My Soil Projects

I have had the same garden for 35 years and most of the soil has remained ungardened and untouched. I say that because the sub soil is best left undisturbed and I am not a fan of double digging (ie 2 spits deep). Underneath the lawns the soil is left untended and almost half the garden was and still is down to grass. We  are probably all guilty of doing little to improve that soil under lawns unless we are laying turves or new seed.

Manure Fables

I don’t think it is a false memory when I think of my father going out with a bucket and shovel after the rag & bone man’s horse to collect a deposit. Dads rhubarb and soft fruit were the post war beneficiaries.

For many years I went to a local stables for bag it yourself horse manure. My son helped me until he grew up but I never did grow up that is. He encouraged me to get the hot stuff from the new part of the not inconsiderable pile left by 30 riding school horses. This was intended to activate my own garden compost heap and help improve my own composted output. Mainly it just activated the nostrils. I on the other hand aimed at the bottom of the pile for the oldest and theoretically the best rotted stuff that helpfully could be cut in slices like peat in shape but not texture. This I wanted to use on roses, runner beans and for general garden use. I collected many bricks and stones, a bad back and a wonky car suspension system. The garden collected the unrotted weed seeds to germinate where and when they wanted. To be fair the old stuff was OK weed wise but fairly solid in structure.

Without my willing labourer, now off at university, I ordered and took delivery of a lorry load of ‘well rotted manure – honest Guv’ stable manure. It arrived on a farm trailer that couldn’t tip over a convenient low wall so it had to be slid onto my drive.  Clearing and barrowing it a fair distance was almost as hard as if I had collected it myself in many large, old, plastic peat sacks. The straw bedding was still much in evidence and rotting was negligible. One garden bed recieved the manure as was and this contained too many black slugs and I will revert to collecting my own ‘orse muck in smaller quantities now I have 3 large compost bins on the go.

Getting The Hump

In another project to create a new bed on top of an old drive became known as ‘the Hump’.  I couldn’t dig out the tarmac drive & hardcore so I ordered lorry loads of soil. It created a pile that was 4 feet high and covered 6 yards by 4 with steepish slopes. It was fertile judging by the number of potatoes that grew in the first year. Perhaps it had been scavenged from a spud farm and in addition to old seed spuds the soil was heavy clay probably subsoil (may be it hadn’t been good enough to grow commercial potatoes). There were virtually no stones (that may have helped drainage) but the soil is very absorbent. Even after 10 years and lots of the aforementioned manure there is no tilth of any note. Nevertheless one third of this ‘hump’ has been a success due to copious amounts of peat to create soil fit for Rhododendrons.

The ground has settled and the pile is a bit lower and more evenly spread. Many early plants have now grown over the original path. The tarmac base has never been uncovered but the dwarf conifers have been maintained at bonsai size without my input.

I now know that ‘top soil’ to be really top notch it needs to be bought carefully and not in bulk. Nor should it be from a construction site with bits of rubble, weeds, roots and contaminants. Manufactured or blended soil is often used by landscapers for quality and consistency.

Look after the soil you have

  1. Worry more about the structure of the soil than adding chemistry. If the soil is able to hold moisture and air it should be good for worms and for growing.
  2. If a fine tilth is the top layer of soil and the base is subsoil the best rooting zone will be in between
  3. Fork over compacted borders; turn over the surface soil and mix in humus such as, green waste, old compost from pots, bags of peat, mushroom compost, green waste. When forking over taking care of spring bulbs.
  4. Top up around plants by spreading a thick layer of compost.
  5. This final layer of humus will help worms to drag compost down into the soil to improve aeration, fertility and soil structure, bacteria and fungi will benefit. Worms work judging by the many worms I have in the best parts of the garden.
  6. Try not to walk on the soil in a way that compacts and squeezes the air out
  7. Don’t let top soil dry out and be blown away in high winds nor washed away by excess water.

Gardeners Tips Earlier information

Leaching and water Logging

Soil Types

Soil Health Tips

Garden Chemicals

Soil Health Chemicals

  • The health of plants and the health of soil go hand in hand. It is very hard to have one without the other.
  • Chemical assitance for soil health comes in improving the constituents of the soil by fertilisers or correcting deficiencies (as above) and by improving the structure of the soil (below).
  • Clay breaker is designed to stop the very fine particles of soil sticking together in wet weather and baking rock hard in the sun. The addition of grit and humus will do a similar job.
  • Humus in the form of spent mushroom compost, peat or manure are basic garden chemical additions to improve soil condition.
  • Potting base is not added to your soil but to peat to make your own seed or potting compost. It usually contains a wetting agent, chalk and trace elements and the resulting mixture is fine for growing your own seedlings or cuttings.
  • Soil improvers like Forti8 or seaweed extract claim to add minerals and trace elements to your soil. They do not do anything for the soil consistency or structure.

Here’s to Good Health



African Violet Experience

Afre years of dipping in and out I bought 2 Saintapaulia better known as African Violets (AV) in December 2016 and managed to kill one within months. This  12 month survivor has been in flower continuously ever since.
The plant is happy in a 4″ globular ceramic pot which has a sump to water from underneath. Through my unconscious neglect the plant has to wait until the leaves start to flop before I remember to water. They quickly plump up after a drink but after the first death I have made sure the Violet does not stand in water ‘damping off’ the roots.

After a year I have discovered some old special African Violet (AV) fertiliser and as a birthday treat the survivor has been given a weak solution in the last watering. The quick draining compost contained enough goodness to last until now. I don’t think they are heavy feeders. Too much feed would make the leaves soft and prone to rot.

As you can see the AV is kept on a windowsill facing east and except on one exceptionally hot sunny day there has been no scorching or burning.

Dead and dying flowers should be pinched off to make room for new growth. There is one ready to go on this plant and an untidy old stem in the background. I prefer the finger and thumb pinching method rather than ‘pulling’ the offending item to keep the plant roots firmly in the compost.

This AV has soft hairy leaves and you can see the hairs on the edge of the petals below.

What The Experts Say

African Violets were discovered in German East Africa by Walter von St Paul- Illaire  after whom the six  species (and numerous sub-species) were named. They were first brought to Europe  in the 1880’s and subsequently the USA where as a subtropical species they were cultivated for indoor or greenhouse use.

Adequate light and a  temperature of 60-75 degrees are the keys to successful flowering and a long season. 50% relative humidity is an ideal but I wouldn’t stress myself if this is not always achieved.

Plants will grow well in small pots or pans  2½” -4″. Only older larger plants need a pot of up to 6″

The best plants look symmetrical with a single crown. Side shoots can be pinched out and used as cuttings. Windowsill grown plants need regular turning and dust can be washed off as long as the center crown is dried.

Seed sowingg and vegetative propagation are one of the joys of AV growing. Leaf cuttings with at least 1″ of stem should be broken off the main stem without leaving a stub. Select a stem that is not one of the oldest, flopping over the edge of the pot, nor the youngest central crown stem. Cut the end obliquely and allow to dry out for 24 hours.(I do not bother with rooting hormone). Cuttings can be rooted in water alone but I prefer potting in a mixture including peat, sand and vermiculite. Keep in warm, light,  humid conditions for up to 3 months. Side shoots, offsets and even flowered stems can be rooted as cuttings. It is possible to divide a plant with several crowns by knocking off the soil and gently pulling apart to leave a bit of root on each bit when repotting.

Special tip. AV are not prone to infestations of insects though poor husbandry may give lie to that statement. One exception is the Cyclamen mite that can move from an infected Cyclamen plant so keep the away from your AV’s.

Gardenerstips including advice on watering

Books from my Collection

African Violets Clements Tony
African Violets and related plants Wall Bill
African violets growing in the home Milsted Muriel
African Violets How to grow Rector Carolyn

Books from Amazon

Book Cover
The African Violet Handbook (Paperback) by Tony Clements

Book Cover
The African Violet The Complete Guide

Book Cover
The African Violet Handbook

I have just bought some African Violet seeds from a company called ‘SunshinebyDung’,  appropriate or what? Eventually I ordered 12 packets from China so I will wait and see what happens as they pass through import control or not as the case may be.


A Late sowing of Kale


Here in Oxford, we tried sowing some Kale in the middle of August.

We sowed some directly into pots and as an after thought sowed some directly into the ground.

Going on holiday for two weeks after sowing seeds is always asking for trouble, and by the time we got back they had shriveled up and were only good for the compost heap. However, the seeds sown direct into the ground did quite well. A few got eaten by slugs but a couple grew fast enough to escape their clutches.

The location in the garden wasn’t the best, with shade from Conifer and other trees limited the amount of direct sun, as Autumn progressed, they were lucky to get one hour of sun per day. Yet, despite little direct sunlight, they kept growing and soon started to encroach on each other. We started picking some leaves from the bottom of the plants and got a few meals out of them.

As the nights shortened, growth slowed down almost to a stop and the Kale pests seemed to be taking out more than they were able to grow. I think later damage came from pigeons or the like, it doesn’t look like the work of slugs – too big and neat.

Anyway, they look OK, in the mostly empty border and were a good ground-cover as we await a new fence. The last few straggly plants will be harvested and will make the odd meal or two.

But, for late sowing, they didn’t get enough sunlight to really get going – even the richest soil can’t compensate for lack of light. But, next year, we’ll pick a better spot and hope that they really take off. We may also try a later sowing because Kale is a good plant for providing fresh veg through the winter months. However, we may have to take pest control a bit more seriously which will mean netting to stop both butterflies and pigeons – so maybe not in the flower border.

Here’s a useful post on growing organic Kale.

Related posts at Gardenerstips


My Mistakes with Chrysanthemums

If a plant is worth growing it is worth growing well and this applies no more so than to Chrysanthemums. I have said recently that Chrysanthemums will repay the gardeners attention with a productive crop of flowers for the home, show bench or garden.

My Practical Mistakes

  • Plant and forget will not work very well with most Chrysanthemums, they need some TLC. For several years I under performed by plonking new plants into situe and then leaving them alone to fend for themselves.
  • Chrysanthemums growing in pots quickly become top heavy and are prone to being blow over. I lost may good stems by letting this happen. It taught me that the stems are brittle or at least prone to break where a new stem meets the main shoot.
  • Failing to understand the variety left me treating low growing ‘mums’ like large decorative varieties. A case of one size not fitting all.
  • Once you get a good bloom do not get it wet & soggy or it will rot from the head like the photograph above.
  • Neither overcrowd nor grant too much space if you want a good display.
  • I am renown for poor staking of plants including Chrysanthemums. It is worth the time and effort.
  • Strongly growing plants are capable of surviving many pests so I do not spray. This year I have had enough vases full of flowers that some critters have been brought into the house. They left droppings, pollen beetle or other dross that a timely spray would have prevented.
  • I planted several good plants in virtually neat horse manure. As it started to rot it fed the slugs and microbes not the Chrysanthemums.
  • Even if I remember to stop  Chrysanthemums in time I usually forget to pinch out excess buds to encourage fewer but better blooms.



Single Chrysanthemum Action

With my new found enthusiasm for Chrysanthemums I thought I would have a day reviewing my gardening performance, sorting out my Chrysanthemums in the greenhouse and planning actions to improve my show of next year.

Some of the best flowers in November have been a range of single Chrysanthemums in a variety of colours. The lemon shown above has had numerous stems (30+) on a single plant with limited branching or spray clustering. The stems are 30 inches high and have been self supporting. I have grown them outdoors in 12″ pots and they have filled the space without problem. The one greenhouse plant in a pot dried out too quickly and the bottom leaves browned off during November when the flowers have been at their best.

A bit more like the traditional daisy like flowers the light mauve or lilac flowers were robust plants that received little care. I now note that I should still have’ stopped’ the plants twice during april and june. Another lesson for next year!

Single Flowered Range

  • A reminder that the term ‘single’ is not related to the number of flowers on a stem but to the arrangement of a single row of petals (or ray florets) around the central disc. A semi double may have 5 or more rays of petals but the disc will still be visible. AKA Daisy-eye.
  • I will definitely grow them again.
  • I bought the plants from J Parker but need to look up the name of the varieties. (Why don’t I keep a record at the time or better still label and remember what I planted).
  • I hope to get some cuttings from stock plants in spring.
  • The plants lasted in the house and looked good in a mixed arrangement as the leaves were open and delicate in appearance.
  • Colours included lemon, yellow, red, deep purple and mauve so a good and varied combination.

Notes to Myself on Single Chrysanthemums

  • I over potted the plants. The roots did not spread beyond 8″. Try smaller pots.
  • I didn’t provide tlc. More watering, feeding and timely stopping next time.
  • Try planting out in the garden with other perennial plants for a late show.
  • Label any cuttings.
  • Look for a suitable single white flower.

Featuring Patio Peonies

Traditional peonies are not really suitable for growing in pots and containers.

However recently developed ‘Patio peonies’ are designed to be  suitable for the pot. They have a compact growth habit and are quite easy to flower in pot or the smaller garden!

Features of Patio Peonies

  • New patio varieties are compact and do not need staking.
  • They have upright stems capable of supporting the flowers.
  • Use for patio display or grow as cut flowers
  • Most varieties have a good strong scent to enliven your patio in early summer.
  • Flowering in various pastel shades and more traditional reds, patio peonies have the traditional papery thin, double petals.
  • Current varieties are generally named after cities like London, Moscow (red as you would expect), Rome, Athens and Madrid.
  • Plant your new Peony in a sunny location but as with other peonies not too deep.
  • Peonies don’t like to sit in water.

Miss Named Plants


How can you get the plant name so wrong?

The errors start with me miss spelling the plant name when I took the photograph at least according to Google who want to see an ‘a’ after the ‘r’ to spell Centradenia. Now I think about it, did I copy the plant label correctly or had the wrong label been attached to the plant stood on it’s own on the capillary mat at the nursery?

More likely the problem is compounded as the plant looks very similar to a Petunia and as they say ‘if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it is a Petunia’.

Would the nursery have used such a truncated name even with an ‘a’? If Google were right then the full name should possibly be Tibouchina heteromalla “Purple Glory Bush” or similar species of the Myrtle family . Widely attractive to humming birds, of which we get virtually none in the UK.


Centradenia cascade
Centradenia grandifolia – princess flower, sea of flowers
Centradenia inaequilateralis
Centradenia floribunda
Centradenia rosea

 A relative of the more commonly grown “Princess Flower”


Coming Late to Chrysanthemums

Gardening for over 50 years I have flirted with Chrysanthemums several times but never taken them seriously. Now I resolve to correct that by putting in the effort as I realise the significant rewards to be gained by a gardener who is maturing like good compost.

My change of opinion has come about due to a birthday present of Chrysanthemums cuttings that have excelled in both pots and greenhouse culture during 2017. We have enjoyed numerous bunches of flowers around the house for 4 or 5 months.

Reasons to Grow Chrysanthemums

  • There is a large range of types and sizes of Chrysanthemums from small ‘pot mums’ to large exhibition varieties. All have their own characteristics with which to experiment and you can specialise or grow a wide range.
  • I like strong coloured flowers and even the white Chrysanthemums can be very strong. Golds and reds are amongst my favourites but some types of flower look better in yellow or lilac.
  • Chrysanthemums in the house are seldom surpassed for vibrancy and longevity.
  • Spectacular blooms can be grown by careful husbandry worthy of exhibition and showing. The more effort you make the better the rewards. Despite this reasonable results are not hard to achieve if you are just a hobby grower.
  • Flowers are long lasting and can continue the display through until Christmas.
  • Propagated from cuttings or newly bought plants. I find seed a bit hard but may be I should persevere.
  • No flower responds better to good culture from the gardener than the Chrysanthemum. They are a rewarding plant to grow.
  • To sum up my reasons for converting to Chrysanthemum growing ‘Great cut flowers, good for garden, pot or greenhouse culture and great value’.

Quotes about Chrysanthemum

  • Justly claimed as ‘the Queen of Autumn flowers’.
  • Chrys means golden hence the flower was named Chrysanthemum by the botanist Carolus Linnaeus.
  • Popular in China and Japan  where they feature in the “Festival of Happiness” and as symbols of power.

There is a wealth of information about Chrysanthemums on the internet, in books and from local societies but the best way to learn is to grow them for yourself. I will be getting stuck in with renewed vigour.


Tree Peonies for the Far East

tree peony

History of Tree Peonies

The ancient Chinese have cultivated Tree Peonies for over 1500 years. Prized specimens are and were grown for medicinal purposes as they contain glucocides and alkolides. The  imperial palace gardens had many specimens that became quite valuable.

The tree peony was, for a time, the national flower of China and it is thought Chairman Mao sought to ban their growth as a decadent pastime. The root of P suffruicosa has been used in medicine for centuries.

Plants were transported to Japan in the 14th century. The Japanese  bred tree peonies creating over 1200 hybrids some of which are still grown today.

The cult status of Japanese Tree peonies encouraged 18th century plant hunters to import tree peonies in to Europe, particularly France and England. These plant hunters like Veitch, Joseph Rock and Kelway started their own breeding programmes from some of the five wild species and other hybrids.

The Americans crossed P.lutea and P. delavayi with japanese hybrids to produce some of the vibrant colours now available.


Tree peonies have long features in oriental watercolour paintings. by Zou Yigui (1686–1772). Some of the varieties, like ‘Yao’s Yellow’ and ‘Wei’s Purple’ are  depicted in a series of paintings  mentioned in the Record of the Tree Peonies of Luoyang  Ouyang xiu (1007-1072 CE).




The North of England Horticultural Society.


The North of England Horticultural Society (NEHS) is over 106 year old and has been the premier gardening and horticultural charity supporting the north of England through out that time. It is independent of the RHS! The NEHS is not to be confused with Northern Horticultural society 1963-1988 or The Northern Horticultural society 1988 – 2009 which were subsumed along with Harlow Carr gardens by the RHS. Their magazine ‘Northern Gardener’ was replace by RHS publication The Garden.

Every spring and autumn the NEHS organise the Harrogate Flower Shows, widely regarded as the biggest and most prestigious independent shows in the gardening year. In autumn there are ‘shows within a show’ featuring displays by  20 different specialist groups. The autumn veg are fantastic, spring flowers are fine and the shows feature many retail opportunities to help with the charities funding.


Odd Facts about The North of England Horticultural Society

  • The Prince of Wales is the Patron and Jonathan Moseley is the current President 
  • Profits from the Harrogate Flower Shows Ltd are handed back to the NEHS, to enable the charity to continue its important work in promoting horticulture.
  • The NEHS   grant programme is aimed at community societies, friends groups and organisations committed to improving their local landscape. They also support those seeking to build a career in gardening and encouraging schools and colleges to become involved with horticulture through hands-on activity and development.
  • Over the years the Yorkshire thrift has seen an accumulation of  over £1m in investments with £1.3m reserves at the end on 2016.
  • The 2018 show is open 26th to 29th April from 9.30am to 5.30pm Thursday, Friday & Saturday; 4.30pm Sunday.

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