Archive | Tips Hints and Ideas

Help for the new and not so new gardener

Growing Blinking Big Beetroot

There are many different kinds of Beet and that is the root of the problem. Beetroot Bulls Blood shown above is  ornamental, edible and is a heritage variety worth seeking out. Seakale beet, Chards and Spinach beet are grown for their edible leaves and the young green leaves of all Beetroot can be eaten in a salad. However we want big roots to make our eyes blink.

Growing Big Beetroots

  • Soil should be deeply cultivated in Autumn with plenty of humus and or peat incorporated. Do not use farmyard manure to avoid canker and aim to keep the ph level below 6 as beetroot do not like lime.
  • In spring ridge up the soil to about a foot high with 2 feet between rows. Prize plants will eventually need 3 feet spacing.
  • Sow the seed in groups of 3 at the top of the ridge in late spring keep the ground moist until germination. Expect 4 months growing time for the big beetroots.
  • When seedlings reach 2 inches thin out to two plants per station. From each seed several plants may have grown as each seed is really a clusters of seed.
  • Key Tip. One evening when the beetroot are 6″ high carefully scratch away the soil on the ridges away from the roots leaving only the tips of the root in the soil and the plant laying on the ground looking half-dead. Water the plant and soil and next morning they will have recovered and be working extra hard by swelling to survive.
  • As they swell thin out for a final time to 3 feet apart. Feed with a balance liquid feed from mid-summer and use a heavily dilute foliar feed from summer in addition.
  • Giant Beetroot are weighed without soil or foliage but may be you are just going to turn them into soup and chutney.

In August 2008 the Times online reported ‘Ian Neale … once grew the world’s biggest beetroot at 51lb 9oz (there is no metric system in the world of giant veg) – gets his monsters off to a good start by feeding them rock dust, essence of pig slurry and a material called “dinosaur fertiliser”, from a “big pile on the top of a moor in Yorkshire”.  Will August 2009 top that weighty tale and will 2010 be your year to top 50lbs?


Know Your Onions

The necks of my Onions have just ‘gone over’ a bit earlier than usual but that could be down to the heavy rain we have had during July. Harvesting is a simple affair as I have pulled the Onions away from the soil to break the roots and left them in the sunshine to dry off. Shortly I will tie them to a string (like the old french onion sellers on the bicycles with hooped Breton shirts and berets) and string them from the garage roof to store (the onions not the French).

In ground that had early peas I am going to sow some August Onions such as Ailsa Criag the mild flavoured favourite or Reliance (I may transplant these seedlings or just thin them this year). Since I did well with over wintering Japanese Onion varieties I will also try find some sets of Express Yellow or Kaizuka or sow them where they will crop. Lastly in September I will plant a row of spring onions.

Shallots can wait until early spring around March time as can the smaller ‘Paris Silver Skin’ pickling onions. In spring I will again plant some main crop sets of both red and white onions as they have all earned there place in the veg garden by cropping well this year.


  • Onions like firm well prepared soil in the sun. Give the ground chance to settle.
  • For Autumn sowings rake in 3 oz per square yard of general fertilizer before sowing.
  • For spring planting rake in 4oz bonemeal & 2 oz of Sulphate of Potash per square yard in February.
  • Pickling onions do best in light unmanured soil.

Pruning Flowering Shrubs the Easy Way


Spring Flowering Shrubs that have finished flowering can be pruned in early summer. My Spirea were trimmed of flower heads and pruned of about one third of the old wood down to the ground this weekend. Hopefully also taking out weak growth and crossing branches will provide space for strong new stems to flower next year.

Forsythia was pruned after flowering back in April and other shrubs to now receive this treatment include Philadelphus, Ribes, Deutzia and Weigela. Weigela gets a lighter prune to encourage an Autumn flush of blossom. Rhododendrons (above) do not need pruning but I give them the once over to remove any problems.

Late summer flowering shrubs should be pruned next spring to encourage new flowering wood. Buddleja can be heavily pruned but avoid cutting into really old wood. Dogwoods should be stooled or cut bach to  about 10 inches high.  Choisya I just give a trim after flowering to retain shape and control the size but if they are putting on to much growth I will sacrifce flowers and prune early. Winter flowering Viburnum and Witch Hazel do not need much pruning so I tend to leave well alone.

Pruning Aims to achieve regular production of flowers and to keep a shrub healthy. A balance between old and new wood helps flowering. Creating space for light air and growth helps a plant remain healthy. Cutting back to a leaf or stem joint shapes and trains a shrub to do what the gardener wants.

After pruning care includes a dressing of blood fish and bone and a good mulch of compost. This will help the shrub replace all the wood it has grown and lost to my secateurs.


