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Hi, I'm Sara Cushing!                                                                                   


I'll be writing my thoughts and seasonal gardening advice in Lifeline and here on the Farleighs website.  Please don't hesitate to write to me with any suggestions or queries at saracushing2002@yahoo.co.uk


Happy Gardening!






Latest Posts

Time to start sowing (and weeding!)

Posted on 4th March, 2024

As last month was the wettest February the UK has experienced in the last 258 years, I’m hoping for some drier weather this month. Even so, my neighbours have been taking advantage of the break in the weather to mow their lawns, a job I’ve not got around to yet. The thought of unclogging wet grass from the mower in the drizzle is particularly unappealing to me at the moment, and so I’ve been mostly holed up in the greenhouse, planting seeds and procrastinating on the grass-cutting front. With the February sowings mostly done (chillies can require up to 120 days from germination to fruiting), I can concentrate now on the March batches. I purchased a couple of electric heat mats for the greenhouse last month to speed up germination and had a great deal of success, enabling me to push seeds through in fairly quick rotation, so definitely a worthwhile investment. 



Though temperatures are still pretty low this month, outdoor sowings can also be started. Covering the area required for planting with horticultural fleece or cloches for a couple of weeks will warm the soil to give a good head start to anything needing to be sown direct, and keeping fleece over carrots, for example, is one way to deter pests later during growth without the need for chemical use.


In the Borders

With the warming of the soil comes the emergence of the inevitable weeds! Tidying up borders, mulching and feeding is a priority at this time of year, and I generally use leaf mould collected the year before last. This adds nutrients back into the earth and suppresses any potentially germinating weed seedlings. Deadheading the Spring flowers is still beneficial as they should keep going for a couple of months. If pansies or viola have got a bit leggy, they can be nipped out to any new growth at the base and fed which will give them a new flush of flowers on a more compact plant. Summer flower seeds can be sown now, if you haven’t started Pelargonium yet, this is the last month to do this, but Cosmos, Arum lily, Nasturtiums and Sunflowers are all good to go. I picked up a lovely Zinnia variety called Cherry Profusion which is really eye catching, and as they are drought tolerant, don’t require too much looking after once established.


Forced bulbs, like hyacinths which were flowering over December or January can be planted outside, as can summer bulbs such as gladioli and lilies. Daffodils can be deadheaded, but leaves should be allowed to die back naturally. Snowdrops can be lifted, split and replanted while they are still green to encourage them to naturalise in other parts of the garden. Cornus and salix can be pruned. And yes. Lawns should be given a high cut...


In the Veg Patch

If you have been able to warm the soil, some outdoor crops can be sown this month, carrots, parsnips, spinach, onions and shallots, for example. While onions and shallots can be bought as sets, I’ve grown mine from seed because I wanted specific varieties. Shallot ‘Simiane’ is a sweet banana shallot, and not available in sets, so I started these last month in the greenhouse.


As mentioned previously, it’s worth keeping fleece over these to avoid pests, such as carrot or onion fly. Another tip is to try ‘Companion Planting’. Spring onions grown in between carrots can also help to deter pests by disguising the carrot smell, for example. I also grow basil in with the tomatoes as the strong scent deters aphids, so herb sowing is another priority for me at this time, and looking forward to trying the lemon coriander I’ve managed to get hold of!


And finally, potatoes can be planted! These have been chitting away since the beginning of last month, though they may still need protection from the odd frost. In an effort to reduce plastic use, I’m going all out on the potato bags this year! Also handily mobile and reusable and negating the need for back-breaking digging of trenches! Winner!


Happy gardening





Posted on 2nd October, 2023
While I’m still holding out for an Indian summer, the misty mornings we’ve
had at the tail end of August certainly turned my thoughts towards autumn, though I'm not so keen to admit this...
The most fabulous thing for me (as I write this in the last week of August a after a muggy day of stormy downpours) is that just yesterday at the farm,we harvested our first watermelon var. Blacktail Mountain.We were warned it may be not so sweet as we are growing in the UK rather than the Mediterranean. Prepared for disappointment, we carried it up to thekitchen, still warm from the day's heat. The chefs carved it all up and we shared it out among us all working that afternoon. But ...it was the tastiest thing ever! It makes me think anything is possible...
The 20⁰s heat and all the rain we had towards the end of the month has meant that the borders are full of colour. Its been a fabulous year for growing, plants haven’t been
battered by extreme heat, many flowers are still going beautifully and I expect this to carry through certainly September at the least. I remember last year’s premature pulling up of many things that had died. Certainly not the case thisyear, so Im prolonging the flowering period for as long as possible. I plan to keep feeding through to the end of September at least, ever with my weather eye focused on low temperatures.
Deadheading to push through those final flowers, monitoring moisture levels and mulching towards the end of the month are all on the list!
In the Borders
I've been keeping all the seeds! I love all the cottage gardenfavourites the antirrhinums, the
 poppies, the foxgloves, nigella and calendula can all be sprinkled over the areas youd like them, though you always get the rogues which appear randomly. I never mind these and love that they arent to plan!
Deadheadingis still standard to keep pushing flower through for the nextmonth, and toward the end of September and after flowering,clump-forming perennials for example Rudbekia and lemon balmcan be lifted. You can divide these into more plants by splittngwith a sharp spade into quarters and replanting into any bare spaces you may have. Water in well whatever you replant, though these may look a bit sad for a day or two, theyll soon pick up.
Many roses are affected by Black Spot at this time ofyear. Because I do not use detrimental chemicals, this can betreated with a product called Sulphur Rose, available from Greenacres Direct. This product treats thefungus and doesnt poison bees or ladybirds, which are essential to our amazing natural environment!
 In the Veg Patch
These conditions have meant that we've been pushing boundaries (as we do) at the Smallholding Farm. We are experimenting all the time and wondering how late we can get in final sowing of things like beetroot which many had planned for about two weeks ago. These were sown into drills straight along the irrigation lines to ensure a constant source of water and I will update youall next month! Cooler evenings in September and October will slow growth so maybe we will only get baby sized ones.
The direct sowings of peas which we did three weeks ago have just started flowering, which will lead to a super late crop, we hope! Peas should be pretty much done by now so I’m looking forward toseeing how these work. 
With the days of August heat, some indoor-grown tomatoes may have slightly tougher skins
 but these are still fine for cooking and any others coming on should benefit from slightly cooler September conditions. Cuttng the leaves from the base to the next truss of fruits increases ventilation and allows sunlight through to ripen quickly.
 It is likely that squashes and courgettes have leaves which are showing signs of powdery mildew. 
Afterthe dry of summer, damp mornings enable this fungus to thrive. I cut these leaves off and dispose of them far from my compost heaps. This increases ventilation and my chances of the produce not beingaffected. Any harvestings of main crop sweetcorn, carrots, beans and baby leeks can be continued this month and celeriac can be tried, though these can be left though the next couple of months. If you’ve managed to keep the attacking pests from your cabbages, these should be good to go!
If you havent had the chance, now is the time to take strawberry runners.Strawberry plants are productive for amaximum of three years, so be brutal.Weak plants arent  productive 
and thisyear Ive invested in a whole new variety Malling Champion’, producing approx 1kg of fruit per plant and which was developed in 2019. One of the latest to come from our own East Malling researchstation https://www.niab.com/niab-east-malling.
I love September because it's when we preserve with all the bits left over! Proper autumnal 
cooking goes on in our kitchen at home to preserve anything we cant eat at the time, so soups, passata (from tomatoes and peppers), dried seed such as coriander..I love seasonal flavours, but you can always extend some things a little bit and push your Luck!
Happy gardening!


Posted on 2nd October, 2023
Just this time last year I was writng about the unprecedented heat that hit
us, temperatures in August hit record-breaking levels and it was incrediblychallenging to grow anything. Seeds had to be re-sown after a warm Spring fried initial sowings and many things that germinated were stressed by the bonkers conditions we had. Beans produced much later in the year as the overnight temperatures were too high to enable pollination and it was difficult to keep up with watering.
 Cue this year, and what a difference! The growing conditions have been perfect. A warm (not scorching) Summer, and though we’ve had spells of dry, we have had sufficient rainfall throughout the year to get a good amount into waterbutts and containers. Luckily The
Smallholding Farm escaped the hose ban as it is a commercial site, and though everything is on irrigation, there have been Times we’ve been watering. Water harvesting is top of my to-do list there, and looking ahead to the next few months, now is the perfect time to start planning how to implement this into your garden next year.
August is the last month to do any direct sowings (straight into the soil). Many flowers and some vegetables will so I'll have time to grow and produce before the Autumn frosts arrive,
so it is worth pushing these through while the soil is still warm. This year Ive direct sown more antirrhinum, calendula and another batch of Nasturtium. It’s not a usual thing to do as these are usually started in March, but the Chefs in the restaurant use a lot of these edible flowers, so I cant grow them quickly enough! Equally this method will apply to a domestic seedng and give a late flush of colour in borders when everything can start to look a bit jaded.
In the Borders
Deadheading is still a major undertaking to encourage summer perennials to stay lovely and I still feed pots and hanging baskets at least every ten days until the end of this month, maybe into September if conditions are favourable and we have a late Summer. I tend to start taking seeds off generic things like Foxgloves, Aqualegia, Verbena B
onariensis and Hollyhocks and throw these to the backs of borders for next year. As I buysome specific varieties, I will get new seed next year rather than saving any,
 as taking seeds from these will notproduce a true-to-type plant. This year Mum and I found some crazy black Petunia for her window boxes, and while I’m saving the seed from these, there is no guarantee this hybrid will produce the same flower next year, sadly!
Lavender can be pruned back, avoiding cutting into old wood. Any opened buds can be dried or made into oils and cuttings can be taken for next year.
Softwood cuttngs can be taken from Penstemon and if it’s not too hot, I start Pelargonium cuttngs off as well.
 Dead leaves should be cleared away from borders to discourage pests and diseases. Any diseased leaves shouldn’t be composted as this can carry infections into next year’s soil.
Speaking of compost, my bins are overflowing, so another thing on my list is to turn them into empty bays! Not the one of the most glamorous elements of gardening (especially in Summer!) but certainly one of themost essential. This will accelerate breakdown by mixing up the layers and aerating. And it gives the worms room to breathe and do their thing!
Page 4
In the Veg Patch
We have had what can only be described as a glut of cucumbers and courgees on the Farm, and the onionharvest has been the best yet. The last pea plants we had sown in modular trays didn
’t take so well to the odd
days of heat we had, so have just been able to squeeze the last direct sowing in. We use hazel twigs to supportthese as they are all natural and twisted, which gives the shoots a great support but also look really amazing!
 We’ve experimented
with a lot of vercal planng this year. Cargo neng is not so difficult to do once you get
the hang of it
(I know
 terrible pun) so the cucumbers, sweet potato and aubergine have all been grown up.Apart from the fact it’s a space-
saver, venlaon i
s increased which decreases disease.Beetroots and cornichons can be harvested and pickled. You may have found root veg like turnips and swedes
have bolted. They can be harvested, and at this me you can do a sneaky sowing of these for a late harvest inOctober. Oriental salads like Mizuna a
nd Mibuna can be sown, as can t
he last lot of winter leuce and beansand peas can connue to be picked. Onions and garlics can be dug up and hung to dry for a couple of weeks
which will enable them to be stored for months to come.Happy gardening


Posted on 2nd October, 2023
After a month's hiatus, I am so glad to be bringing you our lovely gardening column again! I have been incredibly busy in a new role as a Head Gardener and am really looking forward to sharing so much stuff that I have learned over the last month with you all!
June has been a difficult time, I guess many of you are frustrated with the lack of germination of so many things, as I am. The wet Spring, so different to last year's higher temperatures, meant that again us gardeners were faced with a different, but no less frustrating, issue to deal with. Many plants are either behind a week (which can be problematic when growing edibles) or very ahead. Parsley, coriander and chervil have all bolted, as have the broccoli. Bolting happens when we have wet, and then very hot conditions. So rather than having a lovely head of broccoli, or herb leaves, you get bitter flowers. You can remove these to push more leaves on, allow to get to seed to sow back in, or you may need to resow, for example Spinach.
Rather than composting your bolted produce, you can make a Kimchee, or by dehydrating in an oven on a lowheat, some herb flowers can be made into a dry rub for meats and fish dishes, for example. I've learnt that every part of a plant can be used. Even stems in Gins and Vodkas!
I figure this is a whole different column...Watering is a major issue at the moment. Pots and hanging baskets need a daily watering, but do hold off a bit on your established trees and shrubs, and your outside veg and fruit. Outside crops are better with a longer soak every two or three days because the roots go deeper to find water. Everyday watering mean the roots are shallower which gives a less stable plant with fewer natural nutrients.
For those of you who participated in No Mow May, thank you! You have increased the pollinating insects around our space. Which are so important to maintain the fragile balance we have. We would love to see any pictures you all would like to send in of the gardens you are all working on, and theinsects you see! And as the Annual Farleigh Competition is now on, it's all exciting times! And so, here is what we are doing this month in the garden!
In the borders
All the summer perennials should be well established now. Deadheading is essential to promote new blooms. Sweet peas love being picked and I keep them in vases around the house. Such a Summer scent! Any potsand baskets should be fed at least every ten days to keep them looking their best. I've switched to an evening watering to minimise evaporation as it's been so hot and dry. Hardy geranium and delphinium can be cut back to encourage new growth and flower, and lavenders can be cut back. Wisteria can now be pruned, the whippy shoots need to be taken back to5 leaves from the main branch. Any other climbers need to be tied in nowas well. Seeds, for example foxgloves and forget-me-nots can be driftsown around the borders for flowering next year.
In the Veg Patch
You should by now be enjoying the fruits of your labour! Summer is a very busy time for fruit and veg, peas and beans are ready to be harvested and courgettes and squashes are in good supply this year! It seems the conditions have been perfect to produce amazing crops.Regular pickings of beans and courgettes encourage more produce coming through.Cucumber should be trained up and sideshows of these and tomatoesshould be removed to push energy through to the fruits.
In addition to these, peppers and chillis should be regularly fed with a high potashfeed once fruits form.Beetroot, carrots and salad crops can all be harvested as well and this month I take down many herbs to dry and preserve for future use.Strawberry runners should be taken to give you new plants for next year.Pinning down in a 9cm pot of compost will enable it to root, and then can be cut from the mother plant. Strawberry plants fruit best to 3 years old maximum so by doing this you'll have a good cycle of healthy fruiting plants.Rhubarb harvesting should be left bythe end of this month to allow energyto build up for next year's crop.
Happy gardening!


Posted on 2nd October, 2023


Sara Cushing has been unable to write her monthly article. This month we are highlighting some of our West Farleigh Gardens. Who knew what was hiding “out the back”. If you have a garden that youwould like to share in Lifeline, email the editors.
 have a garden designed for entertaining. An ideal place to watch the sun go down with a glass in your hand.
 has a small, yet beautiful garden. Great to relax in after a long day.
SUE AND DENO’DONNELL’S garden is chockablock with plants!


Posted on 2nd October, 2023
May is seeing all the things that you've nurtured through the winter properly shoot up. It is always a surprise to see how resilient some things are in spite of the extreme cold and thewettest March for the last forty years! Though much has been damaged, it's a good opportunity to see what will work or not in your garden in the future. Kent has a varied range of soil types and ours in West Farleigh is naturally a neutral heavy clay, which is nutrient-rich but not free-draining and this is something to consider whether you are planting Summer displays in borders or vegetables for maximum production. Digging compost or well-rotted manure into our soil breaks it up and gives the roots a chance to spread and maximise the plant. If you have an acid-lover like blueberries, camellia, rhododendron, pieris or azaleas,dead conifer needles are a great mulch and a natural feed when spread around or into the base of the plant. Now is also a good time to aerate your lawns. This helps with soil compaction and prevents waterlogging, allowing nutrients to get to the roots of your grass more effectively. Overseeding will help rejuvenate any tired patches and I've been leaning towards the drought-tolerant varieties for the last couple of years, bearing in mind thevariations in temperature we've encountered.
n the borders
Tender perennials can now be put outside for Summer displays, which clears a huge amount of space in the greenhouse! Creating borders for Summer is one of the things I enjoy most.Though we can still get frost in May, it is currently looking unlikely. This year I'm using as many low maintenance, high impact flowers as possible.Though Petunia are pretty, deadheading can be time-consuming and so my alternative for trailing plants inpots and window boxes will be geranium. The flowers last longer and they tolerate hot, dry conditions better.Deadheading is essential to keep flowers going and feeds can be applied every other week from now to September to keep everything strong and healthy. Annuals such as scabious and zinnia canbe sown directly into any space left tocreate splashes of colour betweenperennials.
In the Veg Patch
Beetroot and salad leaves can be sown directly into shallow drills, as can rocket. Protection from slugs is a must, as they will love the new tender leaves coming through. There are many organic methods available now, but an effective barrier is crushed eggshells. I've also been bringing a lot of the salad leaves on inside before planting out as this can make them bigger and more resilient to attacks. The next (successional) sowing of carrots and spinach can be done and beans can be planted out. Potatoes should be earthed up and fed and leeks can be banked up with earth. This gives a longer white stem. Side shoots of tomatoes can be pinched out and supported with canes as necessary.Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are really hungry feeders, so I give them a boost every 7-10 days with seaweed extract.It's the last chance to sow courgettes, squashes and pumpkins so they can put on enough growth before Autumn, but again they can be sown straight outside.Strawberry runners should beplanted outthismonth and I've started melon seeds off,so it will be interesting to see if anything comes of these!


Posted on 2nd October, 2023
Is it just me, or has this year got off to the slowest start? Last March, we had unseasonable heat which fried all the seedlings I planted. I had to resow and everything was late. So I started earlier this year. And then we had all the cold! I spent quite a bit of time in the greenhouse last month sowing as it was so wet, so the seedlings, if little else, are on track.These ones are particularly important, not just because a cucumber cost me 75p this week… but because the West Farleigh Annual Plant Sale is on! This fabulous village event is on Saturday 20th May at the church from 11am to 4pm.Please come along to pick up a bargain, and any extras you have will be gratefully received. All proceeds are to the Farleigh Bloomers and the Church, and I'll be donating some slightly more unusual varieties of plants as well asbeing on hand to try to answer any of your gardening queries..
April is one of the lovelier months in the garden I think.Though spring displays of daffodils are waning, hyacinthsand tulips give an amazing display at this time. I like goingfor unusual varieties and in particular Parrot tulips, some ofwhich defy all rules when it comes to colour combinations!
In the borders
With the warmer weather coming and Spring displays out, it's time to look at Summer displays. I try to sow flowers in the first part of April, the days are long enough to ensure the seedlings don't get leggy..and there isa bit more room in the greenhouse as the geraniums are now in the coldframe to harden off. I found a fabulous sunflower this year in anticipation of the annual Sunflower Growing Competition in the village! 'Ms Mars' is an unusualpink variety, still reaching 6' in height and I'm looking forward to seeing how these turn out.
Other summer flowering annuals can be sown now, cosmos, scabious, lobelia and gazania, as well as theflowers I'll be using for companion planting. Calendula 'Needles and Pins' gets to 50cm height and I love the vibrant orange quilled petals.Many summer flowering annuals should be pinched out to encourage a bushier growth. The topmost part of the stem is removed to encourage growth further down the plant. This applies toantirrhinum, sweet peas, petunia, fuschia among others. Dahlia can be pinched out once the stem reaches 1'.It is worth keeping an eye on temperatures inthe greenhouse, surprisingly ours
got to 30⁰C at the end of March, so opening the doors during the day, and closing at night is a must to ensure temperatures don't get too extreme under glass. I won't be putting anything tender out just yet, the dahlia and canna are still under cover and will go out at the end of the month at the earliest.
In the Veg Patch
I've been looking into companion planting more over the last couple of years in my ongoing quest for the ultimate organic garden. Mint or basil with their strongly scented leaves deters aphids which seek out host plants through scent, and can be used near carrots for carrot root fly or tomatoes for aphids, for example.My mint always goes in pots, as it can take over everything if planted in the ground. Planting nasturtium near runner beans to deter blackfly is another method.
The nasturtiums are sadly a 'sacrificial crop', but attract pollinating insects which should dispose of this pest. Calendula, when plantedwith courgette, attracts insects which help with pollination and lead to a better production.If you haven't done so already, carrots and parsnips can be sown outside now, as well as the salad leaves, spring onions, leeks, beetroot and turnips. These are best done as successional sowings to ensure you have produce, all the way through the growing season. Because they need a long growing season, celeriac and swede should be planted at the end of April.I've actually planted my lettuces, rocket and spinach in modular trays, preferring to bring the leafy crops on a bit more before planting out, because if they are bigger, they are more resistant to terminal damage from pests. Squashes and courgettes can be started indoors, as can beans.April is the best time to start feeding all of your plants. I'm experimenting with seaweed fertilisersthis year, rather than artificial, so I'll be able to give you the results later in the year..
Happy Gardening!


Posted on 1st April, 2023


IN THE GARDEN with Sara Cushing
For me, the proper start of Spring is when I see the crocus coming uparound The Green. Always the yellows first, then the purples. And thenthe daffodils around the trees come to life, and all planted by lovelypeople in this beautiful village. It really is the most uplifting sight!We always seems to geta 'False Spring' though.We go through a warm phase and then a coldsnap happens, so I'm not inclined to takeprotection off the greenhouse, or to unwrap anybanana plants just yet! I'm keeping all my seedswarm in the greenhouse with cloches and fleecestill. Just in case..and on that note, my Stocks havestarted coming up!I love walking into the greenhouse and findingsomething has germinated!! Stocks are a very underratedannual, and after planting a whole lot into a customer'sborder last year, I remembered how fab they are. Theyare drought tolerant and the scent that comes fromthese, especially with night varieties is quite powerful.Colours range from whites to deep purples so are perfectto fill in any spaces in summer borders!No summer border is ever complete without lavender,which is something I’ve been chatting about with acouple of my customers recently. Lavender is anessential for pollinating insects and there are somefabulous varieties of English now available. Though alllavenders originate from the Mediterranean, the Frenchare more temperamental, only withstandingtemperatures to approx -
2⁰c, whereas the English strains
can go to as low as -
12⁰C. With the unprecedented
temperatures we've had this year I’m not consideringanything other than properly hardy. During my research, Ialso found that French lavender is considered a noxious weed in Australia!https://downderry-nursery.co.uk/ are our amazing local lavender nursery who produce strongvarieties to suit our space and environment, and they came up trumps with the impact of flowercombined with the hardiness we need. Some of my favourite beautiful, alternative English varietiesfor you all to consider, should you be planting lavenders this year! (see next page).
Page 4
In the borders
 If, like me, you've run out of all available spaceindoors, then annual seeds can be sown in theborders towards the end of this month. This is where'Drift Planting' comes in. Obviously a still day is prettyessential, (learnt totally from experience and how notto do it), and a bit of forward thinking helps becauseideally, for example, the taller foxgloves and hollyhocks are to the back of the border, antirrhinumand poppies mid border, and calendula and the lower lying plants to the front to maximise impact.The idea is to create a natural-looking effect with annuals weaving in between perennials. It's one ofthe things I love doing most, because it creates a bit of random chaos in between structure.Otherwise, overgrown perennials can be lifted, split and replanted to fill in gaps, cornus (dogwood),cotinus (smokebush) and salix (willow) can be pruned and all half hardy and annual flower seeds canbe sown indoors, Geranium, cosmos, nasturtiums, begonia, lobelia, pretty much the summerdisplays are all good to go now.I've waited ages to do these, having bought the seeds two months ago!And wildflower mixes can be sown outdoors as well now. We'replanning a wildflower verge in one particular garden I manage, so I'mvery much looking forward to seeing how this will turn out in a coupleof months!Deadheading daffodils and feeding up for next year is essential toensure nutrients get back into the bulb and ensure a display for thefollowing Spring, and snowdrops can be lifted and split for replantingwhile they are still green.Now we can start feeding things! Rhododendron and azaleas benefit from feeding now on with agood ericaceous feed, especially.
In the Veg Patch
So all the potatoes that have been chitted so carefully inegg-boxes are ready to go out! Whether you put themin big pots or trenches they still need to be protectedfrom any late frosts we are still susceptible to for thenext month or so.Carrots and parsnips can go into a well-prepared bednow. This year we've gone for the smaller Chantennayas well as rainbow varieties. My choice of what to plantdepends on what will be eaten, and these look amazingon a plate!Spinach and brassica can be started now indoors, as canthe salads. The leafy crops have a good start if planted in March. Do not be too eager to plant thebeans just yet! It is still too cold and there is not enough daylight to produce anything other than aleggy seedling which will not be strong enough to give a decent crop.Keeping an eye on the weather and wishing you all a happy gardening month


Posted on 1st April, 2023
After last year's extreme temperatures, including thesnow and deep freeze we encountered in December, Irealised that this year would be a good time to reviewparts of the gardens I manage. Though many plants seemto be completely devastated, including some establishedPhormiums and Cordylines (which only take a drop to -
5⁰C), I’m hoping that some will come back in the Spring.
At the moment I’m leaving many things alone rather thancutting anything back to prevent any further stress to theplants. Though it does look unsightly, I’ve found theyhave a better chance of recovery if left. If not, it’s anopportunity to redesign that area.Devastated phormium!This year I’m taking a slightly different approach and producing most plants from seed. Apartfrom the fact that it isn’t such a financial hit if anything is lost through drought or cold, it is areally great thing to be able to produce a stunning display of flowers or veg that you’veproduced yourself from start to finish, though it does require some extra time and a bit morespace.For those of us who want to get a good start on the year, it is still too early to sow somethings outdoors, but lots can be sown inside. February is one of the busiest times in theGardener’s calendar, but I think also one of the most enjoyable. I love spending hours holedup in the greenhouse when it’s all cold outside, starting all the seeds for this year! Thoughlast March we were hit with unseasonal heat, which killed a lot of the seedlings, so it’s alwaysworth keeping an eye on temperatures which could go either way.
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In the Veg Patch
Broad bean ‘The Sutton’ can be sown outdoors at a depth of 2” and 6” between plantsminimum. Potatoes can start to be chitted in egg boxes on a windowsill or light space, readyto plant out next month. The larger ones can be cut in half or even thirds to give you more!March and April may still give frosts, so these will need protection once outside.Cloches can be put over ground to warm it up beforeplanting seeds. Horticultural fleece is a must have in mysupplies and laying this over areas to be planted warmsthe soil in advance of carrots, parsnips etc being sown.I’ve also used floor insulation, whatever works!Otherwise there are many things to be sownindoors.Tomatoes, peppers and chillis, cucumber, herbsand salad leaves can be started, as can spinach, ready tobe transplanted out when the weather is kinder.
In the borders
From nothing to everything to do! If like me, you are seeding flowers off, there are manyamazing things that can be sown now, again indoors or in a heated greenhouse. As last yearwas so ridiculously dry, I’ll be concentrating more on drought-tolerant varieties to createimpact and hopefully require little more than deadheading.Geraniums, gazania, begonia, nasturtiums and marigolds are a staple show in Summer,working both in borders and pots and baskets and will take dry conditions. And there areloads of beautiful annuals and perennials that add a real blaze of colour to borders. Scabious,Echinacea, Verbena Bonariensis and Osteospermum are all favourites of mine, and I loveCosmos, with its dainty feathery leaves! There are so many different varieties of everythingnow, it’s easy to find something that will fit into whatever colour scheme you plant to, andthere is a lot more choice with seeds.Dahlia and Canna tubers and lily bulbs can be potted up, but do still keep these under cover. Ibring mine on in the greenhouse until all risk of frost has passed before putting these outside.If you do find yourself running out of space with all the indoor creations, don’t worry! In justa month things can be seeded directly outside. Antirrhinum, Aquilegia and poppies scatteredthrough the flower beds look great as random sowings in any spare patches you may have!


Posted on 1st April, 2023
December has come upon us, it seems, so quickly! As gardeners, we havehad an unprecedented year, with temperatures hitting record highs, andthen flooding in November. The pond garden I was creating at one of mysites got totalled by what looked like a tsunami and even the established,robust Gunnera got flattened. And yet in another garden I manage, thelavender is about to burst into flower again and Gazania are still blooming!So this last twelve months has been an epic learning curve for us all. Eventhe professional growers such as David Austin Roses have decided to retire some of the Englishvarieties that are unable to cope with the drier conditions these days, A Shropshire Lad among them.But varieties are being bred to cope with the change in climate, and semi self-pollinating Runnerbeans, for example, are now available which are able to deal better with heat. Many of us found ourcrops developed later than usual, and this was due to overnight temperatures being too high toallow effective pollination. So it's down to us to adapt and see what next year will bring!
In the Veg Patch
December is a great time to get a bit of a head start on next year. Winter lettuce can be sown undercover and varieties such as Winter Gem have been bred to germinate at lower temperatures, so in acoldframe or unheated greenhouse is best. Broad beans canbe sown outside.Currant bushes can be pruned, as can apple and pear trees toallow light and space to the centre of the plants, removingany diseased or dead stems.Any remaining leeks or parsnips can be lifted and heeled intoa trench to keep them for the next few months. Trenches canalso be dug and then filled with veg peelings/compostiblekitchen waste for next year's beans. This will break downover winter and give a good medium in which to plant.
In the Garden
I was wonderingabout sweetpeas this year, aslast year's gottotally fried! But I am trying again, mainly because Ihave so many seeds left. So if, like me, you are theeternal optimist, these can be sown this month.Hardwood cuttings can be taken, Buddleia, Cornus,Rose and Mock Orange can all be grown in a preparedtrench and left over winter. Trees and shrubs can still bepruned, side shoots on Wisteria can be taken back to 2or 3 buds, Birches and Acer can be shaped now withoutrisk of bleeding. Do leave hydrangea heads on until riskof frost has passed as these give protection to nextyear's flowers.Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.