Diary of a gardening year and more

Diary of a gardening year and more

4th January 2018

Storm Eleanor was battering us over the last day or two.  Not as much damage as feared, though standing structures such as our obelisks have been blown away.

Taking a walk around the garden via the gravel paths, it was clear the amount of rain that has fallen as the lawns are almost lakes, certainly with ponds dotted here and there as the land is sodden and subsoil wet through as well. Not much can be done right now except keeping a watch for any potential damage and keeping an eye on the forecast in the hope a dry spell is coming any time soon.

All however is not lost and at a time when the planted garden is largely resting, there are exceptions as with the Winter Pansy and Primulas. Grown in both garden borders and in posts, they are doing well right now. It is important to keep them from being covered from any fallen leaves which will cause them to rot very quickly and where the appear waterlogged, to clear the water by spiking the ground or even rolling or brushing the surface water away. Primulas like it moist, but not swimming.

Today was the day to look at our new addition for the garden. A Polytunnel Steeple Green house. It’s not too big, but a great introduction to greenhouse gardening. Measuring 143 wide x 143 deep x 195cm tall I have – or will have, when it’s assembled – 8 staging shelves and I plan to use this for seeds, propagating existing plants and growing succulents. If successful, I may move on to a full greenhouse. Today was spent checking all the parts were to hand and understanding the assembly instructions.

1st January 2018

I came across a rats nest in December. A little time spent watching the birds after I put feed out for them and the sudden attraction by squirrels coming from nowhere to join in. Then, horrors as I saw the unmistakable body of a large rat making it’s way to the ground feeders and then running off to the nearby rockery, only to reappear and repeat the task of taking as much bird food as it could.

Venturing down towards the rockery, it became very clear that this rat (or rats) were not passing through, but the tell tale holes under the rocks confirmed, it was home and unbeknown to me, I had been feeding them all they wanted, and needed, to stay.

In truth, rats don’t cause too much damage other than create the fear and horror of them being there and squirrels can create far more damage to a garden. Rat ‘wee’ can be dangerous, but if you use gloves and don’t actually threaten a rat, they will generally leave you alone too. That said, I wanted them gone and called in the professionals to help bait the area.

Bird food was withdrawn to take away that ready supply of food and also encourage them to turn to taking bait, gardening stopped in the case of my pruning, digging and turning the compost etc as the activity could drive them into finding another ‘home’ and we needed to treat them where we knew they were.

Treatment over a four week period appears to have either, forced them to leave and set up home elsewhere or, they have been taking the bait and even though they are becoming resistant to anticoagulants, the baited poison has done the job. The holes in the rockery are collapsing in on themselves and no activity has been seen. Today we decided to reintroduce a bird feeder. Careful not to put ground feeding stations out and just offering sunflower hearts. A lone Robin came to visit as it has throughout our treatment weeks, this time it was rewarded with something to eat.

I have repositioned our feeder in the rose bed as well. The idea being that the birds that will be attracted will also feed on the Aphids, Greenfly, Blackfly and other bugs that gather on the roses. Natural pest control!

Any un-cleared fallen leaves need taking away now. Removing them from the lawn and on top of plant leaves as they seek the little sunlight we are getting right now. Lavender in particular must have their leaves clear and open to avoid any rotting. Because of the rats, I will be removing these leaves from site in the short term as I clear the old and rebuild a new compost site.

Pausing at the entrance to the garden, to just look around, listen to the sounds coming from the garden and taking in the scent of the recovering garden, allowed me to see multiple spring bulbs, forcing through the soil already, winter flowering pansies and primulas in full colour – another reason for removing the fallen leaves of them – and the lawns looking lush and green, though still very wet.

A few new items are being introduced to the garden this year and I’ll give details of these as we develop this blog.

26th November 2017

As winter begins to set in and in the UK we have started to see the snow falling and early frosts, it’s easy to turn your back on the garden and begin to focus on Christmas festivities.

Patio planting for winter enjoyment

The days are now incredibly shorter and for those who work Monday to Friday getting out into the garden is probably at best, a brief visit at weekends. Even for those retired like myself, the inclement weather also drives you indoors, even when the daylight hours would otherwise offer you a window of gardening opportunity.

In truth, as the frosts come, it is important to have completed any planting and through December, this will usually be bare rooted plants or pot grown from garden centres, as long as the ground isn’t frozen. Don’t give up on patio or decking planting either. Winter flowering pots can look a real treat and when visible from your window, reminds you of the enjoyable days you were once pottering around out there. Try adding solar powered lighting to add that little extra and when the sun sets, the enjoyment of seeing lights raise the spirits no end.

Don’t forget to bring inside any plants are not hardy and will suffer in the freezing weather. I have not planted anything so sensitive as I have no shed or greenhouse, but next year I will (hopefully) be able to address this.

In our garden, we have completed the planting, and just hard landscaping to continue with, which can keep going regardless of weather. In fact better done now as it can be a messy job, but in the spring, it will be done and very well established for the growing shrubs.

Just a not to remember to put feed out regularly for the birds. They need all the help they can get through the cold winter months. If you have a pond, ensure it doesn’t freeze over, check each morning and break it up if ice forms.

31st October 2017

Another month has flown by and this year we were hit by two storms. Ophelia and Brian. Both of which caused considerable damage to the garden. Snapped stems, broken pots, fallen branches and an early fall of leaves, swirled into mounds by the battering winds. Rain fell from the sky and much of the garden was so waterlogged, stepping on the lawns or flower beds saw your foot sink ankle deep in muddy puddles.

Blooming against all the odds

There has been a few moments to brighten the spirits as we found some blooms still hanging on and today, now I have time to return to my write up I can tell you that I turned attention to what may be the final cut of the lawn. Keeping it about 20mm and clearing all the clippings to the compost so nothing lies to cause sodden patches. It has been several weeks since I was last able to get out and cut the lawn and for this reason, I am beginning to reduce the size of the lawn, and treat the remaining smaller size with drainage solutions and feeds. I have also scarified the lawn after cutting it in the hope of lifting the lying thatch and moss that is lying there. The area that will be retained as lawn will benefit from this treatment and I will continue to treat it this way every couple of weeks if possible. Other areas being turned into pathways will receive treatment to kill back or remove the grass, cover it with water permeable sheeting and top that with both gravel and bricks for the new paths.

Two new compost bins are being set up in a corner of the garden and I will have a straight compost in one – somewhere to add my kitchen peelings and shredded papers as well as the greens and browns from the garden. The second bin is being dedicated to leaves to create leaf mould in time. Living in an area surrounded by trees, leaves are not in short supply. I can also use some of these leaves as ‘brown’ material for the main compost is needed. I’m also going to set aside an area to store lawn turves as I dig up areas of the lawn. Upturned turves will decompose and become a very useful compost to feed the garden next year.


4 October 2017

My write up has slipped again, but I did have to spend a couple of weeks on civil duties, doing my part for the judiciary and community. The garden had to be left untouched and some valuable time, not wasted, but certainly could have been spent working to prepare for winter.

There has been a marked reduction in the slug population since treating with Nematodes. If anyone is interested in controlling slugs, I would join the RHS in my recommendation of this microscopic solution. Every six weeks the treatment is needed and September/October and March/April are key times of the year where slug eggs are laid.

It seems strange but the hosepipe is never put away, with soluble feed and treatment being applied continually.

Current tasks are to transplant a number of Astilbes (False Goats Beard) that I planted as bare root cuttings in a nursery bed earlier in the year. These have taken well and are being moved into a damp garden area. I also have a number of Primulas that need splitting and replanting too as an edging to this bed and which in time will form a continual border of stunning flowers.

Collection of leaves is almost two or three times a week now, last years has rotted down superbly and will be laid over the garden next year and I’m delighted to have started this cycle of composting. Bulbs are to be planted as well, I have left it a little late due to being away, but if I get them in this weekend, they will be fine. Naturalising flowers that will multiply each year and form part of my new border display that will receive many more plants towards the end of the month to establish their roots before winter.

The rose walk has a new arch to be fitted, and I have a dozen old English roses to add to this garden at the end of the month too. Bare root plants, but the establish very quickly and so far we have had success with everything we planted this way.


13 September 2017

Where on earth did those ten days go. It seems as if I take my eye off the garden for just a minute and a weeks passed by without realising.

Walking the new flower bed line

In truth, the last ten days have been dodging rain and wind and preparing that which I can in the shelter of our garage. Still no Greenhouse or Garden Shed, but they can wait. The edging to the new perennial flower border have been laid and the soil is being treated with a multi purpose compost, horse manure and imported top soil. I have dug down around 15cm and top up 15cm so we have a new 30cm bed to work in. Plants will be added towards the end of October. This bed measure approximately 8 meters long by 2 meters deep and hopefully it will add a new dimension to the rear garden, backed by a brick and gravel path and fronted by a lawn.

Tree stakes are now to hand as well and so these will be placed between the Rose walk and the Butterfly garden, adding anchor points to our rose arch and also the length of our wildflower beds, doubling up to hold ‘bug boxes’ to aid the wildlife and allow supporting wire for the taller flowers that grow there.

Nematode treatment to the grass and soil to help control our slug population naturally, soil treatment for the acidic loving plants, Hydrangeas, Holly, Camellia’s and Acer’s and clearing a surprising amount of fallen leaves as Autumn races in. Last years leaf mould is being turned again ready for using and oh, two new compost bins are being put up too.

Never a dull moment, even if rain restricts what can be done.

3 September 2017

Our gardening activities have been pretty much rained off over the last few days so not much has taken place. We have timber, bricks and gravel for the paths and put down weed supressing sheets that will help keep these new pathways clear. In truth, it doesn’t take long for weeds to grow, and so regular pulling them up is the only real solution. With our need to attract wildlife and our own pets, we don’t use chemicals at all.

The Lavender walk

Another task, while it is wet is to treat our abundant supply of slugs. Again, we don’t use pellets or other chemical killer, but have opted for Nematodes. These are a natural organic solution and used by the RHS. We have had great success and in a trial at home between two flower beds, one is still growing – treated – the other – untreated – lost all its flowers to slugs and snails within a couple of days. We now water in these Nematodes every six weeks to keep our slug numbers down.

It was during a treatment of these microscopic creatures that we found Lady Bronte fascinated by noise in the bushes of the Lavender walk. Totally mesmerised by whatever it was, I rooted around to see if I could see, or hear what it was. to my delight, I found eight or nine frogs hiding under some fallen leaves within the damp shade at the foot of these bushes.

When we had our cat’s, they would do the same thing, watching, waiting, until they could grab them and bring them out into the open. Our dog, Lady Bronte is not quite as agile, but as a terrier, she remains intent on finding them.

It is another measure of success that we can build another project for our son around spotting and identifying these frogs as well as the butterfly’s and planning their care so they return next and each year.

30 August 2017

Oh my word, the temperature has dropped a few degrees now, an early fall of leaves across the garden from nearby oaks signals another task that needs to be done, almost daily, but I manage it weekly and that is the collection of dead leaves.

We started a leaf mould compost last year and having turned it several times throughout the year, we should be looking for some valuable additional nourishment for the beds soon. I need to add another compost to start filling this years fall (a note to add to my schedule).

The Butterfly garden border

Three days ago I made reference to our butterfly garden and today, we were able to just look at it in wonder at the butterflies, the bees and wasps and a large number of birds who were supplementing our seed feeders with live grubs. It’s a shame the thrush isn’t around for the bountiful supply of snails!

With no time to stand or sit around, I continued working on the pathways and beds for next year. I decided today that rather than using cobbles, I would use brick and gravel, a far cheaper solution and one that is much more flexible and easier to move around the garden in smaller … and lighter, loads.

I also moved some broom and hydrangea’s to new areas today, way too early, but as I was working in those areas now, I decided to cut short their season, prune hard, move and water in. Hopefully I will get results next year and I’ve done no lasting damage.


