Tree Fern

Tree Fern – Dicksonia Antarctica

Hi all my gardening friends.

I just had to tell you about my absolute favourite plant at the moment, my gorgeous Tree Fern or Dicksonia Antarctica as it’s often called.

Tania bought it for me on my 50th birthday when it was about 18 inches high. Now, 7 years later it’s grown into this wonderful specimen!

What I love so much about tree ferns is the wonderful contrast between the rich almost lime green leaves and the hairy, almost weird looking trunk!  Tucked away in a slightly humid (when the sun shines) shady part of the garden, next to the stream, it just seems to love it.

It’s taken me a while to find the perfect growing conditions. Originally planted in a big clay pot I think it didn’t like the occasional dry conditions.

If you’re thinking about growing your own Dicksonia, my advice is take your time and find a spot with the perfect growing conditions. At upwards of £100 a go for a medium sized tree it can be an expensive mistake if you get it wrong.

I prepared the ground really well with loads of organic matter and removed as much as the chalky soil as I could. (One of the challenges of gardening in this part of Hampshire)

I keep it well watered, especially the crown of the plant where the fronds grow. I remove a few dead fronds each summer and it’s none the worse for it.

New Zealand Tree Fern

I don’t overfeed … every 2-3 weeks it gets a watering can of regular soluble plant food and apart from watering in dry conditions it pretty much looks after itself. What a plant!

For the last 2 winters it’s lived outside with little protection, other than what it gets from the hedge that is.

It really is the most wonderful addition to the garden. Oh, and make sure you buy from a reputable garden center as they have to be certified for sale in the UK.

It never ceases to amaze me how nature just seems to know what it’s doing. Give a plant the right growing conditions and it will give back many times over.

I feel sure you’ll agree the Tree Fern is a wonderful addition to the garden. Now all I need to do is save up for another one!🙂

Hope you enjoy these pictures I took earlier today.

Tree Fern Dicksonia Antarctica

tree-fern-4

tree-fern-5

Back soon!

Best wishes,

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Japanese Maples

I finally finished creating a new spot for the Acers. Well I suppose that’s not strictly accurate as they’re sunk in the ground in their pots … but more on that in a moment.

If you’d like to have a beautiful display of Acer’s but you’re worried if your ground is suitable, you can buy a soil testing kit, you’re looking for slightly acidic soil conditions but if like me, you know you’re gardening on chalk you’re going to have to find another way.

Here’s a pic of some Japanese Acer plants I bought as small plants for £6.50 each on EBay in 2013.

Young Acer Plants

I’ve potted them on each year and they’re now about 4 feet tall as you can see and make the most fantastic small trees. Incidentally I was looking in the garden center at the weekend and slightly similar sized plants were on sale for £85! Amazing what a little patience can do for the old budget!

Japanese Acers

Originally I planned to create an oval shaped bed and plant them in a random pattern. But then I had a bright idea, which doesn’t happen very often I must admit, and thought why not create horseshoe shape. It would certainly make it easier to tend to the weeds that’s for sure!

Making the horseshoe shape was dead easy to do.

All I did was take a string line and marked out a semi circle at one end, and marked a slightly smaller one for the inside border. I then ran a line from each end of the semi circle, down the garden and mirrored that line again so I had a strip about 2 ft wide in which to plant the Acers.

string-line

Then I removed the turfs and stack them in a corner of the garden. In few weeks they’ll produce the most wonderful loam.

Making a Japanese Acer Bed

Some of you may know our garden is on a chalk seam, which basically means we have about 5 inches of top soil after which you hit solid chalk and flint. Maples hate chalk but I’m not about to let that stop me .. after all I love Acers and if you mix the colours they make the most amazing display. No I wasn’t about to give up yet.

So I thought … why not sink the pots into the ground?  Thing is the chalk will eventually find a way into the bottom of the pot. So I came up with an idea to cut out a piece of matting, the sort you put down to stop the weeds coming through. If I put it into the bottom of the hole it should allow any water to get away and at the same time provide some protection from the chalk.

Line-the-hole

Having dug a hole slightly larger than the pot I added a 2 inch layer of Eracaceous compost to the bottom of the hole first and then the matting followed by the pot. I back filled with more Eracaceous compost and checked the pot were sitting nice and level. Finally firmed the pot well in and gave the Acers a good water. Job done!

acer-4

I guess time will tell if my plan works, but worst case if the Acer’s start to look worse for ware, I’ll just lift them out and stand them in a sheltered spot in the garden where I can still admire them.

How To Grow Acers On Chalk

Have to say I’m pretty pleased with the results and added bonus … there’s less grass to mow!

