Archive for the ‘Features’ Category


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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Turn Your Hobby Into a Business

I’ve been doing quite a bit of soul searching lately which led me to wondering if it’s possible to turn your hobby into a business?

Just the thought of getting paid for something that you love sounds really interesting and worthy of a little research.

Part of the reason for the post is we have a small back garden nursery venture which although a hobby is slowly growing into something a little more ‘adventurous’ shall we say.

I’ve been doing a little research on the web it appears over 3 million people have started their own small business from home and derive a huge amount of satisfaction and fulfilment as a result. But perhaps the best bit of all is it’s born from a passion that with a little effort and a lot of planning turned into something a tad more permanent.

That’s all very interesting I hear you say .. .  but what if you want to replace your regular 9-5 job? HOW do people like us turn their hobby into a viable business?

Take my friend James (not his real name).

He has a modest workshop in his garden from which he produces the most amazing art made mainly from wood and precious metals. He’s at the top of his game (if you ever really can be)  and sells his work all over the world. I’m pretty confident he makes a modest living from it.

He’s his own boss and walks approximately 20 steps to work. What a fabulous way to make a living and the harder he works the more income he can generate. I like the sound of that!

I also have a friend that set herself up as a dog and cat sitter for friends and immediate family. Essentially she moves into the home of the owners and looks after their pets while they are on holiday or perhaps off on a short break. She has a great way with animals.

I caught up with her a couple of weeks ago and she told me she started advertising in the surrounding villages and is looking for a second sitter to help out such is the demand! How fantastic is that! She gets to spend time with all those fabulous animals and gets paid for the pleasure.

But what’s involved in turning a hobby into a business and how do you make it work?

First and foremost I think you need to find something you’re really passionate about. Almost everyone I know that runs their own succcesfull business started with an idea or a vision they felt they could spend inordinate amounts of time pursuing.

Say you love gardening and want to start your own plant nursery. First you’re going to need to enjoy gardening with a passion as your customers  are more likely to buy plants from you if you know what you’re talking about.

Second you need to understand what its going to take to make a success of it … or put another way what are you prepared to do to make it a success? There will long days and short nights for you at least for the first couple of years while you establish the business.

Also it may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you’re getting all excited about your new venture … but think about how you will cope when your little business starts to pick up momentum and the orders start to role in.  How were you going to manage the phone calls, market the business and keep your web site up to date? … as well as actually selling some plants.

These are all considerations you need to think about.

Wallflowers bursting into growth

The good news is…

I think there’s never been a better time to start a new business. In particular an online business. I also believe the pendulum is swinging back to the days of the small retailer where reputations are built on excellent customer service and the integrity of the supplier which is where you come in.

Yes Amazon and Ebay are significant players in the market but if you have a great product and outstanding customer service then you have a fighting chance of stealing a very small part of the lunch from those giants. I’m not suggesting for a minute that Amazon or Ebay aren’t good for turning a hobby into a business as they are relatively low cost access to a massive database of customers. Just remember it’s a massive market out there and there are plenty of customers to go round!

My advice having been there a couple of times in the past few years is to jump in and make a start. Yes keep it small to begin with and limit the risk but it’s never been easier to get yourself selling on line if you have a great product and story to sell.

Before you know it you’ll have your first customer and then your second and your little hobby will build a momentum of its own. You remember to keep feeding it.

Have YOU turned your hobby into a job or ever thought about it?

If you have we’d love to hear from you and perhaps you might share some of your experiences good, bad or indifferent with our readers. Its easier than you think you know and if there is anything we can do to help anyone that’s thinking of turning a hobby into a business do drop us a note as we’d love to help if we can.

Thanks all.

Best wishes,

rural-gardeners

 

 

Still living the dream …

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How to use Evernote

I mentioned in my last post how we use an app called Evernote to log all our plants. If you’ve never seen Evernote before then I’d definitely recommend taking a look.

Essentially its a really easy and convenient way to take notes and review them on phone, desktop or tablet.

evernote-2

The same content seen on my tablet

The information is stored in the ‘Cloud’ which basically means you can access it anywhere providing you have access to a copy of Evernote.

Evernote for gardeners

… and on my mobile phone.

I have to say I think it’s brilliant but in the interest of balance …  there are loads of other note apps out there that are comparable with Evernote.

When I first downloaded it my immediate reaction was wouldn’t this be great for keeping a record of the plants in the nursery. It’s simple to use, has as a host of really cool features and best of all it’s free!

How does Evernote work?

Essentially it maintains a series of Notebooks in which you store notes. Think of Notebooks as folders or categories and Notes as individual pages.

Each ‘Note’ is made up of text, photos, audio, video or a combination of.

There are the usual formatting tools, bold italic, colours etc. and it has both Search and Tagging features which helps when you have lots of notes to search through.

Tags are great and can make sorting your notes so much easier.

For example you may want to find all the herbs in your collection but would rather not search through every note one by one. But if you create a tag called herbs and add it when you create a note it will make it much easier to find by simply clicking on the Tag feature and selecting the appropriate tag.

We like to keep things simple here and so tend to stick to a combination of text and images but have been occasionally known to add an audio describing the characteristics of the plant or any unusual growling conditions.

Each note has the full name of the plant and if applicable the common name along with details of the growing conditions. I also include a photo which comes in really handy as a reminder when the plant is out of flower.

Its also really useful if someone asks the same question when they’re thinking of buying the plant. I just whip out my phone and show them.

Here are a few suggestions for Notebooks.

Herbaceous, Roses, Ground cover, Evergreens, Climbers, Shrubs, Moisture loving plants, Grow well on chalk, Prefer Dry conditions.

If you want to learn more about Evernote there are loads of great videos on YouTube explaining every last detail but my advice is keep it simple and utilise the features that work best for you.

Hope you found this useful and do drop me a note if you’re using Evernote to track your plants as I’d love to know how we can make it work better for us.

Best wishes

rural-gardeners

 

 

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We have a new video for you!

How to start a back garden nursery

Just finished uploading the last in our current series of videos on how to start your own back garden nursery.
Find out how the softwood cuttings cuttings we planted back in July are doing in the sharp sand bed.

I can’t believe just how much growth they’ve grown in just 10 weeks!

If you’re wondering if you could do the same then you should watch this series of videos. We started started with a few softwood cuttings just over 2 years ago  … and now have an opportunity to develop this further into a fully fledged plant nursery, and all right in our back garden.
I still wonder how it came together, but like many things in life it’s about diving in and having a go!
You can watch the third video in the series by clicking on the link below.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1luOZRHPQg

Please take a look and see just how simple it is to grow a few plants with very little investment other than a bag of compost and a box of sharp sand.

We do hope you find our videos useful.

Best wishes

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Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

My bat box I put up last year in the beech tree is home to at least two bats.

Ever since I came to Blackbirds I wanted to create a wildlife friendly garden and having been gardening this way for nearly 5 years now I must say we don’t seem to have half as many problems with pests and diseases.

That is apart from the cabbage white caterpillars which are the pain of my life, so much so that I’m thinking of ditching brassica altogether! I won’t spray and don’t much fancy spending an hour each day collecting the little buggers.

Oh and the cheeky pheasants that sneak into the garden looking for any stray corn the chickens may have left behind, lovely to look at, but the males give out the loudest shrieking noise … usually when you least expect it.

The secret is to create balance in your garden between the planting and the creatures.
I’ve found the best way to encourage wildlife into the garden is to achieve a balance between the more orderly parts of the garden and the more natural spaces.

When you get the balance right, then you will significantly increase the bird, amphibian and insect population in your garden, which in turn will help you to deal with your pest problems. It’s like magic, I can’t explain how it works, it just does.

Take the dreaded cabbage white caterpillars as a point in case. I encourage the robins and blue tits by putting up next boxes in the hedge close to the vegetable patch next to the compost heap.

They help me with my caterpillar population and in exchange they have a ready made takeaway practically outside their front door

I understand robins are quite territorial so it’s unlikely you’ll attract more than a single pair, but my garden just wouldn’t be the same without my little companion.

That’s basically what encouraging wildlife is all about,  creating a balance, a harmony between the gardener and the natural world that isn’t always obvious, but rather creeps up on you the longer you garden in this way.

Take the humble Hostas as a point in case. Such a majestic looking plant, but I used to have problems with slugs and snails eating the fresh shoots in early summer.

Then a  a couple of years ago we built a small wildlife pond, and since then we’ve had no slug problem!  I suspect the frogs were attracted by the water, and in turn have taken care of the slug population.

Poor slugs …  lucky frogs!

Out of the chaos we have order
I don’t know about you but I’ve always tried to maintain a tidy garden but since I’ve adopted a more ‘organic’ approach to my garden I’ve begun to make changes and it’s producing tangible results.

For example,  I no longer close mow all of the grass, instead I leave some areas to grow long. As a result  wildflowers have seeded in the grass and are now well established attracting loads of bees, which in turn pollinate the fruit trees. A simple principle and very effective.

I purposely leave piles of logs and branches around the place to help bring in the insects for the birds to feed on. Wood piles are particularly effective around the pond as they provide habitat for the frogs and toads, especially when it’s sunny and they need to shelter from the sun.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

This is were Dave and Trigger my adopted frogs live!

If you’re  planning to start a wildlife garden of your own, or perhaps you just want to try out a few ideas here are a few of the changes we’ve made at Blackbirds that we feel have  made a real difference.

1. Build a pond, or water feature.
Having water in the garden will always encourage all manner of new visitors into the  garden, but if you really want to score highly with the local amphibian population running water is even better!

How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden

Water will bring in all sorts of wonderful creatures and insects.

Try to leave at least one side of the pond to grow away undisturbed. A tidy pond is better than no pond at all, but if you want to encourage slow worms, newts  and frogs, then natural is best! If you’d like to see an example of a wildlife friendly pond I’ve posted a short video on YouTube.

2. Plant a hedge.
I like to grow hazel hedges  for the foliage in the summer, nuts in the Autumn and we coppice the hazel every other year. The poles are really handy for all manor of things. Hazel is probably my most favourite tree of all, its just so versatile.

Another favourite of mine is willow. Really easy to grow and you can so much with it. I’m going to have a go at creating an arch next year.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Willow makes a perfect lush green screen

3. Build a compost heap.
Really easy to build your own compost heap and can be built out of pretty much anything. Try to keep it open on one side so the robins can get at the worms and they’ll repay you many times over.

4. Grow plenty of scented plants.
Grow lots of scented plants, the bees will love you for it and the smell is intoxicating late in the evening when the sun has warmed the flowers. In turn the bees will pollinate your fruit and veg. This year we planted a small cut flower garden and the amount of insects that came to visit was unbelievable.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Next year I’m planning to plant more cut flowers, so easy and so little maintenance required and the house had flowers pretty much from June onwards.

5. Don’t be too tidy.
Leave a few upturned clay pots around the garden for the toads to shelter and the odd brick pile. Position them anywhere you have a slug problem and the toads will come in to shelter and clean up your slug problem.

6. Keep a few chickens.
Chickens can be quite destructive but they will seek out bugs and grubs in the garden and dispatch them with consummate ease. The other good thing about the chickens is they will provide ready made feed in the form of droppings.

The girls enjoying their favourite passtime, having a dust bath!

The girls enjoying their favourite pass time, having a dust bath!

Just remember to put them away in the evening, or you may attract an unwelcome fox into your garden. I love foxes, but not if they plan to dine out on my girls!

7. Grow a tree …  better still grow lots of trees!
If for no other reason than they are just the most majestic of plants. We have a mature Walnut and a Beech and they are home to so many creatures, like bats and owls.

We put up a bat box last year and I’m pleased to report the bats have taken up residence.

I like to encourage bats in our garden to keep the midges under control. We like to have family BBQ’s in the summer without fear of being bitten by the little buggers! so we’re doing all we can to encourage the most interesting of our native mammals.

If your garden is too small for a tree, never fear, then try a small espalier fruit tree in a pot and get the best of both worlds, gorgeous fresh fruit in late summer and gorgeous blossom in the Spring. The bees will love you for it!

8. Mediterranean herbs.
Great for attracting pollinating insects … Plant thyme, marjoram and lavender near to your fruit trees and tomato plants. The bees will do there stuff and you can look forward to the sweetest tasting autumn puddings.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

My herb bed is a tad overgrown now, but the bees just love the flowering marjoram and thyme.

9. Wood piles.
Build a few wood piles around the garden, mainly for the insects and creepy crawlers which the wrens and hedge birds tend to feed on, but also they make great shelters for the frogs and toads.

10. Bricks and Tiles.
We have a few bricks and roof tiles left over from the build chucked into redundant corner of the garden. I’ve noticed frogs and toads use the pile to hide from the direct sunlight.

Learn How To Create A Wildlife Friendly Garden With The Rural Gardener

Nice and cool for small mammals to hide in.

In the last 5 years that we’ve been living at Blackbirds I’ve found the secret to attracting wildlife is not one particular measure but essentially a combination of lots of different things that together produce a balance with nature.

Yeah, not everything will work for you but if you get the balance right, then you’ll notice a difference in the way you garden. Pest control will be managed by nature and you’ll have the most wonderful natural space, and all just outside your back door.

If you have any other suggestions for how we can make our garden more wildlife friendly we’d love to hear them.

Best wishes

Rural Gardener

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My first attempt at a Willow Arbour

Click for LARGE image

The lovely weather at the weekend meant I managed to get loads done in the garden which always leaves me with a great sense of achievement. I even managed to kick start my Willow Arbour project.

I was lucky to be given 20 willow cuttings at Christmas which have been sitting in a temporary holding bed until I could decide what to do with them. I had thought about creating a willow arch at the entrance to the Kitchen Garden, but then I had an even better idea.

Why not create a secret hideaway in one corner of the orchard. The corner I’m thinking of has the most fantastic view across open countryside and has an old a garden bench where I perch myself when I need time to reflect. Not sure if there are stranger things at play, but I always seem to get a better sense of perspective when I’m sitting in that corner of the garden. Probably something to do with magnets! 🙂

As its my first attempt at Willow I had to swot up on what makes the ideal growing conditions. Appears willow likes damp conditions in plenty of sun, which probably explains why you often see it growing alongside a pond or river. This makes sense as I remember once planting a willow tunnel for the children in my class when I was a classroom assistant. Although it did grow it wasn’t very vigorous, which was likely down to the fact they were planted in the shade of a tree and the tree likely sucked all the moisture out of the ground.

This time round the spot I’ve chosen is in full sun and is a good distance from any trees, apart from the fruit trees and they are far enough away not to affect anything.

If you’d like to grow your own willow feature there’s plenty of information on the web to help you get started and not forgetting the trusty book shop if, like me, you prefer the printed word. Along with the cuttings I was also given a book by Jon Warnes called ‘Living Willow Scuplture. It’s published by Search Press and has all the information you need to get started and at £7.95 excellent value for money.  I haven’t followed the book to the letter but it certainly gave me the inspiration to have a go myself.

Preparing the ground for planting

I going to create  a small arc of growth to surround my garden seat, which ideally will grow to look fairly symmetrical. When I need to create an arc in the garden I use the old string line method. Simply hammer one end of the line in the ground, then take the other end and keeping the string taught, scrape an arc out of the ground. If like me you’re planting on grass it can take a few attempts, and keep the line nice and taught and it should work just fine.

How to plant a willow arbour

Click for LARGE image

It’s worth taking your time over the marking out as when the willow eventually grows it will look all over the place.

When I was happy with the basic shape I dug the top 6 inches of soil out into my wheelbarrow. Like most plants Willow will benefit from a little helping hand, so I added some compost to the top soil and a sprinkling of Fish Blood and Bone.

Then before putting the new mixture back I first loosened the next 8 inches of soil so the cuttings would have the best chance to grow away. Into this I worked some of the mixture and gave it a good watering.

As willow likes water I thought I would add some into the bottom of the planting hole before planting the cuttings. I then put the new enriched top soil back into what was a small semi circular trench, and gave them another good watering.

I’m not sure if they will root but they have a fighting chance, so fingers crossed in a few months we should have our very own secret living willow Arbour!

Back soon &

Best wishes,

Rural Gardener

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