27 August 2017

Suddenly, I seem to be looking at work in every corner of the garden. To avoid getting carried away and doing bit’s here and bit’s there, I need to create a plan of attack to make certain the garden grows in a consistent and sensible way.

Multiple visitors

There is however, an area that I was hoping to name as our ‘Butterfly Garden’ – for the last couple of years, no butterfly’s, then a lone white cabbage and that was it. Almost at the point of giving up on it, this year, and this month, the buddleia began flowering with the roses and others and we have been visited by our small white (Pieris rapae) and also the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) in multiple numbers, at least 12 throughout the day, and a pair of Peacocks (Inachis io). Ok, these are all common butterfly’s but the fact they have come and come in large numbers has made all the work in this area of the garden very worthwhile. And when I saw a couple of Comma’s (Polygonia c-album) with it’s ragged wings and distinctive white comma on the underside, I was delighted. This butterfly is not known to travel as far north as us in great numbers and so something of  a real treat for us.

Considering this level of visitations as a success, I’m now looking at how we can enhance this Butterfly Garden with some additional planting and also the inclusion of nectar filled butterfly drinking stations.

This garden is adjacent to our ‘rose walk’ which we are reshaping and adding another two dozen roses later this year when we can get them bare rooted, but I need to move a box hedge and put in an arch before we get to that point. The arch will be straddle the gravel pathway between the rose walk and butterfly garden and I have been growing a climbing ‘Iceberg’ rose for this arch through the year in a nursery bed. A beautifully fragrant rose with white flowers which will look stunning growing over the pathway.

So much to do in so many areas, there’s no wonder I go off schedule from time to time.

22 August 2017

The morning has been spent hedge trimming. Not mine, but a neighbours which has grown with an overhang of 2 – 3 feet into our garden and created a dark shaded area which needed opening up again to let the light in and hopefully this area to dry out a little too.

I’m growing a three layer border of Privet, Holly and Hosta. The evergreen of the Privet and Holly provide year round colours of variegated greens and provides ample opportunity for cuttings, particularly around Christmas for garlands and wreathes.

Hydrangea – teller ‘Blue’

Pulling out plants that no longer fit n this border, we are transplanting Hydrangeas, which so far we have had no flowers, so bringing them into the open more and treating the soil to influence the colours of Pick and Blue. Moisture loving plants with well drained soil, these beautiful plants need sunlight as much as shade. An acid soil for blue flowers and alkaline for pink, we need to treat specific areas where we are planting them as overall we have a very alkaline environment.

New Hostas will be added as well as Carla Lilies to provide a splash of striking colour along the border just behind a low trimmed Box hedge and cobbled pathway.

21 August 2017

When does a gardening year start? well, in truth there are seasons that typically accompany that which you grow, spring bulbs, early summer, late summer, winter etc. the relationship goes on. What must not be forgotten is the maintenance of the garden, all through these seasons and indeed when there is traditionally very little growing. For me, there is no start of the gardening year, just different activities at different times of the year.

Rose – Queen of the garden


I am a lover of roses. Where we live, nestled in the UK Pennines, the flowering season is usually 4 – 5 weeks behind that on the coast or further south and likely finish earlier in the year by the same period. This shorter season should not deter you from growing them and what you can do is to look to plant other plants which will provide colour before or after these blooms flower. It is important to deadhead constantly, daily if it is required and this will stimulate further growth for as long as possible.

Having had flowers and colour throughout the last 12 months, it is now my job to look to bringing structure to this by grouping, increasing stock, colour coding and planting the most suitable plants for the various conditions in the garden. Dry, well drained, damp, clay, acid, alkaline etc. all plants have their preferred environment for best results.

This diary is designed to support blogs relating to our creating a sensory garden. One that provides scent, colour, texture, taste and even cuttings for bringing indoors. It will be my journey and may not relate strictly to that you read in a published article by professionals. It is what we are doing and our results. I hope you enjoy the journey with us.