Garden Journal 4.4.20

Gary Webb’s Garden Journal
A range of garden delights…

Well it’s garden journal time and this week feels like an improvement on last, in as much that it has seemingly moved at a more normal pace – or maybe I’ve just acclimatised a little more to the strange situation we’re all in?! Out in the garden, aside from some very cool mornings there have been some quite warm and sunny days, in fact spring seems to have really begun now with bright and beautiful blooms almost everywhere I look; primulas, daffodils, grape hyacinths, wind flowers and so many more.

As mentioned in last week’s journal – for the time being, and due to the social distancing that my working role allows, I am able to continue with my gardening. This is something I’m extremely thankful for – not least because it’s one of the busiest times of the year for gardens and for gardeners. Indeed it’s been heartening to see the pressure build for garden centres to resume service to the public, and I certainly support this. Whether by special opening arrangements akin to supermarkets, or indeed by ordering for local delivery – as I know some have now started.

Back in the garden, the cool overnight temperatures are keeping the pace of grass, for example, quite steady. Yet all around the garden is quickening its steady steps into a meaningful stroll, and that pace is only set to speed up – it’s the time of year when you wish you could clone yourself in order to devote enough time to all that needs doing!

My horticultural hit list this week has been, in summary: Monday – Fed and reduced foliage area of many box shrubs that were moved before the weekend, trimming to similar dome shapes. Began first mowing session with pedestrian mower. Some re-potting. Tuesday – Lots of heavy-going mowing to neaten up close mown areas, and to define edges of wild flower areas. Wednesday – Disinfected and cleaned many display containers ahead of dahlia re-potting. Thursday – Steered some tree pruning activity, and began cleaning up and potting up stored dahlia tubers. Friday – Completed dahlia containers – just shy of 120 pots of joy, and each one planted with love and attention!

Growing your own food
Home Grown

To my first image above, a relatively recent acquisition; a mini-greenhouse to help with growing from home. In a small garden these kits offer a sheltered space that can be really effective in lifting temperatures enough to both protect delicate plants and to bring seedlings on more rapidly. One particular thing I’d mention from experience is to make sure the unit is tied in securely, as they love to blow over once they’re fully loaded and when you’re not expecting. I learned the hard way…

Snake’s Head Fritillary​
Snake’s Head Fritillary

Next up is a single pot of what is arguably the most unusual flower going – the chequer petalled snake’s head fritillary, or Fritillaria meleagris. An absolute delight and a draw for my camera every year without fail.

I remember seeing them beautifully staged and growing in a grassy glade in the Quarry Garden at Belsay Hall, and didn’t hesitate to introduce them to Compton Verney over recent years – it’s such a shame they’re all blooming without us being able to see them just now. As well as this the one above at home, I have two pots to plant at Broadwell, and look forward to getting them all in the ground this week.

A temporary resting place in the slip garden for these box shrubs.

These are some of the box shrubs that have been lifted from the kitchen garden and planted here to rest until their final planting places are ready – not for a good while yet. Essentially they are here receiving a reduction in leaf mass, to reduce water loss after their move. Hopefully they’ll bounce back and with a strong fibrous root mass to help with their next move.

Plating up dahlias after winter storage
Dahlia potting

The image above hints at the dahlia activity from this week. It seems but a short time ago when I was washing down the tubers and potting them into dry compost in these old wooden cases. They’ve spent the winter in a cool tool shed, and have now been divided (those that were willing!) and potted up individually to grow on.

Some will clearly make strong plants, but I’ve potted almost every last tuber so we may pick the best for display – some staying in their pots and some, most likely, being transferred into the ground.

Pretty primulas
Pretty primulas and some early flowering tulips

This photo in my folder just jumped out at me. The primulas at Broadwell have been flowering their socks off for weeks, and don’t look like stopping anytime soon – they’re an absolute feast for the eyes!

My final image is of these winter windflowers, or Anemone blanda. They are flowering in a shady woodland area right now and have risen above the dense foliage of wild garlic and primroses. They’re a pure delight and their blue flowers light up this space beautifully. What – a – treat!

