Brrrrr … Woke up to a hard frost this morning. Beautiful to look at …. but flipping cold! -4 degrees in the car and I had to scrape the inside of the windscreen.

Thank goodness I took the time to put the Acers in the polytunnel last Autumn.

I grow most of my Acers in pots for that very reason. I’ll take them out of the poly around mid-May by which time they’ll have grown a new set of leaves. I started my collection about 3 years ago with a dozen 8-inch plugs I bought on EBay.

I thought it was a bit of a gamble at the time, but just 3 years later they’ve grown into great little plants and are worth 5-6 times the original price.


If you’ve grown Acers you’ll know what I mean when I say they are at their best in late Spring when the new leaf is at its most vibrant. In the winter, they look like dead twigs! … But in 3-4 months they’ll be back to their magnificent best.

While the weather is cold it’s too wet and miserable to get onto the soil my thoughts turn to garden maintenance. It’s just as important to keep on top of the jobs that don’t necessarily provide any immediate benefit. Stuff like painting the sheds mending any broken fences and anything that may have blown over or snapped.

I like to get these jobs done before the growing season starts to limit any damage to any plants that may be growing in the vicinity of where I’m working. They stand a better chance of recovery if you do it now.

The big job for the Spring has to be the fences. They’re in a poor state of repair which is reflected in the fact that the chickens are always escaping into next doors plot. It’s not fair on my neighbours so I need to do something about it.


As you can see from the pics the fence is your bog standard post and sheep wire construction, which is actually the responsibility of my neighbour as he put up the original fence. The posts were inferior grade and have rotted out of the holes, so I need to replace with better quality posts so it will last.

I’ll replace the posts with chestnut posts and then staple some chicken wire on top of the sheep wire to keep the escapees on the right side of the fence!

On the left side of the plot, my neighbour has recently taken up stock car racing and his plot is rapidly filling up with second-hand cars. Rather disappointingly what was a beautiful view across to the barley fields is now starting to resemble a scrap yard!


I suppose I could get in touch with the local council but I’d rather not fall out with my neighbour and, to be honest, the fence is pretty grim anyway. I plan to replace it with a new 5ft. post and feather board fence.

The only snag is it the sun will be in The West essentially behind the fence which will create shade. It’s a shame but I can only see the car situation getting worse, and anyway, I’ll grow some shade loving creepers like a climbing hydrangea and stuff it with Hostas and anything else I can think of.

So that’s my Spring project sorted … Just need to work out the materials list and choose a sunny weekend in March.

I’ll ket you know how it comes together for anyone that might be thinking about building their own fence. I’ve done it before and it’s fairly straightforward but there are a few things to be aware of. Details to follow sometime in March.

Anyway is almost the end of Jan and although it’s freezing cold the sun has just come up and it’s looking gorgeous!

A few more weeks and we’re into March and the clocks go forward. Just the best time in the garden!

Back soon

Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

New Years Resolution

I wonder if like me you’re thinking about making a new years resolution or three?

I always find it a tricky one as you almost feel compelled to come up with something and each year I struggle.

This year I’m trying a slightly different approach.

They say you should never look back, always forward but I’m going to start by looking back at my life (of some nearly 57 years) and ask myself… what do I wish I’d done differently or wish I’d achieved in my life?

Yes, life is about making the right decisions … but what if you didn’t get everything completely right the first time? Is it too late to change things or make amends? I don’t think so.

Personally,  I’m going to make as much happen in 2016 as I can and what I don’t get around can always roll over to next year.

Here’s how it works.

Grab a piece of paper and make a list of all those things you’d wished you’d either done or said to someone in your life. Then take your three top ideas from the list (Your choice) and you have your New Years resolutions!

Here’s my short list. (I should add my original list was huge so these are my top three for 2016)

  1. Join the Open Gardens scheme. (Ambitious yes … but it means more time in my garden)
  2. Find an alternative income so I don’t need to commute into central London 5 days a week. (Get to spend more time in my garden)
  3. Save more for my retirement so I can retire earlier. (… spend more time with my family … and of course, more time in the garden!)

My friends … most of all be happy right now!  Enjoy your friends and your family but perhaps most of all,  follow your dreams!

Btw … Its not too late to take your hardwood cuttings!

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

Firstly Happy New Year to one and all from all of us at Rural Gardener!

You may have noticed we recently updated the site with a new header image. We’re hoping to make further changes as we go forward as the site has been pretty much the same since 2007 … so it’s really about time we gave it a facelift.

We’re also hoping to evolve the blog further this year and will likely post shorter updates but more frequently so we can keep everyone up to speed on all the good stuff we’re planning for this year.

John’s been in the workshop again making a few items for the house so thought I’d share a few pics.



Not sure where you are in the world but here in the South West of England we’re having significant rainfall which is playing havoc with the garden. It’s a mud bath! While it’s like this there is little can be done to be honest so best to keep busy with other jobs.  Spring is just around the corner so not long before we can get back out there!

While it’s like this there is little can be done to be honest so best to keep busy with other jobs.  Spring is just around the corner so not long before we can get back out there!

Until then we raise a glass to one and all for a healthy and prosperous 2016!


Best wishes,

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners



Hand Made Christmas Trees

It’s just four weeks to Christmas and I’ve been busy making a few Christmas trees in the workshop!

I’ve always had a fascination for homemade decorations ever since my mother used to take me to the Christmas market in Nuremberg.  So many happy memories … especially the wonderful aroma of smoked sausages on what I remember as a massive grill along with stalls full of wonderfully crafted Christmas delights.

So I got to thinking … I wonder if any of my readers would like to own their very own handmade Christmas tree?

The largest trees are approximately 125 millimeters high and 60 millimeters wide.  (5 inches by 2.5 inches) and handmade in my workshop in Hampshire England.

To order your very own Christmas tree simply hit the link below and enter ‘Christmas tree’ in the email subject line and we’ll drop you a note back with details of the prices and any associated postage costs.


Hope to hear from you soon!

Best wishes.

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners



Ideas for a hobby - Woodturning

I was thinking earlier today just how lucky we are to have our hobby’s. They really are the perfect antidote to the stress of the daily grind i.e. work.

I have the garden which is fab of course, but it’s about this time of the year my attention shifts from the garden to indoors … or inside the workshop on my lathe to be more precise.

It was about 7 years ago when I met my woodturning friend Stuart through a friend. Stuart is an extremely accomplished wood turner and what he doesn’t know about woodturning you could get on the back of a stamp!  He’s also a thoroughly nice bloke.

When I met him he was in the middle of making a few items for a special event. After a long chat and several cups of tea I knew I needed to give this woodturning thing a go.

If only I could reach a reasonable standard perhaps I could make a few things for the house? It certainly sounded like a lot of fun but potentially dangerous fun so I’d definitely need some guidance on the health and safety side of woodturning.

I seem to remember doing a bit of wood turning when I was at school when I was studying for my CSE’s as they were then (barely studied at all to be honest).

My class were 5C and for those of you that may remember the 70’s we had a TV comedy show in the UK at the time called Please Sir which was about a gentle teacher (Smiffy) and his somewhat boisterous class of adolescent teenagers who were also called 5C.  I seem to remember there were striking similarities with my class, but one thing I do remember is I really enjoyed woodworking with Mr Woodward (yes that really was his name). I still have fond memories of making the obligatory fruit bowl on the old school lathe.

Great times … life was so much simpler in those days.

Anyway … Back to the present and after much thought, I jumped in the car and headed off to Axminster Tools and bought me a small hobby lathe and at the same booked me a couple of lessons with Stuart.

It took me about a year to become proficient to the point where I was confident and safe and it was about another year before I finally got around to making something I thought worthy of bringing into the house.

Table Lamp

This is the first finished piece I made for the house. It’s a bedside lamp I made for Tania from a piece of English Yew which still has pride of place. It has a slightly unusual twist pattern which I think gives it a kind of unique look and presented a few challenges when I was making it.

It’s functional which is pretty much what I try to achieve with everything I make on the lathe. Take this table I made a few years back.

Home made Mahogany table

It’s made from a couple of mahogany table tops that the local school were throwing away to make way for a new classroom.  Absolutely nothing wrong with the wood. All it needed was a little care and attention.

The top of the table and the stem are turned on the lathe and the legs are made using a band saw to cut the sections and regular hand tools to achieve the finished shape.

How to make a round top occasional table

For the top I took 2 boards, planed them flat and glued them together to get the extra width I needed for the top. I cut a rough circle shape on the band saw and then mounted it on the lathe to get the perfect circle and to add the edge detail.

It turned out ok in the end … and to think the wood nearly ended up in a skip!

I’m planning to make a few Christmas presents on the lathe this year. I’m thinking Christmas tree decorations. I can make them on the lathe using the branch thinnings from the beech tree which we removed in the summer and use some wood dyes to add a little colour. I just need to remove the wood from the inside or I can’t see them hanging on the Christmas tree too well!

Make your own Christmas decorations

I might attempt to paint a nativity scene on the side or persuade my mother in law as she’s learning to paint at the moment.

I’ll keep you posted as they progress and probably post a few pics if they turn out ok.

Back soon.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

The Beach At St Ives

The Beach At St Ives

We’ve just had a few days in wonderful Cornwall. All a bit last minute as we were waiting to see what the weather was hoping to do. You’ve heard me rave about Cornwall before I’m sure, but I never tire of its gorgeous coastline and beautiful gardens. So much to see so much to do and such an easy ride from Hampshire. It was all a tad last minute as we were waiting to see how the weather would pan out.

We discovered Cornwall 3 years ago when I persuaded John we should visit as so many of my friends had told me what a gorgeous place it is. We used to take the kids to France on Canvass holidays in summers past, but I wish I’d taken them to Cornwall … I’m pretty sure we’d have spent most of our summers there and saved a bunch of cash at the same time.

Cornwall has everything … Sandy beaches, rugged coastline, good food and so much to see. This is our third time and we still feel the same excitement as we did the first time!

Rugged coastline of Cornwall

In the South, you have the mighty St Michaels Mount which you can walk out to when the tide is out, beautiful St Ives and the picture perfect town of Mousehole.


Spotted this beautifully restored VW camper as we wandered into Mousel.

Jumped out of bed nice and early on Wednesday and packed up the trusty old Saab on what was a beautiful late summer day and meandered down the A303 past Honiton and on towards Exeter. Tuned left after Exeter and drove through the glorious Devon countryside and on to sunny Cornwall.

Stopped off at the Eden Project as I wanted to buy myself another T-shirt from the shop. Fortunately, you can use the shop and the cafe facilities without having to do the whole trip around Eden … We’ve been twice before so didn’t feel the urge to make a third so I picked up a few things from the shop and headed on to the town of Helston.

The Eden Project

Helston is towards the Southern end of Cornwall and has an American air base on its doorstep. Helston’s great as its location makes it’s easy to access the west coast of Cornwall including the wonderful St Ives.

As soon as we arrived at the hotel we dropped off our bags at the hotel and headed for Lizard Point. Never been before and it didn’t disappoint. It was around 7 pm when we arrived and the sun was still in the sky which meant we had a wonderful view of the rugged coast over to Kynance cove.

After a short walk and the obligatory holiday snaps, we returned to Lizard for a lovely fresh fish and chip supper which we ate sitting on the village green eventually falling into bed around 10. What a perfect end to the day!
Thursday we headed for St Ives which is just the most beautiful Cornish town with the most wonderful sandy beaches.
Again we were blessed with wonderful weather and an unexpected bonus … It was quiet, which is worked out was because we were almost out of season.

One thing I always remember about St Ives is the car park. It’s on a hill situated at the top of the town overlooking the beach front. Stunning views but oh my God … what a hike! Knackers me out every time … But ooooh worth it.

I always remember a bit of advice a friend of my parents gave me when I was on a walking holiday with them in the North York Moors in my teens. If you ever find yourself walking up a steep incline walk up the hill zig-zagging from left to right as you walk. It’s a heck of a lot easier on the legs!

Give it a go next time you find yourself walking up an incline … You’ll find I’m right. 🙂

Friday we headed up to Bodmin to a Premier Inn. Have to say the room in Bodmin was first class. Yes, I know it’s a Premier Inn but its clean, the staff are friendly and the bed is fantastic. Lenny Henry was right.

The area around Bodmin has my two most favorite destinations in the world, The Lost Gardens Of Heligan and The Eden Project. If you ever have the chance to visit either treat yourself to something a little bit special. You’ll have the most wonderful day out at Eden, it’s perfect for children and there is so much to see and learn.

Heligan is a gardeners paradise and a sanctuary for British wildlife which I think has been achieved by going back to basics and building and culture based on organic principles of the past. If you love your garden then you’ll definitely have a soft spot for Heligan.

heligan-1 heligan-2 heligan-3

Fabulous few days away and heartfelt thanks to the team at Heligan for supplying ooooh much inspiration for my own garden.
Going back to work is going to be tough. 🙂

Back soon.

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners

Planning A New Herbaceous Border

There is something quintessentially English about the herbaceous border that can’t be matched in my view. If you’re lucky enough to have a herbaceous border of your own you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!

If you’re looking to create your own border then read on as we share our journey as we create a brand new border at Blackbirds.

Choosing a site
We  finally finished moving the polytunnel which has given us a much better outlook from the house and to be honest … it feels like it should have been there in the first place! As you can see from the photo below it’s left us with a fantastic space.

Planning our new herbaceous border

It’s approximately 26 feet by 16 feet which is simply crying out for a lovely mixed herbaceous flower border.

Planting a new border is great fun and I’ve been lucky enough to create two borders in the garden already. But there is something not quite right about them, so this time I’m going to do my research first before I attempt to plant anything.

After a brief consultation period with John (30 seconds from memory), I decided we’d use one-half for more fruit and veg and the other for the new herbaceous border. Should look amazing when it all comes together.

The new border will be on my neighbours side of the garden which is currently a large open space on which he stores a couple of caravans.

Planning our new herbaceous border

They’re not overly offensive, but I need to find a way to hide them without having to put up a massive fence. I’m not a fan of wooden fence panels and I prefer to use hedges if I can as it helps to bring in the wildlife.

I plan to grow a few evergreen shrubs at the back of the border to create a little more privacy and to provide a nice backdrop for the rest of the plants. We struggle to grow evergreens on our chalky soil so I’m going to need to be inventive when it comes to the planting. Probably sink a few large pots in the ground and backfill with ericaceous compost.

Designing the border
A couple of weeks ago we had a fabulous few days in Cornwall. We managed to grab the last of the late summer sunshine. Cornwall and St Ives, in particular, are simply gorgeous at this time of the year as most of the summer holiday makers have left.

While we were in the area we visited a fantastic garden at Lanhydrock House where I photographed this amazing border with a fabulous planting scheme. The colours are predominantly light shades of pink, purple and white with the odd rich orange crocosmia which make the border really pop!

Planning our new herbaceous border

What I noticed about it is firstly was the size. It just looks so impressive! Also, it’s planted with occasional evergreens which I think are for structure and to keep the border looking fresh in winter. (Herbaceous plants tend to die back in the winter and can look a little tired)

Fortunately for me those clever people at Lanhydrock left a few printed planting plans in a little cubby hole alongside the border to help visitors identify the plants. Just a brilliant idea … Each one numbered with the full name alongside.

We’re going to base our planting on the border at Lanhydrock House.

It is a simple basic oblong design that fits with my new space which will have a long path down the middle to add the sense of perspective. We’ll divide the area in half with one side for the border and the other for veggies. I’d like to incorporate a feature circle half way along to create a resting spot where we can simply sit on a summers evening with a glass of the fizzy stuff and watch the sun set as it drops below the tree line.

Planting A Willow Arch

We have some willow plants that were propagated from some plants I bought John for his birthday a few years back. I’ll use those to create a little willow arbour which will be trained up and over the circle to create some shade on those barmy summer days. For the moment, I’ve put my standard Bay in the middle as a focal point.

I wonder if I can find an old wrought iron seat to add a little style? …  I’m thinking an old bench like those wonderful old wrought iron benches we used to see at the local cricket field.

Constructing the border
When creating any new border I like to get the paths marked out first. Nothing fancy, just a modest gravel path edged with timber edges. All recycled of course!

All you need is a string line a tape measure, (to keep the width of the path consistent) and a few lengths of 3 x 1 timber. I’m using a few boards salvaged from a couple of old pallets.

The only snag with wood edging is it will rot after a few years … but all you do is replace them and recycle the old ones as compost. Alternatively if you can afford it then iron edging looks great and will last a lifetime but that’s not in my budget I’m afraid.

Timber path edging

I’ve made the path approx 900mm wide which is enough for two people to pass and plenty of room for a wheelbarrow. All I do is drive in a few 2 inch squared wooden pegs about 3-4 feet apart making sure they are on the border side using the string line to keep them nice and straight.

I leveled the edging as much as possible and nailed the edging to the posts. Try not to bury them too deep or the gravel on the path will simply disappear into the border which is really annoying! A minimum two inches above ground should do it.

As the length of the border is about 28 feet I thought it best to divide the other side (veggie side) in half with a couple of paths using exactly the same process with the tape measure and string. Just remember to step back and eye up the lines to ensure they are straight and square to the main path. Nothing worse than a wonky path!

I have some bricks left over from the house build which I plan to use to edge the circle and the natural material of the bricks should help soften the overall feel and at the same time provide a nice little feature.

Planning our new herbaceous border

I’ll need to buy some sharp sand and cement to finish the job.

Well, the new border is starting to take shape!  Next time I’ll share how I plan to approach the planting and make a start on selecting the plants.

Should be fun!

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners