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How to make

a magazine


choice of


see p28


Growing native types from seed




to keep working



Ruth says:



“Grow your own ‘first-aid

12 great hollies for interest all year

plants with healing powers


5 April13 December2014


10 easy xmas decorations

from berries and leaves

Electric chainsaws tested Old-time gardening tips

21 jobs to do in winter


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W HAT VEG have we got?” I asked my wife Kath, one

morning. It was my turn to cook, and the cupboard looked distinctly old-mother-Hubbard. “Sorry, darling,” she said

defensively, “I didn’t buy any this week because you said you had stuff at the allotment.”

I grunted. Yes, I’d said that a

couple of weeks earlier, but as any veg grower will tell you, crops come in waves – it can be hard to predict exactly what’s

ready for harvest – and I’d used

a lot of it in the meantime. She left for work, I followed

soon afterwards. I just had time to pop into the allotment on the way. When you start to look

– even at a fairly bare allotment

in winter – it is astonishing how

much you can find to pick. A good two thirds of my plot is now freshly dug bare earth, but I picked sprouts (and a sprout top for greens), parsnips, some

carrots (with carrot fly maggot damage, but it cuts out easily), Cavolo nero and curly kale, leeks, chard, salad onions, red chicory and beetroot.

I was emptying my loaded

trug at the kitchen sink when Kath came through the front door that evening – home grown veg needs processing (washing, picking off hitch- hikers etc) before storing or cooking. I was feeling really chuffed with my haul. She sounded a bit out of breath: “It’s alright darling,” she called over the rustle of carrier bags, “I popped into the supermarket on my way home

to pick up some veg…” Have a great gardening week.




ThisThis weekweek inin

13 DECEMBER 2014

GET IN TOUCH 01202 440840


Westover House, West Quay Road, Poole Dorset BH15 1JG


0843 168 0200 (12-1 Monday - Friday)





10 easy Christmas decorations to make from garden leaves & berries



Revealing pictures from the remote Devon Gnome Reserve



Plants that cure ailments



Winter compost heap care

Visit our website

Use your smart phone to scan the QR symbol (right) for instant access to the Amateur Gardening website. Consult your phone supplier for suitable free apps.

Cover picture Schizanthus variety Alamy




How to sow seeds of native bluebells now

Your gardening questions answered by our experts





Old school advice from Tyntesfield House gardener

Christmas gift guide – ideas for stocking fillers

The Hollies – greatest hits for gardeners

Start your Christmas shopping early – save up to


on a subscription to

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0844 848 0848

and quote: CBW4 Lines open 7 days a week 8am-9pm

(UK time). Overseas +44 (0) 330 3330 233

Expert advice







Sue Stickland Xmas cropping potatoes

Peter Seabrook Growing with children

Christine Walkden How to organise a shed

Anne Swithinbank Saving fuchsia seeds

Bob Flowerdew 21 jobs to do in winter

Toby Buckland Skimmias for any garden





Six electric chainsaws tested, we pick the best

Tea break puzzles with £30 cash prize

We visit a pair of gardens in Taunton, Somerset

TimeInc. unless credited





With AG experts Graham Clarke and Ruth Hayes

I T’S HARD to believe that in two weeks’ time, Christmas will be over and the days will be

growing longer again, meaning we can start looking forward to spring. One of the sweetest sights of the spring is a carpet of bluebells and on p6 Graham shows you how to start native bluebell seeds in your garden. I have long been fascinated about plants that can heal, and on p8-9 I look at the beneficial properties of some garden plants and also share a recipe for a lotion for skin prone to break-outs. And let’s not forget our compost heaps in winter (p10)! Enjoy your gardening week.




GARDEN BIRDS need extra energy to survive the winter months, and Peckish Winter Warmer


is just the thing to


them through.

Designed for bird feeders and tables, this seed mix has Calvita nutrients to give birds an extra boost through cold spells. We have five resealable packs to give away.

To enter the draw, send your name and address on the back of a postcard to Peckish Winter Warmer Draw, Amateur Gardening, Westover House, West Quay Road, Poole, Dorset BH15 1JG. Or email your details to Closing date 17 December, 2014.


When you have made your Christmas decorations from greenery and berries from the garden, don’t forget that they may be heavier than shop-bought ones. Use sturdy fastenings and hangings to avoid them falling down or landing on someone’s head!


garden greenery and berries with paint


glitter for stunning festive decorations

Deck the halls!

Ruth shows you how to create traditional festive cheer using greenery and berries from the garden

D ECORATING THE home for Christmas is a highlight of the

season. The tree may be the focal point, but garlanding mantelpieces,

doorframes and staircases with collected greenery and bright clusters of berries really conjures up a festive atmosphere. Why not go all-out and create a simple

but stunning centrepiece for the Christmas table, or have a fun afternoon with children and grandchildren making easy tree decorations? On the next page we show you how to put together some simple but attractive festive decorations using items easily found in the garden.




StepStep byby StepStep

Simple festive things to make




Divide 12 small twigs into six pairs. Make two triangles with the bundles of twigs then bind them together with wire to make a six-point star. Spray with gold paint and, when dry, hang on the tree.

Use wire to attach greenery and coloured

berries or shop-bought accessories to a length of rope or twine – green is best – and hang it where it will get admiring glances.

A fun craft for children. Make tree decorations by

spraying small pinecones with gold or silver paint. Scatter glitter on the wet paint for extra sparkle.






Tie a bunch





alternative to




using wire

and berry


and over-tie

wreath. Mix


Thread berries

with a pretty

leaves with

onto wire and

ribbon. Hang


hang them in the


couple of

fruits such as

garden, to make


rosehips and damsons, and

attractive outdoor tree decorations

tree baubles from it and


and provide a

attach it to a

them with

snack for birds

wall or hang


and wildlife.


a corner.




Place orange slices in an oven at 100 degrees for three hours to dry out. Once they have cooled, thread onto wire or ribbon with dried fruit such as cranberries – and even popcorn!

Once you’ve

made your


biscuits, fill the cutters with a

mix of melted

lard, seeds,

oats and

berries, let it set and hang


festive fat

balls outside for the birds.

You’ll have enough to do without arranging flowers over the Christmas holiday. Instead, fill the base of a vase with painted pinecones and use dried seed heads such as honesty, pictured, or teasels, to complete the look.