BBC Gardening Plant Finder


Hover Mowers & Safety


Hover mowers are quick and easy to use but they do not leave stripes in your grass. The motor mowers for long grass are an excellent way of clearing space like a hovering scythe. The electric Hover mowers are fine for small lawns and are far lighter than most other lawnmowers but they are unlikely to collect up the cut grass.

Before Using Your Mower

  • Read the instruction book, it may seem obvious but best to be prepared.
  • Fill the petrol tank before you start as pouring petrol into a hot engine can be as dangerous as smoking.
  • Examine the area to be cut for stones, bits of metal, toys or pets.
  • Set the cutting height, not too short!
  • When starting the machine keep it still, perhaps by putting your foot on the hood.

While Mowing


Tips for Annuals


Whatever annuals you choose to grow there are several ways to get the best from them in your garden.

Control Annual Seeding

  • Annual plants raison d’êtra (reason for being) is to procreate and help the species survive. Use this to your advantage by stopping your annuals setting seed. If annuals set seed it is a sign the job is done and flowering will stop.
  • Pick flowers for indoors, Sweet Peas can be picked every day to encourage new flowers and prevent early demise of the plant. Alternatively trim, deadhead or shear off old flowers as they go over but prior to setting seed to get a new flush of flowers.
  • If you wish to collect seed for next year wait until late August when plants will begin to stop producing new flowers anyway as the days get shorter.
  • Water and space are probably more important than feed. Some plants like poor soil to encourage flowering, Nasturtiums for example will produce a lot of leaf if the soil is too rich and fewer flowers.
  • Cut off flower heads of annuals you do not want to crop up everywhere. Teasels, Honesty, Welsh Poppies and  Bellis Daisies seem to get everywhere in my garden.
  • Pull out old plants and compost them when you have finished with them. Replace with some biennials for a quick show next spring or plant up some late flowering Asters or Chrysanthemums.

Remember some plants may be half-hardy perennials, like the Antirrhinum  but are best treated as Annuals and should be grown for one flowering year only. Annuals make good cut flowers and have a fast range of colours from which to choose.

Other Resources

Royal Horticultural Society RHS ‘Gardening for All’
National Council for Conservation of Plants and Gardens ‘Conservation through Cultivation.’
Garden Organic National Charity for Organic Gardening.
BBC Gardening
Buy Daisies and other annuals as seeds and plants at Thompson & Morgan


Companion Planting


‘Good Companions’ by J B Priestley is not a gardening book but it might well have been as it is a tightly observed text on relationships and how one supports the other. Three main reasons for companion planting are mutual feeding, aesthetic considerations and technical or horticultural reasons. Many people will grow Marigolds or Tagetes in close proximity to Tomato plants to distract white fly.

Good Companions

  • Good companions also act as living mulches suppressing weeds and  keeping the roots nice and cool.
  • Form and texture combinations can work well such as spiky Phormiums with the glaucus leaves of Sedum.
  • I like to vary the height with companion planting using annuals like Alyssum or ground cover under taller shrubs and trees.
  • Colour combinations are a whole subject too themselves. Complementary colours or contrasting colours it is your choice but a bit of thought and some serendipity will help.

Companions for Roses.

  • Garlic bulbs are said to ward off aphids and other members of the onion family such as chives, ornamental alliums are rumored to increase the perfume of roses and prevent black spot.
  • The purple and blue-gray  Nepeta Catmint or the lime green Alchemilla works well with any pale pink roses and the wispy spires gracefully camouflage any blemishes that may occur on the rose’s foliage.
  • Herbs and other aromatic plants make wonderful rose companions.  Lavender, scented Geraniums, Feverfew, Parsley and Thyme may suit.
  • Tomatoes allegedly prevent black spot but not many people will be inclined to combine roses and tomatoes.

Bad Companions

  • Not all combinations work;  Beans and Onions do not coexist very well.
  • Strawberries and Tomato will not do as well with brassicassuch as  Cabbage.
  • Cucumbers are tempremental when planted near Potatoes or strong herbs.
  • Watch out in your garden and see what ornamental plants make Bad Companions and let us know what you discover.

Other Resources

Royal Horticultural Society RHS ‘Gardening for All’
National Council for Conservation of Plants and Gardens ‘Conservation through Cultivation.’
Garden Organic National Charity for Organic Gardening.
BBC Gardening


Tips for Growing Seeds


June is a good month for sowing seeds to get the plants you want for next year. I have sown some biennials today and will sow other seeds after the ‘hot’ summer.

