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?
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”→
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…
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
Going potty for pots? Another trade supplier which had some fabulous examples is Scheurich
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!
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!
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!
But personally I fell in love with the William Morris range
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!
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…
and so my flying visit to GLEE was over for another year, cant wait till 2019! Hope you’ve found this useful!
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!
Its about time I gave you an update on whats been happening at the beautiful Ulting Wick. I’ve passed my years anniversary, its just flown by! Seriously, I haven’t felt so happy in my work like this in such a long time. Each day doesn’t seem long enough and Philippa is often urging me to go home but I love it here so much I just cant tear myself away. Its SO good to feel this way again about my job, good company and beautiful surroundings. I sing and laugh my way through pretty much every day.
The last time I updated you it was fast approaching Tulip time, right? I’m delighted to say they performed beautifully and the weather behaved, mostly, for the openings and you guys made it an excellent couple of days. I adore seeing peoples reactions to the garden, it makes all those freezing cold, wet winter days worthwhile.
The tulips now seem a distant memory, even if it was only April, since they went over most have been lifted in preparation for planting out the old farmyard, beds have been mulched and composted, weeded and spritzed. The veg garden is now in full swing, sweetpeas have flowered their heads off!
Most exciting, I started to clip the box, although since the intense sun kicked in I’ve taken a break, and planting out has been completed on the old farmyard. Now its a race against time and weather (for me) to get it clipped before the jungle sweeps over it and clipping becomes difficult. It going a lot quicker so far though and at a rough estimate each parterre will be the equivalent of 26,000 ‘steps’. That’s 104,000 times I’ll have gone ‘snip, snip, snip’ in total.
Of course we are all talking about this freakishly hot, dry weather. I was warned about the fact it was dry here but for 6 straight weeks we’ve had pretty much no rain… unless you count the MM we had the other day. Compare that to last year or the average and its ridiculous!
In fact its so dry the grass is now crunchy and brown!
Spoiler alert, I know some people don’t like snakes so fair warning, at the VERY END of this post I will show you our giant grass snake BUT I will warn you again before doing so.
Fortunately the roses have been loving this weather!
In the old farmyard planting the exotics out has been completed and its just starting to knit together beautifully, the paulownia is already about 6 or 7 ft high! and of course the Dahlias are doing their thing beautifully!
But its not just Dahlias that have been shining brightly as stars of the garden, once mote Nicotiana glauca is performing beautifully!
And the Canna australis are literally glowing, glowing I tell thee!
Various other beauties around the garden have captured my heart in the last 6 weeks or so, this Argyrocytisus battandieri below, sometimes called Morrocan broom, has put on a wonderful show.
The Duetzia, which is easily mistaken for a Philadelphus.
Lilium martagon, which I genuinely don’t remember last year, have been gorgeous popping up through the ferns.
Digitalis ‘Pams split’ has been insane!! topping out at 7 or 8ft they have unfortunately swamped out everything nearby but they have been truly magnificent.
Finally on the flower front but by no means least! Lysmachia atropurpurea ‘Beaujolais’, silvery glaucous leaves with deep magenta/crimson spires of flowers that are just divine.
Something a bit different for me, an understated foliage plant, Osmunda regalis the royal fern and very regal it is too. reaching to around 4 – 5 ft high gentle, soft green foliage acts as a wonderful backdrop to weird reptilian fronds which are the ones that produce the spores. Ferns were around long before plants and this guy has a distinctly Jurassic look to him, love him!
I’m really hoping these drought conditions wont have a detrimental effect for our August bank holiday opening though! As were all working very hard to make it special. I’m hoping my pumpkin arch will be hitting people on the heads with a veritable rain of fruit and that we might even get a shower or two to make our crunchy, brown grass green and soft once more!
Talking of which…
Now if you’re not a lover of our snakey friends I shall warn you scroll no further as this bad boy is MAGNIFICENT!!
A quick gestimation puts him, or more likely her, at about half a metre long and it is seriously the biggest grass snake I have ever had the pleasure of seeing, I literally squealed with delight and ran across to get a shot. Understandably the snake wasn’t so keen to meet me and streaked across the grass for cover but what a magical moment it was!
Floral fantasia at RHS Hyde Hall with Thompson and Morgan
Set in the old vegetable garden T&M have created a wonderfully colourful display of some of their bedding plants available from seed and plug plants
Heres just a few of them on show!
