wolf Garten rake attachment but not the trio of attachments I’d bought those many moons ago at Gardeners World. Seeing them brought back so many memories. It honestly felt like a different person had bought them so much had changed since they came into my life.
I got The Claw out & stared at it lovingly, I’d missed this workhorse. The next day I started using it & the love affair was rekindled. Weeds in gravel were no obstacle, unlike a hoe The Claw could slip through the stones easily, catching the roots and bring them to the surface. Fallen branch in the pond? No problem! Just fit the longer handle & The Claw has you covered. Dragging that annoying branch back to land. Compacted ground under the sorbus? The Claw doesn’t care! It’s nimble, nifty & versatile, there is practically no situation it can’t be used in!
This week I’ll be visiting GLEE, the horticultural trade show, and one of the stands I’ll be making a beeline for is the Wolf Garten stand. I saw another tool I like the look of… I’ll let you know how it goes…
Also, if you’re looking for The Claw yourself it goes by a far less evocative name of “grubber” which is far less exciting.