Windflowers

As mentioned in my summary above there have been a range of horticultural tasks to keep me busy this week, along with some seed sowing at home. However, it would be impossible for me to ignore or not make reference in some way to the appearance of my works garden on Gardener’s World on Friday evening. It’s a minor miracle that the GW team are able to assemble a program under present circumstances, but so far they’ve done a great and quality job, and long may it continue.

As you can imagine though, privacy is a prime concern, and for this reason I’m personally restricting my storytelling somewhat – it’s incredibly frustrating but the right thing to do all things considered. Believe me though when I say there’s an amazing kitchen garden growing out of what was a long lost walled garden at Broadwell. My gardening and history interest aligns with Rachel’s and it’s been fascinating picking our way through the architectural details left between those garden walls – an iron hook embedded in a wall here, a hollowed out piece of stonework there and slates buried next to garden walls – each detail intriguing and all consuming.

I’m delighted to be part of the Broadwell posse, as a team we’re full of anticipation and excitement, and can’t wait to get the first crops growing in what are shaping up to be the best raised beds I’ve worked with to date – no pressure! We’re moving the kitchen garden forward as much as possible in the present climate, but with a fair wind and some luck we’ll all be able to watch it continue to develop and flourish on our TV screens during the year – I’ll be tuning in to see how it looks on the other side of the camera too! (You can catch it on iPlayer if you haven’t yet seen it 😉 )

For now though, that’s enough from me. Keep calm and carry on gardening! Regards, Gary

Do follow me on Twitter or Instagram, where you’ll most often find me #InTheGarden

Garden Journal 29.2.20

Welcome to my garden journal entry for February 29th 2020.

The Intro… I’m a professional gardener/horticulturist and post weekly to record my gardening experiences and activity. My main workplace is in Broadwell, Gloucestershire, and this journal is independent – content does not represent views of my employer or any organisation.

This week’s garden journal entry should be re-titled ‘close encounters of the weather kind,’ for every day has seemingly thrown something different at us. The sharpest of sharp days with temperatures barely above freezing to start the week, which tailed off into the constant rain that moved in for Friday – and looks to be staying very close for the weekend.

If you could have copied my image in the murk that was Friday, you could have pasted me seamlessly on to a Lowry canvas, so was the mood in the garden. However, I shall swiftly say that before the dreariness that became Friday, there were some exquisite hours, minutes and moments that I’ll focus on from here onward.

I started the week in Sunderland – my adopted home in the north east, and whilst I had fostered a somewhat naïve hope to get out and visit one of the many brilliant gardens in the area, this wasn’t a key reason for the trip – and I guess the first image might be giving it away already! (Pardon the selfie – I’m not a comfortable selfie taker!)

Proudly wearing my new Barbour made, and purchased in South Shields
‘EST. 1894’ – the company, not the gardener…

Outdoors is where I spend most of my time and as such, I seem to have forever searched for the key item of workwear that is ‘the winter coat’. I’ve tried many types and I don’t know what you’ve found, but I have to say it’s sometimes hard to tell between fashion and working gear.

Well, although I wear a wax jacket for knocking around generally, I had for many years overlooked the option of a wax for workwear, and was genuinely surprised recently to rediscover this as a serious gardening option. If they’re good enough for farmers and all that…

My search for a good supplier started last autumn, and to my joy I was ultimately delivered, last weekend, to the South Shields home of Barbour to make the not insignificant investment. I had become fascinated and lured by the history of Barbour as a British company – a story that began in 1894 in South Shields, where the jackets are still handmade to this day.

Daisy flower in the sunshine
An already nibbled daisy enjoying the sunshine

Suffice to say that I made the presumption that my new jacket would signal end of winter and it would stay unused for the months ahead, but how wrong I was! My jacket has already been pressed into snowy action on Thursday and in the torrential rain on Friday. I’m certainly no victim of fashion, but all things considered, I’ll be wearing my Barbour Beaufort with pride – and I hope our friendship is a long and productive one!

