Making Raised Beds for Easy Gardening


deep bed

One of the most important features in my vegetable patch is that it has raised beds. I try to garden organically (in the main I achieve this, although if there is a particularly virulent attack of one insect I have been known to resort to chemicals) and raised beds fit with this like a hand and glove.

Perhaps I should explain the thinking behind raised beds and what they are. Raised beds are exactly what they say. They are beds which have been raised above the level of the rest of the garden. You can do this by just adding soil or compost in a certain area. It works but tends to get untidy and the soil creeps away. It is better to edge your bed with wood (or other materials). One of things you do is make them so that you can reach of them without stepping on them. This means the soil never gets compacted so it does not need digging.If you are going to be able to walk all around them, this means no wider than 4 ft. (a normal persons reach is about 2 ft.)

Once you have built your bed, you double dig it, then add compost or soil enricher and gently fork it in. In the future, all you will need to do is add compost and gently fork it in. Easy!

The benefits of Raised beds have now been recognised by some of the garden supply companies and you can now buy kits to make them.  Check some examples here. This makes life much easier – no measuring and cutting, preserving and sanding. There are even Raised Bed kits which include caps on them. This is actually a good idea, as it makes a comfortable place to sit and rest for a few minutes – or even sit whilst you are planting.

I have talked of Raised beds in the vegetble patch, but there is no reason why you can’t use them in your ornamental garden. Just make sure that the soil is not to lose to hold your plants. (Brussel Sprouts often do not do to well in raised beds as they topple). Why not try making a Thyme seat in one.

Hanging Baskets for winter

The problem with winter hanging baskets is that not only are they exposed to the rain, snow and wind (bad enough for your poor plants) but also your plants have to cope with the frosts and ice from all directions.So it takes tough plants to not only survive under those conditions but also to thrive.

The range of plants suitable for hanging baskets for winter is somewhat limited. There are a number of foliage plants of course, the Ivies of various types among them but when it comes to flowers, then you look to Pansies and Violas, with, perhaps the odd Polyanthus and Bellis Perennis thrown into the mix.

Thompson and Morgan have had a cascading Pansy in their catalogue for some time. It is called ‘Pansy Cascading Balconita‘ and is reputed to trail up to 24 inches.

Pansy Cascading Balconita

This makes it ideal for hanging baskets. It would also make a good plant in the front of borders, giving much needed colour during the bleak months.

Anyway, back to Cascading Pansy ‘Balconita‘. T & M are now offering these at half price – £4.98 for 8 plants (16 plants for £7.99) instead of £9.99 (£16.99) so if you are thinking of using Pansies in hanging baskets during winter, now is the time to order them. The offer only has a week to run so you need to do it soon. The plants will come as plug plants, so you will not need to plant them in your baskets immediately, however do not encourage them to grow too much, it is much easier to place small plants in baskets then large ones. Remember, the same rule applies as with all planting. Don’t damage the roots by touching them.

I have been evaluating my summer hanging baskets. You will remember that I planted them up with Fuschias and Geraniums as well as the usual hanging basket pplants. Well the Geraniums have done very well. They look like the pictures you see on advertisments of German Villas. However, the Fuschias have not done quite as well. I think both these are due to the exceptional drought and heat we have had this year. Although I have watered my hanging baskets, I obviously have not done so as often as I should. It is worth remembering that Fuschias will take more looking after than normal. (Of course, if we have a very wet or col summer, Geraniums may well not do so well and Fuschias may do better.) You just have either to guess what it will be like (!) or play the odds and plant some of each – or be safe and use the normal pplants such as Loberlia.

Creating plant food from worms

I try to recycle as much of my rubbish as possible. However, I have always had problems with cooked food. You should not put cooked food onto compost heaps because, although it will compost very well, it will also attract rats and mice – visitors you do not want to your garden. That is where the wormery comes in.

wormery

Put simply, a wormery is a sealed container holding a special species of worm which will digest your spare food and convert it into usable plant food. However, it isn’t quite as simple as that. Yes, you can use an old dustbin but in very short order it will smell and become water logged.

The advice from professional worm farmers is that a large surface area will help worms process organic waste quicker and leads to even greater worm cast harvests, so when first making or buying your wormery, you should take this into account.

The other thing is that you want your wormery to be close to your kitchen door, so that disposing of your organic waste is easy – even in bad weather.

Harrod Horticulture sell some very nice looking (and very practical) timber wormeries. They are flat pack and come with step by step assembly instructions so that there is a real sense of accomplishment even before you harvest your first plant food. They are made from stout FSC timber which has been pressure treated and is guaranteed for five years. They are also (in my view) really good looking.  The only other thing you need apart from the Wormery is the worms themselves and some bedding culture so that the worms can start to work (and reproduce)  as soon as you introduce them to their new home.

Wormeries do not replace the compost bin but they do make fantastic companions to it. Compost bins produce large amount of general soil improver whilst wormeries produce worm casts which is the highest quality organic fertiliser there is. It is rich in minerals and micro-organisms which are essential to the healthy growth of plants.

Worms also produce liquid which when drained from the wormery which can be poured onto your compost heap to accelerate the rotting down process or it can be diluted to spray onto lawns or plants as a rich feed.

Planning for next spring in your garden.

Now is the time to start thinking about changes to be made in your garden, particularly in your flower beds. You don’t need to do anything at the moment except plan.

Go carefully round your garden with a notebook and decide whether any plants are too crowded and need dividing. This is a good way of getting more plants for free. When you decide that plants need dividing, label them. Herbaceous plants disappear in the winter and it is easy to forget exactly where ther are. If you can take photographs of them, so much the better.Often herbaceous plants start to die in the centre and only flower round the edges. This is a good sign that it needs lifting and dividing. Don’t do it now though, wait until early spring.

You may also decide that some plants should have been supported. Make a note of that also. It is a good idea to actually buy your supports for next year, so that they are ready when you do need them.

Link-Stakes

You should put supports in before they are needed so that they are covered by the foliage of the plants. Plants such as peony need multi-supports. You can do this by ringing the whole plant with supports and tying the stems in when needed. This stops the whole plant from ‘flopping over’ and becoming very untidy. Some plants, like Sunflowers just need a single stake. You can use bamboo sticks for that but there are now some really nice looking stakes available which are attractive in their own right and do not stick out like a sore thumb before they are clothed by the plant.

Often, you will decide that a plant is in the wrong place and that it would look better elsewhere. Make a note to do this at the right time of the year.

I said that there are very few jobs to now, however there are two things that it is a goodidea to do.

The first is to cut back Lavender. If you live in the south where the weather is warmer, this can be left until Spetember, but if you live further North, do it now. Cut the flower heads back to where they started growing this year. You should have a neat little ball when you have finished. If you do this, your lavender plant should last about ten years. If you don’t , it will rapidly become very woody and you will need to replace it in three or four years.

The second job is to cut back buddlea when they finish flowering. This will help to stop damage by winds and snow during the winter. You do the main pruning in March but just cut them back slightly when they finish floewering to lessen their profile to the winds.

Encouraging Butterflies into your garden

I have a number of Buddleia Davidii Bushes in the garden and at the moment they look great. The flowers are from white through the lilac shades to the dark purple of Black Knight but it is not only the flowers that look so good, it is also the constant movement and colour of the butterflies and bees which are visiting them.

One of the ways to encourage butterflies into the garden is to grow flowers which are particularly attractive to them. (Buddleia is one of them). Another way is to grow plants which will provide hosts for their eggs and caterpillars. To that aim I have taken a small area in one corner of the garden for a ‘wildlife santuary’. That is a very posh way of saying that I allow weeds to grow there.

These weeds are not allowed to grow rampant. I do try to keep some sort of control so that no species overwhelms the rest, but in the main I leave it alone to do its own thing. Among the weeds is a clump of stinging nettle. A month or so ago, this was looking very porly, black and covered with what looked like spiders webs. In fact it was covered with caterpillers which were pupating. They are now turning into Red Admiral Butterflies and it is these. among others (notably Painted Ladies) which are visiting my Buddleia.

A number of the so called weeds (wild flowers) are very attractive and many have formed the basis for more recognised garden flowers. Whilst you don’t want these growing all over the garden, there is no reason why you shouldn’t leave a small area where they can grow undisturbed. You could even allow a few nasturtiums to grow there in the hopes that black fly will populate them, rather than your broad beans and other prize plants. The trick is to clean as much as you can in autumn and don’t allow their roots to spread further than their designated area. You will be surprised at what pops up if you leave it alone.

Dead-Heading and other summer jobs in your garden

In theory any work you do in your garden now is of the enjoyable type.

You should be harvesting produce from your vegetable patch and from your greenhouse, if you have one. Tomatoes and Cucumbers are at their most abundant and need picking as soon as they are ready so that the plant puts its energy into ripening the rest of the crop. My melons are now growing well but are not yet ripe. You will know when melons are ripe – you will smell them as soon as you enter the greenhouse. Otherwise, feel the top of the melon, it goes slightly softer when it is ready.

One of the jobs you should be doing regularly is dead-heading your flowers. That means cutting off the flower heads which are finished. I find this a gentle and enjoyable job. Out in the sunshine, surrounded by the birds and the insects going about their work pollinating your plants.

When dead-heading, there are a few rules you should be aware of. Don’t just snap off the dead flower head. Particularly with roses, but with all flowers, you should cut the stem back to a sensible leaf. This will make the plant produce another stem hoilding another flower. The point of dead-heading is to make the pplant put on another batch of flowers.

Even flowers such as Lupins, Canterbury Bells and Sweet William will sometimes reward you with a second crop of flowers if you dead-head. The technique here is slightly different as you cut the plant back almost to the ground. Leave a few leaves, they need them to make energy to grow again. Your second flowers will not be as large as the first, but they will be there.

When dead-heading, always use secateurs which are sharp and clean. There are two types of secateur – the Anvil type and the Parrot-bill type. They are both equally good at their job and it is really up to you which type you prefer. Remember that they are meant to cut small branches. If you are using them to prune, never try to cut wood which is too large for them. You will damage the secatears as well as the branch you are cutting.For larger branches, you need long handled pruners or even a pruning saw. The other thing to remember is that if you are cutting back dead or diseased wood , then you should be sure to steralise you secatears before you move on to another bramnch, otherwise you risk spreading deseases around.

Anyway. back to summer jobs, one of the most important things is to sit and enjoy. It will give you a good reason to start the whole process again next spring and will renew you energy levels for the work ahead to prepare your garden for winter. You can also take the time to look at your garden and decide what wants changing or moving and where you need to put in new plants. Most importantly though is to sit back and enjoy.

Autumn Bedding

Autumn Bedding is more than just bedding plants which flower in autumn. Many of the plants will continue to flower throughout winter and into Spring. The reason I am writing about it at this time is that I have just had a special offer from Thompson and Morgan which strikes me as a very good buy.

autumn plant collection

T & M are offering 252 plug plants for £9.99. This equates to 4p per plant. Plug plants are very useful at this time of year. They already have a good root system and although sometimes they may be a tad small to put straight into the garden, they will be ready in a week or two.

The plants on offer are 84 each of three varieties. The first is Pansy Universal. These were on offer in Thompson and Morgan’s Cottage Garden catalogue at 84 for £9.99 so this offer is really a bargain. Pansy Universal has a range of bright colours some solid and some with pretty blotches. They are dwarf and compact plants and, given normal weather conditions, should flower throughout Autumn and winter.

The next batch of plug plants are Viola ‘Sorbet’. These are winter hardy plants some with bi-coloured variations.

The final set of plants are Primrose ‘Petticoat’ mixed. These are double compact flowers which look like miniature roses. They have double compact flowers in a range of bright colours. They certainly look different from the usual Primrose.

Between these three plants, you should have the basis of a good colourful display throughout autumn and well into winter.

Vegetables for Winter

The vegetable patch is now at its most prolific and you should be harvesting fresh vegetables for your table every day. However, whether deliberately, or accidentally, you will find that in some cases you will have more vegetables than you can eat at the moment. So the obvious answer is that you should store them for the coming winter months when fresh vegetables will be less prolific.

The legume family (peas and bean) do not store well. Beans are best harvested and eaten when small and young. If you have too many, cut them into bite size pieces and freeze.There is no need to blanch them, they will freeze perfectly well dry.  Peas should also be frozen as soon after harvesting as possible. They very quickly lose their taste and nutrients once they have been picked.All the legume family freeze well and will keep their flavour for at least six months.

Root vegetables arre a different matter.  Most roots will stay in the ground for quite a long time without any harm. However, if they look as though they are going to go to seed, or start to go ‘woody’ or you need the ground. You should dig them up and store them inm a cool, dark place. Wash and dry the roots, cut off any excess foliage clinging to them (being very careful in the case of beetrof not to dame them or cut them too close to the root so thay they ‘ bleed’), then lay them out in a box with either dry sand or soil. Make sure all is very dry, dampness will cause rotting. If you have nothing else, you can use newspapers top separate the roots. Make sure they are cool and dark. You don’t want them sprouting. Check regularly for any damage. This treatment applies to all the roots, including potatoes, although in the case of potatoes, you can keep them in a paper sack without the sand or soil. Make sure you have no damage to any of the vegetabl;es when you do this. Rot will very quickly set in and spread if there is. Of course, should you prefer, you can freeze root vegetables as easily as legumes, although I think beetrot changes its flavour slightly with freezing. You can alway pickle beetroot should you so desire.

When you have cleared a patch of your vegetable garden, it is time to plant (or sow) your vegetables for winter. It used to be quite difficult to find vegetables which grew in winter.That has now changed. There are still the old favourites around such as Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower and Cabbage, not to mention brocolli and parsnips, although even they have changed somewhat in recent years. You can now have Brussel Sprouts which are purple and cauliflowers which are red, green and yellow. However, there are now a number of chinese greens which grow quite well in the U.K. if you want a change.
If you decide not to use some of your vegetable patch during winter, then why not sow one of the ‘green manure’ plants. These are plants which are grown spefically to enrich your soil. You grow them, then chop them up and dig them in. Not only do they enrich your soil, they also keep it free from weeds.  Whilst I am talking about enriching your soil, dont forget that the roots of bean plants should be left in the ground as they fix nitrogen in the ground and will help next years crops. If you just want to leave the soil bare, then cover it with black plastic. This will stop the weeds growing and make preparation next year much easier. Weigh the plastic down well. You don’t want it blowing away. Also make a few holes in it (or you could use porous membrane) so that the soil remains moist and you do not have huge puddles on top of the plastic.

Gardening is a lesson in patience and planning. You always seem to be planning for next seasons display and waiting for those plants you have put in to mature into the plants you planned for. However, don’t lose sight of the whole picture.Enjoy the moment.  Your garden can still look great even if not quite the way you envisioned it when you set the plants.

Sweet Peas – the cut and come again flowers

Sweet Peas are often grown for cut flowers, but they are equally attractive left outdors to flower. The only thing you hjve to remembnr is to go round them every day (two at the most) and dead head them. If you do that, you will have flowers for months on end.

Sweet Peas used to be one of the best flowers there was for fragrance. Then the breeders got obsessed with making the flowers larger and brighter (which is nice) but in the process, they lost most of their fragrance. The Spencer varieties are great if you want flowers which are bright and showy (they will win awards at flower shows with very little trouble) but, to me, Sweet Peas are at least mainly about their smell. Fortunately, the breeders have realised this and they are now producing new strains which are beginning to smell as they should.

Having had my moan about the loss of scent, I would now say that Sweet Pea varieties have never been so numerous or so – varied”. You can now find flowers in every colour imaginable from Pure White (White Supreme), through the pastel shades of pink, violet and cream to the much darker and more vibrant colours of Orange Dragon, King Size Navy Blue to Midnight which are a deep navy blue and Blue Velvet which are almost black. You can find them in one colour or striped or rippled. The list is almost endless. There is a colour to suit any scheme you can think of. You can even nopw get sweet peas which are smaller and do not climb (Snoopea).

Sweet Peas are very easy to grow. You can sow them in spring or, for earlier flowering, in autumn. The one thing you have to remember is that they have deep rots and they resent being moved. So, if you want to sow them under cover, you should sow them in post which are very fddep (such as rot trainers) or bio-degradable, so that you plant the whole pot, or if you sow them in normal pots, then you must keep a very careful eye on them and plant them before the rpots start to show at the bottom of the pot. Never attempt to prick out or split plants in any way. They will just die.

This year, my sweet peas have been covered with beetles. These do not bite or sting but they are a nuisance when you cut the flowers and bring them indoors. The way to get rid of them is to put your vase of flowers in a dark ish place (like a garage or shed) with the door openfor a short time, the beetles will leave the flowers and head for the light.

So there you have it, sweet peas are such a flamboyant and easy flower to grow giving you loads of flowers for every plant, it is worth finding a place for them. I grow mine round the edge of the vegetable patch. They help to make the fence more attractive and help to attract pollinating insects to the area.

The only thing you have to rememnber is to cut the dead blooms off them regularly. They produce new flowers every day so you will never be short of flowers if you do this. If you don’t they will just put all their strength into making seed and you will not get many flowers. Its a p[leasant job, standing in the sunshine dead-head sweet peas, smalling the fragrance and listening to the drone of insects.

Daffodils – the nations favourite spring bulb

It is hardly surprising that when it comes to spring bulbs, the daffodil is among the nations favourites.  Not only are the bulbs very inexpensive but recently great improvements have been made not only with the range of colours and shapes of the flowers but also the length of the flowering season. They also make great cut flowers, lasting well in a vase for upwards of two weeks.

Not so many years ago, you had a choice when looking at Narcissi (the family name for daffodils) – you could have yellow or white with a much smaller orange trumpet. Breeders have now changed that. Daffodils are now available  in a wide variety of colour combinations from a soft, blush pink to soft yellows, whites and oranges. The basic shape is the same (five petals and a trumpet) but the size of the trumpet can now be almost any size and the petals can now be flat or curved outwards. The season has grown progressively longer too. You can even have daffodils flowering in July now.

Daffoldils were one of the first bulbs to be ‘ naturalised.’. That means planted amongst grass and left for a number of years. There is a good reason for this. Daffodils need very little in the way of maintenance and will thrive left alone for a number of years, getting better and increasing in number. Eventually, you will need to dig them up and thin them out because they will become overcrowded and will stop flowering.

In my last garden, I had a grassy bank. I plamted this with 400 Daffodil bulbs. I used ‘Carlton’ which is a particular favourite of mine. It is just an old fashioined brash yellow daffodil which flowers between March and April. They looked terrific but after about five years, they became so thick that they stopped flowering. Somewhat reluctantly, I dug them out, replacing one large bulb in every ten. I ended up with 4,000 bulbs! My friends and family were delighted.

Daffodils are not fussy about where they are planted, although they like a little sun and, remembering that they are bulbs, will not toilerate too much water. They will rot in soggy ground. If your soil is not too hard, you don’t even need to dig a hole. Just make a slit and drop your bulbs in it. However, make sure the bottom of your bulb is in contact with the soil. The bulb planters which you can buy are ideal for this job, but if you are planting more than a dozen or two, it become very tedious. I have found that pushing a garden fork in and wriggling it around does the job just as well and you can put 4 bulbs in at a go.

Like all bulbs, you should end up with twice the depth of soil above the bulbs as the size of the bulb. So you measure how deep your bulb is and make your hole three times that depth. Put your bulb in and cover. Job done.

You can grow daffodils from seed. It is a long process. It takes about three years for the seed to form a bulb and at the end of it, you don’t know whether the flower will be any good. You are much better off looking after your bulbs to bulk up their number. To do this you should pick the flower heads off when it has finished (it keeps it tidier as well as stopping the plant from putting its energy into making seeds) and then leave the leaves for six weeks. It will look scruffy but you should do this not only if you want to bulk up the number of bulbs you have but also just to keep those bulbs you have healthy and flowering well, year after year. Don’t tie the leaves up to keep them tidy. The goodness from the leaves need to go back into the bulb and it cannot do that it is stopped by being tied.

If you really cannot bear to see the leaves in this state, you could dig them out and ‘heel them in’ somewhere else until they have finished. That means planting them shallowly in a trench. This allows them to complete their cycle whilst making it easy for you to move them. Alternately, why not plant a deciduous shrub next to them. The dafs will grow through the bare branches and flower well, then by the time they have finished, the shrub will have burst into leaf and will cover your daffodil leaves. Herbacious plants could also be used to do this job, although you need to be a bit careful in what you use so that they come up at the right time.