Archive for the ‘Garden Diaries’ Category

How to Prepare Your Garden For Winter Frosts

February 5th, 2019 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Temperatures have noticeably dropped over the past few weeks. It’s got very close to freezing in my garden, so it’s safe to say the first frosts of winter aren’t far off. Preparing the garden for the colder months ahead is a wise move, to keep overwintering plants and your hard-working soil happy. Read on our watch our video to discover simple, cost-effective ways to do just that.

warm soil protect from frost

Protect Soil in Winter

Leaving soil exposed risks depleting the beneficial life contained within it. Keep the likes of worms, bugs and fungi happy by laying organic matter over the surface before it gets too cold. A layer of organic material such as well-rotted compost or manure, spread 1-2in (3-5cm) deep is thick enough to keep soil life fed and protect the soil itself from erosion, yet thin enough to enable hard frosts to penetrate the soil below, thereby helping to control overwintering pests.

Fast Frost Protection

Keep row covers at the ready so they can be used at a moment’s notice. Store them somewhere dry, ideally neatly rolled up and off the ground to keep them clear of vermin such as mice. Dirty polythene covers should be washed down then dried so they’re ready to deploy.

When frost threatens, or if you simply want to extend your cropping period, the row covers can quickly be put into position, held down at the sides with stones, bricks or staples.

Homemade Crop Protection

Don’t forget the many homemade options for cold weather protection. Clear plastic bottles, cut in half, are great for fitting over individual small plants, either outside or as an added layer of warmth inside the greenhouse.

Cold frames can be costly but it’s very easy to make your own. Check out our step by step guide to making your own cold frame.

garden-fleece-and-hoops-are-great-for-protecting-crops-during-colder-monthsTemporary Tunnels

Clear plastic may also be secured onto homemade hoops, making a handy hoop house. The one below uses lengths of PVC water pipe, secured onto lengths of rebar hammered into the ground and connected at the top by a central ridge of piping. It’s an effective way to keep winter hardy salads and vegetables safe from harsh weather.

Protecting Root Crops from Frost

Many root crops such as carrots and beets can be left in the ground until they’re needed. Some, like parsnips, actively improve with frost, becoming more tender and sweeter.

Lay a mulch of compost, straw, dried leaves or leaf mold about six inches (15cm) thick to help keep frosts at bay, but if the ground is likely to freeze solid for weeks on end, dig up your root crops to store them somewhere cool, dry and frost-free.

Protect Containers

In winter the biggest enemy of containerized crops such as herbs is the wet. Persistently wet potting soil can turn lethal in cold weather. Make sure excess moisture can drain away by lifting up containers onto pot feet. You can use elegant pot feet, or just improvise with stones, for example.

Delicate containers can crack if potting soil freezes solid and expands. You can stop this happening by wrapping pots up in bubble plastic or burlap. Or look for pots sold as frost-resistant. Sensitive plants and pots can also be moved somewhere more sheltered – against the house for instance, or into a greenhouse.

Insulate Your Greenhouse

Inside a greenhouse it makes more sense to protect individual plants rather than trying to heat the entire structure. Wrap frost-sensitive plants up in row cover fabric. Alternatively, section off an area of the greenhouse and heat this smaller space instead.

Old polystyrene fish boxes are great for insulating smaller plants like winter salad leaves against the worst of the cold. Most already include drainage slots at the corners, so you can fill them with potting soil and plant directly. Or just drop trays and pots into the boxes for a snug fit. Cover with fabric or plastic overnight for extra protection.

Know Your First Frost Date

Knowing when to expect your first frost is important for planning your frost protection. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the weather forecast too.

Help your plants stay warmer or use the frosts to your advantage. Either way, being prepared will help you to successfully work with winter. How do you get ready for the frosty weather? You can let us know in the comments section below.

Try some of these techniques to protect your garden from frost! If you have any of your own tips and tricks for for the winter months, comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

What To Do In The Garden In May

May 1st, 2016 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Inspecting Deer Damage of the Carrot and Parnsnip trial at Mr Fothergill's

Do you remember what we said at the end of March? “Surely we are in for some better weather in April? Let’s hope so. A little sunshine and accompanying warmth makes us all feel much more like getting out into the garden”.

Well, if that was April we are really glad to see the back of it! We cannot remember a worse one. We experienced lots of frosts, several hailstorms, dreary, overcast days and very little sunshine. It is not an exaggeration to say April was actually worse than the whole of the winter.

We also had a disaster with our carrot and parsnip trial late in the month. We had spent a few days preparing the ground, sowed the seeds and covered them with fleece for a bit of protection.

Calamity struck when we seem to have been invaded by a herd of, probably, roe deer which must have had a party on the fleece. The fleece is now shredded and there are hoof marks and signs of deer rolling on the ground all over the area.

Unfortunately as we now don’t know which seed has ended up where, we’re going to have to abandon this area and start the trial all over again. We don’t know what attracted the deer; one view is that they thought it might be snow and fancied a roll around in it, but we daren’t fleece it again in case they do the same thing. Taller deer fencing is obviously called for in future!


Ponds and Plants

Pond plants & pond care from Mr Fothergill's

We must mention our newly published, 32-page Viresco® and Aquatic Plant Catalogue 2016 includes not only the range of Viresco® pond water improvement products, but also a greatly extended selection of choice aquatic, marginal, damp ground and shade-loving plants to tempt the most discerning gardeners.

Pond plants, oxygenators from Mr Fothergill'sOxygenators and floating plants are essential for providing a natural control of unsightly blanketweed and algae, plus affording protection for fish. Additions to the range for 2016 include Lilaeopsis brasilensis (micro sword) and Ranunculus aquatilis (water crowsfoot).

Water lilies from Mr Fothergill'sWater lilies are the most majestic and beautiful of aquatic plants and with 23 varieties on offer any pond keeper is spoilt for choice. Scented and richly coloured blooms sit above shade-creating foliage. The lilies are offered in one, two- or three-litre pots, with those in three-litre pots blooming in the year of planting, and the range also includes dwarf varieties for small ponds.

Our selection of moisture- and shade-loving plants is ideal for bog gardens and close to a pond’s edge to create a more natural look; it includes elegant ferns, dwarf and giant gunneras, and native primulas. Marginal and damp ground plants on offer include Carex elata Aurea (golden sedge), Cyperus longus (sweet galingale) and beautiful lilies such as Ann Chowning, Her Highness and the native yellow flag. The plant range is completed by several attractive, native wild flowers, which attract butterflies and beneficial insects. All potted aquatic plants are supplied in mesh baskets, so there is no need to re-pot before placing in the pond. The catalogue also offers wildlife-attracting flowers from our RSPB seed range, pond equipment and even the opportunity to have a hive of bumblebees in the garden.



Tender bedding and container plants can be brought out of the greenhouse on milder days to get them acclimatised to outdoor life before they are set out to their flowering positions later in the month. To begin with, take them back under cover at night, especially when frost threatens, but as May progresses and, hopefully, the weather improves they can start to be left outdoors on milder nights. You may even consider investing in a cold frame for this process of ‘hardening off’, as it provides the ideal halfway-house between greenhouse and garden.

Heleniums from Mr FothergillsSpring bedding and bulb displays are fast ‘going over’ and can be removed in readiness for summer displays. Once bulbs have died back a little, they can be heeled in elsewhere if you have a spare corner. When plants have been taken out, it’s a good idea to remove and replace the top three or four inches of compost with fresh medium in readiness for summer-blooming plants.

Echinacea from Mr Fothergill'sOne of the traditional practices in May is to give some perennials the ‘Chelsea chop’, which involves cutting them back in late May, around the time of the Chelsea Flower Show, in order to extend the flowering season. Species such as heleniums and echinaceas can be cut back with secateurs to about half their height to delay flowering. If you have just a single clump, cut back half the stems, whereas if you have two or more of the same plant you may prefer to cut back all the stems on one or more plants. The uncut stems will flower first, followed by those which have undergone the Chelsea chop.

Lupin Festival Mixed from Mr Fothergill'sLupins have long been favourites in herbaceous borders and cottage garden settings. The classic Russell Hybrids, developed in the 1930s, are rather tall at three to four feet tall whereas our new 2016 introduction Festival Mixed has all the rich, jewel-like colours of ‘Russells’, but the flower spikes are produced on plants which reach just two feet tall, making them the perfect choice for modern, smaller gardens and large containers. Seed sown in May will produce plants for setting out in autumn for flowering early next summer.

If you can’t wait till next year for some colour, our new Calendula Funky Stuff can be sown now in its flowering position, where it will bloom in just a few weeks’ time. We love the double rows of petals it produces in golden yellow, dark in the centre and lightening to the outside. It too grows to around two feet tall and also makes a delightful cut flower.


As direct-sown vegetable seedlings emerge, carefully and gradually over a period of weeks thin them out to the distance stated on the seed packet to allow the remaining ones to develop. Take care when removing seedlings that you do not damage those remaining. Once you have done this, it is worthwhile watering the row to help them settle back in and carry on growing. Discard all those you have removed, especially carrots; if left near the row from which they have been taken they may attract carrot fly.

Runner Beans from Mr Fothergill'sLater in the month, when the danger of frost should have all but passed, greenhouse-raised sweet corn, runner bean and courgette seedlings can be planted to their cropping positions. Alternatively, seed of all of these, plus dwarf beans, squashes and pumpkins can be sown in the garden. When sowing or planting runner beans, make sure their support system is in place first.

Have you come across the ‘three sisters’ method of growing summer-cropping vegetables? The native American Iroquois people saw pumpkin (squash), bean and  sweet corn as three inseparable sisters which needed to be grown together. It is actually quite sound advice, as this technique makes best use of your plot and improves soil fertility. Beans climb up the sweet corn plants, stabilising them as they do so. Shallow-rooted courgettes and pumpkins offer a living mulch, suppressing weeds and minimising water evaporation from the soil. Beans fix nitrogen, improving soil fertility, while the bulky vegetation all three produce can be composted for further soil improvement. Not a bad idea, eh?

Tomato Sunlemon from Mr Fothergill'sIt used to be said that French marigolds (Tagetes patula) could be grown near tomato plants in an attempt to ward off whitefly. We have never been sure of the efficacy of this practice, but now we hear some gardeners plant basil close to tomatoes for the same purpose. This wonderful herb certainly has a strong fragrance and taste, and it also enjoys the same conditions as tomatoes, so it may be worth a try.

Even if you do not wish to grow basil as a pest deterrent, it is easy and satisfying to grow what is often called the ‘king of herbs’. For best results, sow a pinch of seeds per 9cm pot of compost in May. Pots can be left in the greenhouse or placed outside in a warm, sunny, sheltered spot. Seed will soon germinate and the resulting plants can either be left in these pots or transferred to larger ones or planted in a warm spot in the garden. Pinch out the growing tips when plants are three or four inches high to produce bushy growth. Within a few weeks, you will be picking this wonderfully fragrant herb with so many uses.

If you have been raising vegetable plants in modules, these can now be hardened off outside before planting them later in the month. As with tender flowers, this toughening-up should be a gradual process. Stand them outside for a few hours a day to begin with before extending the time before eventually leaving them out all the time for the last few days before setting to their cropping positions.

Little Gem Seeds from Mr Fothergill'sSeed of quick-growing salad crops such as lettuce, rocket and mixed leaves are best sown ‘little and often’ to produce a succession of delicious leaves throughout the summer. A sowing made every two weeks is just about right. We have to admit, it’s still difficult to find a lettuce with a better flavour than the marvellous Little Gem. It seems to be everyone’s favourite. We would be interested to know if you grow a variety you consider to be tastier.

Nairobi pea from Mr Fothergill'sPeas are surely the epitome of flavour when it comes to growing vegetables in the garden. Nothing, but nothing, beats the taste of freshly picked peas. There is still plenty of time to sow seed to ensure a crop this summer. We can recommend our new and exclusive variety called Nairobi, which is a top quality ‘sugar snap’, the whole pod of which can be eaten. The succulent, sweet pods remain stringless and are produce in abundance on plants which show excellent tolerance of powdery mildew. Do try it!

What To Do In The Garden In April

March 31st, 2016 | Garden Diaries, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

March did not bring much spring-like weather with it, being generally overcast and dreary. The gales at the end of the month did little to lift the gloom. Easter may have been early this year, but spring feels very late in coming! Surely we are in for some better weather in the garden in April? Let’s hope so. A little sunshine and accompanying warmth makes us all feel much more like getting out into the garden.

Sweet peas in Guildford

As early in the month as possible, plant out autumn-sown sweet pea plants to their flowering position. Make sure their support system is in place before you set them out. Water them in well and they will soon be climbing those poles, although they sometimes need a little help to begin with. Alternatively, there is still time to make a direct sowing of sweet pea seeds in the garden. These will flower rather later than those grown from autumn-sown seed, but will go on flowering later into the summer and, perhaps, into early autumn.

 Sweet Pea Emilia FoxWe urge you to try our new exclusive variety Emilia Fox, which we named for the actress and star of television’s Silent Witness. This rich bicolor was bred in New Zealand by the world’s foremost breeder of the species Dr Keith Hammett. It is sweetly scented (as all good sweet peas should be!), has large blooms and long, strong stems. Those of you wishing to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday this year should grow the strongly scented Lizbeth, which has large, ruffled, orange-pink flowers.

Sweet peas may have exotic-looking flowers, but they are hardy annuals – just like many other easy-to-grow flowers which flower just a few weeks after seed has been sown direct in the garden in their flowering position. The simplest of all flowers to grow, and ideal for encouraging children who may have taken a interest in gardening, subjects such as calendula, nigella, candytuft, sunflower and godetia can be sown now in fine, crumbly soil anywhere in the garden. They are perfect for plugging gaps in borders and many of them are attractive to butterflies and bees.

Cheshire GodetiaIf you prefer to grow on young plants rather than sowing from seed, bear in mind these will need to be ordered sooner rather than later.  For example, most of our large plug plants can only be ordered until mid May, while many subjects such as fuchsias, geraniums, chrysanthemums, petunias and carnations need to be ordered by the end of April.

As summer-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinths fade, carefully remove the flowers, but leave the foliage to die back naturally, as this will help ensure the bulbs receive the nourishment they need if they are to flower again next year. Please do not tie up the foliage either. To provide these bulbs with an added boost, give them a liquid feed as they start dying back.

If you have perennials which have made large clumps through the years, there is still time to divide them to give more plants for elsewhere in the garden or to give to friends. Most are fairly tough customers and can be split carefully with a spade. Always ensure the sections you re-plant have both roots and shoots.

As roses, shrubs, hedges and perennials spring back into life, they would all benefit from a feed with a good quality, general purpose fertiliser, administered according to manufacturer’s instructions – or even at a rate a little less.


Potatoes chittingThere is certainly plenty to be getting on with in the vegetable garden in April. As a general rule of thumb, second-early potato tubers are planted in the first half of the month, while maincrop varieties can be planted during the second half. Conditions do, however, vary from one part of the UK to another. Plant them about 6in deep, 18in apart in rows around 30in apart. As the plants grow, keep earthing them up to form a ridge, drawing soil up and over the stems. The young shoots are tender, so if frost threatens protect them with horticultural fleece or newspaper.

