Monthly Archives: March 2015

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Tips from the top

If I had to draw up a shortlist of the gardens I most enjoy visiting, Great Dixter in East Sussex would be at the top of the list. I was there last week, on a gloriously sunny spring day, as Fergus Garrett and his team were preparing for the start of the season.

For me, part of the fascination of Great Dixter is that the planting is always changing.  They try new combinations and ideas every year and the results are never less than inspirational. I’d never visited at this time of year before so it was interesting to see the time, care and attention that goes into preparing the soil before planting out those world famous borders.  They go to great lengths to avoid standing on it.  Planks of wood are put across any area where they are working.  That ensures that any gardener’s weight is evenly distributed and that there is little or no damage to the soil structure.

Until now, I’ve always gardened on very light soil.  I haven’t worried too much about treading on it.  A quick hoe over the surface after I’ve finished and no one would ever know I’d been there.  The rich, dense soil on my new plot needs different treatment.  I can already see that it’s easily compacted. From now on, if I have to stand on it, I’ll follow Great Dixter’s example and put planks of wood down first.

Another tip from the experts comes from the Allotment Association’s Chairman who tells us that he digs out his compost heap at this time every year.  The well rotted compost goes around his asparagus, strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants. Anything that is partially rotted goes in his bean trench.  As he points out, if we just keep piling things on top it creates perfect conditions for rats and mice – and then they eat our crops.

There’s a family of very healthy looking field mice in the full-to-bursting compost heap that I’ve inherited.  While I work my way through the heap (a bit at a time, to give the mice a chance to escape), I need to protect any seeds I’m planting.  Mice particularly love peas and broad beans.

Some people suggest sowing the seeds very deep.  My solution has always been to sow them in pots on a windowsill and then to plant them out when they’re strong and sturdy. But I’m short of windowsills in my new house.  I might try following another suggestion I heard this week  – add clippings of holly to the pea or bean trench before covering the seeds with soil.  It’s worth a try.

Tips from the allotments:

– Start sowing seeds  such as carrots, leeks, beetroot, parsnip and lettuce

– There’s still time to plant onion sets

– Get the potatoes chitting ready to plant in early April


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Poppies galore?


Flowers I love this time of year. Everything is waking up and there’s a lot to look forward to. Seed sowing is up at the top of the list. There’s only one section of my plot left to dig and then, as soon as the soil warms up,  I’ll be ready to start sowing.

It’s already looking more like the kind of plot where fruit and veg might be happy to grow. I’ve manured the section where my seed potatoes will be planted in a few weeks time and added a good few dollops for the newly planted ‘Autumn Bliss’ raspberries too.

New blackcurrants have gone in and (following the planting instructions) I’ve cut them back to a couple of inches above the ground. There were already a few small gooseberries bushes on the plot when I took it over. I’ve pruned those and look forward to seeing how productive they are this summer.

A very knowledgeable allotment neighbour has been digging a trench for his runner beans and filling it with half rotted compost from the top of his heap. The compost heap I’ve inherited needs a bit of sorting out so that’s not an option for me this year.  But runner beans need a lot of feeding so I’ve started to fill my bean trench with old vegetable peelings instead. I’m not quite sure when I made the transition from normal(ish) mum who enjoyed growing food to mildly eccentric woman who carries bags of rotting vegetables across Henley Bridge – but it’s happened.

The forecast is good for the next week or so and I have some unexpected free time. The project to turn the car parking section of my small garden into a gloriously green space has been postponed. The only positive thing about that is that I’ll have the chance to catch up with all the things I haven’t managed to do yet – planting the onion sets, shallots and garlic for example. Other plot holders tell me that they are planning to plant broad beans, carrots and peas. If the weather stays mild, I’ll do the same.

Apparently, the previous growers on my plot grew a lot of poppies. I can see masses of seedlings appearing already. I won’t weed them all out. I like a good mix of flowers around my fruit and veg.   Cosmos and calendula are germinating on my kitchen window sill, but the poppies are appearing without any effort from me at all. Perhaps I’ll keep a few for the Chelsea Fringe Henley Plant Sale in May? As I said, lots to look forward to!