Growing from Seed General Tips

  • Do not sow in winter or in waterlogged ground or the seed will rot. ‘Sow dry and plant wet’.
  • Annuals will flower 12 weeks after sowing but perennials may take up to 12 months or more.
  • Do not cover seeds with 6 inches of soil they will never see the light of day. Generally a light covering will suffice.
  • Seed in foil packets may stay fresh for 2 years as advertised on the packet but you want good germination rates so use good fresh seed.
  • Read and follow the instructions on the packet but don’t be afraid to try collected seed.

Biennial Seeds Sown Today

  • Sweet William Early Summer Scented are a mixture of Dianthus barbatus to flower from next April. I filled a seed tray with moist seed compost (peat and peat substitute tends to dry out then be hard to re-wet) then took a pinch of seed and sprinkled them evenly.
  • Wallflower Blood Red is another fragrant spring flower sown in shallow rows outside. (Rows help show where the wallflowers grow compared to weeds which will come up at random).
  • Campanula Pyramidalis’s very fine seed has been sown in modules and also direct into cultivated soil raked to a fine tilth. (Tilth is very fine top soil with lumps broken down in which to sow your seeds). I haven’t tried these before so they got a bit more TLC.
  • I could have sown other biennials including Foxgloves and Honesty or winter flowering Pansy but there is still time for me to buy them.

Seeds to Sow this Year for Next Year

  • Perennials like Aquilegia McKana Giant mixed will be sown on the surface of compost as they need light to germinate in September or October.
  • Marigolds (Calendula not French) and Cornflower sown in September will survive the winter and should get off to a quick start next year.
  • Sweet Peas can be sown in October to over winter. They need a deep root run and can be sown in long tubes.

Seeds from T&M


Tzigane Best HT Rose


I have always assumed this Rose that I bought as Tzigane (Tsigane) was in fact that variety. When I recently compared it to pictures by other gardeners I found 4 totally different offerings under that name. I am happy with my rose, that it is a regular flowering rose of fair scent and pleasant disposition (no bugs or diseases  of note) and it is 10+ years old. Perhaps the inner petal shade should be pinker but the bicolour effect is still noticeable.

Tips on Plant Varieties

  • Even under the same name plants will vary. Parentage, growing situation, general cultivation and environmental factors will all influence a plant which may also vary of it’s own accord from one year to the next.
  • Plants can get mis-named by nurseries by accident, carelessness or even commercial imperative. If it is important buy from a specialist nursery and select your plant when it is in flower too check it is to your specification.
  • Do not be afraid to take a wayward specimen back to the retailer.
  • Even if the plant is not exactly what you want, by the time you find out it will have made a new home in your garden and it may be worth a compromise (a bit one sided as the plant can’t do much compromising)

Save Water Garden with a Friend

Older gardeners may remember the water company slogan ‘Save Water bath with a friend’ used during the great water shortages of 1976. Are we in for another summer like 1976? Some thinks so others are still suffering floods and unseasonal cold still as Baden Powell said be prepared. I am suggesting help from friendly gadgets to save water in your garden this summer.

Watering Systems for Pots.

  • For a cheap system of ‘container watering’ use a big container (they hold more soil and water and have less pot surface area to soil) and mulch the top with 2″ of gravel, slate or bark. Plastic containers evaporate less from the sides but the soil gets hotter than with terracotta pots.
  • When you water make sure you give them a long drink. I stand all pots on a saucer and fill it up as well as watering from the top.
  • Self watering pots can be bought with a reservoir that avoid 2out of 3 watering requirements when compared to a normal pot.
  • The Rolls Royce system would be a full irrigation system from a header tank with computer control as used in commercial nurseries. An easy to use irrigation system based on a modular approach can start from less than £20 and be used in the greenhouse, garden or for pots and hanging baskets.

Buy an Thompson MorganIrrigation system from Thompson & Morgan from this link.


Solanum Potato Flower Climber


The plant family Solanaceae is large and diverse from the nightshades, through tomatoes, potatoes and peppers to daturas and Solanum there is a detailed explanation of these species on

Gardeners Solanum Tips

  • The Chilean potato vine Solanum Crispum is just the  vigorous climber to give your sunny wall an exotic look.
  • It has wiry stems which need tying up to wires or trellis for support. Prune and tie in to retain the required shape.
  • The small semi-evergreen leaves  remain on the plant in all but bad winters and easily reach 6 feet tall.
  • The potato-like flowers with lilac petals around a pointed yellow centre, appear continuously from mid-summer to mid-autumn. The variety ‘Glasnevin’ is the one to choose, as it flowers more prolifically and is also slightly hardier.
  • They are pest and disease free once established.
  • Plants like a moist but well-drained soil that is neutral to slightly alakaline in pH.
  • To propagate take cuttings from summer to early autumn. If buying from a garden centre buy when in bloom as some varieties have disappointing blossom
  • Continue Reading →

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes