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Gardening Tips Week Ending May 2nd 2014.

Hello Folks
             May has come again and its all systems go in the Garden and on the Allotments. Itís time to sow Runner Bean seeds so that you can have plants ready to put in the ground at the end of May, otherwise if you sow the seed directly in the ground sometimes Mice will enjoy them. Cabbages, Cauliflowers, Brussels, etc should be in now and growing away. If you only want a few of them though you can buy small packs of Vegetable Plants from the Garden Centres, but they really should be in the ground, although, you can still plant some vegetables to give a crop that follows on and the benefit of late planting is that they will often be reduced in price now.

The Flowering Cherries seem to have been better than ever this year and Daffodils in tubs have also done really well. Alanís Apricots, Peach and Pear have all been covered in flowers this year, so we are hoping for a good crop. There were Bees about for some of the flowers, however, there may be what they call ďJune Drop,Ē when a tree has too much fruit on it and it discards some, but not too much we hope!

It is a busy time in the garden and on the Allotments now with lots of potting on and planting out. We find when handling the bought compost that hasnít got Peat in it, it needs Horticultural grit, or Perlite mixed in to it, or it clogs up and stays to wet.
I still think when planting Tubs, or large Pots it is a good idea to add a few Water Retaining Crystals such as Swell Gel. It also helps, if we have a very dry Summer, to stand each Tub on a saucer, because Concrete does get very warm in the Sun and will draw the moisture from any Tubs, or Pots standing directly on it.

When the Forsythia finished flowering, or indeed any other late Winter flowering, or Spring flowering shrubs, they should have been cut down. We have a White Flowering Currant, or Ribes and it was a mass of flowers which very nicely hides a neighbours shabby garage from view - so that is another bush to prune now. If you have any of those Lollipop type of bushes made from Lonicera Nitidia, Buxus, Privet, etc, they might have to be trimmed to help them keep their shape.

Now that we are into May it should be safe to put out Hanging Baskets and after the late frosts in April it really should be safe for all the other bedding plants to go out in your tubs and borders. The more tender vegetables like Courgettes, Squash, Pumpkin, Tomatoes, Outdoor Cucumbers and semi exotics like Cape Gooseberries, can all be planted outside later in the month. Any other tender plants that have been over Wintered in the Greenhouse such as Dahlias, Geraniums and Abutilons should also be safe now. However, it is probably still a bit risky for things like the tender Banana plants and edible Lime trees that really do need warm nights as well as warm days.

Well thatís all for now. Cheerio.
Frances Hartley.

Gardening Tips For May 10th 2013.

Hello Folks
Thereís a little verse I always think of when Spring arrives; - ďSpring is sprung, the grass is ris, I wonder where the birdies is?Ē This year Spring seems to have come late and the birds have been very busy for the last few weeks filling their beaks with as much straw like bits as possible for their nests. I know most of the Spring bulbs were very late flowering this year, but the Summer flowering ones will catch up. However, in your haste to get planting donít cut the leaves off the Spring bulbs too early as it will stop them from flowering next year altogether. I usually let the leaves go brown when they will easily pull off at the same time as you are doing other dead heading and general tidying up and then all the rubbish will go on the compost heap together.

Greenhouses should be getting more space in them as some of the hardier plug vegetables such as Beetroot and Brussels, along with flowering plants such as Sweet Peas and over wintering Chrysathemum stools can be planted out now. This will make room for transplanting indoor crop plants like Tomatoes and Cucumbers into large pots before they go in their final growing positions Ė to be grown, as either ďRing Culture,Ē or in Growbags. Yellow sticky cards should be hung up in the greenhouse to catch any Aphids that may have hibernated during the winter, because they do love young tomato plants! With Cucumbers the ďAll female,Ē plants are the best type to grow as other varieties can result in bitter cucumbers if the male flowers are left on by mistake and the female flowers get pollinated. Cucumbers should be planted as far from the door as possible because they donít like draughts. In small greenhouses it is best to drop a sheet of polythene down in front of them to keep off draughts and damp the floor down regularly as well because they must also have humid conditions.

If you still have room in your greenhouse, hanging baskets and pots can be planted up to get them established before they are ready to go out at the end of May when all risk of frost should really have gone. If you have any trays, or pots of bedding plants waiting to go out, you can stand them against the house wall on the warmest side, to make more space in your greenhouse. However, I keep a piece of horticultural fleece handy and if a night frost is forecast, drop the fleece lightly over the plants putting bricks, or stones on its edge to hold it down. By the way there are different grades of fleece around these days, but they can all be washed gently and will last at least 2, or 3 years.

Nearly everybody sows the whole packet of seeds when it is opened and then doesnít know what to do with all the plants, but there is no need to use all of the packet at once as most vegetable and flower seeds will keep easily for 2, or 3 years and Tomatoes will keep for 4, or 5 years. Germination rates will decline the longer a packet has been opened, but you can help prevent this by carefully folding the top of the packet down gently, expressing the air out and then resealing the packet with some tape before storing it in a cool, dry place such as a tin in a garage. For those being asked what gardening gift they want for their birthday, etc, some of the garden centres are now selling fancy, ďGardeners seed tins!Ē

Thatís All For Now. Cheerio. Frances Hartley

Gardening Tips For Week Ending May 5th 2012

Hello Folks

          The weather is very changeable at the moment, but the frequent showers of rain are very welcome as our water tubs were getting very low. We do not actually water the garden except for newly planted things, some of the vegetables and of course the tubs and baskets. This year we are using ďSwell Gel,Ē more than ever before, especially after last yearís dry conditions. Swell Gel absorbs water and then slowly releases the moisture as the compost becomes dry. Sometimes it goes under another name, but is the same sort of thing and I think Swell Gel was the original name. I have been using it for about 30 years now, but when I first tried it, it was only for commercial use and then it became well known and was packeted for everyone to use. We put it in the base of the Runner Bean trench, tubs, troughs and of course hanging baskets. It is fun stuff to use, but do read the instructions on the packet as a little bit will go a long way. In fact if you havenít used the water retaining powder before put a little bit on a saucer and add a little water and you will see how much it swells. Afterwards you can put it out on the garden, or let it dry out and go back into crystals so you can store it again until you want it. You shouldnít really put lots of chemicals in the garden, but we have even put some gel in one of our very dry borders. After a prolonged dry spell, followed by a heavy shower, the whole soil level in the border rises a couple of inches as the gel absorbs the water and swells!

I am not planting so many tubs and troughs this year, only about 4 at the back along with a two-tier stand. It gets a lot of sun at the back, so they will be mostly Begonias from corms in the hanging basket and Geraniums in the tubs that will stand the sun and donít mind drying out.

There will be two tubs, three troughs and two stands at the front where it is very cool and shady, so they will be mainly planted with bedding Begonias and Busy Lizzies (Impatiens.)

It should be safe enough for all bedding plants to go out now I think. Some people bought their Runner Beans too early and we saw several garden centres where the beans had caught a chill, but they should be all right to put out now as well. When growing runner Beans though it is a good idea to sink a pot 3 Ĺ or 4 inches into the ground by each plant just leaving the top clear and when watering each day pour the water into the pot so that it goes straight to the roots instead of all over the ground. This stops the soil from packing down round the plants and encourages the roots to go down for water. My son has buried some old plastic milk bottles instead. Before being buried they were slashed with a knife to let the water out.

My son has just brought a lovely big head of Purple Sprouting Broccoli from his allotment for lunch. He planted the young plants in the autumn along with Cabbages and Leeks. They have stood all the Winter weather has thrown at them and we are getting the benefit now with some fresh, home grown, Spring vegetables when most people are only just starting to plant up their gardens and allotments.

By the way the more Sweat Pea flowers you pick the more flowers you get and do remember to take the seed pods off all the time as they will stop them flowering if they are left on.

