Gardening in Lockdown.

This year 2020 has been  weird we all agree. The coronavirus called Covid19 is changing the world. Here in Dorset it all feels unreal as though it all happened to some one else. The roads were quiet, but now despite the gloomy news people are still driving and the roads are back to normal. The birds are singing louder than ever, but the news is bleak.

If you have a garden to sit in or room to grow plants,  there was little excuse not to be interested in growing things.  More people than ever tried growing vegetables, but as we know early success has no guarantee of continuing.

Some garden centres had to shut down and had a dreadful season, others because they sold bird food and hardware sundries kept open and made a great profit. Life and business was never fair.

The good spring weather with no gales or frost at blossom time has meant a wonderful crop of top fruit, we have never had so many Apples and Pears. But more than one household can use. Village Harvest Swops became a reality for many villages as Harvest Flower and Produce shows were cancelled up and down the country.  Perhaps with Brexit withdrawal in December we will need that stored produce to survive a LockDown Winter.

Sensory Play Garden for Children. Lily’s Place,

The local Dorset Charity Diverse Abilities has been rebuilding and refurbishing their children’s respite centre and play centre in Poole, to be known now as Lily’s Place after the lady who originally donated an old house to start their activity.

I have been involved in the planning and managing of the garden for this project, and thoroughly enjoyed being part of the team. The remit was to create out of two small constrained back gardens and an access road a sensory play garden for children of all abilities. Many of whom are profoundly disabled and in wheelchairs with limited sight and mobility, many on the Autistic Spectrum causing communication and behaviour difficulties. The garden needed to offer tactile, visual, scent, vibration, light and dark sensory experiences, which were robust but accessible.

The garden of ‘movement and light’ was created first, this used a perspex screen of five colours to make safe a dangerous drop, but allow clear sight, so workers could monitor the children’s safety.  Soft grasses and arching light flowers were planted to move in the wind and collect and reflect in the multicoloured light through the perspex. This meant that children could actually experience colours on themselves coming through the screen.  Carex, Miscanthus, Stipa, were the main grasses used, with Crocosmia, Verbena, Cosmos Coreopsis and Antirhinum providing the colourful flowers.  The soft flowers of the pony tail grass ( Stipa tenuissima) are stroked and played with by the more mobile children, whereas the coloured light pouring through the screen is appreciated by the less mobile.20160628_132147

The grass lawn was re-turfed as cool grass is a sensory experience and the green is a foil to the bright flowers. Scented Lavender,  Sage, Thyme, Rosemary, Myrtle and Helichrysum shrubs give subtle scent when touched, and Honeysuckle is climbing the new castellated fence. ( created by TD Landscapes of Wareham)

A Living Willow Hut was built to provide a child sized refuge, the opening wide enough for a wheelchair but the roof low enough to exclude adults. This was plante20160511_164849d too late in the year to get 100% rooting but is now filling in nicely and should have good coverage by next spring. (HSBC community volunteer group helped greatly in the building of this garden, removing rubbish and digging and planting the area.)






A bug hotel 20160511_174840was built out of reclaimed and natural material to encourage study of mini-beasts and birds and some children visit it regularly to check it inhabitants.



To distinguish this calming garden from the other play areas a ‘Transistion Tunnel’ was erected of ironwork covered in dark netting, on which climbing vine, clematis and Jasmine were planted. By 2017 the tunnel should be covered in foliage and the water mister units should make this a cool and interesting transition to the active area.



Autumn reflections.

Aster Little Carlow

Aster Little Carlow A star of the Autumn border.

Getting used to the shorter evenings, it is time to reflect on a trying growing season. A long cold spring, without any exceptional weather just dull with cold nights meant that many crops did not get going. Green crops like cabbage and salads took ages to move along though surprisingly a good start for the onion family, which had time to grow roots before the soil dried out. Bedding and summer flowering plants had a slow start but then kept flowering well into August.
The summer had very hot days but growth kept going and there has been a phenomenal amount of top growth. Some of my Wisteria needed clipping back every 3 weeks just to keep the tendrils from growing into the windows.
Now Autumn is here, hedges need clipping and lots of top growth will have to go off to the compost heap. Many people do not know how to handle perennial weeds, which do not die readily. Collected bindweed and other weed roots can be dried off and burnt which makes them safe but not everyone has the space and place to do this.
It is fortunate that the District councils have mostly introduced green waste collection services as this reduces the need for bonfires and large rubbish heaps in smaller gardens. The big heaps in green recycling centres are shredded and heaped and turned frequently, this composting brings the temperature up to around 70 degrees centigrade for 3-4 weeks, which kills roots and seeds and rendering the mix fairly sterile.
It is a pity though that random fly tipping of green waste still occurs so much in the countryside. Pernicious weeds such as Japanese Knotweed are often seen in odd patches near rural gateways, and this most likely is as a result of fly-tipping garden waste. Garden escapes like the Crocosmia in the Cornish hedges look lovely, but no one welcomes Knotweed and Bamboo turning up in the wild.

Buds and blossom in Spring

This last month is one of the most frustrating, one day all systems go with new growth appearing everywhere, the next battening down the greenhouse against Hurricane Katie and hail storms. On a trip north to Yorkshire it is very obvious that spring moves slowly up country, the new leaves on the Hawthorn down in Dorset are barely in bud  in the dales, the pussy willow is lightening the glades. The grey ochre green of winter is giving way to bright tones.


wall pruned forsythia

Forsythia bright and cheerful

It is fun to see the difference in the Magnolias  petals bursting out of the buds  here but still in tight wraps up north. Everyday brings a new sensation if you open your eyes. Blossom on the early flowering cherry trees and Forsythia lightening the sky above.
Even watching the greening of the grass is interesting.  A lawn feed now can make a startling difference in the strength of new lawn growth with a much richer colour for those people who value a velvet lawn. For my own lawn I quite like keeping it hungry, that way the wild flowers in it do not get out competed, and I like to see cowslips in my wild lawn.

I still rake the moss into heaps though for the birds to use as nest material.

All systems go

Its amazing how fast you can change from frustratedly faffing about in the shed, sorting pots for the nth time, and  then the sun comes out the sky clears and your are OFF. Spring has started and its time to get all those beautiful seeds out and sown. My favourite type of busy.


Gardening in the wet and wild.

Gardening in the wet and wild.

The Isles of Scilly are one of the wettest and windiest places in the UK. All their plants have to cope with damp air and wild winds, but the advantage is that they have only rarely encountered frost. While we endure a wild wet winter and I am fed up with waterlogged ground and gales. I remember the wonderful plants of the Scillies and that despite the conditions there were wonderful lush plants, even though my camera went wrong in the rain.  Even in small private gardens and at the side of the road, plants were blooming in July. But remember they had endured winter gales like we are having this year.

Private gardens

Private gardens

Exotic foliage

Exotic foliage

Scilly island magic

Scilly island magic

These photos were taken with my phone, but they give a hint of the planting encountered all over the place.

The entrance is as exotic as the gardens.

The Blue Gate to Tresco gardens, as striking as the gardens inside.

Wonderful ferns and palm foliage

Wonderful ferns and palm foliage get luxurious in the damp conditions. The message is relax wet winters can lead to perfect springs, the sun will come back soon.



January Blues

When it never seems to stop raining and the lawn is a pond. Or the ground is so frozen that your hand sticks to the spade handle. It is easy to go off gardening as a hobby. But this is the best time of year to look at the garden as a whole.

Is the shape of the open areas lawn paths or patio pleasing? It is the shape that makes a garden an enclosing refuge, or feel uncomfortably open.

Could a bit more evergreen structure help to define corners and spaces.? Neat clipped shrubs like Box Buxus sempervirens, or bold erect leaves, Phormium tenax or Cordyline australis whatever style you like.

Is the path in the right place or does everybody take short cuts across the grass? Could it be moved.

Is the working area organised and large enough for all the spare pots and sacks?

What is in flower or looking good now?
It is easy enough to have something in flower every month of the year, but you have to plan it and put winter flowering plants where they can be seen from paths or windows. My favourite is winter flowering Honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissima but it can get big and straggly so placing in the right spot is important, whereas dwarf daffodils can be tucked in anywhere.

A small garden should be presentable all year round, otherwise its just depressing. There are so many great plants out there waiting to be discovered, its such a shame to let your garden be dull or bleak. Get out and visit a winter garden like the one at Hilliers Garden Romsey to see what can be done.

However I like January as its the only month where I feel I can get ahead of nature, though I know it won’t last long.

Winter wet and dark damp days

Usually us gardeners recommend leaving old stems and seedheads on for the birds to find, and  the frosts to silver the skeletons. I would love to be putting up pictures of grass seedheads shining with hoar frost. However this December in the south of England,we have had dull dark damp days with little sun and most dying stems are rotting as they fall. This season we really must get out and clear the old fallen foliage out of the way. In this mild climate, air flow is essential for plant health, even the gales can’t blow out the botrytus if the resting surface level buds are covered in last seasons rotting stems. I find a heavy craft knife the most useful to slice through the stems, quicker than secateurs, then the other hand can drag the stems away.  My trusty Showa 370 gloves are enough protection usually to stop snagging my fingers on sharp stems.

The early flowering plants are already moving you should be able to see the flower stems coming through of Epimediums and Hellebores and some daffodils and snowdrops  are already in full growth. This year there should be a long list of plants flowering on Christmas Day, write them down and send them in.


Autumn the season of slips and trips

As the light fades and we get into the dull days of November and early December it often feels as though it never really gets light. Wet leaves pile up and the herbaceous stems rot and sink to the ground. This is the time to appreciate the small jewels of the garden, like epimediums and cyclamen leaves.

plants1It is also time to take a burst of energy out into the damp and tidy up anything which could be a hazard in the twilight. sharp stems at waist level which could take an eye out, overhanging branches which catch in the hair, and overgrowth which grabs the ankles. Brushing wet leaves off the path can prevent a slip on the way in from work. Things which are quirky and quaint in the cool of a summer evening become a threat for the unwary in the darkening gloom of the short days.