Category Archives: Grow Your Own

Apples – a bumper harvest expected for 2013

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apples lord lambourne

apples lord lambourne

The poor weather of 2012, particularly the wet summer, was disastrous for the apple harvest. This year looks like being a bumper apple crop.

apple orchard Brogdale

apple orchard Brogdale

So why is there such a difference? Apples evolved in central Asia, probably around Kazakhstan. In order to flower and fruit really well they need to be grown in a continental climate of hot summers and cold winters.

The wild apple cultivar still growing in central Asia, Malus sieversii has recently been shown to be the ancestor of all modern apples. Unlike most domesticated cultivars, the leaves turn red in the autumn before they fall.

apple blossom

apple blossom

The hard winter followed by a late spring and a long warm summer has given the apples and other deciduous fruit the conditions they like to produce good fruits and plenty of them, although most are cropping later due to the late spring.

Michigan is usually the USA’s third biggest producer of apples and is likely to harvest 30 million bushels of apples this year, exceeding its 20 million average. This compares to 2012’s apple harvest of 2.7 million bushels.

step over apples

step over apples

The UK Bramley apple harvest is expected to reach approximately 67,000 tons in 2013, a 14% increase on 2012. Admittedly this is still not as high as earlier years although this is due to reduced orchard acreage rather than weather or climatic conditions.

bramley apples

bramley apples

The following facts are extracts from our new eBook “In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design”:-

“Apple seeds contain a cyanide compound. However, the tiny amount of poison is locked inside the hard seed coat and as the seed generally passes through your digestive system intact you‘ll be fine. But it’s probably not a good idea to make a habit of eating apple seeds.

In Norse mythology, Idun, the goddess of spring and rebirth grew magic apples that gave the gods immortality. The only problem with this is that apples as we know them probably didn’t arrive in Scandinavia until the late Middle Ages.

ripe apples

ripe apples

Etymologically speaking, the word ‘apple’ is rooted in the Indo-European languages,; appropriately so given where the fruit originated. The Romance languages, including Latin, originally used the Greek based word ‘malum’; the botanical Latin is ‘malus’. With the rise of Christian as the official religion of the Roman Empire from the 4th century AD and its symbolic importance of the apple, the word ‘pomum’ began to be used, meaning ‘the fruit of fruits’.

25% of an apple’s weight is air – which is why they float in water making apple bobbing a fun game at Hallowe’en.”

English apples

English apples

Enjoy your daily apple!

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design

Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

step over cider apple

step over cider apple

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Allotment Gardens

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sunflowers on allotment

sunflowers on allotment

Many allotments are under attack from councils and developers wanting to build houses, shops offices and generally concrete over the area. Why is this a bad idea?

There are historical, ecological, community and health reasons why we should be finding more land for allotments and community gardens not trying to squeeze them out of existence.

What is an allotment? Allotments are generally understood to be individual plots cultivated for private use, grouped together on a larger parcel of land. A Community Garden is generally a parcel of land which is cultivated by a group together as a whole plot. Most allotments forbid any permanent structures, for example sheds cannot have a concrete base or be larger than a specified size. There are some differences in the terms used internationally, but we’ll use the above.

allotment beds

allotment beds

Allotments are found in many countries; for example, UK, USA, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Philippines and Malta. These latter two are twenty-first century start-ups. Malta’s aim is to encourage more young people to take up organic farming. In the Philippines the allotments offer a means of growing their own food to poor urban families. The countries with long established allotments often started offering such land as a result of the increasing urbanisation of the population which left them without gardens in which to grow their food. The land itself was donated by private philanthropists and landowners or by local councils, on a leasehold rather than freehold basis.

Historically allotments have played an important role in feeding the various nations. They’re also important in showing how society has progressed at grass roots level (sorry for the pun). When the majority of the population was rural based, there was frequently a productive garden around the home and often an acre or more to provide vegetables and keep chickens and a pig. Well, there was until enclosures of common land from the mid eighteenth century onwards. These days most of us live in towns and have small gardens or balconies and probably not enough time to tend an acre after work; but we could manage to till an allotment.

swiss chard on allotment

swiss chard on allotment

Allotments can encourage and support local communities; the majority of plot holders will live within walking or cycling distance so may know each other away from the allotments and are encouraged to get to know each other with regular social events and general conversation when working on their plots. Community gardens can be even better at generating the neighbourly feeling as leisure space as well as productive space is shared.

The health benefits of gardening and being outside are as applicable to allotments as they are to your own private garden. Exercise, fresh air, natural sunlight (vitamin D) and fresh food plus the known advantages of the soil itself, as research has shown that soil micro-organisms could help lift our mood.

Ecologically and environmentally, allotments maintain an important diverse range of plant species and varieties within a species. They are a green space within urban areas, helping to reduce mean temperatures; providing a permeable surface to diminish the effects of water run-off and flooding; and improving air quality as plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.

mixed calendula and brassicas

mixed calendula and brassicas

I think one of the delightful aspects of British allotments is that the parcel of land you are given is measured in ‘rods’. A rod is 5 ½ yards and was quite literally a rod used by surveyors to measure a plot of land; rods were joined together for measuring longer areas. The usual size of an allotment plot is 10 rods or about the size of a doubles tennis court.

The week 5- 11 August is National Allotment Week in Britain, run by the National Allotment Society. Many local allotment groups are having open days – so why not visit an allotment site near to you and see what they get up to? You could put your name down for a plot – or at the very least support allotment sites such as Farm Terrace so they don’t get built on; they are far too precious a resource as they are.

Marie Shallcross

Plews Garden Design – Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

Sitting in the garden enjoying the sun or sitting on a cool veranda in the shade?
“In Your Summer Garden with Plews Garden Design” – the newest in our series of Gardening Almanacs makes good reading wherever you are.

sweetcorn on allotment

sweetcorn on allotment

Is RHS Chelsea Flower Show more eco-friendly than your Garden?

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Giant Scabious and spider

Giant Scabious and spider

Answer: in all honesty, probably not. Why? Think of all those mature trees transported in from the continent; all that hard landscaping; all those thirsty plants that need gallons of water as they’ve just been transplanted (if you remember, last year we had the added problem of being in a drought situation); all the lawns that will need re-turfing after the show.

But maybe you don’t think your own garden is very ecofriendly either? You could be surprised, read through ‘The Ten Commandments of Ecofriendly Gardening’ and then you can decide for yourself.

One: Water conservation Parts of the UK have less rain than southern Spain; difficult to believe sometimes, but true. So a water butt is an essential part of your eco-friendly garden. You could also use the grey water from washing up bowls, showers and baths on ornamental plants. Water generously but less often to encourage deep rooting rather than shallow surface roots. Watering in the evening or early morning minimises evaporation, and direct the water at the soil not the plant. You could read one of our water or drought blogs from last year for more ideas.

fountain

fountain

Two: Right plant; right place This is partly about planting acid loving plants in acidic soil, but also about choosing drought tolerant plants for hot, sunny borders; and shade lovers for under trees. Most plants, once established, will manage with very little attention if they’re in the right location or habitat – easy maintenance gardening!  Right plant; right place is one of the starting points when we’re designing a planting scheme for a client, for it to work we need to know our plants and our soils.

Three: Use alternatives to peat Peat bogs are important ecosystems that took thousands of years to establish; when they’re gone, they’re gone forever. There won’t be peat used at Chelsea Flower Show as the RHS has been among those gardening organisations that now use alternatives. There are some good quality alternatives available, including those based on bark and sheep’s wool.

compost bin made of resycled plastic

compost bin made of resycled plastic

Four: Composting Definitely a holy grail of ecofriendly gardening; this is now actively supported by many local authorities, who collect your food and garden waste if you don’t want to or don’t have the space to.  I would encourage everyone who can to compost; there are different methods so there should be one to suit you, your family and your garden. We’ve talked about different composting systems in other blogs and in the eBooks, if you’d like to know more.

Five: Re-use non-biodegradable products This includes plastic plant pots, plastic bottles and plastic trays which can be used many times before being recycled. It also means, for example, using rubber car tyres as a soft surface under children’s play equipment.

Six: Exclude or at least minimise the use of unfriendly chemicals Is it acceptable in an otherwise organic and ecofriendly garden to use a glyphosate based weed killer to clear the weeds initially? I would say not, but I can understand why people prefer this as a quicker method.

crazy paving path

crazy paving path

Seven: Hard landscaping should be minimised Or to be more precise non-permeable hard landscaping such as pavers set in concrete should be minimised. Purists may be against even decking, but so long as there is plenty of planting as well, there’s nothing wrong and much that is practical and right with permeable hard landscaping. You could use re-cycled pavers for example, rather than letting them go to landfill.

Eight: Lighting is evil Light pollution confuses bats and birds, and can be irritating for your neighbours if it’s overdone. But we need some outdoor lighting, whether for security, for street lighting or because we’d like to enjoy our garden when we come home from work. See if solar lighting would be suitable to reduce electricity usage; and ask your garden designer and electrician to plan the lighting so that every day (or night!) lights are kept to the essentials only; but with plenty of scope for party fun.

Nine: Messy bits Also known as wildlife areas, bug hotels, nettle beds and log piles. These provide habitats for all those essential beasties that eat many of the garden pests. Some endangered species such as stag beetles need those log piles in domestic gardens in order to survive at all. Wildlife areas don’t need to be large so most gardens can find a small corner for a messy bit. You could for example, leave a pile of leaves at the back of a border behind the shrubs; perfect for a hedgehog to hibernate in.

bug hotel

bug hotel

Ten: Grow your own and buy local Growing some of your own food, whether this is a few salad leaves in a shallow tray, some herbs on the windowsill, an espalier apple tree along the fence or a fully fledged ornamental kitchen garden is very satisfying. Plews offers lessons in your own garden which can help a novice gardener learn the right way to hold a spade and to transplant seedlings, and there are plenty of evening courses at colleges around the country too.

raised beds with vegetables

raised beds with vegetables

With ‘buy local’ I’m thinking not so much about the salads as about the trees and other imported plants. We have many excellent nurseries in this country capable of growing most of the ornamental plants we want for our gardens, but sometimes we need to bring in trees or shrubs from elsewhere. If all plants coming into the country were properly quarantined we would not be in the situation that we are in where many of our native species – Ash, Oak, Horse Chestnut for example – are under major threat and may disappear like the English Elm did as a result of the 1980s Dutch Elm disease.

A cautionary note to finish on perhaps, but there is a positive, as if you were to start following only one or two of ‘The Ten Commandments of Ecofriendly Gardening’ you would be making a difference. After all, even oak trees start as acorns…

Marie, Senior Partmer, Plews Garden Design

If you’d like an ecofriendly garden designed,  gardening lessons or gardening advice on any of the topics covered, please get in touch:
Email: info@plewsgardendesign.co.uk
Or ring us: 020 8289 8086

pulmonaria

pulmonaria

April showers and May Day in the Garden

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white-honesty (lunaria)

white-honesty (lunaria)

April brings showers to our gardens; this year April has brought showers of sleet and snow; and the plants have suffered.

This year April has been cruel month of rain, and cold and wind, with frosty nights but very few sunny days. The plants in our gardens have suffered, assuming they risked growing at all. This lengthening of winter has been affecting not just British gardens but gardens elsewhere, the United States for example. This last week or so there has been a sudden flowering and greening of our gardens. Next week brings May Day; so will we be celebrating spring in the garden at last?

forget-me-nots

forget-me-nots

May Day, Beltane in the Celtic calendar, is celebrated in the Northern hemisphere as the first day of summer. Certainly May is when the flowers and crops grow in earnest, the days are longer so more work can be achieved out in the fields and plots and life seems full of…life.

