Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Christmas presents for gardeners

Why is it that at this time of year, everything in gardening catalogues goes all jute coloured and wooden? (Either that or pink and covered in a floral print, in a fancy holder that will soon turn sludge coloured). So, if like me you don't want string or flowery nicknackery to feature in your Christmas purchases, here are a few alternative ideas...


and, of course, there are always plants.....

I've just found someone else who seems to feel the same as me (with the exception of my penchant for hemp hand cream however!)

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Ways to use up a sack of pine cones: part two

Christmas is coming, the garden's getting soggy, so it's time to mess around indoors

To make this you'll need:

A dinner plate and a small pillar candle
Pine cones
Orange chillies
Viburnum berries
Rosemary and lavender sprigs
Heather sprigs
Skimmia flowers
Ivy to trail around the plate and sprigs to add to the central foliage.
Tiny individual portion jam jars
Floristry wire.

Step 1: Cut a long length of floristry wire (about twice the circumference of your plate).
Wrap wire around the neck of a jam jar, then position a pine cone next to it and wrap the wire tightly around the lower segments of the cone.  Continue in this way until you have a circle of jars and pine cones that sits neatly in the centre of your plate.  Wire the two ends of your circle together and snip off any excess wire.

Step 2:  With your jar and cone ring positioned on your plate, fill the jars with water.  Add the larger leaved foliage equally to your jars.   Next, add the berries and chillis, making sure they are placed evenly around your circle. (Imagine there's a triangle placed on top of your circle, and dot a berry or chilli at each point).

Step 3:  Add the rosemary, lavender and skimmia flowers to the inner edge of your circle.  Turn the plate around to check if there are any empty sections which need more foliage adding.  Trail the ivy round the edge of the plate until you are happy with its position.  Add a little water to the plate to keep it fresh.

Step 4:  Place your candle in the centre of your arrangement.  If you candle is short, as mine was, you can always raise it by standing it on top of an additional small jam jar.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Ways to use up a sack of pine cones: part one...

My shed has been harbouring a sack of pine cones for some time, so I think it is now the right time to marshall them into service.    (My house may end up looking like a forest floor/disaster zone by Christmas, as the cats will doubtless see all dangling items as playthings).

Here is idea number one: Pine cone garland.


length of bead chain decoration (I got mine from Home Bargains - 6m for 99p)
pine cones (which have been left to dry)
pre-cut lengths of fine floristry wire (or you could use strong thread and a needle)

Wrap a length of wire round the base of the pine cone, weaving it between the segments. Pull it tight and twist.

Twist the ends of the wires around the segments between the beads on the chain to attach the cone.

Snip off any excess wire and tuck sharp ends out of the way.

Attach cones at the desired intervals and use to decorate a mantlepiece, shelf or stair rail.  Secure well with heavy objects,  hooks or tacks to ensure that any accompanying candles or delicate items are not at risk of being knocked over.

My tealight holders are the lids of the tiny jam jars I used for the posies in my last post. A perfect fit!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Recycle your jam jars, Christmas is coming.

Mini jam jars - the kind you get in hotels for your one-person breakfast, are great for individual place setting arrangements or for putting candles in and arranging for the Christmas table.  Make little posies if you can salvage a few hardy blooms from your garden, and arrange them down the centre of the table or in a circle, interspersed with candles.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Personalised plants

A friend has just been round for coffee and has departed with a half-boot full of hardy geraniums, lysimachia, and alchemilla mollis - all clumps resulting from my autumn tidying and overhaul.  It's great being able to recycle plants this way as well as via the compost heap and it made me think about all the bits and pieces in my garden which I have acquired from friends and family.

Centaureas from mum and dad

Cheng's cerinthe

Aunty Edie's snowdrops

My borders are home to snowdrops and peonies which have followed me from London to Birmingham and originated (via a green-fingered great aunt) from my parent's garden in Derbyshire.  When I look at my eryngiums, I think of them growing like weeds and self-seeding throughout my sister's sandy-soiled, wild garden, and although not prolific breeders in mine,  they still survive my claggier conditions.   The euphorbia amygaloides robbiae which shouts its lime greenness under my trees throughout spring also came to me via the sibling route, along with mourning widow geraniums and feverfews.

Flowerbeds are, in this way,  populated with  people. Walking around the garden, the plants bring to mind the person who gave you those seeds, that snip, or that shoot of something that is now a large character in your garden - it's one of gardening's great pleasures - a kind of herbaceous memory box with different friends and relatives popping up to the fore throughout the seasons.

Another pleasure is being able to share all these with other plant-lovers (especially when it comes to thinning out thugs like dog daisies, hardy geraniums or lysimachia). Nothing is easier than being a generous gardener -  so come round for a coffee and leave with plants!

 Lychnis coronaria from my sister's garden - just gorgeous, but currently sparse after 3 wet years!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Swap shop at the plot

Five gardening days in a row are a sign that it has been slightly less rainy of late here in Birmingham.

The last couple of days have been spent on much needed visits to my allotment - digging couch grass and creeping buttercup out of the paths and beds - a marathon task which is only just starting to show visible results.

Found a pile of slabs up at the top gate, and now I've finally got round to re-inflating my wheelbarrow tyre, it means I have the wherewithall to transport them down the hill to my plot.  Had to follow a very interesting groove incised into the muddy path, and met its maker pushing a very narrow-wheeled barrow back up the slope in his quest to transport a muck heap.

Got chatting to this near-neighbour and ended up trading a promise of globe artichoke offsets in spring for 7 barrow loads of surplus manure (and the labour involved in transporting it) - result!

So now I have some new slab paths,  some fertiliser for my plants, and a new allotment acquaintance.  Most splendid.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Garden on the move

Spent today at The Real Cut Flower Garden in Clifford helping to move plants into crates for their big move to Dorset.

The drive to Herefordshire was a great meander through middle-English market towns and soft green countryside - the autumn sunshine, when it finally arrived, made it hard to resist dreams of a rural life.  So glad I made it to the garden before it is transplanted South, my only regret is not seeing it in full fig in the summer.

Perennials and shrubs aplenty were stacked in crates, root wrapped in hessian and plopped into pots - a major cache of plant material, and also a major job to prepare the ground to rehome it in at the other end.  I wish Charlie Ryrie, the garden owner, the best of British with that task!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Raking time - repeat

It's raking time again as my lawn is once more blanketed in leaves from the surrounding large trees.
Whilst cursing the futility of this task, remember that you are also removing slug hiding places and letting your plants get some fresh air.

Not only that, you are also collecting great material to return to your soil in six months time.  Put the leaves in black plastic bin bags, tie up, stab them with a fork (strangely therapeutic, worryingly) and then leave the bags somewhere out of sight (behind the shed, in the hedge bottom etc) for six months or so.  In late spring, open a bag and see how your leaf mould is progressing.  If it is dark and crumbly, add it to soil before planting. It doesn't contain a lot of nutrients but will help to bulk up your soil and improve the texture. Repeated addition of organic matter (compost, leaf mould, manure etc) will make your soil much easier to work - so keep on doing this year on year.

Making leaf-mould separately from your compost is better if you have large quantities of leaves because they tend to rot down more slowly than other stuff due to the tannins in them.  If you have the space, you can bash four wooden posts into the ground to form a square and then tie a length of chicken wire fencing around them.  My cubic metre holds an amazing amount of leaves both from my own garden and the school ground I tend - and there are plenty of leaves from both at this time of year. Mine is tucked away behind tall plants at the bottom of the garden, with a little brick path (just bricks laid on top of compacted soil, so it is easily moved/changed/relaid) leading to it. The dog leg path also makes this  wide border more accessible for working and provides a focal point when you get to the bottom of the garden as you want to know where it leads.