Archive for the ‘Growing Conditions’ Category

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



Back soon!

Best wishes,



Read Full Post »

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. 🙂


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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

Read Full Post »

What Is The Name Of This Plant?
I’m hoping someone is going to be able to help me today to find the name of this plant.

I bought it two years ago from the plant nursery at the Lost Gardens Of Heligan. I’d seen it while walking round the gardens and thought it had the most beautiful deep red flowers which cover the plant in June and July. I believe it’s an evergreen and grows to approximately 5-6 feet.

Can You Name This Plant?

Not long after I got home the leaves started to drop and the plant looked to have died off completely.  😦  At first I thought it might be deciduous but this was the end of June after all.

Anyway rather than throw it away something told me I should hang on to this little plant and stuck it behind the polytunnel for the winter.

Then earlier this year to my surprise it started to grow back. It’s not as full as it was when i bought it but I’m just delighted it’s survived and I didn’t give up on it at the first sign of trouble.

Can You Name This Plant?

This where I really need some help.
Unfortunately I lost the label and have no idea what the name of the plant is?
There’s a lesson here for the would-be plant collector. As soon as you get any new plant home record the full name and the date you acquired it. After all it’s easy these days with mobile phones having a a camera of some sort.This summer I’ve gone one step further for the nursery and downloaded a great little free ‘App’ called Evernote.All I do is take a picture of the plant on my phone and add a couple of notes making sure to include the full name of the plant and the date I bought it. This information along with the photo is automatically stored in the cloud, which basically means I can access my plant list from my phone, tablet and/or pc from pretty much anywhere.  Now whenever I need to refresh my memory about a plant I just pull out my mobile and hey presto I have access to my complete library of plants.  How cool is that!

There’s plenty of information out there about Evernote but I will post a more detailed piece about this great little app and how you can use it to create your own plant list . Only wish I had it when I left Heligan that day!

If you know anything about this little plant I’d be most grateful for any information you can pass on. I’ve also noticed it’s a slow grower which might be down to the growing conditions, so any advice would also be most welcome.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you so much.

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

Read Full Post »

How To Set Up A Mist System

Quite a few of our readers have been in touch and asked for some information about how to build a simple mist system for raising cuttings.

I have to say if you plan to raise your own cuttings perhaps for your own little nursery venture you can increase your chances of success twenty fold by installing some form of mist system.

Essentially what you’re trying to do is create a moist atmosphere around the cuttings to stop them expiring through the leaves and ultimately drying out and dying.

A mist system doesn’t have to cost the earth and can be as simple as fitting a misting head on the end of a regular hose … but If you want a system that requires a little less management from you you’re going to need:

  1. A hose to deliver the water to the cuttings. I use commercial black polyethylene pipe which you can buy from any good wholesale garden supplier.
  2. Mist nozzles and rods – how many is dependent on the size of your cutting area. I think every two feet is about right, but of course that depends on the spread of the nozzle.
  3. A Timer to regulate the flow of water. I bought mine on eBay for £15 and is powered by a couple of small 9 volt batteries. There are a few on the market but look out for one that has adjustments for both duration and frequency. Also make sure it has an override option in case you need to attach a second hose.

Although you will have to invest some cash while you set up, look at it as an investment in the future. Anyway, when you hold your first plant sale you’ll recoup the investment many times over!

Choosing a timer


There are some pretty fancy timers on the market but for our small venture I thought we’d start small . The one in the picture was bought on EBay for £15. It’s done well and it’s just finished its second year and still works just fine. Just remember to remove the battery’s at the end of the season or you’ll come back to leaking or corroding battery’s.

They operate on fairly simple principle.  There is a dial for adjusting the hourly rate, and a dial for adjusting the length of time the water will flow.

I set mine to come on every hour for 1 minute, at least until the cuttings are showing signs of growth. When the cuttings are showing obvious signs of growth I adjust the timer to come on every two hours for a minute and finally every three hours. I have a second timer on the outside tap at the house set up to shut the water supply off at the end of each day. (No point in spraying the cuttings after sunset)

As soon as the cuttings are growing away I stop misting altogether and water from a regular watering can.

