Suzanne's Garden Diary
Suzanne is our resident expert horticulturalist who tests all our products thoroughly. She is gardening mad and loves to ramble on about everything to do with the garden, wildlife and plants. In this section she writes her monthly diary about what she has done and what she would do. Please return to see her latest blog posts. Email us if you have any comments.
Well the Christmas decorations have been taken down and we are frozen into our new house. We must have moved in the coldest weather ever. Our removal men did so well to get us here to West Sussex. All my garden paraphernalia survived even if I did bring along some of the frozen soil from the old garden. I now have the pleasurable job of placing all my pots and arranging the new potting shed although given the conditions this will have to wait for the warmer weather. As it is so cold all I have managed to do is to make sure the birds are feed and watered. I have found that by melting some lard and adding bird seed and any scraps left over from toast etc then putting the whole mixture into a bowl I can take out the food in the morning and then bring in the old bowl to replenish in the evening. I have also ventured out to knock the snow from the conifers before the snow breaks any branches. As the sun is shining today I am off to take some pictures of my beautiful area.
I have been in active for the last two weeks. This is due to tearing a calf muscle while clearing leaves. It was such a lovely day with bright blue sky and I had a million and one things to do indoors but I just had to get outside.
It was the third wheelbarrow of leaves that did it. I pushed the wheelbarrow full of leaves to the appointed leaf drop position and ping. I heard a sound like an elastic band breaking and felt like I had been shot in the back of the leg. As I tried to put my foot down a dreadful pain shot through my leg and I realised that something was very wrong. I was up a slight slope and on the lane outside my garden so I hopped 200m to the house in order to get my husband to help. He sat me down found me an ice pack and we decided to visit casualty.
The upshot is that I am now on crutches and having physio. It is very difficult and tiring trying to walk let alone garden on crutches, although I have managed to reach the green house and pot up some spring bulbs that were buried under some fleece in the potting shed. I have become quite inventive in the ways that I have transported things around when no one is there to help. A small rucksack is a must to carry everyday bits that you might need mobile phone, pad and pencil, tissues, lip salve and the must have these days glasses!
The other must is somewhere that you can plonk yourself when your arms tire. My family have been positioning chairs and stalls for me all over the place and they have been very good at looking after me but I am not a good patient!
On the gardening front I have made copious notes about what I need to do A) when I can move unaided and B) the weather brightens up. Here they are:-
Remember to open on brighter days for ventilation and to close in case of a frost.
Pick off dying leaves to prevent mould.
Take out old tomato plants and compost.
Keep checking for slugs and snails and other undesirable bugs.
Clear up the soggy Rhubarb leaves and Borage plants.
Bring in some leeks and the last of the carrots (family to pick).
Continue to harvest kale and cabbage (again remind family).
Collect leaves (putting them into jute sacks) and lift the boards I walk on.
Tidy beetroot plants and cover to enable me to harvest baby beetroot leaves for salads.
Pick up fallen branches from silver birch and keep for supports.
Re-tie in climbing roses and other climbers that have been battered by the strong winds.
Cover the pots I have missed with potato sacks or move into the potting shed.
Continue to dead head flowers that won’t stop flowering, great for the bees that I have still seen in the garden.
The trees have been an absolute picture driving through the country lanes near my house but since the heavy rain most have fallen to make a colourful carpet on the ground and with this in mind, it’s leaf collecting time again. Before the grass is too wet I use my lawn mower set on high for this task. It’s good to use the mower because it cuts the leaves up into tiny pieces, which in turn speeds up the composting process. I have special bins for the leaves made from chicken wire with stakes at the four corners. Once the grass is too soggy I like to use my rake. This is not only a very satisfying task on a crisp Autumn day but great exercise as well. I must confess to hating the noise of all those leaf blowers, such an intrusion into your thoughts as you clear the garden.
I am in the process of moving all of my pelargonium’s and fuchsias into my potting shed. The problem being that over the last few months I have let it become very messy!! I will have to give it a sort out and then the moving can start. I cut the plants down by half and clean up any decaying leaves. I need to make space for the dahlias as well.
For these I take the tubers out of the pots and leave in a tray upside down. I then sprinkle with yellow sulphur, then cover with dry compost and leave in a dry, dark frost free place until the spring.
I have spent the odd dry day wandering around my garden, secateurs in hand, sniping and tidying the borders.
I also thought it would be a good idea to prune the roses that have a lot of fresh growth to prevent wind rock. In the vegetable garden I have cleared away any fallen leaves and weeds and harvested all the crops that will spoil in the very cold weather. I have covered the last of the salad with cloches to see if I can get it to over winter again. Fingers crossed it will or I could always sow some on the window sill.
Having a short time away from home, the garden has decided to take matters into its own hands. On my return I had a walk around assessing what needs to be done. I couldn’t believe how many baby strawberry plants have sprouted from their mothers, giving me a new supply to replenish the old tired plants or give away to friends. I have finally managed to plant out the baby kale plants. They have settled happily because the soil is so warm still after the fabulous September weather. I have discovered that I no longer have only one toad I have a whole family and some newts as well. I am pleased to see them and hope they will stay to eat any slugs and snails. My blueberry bushes have now turned a spectacular shade of red. In fact the whole garden looks so colourful and bright.
There is a tremendous amount of berries on our Holly and Sorbus trees, which will give the birds lots to eat. I must remember to get out the bird feeders and give them a good wash ready to fill them for the Winter time. I had a lot of trouble with squirrels last year, they managed to take down, destroy and try to bury any bird feeder I hung up even the square ones!
I have a lot of self seeded Verbena Bonariensis that seeded into the driveway. I moved them into pots and they are now ready to plant out into the main herbaceous border along with the Guara Lindheimeri that I have grown. They should settle in quickly because the soil is still so warm. I am an avid seed collector and have been out collecting the seeds of Nicotiana Sylvestris, fennel and coriander ready for next year. I store them into paper bags that I have brought my market fruit and vegetables in or brown envelopes or sometimes I have asked my local camera shop for the plastic film cases that they just throw away. All are great for seed storage.
Autumn seemed to arrive on the 1st September, colder nights and longer shadows. The courgettes have developed mildew on the leaves but I will leave them in place for a while longer as they still seem to be producing courgettes, which is great as the colder weather has made me won’t to make soups and courgette soup is a family favourite. I decided to dig up all my remaining potatoes and store them in my Jute bags to make space for the pumpkins and squashes that have been rapidly outgrowing their containers in the greenhouse.
This completed I continued to tidy and weed the vegetable garden. I planted out some very late lettuce and made sure to surround them with an ample circle of Slug and Snail Deterrent.
I still have a lot of spinach another soup favourite and masses of Raspberries which I am picking on a daily basis. I must make some room to plant out some Garlic and make space for the kale that I am growing. I had to pull up all the original kale plants as they had a bad attack of cabbage white caterpillars. The tomatoes in the green house are slow to ripen but then I remembered a tip I had heard it was to put a banana skin near the tomatoes and the chemical that is released from the banana will help the tomatoes ripen. The good thing is that it is working.
I am also going to sow some Calendula ( pot marigold) for next year I love to have these bright little flowers in the vegetable patch and dotted around the garden.
In the flower borders I am continuing to dead head and collect seed for next year. The Asters are the star flower in the herbaceous border with the sedums coming a close second. We have Aster novi-belgii and Aster frikartii ‘monarch’ and Sedum spectabile ‘carmen’ I seem to have inherited some plants this season that were not there last year. One is the very large Rudbeckia Herbstsonne and a pink flower Chelome obliqua . Perhaps the seed was dropped by birds or they came along with another plant. It’s always fun when this happens.
Well, there was great excitement in the garden this month. I was clearing away the peas in the vegetable patch and I discovered a little toad snuggled into a small burrow that it had made. Unfortunately I had destroyed his home by removing the wigwam of peas. So I quickly dashed to my potting shed to get an old crock to make a little toad house. I am pleased to say that he is still there and hopefully eating all the slimy creatures that have come his way. Talking of nature we have so many Bees and Butterflies in the EcoCharlie garden at the moment Bumble Bees, Honey Bees, Peacocks, Cabbage Whites, Tortoiseshell and a pretty brown one. I must remember to look in my butterfly book to identify it. The Bee Attract is obviously working very well. The down side is that we also have a large amount of caterpillars emerging especially on the cabbages. I do pick them off the leaves by hand but I am going to leave them now as there is just too many.
I am afraid I was a bit slow in netting them this year and the cabbages now look like colanders! Never mind there is always next year.
We are very pleased with our newly seeded patch of lawn. Normally growing new grass seed would be a job for September onwards, while the days are still warm and we have more chance of rain but July has been such a wash out, weather wise that the grass seed has germinated and looks lush. If September is a dry month the patch is small enough to keep watered. Another job we have accomplished again because of the wet weather is mulching the large shrub beds with a layer of permeable membrane and then laying a thick layer of bark chippings. Normally this would have had to wait until the soil was wetter in the Autumn but because of our damp July we have been able to conserve the water and suppress the weeds.
The Raspberries have started to ripen thick and fast. I seem to picking them on a daily basis and using them for with breakfast cereals and in sauces for ice cream and desserts. I am cutting lots of flowers which perfumes the house with smells of lilies and sweat peas, lovely.
Watering, picking and dead heading to keep the garden going is flavour of the month. The AQUADRIP Watering Spikes, attached to recycled bottles are watering the tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers efficiently so I don’t have to be too concerned about those but the vegetable seedlings need looking at constantly. I have decided to place them on a tray covered in Natural Slug and Snail Deterrent and pouring on water then putting the pots on top to keep them constantly damp. It helps to keep any slimy creatures away and stops my seedlings from drying out.
The herbaceous border is looking a picture with a great variety of colourful plants. The star has to be Helenium `moerheim Beauty’ it’s a real favourite of mine. I also love Lychnis coronaria that has self seeded everywhere, more plants for free! I am a great believer in collecting flower and vegetable seed and using the following year or giving to friends. I also know it will be happy in my garden and resistant to any pests.
Talking of pests we have recently been visited by some deer. Our gate was left open and in they strolled grazing on the plants as they looked about. There was not too much damage done, but Sedums seemed to satisfy their appetite and every flower head was eaten. They also munched happily on the raspberries. Luckily we have quite a few and they are the Autumn fruiting variety so not fully fruiting yet. Fortunately, the rattan cloches were protecting most of the salad and vegetables in the vegetable garden. It took us an hour to get the deer out as they can only come into the garden through the gate, all other boundaries are deer fenced and we have two acres of garden of which some is woodland. Good exercise for us first thing in the morning.
The Vegetable garden is surrounded by box hedging and with the changeable weather we are a little late in trimming it. We started this week because of the lack of hot sunshine and hopefully the cut edges won’t get scorched. Quite a laborious job but looks so good when it’s finished
With this hot weather I am up early each morning to water all the pots in the garden and to water the veggie patch before the sun gets onto it. I have found watering in the morning works better at keeping the slugs and snails away from my plants. EcoCharlie's Natural Slug and Snail Deterrent is doing well on the beans and new lettuce I have planted I must remember to pick some lettuce today and some of the rocket that is growing wildly. Because of going away in the middle of June I have not planted many seeds in the greenhouse so not much happening in there. Just the cuttings I took last year to keep going.
It’s such a shame that the big red Poppies Papaver orientale `Allegro’ have not lasted very long. I expect it’s been too hot for them. Even the Lupinus` The Page ’ have gone over really quickly and some have very nasty large woolly aphids on them. I tend to wash them off with my hose as I water and I do the same with the black fly that has attacked the foxgloves.
Cutting the grass should slow a little soon but at the moment I seem to be forever getting out the mower and my edging shears to keep everything looking neat and tidy. At least with the close planting scheme in the big flower border there is not a lot of weeding to do there. In the vegetable patch there is always something to weed and pick. I have a lot of Kale, salad, rocket, radish, beetroot and spinach. The carrots have not been successful but there is still time to try again. I must make time to sow some pea, beetroot and bean seeds before it’s too late.
May is such a lovely month in the garden. The Hostas in the front garden are looking great and hole free thanks to EcoCharlie's Natural Slug and Snail Deterrent spread thickly around them. I do find planting them in a pot and keeping them away from any drooping leaves helps with slug and snail attack. The azaleas are flowering and with the warmer weather the smell in the evening is out of this world. Mine here in the EcoCharlie garden are mainly yellow and have formed a large hedge. The Rhododendrons are also flowering their socks off which keeps all the bees very busy. This year in there is an abundance of Foxgloves, they seem to have taken over a bit but it will be amazing to see them when they all come out.
I have had a disaster with the tulips again this year. I thought that because the squirrels ate them last year I would only grow them in pots inside the cold frame then bring them out when they were about to flower. Not a good idea because the mice have invaded the cold frame and eaten them! Next year I will be putting chicken wire in the pots to deter any creature that fancies a nibble.
In the vegetable garden everything is looking good I have a good supply of perpetual spinach, wild rocket and rhubarb (not sure of the variety as I inherited it with the garden). I really feel that a good mulch of manure has improved and bulked up my sandy soil.
Weeding is the main job of the moment and keeping the edges of the grass trimmed and tidy. I am also getting the pots that have overwintered in the greenhouse out now which gives me some space in there to re-new the soil ready to plant tomatoes and cucumbers. Last year they were so successful and tasty that I am going to grow them again. Also I noticed that the little peppadew peppers have self seeded so I will be busy potting them on for later in the summer.
The star of the garden at the moment is our Magnolia. It is a white flowering variety but I am not sure of the name. Plants are coming through nicely in the herbaceous border and everything everywhere is looking lush and green. We have a few rabbits in the garden so I cover some of the most tender plants with rattan cloches until they get going. The Primula Hose-in-Hose look very pretty against the dark mulch and there is an abundance of Forget me Nots coming up everywhere. The seed was probably in the home made compost but I don’t mind getting plants for free I can always weed out what I don’t want.
I still have the heater on low in the greenhouse for the summer plants that have overwintered in there and I do put the blind down on very sunny days and also open the windows to ventilate it. It’s incredible how hot it gets. I have just started the Dahlias off in the potting shed and once they come through I will take some cuttings. I did this for the first time last year and was pleased at how well they took.
This month we can’t wait to get started on the new vegetable plot. We have planted onions, shallots and garlic then covered them with cloches to protect them from birds pulling them up and have sowed broad beans and spinach and also covered with cloches. We have started chitting our potatoes for planting at the end of this month.
We also like to check the many pots that we have around the garden, looking to see if the plants in them require re-potting or if anything nasty is hiding, slugs, snails or Vine weevil. If we do find the dreaded Vine weevil grubs we change the soil and check the roots of the plants thoroughly removing as much of the soil as possible. We discard the soil onto area of garden that is not used and let the birds do the rest. Our resident little Robin likes a treat of fat juicy grubs. The plants are then re-potted into fresh compost. Any slugs and snails or the eggs for that matter get removed to our compost heaps. The large pots have the top layer of soil removed and a fresh layer of garden compost put on for a feed and mulch. Plants that are susceptible to slug damage also have a thick layer of Eco-Charlie slug and snail deterrent put around them. Lastly we clear around the pots picking up and removing any leaves and rubbish that has accumulated.
This month we have decided to make the vegetable patch. We have set out a square and divided that into four squares with paths that run separating each bed in a cross pattern. In the centre there will be a large pot. Each square bed will be sectioned in half by a scaffold board that we acquired from a friendly builder. We have decided to edge each bed in box hedging.
So with the planning finished we need to put it into practice. The area was woodland so we ordered lots of good well rotted manure from a local source and dug it into the new vegetable beds. Then we planted the many box plants to form the hedge. Lastly the large pot was put into place. Very exciting and very aching backs!
January is the month that we get on with a lot of the cleaning jobs in the various buildings that we use for the garden. The green house glass needs washing and the potting shed needs sweeping, sorting out and the tools oiled to stop any from rusting. There is something satisfying when all is tidy and shipshape ready for the growing season. We also like to plan the following year and spend time and money choosing seed and bulbs from catalogues, very enjoyable with a hot drink after a day tidying.