As always please feel free to drop us a note if you have any questions and we’ll get back you as soon as we can.

Back soon!

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box hedge 2

I’ve been planting little box hedge plants this week. I think they’ll make a great new edge to the walled border near the house.  I can see now they are not quite in a straight line .. but hopefully they will grow together over time and no one will notice.😉

These are 2 year old plants. As you can see they’ve started to put on lot of new growth and are about 6 inches high, which is an ideal size for planting out.

I find April/May the best time to plant box as the ground has warmed a little and there is still plenty of rain around, which box hedge seem to love.

box hedge 1

Once the cuttings have rooted I pot them on and move them to the cold frame. If you don’t have a cold frame a sheltered spot in the garden should be fine.

Planting Box Hedge

Although box like moisture I find they don’t respond well if they are sitting in water, so I prepare the ground first by mixing in a good helping of well rotted compost, mixed with an equal quantity of sharp sand. They seem to like growing in our chalky thin soil.

Below are just a few of their 4 year old cousins which are growing away on the opposite side of the path, and as you can see they have put on a fair bit of growth in that time.

box hedge 3

I’ll start trimming them into shape next weekend and I’m hoping they’ll look like this one day.🙂

Buxus

If you’ve never grown your own box plants from cuttings I urge you to have a go. I raise all my own box hedge plants in late September. If I can do it … anyone can!

Box Plant From Cuttings

Although it’s not the ideal time to take box cuttings now, I thought I’d share with you my method. Btw I’ve taken Box cuttings in June before and had plenty of success.

Buxus (Box) is a great plant to raise from cuttings, as they nearly always root and I think they make a beautiful edge to a path.

Propagating from cuttings - Box Cuttings

When you’re looking for plants to use as cutting material try to select healthy, strong looking plants with plenty of new growth. It’s the new growth that makes the best cutting material.

Although it’s not critical I find it helps if you ‘tear’ semi hardwood cuttings from the stem of the plant leaving the cutting with a slight ‘heal’. I don’t know why, but it just seems improve your chances of success.

You’re going to need about 4-6 inches of stem above the heal, so snip off the rest of the cutting with a sharp knife. Then plunge a fist full of cuttings into rooting compound to encourage the cutting to develop roots.

box-cuttings sitting in Organic rooting compound

I tend to use an organic liquid compound, for no reason other than it’s nearly always works for me. Also you’ll need a 4-5 inch plant pot with a mix of 50 / 50 potting compost and sharp sand.

As I raise several hundred plants at a time I use mostly sharp sand as there is a plentiful supply at the local builder’s merchant, so it works out a lot cheaper.

This next bit is really  IMPORTANT!

  1. Collect your cutting material early in the morning when the plant is bursting with energy and store them in a plastic bag until they are ready to use.
  2. Try to get the cuttings into the compost as soon as possible after it has been cut from the plant as it will continue to transpire moisture through the leaves and start to wilt, as it has no source of moisture.
  3. Finally make sure you keep the cuttings watered for the first few weeks, until they start growing away.

If you decide to have a go at growing your own plants from cuttings do let us know how you get on … and feel free to send is your pictures.

Back soon.

Best wishes,

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how-to-grow-vegetables

So you’re thinking of creating a new vegetable patch in your garden? Well, that’s good timing, as this week I’ve started working on my vegetable garden.

To be honest I don’t know if I could survive without my vegetable garden. It’s not so much the eating, although that is probably the best part,🙂 it’s actually more the enjoyment one gets from planting a tiny little seed,  and them watching it grow from such fragile beginnings into something gorgeous and edible.

Back in 2007 when we found this plot it was the garden that convinced us to buy. We knew we wanted to grow our own food and having all this space brought that dream a bit closer.

We knew we wanted to grow our own food and with all this space the dream could become reality.  Now, seven years on we have a fabulous productive veg garden that provides for us for approximately 9 months of the year.

This weekend was the first dry opportunity we’ve had to get onto the garden, so Saturday morning I pulled on the wellies and headed for the hills!

As I was leaning on my fork and sipping what must have been my third cup of tea, I thought there must be loads of people out there thinking of starting their own veg garden. So I thought I’d pass on a few tips and suggestions which have helped us along the way.

How to get started.

Before we started on our veg garden we visited a few gardens to get some inspiration, in particular, Heligan in Cornwall which for me are the best gardens in this country and has the most amazing vegetable garden.

Then as with all my projects I put together a rough layout on paper. Simple sketches, nothing fancy.

You’ll need to rotate your veggies.

All it means is try not to grow the same vegetable groups in the same spot each year. At Blackbirds we’ve created a tapestry of 4 squares. They’re not exactly uniform in size but it still means we can set up a rotation system. Rotating your vegetables simply means not growing in the same place 2 years running. With

Rotating your vegetables essentially means not growing the same in the same place 2 years running. With a four-stage system you avoid planting in the same place for 3 years.

 

why-grow-your-own-vegetable

Selection of vegetables grown in our first year.

 

If you’re stuck for space … 

If you have a small plot you can always head down to your local builders merchants and buy a few lengths of 8 x 1 concrete shuttering board. Cut them to size (according how space you have) and nail them together to make what is essentially a bottomless box.

Fill the box with a mix of top soil and compost and you have the perfect veg patch!
Just make sure you position it on a spot where it drains well. Put it on concrete and your veggies will drown!😦

My top ten tips for a great veg patch …

Tip number 1 – Keep the weeds down.
If there is one piece of advice i would share with anyone it is try to keep your veg garden as weed free as possible. Give your veggies plenty of space so you can weed quite easily.

Spring and Summer I try to weed most days as it just makes the job of growing so much easier. Doesn’t have to be much, just run a hoe up the rows and you’ll enjoy your garden so much more. Remember, little and often is the secret.

Tip number 2 –  Try and be organic.
One of my most favourite places in the entire world is Heligan in Cornwall. Speaking to the gardeners they explain how its not possible to be 100% organic as sometimes there is no alternative to chemicals. But I say do as much as you possibly can to be organic. Nature will always work its magic on the garden.

Tip number 3– Treat your soil as your best friend.
Work in lots and I mean LOTS of organic matter into the soil. It’s the one thing that will turn your soil into a good growing medium. If you’re on clay soil compost helps with breaking down the clay and if like me you’re on light chalky soil it will help to bulk it up …

Tip number 4 – Successional sowing.
Don’t plant everything at the same time or your vegetables will all come at once.

Tip number 5 – Don’t plant too close.
Allow plenty of space between the rows and you’ll find it much easier to keep tidy and you’ll get bigger and jucier vegetables.

Tip number 6 – Grow more of what you like and less of what you don’t like.
Sounds obvious but when you’re buying your seeds at the beginning of the year take your time and select what you know you’re going to eat. It’s all too easy to grab everything on rack in a mad fit of enthusiasm. Having said that every year I think I’ll grow something unusual and each year it gets wasted. But hey … What the heck! … grow what makes you happy.🙂

Tip number 7 – Keep your plot tidy.
Nothing worse than vegetables that are surrounded by a sea of weeds and rubbish … And it encourages pests and diseases.

Tip number 8 – You’re going to need water … and plenty of it! 
If possible, position your veg patch near to a water supply. You’re going to need a lot of water in the summer months and its blooming heavy to carry.

 

Would You Like To Grow Your Own Vegetables

Keep your veggies well watered and they’ll repay you with lots of lovely produce.

 

Tip number 9 – Don’t be a hurry to plant your seeds.
Allow the soil to warm up. By waiting for the temperature to rise more seeds will germinate and you’ll get more veg for your money.

Tip number 10 – Companion plant.
My final tip is to companion plant. Companion planting is where you plant varieties of veg that support each others growing conditions. Best example is planting carrot seeds next to your onion sets. Carrot fly hate the smell of onions and so keep away. Basil planted alongside tomatoes keep the worst of the whitefly off your tomato plants. Scour the internet and you’ll find loads of examples of companion planting.

 

fresh-carrots

If you want clean carrots companion plant with your onions.

 

Hopefully, this has given you a few pointers as we move towards the time of year when you’re thinking of growing a few veggies for the dinner table.

So if you’re considering having a go at growing a few veggies then above all:

  1. Enjoy it!
  2. Occasionally stop digging and admire all your hard work.
  3. Keep your veggies well watered and they’ll respond twenty fold.
  4. Remember to feel that sense of pride when you know, as you place that bowl of carrots onto the dinner table and can proudly say … I grew those!

Just before I go I wanted to say thank you so very much to everyone that follows my ramblings and for all the wonderful feedback we recieve. It really does mean a lot to us and encourages us to continue. Only wish we had more time to share more.

Best wishes,

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The soil may be too wet to get onto … but I urge you get out there and start clearing the weeds and sowing a few seeds.
It’s amazing how much better it makes you feel! 

Warm aroma of ripening tomatoes

Time to plant your tomato seeds and you can look forward to these little beauties!

 

I met a friend for coffee in town this week (most enjoyable thanks, Matt) and having first put the world of digital media to rights we got around to the subject of gardening.

You see,  Matt is a keen gardener and we both have much in common on the subject. We both knew we should be in the garden doing something… but what exactly? I’m not sure we gardeners are ever quite sure when is the right time to pull on the wellies and haul out the fork and spade but one thing’s for sure … I can’t wait much longer. I’m already having withdrawal symptoms!

As soon we get January out of the way and the weather starts to improve then my advice is to get out there and make a start. There’s nearly always something that needs doing in the garden.

I usually wait until the middle of February when I can feel a change in the days. The light improves as the days stretch out and there’s every chance you’ll find a bit of sunshine at some point. Last Sunday was one such day.

The veg beds were too wet due to all rain we’ve had this winter in Hampshire,  but I did manage to get on to some parts of the garden and start clearing the weeds ready for this year’s veggies.

It sounds crazy to be weeding in February but as you know the more you do today … the less you’ll have to do tomorrow.🙂

weeding

It’s clear our climate is changing as the winters get warmer and wetter and the effect is it encourages the flipping weeds to grow at an alarming rate. Is it me or are they starting much earlier this year?

One good thing about the wet weather, (apologies to anyone living with drought) is, it does make pulling the weeds a tad easier. I just take a small fork and turn over the soil and clear the weeds by hand. The chickens of course help … when they’re not pinching the worms that is!

chickens

Seed sowing in February.

It’s about this time of the year I start to sow my small seeds. Celeriac seeds can take an age to germinate so best get them started now indoors and you’ll have decent sized plants by the time the frosts have past.

celeriac-3

I simply sprinkle a few seeds onto a small seed tray of compost and gently press them into the compost. The idea is to push them just below the surface. Then sit the tray in a washing up bowl with a little water in the bottom so the compost can take up the water gradually and the seeds won’t get washed away.

It’s also about this time of year I plant my sweet pea seeds. I soak them in water for 24hrs to soften the shells. I then plant 4 seeds in a small 3″ pot. Best to start them off indoors until they’re about 6″ plants and then transfer the pots to the cold frame.

Tomatoes can also be sown indoors about now. This year I’m growing my favourites ‘Gardeners Delight’ along with a few Alicante and an F1 Hybrid called ‘Mountain Magic’. Not sure how well they’ll do but I like to try something new most years.You’ll have to provide a little heat to keep the worst of the cold off.

tomato-plants

I find with most seed sowing at this time of the year its wise to provide to get them started. As soon as they’re big enough to fend for themselves they can go out into the cold frame or polytunnel if you’re fortunate enough to have one.

Also managed to prune the climbing roses out the front at the weekend. Looks and smells amazing in the summer, but as with all ramblers it does need to be kept in shape. I grab a pair of strong gardening gloves and give it a general prune until I’m happy with the shape.

pruning-roses2

No mystery to pruning climbing roses, simply grab a pair of stout gardening gloves and give it a general prune all over. If a branch is in the wrong place cut it out but leave about 8″ of stem and it will grow back stronger than ever and provide loads of wonderful blooms.

pruning-roses

Next weekend I’ll be preparing the polytunnel ready for all the exotic goodies! This year I’ve decided to bit the bullet and build some purpose made troughs for my strawberries. I usually just find a spare bit of ground and chuck them

This year I’ve decided to bite the bullet and build a few purpose-made troughs for my strawberry plants. I usually just find a spare bit of ground and chuck them in but this year we’re hosting a summer garden party and I’d love to serve my own home grown scrumptious delights.

I’ll let you know how it goes.🙂

Back soon.

Rural Gardener


Birds-in-garden

 

Not sure about you .. but I love to see our native wildlife in the garden and in particular, our beautiful native birds. It’s at this time of the year, they need our help more than ever. It’s cold and there isn’t much in the way of seeds around in February.

I know we live in the countryside .. but we have all manner of beautiful birds in the garden which I believe is because we put food and water out on a regular basis.

By putting out a little food and water, the birds are more likely to use what limited energy they have at this time of the year to stop off at your place for a feed. So make it easy for them and your garden will be alive with the sounds and movement of wild birds.

We have a male pheasant stop by most mornings to pick up any corn that we’ve dropped on the way to feeding the chickens. He visits most days and I feel privileged he’s chosen our garden to stop off. Mind you he is a little nervous .. and as soon we try to approach him he takes off … straight up and over the hedge into the farmers fields!

Another charming bird is the Robin red breast. If you want him in the garden simply turn over your compost heap from time to time, and I promise you within 15 minutes he’ll be in there with you!

Of course the most important thing you can do is build a simple bird table and put out some regular old wild bird mix. You can pick it pretty much anywhere, but watch out as it can be expensive.

JAN7TH
The cheapest way is to buy a large bag and decant a cup full every other day … never let it go stale.  If you don’t have  a Bird Table they’re simple to make.
A couple of years ago I posted what has become the most popular post on the site which explains how to make a simple bird table.
Using feeders is another good idea as it keeps the food away from the squirrels and stops it from spilling onto the floor which attracts rats.
goldfinch

Our native Goldfinch – A welcome visitor to the garden.

If you’re feeling adventurous you could make your own fat balls. Really easy to make … and cheap! (I’ve included a recipe at the foot of this post)

I know for a fact the birds will be grateful for anything you can put out  and who doesn’t like to see our beautiful native birds in the garden?

Back soon.

Best wishes
John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

 

A simple Fat Cake recipe

You’re going to need:

  1. 1-2 Packets of Lard.
  2. A Bag of Wild bird Seed.
  3. An Apple or English Grapes when they are in season.
  4. Stout String (candle string is ideal)
  5. So used yogurt pots.
  • Melt the lard in a deep pan, then let it cool slightly before adding the seeds and fruit. A word of caution here, melting lard gets verrrrrrry hot, so keep the heat low and just wait a bit longer for it to melt. Above all stay safe!
  • Before the fatty mix starts to set pour it into a mould,   not too big (old yogurt pots will do just fine or Yorkshire pudding trays work just as well).
  • Before the lard starts to set take a 3-4″ piece of string and drop it into the mix keeping about 2″ outside the mould.
  • Leave the moulds to set  for a couple of hours and then place in the fridge overnight to set nice and hard.
  • The next day remove the fat cake from the mould and tie the string to the hooks around the outside of your new bird table.

 


Brrrrr … Woke up to a hard frost this morning. Beautiful to look at …. but flipping cold! -4 degrees in the car and I had to scrape the inside of the windscreen.

Thank goodness I took the time to put the Acers in the polytunnel last Autumn.

I grow most of my Acers in pots for that very reason. I’ll take them out of the poly around mid-May by which time they’ll have grown a new set of leaves. I started my collection about 3 years ago with a dozen 8-inch plugs I bought on EBay.

I thought it was a bit of a gamble at the time, but just 3 years later they’ve grown into great little plants and are worth 5-6 times the original price.

acers.jpg

If you’ve grown Acers you’ll know what I mean when I say they are at their best in late Spring when the new leaf is at its most vibrant. In the winter, they look like dead twigs! … But in 3-4 months they’ll be back to their magnificent best.

While the weather is cold it’s too wet and miserable to get onto the soil my thoughts turn to garden maintenance. It’s just as important to keep on top of the jobs that don’t necessarily provide any immediate benefit. Stuff like painting the sheds mending any broken fences and anything that may have blown over or snapped.

I like to get these jobs done before the growing season starts to limit any damage to any plants that may be growing in the vicinity of where I’m working. They stand a better chance of recovery if you do it now.

The big job for the Spring has to be the fences. They’re in a poor state of repair which is reflected in the fact that the chickens are always escaping into next doors plot. It’s not fair on my neighbours so I need to do something about it.

mending-fences

As you can see from the pics the fence is your bog standard post and sheep wire construction, which is actually the responsibility of my neighbour as he put up the original fence. The posts were inferior grade and have rotted out of the holes, so I need to replace with better quality posts so it will last.

I’ll replace the posts with chestnut posts and then staple some chicken wire on top of the sheep wire to keep the escapees on the right side of the fence!

On the left side of the plot, my neighbour has recently taken up stock car racing and his plot is rapidly filling up with second-hand cars. Rather disappointingly what was a beautiful view across to the barley fields is now starting to resemble a scrap yard!

mending-fences2

I suppose I could get in touch with the local council but I’d rather not fall out with my neighbour and, to be honest, the fence is pretty grim anyway. I plan to replace it with a new 5ft. post and feather board fence.

The only snag is it the sun will be in The West essentially behind the fence which will create shade. It’s a shame but I can only see the car situation getting worse, and anyway, I’ll grow some shade loving creepers like a climbing hydrangea and stuff it with Hostas and anything else I can think of.

So that’s my Spring project sorted … Just need to work out the materials list and choose a sunny weekend in March.

I’ll ket you know how it comes together for anyone that might be thinking about building their own fence. I’ve done it before and it’s fairly straightforward but there are a few things to be aware of. Details to follow sometime in March.

Anyway is almost the end of Jan and although it’s freezing cold the sun has just come up and it’s looking gorgeous!

A few more weeks and we’re into March and the clocks go forward. Just the best time in the garden!

Back soon

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners