Painting Grass!

I’ve spent the day painting a garden plan on to the grass. I’m really pleased as it’s given me a temporary impression of what the garden will be like and it’s easy to make changes. The lines are also going to be a very useful guide when work I start to dig. The only fly in the ointment is that this area of garden by the side of our house in currently occupied by my boys. Last summer I gave them a five year notice of eviction, in true unscrupulous landlord style I’ve just wound on the clock a bit! Negotiations with the boys have been fruitful and the swings moving down the garden and the play house is relocating.

So hopefully by next Spring we’ll have a Celtic cross like design, borders edged with bricks and gravel paths. I’ll just have to decide what to plant, a dedicated dahlia garden?

Celtic cross garden design

The hectic garden in April

For me April is one of the busiest months of the year in the garden, hence my blog entries have suffered! Gardening on clay means that you can only work with the soil and landscape the garden a couple of months of the year, as in winter it’s too wet and the soil structure can be easily damaged, in Summer it’s dry and hard as a brick! So I’ve been busy landscaping.

At Easter we had a digger clear and dig over large areas of abandoned borders, after a lot of raking and treading down I have finally grass seeded the areas to become lawn. No doubt in years to come when my children are older I’ll convert them back to ornamental borders! During this gruelling endurance exercise I have learnt a valuable lesson, to use a tarmac rake. My digger driver suggested I invest in this tool. It weighs a tonne which did initially put me off, however, if you just gently pull it towards you on uneven ground allowing the weight of the rake head to do the work it’s very efficient.  After a while you achieve a smoother tilth and the rake can be pushed and pulled to create an even surface. A month later and the grass seed (and weeds, to match the rest of the lawn) is beginning to germinate, with hope we’ll have a carpet of grass by June.

Garden Before ShotThe before shot – not a pretty sight!

The digger'sThe digger’s! My youngest 4 year old son doing his best to help.

Garden after shotThe after shot – the husbands job is to remove the pile of hardcore before summer, when we’ll no doubt need to grass seed the patch where it stood!

My other time consuming April task has been seed propagation. My conservatory (potting shed) is heaving at the seams with germinating seeds and seedlings. Potting on always takes more time than expected, so this combined with last minute weeding and mulching on areas I didn’t get round to earlier in the year, has kept me very busy.

Seedlings in the conservatory



The secret to a lower maintenace garden …

The secret to a lower maintenance garden MULCH! It suppresses weeds, helps stop your soil drying out in summer, makes the garden look tidy, and conditions your soil. It really is a wonder!

Best to get the mulch down before spring when the soil warms up and the weeds take off. Here’s my latest delivery of wood chip from a friendly tree surgeon (Arborist), who supplies it for the cost of transport, it helps him get rid of it and is the answer to most of my gardening woes! Time to get out there with a wheel barrow! One tip, do put a nitrogen rich fertiliser such as chicken manure down first, wood chip does take nitrogen out of the soil whilst decomposing ( it does go back in when it’s rotted and broken down).

Wood chip for mulchingWood chip for mulching


Watering systems

Kent is a desert. I’ve heard several gardeners describe the ‘Garden of England’ that way. Maybe a little excessive, but we do suffer in summer from lack of rainfall. Last year whilst renovating our home I did grow a few essential veg, they were a dehydrated disaster. I had no time to water on a regular basis, and to be honest still don’t. Raised beds are going to dry out quicker than those at ground level, which also adds to this watering issue. I garden on heavy clay soil; during dry spells the soil becomes solid and as hard as a brick. Adding garden compost, leaf mould and mulching all helps but water is the key to successful vegetables and cut flowers.

Now, my lovely friends who live round the corner had beans, courgettes and cucumbers. coming out of their ears last summer. They had a watering system. Whilst they were on holiday I was given permission to be in charge of this horticultural miracle. I have decided that it’s the most sensible way forward to ensure bountiful produce from our kitchen garden this year.