Flora, a Roman goddess who appears on the cover page of our Spring eBook, is the harbinger of spring; the bringer of life after the frost of winter. The Romans celebrated her festival, Floralia, around April 28 – May 3; they would decorate trees with ribbons and garlands in her honour; dance and feast. The tradition of a decorated maypole grew out of this, although many places and religions still prefer to decorate the woodland trees.

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design – cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Although a minor goddess, the return of spring gave Flora an important role, Rome was a mighty empire with a conquering army, but as we all know, an army marches on its stomach so food and agriculture was central to Rome’s power.

So whilst many see her as a gentle form of spring fertility rites, being more concerned with flowers than animals mating, Flora holds the key to more than a few pretty posies. Without flowers, there is nothing for bees, butterflies, moths and wasps and a host of other pollinating insects and animals to feed upon. Without these natural pollinators, the edible crops would not be fertilised; the flower produced would not run into a fruit, a vegetable or a nut. Reduced to a diet of wind-pollinated plants only, many animals would not survive. In other words, the whole food chain or pyramid, with humans at the top, would collapse. Approximately one third of the food we eat can be directly linked to Flora’s ability to bring her flowers back to bloom in the spring.

Raised beds

Raised beds

If you’d like some help growing your own or to encourage bees in to your garden – lessons perhaps, or an area of the garden re-designed and built to form an ornamental fruit and vegetable potager, why not drop us an email?

pulmonaria

pulmonaria

Seeds and Seed Sowing Indoors

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sowing-seeds-in-diagonal-pattern

sowing seeds in diagonal pattern

So you’ve bought some seeds from the nursery or have been given some by a friend. The problem is, you’re not sure what you do next.

This blog is aimed at novices, with tips and information; but there may be something new for the rest of you too. In fact we’d welcome your tips added as comments if you’re an ‘old hand’. We also have a ‘how to’ video on Plews YouTube channel so you can see how a novice got to grips with some seed sowing indoors.

 

Growing Media:

The growing media (GM) needed for sowing seeds doesn’t require much compost in its mix; seeds within their shells have most of the nutrients they need for initial growth. More important is that they don’t rot, so a GM for seeds should be free draining. I would suggest using John Innes No 1 which is a tried & tested seed compost mix (not a brand), or mixing your own GM using multi-purpose compost (peat free of course), horticultural/ sharp sand or horticultural grit and vermiculite in a ratio of roughly 2:1:1.

watering-in-seeds

watering in seeds

Seed Containers:

Half-size and quarter-size seed trays are useful for sowing smaller amounts of seed. If it’s available space that’s at issue, by sowing the seeds in a pattern of alternate rows, ie a row of five, a row of four, a row of five, etc, so they can be sown closer together, you can get a fair few seeds into a half tray.

All members of the pea and bean family, whether ornamental or edible benefit from growing in root trainers: these are basically tall seed pots or trays. As a cost effective and recycling note, the inner tubes of loo rolls and kitchen towel work well as a homemade alternative and can be planted directly into the ground with your seedling as they will rot away.

 

Size of seeds:

If sowing indoors to transplant later, cover smaller seeds with vermiculite rather than the growing media; it allows air & water to easily reach more delicate seeds.

Really small seeds, such as carrots, are easier to sow if you mix in a little fine sand with the seed; mix in a small dry pot or envelope if you feel they’d stick to your palm; gently tap out the seeds along the line of soil or compost; this also helps you to remember where you’ve sown.

Larger seeds such as sweet peas and beans can be placed in cells individually, or in twos or threes depending on the size of pot. Generally speaking they should be planted to a depth of no more than twice their size.

tubes-for-pea-seeds

tubes for sowing pea and bean seeds

Most seeds need only light, air (oxygen) water and warmth to germinate, although some do have more complicated requirements to break dormancy. Instructions will be on your seed packet, but basically, keep the growing media damp and warm and look forward to seeing those little green shoots.

In order to retain the moisture in the compost and the surrounding air and to reduce watering requirements, most seeds germinate best if the tray is covered with a clear lid. These can be bought at the same time as your seed trays and half seed trays and is in effect a mini greenhouse. Adding a layer of newspaper under the drip tray on which your seed trays are placed also helps by providing an extra insulating layer.

Remember: label the seeds as you sow each tray or row, with name & date; it’s easy to forget!

Seed sowing indoors can be a very pleasant occupation when it’s raining, hailing and snowing outside…

seeds-covered-up

seeds covered up

 

There’s also more about seeds, seed sowing indoors and outside and seedlings in our eBook “in Your Spring Garden” available from Amazon and Smashwords for PC, iPad and Kindle.

 

Daffodils – the Heralds of Spring in your Garden on St David’s Day

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Narcisssus-crewenna

Narcisssus-crewenna

The link between March and Daffodils is of course St David’s Day. St David’s Day – or Dydd Dewi Sant in the Welsh language Cymraeg – is March 1st and Daffodils, along with leeks, are a recognisable Welsh emblem.

Although it is possible to have flowering bulbs throughout most of the year, most people tend to think of bulbs as being springtime flowers. Whether you were organised enough to plant these up in the autumn, or whether you’re planning a trip to the nursery or garden centre, there’s a lot of choice when it comes to spring bulb display.

In our last blog we looked at some of the botany about bulbs and admired some snowdrops and tulips. As it is now the beginning of March it seems appropriate to look at some planting ideas for Narcissus, which are also known as Daffodils.

Some planting ideas for Narcissi

The following extract is my contribution to an article on Narcissi collated and written by Vanessa Berridge for the March issue of Homes and Gardens magazine and including suggestions from Matthew Biggs and Christine Skelmersdale, whose Broadleigh Bulbs’ display I enjoyed at the recent RHS Plant and Design Show.

“Marie Shallcross of Plews Garden Design recommends pots of scented narcissi by the garden door or on a balcony, containing the fragrant pheasant-eye daffodil, Narcissus poeticus planted with Narcissus jetfire or Narcissus pinza”

Homes-and-Gardens-March-2013-Daffodils-Matthew-Biggs-Marie-Shallcross-Christine-Skelmersdale

Homes-and-Gardens-March-2013-Daffodils-Matthew-Biggs-Marie-Shallcross-Christine-Skelmersdale

 

 

 

Homes-and-Gardens-magazine-March-2013-cover

Homes-and-Gardens-magazine-March-2013-cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both Narcissus jetfire and Narcissus pinza add a splash of colour to brighten dull days.  Narcissus poeticus ‘actea’ has a totally wonderful scent but is one of the more toxic daffodils so do be sure not to eat it by mistake!

Narcissus 'jetfire'

Narcissus ‘jetfire’

I like to mix the jonquilla and cyclamineus Narcissi for the contrast in form they offer. Narcissus jonquilla are like a smaller version of the familiar trumpet daffodils, whilst the cyclamineus, as you can see from the photo, sweep their petals back like an Olympic swimmer at the starting block. They offer an overall delicate feel that works well in small areas. This could be in a raised bed next to a formal terrace with lawn beyond (the green is a good back drop); or alongside a flight of steps.

Narcissus-cyclamineus

Narcissus-cyclamineus

Many town front gardens are not only small in themselves, but planting has to fight for space with car parking and recycle boxes.  We have made green roofs or raised beds as covers for the recycling and bins and filled them with saxifrage and dwarf narcissi; Narcissus ’ canaliculatus’ is attractive because of its multi flowered stems; and it’s scented too so with the flowers nearer nose height it maximises the enjoyment.

Narcissus canalucutatus in a raised bed

Narcissus canalucutatus in a raised bed

Daffodils, Leeks and St David’s Day

It would seem that the Daffodil was encouraged as an alternative Welsh emblem to the leek so that the Welsh were discouraged from remembering their past victories over the English in battle. St David, or so we are told, suggested that the Welsh army wear a leek on their shoulder into battle not so much for a packed lunch but so that they could recognise friend from foe in the heat of the mêlée. The wearing of a badge or token into battle so that you knew who your mates were, was common, so the story has a factual basis. Not that daffodils have made the Welsh forget their victories – they’ve just written stories about the English attempt to make them forget…and laughed at the naivety of the Sais (English); such is the way of all “conquered races”.

Leeks grow well in the Welsh climate; they’ll stand in the ground all winter until they’re needed for dinner. A member of the onion family, leeks are distinguished by their long white stalk. The white section has a milder flavour than the green; this is encouraged during the leek’s growth by covering the stem, with soil or with a tube to protect it from the sunlight. This blanches the stem, reducing the amount of chlorophyll (this is basically what makes the green part of the plant green) and making the stem easier for humans to eat.

Welsh-Leeks

Welsh-Leeks

However, do not get your daffodil bulbs muddled up with your onions. Narcissus are toxic, bulb, flower and leaf but especially the bulb will give you severe stomach cramps and possibly convulsions. Not generally fatal, narcissus bulbs did however cause the death of Dutch cattle during World War 2, when the livestock were fed them on account of there not being any other food available.

For more on Spring bulbs and Spring Gardens, why not have a look at our new eBook   “In Your Spring Garden” ?

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

In Your Spring Garden with Plews Garden Design – cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Rhubarb – growing your own Rhubarb Triangle

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rhubarb-ginger-cat-gardenA confused plant? We eat rhubarb in crumbles, with custard and we make jam with it (rhubarb and ginger jam was one of my mother’s specialities) but actually rhubarb is a perennial vegetable and not a fruit.

Rhubarb has been cultivated for over 2500 years but has become renowned for its “Britishness”. The Yorkshire Rhubarb Festival, in the famous Rhubarb Triangle, where you can hear rhubarb growing epitomises our native quirkiness.

The farmers in the Rhubarb Triangle produce specially grown rhubarb in the dark in heated forcing sheds. The rhubarb crowns, ie the central section of the plant from which the edible stems will grow, have been carefully selected to produce early stems under these conditions. This trick was discovered by accident at the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1817, when some rhubarb crowns were covered with soil overwinter and the resulting stems were found growing earlier than the rest of the rhubarb. This provided fresh food when there was little else growing plus the further benefit of an especially delicate taste.

But the Yorkshire producers took rhubarb forcing to a whole new level and outperformed all rivals, at one stage producing 90% of the world’s winter forced rhubarb. From providing much needed home grown food during the Second World War to being awarded a Protected Designation of Origin in 2010, Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb  (Rheum rhaponticum) is a world class vegetable.

rhubarb-ready-to-eatTo properly force rhubarb requires more time and effort than most of us have, but any gardener or allotmenteer can force, or should we say blanch, some of their rhubarb crop and so extend the season.

Rhubarb is a native of Siberia and positively thrives on cold; you will probably see shoots peeping up through the snow in your garden after Christmas. Rhubarb needs a period of cold to break dormancy, ie to start it growing, and you need it to be at this stage before you can force the plant. A rhubarb crown needs to be at least two years old before you encourage it into early growth this way as the plant uses up a lot of energy.

Those shoots that you see after Christmas should be ok to force, but for a really early crop you need to start the process sooner in the winter. This will be dependent on the weather as a mild winter is not conducive to the amateur blanching of rhubarb. Digging up the crown and putting the rhubarb in the freezer is not an option.PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

The preparation for blanching begins in autumn, when you clear away the dead foliage, exposing the rhubarb crown to the frost. In a dry autumn you may need to water the plant. Once there are small signs of growth, cover it with a traditional forcing pot or forcing jar. These are convenient as they have a removable lid so you can easily check the growth progress; but an upturned bucket with a stone to keep it in place will suffice. The idea is to create a darkened environment. You should have rhubarb ready to pick by the beginning of March. Once you’ve harvested the sweet delicate stalks, mulch around the rhubarb crown with compost and leave it to recover over the season.

