Monthly Archives: April 2015

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Planting by the moon

All of a sudden there’s a lot going on. I was away for Easter when many of my allotment neighbours were busy working on their plots, so I still have some digging and compost spreading to do.

Before I went away I planted onion and shallot sets, broad beans and carrots. With the exception of the carrots, all of them are now peeping above the soil. I’ll try sowing more carrots in a week or so. It would be good to have more success with them this year than last. As someone reminded me recently, some years we just have to keep on sowing until eventually some germinate.

Thanks to the hard work of the previous owners, the soil on my plot is very easy to dig. I managed to dig two potato trenches and plant the chitted seed potatoes in half an hour. Just shows how important it is to look after the soil.

I remembered to space them along the bottom of the trenches with the sprouting end up and to make a pile of soil between the two trenches as I dug. I’ll use that soil to cover them up as they grow (earthing up).

‘Earthing up’ is one of those terms that is self-explanatory, but not until you know what it means! It’s just a case of covering the potatoes with an extra pile of earth as they grow. It protects the potatoes from late frosts and stops the tubers pushing up into the light and then turning green and toxic.

I think cooking and gardening are quite similar in some respects. I remember one of my sons being perplexed by a recipe that said ‘fold in the flour’. Obvious once you know, but not before.

I’ve just read a tweet posted by someone who uses her grandfather’s gardening tips. She plants her potatoes very deep and close together and then adds grass cuttings to the trench. She doesn’t earth up her potatoes at all. I guess it’s just a case of experimenting. Trying different techniques to find the way that works best for you and for your soil and conditions.

When I can, I plant using Nick Kollerstrom’s book, Gardening and Planting by the Moon. The idea of gardening in tune with the phases of the moon isn’t a new one. It makes sense (to some of us!) to plant after the new moon when the water table is high but Nick Kollerstrom’s book takes things a step further.

He suggests that there are days of the month that are better for dealing with some crops than others. Carrots, parsnips and beetroot for example, should be planted or harvested on a ‘root’ day. Spinach, kale and lettuce should be dealt with on a ‘leaf’ day.

Whether you think that’s a completely mad idea or not, it can be quite a restful way to garden. It’s all too easy for anyone with a busy life to feel overwhelmed at this time of year. I used to leave all my seed sowing to the last minute and then do it in a mad rush. At times it became more of a panic than a pleasure. Now, I look at the planting by the moon calendar and just deal with whatever needs to be done on a particular day.

I don’t have any more time than I did, but it feels as if I do. If I know that it is a ‘flower’ day rather than a ‘fruit’ day, I concentrate on sowing or planting out anything that is flower related – anything from marigolds to broccoli and I (temporarily) forget the rest. Obviously, if I’m away or have deadlines I have to do things when I can, but on balance, I would say that it is a more measured way of gardening.

Tips from the Allotments:

  • Keep digging the soil ready for new crops
  • Sow carrots, leeks, beetroot and parsnips
  • Stand on a board on freshly dug soil
  • Mulch strawberries, raspberries and currants
  • Dig up the last of the leeks this month


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Art, Parks and Capability Brown

Plenty of exciting things going on this month, not least that Capability Brown Festival 2016 has been awarded £911,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund – don’t forget to sign up to the website to keep up to date as events develop.  If you are in and around London it’s worth finding the time to visit two garden-related exhibitions that have just opened.

Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden runs at the Royal Collection until October, while the Garden Museum’s Education of a Gardener: The Life and Work of Russell Page is open until 1st June  In different ways and for different reasons, both exhibitions make very positive contributions to the future of garden history.

The Garden Museum’s exhibition gives us a tantalising glimpse of the archive recently deposited by the children of Robert and Jelena de Belder – close friends of Russell Page.  Choose a quiet time to visit and enjoy having the space to really immerse yourself in the material on display.  Then re-read your copy of The Education of a Gardener with fresh eyes.

Think about the privilege and pleasure it must have been for all those involved with curating the exhibition. And of course, of the future generations of students, scholars and garden historians who may, in time, be able to access this wonderful resource.

Perhaps there will be a few more garden historians around the world in years to come as a result of Painting Paradise? This new exhibition shows us the rich variety of 400 years of horticultural art in the Royal Collection.

The paintings are impressive: from the magnificence of Leonard Knyff’s View of Hampton Court Palace to the delicate beauty of Leonard da Vinci’s seed heads.  But what struck me above all else was the breadth and depth, not only of the Royal Collection, but also of the subject with which we are involved.  Could there be an exhibition about anything other than horticulture that could transport us from the sublime to the practical and back again, and sometimes within the same exhibit?

Look out for Henry VIII’s copy of Ruralia Commoda with its tips for growing giant leeks; the recently restored 18th century Sunflower Clock; and Queen Victoria’s fuchsia inspired jewellery, adorned with her daughter’s milk teeth.

It’s good to think that by the time the exhibition ends in October, some visitors will have taken away with them a new curiosity about horticulture having experienced a little of the role it has played in our political and social history.

Lastly, but with great urgency, don’t forget to sign the ‘Save our Parks’ UK petition before the General Election on 7th May.  If you’ve already done so, please pass on the link to someone who hasn’t.  We wouldn’t have the urban green spaces we enjoy today if it hadn’t been for the efforts of previous generations.  Now it’s our turn!