A wide range of brassica seed, such as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale can be sown in April. Make these sowings either in a seed bed in the garden or in trays of modules; the latter method is more reliable and the young plants produced by this method usually suffer a much smaller check to their growth when planted out to their cropping positions.

cabbage cabice from Mr Fothergill'sWe are particularly keen on our new cabbage Cabice F1 – and we are not the only ones! “This is amazing – let’s get it on the menu tonight!” was Jamie Oliver’s reaction when he tasted it, according to a report in The Sun TV Magazine by Peter Seabrook, who took two heads of Cabice to Jamie’s Fifteen restaurant. Cabbage Cabice F1 has a super-sweet flavour, halfway between that of a crisp lettuce and a conventional cabbage, making it versatile enough to be eaten raw shredded in salads or steamed and served hot. The ballhead variety produces firm, dense, crisp heads, which can weigh up to 2kg (4.4lb) each, and stand in good condition in the ground for several weeks without loss of condition or flavour. Cabice F1 is a short-stemmed, compact grower with small outer leaves, making it a good choice for smaller gardens and raised beds. We offer both seed and plants of this great new variety.

Growing saladsAs the soil warms up through the month, there is a whole host of vegetables which can be sown in their cropping positions. These include lettuce, radish, beetroot, carrot, parsnip, peas, turnip and spring onion. Herbs such as coriander, chervil, dill and rocket can also be sown similarly. If you enjoy making curries, a row of coriander is a ‘must’, and sow every three weeks for a regularly supply of this wonderful herb.

Sow seed thinly to reduce the need for thinning as seedlings develop, and keep the young plants well watered in dry spells. Most importantly of all, weed rows regularly to minimise competition from unwanted plants. Take great care if using a hoe or alternatively hand-weed. The vegetable plants will really appreciate it and reward you accordingly later in the season.

If you have a greenhouse, why not make an early sowing of runner beans so you have young plants ready to set out once the danger of frost has passed? Seed can be sown individually 2in deep in Rootrainers or 3in pots. Harden off the young plants from early May onwards, protecting them from any late frosts, before planting out to their cropping positions later in May. Remember to have their support system erected before you plant out. Do all this and you will probably be harvesting those young, tender pods before anyone else – and think how good that will make you feel!

What to do in the garden in March

March 1st, 2016 | Garden Diaries | 0 Comments

February was a month in which it seemed we barely had two consecutive days the same. Just when we thought we were getting away with a mild winter, we experienced several hard frosts; we had rain at times, but never as much as was forecast, so all-in-all it was a month of false starts. Lawns have hardly stopped growing since autumn and look very much in need of a cut.. Snowdrops have been flowering since early January, but they will soon be coming to the end for this year. Always a welcome sight, they bring the hope spring will not be too far away.


Begonia Sweet Spice Plant CollectionLater this month sees the vernal equinox and the official arrival of spring, so it’s already time to start thinking about growing new plants for this year’s floral displays. An ever-increasing number of us now grow a wide range of plants for our hanging baskets, patio pots and window boxes – and we are spoilt for choice by the wide range of new varieties developed specifically with these containers in mind.

Trailing begonias are some of the most exuberant of all container plants, and in our opinion nothing compares with the tuberous-rooted Illumination series. We offer five colours, all of which produce long trails and masses of fully double, large blooms from July right through to October. They have excellent weather tolerance and make a fantastic show in summer baskets. If you grow only one colour, why not make it Apricot Shades, which also includes warm yellows and rich golds? We deliver the young plants to you from mid April onwards, so you can grow them on before planting up your containers for summer.

Petunia Priscilla from Mr Fothergill'sStaying with basket plants, can it really be 20 years since our friend, East Anglian breeder David Kerley, launched Petunia Priscilla – the first in a series now known as Tumbelinas?  Named for his wife, who actually developed this worldwide success, it remains the benchmark by which all double-flowered trailing petunias are judged. The couples’ latest introduction is the pink picotee Anna, which also looks set for a bright future. We offer both, plus a blend called Scented Falls, which includes Priscilla, Melissa and Joanna.

Half-hardy annuals are the mainstays of many gardeners’ summer displays, whether used in beds and borders or in patio pots. Seed of many can be sown in warmth during March to produce sturdy young plants ready for setting out from May onwards, when the last of the spring frosts have gone. While a heated greenhouse is a luxury most of us do not have, a warm windowsill is usually just the job for raising a wide range of bedding and container plants. Once they have germinated, grown on and been transplanted to larger trays, the weather should be warming up and most can be grown on in an unheated greenhouse, although they will need fleece or newspaper protection when frosts threaten during April.

We trial many hundreds  of potential new bedding plants every summer and introduce only those which perform well for us. Modern zinnias have much improved garden-performance than older strains. We particularly like the Zahara series, and are pleased to introduce Double Zahara Yellow for this summer. It looks lovely whether grown in beds or containers.

Many of our customers grow flowers specially for cutting, some even as a ‘crop’ on the allotment. With these gardeners in mind, we have launched asters Balloon Blue, Balloon Red and Balloon Yellow. Great for colour-theming, the beautifully domed heads, which can reach 6in across, last well in the vase and are equally good in borders. Often regarded as old-fashioned, we sense asters may soon be making a comeback in many gardens.

Hybrid tea and floribunda roses can be pruned with sharp secateurs before the current season’s growth begins. This action reduces overcrowding, and allows better air circulation, which in turn helps to prevent fungal diseases such as blackspot. Start by removing twiggy growth, dead wood and stems growing towards the middle of the plant. Then cut back hybrid teas to within 6in of soil level and floribundas to within 12in, making a clean, sloping cut about ¼–½in above an outward-facing bud. Complete the job by applying a rose feed and a mulch. This gives them the best possible start.

As snowdrops finish flowering, why not lift and divide them ‘in the green’ to provide you with more clumps for elsewhere in the garden or to give as welcome gifts to friends and families? This transplanting is best done as quickly as possible, ideally within a day. Once the clumps of bulbs have been teased into smaller sections, transplant them at the same level at which they were previously growing. Water them well and continue to do so, especially during dry spells. They should soon revive and flower for many years haead.


Tomato Sunchocola from Mr Fothergill's

When the ‘grow your own’ renaissance began a few years ago, some cynics suggested it would be a one-year-wonder, but they have been proved spectacularly wrong. Our customers continue to grow more and more of their own vegetables, even where space is limited. All we vegetable growers know nothing compares with the flavour and texture of just-picked produce, but that is not the only reason we do it. There is the deep satisfaction of eating what we have grown, after tending it, encouraging it and protecting it for weeks and often months. Growing food satisfies an innate, ancient urge in our psyche and gives contentment – despite the problems we sometimes encounter between seed packet and plate!

Have you heard 2016 has been designated ‘Year of the Tomato’? If not, pay attention because we did mention it here back in January! We are marking the occasion in some style, introducing several exclusive and new varieties to our range. Tomato Sungold F1 is regarded by many as the finest flavoured, and now the renowned ‘cherry’ has been joined by six brand new varieties in our range from the same breeding programme, three of which are ‘exclusives’. All performed remarkably well in the our huge 2015 tomato trial, and have a flavour as outstanding as that of their illustrious ‘sister’.Tomato Sunlemon from Mr Fothergill's

Suncherry Smile F1, Sunchocola F1 and Sunlemon F1 are available only from Mr Fothergill’s for the 2016 season. Red-fruited Suncherry Smile F1 produces masses of very sweet tomatoes, while Sunchocola F1 has attractive brick red to brown fruits, which are incredibly tasty eaten straight from the plant while still warm. Sunlemon F1 is the earliest of the group to mature, producing plenty of lemon-yellow little fruits. Tomato Suncherry Premium F1’s sweet fruits are produced for many weeks, Sungreen F1 yields lime-green fruits with a sweetness which belies their appearance, and Sunpeach F1 yields warm pink-red little tomatoes. All six display excellent disease resistance, ensuring the plants remain robust all summer long. They are indeterminate, so require staking and the removal of sides-shoots, and can be grown either in a greenhouse or outdoors. Do try at least one this summer because we believe you will be impressed. Sow the seed this month or into April.  Watch this short video that gives tips on choosing the right tomato variety for your garden.

If March starts to warm up and winds begin to dry out wet soil, there is no reason why you should not make some early, direct sowings of parsnips, carrots, beetroot and radishes. Do be guided by the weather rather than the back of the seed packet, though, as seeds will not germinate in soil which is waterlogged and/or too cold. If in doubt, always wait! If you can place cloches or horticultural fleece over the soil for a week or two prior to making these sowings, the ground will warm up and give such seeds a flying start.

Potato offer on Mr Fothergill's website

Early potatoes can be planted this month, although we recommend waiting until April before maincrop varieties go in the ground. Plant tubers about 6in deep, 15in apart and allow 18-20 inches between rows. As the foliage appears above ground, keep earthing up the soil from either side to protect this growth from frost damage.  When you receive your seed potatoes, you might find this article on the care and cultivation of potatoes handy for helping you get the best from your plot this year.

If you are intending grow runner beans later in the spring, now is the time to make a trench for them, filling it with well-rotted manure and compost, plus some shredded newspaper in the bottom. This will provide the deep, rich root-run in which they thrive, giving you a bumper crop from a May sowing. We must mention here our new and exclusive runner bean Firelight. This red-flowered variety really is the ‘next generation’ of self-setting runner beans, being an improved version of our popular Firestorm. Virtually self-fertile, Firelight has improved pod-set, better textured, stringless pods and is a heavier cropper – so a ‘treble whammy’! And even more good news – Firelight is tolerant of hot, dry summers, unlike many other, older varieties.

What to do in the garden in August

July 31st, 2015 | Garden Diaries | 0 Comments

In the garden in August there is much maintenance work to do.  If you are not weeding, you are watering, and when not doing that you are picking and pickling, jamming and cooking your way through your vegetable plot as it hits is maximum harvest time.  So, even though you are busy, you might find some of the following to be helpful pointers.

Jobs in the flower garden in August

As soon as petals fall from your lilies, remove the flower stalk by cutting the stem just below the flower head.  Make a clean cut with a pair of secateurs just above a leaf.  The plants will then produce food, which allows the bulb to build up its reserves so it can flower again next summer.  Once the faded flowers have been removed, the plants will benefit from a general purpose liquid plant feed applied round their base.

Foxglove seeds from Mr FothergillsHostas too can have spent flower stalks removed to keep the plants looking tidy for the rest of the summer.  We all know how attractive hostas are to slugs and snails, so if you can maintain a deterrent mulch such as broken eggshells or gravel round the base of plants, especially after rain, this should help to control the problem.

Foxgloves are attractive in early summer and produce seed freely.  If you wish, you may like them to shed their seed and produce seedlings at random through the garden, but if you prefer not to have these ‘volunteer’ plants, it is a good idea to cut back the stems now they have finished flowering.

Bulb planter from Mr Fothergill'sIt is not too early to start thinking about displays of spring-flowering bulbs for your garden displays and containers.  They will begin to appear in the shops towards the end of the month and can be planted from September onwards when the warm soil will help them establish well before the weather turns colder.  Generally speaking, the bigger the bulbs the bigger the flowers they produce and as larger bulbs are usually a little more expensive than smaller ones it is a case of ‘getting what you pay for’. You might also want to invest in a bulb planter to save your hands and wrists some effort if you have grand designs!

If you like the thought of hyacinths flowering in pots indoors over the Christmas period and into the New Year, keep a look-out for ‘prepared’ hyacinth bulbs, which have undergone a period in a temperature-controlled environment to encourage them to flower earlier.

If you would like to increase your stock of shrubs, August is a good month to take semi-ripe cuttings of these.  New growth made during the spring and summer will have become a little hardened and is ideal for the purpose.  Select only non-flowering shoots which look strong and healthy.  With a sharp knife, make tip cuttings from the top 4in of growth and remove the lowest leaves.  A tray of cells is ideal for propagating these cuttings.  Use a 50-50 mix of multi-purpose compost and sharp sand, plus a little vermiculite, and push one cutting into each cell.  Gently firm them in, water well with a fine-rosed watering can and allow to drain.

The tray can be placed in a cold frame or a sheltered spot in the garden.  Within a few weeks they should be making new top growth with roots visible through the drainage holes.  They can be potted on to larger pots before being set out to their final positions in autumn or next spring.


Jobs in the vegetable garden in August

Onion Electric from Mr Fothergill'sOnions are one of the most valuable and satisfying crops to grow in the vegetable garden or down on the allotment – and the great thing about them is they are very easy to grow and manage.  Thirty five years ago or so there was quite a breakthrough in onions when seed of hardy Japanese strains such as Senshyu, and Imai were launched.  Seed sown in August or September would generally over-winter to provide an earlier than usual crop of bulbs the following summer.

Nowadays many such varieties, including good old Senshyu, are available as sets.  We offer several such as bolt-resistant Radar, red-skinned Electric and the superb white-skinned Snowball, which has a lovely mild flavour, as has Senshyu.  We are accepting orders for these over-wintering onion sets until the middle of August, which is when we begin our despatch.  Plant the tiny bulbs as soon as possible after receipt, keep them weed-free through the winter and you will be enjoying a delicious crop of onions early next summer before the ‘maincrops’ ripen in August.  By the way, we also offer a specially formulated granular onion fertiliser (N11, P22, K22) , which, being high in potash and phosphorus, gives good disease resistance and encourages good bulb development.  It’s equally effective when used on shallots and garlic.

Cabbage Spring HeroOf the same vintage as Senshyu is spring Cabbage Spring Hero F1, and it too is still going strong.  When it was launched it was remarkable for the being the first ballhead (spherical) spring cabbage, as all the others were traditionally conical.  Seed of  Spring Hero F1 can be sown during August and it will produce a fine crop of medium-sized, densely packed, sweet tasting heads next April and May.  Offenham 2 Flower of Spring is a great choice if you prefer your spring cabbages to have pointed heads!

As an alternative to growing spring cabbages from seed, take a look at our Spring Greens Collection, which offers 15 plants each of spring cabbages Spring Hero F1 and Frostie, sprouting broccoli Claret F1 and cauliflower Walcheren Winter 3 – Armado April.  You can order this collection until early September, and we shall then despatch the young plants to you from mid September onwards ready for you to plant out to their cropping positions.  It’s as simple as that!


Jobs in the fruit garden in August

Raspberry Glen FyneRaspberries, such as our Malling Minerva and Glen Fyne, are one of the great delights of the summer fruit garden, requiring very little attention to produce a worthwhile and tasty crop of their sharp-sweet berries.  Summer-fruiting types produce their fruit on wood produced the previous year, so once you have harvested the last of your crop cut the canes which fruited this summer down almost to ground level in order to let this year’s growth develop in readiness for cropping next summer.  Train all new growth gently into your supports.  Autumn-cropping raspberries on the other hand, such as our Autumn Treasure and Polka, are known as ‘primocanes’ and they produce their crop on canes produced this year.

If you have never grown that other great summer treat – strawberries – you’re missing a trick!  Most of the new varieties being bred and introduced are excellent, but as many are aimed at the commercial grower qualities such as resistance to bruising and an ability to remain in good condition for days after picking are as important as flavour and fragrance.  Where gardeners have the advantage is their crop is usually picked and eaten within minutes, so we are not bothered by the fruits’ ability to withstand transportation or whether it has a good ‘shelf life’.  All we are interested in is flavour!

The varieties Cambridge Favourite and Royal Sovereign are considerably older than most of the strawberries we offer.  In their heyday they were grown commercially and while they have been superseded by modern varieties they have that really old fashioned strawberry flavour some of us may never have tasted.  Give these two ‘old timers’ a try and we know you will be impressed!  It’s a well-kept secret, so don’t tell anyone else.