  Watering system kitThe watering system kit

I have set up micro flow dripper heads in the greenhouse; this is basically a mini fountain with 6 trickles of water from each head. So far so good, they’re keeping the tomatoes, tomatillos, cucumbers and basil well watered. They’re growing at the rate of knots. So are the weeds! The hoe has to come out once a week to keep them down.

Micro flow dripper headMicro flow dripper Heads

Mini 360 degree spinklerMini 360 degree sprinkler


On the veg beds I’ve gone for mini 360 degree sprinklers. These work well soaking all the soil, which helps the sown seeds to emerge. They are also good for watering the ‘multi plant’ crops such as broad beans, dwarf beans, onions and salad crops. I will use the same drippers as the green house for the larger plants such as courgettes, squashes and climbing beans. With these drippers you have more control over where the water goes, in theory saving water by just targeting the base of the plants. I am also going to use these dripper heads in the cutting border, directing the water to the bases of the cut flower plants.

In the last few weeks we’ve had minimal rain and the watering system has worked a treat. As the year progresses I’ll report back on how it’s really worked and what tweaks will be required for next year.

Constructing the cutting garden raised bed

On a cold, windy and damp Easter Saturday morning (not even my hardy youngest child lasted long outside), I constructed the raised cutting border frame. It was a quick and trouble free process, I think I’ve got the hang of making raised beds now, about time, it is my sixth this year! Whilst hammering stakes into the ground and fixing the planks of wood, I felt quite festive as the bleats of the new lambs carried on the wind from a few fields away. Filling the bed would have to wait a day, my children and I had a Simnel cake to make.

Cutting garden border before shotThe Before shot

After our Easter lunch and Egg hunt, where I distressingly found mole hills, I settled into an afternoon of filling the new raised bed frame. 14 metres is a very long way. 14m x 1.2m is the size of my new cutting garden border. Sitting in my study surrounded by seed packets and planting plans, 14 metres was a fabulous idea. When it came to transporting soil and garden compost , 14 metres became a very long way. However, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon and all three of the kids turned up to help with their various garden accoutrements. I filled the bottom of the border with top soil left over from digging out the original veg patch, I then dusted this layer with fish blood and bone and quickly covered it with a layer of garden compost. Rolo my faithful hound loves fish blood and bone and if left alone will attempt to hoover it all up, resulting in a muddy mouth and in turn a muddy carpet indoors! In the coming days I will then sprinkle further fish, blood and bone (the more fertiliser my flowers get the better) over the compost and finish off with a layer of top soil.

The cutting garden border in progessThe border with the first layer of soil

cutting garden border, layers of top soil and compostTop soil dusted with fish, blood and bone and the middle layer of garden compost

I have a theory behind this garden compost sandwich, in time the layers will mix together giving further enriched consistency to the soil, without the need to dig. I was keen to not mix in the garden compost on the top layer as it is quite course, I’m lucky to have well conditioned top soil which is the perfect structure for direct sowing hardy annual seeds. I’ll post completed pictures in the coming week.

A Sunday Job

We have five Kentish cobnut trees which have been coppiced over the years, some much longer ago than others. My plan is to coppice one a year, after 5 years I should be ready to coppice again from the first one. I use hazel or chestnut stakes as bean poles, plant labels/markers, staking and supporting dahlias and the frame for netting in the cutting garden, supporting the stems. I far prefer the rustic look of coppiced hazel to bamboo canes, I banish them from my veg plot several years ago. So I was thrilled to have my own supply of hazel poles in the garden.

Coppicing needs to be carried out in February/March, before any new growth/leaves emerge. Each branch needs to be cut 5cm from the ground. I persuaded the husband that this would be a nice easy Sunday job to help me with. I choose the largest tree with the thickest branches.

Cobnut treeThe chosen Cobnut tree for coppicing

My initial enthusiasm for this job started to quash whilst sawing the branches. I counted 20 rings (20 years of growth) on one branch which was getting on for 10-15m high. All the branches seemed to be tangled at the top so once I’d sawn through, it was impossible to pull away from the tree, held firm by a web of branches up above. Many of the branches overhung the pond, I was in real danger of a soaking, not palatable for a Sunday morning in March! After 20 minutes I retreated to the house, looking for the husband who had agreed to help. As you can see he took over, mumbling under his breath that this was a job for a chain saw (our cheap chain saw has given up working and sits in a puddle of oil in the garage!). coppicing

Coppicing underway!

The husband successfully finished the not as easy as I first thought task, he managed to stay dry as well, bonus! Some of the stumps are a little taller than the suggested 5 cm, but it will just have to do. I look forward to seeing the first years growth emerge this year.

The coppiced cobnut

Coppicing complete

A productive mornings work resulted in poles and peas sticks for the kitchen garden, a good load of logs ready to be seasoned for next year and label stakes. I saw this clever labelling idea on Pinterest, it’s perfect as my small plastic labels would be redistributed around the garden by my darling children, I would never remember what I’ve sown and where. The new labelled stakes look great and fit in with the rest of the kitchen garden.

hazel stakesThe produce!

Stake labels The stake labels

For those of you who have been thinking about the lovely cobnut harvest we must get, sadly last year we failed and I fear that will always be the case, the squirrels get there first. I do love the idea of nuts from the garden on the table at Christmas.

Enlarging my dahlia bed

Landscaping the kitchen garden continues, veg beds 1-5 are built and the greenhouse ready. I still need to build veg beds 6-8 and the cutting garden borders. The wood is ready for the veg beds but I’m stalled. Currently the area is taken up as a nursery bed, containing the herbaceous plant collection I insisted on bringing from my old garden. It will be a month before their final home has finished being de-weeded, dug over and composted. I’m unable to get on with the cutting garden as I don’t have the wood; my Father is very kindly supplying this as my birthday present, although he did raise his eyebrows when he asked what I wanted. So in the meantime I am trying to complete all the smaller jobs, such as making gravel paths between the veg beds, clearing an area at the back of the garage for a log store, tidying up and enlarging the dahlia bed.

Dahlia bed before

As you can see in the picture, the dahlias are under the mounds of wood chip, I’ll be moving those in the next couple of weeks. The Dahlia bed extension started by removing the turf, I then dug over the compacted soil and added many wheel barrows of compost. The compost comes from the previous owner’s compost heap.

compost heap

Whilst digging out the compost I found many items of rusted iron, I presume these were put there on purpose to add iron to the compost.


During this time my hairy gardening assistants attention was in a hedge, he was stood absolutely still with his tail wagging for over 15 minutes. No doubt he was intimidating some poor bird, so I put a stop to that game.

Spinone in Hedge

Border dug, I put in some wooden batons to edge the path, and eventually it will be gravel. I just need to finish weeding the rest of the dahlia bed, but that can wait for another day.

dahlia bed after

These tiny, delicate, pale daffodils have popped up under the plum tree; they brighten up a cloudy overcast day.


The plan and raised beds

Kitchen garden plan Jan'15

The plan (sketch) from Jan ’15. This is the theory, it will be interesting to see how much I alter from it a year down the line!

Kitchen garden 'before'


Veg beds 1-5

Veg beds 1-5. Stage one complete!

I started mulling over plans for my kitchen garden between Christmas and New Year (a luxurious period where no jobs need to be done, just relaxing with the family, slowing down and having time to think!). I was keen to have raised beds for the vegtables and annual cut flowers. Past experience of weeds jumping from grass paths to veg beds, then replacing grass paths with wood chip, leaving me trying to keep the edges tidy, firmly steered my plans in the direction of raised beds. Keeping them them at a 1.4m width means they can be reached accross easily from each side, never needing to tread on and compact the soil. Raised beds are an easy contained area to give a quick hoe once a week preventing weeds, they look tidy and easily designate different growing zones, aiding crop rotation. The theory sounds fabulous, lets see how they work in practice over the next year. Stage one of the plan (building and filling veg beds 1-5) has been accomplished and I have already planted garlic and broadbeans in the first bed.

Stage two is digging out the existing soil in the greenhouse (just in case it carries blight) and replacing it with fresh enriched top soil from elsewhere in the garden. I plan to plant tomatoes and cucumbers in there this spring. More on this project soon.