Well thatís all for now. Cheerio.
Frances Hartley

Gardening Tips For Week Ending May 6th 2011

Hello Folks

                    Hopefully, we have now finished with the frosts and we can finally see what damage the cold weather has done. I suppose shrubs and many other plants that have been in for years have got a bit soft through the mild Winters up to now and couldnít stand the cold this year. My poor Brown Turkey Fig tree that gave me 180 ripe figs last year looks very sorry for itself now, but Monty Don looked at his and it looked the same. He said he was going to cut out what was definitely dead and hope the rest would pick up and shoot again. Alan has planted 4 more different figs in the garden, but I donít know how they will survive next Winter. We may well have to cover them in the Winter. on very cold nights, with some horticultural fleece, as we do the Olive and the Peach to protect itís blossom in the early spring. Speaking of the Olive, I think we may well have lost that as well as about a dozen Bay trees that have been in for years.  My white Cystus, that was at least 3ft across each way, has gone and several Eunymous look very sad, although there are signs that some of them are starting to shoot again. There are a lot of Euonymous that look really bright, fresh and healthy in garden centres now, but beware because they will have been grown in Poly Tunnels for quick growth and will be soft, so if it does turn very cold again with late frosts, they may need a bit of cover.

The flowering Cherry trees have brightened everywhere up and they seem to have been exceptionally good this year along with the large flowered Magnolia. Fruit trees generally are looking really good as well and hopefully will crop heavily again like last yearís bumper harvest.

The birds are very hungry and come down for their breakfast every day now around 8-30. I think they have one on watch to give them a call as soon as they see me go out. Of course it has been very dry for a long time now and the ground has baked hard, which means the poor things canít get any worms, or slugs, so rely on people to feed and water them. I have two small bowls out for them that I keep topped up with fresh water and we have several fat ball containers around our garden. It is quite entertaining to watch them hanging from them and swing back and forth as they peck at them.

Back to gardening we have 6 water tubs from the house, garage and greenhouse roof gutters and they are all empty. We only water newly planted things in the garden, and of course the greenhouse that is full of things which will be planted out soon. Plants to go out now are Onions, Leeks, Potatoes and Broad Beans. Carrot and Beetroot seeds can also be sown and Hardy Annuals such as Pansies can be planted out.

Well thatís all for now.  Frances Hartley

Gardening Tips Week Ending May 8th 2010.

  Hello Folks

A lovely, bright, sunny, Spring, but very dry and cold at night. We have 4 large, 20 Ė 25 gallon, water tubs, but unusually for this time of year, all are empty now, at the time of writing, so, my son has now fitted another one by the greenhouse. With some ingenuity and fiddling about, it will take water from both sides of the roof, or at least it will when we eventually get some rain, which will be soon we hope.

At the Wild Life Centre at Wolseley Bridge, not the Garden Centre, the same entrance but turn right instead of left, they have some recycled compost they have had made. It is a bit rough and contains no sand, unlike potting compost that does, but is ideal for mulching round shrubs, fruit, well anything really. When you put mulch round plants you should water them first, specially if the weather has been dry and it will help to keep the soil damp as well as feeding them. At the moment the compost is selling for about £6 for 3 large bags. We normally use our own from our compost heap, but decided we needed some more for extra mulching this year because of the weather.

Tomatoes should be in their final growing pots now if you are growing them in your green house, but do not put them outside yet as it is not safe. It is also risky to plant bedding plants out now, but they can be hardened off ready. An ideal place to do this is in a cold frame with the top open in the daytime and closed off at night, or else you can stand trays, or pots, against the house wall. Whilst this is a good place and will give some shelter, on very cold or frosty nights, either take them inside at night, or cover them with horticultural fleece, or even old net curtains as long as they are not holey.

Sweet Peas can be planted out now and as they are a favourite of slugs, if you donít like using slug pellets, you can save all your egg shells, then lightly crumble them and put them round your plants instead. You could also use course gravel I suppose as it prickles their tummies the same.

We are growing Cape Gooseberries again this year as we did well with them last year. They are planted in large plastic crates instead of pots to get a larger crop and as they will stand some frost, they were put outside a couple of weeks ago. They have an unusual taste to them, but they go well in a fresh fruit salad. They are sold in some super markets in small packets as Physallis which are the same family as the ornamental Chinese Lanterns that shouldnít be eaten, but are from a different species all together. Hope that is quite clear as many people get the two mixed up and we have been eating the golden berried Physallis or Cape Goosebery for years.

When your bulbs have finished flowering give them a feed and keep them watered until the foliage dies off. Then they can be cut down and if in pots, they can be taken out of them and cleaned up, dried and stored in a cool frost-free place. Please do not store them in plastic bags though, or they will sweat. The net bags off fruit are ideal or even old tights can be used as long as they are hung up where the mice canít get at them.

Well thatís all for now. Good Gardening. Frances Hartley.


Gardening Tips Week Ending May 2nd 2009

Hello Folks

What a lovely few days we have had, everything is growing like mad with the Daffodils and Tulips looking really lovely this year and even the Blue Bells are already making an appearance. I have a pot of bulbs on the patio that I havenít seen before called Camasia. The deep blue flowers are on a spike about 18 inches tall and grow a bit like a miniature Delphinium. I shall certainly get some more bulbs in the Autumn if I see any.

It is still risky to put bedding plants out yet, except hardy Annuals, such as Cosmos, Alyssum, Stocks and Antirrhinums. If you have a gap to fill up and arenít familiar with Cosmos they grow to about 2 Ĺ - 3 feet tall and 1 Ĺ - 2 feet across and will get covered in Daisy like flowers that come in various colours. There is a Chocolate Cosmos that does smell of chocolate very close to, but the flower is not very impressive with its dark brown chocolate colour.

I have just sown my Runner Beans in trays in the greenhouse that should be ready for planting out at the end of May, but you can of course sow the large seeds individually in the fibre ďSweet PeaĒ type pots so as not to disturb the roots when they are transplanted outside.

I shall put Courgettes in again this year even though last year mine were a bit of a failure as they produced plenty of large flowers, but they all were male ones, and so of course there were no Courgettes produced. One of my sons had some plants off me that he did really well with, but that is how it goes.

We are trying vegetables in large pots again including Sugar Snap Peas and are also under planting the Tomatoes in the greenhouse that I always grow by the ďRing cultureĒ method. That is where the Tomato plants are put in large bottomless pots and stood on a fairly thick layer of compost which means they can make a much bigger root system and are less likely to suffer from drying out too quickly. My son Alan put the tomato plants in this year, as I was unable to do it and he put an extra thick layer of our homemade compost down, so now we have sown a catch crop of  baby Carrots, Lettuce and Radishes in between them and we will see what happens.

In a recent newspaper article it said that the authorities in Manchester are planting lots of fruit trees around the city, especially in its many parks, which people will be able to pick themselves. The idea is partly to educate children, as many donít have any idea where fruit comes from, and the trees will be labelled to say when they will be ready for picking. I hope they will not be vandalised, but I do think it is a splendid idea as we are always being encouraged to grow vegetables and fruit trees hardly get a look in. We used to have huge orchards in this country many years ago, mainly of Plums, Apples and Pears, and coach trips were organised from the towns so that people could go and pick their own fruit with no need to rely on migrant workers from other countries.

Well, thatís all for now.
Cheerio. Frances Hartley

Gardening Tips Week Ending May 3rd


Hello folks.

                 We are getting a few odd days of summer now mixed in with cooler and wetter weather. Some plants in the garden like this kind of Spring and the Daffodils and Tulips, especially the dwarf ones seem to have excelled themselves this year. Donít forget to take off all dead flowers from your bulbs otherwise they will form seed pods which will take the strength out of the bulbs and that prevents them from flowering so well next year. I also like to give some slow release fertilizer to feed bulbs up to make next yearís flowers.

There are a lot of vegetable plants on sale in the Garden Centres and according to the seed suppliers, vegetable seeds have outdone flower seeds sales this year as more and more people are deciding to grow a few vegetable plants. I have only a small vegetable space which has Garlic, Raspberries and one or two soft fruit bushes already in it. I will sow my runner beans in there as well, but when I sow them, I like to sow the beans on edge, because like all flat seeds such as Melon, Courgettes, Cucumbers, etc they are better sown on the edge otherwise they tend to rot. I am experimenting growing some seeds of a special small carrot in large pots. I have also sown some Salsify that looks like a large white Carrot when fully grown, but is really more like a Radish with a peppery flavour. It can be eaten raw and sliced up like a normal Radish, or sliced and put in with mixed vegetables and cooked. I am also trying baby Sweet Corn and Squash. We are already picking young Spinach leaves from plants grown in a trough. Try anything once thatís my motto!

I think it is still a bit early to put hanging baskets out yet, just in case we have a really cold spell, but if you have anywhere to keep them they can be made up ready. Plants for hanging baskets have been available for a few weeks now and there are a lot more trailing plants about this year than there used to be. Trailing Surfinia Petunias, which are very popular, now come in a big range of colours and look good in baskets, but there are many other trailing plants for baskets such as Begonias, Trailing Geraniums, Impatiens, Bidens, Nepeta, Trailing Fuchsias, Trailing Lobelia, Scaveolans and Trailing Ivies.

Thatís all for now. Cheerio.

Frances Hartley.


Gardening Tips Week Ending May 5th.

Hello folks

                    I think Spring has come at last although it is very wet. If you havenít pruned your roses yet, do them now. Hybrid Tea should be cut back really hard as they flower on the new shoots. Donít prune Floribunda roses so hard and Shrub and climbing Roses should be pruned after flowering is over.

Onions should be in the ground now as should carrots and parsnips. With all this wet it is better to sow Runner Beans in pots and plant the young plants out at the end of this month. Slugs are still playing havoc with all types of plants. They have been in my Cold Frame even though the base is gravel. They have been in the Greenhouse as well, so I have now put slug bait all round. If you want to use slug bait in the garden and are afraid of birds getting it, place a piece of broken pot over it.

I hope the ground dries up soon although my soil goes like concrete when it is very dry because it is full of clay. Does anybody make clay pots?

Going along the road it is lovely and cheerful with daffodils and the bright yellow of the gorse bushes and in some places the white of the Hawthorn can be seen.

Well thatís all for now. Cheerio.

                             Frances Hartley.

A few hints and tips for you.

All winter and early flowering shrubs should have been cut back and shaped up by now so that the new wood has time to grow and ripen before flowering next year. If you have been tempted as I have by the bright and scented lilies that are about now, it is a good idea to snap off the flower heads when they have faded so that they donít produce seed. Give them a feed as well so that the leaves absorb it to feed the bulb and they will then flower next year. Ornamental Sage, Thyme and Aubrietia can be clipped over now as well.

If you grow tomatoes and they are fruiting, start and feed them with a high potash feed such as Tomorite. If the leaves start to go yellow or pale, mix one teaspoon of Epsom salts in a pint of water and water the plants, not leaves. This is also good for any citrus plants you might have. It perks them up and gets them going!!!

Cut the old fruiting canes out of the late raspberries and tie the new ones in. Red currants fruit on spurs on the old wood and black currants on the previous years wood so do not cut these back. 

Well thatís all for now.

Cheerio  Frances Hartley



Gardening Tips May 27th

First a little tip for saving water. When running the hot tap to get it hot for washing, run the cold that comes first into a bowl and then tip this into a bucket. It is surprising how much it mounts up to during the day. It can then be used for watering tubs, baskets, the greenhouse or even on the vegetable patch. I keep my watering can just outside the backdoor and fill that.

If you have not planted runner beans yet, dig a trench and then put a layer of two or three sheets of newspaper all along the bottom. If you are emptying the vacuum cleaner spread the contents of the bag on top of the paper as well. This will all rot down and help to keep the moisture in. Add a little soil, then some water retaining crystals, fill the trench up with soil and water well before planting the beans in. I do this each year and usually get a good crop. This could be also done when planting courgettes or marrows.

I donít know if I have mentioned this before, but if water retaining crystals are used in baskets and tubs it does help with the watering, but donít be overgenerous when mixing them in or you will think you have frogspawn all over the place when they get wet. The crystals look like sugar when dry but swell up like frogspawn or sago as they absorb water. It is always a good idea to add one or two slow release food tablets in the compost when planting tubs or baskets as well. Both the water retaining crystals and food tablets can be purchased from any garden centre or gardening type shop.

In the greenhouse I never get aphids on my tomatoes because I hang none toxic yellow cards up which are sticky. I put up two cards in a twelve foot greenhouse. They do not give off any nasty fumes but do collect the aphids very effectively. Each card will last for whole a season. When watering in the greenhouse donít get too close to the cards though, I sometimes forget and get a hair pulled out, very careless of me!

  Cheerio For Now

                             Frances Hartley