Here’s how to tackle your garden!

Garden Hand Tools from Primrose

Primrose Tool SetYes, we know it’s going to be bad weather this weekend, but you know as well as us that it’s time to get out there and get started in your garden!

Here’s a selection of our Primrose garden hand tools which are designed by gardeners for gardeners and perfectly up to the job.

We’re really quite proud of them and here’s why:

  • Lightweight yet strong – perfect even for kids
  • Durable and rustproof – so you can see your task through
  • Weatherproof – just in case you forget it in the English summer
  • Wood is FSC certified – wood is sourced responsibly

We’re so proud that we’re giving a 10 year guarantee on all of our wooden hand tools! Get digging now!

I have bought two garden products recently and both are top quality.

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wedding-meCat works in the marketing team and is responsible for online marketing, social media and the newsletter.

She spends most of her time reading about a variety of interesting facts, such as oddly named Canadian towns, obscure holidays and unusual gardening.

She mostly writes about Primrose news and current events.

See all of Cat’s posts.

Your October Garden

Nicotiana

Nicotiana look lovely, but keep them deadheaded for the best display at this time of the year.

How long will it last?

I don’t think it really matters. The still air, silvered light, some might think thin especially when it takes all day for the sun to appear over the trees, October is that cool evening at the end of the day, a time of rest and peace. And the best seat in the house is in the garden.

I love the October garden.

Yes, there are plenty of jobs to do, hedges and lawns to trim and cut, beds to clear, fruit to gather, but to sit amongst the insects sipping the very last drop of nectar from the nearly spent flowers, wings caught in the ethereal light is the nearest we get to a transport to another world.

The smell of far away burning fires reminds you that someone, somewhere, is doing some gardening.

The compost heap is a great place to start, largely because we have so much plant material about. Herbaceous borders we are clearing, cabbage roots, carrot tops, a million vegetables that have been pulled, preserved, stored or eaten.

New raised beds

New raised beds, and yes, I need to cut the grass before I cover with membrane.

I don’t compost potato vines or tomato vines because I might just infect the heap with fungal blight. I know the heap is supposed to be hot and this kills diseases, but you cannot always guarantee it’s uniformly hot etc. Besides, I worry about it. So I don’t compost it. What I do is burn it, and then the ashes go onto the compost heap.

Any really herbaceous material gets mixed with newspaper. This soaks up the liquid, particularly from material like grass clippings, that gets terribly wet. It’s good also to intersperse some woody material, anything that bulks out the material, and maintains a few air pockets.

Then, of course, it’s raining leaves! The paths, lawn, pavements and roads are increasingly covered with falling leaves. I sweep them into piles and give them a day to allow any wildlife to escape before popping them into a wire basket for a year to rot down. You get really wonderful seed compost from leaf mould.

The wire basket is important, being mostly wood, their rotting takes a great amount of air, even though it gets cold, it’s the air that does the job.

Autumn leaves

Leaves keep falling on me ‘ead! but they’ll soon be in the wire basket rotting down!

More than anything, October is garlic time. I am amazed how hardy garlic actually can get.

Planted in the teeth of the first gales of the year usually around the middle of the month, they sprout nicely and grow into pencil-sized plants that resist the worst of frosts, indeed they thrive on it, their best flavour coming from a good frosting.

Do buy good quality corms for planting in the UK. Avoid supermarket ones, which only work in very special circumstances. There are two types, hard-neck and soft-neck. Hard-neck garlic has a central stalk from which all the corms come. They are usually bigger, more robust in flavour, but there are fewer of them than soft-neck garlic which has no central stalk and smaller corms, but with more of them.

It is remarkable how summer bedding continues to do well deep into the month, and it is worth deadheading these plants, even if it is too late for replacement flowers. Something like a nicotiana throws out white and pink flowers, and looks lovely, so long as you remove the dead flowers. When there is a mixture of dead and new on the same plant, the garden looks as though the end of the year has come with neglect.

Do you need a low maintenance garden?

The very idea had always seemed to me to be spoiling my fun. After all, I like digging and weeding. But whereas age might not weary nor the years condemn, a heart attack certainly messes with your gardening plans. So for me, like so many, it’s time to make the garden easier to work with.

The starting of a hedge

The starting of a hedge, cotoneaster, mahonia, all we need now is the blackthorn.

This has started with raised beds. We pulled out, well I started but my son finished, a huge hypericum, and the spare land this triffid was taking we installed some raised beds.

We made them from decking plants, treated wood, cheap and easy to use, but if I didn’t have a son-in-law who was not only handy with wood, but strong enough to carry the beds into position, I would have bought them. They will make life so much easier.

My next purchase is about 50 sq metres of ground cover material. Not just the flimsy stuff, but the really heavy duty material. It will cover a significant part of the garden so I can cover with more beds, and then for making paths between the beds, which will then be covered with gravel.

Where I live there isn’t a lot of garden theft, but I do like to cover the paths with something that makes a noise to deter anyone walking on them, so they might just give up and go somewhere else if they are up to no good.

With this in mind, the bottom of the garden needs a little attention. Fortunately for us it runs into a farm where two of the nastiest dogs you could imaging are constantly on guard, but I am a little worried about these gorgons getting through into ours, and now we have become grandparents, we would feel a little safer with a good hedge. So we are planting a mixture of blackthorn (not just for the sloes but the two inch thorns!) some Mahonia japonica and various other nasties that will keep man and beast at bay.

It is remarkable how fast and stock proof this combination goes, and you can eat the fruits of both plants – actually, ask me for the recipe for mahonia lemonade sometime!

So, how long will it last, this balmy early Autumn? So long as there is a garden to look at, to potter about in, or simply to sit in the shed with a warm mug, peeping through the door, gardening’s a great life!

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

September in the garden

The buddleia is growing over my chair and - even though I like it - orange pollen messes my shirt!

The buddleia is growing over my chair and – even though I like it – orange pollen messes my shirt!

People get themselves into a bit of a muck-mess when it comes to pruning trees – and any fruit for that matter! But in fact it’s quite simple and once you have the basic idea about what you are doing, it becomes second nature.

Always try to assess the tree, look for branches that make up the main skeleton of the tree, and leave these alone. However, pruning isn’t the same as lopping, and if your tree is too large, then the best advice you can get is to employ a tree surgeon to do the job.

The cost of a branch crashing through your greenhouse, or worse, is rather more than the cost of a day’s work. Never attempt to lop a large tree, wood is really heavy, and you simply will not have the correct equipment for the job.

That said, it is also hard work, and a few days (or longer) flat on your back on painkillers just isn’t worth it.

Winter density lettuces - one of those lettuces that, when you bite into it, let's you know you are eating a salad, it's so thick.

Winter density lettuces – one of those lettuces that, when you bite into it, let’s you know you are eating a salad, it’s so thick.

If you care cutting a branch that is more than an inch thick, use a saw. Always start underneath cutting upwards upwards. This stops the wood peeling off when the branch falls, which will be a site of infection. Usually branches are quite heavy, and when you get to the last few cuts it is prone to break uncleanly, or at best, peel back the bark on the stump. Cut as close to the main branch as possible.

You can finish off these larger cuts with wound paint, which acts as a plaster, keeping infections out.

All pruning should take place in the dormant season, when there are no leaves on the tree, and before the Spring, when the sap in the tree is rising and any cutting will cause the tree to ‘bleed’.

The garlic we grew - not so much, is drying, and we should be planting fresh soon.

The garlic we grew – not so much, is drying, and we should be planting fresh soon.

First of all you are protecting the plant from itself. When branches cross over and touch, they rub and bang in the wind, and this causes damage. Since fruit tree wood is particularly susceptible, we need to cut out the possibility of this happening, otherwise you’ll get fungal infections where the damage occurs.

Cut out any branches that overlap or touch in such a way to make sure the plant that remains looks like a goblet, or wine glass. This is the best shape for allowing the wind through the branches, cutting down humidity, and therefore lessening the chance of disease.

The second thing to do is to cut out any small branches that are facing inwards, ones that will, in later months and years, crown the inside of the tree and disrupt the constant flow of air through it. Or will touch other branches were they allowed to grow.

Take cuttings in September. Nothing makes you feel like a proper gardener, and you get free plants.

Take cuttings in September. Nothing makes you feel more like a proper gardener, and you get free plants.

This is the major part of pruning a tree. If you wish, you can now take off some of the height of the tree too, should you feel it necessary, but remember, taking out the terminal buds will cause more branching, which will probably need to be prunes out at a later date.

On fruit trees it is a good idea to reduce the number of fruiting buds, on each branch, so the plant isn’t overwhelmed next Spring. You can tell the fruiting spurs, they form a little mass altogether. Just cut out a few per branch, and this encourages better fruit next year.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

See all of Mr Digwell’s posts.

Mr Digwell’s March Gardening Advice

They say March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, and it is this change from winter to spring that sets the human heart on a course for growing. Indeed, any warmish day (should one appear) gets us all talking about spring and itching to get out there in the garden. But don’t be fooled into starting too soon – It is always true that what you can sow in early March will be just as good started out in late March.

Snowdrops coming up in the garden

The snowdrops look lovely this year in the garden, growing everywhere they shouldn’t. It’s a joy to see these little beauties popping up all over the place.


March for me is a “just about” month. You can just about still prune your roses, you can just about plant bare rooted trees, you can just about get away with sowing salads, carrots, and parsnips, so long as the ground is warm. But really, March is a month for preparation.
First crocus blooms of spring

I don’t mind admitting it – the first crocus of the year move me to tears – just don’t tell anyone!

A fine tilth

The biggest preparation for me is that of the seed bed. Now this year I am building raised beds and what with everything else, all the piled-up work and myriad tasks I have to sort around the house, it looks as though I am going to be a little late. But no matter, it’s best to get things right than to try to rush them.

Seed beds need to provide the young plants with all they need for growth. These are:

  • Moisture
  • Warmth
  • Oxygen
  • Protection from cold – which is different from warmth (I’ll explain later)
  • Protection from hungry animals
  • Ventilation
  • Nutrients
  • An easy passage for roots to grow

Moisture

All living things need water to grow and this is provided by the moisture between the particles of soil. It is increased by the addition of rotted plant material which acts as a sponge, holding moisture until it is forcibly taken in by growing roots.

I always make sure that my beds are enriched with compost for this reason – water retention. However, too much water can be a bad thing. You can check how much water your soil has quite easily by the way it responds to squeezing.

Take a handful of soil and squeeze it in your hands. If it forms a tight ball, there is too much water in it. If it just starts to fall apart when released, it is just right. If there is too much water in your seedbed, add some sand – this will open the structure.
If your ball simply refuses to stick, even a little, your soil is too dry and you need to add more organic material – compost.

Warmth

In the first week of March I cover the soil with black plastic where possible. This is to warm the soil, the black plastic acting as a blanket to keep the day’s warmth in. By the end of the month the soil is ready for sowing direct. Even a couple of degrees is all you need for a growing seedling to get established.

For this reason also, I tend to put a plastic cloche on my tender plants, to keep the heat in. But you don’t want it so hot that the seedlings grow too quickly. I have found over the years that seedlings that grow too fast don’t store well when picked. Take onions for example: if you grow them too quickly they will produce onions that rot more easily than the ones that were a little cooler and slower growing. I am not sure, but I believe this is because of fungal infections that might get in the seedling and lie dormant.

Another thing to look out for is the amount of water in it that causes it to be cold. Clay soils are cold, and seeds don’t germinate too well in them. Adding compost, sand, and lime to clay soils, over a number of years, can improve it tremendously.

Oxygen

Almost all living things need oxygen for growth. This comes dissolved in the water between the soil particles. If your soil is too wet, if there is a lot of clay, it is likely that the oxygen in the soil will be largely used up.

The way to improve this is to add sand and organic matter. A fluffy soil is an airy soil.

Protection from Cold

This is different from keeping them warm. There is a phenomenon called ‘cold air drainage’ that basically says as wind blows over the land, it gets cooler. This is pronounced if you live on a hill. Cold air is heavy, and it rolls down the hill, getting colder all the time. This is responsible for frost pockets, which you almost always see at the bottom of a hill, or on your lawn if you live in the valley.

This is the reason for lining beds with box plants to keep the plants out of the chilling breeze. An old allotment trick is to plant in pyramids of soil, which bring them higher than they would have been sown flat.

Sedum plants in the garden

Sedum is as tough as old boots. Simply cut away the old stems when they die and you will get a crowd of new ones as a replacement

Protection from hungry animals

There is nothing more annoying than getting your cabbages ready and growing only to see them become breakfast for a flock of pigeons, or your peas to be pulled out of the ground by hungry mice, or worse still (I say worse – I love to watch them invent ways of getting to your plants), slugs and snails hang off branches to get to your lettuces.

There are clearly millions of chemicals you can use against nature, but in the end I prefer simple netting. My garden looks like a bedroom, by the end of March, with all the plants tucked under horticultural fleece. They get all the light they need, you can water through it and you can buy it so even the smallest insects can’t gain access.

Ventilation

One of the problems with keeping plants warm is this: warm and wet makes fungi grow. If you are using a cloche, keep at least one side open to get a bit of ventilation to shift the fungal infections. I’m not talking cold wind – just a good waft of air.

Nutrients

Not all plants need the same amount of nutrients. I work it like this: Potatoes need a lot, root crops next, then brassicas, then beans, then salads. But for now, seedlings don’t really need any nutrients at all, just enough water to make them explode into life, so if you are using a seed bed you don’t need to manure it too much.

Delphinium growing in garden

The tender growth of delphinium heralds Spring around the corner. I am going to fleece these to give them a little extra protection until April.

An easy passage for roots to grow

This comes by working the soil. It used to be a joke in our family. Granddad never really got on with grandma, so he was always to be found hoeing the carrot bed. It was said that his prize carrots were a barometer for how often they had argued that spring. The hoe is the best tool you have in the garden.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.

Mr Digwell’s Gardening Tips for January

The exciting part of New Year is the expectation – how is the year going to turn out and, especially in the garden, will it be the same as last year?

Hope not! Certainly the weather was the overriding factor affecting the garden last year, and if you are in to veggies, like me, then it was a complete wash out – literally! I actually chased my potatoes in a six inch torrent of water that was travelling faster than I could run. And to think that we moved here thinking that because we were on a hill we would have no flooding troubles.

But it never is the same and, over the years, we have found the garden has a life of its own. Yes, we can plan and change stuff, but the garden has its own character that always shines through, and we do our best to foster that character.

The Christmas tree in January..

Last year we had a real Christmas tree and one of the first jobs of January was to recycle the remains. We normally have an artificial tree, but that year, the real one came out of a disaster – a car had come off the road and crashed into a copse of young firs, so we took advantage of the situation, and as no one was hurt, it seemed the right thing to do.

Christmas trees, like most pines, are full of resin, and do not rot so easily. Therefore we simply chopped up the branches and use them as mulch. The main stem was sawn for the fire and the ashes poured into the compost heap.

Snowdrops!

IMG_0697

Snowdrops in the cracks of the paving

Snowdrops are a favourite for January, such a delicate plant to look at, but this little beauty is as tough as old boots. I am naturalizing them about the garden, but they seem to do that all on their own too, setting seed everywhere, even in the cracks of the paving.

Snowdrops are dug up in August and then simply pushed into the ground in their new location- and quite forgotten until they pop up with a shout in late December – early January. They do well in the barest of soils, the only real care they need is to be left alone, and not walked on. Once they have flowered, let them grow leaves for several months, so they can manufacture more of the corms that we distribute around the garden in high summer.

Another job for January is the lawn. Work off all those extra dinners of the festive season by aerating the lawn, if not too wet, and also trim up the edges, a job which always improves the lawn’s appearance. When I had one to play with, January was the ideal time for working on the gutters of bowling greens, getting them just right – we tend to forget the lawn is at its weakest, and likely it’s most vulnerable at the edges.

Think Spring!

You may remember one of my earlier blogs was about putting dahlias to bed for the winter, in a frost free place, having dug up the tubers, divided and dusted with sulphur powder, and set them in a cool but frost free place. Now is time to give them a check for rot of any kind. Open them up and have a good inspection for any signs of rotting, bad odours, blackness, weeping or anything else untoward. Remove any offenders and repack for a couple of months to continue their sleep. We need to inspect them because they would infect the whole set if left, which would be a disaster.

If you haven’t already done so, dig over your plots, making sure you are careful not to damage roots of trees and shrubs, and if you can, give them a good mulch of well-rotted compost. Take special care of young fruit trees at this time of the year, as well as the compost mulch, make sure they are secure in the ground, so they will not be blown about by the wind and weather of January, and if they are in their second year, you can prune them. All you need to think about is making them into a goblet shape – so the drying summer wind can reduce the humidity around the plant, reducing fungal infections.

Cut away small branches that turn inward or cross and touch another, and that’s all you need to do to give the plant a successful start to the year.

2012-12-27 11.39.55

Sow onions in large numbers in a box of compost

You can sow onions seeds now. Don’t mess about fiddling with a few seeds in small modules. Get a wooden box or seed tray and fill it full of seeds. Water and keep warm. You will end up with a Mohican hair-cut of onions growing, which you can tease apart and then transplant in April. And while we’re on the subject of sowing, start hoeing your parsnip bed – these seeds are in the ground for a long time – hoe and give a dressing of general purpose organic fertilizer and then cover with plastic sheeting to warm the soil in preparation.

Mr Digwell gardening cartoon logo

Paul Peacock studied botany at Leeds University, has been the editor of Home Farmer magazine, and now hosts the City Cottage online magazine. An experienced gardener himself, his expertise lies in the world of the edible garden. If it clucks, quacks or buzzes, Paul is keenly interested.

He is perhaps best known as Mr Digwell, the cartoon gardener featured in The Daily Mirror since the 1950s. As Mr Digwell he has just published his book, A Year in The Garden. You can also see more about him on our Mr Digwell information page.