Archive for the ‘Money saving stuff’ Category

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.


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




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Two Year Old Black Walnut Seedlings

This is the second in our series about how you can set up your own independent plant nursery from your back garden.

Hopefully Part 1 will have started you thinking that this might be something you could consider starting either as a hobby or perhaps as an alternative source of income.

Today we’re going to share what you need to get started the kind of equipment you need to get you started on the road to owning your own little plant nursery.

What do I need to get started?

You’re going to need plants for a start … and lots of them!

When John and I started on this road in 2010 we already had a few of the older varieties of shrubs and perennials in the garden that we knew grew well in our chalky soil and we were  confident the varieties are not covered under the PBR schemes which was confirmed after a little research on the web.


2 Year Syringa Vulgaris (Lilac) plants growing away in the nursery bed

You’re also going to need pots and plenty of them.

When we started we grand ideas like selling our plants in clay pots but it just wasn’t practical. Wonderful to look at but blooming heavy and way too expensive. Customers just won’t pay a premium for a plant in a clay pot.

As a rule we use the following sizes in the nursery.

1. Three (3) inch for one year old rooted softwood cuttings.
2. Five (5) inch for two year old mature plants.

We also occasionally use a 7 inch pot if we’re lifting mature shrubs from the ground but we find most of our customers prefer to buy the 5 inch pots.

Of course there is nothing to stop you using any size pot but if you keep them consistent they look uniform and actually it looks more professional. Appreciate we’re not building another garden centre here but these little refinements do make a difference.

You also get used to how big the plants grow and how much compost you need to fill a single pot. Very useful for when it comes to working out your production costs.

Do I need any specialist equipment?

You can get started with very little which is what’s so great about this little business.

If you plan to grow your own stock from taking softwood or semi hardwood cuttings you’re going to need:

  • Rooting hormone
  • Plant labels
  • Sharp sand or potting compost to plant the cuttings in.
  • Patience

Apart from a hose and a source of water that’s pretty much everything we had when we started and in our first year we raised around 50 young plants for a total investment of around £15. Small numbers yes, but from acorns oaks do grow as they say.

Over the last few years we’ve collected pots of all sizes, made a potting bench out of single sheet of OSB and invested in a modest misting setup. You don’t have to mist to be successful with cuttings but it does significantly increase your chances of success.

Of course if you plan to buy and sell stock then there is little need for anything other than somewhere to store the plants and means of getting them to your market.

You’re going to need to invest in a little marketing to get the message out there but we’ll cover that in more detail in the next post.

Shall I grow my own or buy in my plants?
Well that’s really a decision only you can make. Buying plants in gives you instant stock that you can simply mark up and sell on for a profit. All I would say is that does reduce your margins by quite a lot but at the same time you don’t have the added hassle of growing the plants and all the challenges that presents.

We like to grow our plants as we think it’s half the fun and it means we can market our plants as ‘locally grown on Hampshire chalk’ which is a point of difference for our business. (High tech business speak) 🙂

Whenever someone comes to visit the nursery they see healthy plants growing in our chalky Hampshire soil, which means they leave confident what they’re buying will survive in their own garden.

Propagating your own plants from seed, softwood cuttings or division we believe is more profitable than buying in stock to sell, and it’s all consuming which means you’re going to need to spend a fair amount of time on your new venture if you plan to grow your own.

How much space do I need to get started?
You need very little space to get started. It’s all relative to what you want to achieve really. You can grow plenty of plants in a square metre but if you need more space you could always expand upwards!

That’s the great thing about growing plants for profit … it ‘scales’ really easily.

Here’s another idea if you’re stuck for space. How about asking a friend or neighbour if you could use part of their garden. You could offer them an incentive to come in with you for a share of the profits. 🙂

“Yes but don’t you live in the country and have plenty of space?”

We received an email from a reader recently who asked if it was possible to start your own back garden nursery in the middle of a town. We went on to tell her about a guy we know who lives in a first floor flat in central London and runs a plant business from the back of his truck.

Basically he picks up the plants from a grower in the morning and delivers to his clients houses in the afternoon. Any left over stock goes to the local charity which gets his name out in the local community.

Where this is a will there is a way … as they say!

 How much should I charge for my plants?

Basically as much as you think your market will stand. Having said that you have to be sensible with your pricing if you’re to compete. One way to compete on price is too propagate your own as it means you not only have  great looking plants but you can also offer those plants at a great price as it’s easier to make a margin. Also ‘home grown’ is a great differentiator.

How To Start A Plant Nursery With The Rural Gardeners

Grow healthy plants and they sell themselves

Where possible we try to keep our prices at below £5.00 for a 2 year old plant and £6.95 for anything we feel will sell for that price. These tend to be 2-3 year old stock.

Where can I sell my plants?

Farmers markets are great as they usually come with customers but we choose not to sell at farmers markets as the customers tend to want to barter which I don’t have time for to be honest.

Another possible outlet for your plants is Ebay. Great thing about Ebay is it comes with millions of customers. Appreciate they’re not all looking to buy your plants but a fair chunk of them might be.

The only issue I have with eBay is it tends to attract customers with deep pockets. But hey that suits us as we’re selling our plants for under a fiver anyway.

We’re not going to spend too much time talking about eBay as there’s loads of really good stuff out there already. Just watch for the charges and always work out how much it ACTUALLY costs you to get your plants to the customer. Then factor those numbers into your pricing.

If you’re happy having customers come to your house you could always hold a plant sale from your back door, or from your garden. But watch this one as you’ll likely have to organise public liability insurance just in case someone has an accident on your property.

If you know someone who is a whizz with computers you could always start your own web site selling plants and all things gardening. It’s actually easier than you think to get started but you will have to either license the software which is typically costs around £15 – £20 a month. Alternatively you could get someone to build you a site and use PayPal as the payment gateway.

Loads of really good information out there on how to set up your own shop online.

How do I get the message out there that I’m open for business?

That will be the subject of our next post.

We’ll also take a closer look at our set up and share some ideas around how you can get your nursery off to a successful start. We’ll also share some ideas on how you make this work for you all year round as the plant selling season is fairly short and you’re going to need something to keep your business active over the winter months.

Hope you found this useful but as always any questions leave a comment or drop us an email to

Best wishes


John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

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I’d like to show you How to Propagate Softwood Cuttings.

There are many methods for propagating new plants but June is the perfect time for taking softwood cuttings. For the last 3 weeks I’ve been busy taking lots of softwood cuttings of all kinds of plants. I haven’t counted them but I must have stuck well over 500!

If you’re considering growing your own plants from cuttings you should read this first!

If you’re thinking of growing plants from cuttings then you need to research something called Plant Breeders Rights.

Basically it’s a law that was introduced to protect the rights of plant breeders … a sort of patent for plants if you like. Essentially it made it illegal to propagate certain plants for profit … but the good news is there are loads of varieties that were around before Plant Breeders Rights were introduced that you can propagate.

My advice is:

1. Always read the label on any plant that you buy. It will clearly state if the plant is subject to Plant Breeders Rights.
2. Look for the older varieties and you should have no problems with propagating them.
3. Propagate these older varieties so other growers can access these unprotected varieties.

The more ‘protected plants’ that are introduced to the market the more demand there will be for the unprotected varieties.

Taking your own cuttings is a really cost effective way to gain extra plants, which you can either plant in the garden, or pots or perhaps share with friends and neighbours.  In these tough times you might even be able to generate some extra cash by selling a few at the local Jumble Sale, providing they are not protected by PBR.

By the end of last summer which was my first year I’d managed to raise around 50 mixed plants and shrubs which may not seem like a lot, but it gave me the confidence and belief that with a little organisation I might just have found a way to bring a little extra into the household budget and at the same time have some fun at the same time.

How can I increase my chances of success with my cuttings?

Good question and something I’ve blogged a few times about before   so I won’t go into too much detail on the different methods, but suffice to say if I can do it, anyone can.

All you need is suitable plant material from which to take the cutting, a 4” plant pot, or seed tray, growing medium, (sharp sand from the builders merchants is the cheapest option) and some hormone rooting powder.

Propagating from cuttings - Penstamons

Choose your cutting material carefully making sure you select from this years growth. Each cutting should be approximately 3-5 inches long (not an exact science) and not with too much of the new green sappy growth at the end of the branch.

Cut just below a leaf node, (just below a pair of leaves) and remove most of the leaves on the cutting leaving 2 or 3 leaves on the cutting.  I cut the top out of my cuttings to encourage roots rather than leaf growth but they’ll grow just as well without doing this.

Before planting the cutting dip it hormone-rooting compound, then dib a hole and plant as many cuttings as you can fit into a 4” plant pot. You can pack those cuttings in as they won’t be in there for long before they are planted into separate pots. And above all don’t forget to label them with as much info about the cuttings as possible.  I include the name, date the cutting was taken, and the botanical name if I know it.

Water the cuttings in to settle the compost around the base of the cutting and cover with a plastic bag to preserve moisture, then place on the windowsill.

These are my latest batch of cuttings I stuck in the bench 10 days ago.  As you can see they are settling in nicely and I’ve invested almost nothing other than my time and a couple of bags of builders sand.

It’s packed with cuttings that will all grow into perfect little plants with a little care and attention.

The secret to success with cuttings is?

Keep your cuttings moist!

When you first plant up a cutting it needs to be kept damp.  I’ve installed a cheap and cheerful mist system that cost me a total of £20 which includes a battery-operated timer. I fitted cheap and cheerful timer from EBay so I don’t have to worry about constantly watering the cuttings.

Alternatively you could use a hand sprayer but you will need to spray every 3-4 hrs.  As soon as they start to perk up you can reduce the frequency of the mist.

Here are the first batch I took on the 2nd of June, and in just 4 weeks they have developed a healthy root system, which I find truly amazing.

I did move away from using sharp sand last year as I didn’t have a great deal of success, but after much research I’ve realised it had nothing to do with the sand, but all to do with the way I was looking after the cuttings after they were planted. The great thing about sharp sand is (apart from being cheap) you can pack in the cuttings and when you lift them out the roots separate really easily.

After about 6 weeks I transplant the cuttings into single pots using my own free draining compost mix.

… and here is the end goal, last years cuttings all potted up and ready to be planted in my garden or perhaps sold at the local farmers market.

Do I need lots of space to raise my own plants?

Depends on the number of plants you want to grow I guess. I’m using a corner of the garden, which is about 20 paces by  20 paces square. It feels small, but It’s more than enough for me to get started as I still have much to learn.

This is  my potting bench and preparation area, which I use mainly for mixing compost and potting on plants. You can just see in the corner where I keep my plant pots that I’ve collected over the last 3 years from here there and everywhere.

Doesn’t look like there is much going on at the moment, but in a couple of weeks it will be stacked with new plants.

If you’re looking for free plant pots try your local garden center . They often chuck out old plant pots for recycling. If you have a word with the manager they are bound to have a few kicking about. I only know this as I have a friend who works for the local garden center and she told me to ask.

Below is one the beds where I plant my cuttings after they have rooted. I’ve worked in a few buckets of compost and sprinkled a few handfuls of bone meal into the soil to get the plants off to a good start and they are responding well. They make look small at the moment but by the time next summer comes around they will good size plants.

Lots happening in the garden I know, but if you do nothing else this week try taking a few cuttings and see if you can get them to root.

Best wishes to one and all.

Rural Gardener

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How To Build A Simple Bird Table

Building a bird table is great fun and it’s much easier than you think. All you need are a few basic DIY skills and be prepared to have a go. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy and can be made from any spare timber you have lying around.

When you put wild bird seed and perhaps a few slices of apple out first thing in the morning, it’s not long before the birds arrive to start feeding.

I chose this particular design as it looks fairly elegant and was simple to make.  It’s a pretty standard design and one that you’ll find examples of all over the Internet.

The important thing about any bird table is to keep the seed as dry as possible and try to keep it on the table so as not to attract rats or mice to the table.  So I’d recomend building a roof into your design and add a lip around edge of the table to stop any food falling onto the floor. Having said that the pigeons will scatter the seed all over the place anyway. 🙂

What about the sizes? 

I’m not sure about how big or small a bird table needs to be but it needs to be in proportion.

These are the dimensions I used for the table in the photograph but feel free to experiment, that’s half the fun. If you’re worried about how it might turn out, one tip is to make a prototype out of cardboard first.

Recommended sizes …

  1. Table Top – 24″ long  x 16″ wide.
  2. Height – 9″ to the top ridgeline of the roof.
  3. Side Supports  – 8″ high x 3″ wide
  4. Side Pieces – 18″ wide and 4″ at the highest point
  5. Post – treated 2″ x 2″ (approximately 5ft from top to bottom)
  6. Post stabilisers – 2″ X 2″ softwood


To make the table in the photo you’re going to need the following:

  • 18 mill plywood for the table
  • 2″ x 2″ Rough sawn softwood
  • 4″ Featherboard
  • Edge trim for the table – (1″ x 1″ softwood battens)
  • Angle bead to finish the ridge line of the roof
  • Four (4) Metal Angle Brackets
  • Exterior Grade Wood Glue
  • A Power Drill
  • Assorted Screws
  • A Mitre Block and Tenon Saw. (For cutting 45 degree angles)

First job is to cut the edge trim to size and pin around the outside of the table, then screw the table top to the post using a couple of 2″ screws. I also used 4 angle brackets fitted underneath for added support.

Tip – If you need to find the center of a square or oblong piece of wood, draw a line from one corner to the opposite corner. Where the lines cross is the dead centre of the board.


Lines Cross Dead Centre


Angle Brackets For Extra Strength


I discovered when I was making my table just how important it is to make sure it’s  stable.  My first prototype base was made using two pieces of 2″ x 2″ crossed over and fixed in the center, but on the first really windy day it fell over which became a constant source of frustration.

So I looked at the commercial tables and found that fixing the legs at a 45 degree angle made for a more stable result.


If you have a chop saw the angles are easy enough to cut, if not then a miter block and tenon saw will do just as well.

Continue to build the remainder of the supports and side pieces using the drill and screws and finish the roof.  You can use any board thin board but  I had some old feather board lying around and it seems to look great as a bird table roof.

Final job is to finish off the roof with a piece of angle bead to allow the water to run off the ridge and paint the whole thing with a water based preservative. Worth checking the label as it’s important to use non toxic stain so as not to harm the birds.


I added a few hooks around the outside for hanging peanuts and fat cakes and that’s the table pretty much done.

What should you feed the birds?

There are folks out there far better qualified than me to comment on what to feed our feathered friends but I use a combination of wild bird seed mix and fat cakes  that I make myself. Really easy to make, all you need is some lard a wild bird seed mix and some chunks of apple.  They are really easy to make, cheap to make and the birds seem to love em!

If you fancy having a go at making your own fat cakes the recipe I used is below.


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.


I hope your bird table brings you as much pleasure as ours has, and keep an eye out for the varieties of birds that visit. We are up to 12 so far and one of those is a Jay who while looking fantastic, frightens the other birds. Not sure what we’re going to do about that one.

Good luck with your table, and do feel free to ask if you need any more info on the construction methods.

Best wishes,


PS.  We’ve included a FREE pdf of this post that you can download and use at your leisure with our best wishes.

How To Build A Simple Bird Table (pdf)


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