To Mulch, or not to Mulch?

When I first started as a gardener, seven years ago, I went to a machinery shop for advice on what equipment to buy. A lawnmower is not a lawnmower. There are all sorts of variations, in size, weight and function (and even power source). A rear roller is best, as it can help to level out the lawn. It can also help prevent the mower slipping over the edge and scalping the grass. But it’s not so good if you’re likely to be cutting grass in less than ideal conditions – when it’s wet, or when the grass is long, for instance. Even more so with cylinder mowers, which can make a great job of a lawn that’s level, dry and not too long, but which need to be kept sharp, and are useless in the wet.

Say hello to Mr Sneezy

So I went for the most versatile, utilitarian option – a four-wheeled rotary mower.  Continue reading

Celandine, Celandine; surely not a friend of mine…

Is it my imagination, or is the Celandine particularly rampant this year?
This is a very difficult weed to deal with, mainly because of the small tubers that form under the soil at the base, and that tend to break off and lose themselves in the soil when you dig up the plants.

You can see these in the picture to the right. The RHS refers to these tubers as ‘tubercles’, which sounds a bit like a disease. And I can tell you that, faced with a patch of ground that’s covered in Celandine, it feels a bit like a disease too! You can never dig all of them out without leaving some of the tubercles behind, and if you’re not careful, by digging, you can turn a small colony into an infestation.

Mulching may well be the best organic approach to control. The RHS recommends a 10cm layer of organic material, but warns that this may not fully eradicate them. Membrane, with organic material over the top might be more effective. Although I know of at least one garden that has been mulched with heavy plastic, with gravel over the top (not my doing) where the celandine is pushing up forcibly around the edges, and at the base of the roses that were planted through the plastic.

If you’re happy to poison your soil, you could always douse the effected areas with glyphosate every spring.

The RHS encyclopaedia says Celandine is ‘good for a wild garden’. I must admit I’m a bit prejudiced against that because, with a few notable exceptions (such as Daffodils), yellow isn’t my favourite colour in the garden. But perhaps we shouldn’t get too worked up about this little plant. It’s easy to panic when you see a carpet of the stuff where you’d intended to have cultivated plants. But Celandine provides good ground cover, colour (albeit yellow) at a time when that can be in short supply, and by early summer it’s died back so as you’d never know it had been there. Maybe the easiest option is to learn to love it!

Lunch on the Beach


A short walk down to the beach for lunch today (I don’t get the chance to do this every day). The Bahama’s it’s not, but I’m not complaining. It was actually quite warm, and the sun was out for most of the time. I ate my sandwiches, drunk my flaskoffee, and then toddled off back up the hill to the garden I was working in.

The Shelf Life of Compost

Last week I went to my local garden centre to buy some organic, peat-free compost, in preparation for a frenzy of potting activity at the weekend. I came away with four large bags. I didn’t really need four bags, two would have done. But there was a deal on, and I couldn’t bring myself to pay eight pounds for two, when I could have four for just another two pounds. Just how many times do I need to get caught before I learn the lesson that if something is being sold cheap, there’s probably a reason?

Some of the plants I’d been hoping to pot on

It looked like a good deal, but in fact, it stank. I found out just how much it stank when I opened the first bag. For a moment, I thought I must have picked up the farmyard manure by mistake, but no, it was compost all right, it had just gone off. I suspect it was last years stock; they wanted shot of it, and so they’d reduced the price. It was stored outside, and partially under cover, but it must have got wet. And festered. To the point where now, it smells of drains.

Soil is supposed to contain bacteria, but I dread to think what that foul-smelling community of microscopic delinquents might do to a young plant. Fortunately, I also bought a bag of John Innes, which was OK, so we were able to get some potting done. And I risked using some of the bad stuff, mixed with sand and vermiculite, to pot up some of the Cannas. A bit of a risk, but we’ve got more than we can use. And as they seem able to not just survive, but to thrive in our compost bin, I hope they can do the same in this rancid compost.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with the other three-and-a-half bags. Throw them in the canal, maybe? (Joke!) I could take them back, but it would cost me more than they cost in fuel and time. Plus, I don’t think I can face the conflict. And it wouldn’t get me back the time I lost at the weekend. I don’t have many free weekends (or much energy left) to work on my own garden, so to have lost one under such circumstances is quite frustrating. Work is picking up now too, and I’m having to fit it in around the rain, which is still frequent, so there’s even less time. Oh well!

Narcissus Thalia – the fruits of some potting I managed to fit in last year.

Does anyone want some rancid compost?

No Spring Drought This Year


Marigolds, like miniature suns, have kept going right through the winter.

March last year was a good month, from a work perspective. By mid-month I was pretty much up to my full working schedule. How different it is this year. I cut a few lawns, and then wet weather set in. Lawns are now too wet to cut (or even to walk on),  and the ground is too saturated to work. At least there have been a few sunny spells today, between the showers. Over the past week or so the weather has been miserable.
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The Sleeping Garden

Skeletal Achillea

Actually gardens (like money) never sleep. They may doze, but they’ve always got one eye half open, even if most of the plants are in hibernation. The weeds rarely stop entirely. In fact I’ve just done my first full-on weeding session of the year, for one of my customers whose borders had been invaded by a fine crop of annual weeds. Did no-one tell them it’s winter? Fortunately I managed to get most of the work done before the rain really set in (but it wasn’t pleasant out there).

The other thing (or rather; things) that don’t stop for winter, are the slugs and snails. From now until the growing season really gets going is a critical time. There are plenty of slugs around, and on mild nights (and days, sometimes) they’re out and about, trying to feed. But there isn’t much for them to eat. So when your perennials, bulbs, etc. tentatively poke their heads above ground, they’re likely to be grazed off at the neck. It’s a battleground out there, and at this time of year the plants are heavily outnumbered.

A Meagre Catch

Time then, for us gardeners to deploy our special powers to even the odds. In my own garden, because I want to garden organically, I don’t use slug pellets. I have other solutions up my sleeve. In the growing season I go out at night and pick them off. Not every night – I have got a life, of sorts.  At this time of year, slug traps work well. You can pay a lot for manufactured slug traps, or you can make your own. I recycle yoghurt pots or, better still, shallow glass dishes, and cover them with scraps of stone, to keep the rain from washing the beer away.

Slug Cairn

Last year I got the pond dug, filled and planted (though I’m still working on the water feature) and it plays host to a healthy population of frogs, which eat their fare share of slugs. Although I’ve never seen them doing it. I can’t imagine them tackling a slug that’s almost as long as they are (imagine a frog getting that stuck in its throat!) but they’re invaluable for keeping down the smaller slugs. They certainly did a good job protecting the hostas around the pond in my last garden.

There are a few little joyous touches here and there amongst the barren soil and dead foliage. The Chaenomeles (Japanese quince) has already flowered well, and there are snowdrops and winter aconites. Some of the daffs aren’t that far off flowering, and nor, surprisingly, is the Ceanothus. I’d like to think spring isn’t far away, but I know there’s some very cold days to come before it arrives.

Eranthis hyemalis

Snowdrop