Archive for January, 2011

Geranium Cutting

Geraniums – How about propagating your own in 2011?

My second top gardening tip for 2011 is to have a go at growing a few of your own garden plants from seed, or even better why not have have a go at taking your own Geranium cuttings this  Spring.  The great thing about taking cuttings is before you know it you’ll have 3-4 plants from just one plant, and it’s really easy once once you know how.

Geraniums can be bought from almost anywhere these days, but I always try and support my local plant or garden center when I can. Garden centres always seem to be stocked full of Geraniums and Pelargonium’s in all manner of colour’s, plain varieties, varieties with scented leaves, salmon pink, white, red and all sorts of variations in between.

My favourites are the hardy varieties, sometimes known as Cranesbill geraniums.  They are easy to manage and will grow pretty much in any soil conditions, but they do hate to sit in water, so best to work in lots of grit if you garden on a clay soil.

I’ve been propogating the hardy varieties for years using the division method. It’s really easy and you can divide a well established plant many times and it will not hurt the parent plant. Cut or ‘divide’ sections from the parent plant making sure you take some roots with it and plant in the open ground, or on a pot of compost. Keep it watered and it should grow away just fine.

If you’d like to learn how to know more about how to take your own stem cuttings I’ve posted a ‘how to’ guide here. Propagating Plants From Cuttings

Have fun!

Best wishes



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1. Have a go at making your own compost.

Each week I’ll post a different tip from my top ten gardening tips for 2011. I hope you find them useful and maybe give some of them a try this year.

The first, and probably the most important in my view, is a compost heap. At Blackbirds we’re lucky to have a large kitchen garden, which in turn produces a fair bit of green waste material, along with the chickens spent straw, makes for a half decent compost mix.  If you haven’t made your own compost then I urge you to give it a go as it’s really easy and you don’t need anything fancy.

Making your own garden compost

The compost heap at Blackbirds is a basic box construction made from 4 posts, which are  stuck in the ground with a few old feather boards for the sides.  I like to leave a reasonable space between the boards so the air can circulate, which aids the composting process. However, you can always substitute the boards for chicken wire, which works just as well!

I tend to throw pretty much everything onto the compost heap,  with the exception of cooked food.  Cooked food on a compost heap attracts rats, and should be avoided.  After a while, if you only throw vegetable waste onto your heap your compost it can become slimy and way too rich in nitrogen. To avoid this I like to add a layer of cardboard and straw to boost the carbon content, and it helps to warm the heap, which is essential to the composting process. One tip my father gave me years ago is to add a thin layer of well rotted horse manure to introduce bacteria to the heap, which speeds up the whole process.

I try to turn my heap every 6-8 weeks to ensure the bacteria spreads throughout the heap. After 6 months we have the most gorgeous garden compost, which I either dig straight into the veg patch or use as a light mulch…as with these red cabbage plants from last summer.

Home made garden compost

Blackbirds Garden Compost Recipe

  • Vegetable waste (uncooked)
  • Egg boxes
  • Fresh or used straw
  • Nettles
  • Egg shells (crushed or they take forever to compost down)
  • Garden clippings/waste with the exception of perennial weeds

Best wishes,


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Hidcote Manor Gardens & Mottisfont Abbey Gardens

At the start of 2010 I promised myself I would make an effort and visit more public gardens and country houses, after all I have my National Trust membership which entitles me to free admission, and there are so many wonderful gardens to choose from.

Although we did manage to visit quite a few gardens last year there are two that stand out for me, for completely different reasons.  Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire and Hidcote gardens in the Cotswold’s had long been on my list of gardens to visit and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

Typical English Country Garden

Two quite beautiful gardens, Hidcote with it’s informal planting schemes and gardens within gardens and Mottisfont with it’s wide open spaces and a most gorgeous walled rose garden which is one of the finest in the country. Definitely the highlight for me!

It’s the diversity that I find so fascinating, along with both natural and formal planting schemes, not to mention the hard work that goes into maintaining these masterpieces of the English countryside.

I came away with a most beautiful pale yellow climbing rose from Mottisfont, which has the scent of fresh custard. I have it growing in my own garden back at Blackbirds and you can’t help noticing the gorgeous scent.  It’s quite a vigorous climber and it’s already put on about 3 feet of growth in its first season. It should look and smell even better next year when it’s had a chance to put on its second year of growth.

If you want to grow a climber and don’t have a fence or wall to grow it up you could do what I did and sink a 4″ x 4″ post into the ground. I positioned mine at the edge of the lawn so the scent would waft onto the path on a summers evening.

All I did was hammer a few fence staples in around the post at 6” intervals so I have something to tie the branches into as they grow up the post. Oh, and don’t forget to treat your post with a preservative to protect it from the elements.

If you’d like a great day out then I’d strongly recommend both Hidcote Manor and Mottisfont Abbey, but it’s worth waiting until the roses are at their best, around mid June onwards.

Hidcote manor

Hidcote Manor – Gloucestershire

Hidcote Manor Gloucestershire

Hidcote Manor Gloucestershire

Hidcote Manor Gardens

Hidcote Manor Gloucestershire

Hidcote Manor
Hidcote Bartrim, near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire GL55 6LR
Telephone: 01386 438333

Mottisfont Abbey

Mottisfont Abbey Romsey

Mottisfont Abbey

Mottisfont Abbey Romsey

Mottisfont Abbey

Mottisfont Abbey – Romsey

Mottisfont Abbey
Mottisfont, near Romsey, Hampshire SO51 0LP
Telephone: 01794 340757

Best wishes


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1. Extend the Fruit Garden

Rural Gardener - Last years strawberry plant

I loved picking my own grapes and strawberry’s last summer so I’ve decided to grow a few more varieties of fruit this year. The plan is to grow a fan trained peach as I’ve never grown fruit trees in this way and I have a couple of bare walls that are crying out for them.

I’d also love to make my own Medlar marmalade and Quince jelly with fruits picked from my own trees, but before then I’ll need to swot up on how to grow them. Maybe a Gooseberry and redcurrant bush if the budget will stretch.

2. Launch the Blackbirds Back Garden Nursery scheme.

Its long been an ambition of mine to grow my own plants  and sell them in my own back garden nursery to make a little extra cash, and at the same time raise funds for a local charity.

Last Autumn I planted around 500 cuttings in the polytunnel and I’m pleased to say they appear to be surviving the weather, so they should make good little plants by the time April comes around.

Carnation plants grown from Cuttings

The area we’ve allocated should provide enough space to propagate several hundred plants. All we need is the weather to improve so we can get out there and start preparing the paths and beds.  As it comes together I will post some pics and let you know how it’s all progressing.

If we are successful I’d like to invite other like minded gardeners to become involved and perhaps start their own back garden nursery.

I’ve yet to decide on a charity so if you have a suggestion preferably in the Hampshire area please feel free to drop me note.

3. Add Some New Livestock

We’re planning on introducing a couple of pigs onto the plot this year. Pigs are social animals and never like to be left on there own, so we’re going to need at least 2.

I thought we could rear them for our own fresh pork, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to bring myself to do the ‘dirty deed’ when the time comes. 😦

4. Build a New Store

Last year I became more and more frustrated as my potting shed seemed to get smaller and smaller. Of course it had nothing to do with the shed shrinking, I just acquired more and more stuff!

Basically we need somewhere to store the chickens food, a few straw bales and anything else that needs to be kept dry. I’m sure we have some timber somewhere that we can recycle into a small shelter.

5. Develop My Blog and ‘The Rural Gardener Daily’

It’s great having the Rural Gardener blog to share advice, information and keep everyone informed of what we’re up to. This year we’re planning to publish even more great gardening content including a few more recipes as they are always well received. Not forgetting the Rural Gardener Daily our twice daily publication that includes all that’s new in the world of gardening.  Why not subscribe now and receive your twice daily publication, absolutely free!

Back soon.

Best wishes


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Winter broad beans

Sow your Broad Beans under glass now for an early crop.

Happy New Year! – A few jobs to be done in the garden though.

I hope you received lots of lovely Christmas cheer over the festive period and thank you for your kind messages over the last few weeks. It might seem a quiet time in the garden, but there is much that can be done outside in the month of January.

  • It’s a good time to get your mower serviced, perhaps it needs sharpening, or just a general clean up.
  • It’s also a good time to look at the trade catalogs and start planning for your Spring sowing. There are bargains to be had at your local gardening center, as they tend to be quiet so soon after Christmas.
  • Perhaps your greenhouse could do with a clean if you’re lucky enough to have one that is.
  • Maybe that fence needs repairing, or perhaps the shed could do with an additional coat of preservative.
  • If the vegetable patch is not to wet or frozen you could start your winter digging, just remember to work in as much compost as you can get your hands on.
  • Clear your lawn of any leaves that may be left over from the autumn or you could end up with yellow patches where the grass has died off through lack of light.

We’ll be busy with all these jobs and plenty more besides I’m sure in the coming weeks as we get ready for the Spring at Blackbirds, which is only 84 days away

I can’t wait!

Happy gardening to one and all in 2011.

Best wishes


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