Back in the garden, the ‘tube of tubes’ in the image below is an item released from its place on the tool room shelf this week, and fixed to a south facing wall to provide a nesting place for some species of bee such as the red mason bee (Osmia bicornis).

I’m always looking for ways to improve a garden’s attraction to wildlife and this little product couldn’t make things any easier, offering perfect nesting tubes for some species of solitary bee. Quite by accident I’ve already discovered ground nesting bees, and many of the walls on nearby buildings are peppered with cavities and potential nesting places, so there’s very likely no need for additional nests such as this one – but if it’s not there we won’t know will we…

The way solitary bees operate, and the benefits they bring for our gardens is incredible. For example, as Grow Wild UK states ‘a single red mason bee is equivalent to 120 worker honeybees in the pollination it provides’. It’s therefore surely not too much trouble to place out an additional nesting opportunity.

Yes, the tube shown above is pre-made and simple to install, but it’s relatively easy to make your own too. For tips on making yours, and for more fascinating information on solitary bees and more, I’ll waste no time in directing you to a website from those knowledgeable folk at Kew. If you love wildlife and gardens, and not visited this site before – you’re in for a treat! (Grow-Wild UK Link at bottom of page).

In terms of gardening, what became the task of the week was a trim of a conifer hedge – whilst being aware at every moment the potential for nesting birds to be present. Along the whole hedge length there was but one redundant twiggy nest long-since consumed by woody growth. There’s a little more to finish yet, but I’m conscious that the grass is growing all around now and for that reason I’ll be glad to leave this hedge to its own devices as we head into March.

The machine pictured above is a very useful tool, and on Thursday morning we became very close as I sharpened every one of its 140 teeth. Whilst it works perfectly, I couldn’t help but wonder that with the establishment of battery powered kit, how long it would be until these machines become silent and smokeless museum exhibits…

The final two images I’ve chosen to remind me of this week in the garden. Above was a photo snapped quickly of this bumblebee spotted crawling across some meadow grass – a ‘Buff-tailed bumblebee‘ I believe – and I’m happy to be corrected if you can tell from my image. Although sunny, it was pretty nippy, which is probably why this bee was keeping on the move!

Lastly, are some decorative primulas growing in a lawn at Broadwell not very far away from where the bumblebee was crawling. Such a pretty sight that can’t help but focus the mind on spring, and especially on a dull day.

A garden primula bejewelled lawn
Garden primulas

To round up my garden journal this week, I have to state that it’s been a tough one. Although not starting my working week until Tuesday, I seemed to fast track into the latter end of the week due to two days of simple but heavy going hedge cutting – and I mean hedge cutting as opposed to hedge trimming!

The week finished with a much needed but weather enforced planning session, where I firmed up my plan for March, at least in terms of the range and scope of known tasks that would need looking at – scheduling these in is another matter entirely! Garden tasks, mixed with project work will ensure next week, the first week of spring, will be a busy one.

Before I finish, I have to return to the weather for one last comment. As a gardener I’ve always been a firm believer that the weather, as Monty says, “just is,” and I’ve always took it as it comes – rain, shine or whatever. This winter though has been one to test my resilience to the core. There have been blindingly sunny moments working in shirtsleeves atop the ladder, and moments of extreme dreariness, in full weather gear, with puddles and gloom all around.

Focus on the ever changing seasons I say, for it will pass, and before long we’ll be knee deep in meadow grass, butterflies will be flitting across flowers, and fruits, if we cherish the pollinators, will grow to feed our souls.

If you want to follow my gardening progress, you can also follow me on Twitter or Instagram.

Let’s hope my wellies dry over the weekend! Have a good one. Gary

Links: GrowWildUKBarbour

Garden Journal 22.2.20

Images from my GARDENINGWAYS blog for February 22 2020
GW Journal images 22.2.20

Welcome to my garden journal entry for February 22nd 2020.

The Intro… I’m a professional gardener/horticulturist and post weekly to record my gardening experiences and activity. My main workplace is in Broadwell, Gloucestershire, and this journal is independent – content does not represent views of my employer or any organisation.

Once again I’m tempted to focus on the weather we’ve experienced this week. However, as I know that so many have suffered much more severely, and in neighbouring counties too – I feel I can’t moan about what was simply, for me, just a few more wet and windy days that caused me to change my work plan.

Counting my blessings then, I can thankfully focus on the positive days, moments and tasks that have filled this gardening week, such as with my first image below of Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’, basking in the Saturday sunshine in my garden. The petals are almost too light for my taste, especially knowing some of the deeper blue flowers available, but the deep yellow and patterns on the falls are just mesmerising – and all the more agreeable for the £1.75 I paid back in November!

Iris reticulata ‘Katherine Hodgkin’
Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ (Reticulata)

My next three images record a pretty intense activity that kept me very occupied on Tuesday and Wednesday – coppicing a handful hazels that were established either side, and possibly through this lovely dry stone wall. I did post a video to my Instagram account but suffice to say, it was quite a jumble and not your average coppice stool.

An established coppice stool prior to coppicing
One of the coppice stools awaiting attention.

It was clear from the outset that a good amount of decaying wood was present, but whilst I found some healthy wood to cut back to, the extent of dead material was considerable. Knowing this makes wonderful habitat for a range of insects, it was too good to waste, and so I constructed a nearby habitat pile.

I could not guarantee that a few bug homes weren’t shaken up during the coppicing work, but I could at least offer a longer term bug hotel just next door for the foreseeable future.

A coppiced stool and nearby habitat pile.

My keenness to take on the congested mass of woody growth wasn’t just to make an area tidy, but also for the good and useable timber it would supply. As such, after cutting the shrubs back to basics, all the harvested growth was sorted into similar sized piles, and will wait in the wings for the opportunity to play a supporting role in the garden this year. The coppiced ‘stools’ will now be allowed to grow back naturally over the next few years, before the exercise is repeated.

Hazel rods after coppicing has taken place.
Freshly cut hazel rods awaiting storage.

I have to say that I love coppicing. It’s a task that grounds me, being an age-old activity that demands simple things: a little knowledge, a sharp saw, a methodical approach, and for me – a deep rooted feeling that I’m repeating an activity that has been done before, and will hopefully be done again in a handful of years.

Coppicing literally brings you to your knees, and forces you to think about things like the passage of time, the manipulation of nature for our own ends, and a productive activity that seems timeless. Or maybe that’s just me…

Sharp Felco secateurs
Happy pruners after a good clean and sharpen!

OK, so maybe I’ll refer to the weather just once more, when on Thursday the heavens opened repeatedly. Thankfully again the forecast had been very accurate, and so with sodden soil I had written-off outdoor gardening for the day, and wasted no time by servicing some of the tools that had worked very hard of late.

Furthermore, whilst the hail hammered against the brew house windows where I’m based, I set about some garden planning for the next few weeks – which look to be rather busy with project work bringing many more people onsite. Mind you, I have to add that the rain did eventually clear through, the sun returned and the little primulas in the lawn shone once again – what a way to end the day.

I’m very aware that next weekend sees the arrival of meteorological spring, and even at this early point in the year the grass is actively growing, tulips are breaking the soil surface in search of light and blossom buds are bursting in the trees. It might not be spring as we wish it, but even if the weather does turn again, a new growing year is well under way now and the pressure of mounting tasks build! (Yes gardeners do feel pressure too – it’s not all lightness and joy!)

Other tasks this week included some hedge tidying and the trimming of an ornamental pear that needed its crisp, umbrella-like shape returning. Shrubby tasks like these need to be drawn to a close now as birds are actively seeking places to nest – spring seemingly breaking earlier has moved all of this activity forwards, and needless to say – all of the above work was carried out after a good search for any signs of nests under construction.

That brings this week’s garden journal nearly to a close – a very heavy but rewarding week of activity. Next week I have a volunteer day to plan for, amongst many other tasks in preparation for spring.

If you want to follow my progress in the garden at Broadwell, you can also follow me on Twitter or Instagram.

I hope you enjoy your bird friendly gardening this week too! Regards, Gary.