Hollyhocks add decadent architecture to any garden

I’m the first to admit I’m not a fan of short-lived plants. I like to plop a plant in and leave it, allowing its perennial nature to keep it growing year after year. All this annual and biennial sowing nonsense; no, I can’t be doing with that. Aside from a few plants, however. And one of these is th…

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Design With Dahlias for Autumn Colour

‘Tis very much the season for dahlias. I’m a huge fan of these blooms, though I admit, I have a slight love/hate relationship. There are a vast array of varieties in the dahlia collection, from sinewy, single-petalled bloomers to small, clump forming plants with huge, gaudy flowers. It’s the latter …

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It's time for Tulips

If you hadn’t heard, it’s September already. That means it’s time to plant bulbs for a spring show in 2015. And, if you’re stocking up, then it’s definitely time to be thinking about tulips.

I often think that tulips are one of the more overlooked bulbs. We all fill our gardens with daffs, crocus…

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An African daisy to add simplistic chic

I always feel as if some plants are vastly overlooked for tropical looking species and varieties that are new on the scene. Osteosperumum (African Daisy), for example, seems to have a new colour shade coming out every years. However, I still have an extremely strong affection for Osteospermum jucund…

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Prepare your winter garden with Sedum Herbstfreude

Okay, hear me out; Yes, Sedum Herbstfreude is an extremely common plant that may seem rather dull to you. BUT, I feel this plant is often overlooked. It has a huge number of positives; it’s wildlife friendly, it’s easy to grow, it has fantastic cover during late summer/early autumn AND it provides s…

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Create vibrant winter pots with Skimmia

Okay, I know it’s still summer, but winter will be here before you know it. I’m honestly hoping for a cold snap this year – the wet, grey winter of 2013 was horrendous; I don’t think we had even one frost in London. That’s BAD for plants – they need dormancy. And it’s BAD for gardeners – we need a r…

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Smother a rockery with thrift

I think I must’ve first come across Thrift (Ameria) when I was a lad holidaying in Scotland. Our family didn’t head abroad, but jumped in the car and journeyed to the stunning landscapes of the Lake District, Scotland and Northumberland. I distinctly remember great swathes of thrift clinging to the …

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Delve into the world of Aquilegia

 

I grew up with aquilegia’s in the garden, and remember being around these plants from when I was tiny. As such, I don’t really think of them as all that exciting. Many species, particularly the wilder varieties, can be fairly bland and though the dainty flowers offer a welcome treat spring…

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Prepare for bees with Pulmonaria

 

Practically everyone’s heard about how troubled the world’s bee population is, and as gardeners, it’s our responsibility to help these guys out a little. Though I hate wasps, I love the sound a few friendly bumbles buzzing through the foliage in early spring, and if you’re looking for a pl…

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Create a carpet with Ajuga reptans

It’s fair to say that I love this little plant and I can never understand why it’s not used more. Interesting foliage? Check. Quick growing? Queck. Beautiful flowers? Check. Yet, when I look around gardens, especially show gardens, it’s obvious in its absence. Who knows why – maybe it just hasn’t ca…

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Growittcover

Weed-Free Gardening with Straw Bales

I have a confession to make; growing your own food isn’t as easy as everyone (including myself) has made out. I mean, it can be simple if you’ve got the time to dedicate to it. If you know that, three months on from now, life isn’t going to get in the way. If you can guarantee yourself a life change so there’s time to look after all those crops. But saying ‘just plant a small lettuce crop‘, or ‘fruit bushes offer an easy source of summer goodness‘ and ‘there’s nothing easier than throwing a few seeds into a pot on a balcony‘, isn’t actually too helpful. Crops, after all, need nurturing. They need watering, and thinning out, and harvesting. They need pests picked off, fruit needs collecting before the birds get it and, worst of all, there’s weeding! Contrary to what many might tell you, growing your own food is hard work.

So, when a book comes along saying that one major horror of growing your own – WEEDING – can be cut out of the plan all together, I’m not going to turn a blind eye.

91rcXPEzgrL._SL1500_For over a decade, Joel Karsten’s been gardening with straw bales. In a nutshell, you take a bale of hale, soak it with water for a week or so to start the rotting process and then you plant your vegetables into it. It sounds odd – I mean, there’s no soil. But, according to Karsten, the bale provides everything your plants require. There’s no weeding because the only plants in the straw are those that you’ve added. There’s watering, yes, but that’s almost always going to be required wherever you’re trying to grow. And then, at the end of the year, your straw bale has rotted down sufficiently to just compost and use elsewhere on the garden.

Seriously, this sounds like a radical change to gardening. 

I always fall at the weeding hurdle. The allotment year starts off well, with the colder months allowing me to get the plot in shape, overhaul the soil, add nutrients and assume some sort of preparation. Sowing and germination, generally, is the easy and fun bit too. Then May, June and July hit, life becomes too busy to make regular trips to the vegetable patch/allotment and within the space of two weekends the weeds seem to have taken over. So, if there’s any way to stop those weeds from even starting to grow, I’m all ears.

I’ve already decided to try the no-dig method in my new garden when it comes to the vege patch. I’ve got LOADS of cardboard moving boxes to act as a base, and top soil from the rest of the garden. Next year I’ll have a load of well rotted chicken manure too. I’m also lucky to have the farm in Suffolk where I can grab a few bales of straw from – I’m definitely giving this method a chance.

Have you tried straw bale gardening? Think it could work? Let me know. If you want to check out the book, it’s on Amazon US | Amazon UK. Use the ‘Look Inside‘ feature to check out the start of the method!

On My Oasis – First Forays in a New Garden

We’ve had the house a couple of weeks now, but bad weather and the desperate need to crack on with the interior has resulted in the garden becoming a) a dumping ground for carpet and waste and b) a literal dumping ground for Beetle. Inside, it’s become apparent that I’m AWFUL at painting and decorating – gutting a house? Yes, that I can do. Painting, wallpapering and getting a good finish? Uh-oh. After a few days of utter frustration I realised I needed to get outside and do something I knew I was good at; GARDENING. Just as well too, as my new shed arrives on Monday!

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My new and thin garden is being cut into ‘rooms’

The three main jobs I need done before we move in is the shed foundation, the aviary foundation and the greenhouse. With a long, thin garden the last thing I wanted was the traditional lawn-with-a-border-either side. Instead, I’m going to break the space up into zones/rooms/areas – whatever you want to call it. I know, I know; garden rooms are sooooooo over. BUT, when you’re dealing with a rolling pin shaped garden, you really need to dissect it into bits if you’re to change the sense of space.

For this reason, I’m moving the aviary halfway down the garden which has the benefit of helping to split the garden in half. It also means that I’ll actually be able to see the birds from the house, instead of needing a pair of binoculars!  The shed-come-birdhouse will be situated next to it, with an arching path leading from the Mediterranean garden by the house to the obscured lawn and cutting. The birdhouse will sit atop the slabs whilst the aviary will rest on the bricks (left).

I’ll admit, though I used a spirit level and sand to get everything as flat as possible, it’s not an exact science and there are few bumps along the way. BUT, it’s a self-service cheap option for my own use so I’m not too bothered if I need to patch a few gaps once everything’s in place. With the chickens removed to their own coop, the birds will be free to live happily once again!

One other thing I’ve realised in transporting all my plants to the new garden is just how big the new garden is or, to look at it in another perspective, how small my current patch is. I measured the aviary and spray painted the lines out twice because it looks far too small. It is the right size. I’ve also got HALF my plants down at the new house now (below). Whilst all those pots looked a lot at home, they look piddly now! This means a number of things; I’m going to have to control plant spending because, now I have room, I’m going to be out with the wallet AND I need my greenhouse asap so I can start to grow seedlings!

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My current plant collection looks pathetic!

With the shed arriving next Monday and the greenhouse (or the first components off – whatever fits in my car) next Wednesday, the garden layout is really starting to take shape….I’m excited for some warmer weather!!

 

Help A Hedgehog

Roadkill. That’s probably not a topic you want to think about but I do believe those sad corpses by the sides of the road can be a good indicator of wildlife populations. When I was a kid, as much as I loved seeing a live stickly hedgehog, I more often saw them squashed on the road. But still; they were there, and that suggested that populations numbers were high.

Can you remember the last time you saw one, alive or dead?

Me neither. Foxes and badgers seemed to have taken over in the past few years, but those cute hedgehogs? Nada. I had one scuttling around in the undergrowth of my east London garden when I first moved in, but alas, it’s not been seen for at least a decade.

Hedgehog-Mansion3The message I’m trying to get across is, as much as well all love a hedgehog, it seems that numbers are beginning to dwindle. They’re an iconic British animal – think of the furor caused when the debate for hedgehog culling across Scottish islands was raised! It is, therefore, becoming vital to help every hog possible. This is where Tiggywinkles comes in – and if you’re a Brit, I’m sure you’ve heard of them. Currently, they hedgehog charity so vital for nurturing sick animals back to health are working with Rajapack on a new campaign to raise £1,000 worth of funding. For each milestone, a cute new addition is made to their cardboard mansion (see left), with a pool, plane and tennis court planned. Of course, the mansion’s only a bit of fun, but the support needed isn’t – without money, the charity simply can’t exist.

To find out more about Hector the hedgehog, his mansion and the work that Tiggywinkles do, head over to the Rajapack campaign page. Every little helps and will go towards caring for sick and injured wildlife so they’re made well and reintroduced to their natural habitat.

Hedgehob_Tiggywinkles

On My Oasis – A New Garden

Finally, the sale has gone through and we have a new house and that means, more importantly, a NEW GARDEN. My head’s been living in this place for months – something you’re always told not to do until you have the keys – so the garden’s already pretty mapped out. Though, it may take a little while to get it in shape as the past two weeks beginning to gut the house has shown me things are never quite as quick to do as you’d like.

photo 1 (13)The Mediterranean Garden

Our honeymoon has certainly inspired, and in being ridiculously lucky to gain another south-facing garden, our immediate garden area is going to be transformed Mediterranean style. It’s partly to create a boundary line of no lawn so Beetle doesn’t instantly run outside and pee-burn the grass, and also to indulge our new love of exotic looking plants.

Of course, we’re not lucky enough to have that Grecian climate here, so a couple of plants are going to be potted and stowed in the sun-room; namely a bourgainvillea and some Lantana camara which I loved on Paxos and, subsequently, was bought some seeds by husbo. Outside I want to plant a couple of olives, have a herb garden (the cuttings of which I recently started) and use lavenders, verbena and grasses to create a sense of that holiday feel. There’s an old coal bunker too, and I’m not keen to break it down. Instead, I’m going to plant semperverum into it’s many cracks and see if I can create a succulent extravaganza. I’ve also got a poor, neglected Echium that I’ll finally plant out and, hopefully, see thrive.

photo 2 (11)The Aviary Walkway

So, some of you know that I breed Australian finches, though over the past few years I’ve made the huge mistake of keeping chickens on the aviary floor….as a result, the finches have had to be removed because those dino-like chooks don’t mind snacking on a bird or two! Well, the birds are getting their aviary back, along with a custom shed painted in Pale Jasmine. I haven’t thought properly about the planting yet, but I know it’ll need to transition from the Mediterranean Garden, plant low around the aviary itself and then rise to create a barrier so you get a sense of something further down the garden, but can’t actually see it. I’m sure this will be the place for many of my herbaceous plants.

photo 4 (5)The Cutting Garden

Technically that’s a bit of a lie because it’s not all going to be cutting flowers but, knowing me, a mix of herbaceous, annual and, well, whatever I fancy! Husbo, yet again, has been inspired by The Great British Garden Revival, and wants to create a teapot sculpture from box as a focus point and so, most obviously, this’ll be where the gays have to invite the neighbours around to for afternoon tea! The lawn is going to be egg-shaped a) because I like the idea and b) because the hen coop will just be visible.

Have you got ideas for ideal cutting garden plants? Let me know!

photo 3 (6)The Greenhouse and Vegetable Garden

Okay, so looking at the pictures you can see this area’s going to be an ongoing project, namely because the vege patch is currently covered in concrete. Bizarrely, that shed was erected and actually cuts off a good extra few metres of garden behind, so it’ll be coming down at some point to open up the space. The greenhouse is going to be lined parallel with the low wall so it sits just behind the cutting garden, and then the wall acts as a natural boundary. There’s also a low brick wall that I’m going to cordon a couple of fruit trees along.

Unfortunately (or fortunately – whichever way you see it), there’s a large and ancient yet. Initially I’d believed it to be a conifer and had axed it, but it seems awful to chop down a yew that’s stood there for so long. Instead, I’m going to try and remove the lower limbs to increase the height of the canopy and let as much light in below as possible. I’ll then shape and topiary it a little so it can become a feature instead of a nuisance. It’s not in the best place for my plans, but I have to work around it for now.

I’m also intending on the no-dig method for the vegetable patch. There’s a lot to do, so much of the home-growing is likely to take place, in 2015 anyway, in the cutting garden area. Then, next year, I’ll get rid of the shed (which is currently home to VAST amounts of interior wooden cladding that we’ve taken down and are going to burn in the new woodburner – once it’s installed) and the vegetable garden can take off properly.

So, there you have it; the grand plans for the new garden. It all seems SO feasible right now…..stay with me and I’m sure you’ll discover all the hiccups! My aims; to create a garden that’s not only beautiful but helps our self sufficiency and provides flowers, veg and, indeed eggs, that I can sell from an honesty box out front – yes, I really do think people in our new area might be honest! I want to try it on a small scale before the epic project begins in 6/7 years time!

On My Oasis – Frosts and Obsessions

It has to be said that in the past year, life has got rather in the way of gardening. Planning a wedding, getting hitched, going on honeymoon and settling in with the whole ‘being a spouse‘ thing has drawn me away from the garden. In addition, there’s nothing quite like knowing you’re moving to kibosh any grand gardening plans – that is until you’re in your new garden, of course. Still, January’s been a good month for gardening shows which is saying something, particularly because Gardener’s World isn’t actually on our screens at the moment. What with ‘Show Me Your Garden‘, ‘Britain’s Best Back Gardens‘, ‘The Great British Garden Revival‘, and ‘The Big Allotment Challenge‘, there’s been plenty to take your fancy; whether it’s veggies, ornamentals or strange and rare plants you’re into.

I have to say, I’ve been watching them ALL (and, quell surprise, getting hubby a little green-fingered too – wonders will never cease). The garden passion has certainly reappeared, and with completion of our new house sale on Thursday, there’s lots to get excited about!

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The dogs enjoy the forest frost

Frosts are finally here

I’m also happy to welcome a much needed cold snap and some heavy frosts. Last year was a complete washout and, as a result, the gardening year in 2014 was tougher than many before. You may not like the cold, but it’s important for a number of reasons.

Firstly, there’s nothing quite like a wintry landscape. It’s beautiful, inspiring and, with a blue sky overhead, picture perfect. Then there’s the benefit that it puses plants into proper dormancy mode. I’ve always found when we have a really cold winter, spring flowers are so much more glorious. Wisteria creates giant swathes of colour, roses burst into bud with more vibrancy and bulbs pepper the garden with bright petals. Instead of cruising through January and February half awake, these plants properly go to sleep, meaning they awaken in spring with full gusto. Finally, all those pests and bugs HATE the cold. If you don’t get some proper winter, hibernating weevils, sleeping aphids and dormant slug eggs are just waiting to emerge at the first sign of warmth and devour our plants. A decent winter (and I’m talking heavy frosts and snowfall) help cull some of these critters off, making our lives as gardeners a little easier….especially at the beginning of the year when we’ve got seedlings on the go.

A teeny amount of sowing

Talking of seedlings; I’ll admit, I’ve broken and planted a few seeds. I’m trying to contain myself because I’ll soon have a new house and garden, and I don’t want to be transporting hoards of seed trays back and forth (I’ve already got a garden full of plants to move). My mum doesn’t really understand why I want to take apart her old greenhouse straight away (I’m nabbing it).

‘You won’t need it till summer, you’ll be doing up the house’.

Umm, no mother. I’ll be digging out borders, planting the young fruit trees I want to cordon, putting in some hedging and needing a greenhouse so I can get everything growing. And that’s way before I’m worrying about painting and decorating!

In addition to taking some cuttings from herbs for the new Mediterranean garden, I’ve sown some broad beans, a few delphinium seeds and some more sweet peas. I’m being strict with myself – as you can see. ;) I’ve also challenged the husbo to grow me two banana plants and two tree ferns from seed. The banana’s are now in, so we’ll see his progress!

Saying farewell to the allotment

Finally, I’ll be bidding farewell to our allotment this month. Funnily enough, it was getting an allotment that actually began this whole blogging process; I wanted a way to keep track of our efforts. Alas, with moving a 45 minute drive away, I really can’t keep it and, if I’m honest, I should’ve given it up a few years back. I’m not really an allotment person. Mary (my godmother who I share the plot with) loves the social aspect of it – something which I don’t share. I like to go, work, come home. The problem I find is, like trying to get to the gym, I just can’t be bothered to get there in the first place. And thus, our plot languishes without us. Mary can’t work it on her own, and I’m going to be starting growing veggies at home which I think will be MUCH more in keeping with my love for pottering. I’ve been watching a lot of the horticultural channel for inspiration. It’s for gardeners, by gardeners and a great source of help, so check it out if you’re growing veggies and need some help.

So, with spring starting to become a reality on the distant horizon, I’m excited about what 2015 will hold. What are your gardening plans? Have you been inspired by the plethora of television shows? What will you be growing this year?

A New Wildflower Meadow Project

Growitt

This year, as if I haven’t got enough to do, I’ve decided to start a new project – sowing a 1.5acre wildflower field in Suffolk!

You’ll know that I’ve been banging on about moving back to my family farmland since this blog began, but I’ve now realised that just because I don’t live there yet, doesn’t mean I can’t manage the land. As a result, the Fund It, Sow It, Grow It project has begun!

When I was younger, I remember walking amongst those fields of long grass and watching skippers, blues and meadow brown butterflies bouncing around. Bees would be bustling around in the undergrowth, hares nibbling on the edges and pheasants dipping in and out of the ditches. Thistles, nettles, and cowslips were rife, as were stunning buttercups and the odd rare orchid. As little kids we were weighed down with jars and butterfly nets – left alone amongst the Suffolk acres to amuse ourselves and get to know the local flora and fauna. Alas, those fields have disappeared having been worked for crops in more recent years, but now it’s the time to bring a little wildlife and flower haven back to life. Not only will this provide a safe place for plants and animals, but it’ll also boost pollination of the surrounding fields and orchard.

As you’ll see in my video (I HATE taking videos, but it had to be done), I have the means to plant up some of the field BUT not all of it, and that’s where my IndieGoGo project comes into action. If we all work together and put in a little bit, I can plant the entire field up this year! It’s a very exciting prospect, especially as it’s hard to think about doing such a thing when you’re living in the suburbs like me.

So please pop over to the website, watch the video, read about the campaign, leave a comment, donate a little and get involved!

Help me Fund It, Sow It, Grow It and build better roots for rural wildlife. 

Welcome to The Guide to Gay Gardening's new look!


Living in the grey smog of London utopia, I forge my little existence in a slightly loopy, hermity, hippy manner, sharing my life with the hens, cats and other menagerie that have somehow taken over my life.

If I'm not enjoying the great outdoors with my netbook in hand, I'll be snipping, pruning, planting, cutting, propagating, shovelling, or just plain admiring. You can even catch the occasional glimpse of me on the TV now and then!

Take the weight off for a while. Sit back, relax, read, send me feedback, but mostly just take a moment and look around you.....mother nature is beautiful.


Geoff Wakeling

Mail Me: geoffwakeling(at) theguidetogaygardening(dot)com
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