Setting up your mist system

Measure how much hose you need to reach your cuttings and add another couple of feet for spare.  Plug a stopper at one end of the hose and fix the other end to the timer.

Fitting the mist rods

You can buy mist rods from most good garden wholesalers.This is a close up of where the rods fix to the hose.

How To Set Up A Mist System

The nozzles have a sharp end which you push into the hose until they can’t go in any further. If you use heavy duty black hose you’ll need to break the surface with a nail or sharp object. Just don’t be too heavy handed or you won’t get a decent seal.


The mist head is usually sold with the upright and fits onto the mist rod.

In the picture below you’ll notice I’ve added a split hose connector to the timer. This is because we only have a single tap in the nursery so on occasions we need to divert the supply to a second hose for the polytunnel.  You can also see where the black hose is fixed to the connector with a small jubilee clip to produce a good water tight seal.


The nozzles we use are fairly flexible and can fly all over the place if you don’t fix them down in some way. Easiest thing to do is fix a length of timber in the ground or to the side of your cutting box and tie the mist rod to the timber. Looks a bit rough and ready … but it does the job just fine.

How To Set Up Your Own Low Cost Mist System For Softwood Cuttings

This isn’t a great picture but you can just about see the hose and mist rods on the front of the cutting bench. I’ve fixed the hose to the bench using 15mm plastic pipe connectors.


If you’re planning on installing your own mist set up I would definitely recommend growing your cuttings in sharp sand to ensure good drainage. I use a basic box construction filled with builders sharp sand and nothing else.

These are some of my cuttings from earlier this year and I have to say pretty much all of them have grown into good size plants which is why I’m such a great advocate of growing softwood cuttings under mist.


John is planning to produce a short video explaining step by step how you can build your own basic mist system so don’t worry if any of this doesn’t make complete sense as it may be better explained in a video.

I hope you found this useful and if you have any questions about setting up your own mist system do feel free to drop me a note at and we’ll try to help if we can.

Best wishes,


Read Full Post »

Are you gardening on chalky soil? … if so you might be interested in today’s post which is all about what plants you can plant on chalky soil.


I used to think I couldn’t have the garden of my dreams if I had chalky soil.  What plants would I be able to grow ? … would they be boring and uninteresting? … would I even be able to grow any soft fruit ?

Now … after 4 years of  trial and error I’ve discovered how wrong I was to think I couldn’t have the garden of my dreams.  I’m fortunate to have created what I think is a beautiful and productive garden on what is essentially thin, weak, chalky soil.

I’ve also been able to grow a few acid loving plants along the way 🙂 …  by adopting a slightly different strategy.

How do you know if you have chalky soil?

The soil tends to be dry and full of stones … and if you turn over the soil you can see tiny lumps of chalk on the surface.  Sound familiar? …  if so don’t worry as there are  still simply loads of wonderful plants for us to enjoy.

Typical Appearance Of Chalky Soil

Tell tale signs of chalky soil, small deposits of chalk on the surface of the soil.

When I first moved to Blackbirds I bought a  soil testing kit from the local garden center.  I followed the instructions and mixed the little tablet that came with the kit with some water … then added a sample of soil to the mixture.

After a shake the sample turned a murky dark green colour, which basically meant my soil was Alkaline.

I also took samples from other areas of the garden to see if the chalk was isolated to certain areas … but they all produced the same result. It was pretty conclusive … I would be gardening on chalk from now on.

There is a cheaper alternative to the soil testing kits. Try adding regular vinegar to a handful of soil.  If there is chalk present the soil will react by starting to fizz.

Is chalky soil bad for plants?

I guess the short answer is no …. well not all plants anyway.  The thing about chalky soil is it tends to drains really fast  which is not ideal for moisture loving plants like runner beans, broad beans, peas, or evergreens.

If you want to improve the general structure of your soil and retain more moisture then add barrow loads of compost to the soil.

I’ve never actually managed to change the PH value of my soil yet, other than maybe by a point or two, but perhaps if we continue adding compost for the next 5 – 10 years  it might eventually have an effect.

So what DOES grow well on chalky soil?

That’s an easy one to answer … I just need to wander round my garden or pull out a few pics  from the last 4 years to see  what grows well on my chalky soil.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are the plants that do consistently well in my garden year after year.

  • Lavender
  • Bay
  • Thyme
  • Marjoram
  • Philadelphus
  • Ceonothus
  • Viburnum
  • Buddlia
  • Rosemary
  • Mahonia
  • Weigelia’s
  • Clematis
  • Honeysuckle
  • Hostas
  • Veronica’s
  • Penstamons
  • Hebe
  • Grape Vines 

What should I avoid growing on chalky soil?

Classic Rhododendron ... I have this gorgeous specimen  growing in a large wooden barrel filled with organic compost

Classic Rhododendron … I have this gorgeous specimen growing in a large wooden barrel filled with organic compost

Basically any plant that hates growing on or near to lime like the gorgeous Rhododendron above.

“But I want to see the gorgeous rich, dark lush growth of a Chamelia in the garden”.

Well we can  … but it is going to need an alternative strategy if they are to remain healthy and produce those amazing flowers. I plant my mine in a large 20″ pot filled with regular organic compost mixed with a sprinkling of bone meal.

You don’t need to buy expensive Ericaceous compost … instead buy the cheaper “4 BAGS FOR THE PRICE OF 3”  deals at your local garden center …   or use your own home grown compost mixed equally with garden center bought compost.

Above all try to avoid mixing any of the existing soil from the garden with the compost! (as I did once) as  you’re simply introducing lime back in to the compost mix.  Keep it lime free is my advice and you won’t go far wrong. 🙂

How do I improve my chalky soil?

Chalky soil doesn’t retain compost for long unfortunately. I add loads in January and again at the end of September.  The more organic matter you can add the better.

Should I get rid of my chalky soil?

🙂 … if it were only that easy.

I’ve tried all sorts of methods to remove the chalk from my garden, but every year it comes back with renewed vengeance!  The best thing is to live with it and choose alkaline loving plants or alternatively build raised beds.

If you plan to make a raised bed for your shrubs and/or vegetables I’d advise making it at least 9″ inches deep so the plants are well above soil level and the roots can’t grow down into the chalky soil.

Back fill with imported top soil and compost.

Also if possible try to avoid  building the raised beds directly onto the soil.  If you have no choice then best to create a barrier between the bed and the soil using a double layer of garden membrane on the bottom.

Anything else I should know about gardening on chalk?

Yep … it’s actually not as bad as it seems and with a little ingenuity and careful selection of plants you can have a wonderful garden full of lovely plants,  as well as an abundance of fruit and veg.

My own advice if you’re gardening on chalk?

I’ve spent the last 4 years working out exactly what I can and can’t grow and I’ve devised strategies for dealing with it … but one thing is for sure, It’s enabled me to grow some beautiful plants at Blackbirds.

In summary …

  1. Accept the conditions and adapt accordingly.
  2. Grow plants that do well on chalky soil and avoid those that don’t.
  3. Grow your acid loving plants in pots and fill with regular organic compost, but avoid sinking the pots into the soil as the lime will seep into the pot.
  4. Remember the golden rule of gardening which I’ve read and heard many times …. if you want to be successful with plants provide the right conditions for the right plant in the right place.
  5. Last but definitely not least … buy yourself a blackboard for the potting shed … you’ll never be without chalk that’s for sure! 🙂

The weather has been good to us in Hampshire this weekend and my daughter has come to stay for a few days which is lovely.

Hope you found this post useful, if so please feel free to pass it around. 🙂

Have a great week!

Best wishes,


Read Full Post »