Taking Rosemary Cuttings

Look for where the green of this years growth changes to brown wood stem

You may remember a while back I posted a piece back about how to propagate your own rosemary plants from cuttings. Well it proved very popular and still today is one of the most frequently read posts on the site.  But what I didn’t appreciate at the time was this lovely, tasty, flavour some little Mediterranean herb called Rosemary has very special health benefits.

Apparently, in the small coastal village of Acciaroli in Italy the villagers appear to live on average much longer than the rest of us. The facts suggest many live well past their 100th birthday and stay free of many of the debilitating diseases the rest of the world suffers.

The Rosemary Village
When I read this I just had to dig a little deeper and find out exactly what was behind all the excitement! I discovered the main stream media (including the BBC) have reported on this before and several of the broad sheets such as The Times no less!

Turns out that there are compounds in Rosemary that can affect memory performance. But why is it the people of Acciaroli live so long and appear to be in good health? Well when researchers looked a little closer they found a key element in the diet of the villagers was Rosemary … and lots of it!

Rosemary has anti-oxidant properties and is an anti-inflammatory. I even read one article where they suggested it has anti-carcinogenic properties and protects against dementia and alzheimers. Of course it goes without saying I’m no expert, but if you research it online you’ll find plenty of evidence to back up the theory.

Personally, I love the flavour of rosemary, especially with roast lamb but one’s things for sure based on the experiences of the villagers in Acciaroli I’m going to be eating a lot more of it moving forward. I think I might even have a go at making a beverage from it. Just have to remember it’s fairly pungent and you probably don’t need much of it. I’ll keep you posted on how I get on. 😉

If you don’t grow rosemary in your garden, then give it a try. You can grow it in the borders, or make a hedge from it, or even better grow a few plants in clay pots on the patio. They like free draining soil and will stand dry conditions to a point, but try not to let them dry out too much or they’ll simply wither and die.

If you’d like to know more about how to propagate your own rosemary plants from cuttings you’ll find all you need to know here.

Healthy Rosemary Plants

Go on give it a try this summer and feel the benefits that the lovely people of Acciaroli in the province of Salerno enjoy every day of their lives.
Back soon.

 


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Hi All.
I mentioned in my last post that we would have some news  … well the time has come to reveal all!

Since we started the blog we’ve had over 600,000 visitors to Ruralgardener and over 200,000 views on our YouTube channel. It’s been an amazing ride and when we started we didn’t think anyone would be particularly interested in what we’d have to say. But the emails and kind words we’ve received has been … well overwhelming to be honest. So a MASSIVE thank you to everyone that has visited the site and hopefully we’ve been able to inspire you just a little.

Now for our news.  We’ve moved out of our garden paradise in Hampshire!
Yes, after spending the last 8 years creating a most beautiful garden we’ve upped sticks and moved back to leafy Bucks.

BUT HOLD ON! this isn’t the end of the story …

We’ve found ourselves a lovely 16th century cottage (Grade 2 Listing) that to be honest has seen better days. It’s in a gorgeous location and we’re really excited about what will emerge as we go forward with the project. But most of all we can’t wait to share our story with you all as we work through the restoration.

REGISTER FOR OUR NEWSLETTER AND SHARE OUR EXPERIENCES AS WE RENOVATE  OUR 16TH CENTURY COTTAGE

It has a lovely compact little garden that backs onto a river. John already has desires on building a river side retreat complete with deck chair! 🙂 🙂  hmm … believe it when we see it. 😉

We’re due to move in around the end of March early April and the renovation will kick off pretty soon afterwards. We’re going to be renting a house while the restoration work is happening and will be posting to the blog as often as we can … hopefully once a week. There’s even talk of a video diary.

We’ll share the trials and tribulations of a period property renovation including how we tackle the conservation officers, work with the space we have and at the same time stay calm. It isn’t going to be easy, but hey nothing in life is that easy, hard work and application should win the day!

For those of you that were inspired by our building projects, well there will be plenty to see and to follow along with  But despite everything it feels like it’s going to be the most wonderful adventure and we are both just a little sad to leave Hampshire behind. Wonderful time was had by one and all.

wildlife pond

 

Warm wishes,

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PS. I heard an interesting fact about Rosemary (the herb) the other day … apparently has amazing healing properties .. anti carcinogenic apparently.  I’ll share the details in my next post.  Take care now.

 


Pear, Fruit, How To Grow Pears

Feels like we are well and truly into Autumn as the pears are nearly ready!! Forgive my excitement but from the moment the pear blossom appears at the end of April I count the days to harvest time.

The beech and walnut trees have turned and the leaves are falling and the lawn is looking like a beautiful middle eastern carpet with its gorgeous tapestry of browns and beige. Although they look stunning if you leave them on your lawn it will encourage moss. I find the best remedy is to bring out the mower and set it on the highest setting and just mow over the top of them. Great thing about the mower is it picks up the leaves and shreds them at the same time, which is great for producing leaf mould.

Autumn Leaves

But … my success this year has to be the Doyenne du Comice pears. Simply gorgeous.

Doyenne du Comice Pear

Doyenne du Comice Pears have done especially well this year

Last year was a bit of a disaster as the pears all dropped when they were small fruits on the tree. Disappointing to say the least but this year both the Conference and Doyenne du Comice have cropped really well and have reached a good size. It’s at this time of the year we harvest our pears as there is a knack to ripening them to ensure they retain the sweetness and flavour.

The Fruit Orchard
We planted 3 year old bare root trees in 2008 when we planted the orchard and they’ve always produced the most amazing blossom (first of the fruit trees to blossom) but never really delivered much in the way of fruit for the last few years. But this year they’ve done brilliantly!  No special treatment, just plenty of water when the weather was dry.

Juicy Doyenne du Comice Pears

I learned a great tip for ripening home grown pears. I didn’t know but they don’t ripen well on the tree apparently … at least not in the UK. Instead you need to bring them into store in a cool dry place and let them ripen naturally. So I thought I’d give it a go!

We have a covered area in the front of the workshop where it stays dry and fairly frost free. Should do just fine. I’ll also bring a few into the house as I think the heat may ripen them quicker and to be honest I can’t wait much longer!

If you haven’t grown pears before give it a go as they are a bit special. Now I’m off to find a recipe for home grow pears.

Oh and we’d love the hear from anyone that has any recipes for pears and I’d like to make Pear brandy but I wouldn’t know where to start? All ideas most welcome.

Back soon

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PS: We hope to have an important announcement in the coming weeks … it will explain why we haven’t been posting for a while.  Exciting times!!!


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

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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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