I’ve been asked by Storm and Emma to write a blog for you on gardening, offering some monthly advice and tips to maybe whet your appetite for a spot of vegetable / flower growing and to help give you some ideas to make the best of your gardens, whether they’re vast or compact.
Before I start though, I thought it only polite to give you a quick intro first. I’m Jo Tucker and I grew up on a small holding in the rolling Mendip Hills. At 38, I’m still loving country life and marvelling at how ‘growing your own’ can be so rewarding and, in terms of edible crops especially, so much healthier and far more tasty than shop bought.
I moved down to proper ‘cider making country’ (as I call it) some 3 years ago and now live in a small village called Kingsbury Episcopi, famed for its Burrow Hill Cider Farm (not that that heavily influenced my relocation decision, of course - hic!). 2 years ago, my husband and I bought some farmland, built a house and since then, I have been tasked with turning the 1.5 acre site into a garden and vegetable plot, along with clearing out, replanting and maintaining the handful of older trees left in the 3.5 acre old cider apple orchard.
The days of sedentary office life and being beautifully manicured, smartly suited and booted for the working week are but a distant memory! Yes, still booted (but in wellies nowadays) topped off with my standard uniform of mud splattered old sweatshirt, ripped jeans and a pair of very well used gardening gloves! As for manicured, ummm... soil seems to erode anything by No 7 or Max Factor so I have given up, besides, they say sludgy colours are ’in’ this winter, so I console myself that I am terribly fashionable with my peat stained talons and have opted for the ‘natural’ and somewhat earthy look!
Apart from a handful of knowledge picked up from my folks whilst growing up at home and helping out, coupled with a bit of dabbling myself in my own gardens thereafter, I didn’t really have much to go on. So, I threw caution (and some seeds!) to the wind, bought basic tools, booked myself onto a part time course and completed a diploma in horticulture, whilst rustling about and experimenting no end here! What have I learnt so far? Many things but mostly that gardening requires a fair amount of patience, a little vision, constant tending, big bursts of energy from time to time and not to be too disheartened when, even if you have followed every set of rules going, some plants just die for no rhyme or reason and that’s just the way it is!
Now I should point out at this stage that I am by no means an expert or about to exhibit at Chelsea, but I am very happy to pass on some handy tips and information I have learnt over the past couple of years which may be of use to you as the seasons change. My idea here is to work a little bit ahead so that you get the benefit of seeing in advance what may be required the next month, Anyway, see if this is useful and do feedback any comments on format to Storm or Emma and I will adapt accordingly.
Lawns – reduce mowing now and patch up any bare areas that need attention or sow an entire new lawn before the first frosts strike. Think about what type of area you are sowing, ie. shady area, hard use area etc and pick appropriate seed.
As outside plants finish, tidy and cut back, removing all dead leaves. Late flowering climbing roses can also be pruned.
Daffodils, hyacinths, crocuses and other spring bulbs can be planted in containers – I found these made great Christmas gifts last year (pick a nice pot and plant away with colour co-ordinating bulbs). Tulips are best left for planting until November time though as they can rot off if planted in pots this early. If you plan your planting carefully, you can create an early spring flowering pot that lasts right through to the early summer months with continuous flowers. Don’t forget to include some drainage in the base of the pot (stones, broken crockery or wedges of polystyrene) then top with good quality compost.
Spring bulbs can also be planted out in the flower beds up until December time too, such as crocus, snowdrops, bluebells, narcissus, anemones etc.
Winter lettuce (ie. Arctic King and Winter Density) can be sown outside, just protect with a piece of horticulture fleece to keep it frost free as the nights get colder.
Get ahead - early sweet peas can be sown and kept in an unheated greenhouse or coldframe but be prepared for some losses if it’s really cold. If you don’t sow them now, you’ll get another chance in the Spring. I grew Sarah Raven’s ‘Black Knight’ sweet peas this year and can recommend them for amazing scent, prolific flowering and deep burgundy colours. Kerton Sweet Peas (located near Bridgwater) are also highly recommended by a number of my gardening colleagues, they have grown various varieties this year and had very positive results.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a greenhouse, it’s a good time for clearing out the old soil after your crops have finished (reuse this on flower borders but not on veg beds to avoid the spread of any diseases). A good wash down of the interior of the greenhouse with Jeyes fluid is worthwhile to kill off any nasties. Winter lettuce, baby spinach, carrots, spring onions and mange tout peas can all be sown now in the greenhouse. Bring in and house any frost tender plants such as geraniums/fuschias etc.
Late October / early November is the best time to move and relocate any deciduous trees when they are dormant and have dropped their leaves, plus bare rooted trees and shrubs can also be planted out too.
Compost as much of your garden waste as possible, it’s amazingly nutritious for your garden and rewarding to put something back into the soil, just don’t include woody cuttings, perennial weeds (ie dandelions/buttercups etc) or lots of dead leaves. Instead, keep leaves in a separate pile as they’ll take far longer to rot down, but they provide an excellent mulch later on. Easy enough to create a leaf bin – just stick four posts or poles in the ground and some chicken wire around them and bingo!
As the weather grows colder and less appealing for being outside, start planning what you’d like to see in your garden next year, flick through some seed catalogues, draw up any new designs and ideas and look for online offers... all whilst sat by the fire with a large glass of wine, of course!
Did you know that earthworms can live for up to 10 years if left to their own devices?!
Until next time.... happy gardening :>)