1 Gather the things you need – a saucer, some oasis, a candle and

a selection of greenery and berries.

2 Place the oasis on the saucer, cut a hole for the candle so it is

secure and won’t fall over when lit.

3 Build up the arrangement by

pushing the greenery stems and

berry branches into the oasis.

4 Complete the centrepiece by placing coloured and gilt

decorations in among the greenery.

StepStep byby StepStep

Graham Clarke NP

All TimeInc.

Graham Clarke NP





1 Bluebell seeds need cold before they germinate. Sow in pots where the plants

will be planted out. Half fill the pot with garden soil; top up with John Innes No 2.

2 Sprinkle the seeds on the compost surface. You don’t have to worry

about careful spacing in the pot – they’ll eventually by separated and planted out.



The English bluebell, it is said, has a slight fragrance – but you need a keen sense of smell to discern it. The Spanish variety is more proliferous, so is slowly taking over. In a pure gardening sense, it is probably a better plant for the garden.

Bluebells are most ‘at home’ in woodland. They love a shady spot with moist soil. But they’ll also thrive in hedgerows, clifftops, or even any rough patch of soil!

This cross-bred hybrid bluebell, taken in my garden in May, displays many characteristics of the English bluebell

Sowing bluebell seeds

Now is a good time to sow bluebells, specially as the English type need a period of cold first, says Graham

3 Lightly cover the seeds with more compost. Leave the pots in place.

Seedlings will germinate in spring, but the first flowers come after four years.


SOWING SEEDS has certain advantages over the planting of bulbs. To start with, it is cheaper, giving gives you more plants for your money. Also, with seed, the chances of introducing non-native seeds are minimal. Unless you buy bulbs guaranteed to be English, you may unwittingly be buying a hybrid variety.


HE BLUEBELL is a beautiful, self- spreading plant needing little care.

The indigenous English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) is seen less these days because of the introduction of the Spanish form (H. hispanica), which has cross-pollinated with it to form variable plants with a mish-mash of heights, shapes and tints of blue. But whatever you have in your garden

– actual species or cross-bred hybrids – any bluebell carpet will give you a sense of spring, with warmer weather on the way. If you really do want to fly the national flag, the so-called English bluebell has all its flowers hanging on one side of the stalk, with a graceful nodding head. The Spanish bluebell meanwhile produces flowers all around the stalk. I’m sowing English bluebell seeds now.


If you particularly want English bluebells, make sure you don’t already have any of the Spanish kind in the garden as they will cross-pollinate, and the resultant plants will be a mish-mash of colours – even turning to pink (right). In the garden, a good place to grow them is under deciduous hedges or shrubs. Here, they can flower in full glory until the hedge foliage returns in late spring to give them some shade.


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THIS EASY-to-make lemon and thyme lotion is an excellent toner for acne-prone skin

1 All you need is

the juice of half a lemon, a large sprig of thyme and 16 fl oz (470ml) of water

2 Boil the thyme in the water for two minutes. Then cover the pan and let

it infuse and cool for a further five

3 Strain the


water into

a clean jug

and add the lemon juice


Take great care when using herbal remedies - try a tiny amount first to check for allergic reactions. Consult a doctor if you have any concerns. Several garden herbs are renowned for their helpful properties. Mint is good for the digestion, camomile is well known for helping aid sleep and feverfew is said to ease migraines.

A surprisingly wide range of home-grown herbs can be used to help your skin

Herbs that can help

Natural skin products are hugely popular – Ruth takes a look at the herbal remedies you can find in the garden

4 Pour

into a

clean jar and use twice a day, morning and evening


ERBS HAVE always had an important place in gardens through

the centuries. They look attractive and add wonderful flavours to food. Hundreds of years ago they played an important role in the health of the nation. In the days before antibiotics and painkillers, the knowledge of herbs and their uses was a vital part of life. Most villages had a ‘wise woman’ who

used plants to help and heal the local population. Much of this knowledge has sadly been lost, but many of our commonly grown plants still have uses beyond the kitchen. On these pages we look at those plants that can be used to benefit our skin. Always seek medical advice before you try them if you have any concerns about using natural products.

TimeInc unless credited




Q Aloe vera,

goodbye stinging burns. These tender perennials are available in many garden centres. The plant’s sap soothes burns, scalds and acne as well as itchy dermatitis and eczema. Just break off a leaf and rub the clear sap on the problem area.


Q Gardeners may curse dandelions, but they are a welcome addition to

the herbalist’s cabinet. The milky sap can be applied to acne to inhibit infection and also helps eczema, warts, athlete’s foot and ringworm. The pith inside flower stems can help ease plant and insect stings.


Q For centuries the leaves and seeds of lavender have been tied in muslin bags and slipped under pillows as the soothing fragrance of the oils they contain can help people to sleep. Lavender oil can be used to help eczema and skin that is pimple-prone.


Q Not just a pretty face, pansies contain

Vitamin C and have anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties. They are used in creams and ointments to help a range of conditions including eczema, psoriasis, acne and irritated skin.


Q Not just a deterrent for vampires, garlic is also reputed to cleanse the blood and combat skin complaints (if you can put up with the pong). Rub a sliced clove of garlic on spots and acne and the plant’s antioxidants will help it clear. Crushed garlic can be applied to coldsores, or mixed with warm water to help athlete’s foot.


Q Not just packed with Vitamin C to ward off

winter snuffles, lemon can

also work wonders for your

heath and complexion. A slice of lemon in a mug of hot water first thing cleanses your system,

which reflects on your skin.

Mix lemon juice with honey,

or add it to a facemask, for a deep cleanse and to lighten facial scars. Lemon juice can also be applied to

lighten facial hair.


Q Comfrey is something of a miracle plant – it is good for the garden and will mend your wounds. It contains a property called allantoin that speeds cell renewal and helps wounds to heal – its folk names include ‘knitbone’ and knitback’. The leaves can be used in summer and fresh roots dug up in autumn and winter. Both can be made into a poultice and applied to cuts, bruises and sprains.


Q As well as being a delicious kitchen herb, rosemary also has antibacterial and antioxidant properties. Its diluted oil is used to help minor wounds and burns and to ease symptoms of eczema and psoriasis. When added to shampoo, rosemary oil can also help combat dandruff.

Bevan Dave BevanDave

All Time Inc. unless credited





While your heap is nicely cooking on the inside, you can boost its outside temperature, too.

CARPETING: Covering your heap

with a piece of old carpet (above), canvas or tarpaulin, to prevent heat and moisture loss. Just remember to add water to the heap after a month or so, as rain will be kept out.

THE SUN: It is always best to site

your compost heap in full sun, to gather what warmth it can.

SNOW COVER: If we should get

a cold, snowy winter, a blanket of

snow will insulate compost from deep freezes. Leave it on piles to which you are not adding new material, but

scrape it off when you want to put on

a fresh layer.


During summer, just add a mix of ingredients to a compost heap. But in winter, add layers of ‘green’ (nitrogen-rich) ingredients to ‘brown’ (carbon- rich) ones; these layers help insulate the heap, trapping heat and gases inside.

I have three compost bins, and I add to them all-year-round

Compost in winter

Should you stop adding to heaps in the cold? Are they best covered, or left open? Graham has the answers

STRAW BALES: If you have access

to a few of these, pack them around your heap (above) for another layer of protection from cold wind.


DURING SUMMER, frequent turning is the best way to keep microbes well supplied with oxygen. But in winter, turning will expose the warm core to the outside cold, undoing all the good you are doing. So aim to cause as little disturbance as possible to the layers. Wait until spring before your turn the heap.

C OMPOSTING IS a job gardeners can do all-year-round. Even

through winter you should be adding suitable materials from the garden or kitchen – as and when they become available. But this is the time of year when you need to pay a little bit more attention to your composting techniques. Cold weather slows the decomposition

process, so you should try to maintain a hot ‘core’ in the heap. If you think about it, the outside layers of the heap will be the same temperature as the surrounding air and soil but, if things are right, the inside will be hot. This is where the crucial microbial activity is occurring. Here’s how to keep your compost cooking during winter:


MICROBES (BACTERIA and fungi that undertake the decomposition process for us) slow down as the temperature drops in autumn; this is why food keeps better in a fridge or freezer! Help them in winter by chopping or shredding the material to 2in (5cm) or less before adding it to the heap. A layer of this across the top of the heap will help to heat it up uniformly, forming a kind of insulation cover. The microbes need a good balance of nitrogen- and carbon-rich materials. For

nitrogen add veg and fruit peelings, leafy weeds, coffee grounds, houseplant trimmings and manure from chickens or rabbits. For carbon add shredded newspaper, leaves, straw, eggshells, sawdust and small amounts of wood ash from a fire (to add to the calcium, phosphorus and potassium content of the compost).



2 nd

TimeInc. unless credited


Harvesting fresh new potatoes for Christmas is a treat. Bring pots into the greenhouse (inset) to protect them from frost, or wrap with fleece

Spuds for Christmas

Fresh new potatoes on Xmas day is a treat, says Sue Stickland

I ALWAYS look forward to harvesting my second- cropping or ‘Christmas’ potatoes. These are potatoes planted in August to give a crop in late autumn – just when you’ve forgotten the delicious earthy smell and buttery taste of fresh new potatoes. Seed tubers for growing these spuds are sold in late

Plant tubers in a rich compost/soil mix

summer, mail-order or from some garden centres. They are simply spring seed tubers which have been stored cold so they don’t sprout – usually early or second early varieties such as ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Maris Peer’, which grow vigorously. Two problems beset August plantings – blight disease and early frosts. Both can kill the foliage before new tubers

Top growth may need supporting

have chance to form. This is why I grow my second cropping potatoes in pots, which can easily be brought into a greenhouse or other light, dry, frost-free place. In warm, wet weather this helps avoid blight, and later it will keep off light frosts. Pot grown tubers are also less susceptible to slug damage, and are easy to harvest. By mid November, the foliage has usually yellowed, but the tubers can be left in their pots of moist compost for a few weeks – they will still keep their new potato texture and taste. I prefer crisp roasties for Christmas dinner, but a potato salad of freshly ‘dug’ new spuds is perfect for parties on Boxing Day. Q




Q Order cold-stored tubers for July delivery or buy extra seed tubers of your normal earlies and keep them in the fridge.

Q Plant chilled tubers in early

August (no need to chit). I put

one tuber per 10-12in (25-30cm)

(10litre) pot, filled with a 50:50

mix of soil and garden compost.

Q Bring pots into a greenhouse

or porch to avoid frost and keep

the plants growing. Cover outdoor crops with fleece.

Q The crop should be ready after about 11 weeks (pictured). If you don’t need them straight away, let the foliage has die down and leave them in their pot until required. Lift outdoor tubers before hard frosts, and rebury in boxes of damp sand/leafmould.


A CHEAP option for

growing this second crop is to buy extra seed potatoes

in spring and store them

cold for August planting. I keep mine in a paper bag in the fridge – not always popular with rest of house, but handy for 2 – 3 tubers. An alternative is to leave them ‘chitting’ (growing sprouts) in a light cool place, although I find these quickly run out steam when they’re planted if I haven’t kept them cool enough.

SUE STICKLAND is a qualified gardener and widely published gardening writer









Cutting a narcissus bulb


in half to show the embryo

ower and leaves

within, interests the children.

Windowsill-cultivated garden peas for salad shoots


always popular.


3 Children love water, wet days when there

so get them washing pots on is less to do.

Let children clean garden tools. This extends the


tools’ life and keeps them in top condition.

Both TimeInc.

Throw out old seed, as


there is nothing more

discouraging than a failure of seeds to germinate.




Children love to grow things

Teaching gardening to youngsters is demanding, but worth it, says Peter

VISIT three school I gardening clubs a week, on average, and at each one there is so much to do and learn it is frustrating to have to leave. Teaching is so demanding – you can never give each child the time they need. Where you have a group of youngsters of different ages and abilities, pre-class preparation is everything. Pots, compost, seeds, bulbs all need to be ready to demonstrate what is to be done, before letting every child do it for themselves.