Imagine an entire garden just dedicated to bedding plants, a riot of colour and scent! Literally every way you turn there is an extravaganza of shapes and forms, they tumble from towers, explode from baskets, scramble up spires, drip from containers and carpet the beds.
Well imagine no more! You can see this vision for real at RHS Hyde Hall from the 4th June to 30th September. Thompson & Morgan have created a breathtaking display using every available bedding plant you can think of and some you’ve possibly never heard of.
Its rare these days to see displays of this magnitude. Growing up I remember public spaces, such as parks, would often have such bedding schemes that were incredibly complicated. The skill, the time and the effort that would be put into designing and growing the plants for this are phenomenal. Sadly for this reason most public spaces are given over to low maintenance programmes now and if I’m honest I miss this. Yes, it can be garish and overstated. Yes, they are loud, cheerful and brightly coloured… but honestly, is that really so bad?
No, its not chic, its not thought of in polite gardening circles as stylish or understated. For me that is the joy of it though. Its fairgrounds and seaside, its sheer vivacity is uplifting! Its joyful, it shouts, its summer and ice creams and maybe its time we had more of this in our life?
Ok, maybe you don’t have to fill your garden with every colour or variety imaginable, you could just choose one or two of these gems to bedazzle your friends and neighbours. Often less is more but there is a return in interest to some of the more old fashioned flowers in the gardens around the country. Take the meteoric rise in Dahlias popularity in the last few years.
I’d like to share Some of the plants that caught my eye as I wandered round and hopefully you will see something that inspires you but Id really recommend visiting yourself as this is just a fraction of whats there.
Osteospermum ‘Blue eyed beauty’
I adore Osteospermums, they just keep going! They don’t mind drought conditions which means less watering, and come in almost every colour. My very first was a variety called ‘Whirligig’ which had an odd mutant petal shape. This one has the most glorious colour combination of a butter yellow and a deep amethyst centre with just a hint of orange on the anthers, very Christopher Lloyd!
Osteospermum ‘Berry white’
This Osteospermum is so new on the market its still protected by trademark! Part of a new range of double Osteospermums which cope well in low light conditions and unlike its single flowered relations the flowers stay open at nightfall. Its petals have a gentle magenta flush and the centre is a deep raspberry.
Calceolaria ‘calynopsis series- Orange’
For sheer oddness and prolific flowering the award has to go to the recently introduced Calynopsis series. As a child I chose a Calceolaria as ‘my plant’ and I still remember it fondly. It lasted, despite my irregular ministrations and possible abuse for what seemed like forever. My mum called it a ‘poor mans orchid’ but they go by many common names, most often slipper or pouch flower. She would carefully deadhead it on my behalf and I suspect its success was down to her care more than mine. Seeing this plant brought back many happy memories. I’ve always thought they look a bit like cheerful muppet faces but regardless of all these associations there’s no denying their impact!
Grown from seed they are a biennial but the Calynopsis series are currently only available as plug plants.
Celosia argentea ‘Kelos Fire Purple’
Another great new introduction, this member of the Amaranth family would normally be very dependent on day length to trigger flowering but extensive breeding has made this particular variety day length neutral, reaching up to 14 inches tall they make a real statement either in pots or in the border. Attractive foliage with feather like plumes held erect in great numbers, whats not to love!
Ageratum ‘High tide’
Ageratum is one of the first bedding plants I sowed and grew for myself, at the time it wasn’t often seen, the heyday of its popularity had been as a summer carpet bedding plant. Breeding has given us a taller more floriferous plant which can in fact be used as a cut flower! Much taller than its predecessor it holds up well as a border plant rather than just a bedder.
Thompson and Morgan are also putting a lot of time and effort into breeding new plants and I felt very honoured to be shown some of their new introductions both in bedding plants and vegetables!
Alstromerias have seen a massive rise in popularity and not only have they bred an extra tall variety which can hold up to the British winter but they’ve also got a new one they’ll be releasing for sale which can grow and flower to 3ft from seed in one season!
Also Begonia fragrant falls series
And last but by no means least! ‘Sunbelievable’ a sunflower with good sized heads that can produce over a 1000 blooms over a summer!! And the bees absolutely love it!
So if youre looking for this summers ‘must haves’ in bedding plants head over to RHS Hyde Hall for your inspiration!