“Letting children loose on a f lower bed is chaotic”

Usually there are three objectives: showing scholars how things grow, letting them cultivate things for themselves, and harvesting crops for the school kitchen. Letting 10 or so children lose on a bed of soil can be a bit chaotic, but you have to let them learn, for example,

Sweet peas are a popular plant for kids to grow at school

that treading on plants doesn’t do them much good! Two plots are needed in a perfect teaching environment, one for the demonstration and another for the students to try things for themselves. Growing crops for the school’s kitchen is another complication, and you need to find which fruits and vegetables they will use. Just one grafted cucumber plant in a polytunnel or greenhouse proved sufficient at two schools, with two full-size cucumbers cut per week. When it comes to crops such as garden peas and raspberries, then you can never have enough, and without tight control they do not even reach the kitchen! The very best planting material should be used. For example, good primocane raspberry cultivars such as ‘Autumn Treasure’ will crop heavily in June/July before the term ends, and then the new canes will be fruiting again on return in September. Sweet peas are a good crop to sow in October. The mass of flowers cut from late May to July bring fragrant blooms

Close up showing embryo owers in centre of the bulb

Teaching children about gardening can be a lively experience!

into the school building and provide cut flowers for sale to raise funds. Salad leaf sowings are an absolute banker. They can be grown in containers of compost pretty well year- round, so soil is not essential, and all the children can handle the seeds and see seedlings germinate in days. Harvested leaves can be tasted when they are cut and the school canteen always nds them useful. Out in the open ground

pests can be a real difficulty, and wherever possible a frame, covered in fleece or ne netting is a great asset to help keep off cats, foxes, pigeons and squirrels – not to mention balls! Slugs have been a real problem this wet year, and strict hygiene, clearing away fallen leaves and plant debris, is important. Q

PETER SEABROOK is a gardening expert and former presenter of Gardeners’ World












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*Calls cost 5p per minute from a BT

landline, call costs from other networks may be higher.

can solve your


AskAsk thethe

experts experts

Questions answered!

ANNA TOEMAN has 20 years’ experience working in historic gardens

JOHN NEGUS trained at the RHS and is a specialist garden writer

DR JANE BINGHAM has a plant science PhD and a MSc in plant ecology

Q “I bought some busy lizzie plants and they have two stems: a green one onto the roots and a red one hanging from the bottom of the flower heads. What are they?”

AE Green, Peterborough

A The red ‘stem’ is actually a sepal or modified petal. Many species of busy lizzie have these spurs – as they are called – and they are filled with nectar to attract insects. Busy lizzies are zygomorphic and resipinate. This means that if the flower were cut up like a pie, no two pieces would be the same or equal,

whereas if you took a composite-like flower and cut it up, you would get an equal number of same-sized pieces. Resupinate or resupination is the twisting of the flower as it emerges. In impatiens this is at 180 degrees, so what looks like the upper petal is actually the lower one. ANNA TOEMAN

Busy lizzies are fascinating plants

This clivia and Christmas cactus are making a gorgeous display together

Q “I was given this clivia with the words ‘it flowers whenever it wants’. Last

year it flowered in spring and this year it had two flower spikes by 12 October. At the same time, my Christmas cactus was in bud and they are now giving a beautiful display. What’s going on?”

G Overfield, Malton, North Yorkshire

A Although clivias normally flower in spring, and Christmas cacti from December to January, it is not

uncommon for both to flower out of season. Liquid-feed both with a high-potash tomato fertiliser when flower buds are forming, and rest them in summer – keep the compost moist, not soggy. They will perform beautifully. Clivias bloom better in spring if kept in a coldish room for six weeks from October to mid-November. Christmas cacti benefit from being outdoors in a cool, shady spot in summer. JOHN NEGUS

AGAG ExpertEx pert hotlinehotline

Call weekdays from 12-1pm

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“Janet Lilly was concerned that the leaves and fruit on her 50-year-old Williams pear were covered in black spots. We think it is an infestation of pear leaf blister mite. They do not impair the tree’s fruiting ability and sadly there is no remedy except picking off and binning or burning the leaves”

Email us: Call us: &0843 168 0200 (12 to 1pm weekdays)

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Ask the

experts experts

Christine Walkden’s

ProblemProblem solversolver

Problem solver

Make gardening life easier by giving your shed a good tidy

Q “I am trying to make my garden into a wildlife habitat, but a cat keeps coming

in, using it as a toilet, and chasing the birds. How can I stop it?”

Margaret Burgess, Exeter, Devon

A There are many cat deterrents available, but if you plant a patch of catnip (nepeta) in a part of the garden

away from the bird table, the cats will go there rather than

into the wildlife areas. Cats love to roll on catnip. Alternatively, create a defensive barrier by tying several lengths of taut cord 2in (5cm) above each other on top of your boundary wall or fence. Secure them tightly to wooden supports at either end. The total height should be 8-10in (20-25cm). When cats attempt to scale the boundary, the cord will deter them from going any further. JOHN NEGUS

Q “This rather unusual plant is

growing in a pot in my garden. I didn’t plant it – where did it come from and what is it?”

Ms J Hodson, Folkestone

A It is a caper spurge, Euphorbia lathyrus. It is a

biennial variety of euphorbia that grows between 12-47in

(30-120cm) and has a distinctive arrangement of waxy, blue-green leaves in four vertical rows. It is a native plant but rarely found in the wild except as a garden escapee. Your plant most probably grew from a seed dropped by a passing bird or another creature. The plant in your photo has flowered and started to set seed. Being biennial, the seeds germinate one year and the plant reaches flowering size the next. The seeds are prolific and germinate readily, so seedlings will be appearing forever in your garden from now on! However, this does make it easier to transplant specimens to more suitable places! ANNA TOEMAN

This self-seeded caper spurge is a biennial

Q “It is a year since its last tidy, and my shed is a complete mess. Is there a right

and wrong way to organise the interior? Ideally, what should go where?”

Julie Barber, Carshalton

A I find that the best way to organise a shed is

with tool racks on one side, so you can hang such things

as forks, rakes and spades on them, and on the other side have floor-to-roof shelving for stacking pots, trays, fertilisers etc. On the back wall I have a shelf on top of bricks, on which I keep my large bags of potting compost, tubs of fertilisers and other large

bagged items. In the roof space I have two long poles running from one end to the other. I tie things to them such as watering cans in the winter when not in use, as well as dried flowers and herbs. I also bundle up canes and tie them along the poles so they are out of the way. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to arrange your shed. It all depends on what works well for you.

AG on

Go to, create a free account if needs be, search for Amateur Gardening and you’re ready to join in the chat!

DIANA HUDSON I planted some anemone bulbs in a pot. They are not meant to show until February but are already showing. The pot also has tulips, hyacinths, narcissi and alliums. I’ve made a fleece wigwam for them – can I do anything else? I could put them in my conservatory.

JOHN NEGUS Anemone coronaria is a tough perennial and will be happy under the fleece. The tulips, narcissi,and alliums won’t mind the cold. You could put them in your conservatory where they will flower earlier, and possibly better, than outdoors.

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Photography by John Swithinbank

StepStep byby StepStep

AG’s Family Gardener

Anne nne

Swithinbank thinbankthinbank

Watching your step

There’ll be no trampling of buds in the border – Anne’s got them covered

I N MY imagination, the borders around the front of our house are transformed into a

woodland glade dominated by 5ft (1.5m) high shrubby Paeonia ostii, their large white blooms fluttering and shimmering in the dusk of a spring evening. In reality, I can only find two ‘sticks’ of peony, where I’m sure I planted three and there’s a fair bit of weeding to do.

“Dormant clematis are particularly vulnerable”

The two ‘sticks’ are decorated by plump, healthy looking buds but are only about 6in (15cm) high – roughly the same size as the diameters of my imaginary flowers. Fortunately, I have more peonies to plant, because I was lucky to receive fresh seed from a friend several years ago. Before weeding, the peonies must be located and covered with upturned pots, as it is easy to rotate like an elephant and annihilate

several camouflaged plants. Dormant clematis are particularly vulnerable because they are often anchored to the ground by one or two slender stems and I always wrap them in fleece, so I know where they are. On our recent nursery- visiting trip to Cornwall, we bought Escallonia ‘Pink Elle’ for its compact habit to 5ft (1.5m) glossy foliage and pink summer flowers. I’m planting it in John’s border, where it should be able to withstand the salt-laden gales.

AUTUMN TINTS We also saw the twining climber Celastrus orbiculatus, known as bittersweet. These are rarely planted, because they are large and to be sure of their ornamental red- seeded, orange fruits you really need several, as male and female flowers are often found on separate plants. They’re worth having for the yellow autumn tints alone. John collected some Fuchsia magellanica fruits from our plants and wondered how to deal with them. The best sowing method is to squeeze seeds and pulp straight onto the compost surface, as with rowans or lapagerias, then cover lightly with grit and


place in the cold greenhouse. For storage, they need to dry. We tried kitchen towel, which was fiddly and I might also have a go at putting the fruit pulp and seeds in water for a few days so the pulp ferments, before rinsing it, then separating the seed by passing the liquid through a coffee filter paper. Down at the compost heap, I spotted a germinated avocado stone and couldn’t resist potting it up. I’m not expecting fruits, but they make fun house plants. Q


John gathered several fruits from our Fuchsia magellanica but some of them were a little overripe

Covering the leafless peony stems with pots means I won’t accidentally trample them. Raised from seed these have settled well into this woodland style border

The twining climber Celastrus orbiculatus turns a fabulous autumn yellow

Avocado stones often germinate in warm compost heaps, so just pot them up and enjoy them as foliage pot plants

Slicing fruits open reveals rows of tiny pale seeds within. Squeezing contents straight onto compost might be the best method

Escallonia ‘Pink Elle’ should be able to withstand the sea gales that blow through this windy border

I pulled the seed and pulp out onto some kitchen paper to dry but the seed will be fiddly to pick up


KitchenKitchen GardenGarden

Leek moth attacks

I’ve got a plan to deal with the damage caused by these pests says Anne

A LTHOUGH THEY went in rather late, my leeks have continued to grow

and swell in a mild autumn but I spotted a few imperfections in the leaves. On closer inspection, they’ve suffered a mild attack of leek moth, the caterpillars of which mine between the leaf surfaces, making silver and then brown discolourations. This amount of damage is bearable and I rotate them well. If in any year the damage increases, I’ll cover the next batch of leeks with enviromesh to stop the egg laying. This tends to be a worse problem on allotments where the moth has a greater

Caterpillars mine between the leaf surfaces and sometimes burrow into stalks, which can destroy crops

chance of breeding up. In the foreground, you can see a fine globe artichoke plant. This is one of the youngsters raised from seed last spring and planted out. By summer, I had small potfuls of attractive young plants and wondered whether to pot them on and plant out next spring, or plant them straight out and risk the youngsters being killed off by a cold, wet winter. In the end I potted half on and put the rest out and of course, the latter are now about three times the size of their potted counterparts. If we have a mild winter, they’ll easily win.

NEW BUY While perusing the plants at Trevena Cross Nursery near Helston recently, an interesting array of unusual fruit and veg plants caught my attention. I don’t like to try too many unknown veg all at once, so I chose carefully – a yakon. It had a tall stalk of foliage looking superficially like a hairy, thin- leaved kalanchoe sprouting from a pot. When I got it home and knocked the roots out, the pot was full of

I have a fair batch of medium sized leeks here and just a little bit of damage from leek moth

fabulous tubers. The yakon is widely grown in the Andes and known as Peruvian ground apple. However it is closely related to Jerusalem artichokes and sun flowers.

HOW TO TREAT Having read about it, I would say that for cultivation purposes, it is best to treat it like a dahlia. Plants are dug for their tubers in the autumn

and some are either left in the ground or, like mine, potted and kept frost free for planting out in spring. The stems can reach 6ft 6in (2m) high. I tasted a tuber and it is surprisingly sweet though (because our stomachs don’t readily digest the sugar), low in calories. There’s a slightly fruity flavour there and a crispiness reminiscent of water chestnut. Worth a go, I think. Q


Stems of foliage can reach 6ft 6in (2m) high when planted outside after danger of frosts


Tapping the plant out of its pot revealed a good mass of tubers inside

I pulled one away. The flesh discolours quickly and is crunchy, with an odd sweetness.







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Got Got a a story? story? call call 01202 01202 440848 440848

or or email email

Toby to launch summer show


A MATEUR GARDENING columnist Toby Buckland is to

launch a new summer gardening show – set in the grounds of a historic house.

Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival will take place at Bowood House in Wiltshire on 5-6 June 2015. The former Gardeners’ World presenter decided to launch a second event after the success of his spring gardening show at Devon’s Powderham Castle. Bowood is owned by the 9 th Marquis and Marchioness of Lansdowne. It’s set in 2,000 acres of Grade I-listed Capability Brown parkland. The country pile won The

Summer splendour: Bowood

Historic Houses Association/ Christie’s ‘Garden of the Year 2014’ title. It features a lake, pinetum, cascade, four-acre walled garden and two levels of Italianate terraces.

PARTY MOOD Toby said: “The festival will have the same party mood as Powderham. Because many nursery exhibitors and speakers are friends – that’s what creates the magic – it’ll have a friendly atmosphere. “Gardening is at the core of everything and so is quality. That applies to the plants, food and music. Having a big family myself, I know a day out can be expensive so children under 16 go free. “My aim is to support and showcase small nurseries who form the backbone of UK horticulture, and spread the love of gardening,” he added. Adult tickets will cost £12.50 on the gate or £10 in advance. Lord Lansdowne said Bowood would celebrate the 40 th anniversary of opening its house and gardens to the public next year. He said:

“June’s Garden Festival will be

Show-time: Toby will run two gardening events in 2015

“My aim is to support and showcase small nurseries”

a most befitting highlight within Bowood’s 2015 calendar of events. “The festival will be a ‘must’ not just for garden and countryside lovers living locally, but will also encourage others from across the country and abroad to head to Wiltshire for a special

English experience.” In addition, Toby Buckland’s Garden Festival will return to Powderham Castle in Devon on 1-2 May. The launch event last year attracted around 8,000 visitors and was widely applauded for the quality of nurseries exhibiting. The Powderham event will feature special appearances by celebrity gardeners Christine Walkden and Bob Flowerdew. Go to toby for details.

Urgent appeal to save Victorian glasshouses

AN HISTORIC garden has launched a fund-raising appeal in a bid to restore its Victorian glasshouses. West Dean Gardens in West Sussex has 13 glasshouses, but the appeal will focus on two that need “urgent” repairs. One Victorian glasshouse, which has had to be taken down, will cost over £30,000 to restore to its former glory. Built between 1891 and 1900, the glasshouses are described as “part of Britain’s horticultural heritage”. The appeal needs to raise £60,000 this winter. Gardens supervisor Sarah

Wain said of the dismantled greenhouse: “Historically, it was the oral house where potted flowering plants were grown on, to take to the big house to display on a weekly/ twice-weekly cycle. I used it to grow displays of veg and herbs in pots. This was followed by pelargoniums and fuchsias (mostly 19 th Century cultivars) plus foliage plants and owering begonias.” An appeal fund-raising page is now live on the internet. Go to west to donate.

Restoration: West Dean

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Twycross Zoo


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Kew Gardens

GET YOUR SHOW TICKETS Public tickets to RHS Flower Shows, which include Chelsea, Hampton Court and Tatton Park, went on sale on 1 December. Go to

Make gardening available on NHS

GARDENING SHOULD be made available on the National Health Service (NHS), a leading doctor and scientist have said. Dr William Bird, a GP of 30 years’ experience, made his comments at the Royal Horticultural Society’s John MacLeod Lecture in London in November. He was supported by Dr van den Bosch – a doctor and researcher at the Swedish

Gardening can improve health and help patients recover from illness

“Contact with plants is critical for mental wellbeing”

University of Agriculture, and a consultant for the World Health Organisation (WHO). Dr van den Bosch said:

“Apart from preventing diseases, horticulture and horticulture therapy are used to beat conditions of ill health. “These include cancer rehabilitation, depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and behavioural disturbances. There is now enough evidence to include gardening and nature in the health care agenda.”

Speakers argued that access to gardens and green spaces promote physical activity, and that when people take part in such activities outdoors, they are more likely to stick with it. Dr William Bird argued that the NHS could make financial savings if horticultural therapy was used to improve health. He said: “We could see benefits of at least £5 health benefit for every £1 spent. “Since about £60billion is

spent on long-term health conditions, 80 per cent of which could be prevented by

a healthier lifestyle, there is a

significant incentive to develop a programme that includes horticulture,” Dr Bird added. Speakers at the RHS conference also claimed that contact with plants provides a sense of place, which helps humans connect to their environment, which is “critical for mental wellbeing”.




colours to tempt pollinators, and Kew Gardens hopes that

a spectacular display will

tempt visitors in their droves. Kew’s Alluring Orchids event, runs from 7 February to 8 March in the Princess of

Wales Conservatory. It’ll examine how these popular plants have evolved to look vibrant and beautiful. Ultra-violet lighting in the Princess of Wales Film Room will reveal hidden marks on some species that trick insects into thinking they are encountering a different plant. for details.


SECRETS OF GREAT DIXTER Great Dixter in Sussex, home of late plantsman Christopher Lloyd, will run courses sharing the garden’s secrets.


BOB FLOWERDEW, Bunny Guinness and Matthew Wilson join Eric Robson in Glasgow. Tune in to BBC Radio 4 at 3pm on Friday 12 December (repeated at 2pm on Sunday 14 December).



Hungry elephants Elephants at Twycross Zoo in Warwickshire were treated to 2,000 lettuces, grown to full size in half the normal time

using a vertical hydroponics (water and nutrient solution) system. HydroGarden aims to produce high yields using vertical systems in regions where it’s hard to grow food.

Peace and quiet Broadcaster John Humphrys has lashed out at the din made by leaf blowers. Writing in the Daily Mail, he suggested an alternative: “A few centuries ago, someone invented a brilliant device: a long pole with bristles attached to one end. They called it a broom.”


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Tom Montgomery (circled) ShutterstockRHS/NP

Ball Colegrave

Award winning


RHS MEMBERSHIP ON THE UP Royal Horticultural Society membership has risen to 424,000, but director-general Sue Biggs said the RSPB’s 1.2million is feasible.

Grow-your-own pub grub!


B RITAIN’S CHEFS and pub landlords are beginning to pay as much

attention to the garden fork as they do the knife and fork, a good food guide claims. The new Michelin Eating Out In Pubs Guide 2015 recommends 590 pubs from Great Britain and Ireland. All have been selected, first and foremost, for the quality of their food. But an increasing amount of fruit and veg on the menu is being home-grown, according to the guide’s editor, Rebecca Burr. “Pubs are a quintessential part of British life and the standard of food being served in them continues to reach new heights,” she said. “Customers are now demanding that chefs use more local produce and want to see local recipes and

specialities on the menu. “Chefs and pub-owners are not only embracing this idea but some are taking it a stage further by growing their own fruit, vegetables and herbs, and by keeping chickens and rearing pigs,” Rebecca added. Chef Tim Bilton, of the Spiced Pear Restaurant in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, is converting a once weed- infested hillside into a three-acre kitchen garden. He aims for his restaurant to be 75 per cent sustainable in fruit and veg from the plot. Tim, who trained under the renowned chef Raymond Blanc, employs a full-time gardener at the pub. “I want to celebrate and promote the joys of growing your own and spread the allotment agenda,” he said. Elizabeth Balmforth, head gardener at the Mount St

Cutting food miles:

chef Tim Bilton

“I want to celebrate grow your own and promote the allotment agenda”

John Estate near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, runs a walled kitchen garden that supplies Provenance Inns, a

group of seven pubs. Elizabeth said: “It is gathering momentum. There are several other pubs that do the same. It makes a huge amount of sense and is a growing trend. “They want heritage varieties of produce as well as modern ones,” she added.

You could choose the nation’s top wallf lower

Ball Colegrave’s ‘Sugar Rush’ series

AMATEUR GARDENERS will be called on to choose which varieties of wallflowers are the nation’s favourite. Over 300 varieties of wallflowers (erysimum) were planted out at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey last month. Visitors will be asked to vote for their favourite by May 2015, with the RHS People’s Choice Award set to be announced in the spring. RHS trials development manager Mark Heath said:

“Wallflower breeders have been active in breeding new


cultivars which flower in the autumn as well as spring – and also erysimums that flower earlier in the spring after planting out in autumn. “In spring 2015, when the erysimums start to bloom, visitors will be encouraged to vote for their favourite.” One of the varieties on trial is Ball Colegrave’s ‘Sugar Rush’ series (pictured, left). This hardy, scented wallflower is a dual-purpose type: as well as traditional spring blooms, it flowers in the autumn, too.

Other cultivars on trial (below) include Tozer’s Sunset series and Floranova’s Treasure line-up, as well as others from Moles Seeds, Kernock Plants and Syngenta.


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SEE WELSH BOTANIC FOR LESS The Welsh Botanic is offering coach companies, tour firms and groups a discount group rate of £5 per person (usually £7.50) in April and May 2015.


FESTIVE GIFTS FOR GARDENERS Celebrity gardener Pippa Greenwood has launched gift collections for gardeners on her website. Go to

Youngsters turning to gardening, says RHS

LATEST RESEARCH from the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has claimed that gardening is as popular among young people as it is with adults. The poll showed that 93 per cent of 2,000 adults had a garden

or grow plants. And 89 per cent of 16-24 year-olds have access to a garden or grow plants. More than half said gardening was “important”. Some 42 per cent of 16-24 year-olds garden for the environment, but only 32 per

cent of over 55s do. RHS director-general Sue Biggs said: “The message comes through that young people care about their environment far more than the 55+ age group. We’ll have to work on that age group and make sure everyone cares about the environment.”

Survey respondees said they liked buying bedding (61 per cent), bulbs (55 per cent), grow-your-own (41 per

cent), shrubs (39 per cent), house plants (33 per cent) and perennials (30 per cent).

Some 71 per cent said they gardened for pleasure. And 92 per cent said gardening helped them relax, while 95 per cent said it lifted their mood. In other RHS news, National Gardening Week (13-19 April)

will include a national open gardens day on 17 April, when many UK gardens will open for free. Events for 2015 include a European orchid conference on 9-12 April and a new London rose show on 29-30 May at the Horticultural Halls.

“Young people care about the environment far more than over 55s”

‘Beauty of Islam’ garden coming to Chelsea 2015

RHS CHIEF Sue Biggs said a garden called The Beauty of Islam, at Chelsea 2015, will send out a “positive message” about the religion at a time when “a few extremists” are damaging its reputation. When asked if Kamelia bin Zaal’s Al Barari Firm Management garden is intended to address negative perceptions of Islam created by terror group ISIS, Sue said:

“We’re not a political organisation so it’s not for us to say. There’s no link. “Islam is an amazing religion. The fact that there are a few extremists doesn’t change that. The garden references Islam in a beautiful way. It has a positive message about the religion and everything related to it.” Sue (pictured) spent 30 years in the travel industry before taking charge of the RHS, and travelled to many Islamic countries. She added: “There’s always topical interest at Chelsea: for

instance the FERA garden about ash dieback last year. These stories challenge people’s perceptions. “There is a tiny minority who are causing problems to the reputation of Islam, but that doesn’t change Islam as one of the world’s great religions that has inspired beautiful culture over the centuries. “And gardens are a major channel for that, with amazing beauty and symmetry.”

Garden is f it for royalty

CHELSEA FLOWER Show designer Matt Keightley said working with clients Prince Charles and Prince Harry on 2015’s highest profile garden has been a doddle. Matt will design the Sentebale garden for Chelsea in May. Sentebale, Prince Harry’s charity, supports orphans and vulnerable kids in Africa. Designer Matt said:

“Prince Charles and Prince Harry were involved with feedback from the word go, making sure the design fits the ethos of Sentebale.

“Feedback has been good

and to date it has been fairly

straight-forward. I’ve got on with the design without too many conflicts.”

The garden will feature a

mix of South African and UK

plants, with a rocky waterfall

and wildflower meadow.


and trusted

At Tyntesfield near Bristol, National Trust gardeners still practise some of the techniques used by the generations that went before them, as Sue Bradley finds out when she meets veteran Phil Rumble

W HEN PHIL Rumble applied for a job as a gardener at

Tyntesfield House near Bristol in the late 1980s he was prompted by a desire to learn how to do things “properly”. And while plenty has changed in the 25 years since, he says that much of what he was taught there continues to inform his gardening today.

Since 2002 the estate has been looked after by the National Trust, but back then it still belonged to the Gibbs family, who made their fortune trading in fertiliser made from bird droppings in South America. After buying Tyntesfield in the 1840s, they created a gothic mansion and transformed the grounds and gardens. Phil’s first boss was Richard Gibbs, the 2nd Lord Wraxall,

Photos by Lynn Keddie

Head gardener Paul Evans and members of his team plant up the terrace at Tyntesfield. Each of the 10 beds is filled with some 1,000 tender annuals, just as they would have been in Victorian times

who died in 2001 – although on

a day-to-day basis he reported

to the head gardener. “I came here as a young father; I’m now an old grandfather,” laughs Phil. With nine years’ experience as

a gardener for the council under

his belt already, he was keen to expand his knowledge, and Tyntesfield seemed the ideal place. “There were four people in the garden when I came here and they had a lot of experience between them. We had to keep the standards up, especially as our head gardener was a judge at the local flower show! I started off as the ‘pot boy’, which meant I did everything and was really able to learn on the job.” One of his first lessons was the importance of weed control.

Phil with the grape vine he planted in 1989, the year after his arrival at Tyntesfield. He says the secret of good grapes is thinning fruits so the plant’s energy goes in to the best specimens

Watering is high on the list of Phil’s jobs, especially within the glasshouses in the kitchen garden

“The head gardener told me

that if I could keep on top of the weeds then I would have more time to do the proper work,” he recalls with a smile. “He used to say that the best time to hoe was

before I could actually see the weeds. We were told to push the hoe into the ground to a depth of a couple of inches to create a dry mulch that would stop the sun from evaporating all the water around the roots of a plant, and also prevent the weeds from growing.” Ensuring the gardens remained free from mess was another strict requirement. “We produced fruit and vegetables for the house and it was important to keep the place clean and tidy so that

“I did everything, which meant I was able to learn on the job”

Lord Wraxall could bring his friends around to show them where the food had come from,” says Phil. “We were taught that cleaning our tools made them easier to use the next time.” One of his earliest jobs was to make potting compost, using wooden boxes known as bushels to measure out the different components. The basic recipe was seven bushels of sterilised

loam, three of peat, two of sand, along with 4oz of fertiliser, 1½oz of white lime and 1½ of dolomite lime. The result was compost similar to John Innes no. 1, which could be modified for different purposes. “It was labour intensive, but if you buy the raw materials and feeds you get more compost for your money,” explains Phil. “Nowadays we don’t use peat; the National Trust has a peat- free policy across all its gardens because of the environmental damage caused by harvesting it.” Phil enjoys working in all areas of the garden, but he is particularly known for his skill in Tyntesfield’s large glasshouses, which date back to Victorian times. There he

Age-old advice

Pollination power – a

squirrel’s tail brushed up and down the flowers is used to pollinate grapes.

A rabbit’s tail does the

job for nectarines

A large hoe keeps runner bean rows

weed-free. “We were taught to start at

the top and push soil backwards so as not to get a big pile at the bottom”

helps to look after fruit trees such as peaches, nectarines and apricots, grape vines and tomatoes, some of which are picked to serve in the property’s restaurant, with the remainder going on the sales table for visitors to take home in return for a donation. The glasshouses are also home to various flowering plants, including jasmine, begonia, poinsettia and pelargonium. “We still grow poinsettias as cut owers for the house, just as we did in Lord Wraxall’s day,” says Phil. “They reminded him of a pheasant’s eye and he used to have them in vases for the shoots. Every year we cut the bracts for Christmas and then cut the rest of the plant down but leave the side shoots to come so that they can re-bract.” In the greenhouse there is an impressive wall of pelargonium that started life as a cutting from Blenheim Palace. “They grow tall because they are in a heated greenhouse and so they keep going over winter,” says Phil.

“We were taught that clean tools were easier to use next time”

“Lord Wraxall used to bring his friends to see it; now the National Trust uses the flowers for arrangements.” The garden at Tyntesfield is currently maintained by four full-time gardeners, one seasonal worker and 35 volunteers, all working under the leadership of head gardener Paul Evans. But despite the changes in personnel a number of traditions are left over from the early days of Phil’s time there. “We still use the kitchen garden and its buildings for the purposes they were designed for,” he reveals. “I’m proud to be helping to maintain a sense of tradition and continuity within this very special garden.”

Peaches, nectarines and apricots are fan- trained on a south-facing wall in one of the glasshouses. The extra warmth improves yield while training makes trees easier to work on

Planting marigolds in the terrace beds. “We don’t know for certain what the garden was like in the 19th century, but this is our interpretation,” says Phil


The garden at Tyntesfield is open all year from 10-5 (later in summer). Admission costs from £8.55 (adults) and £4.30 (children) for garden and estate only; from £13.90 (adults) and £7 (children) for the entire property. There is also a 20 per cent discount for visitors arriving on foot, by bike or public transport. For details visit

Capiscum annuum ‘Tequila’ is one of the greenhouse crops grown at Tyntesfield. A third of the produce is used in the restaurant while the rest is sold


After 25 years of gardening at the property, Phil has learned plenty about how to do things “properly”, and he is more than happy to pass on his knowledge to others. Here are some of his most useful pointers:


When growing cordon tomatoes in pairs, train the young stems to grow up the cane in the opposite pot. “We cross over tomatoes, especially earlies, because the lack of light early on means that they grow quite tall before they even put on their first truss. This way, the first truss is closer to the soil. And in a small greenhouse you can get more trusses per plant.”


If you want to ensure your bulbs do not rot, dig them up and store for next year. “Leave in the ground long enough for the plants to produce a bulb for the following year. Once the flowers drop off, cut the stem down and feed with a high potash feed such as rose food. Some weeks later dig them up, lay bulbs in a warm dry place to let the green go back into the bulb, then take the buds off and store in a cool dark shed until you are ready to plant them out again in the autumn. Remember to check regularly as a bit of rot in one bulb could spread to the lot.”


In the greenhouse, clay pots of plants like cineraria and schizanthus were kept on top of clay balls, which absorbed moisture but held the pots above water to avoid the threat of rot. Phil was taught to test for overwatering using a cane and a cotton reel. “We’d tap the pots. If they had a ringing sound they needed water. We were taught to give each pot a drenching, then let it dry out. With most potted plants the rule is: 1in of water will travel 9in down the pot. If you just put a splash of water in the top, the roots will dry out.”


Growing with a collar around the base of the plant – in this case a flower pot with its bottom removed – will prevent the necks of your melons getting wet and going on to rot. “This means we can water the soil around the collar but not inside it,” explains Phil. “Any melons that are showing signs of rot can be saved by placing a cut-off plant pot over the rotting area and then filling it with soil to encourage the stem to put out fresh roots.”

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