One of the delights of rhubarb is how well it fits into an easy or low maintenance garden, proving that you can grow your own even if you have a busy lifestyle. Rhubarb crowns are best planted between mid Autumn and early Spring; and should not be harvested in the first year but given chance to establish. A popular early variety is ‘Timperley Early’ whilst ‘Victoria’ is a later variety.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERADo remember that whilst you can safely compost the leaves do not eat them. Rhubarb leaves contain a toxin which at the very least will give you a stomach upset and at the worst could send you into a coma until next winter. On a ‘green’ note, the toxin is supposed to make an effective rat poison if they’re a pest that you need to get rid of.

This is the time of year (end of January – end of February) for the Yorkshire Rhubarb Festival and there is much useful information on it and on the Rhubarb Triangle here, including how to visit the forcing sheds to hear the rhubarb growing and see it being picked by candlelight.

Winter Gardens, Glasshouses to walk through

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IndoorWinterGardens1WPThe Oxford dictionary defines a winter garden as a noun, which is either a garden of plants, such as evergreens, that flourish [outside] in winter, or a conservatory [or glasshouse] in which flowers and other plants are grown in winter.

Winter Gardens  as large glass houses filled with tropical plants  offer a sheltered place to enjoy a garden away from the frost outside.These indoor winter gardens were largely instigated in the nineteenth century, by those plant collectors par excellence who flourished, particularly, but not exclusively, in Britain. They were helped along by the great strides that were taking place in the manufacturing of both glass and cast iron as part of the Industrial revolution; and by the dropping (or should that be smashing?) of the window tax.IndoorWinterGardens4WP

Lush planting of palms and cacti; higher light levels and warmer temperatures make such glass houses a welcoming location on cold winter days. There would seem to be more of these Winter Gardens in the northern areas of Britain which would make sense. Greenhouses are used to extend the growing season of borderline hardy plants and to enable the cultivation of tropical species that would not survive the cold wet winters that Britain enjoys.

Sunderland Winter Garden Water Sculpture

Sunderland Winter Garden Water Sculpture

The winter gardens in Sunderland have a botanical collection of over 2000 plants from around the world. Their extensive collection includes many important food plants, for example, tea, coffee, citrus and date palms. These latter two are traditional Christmas fare – who doesn’t have an orange in their stocking and who can remember being told off for spitting date stones into the fire on Boxing Day?

The Peoples Palace in Glasgow is another nineteenth century Winter Garden, set in the fifteenth century Glasgow Green, the oldest public space in Glasgow. Duthie Park in Aberdeen was originally opened in the 1880s, and the Winter Garden glasshouses, destroyed by storms in 1969, and subsequently rebuilt, now house the second largest collection of cacti and bromeliads (air plants) in Britain; second only to the Eden Project. Duthie Park Arid House also has a talking cactus…

Sheffield Winter Garden

Sheffield Winter Garden

There are more modern versions too, built in the last hundred years. One of the most spectacular must be that in Sheffield, big enough to host some 5,500 domestic greenhouses inside its wood and glass. It doesn’t have greenhouses inside a greenhouse, of course, what a waste of space that would be when there are 2500 plants all in need of a home!

Does your winter garden look like a wonderland? Check out this video on our YouTube Channel

In Your Winter Garden

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We admit it – this is a bit of an advert – but if you’re wondering what to buy someone for Christmas or whether you’d like a little extra in your Christmas stocking, this may just be the answer…

“In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” is a book for you to read from cover to cover or dip into as the mood takes you. With seasonal gardening tips, ideas and ‘how to’ hints; planting design ideas; gardening anecdotes; plenty of photographs and some original illustrations all to inspire you into enjoying your winter garden.

Downloads are available for kindle, iPad, & PC and more on Smashwords and Amazon

Jack Frost and Plews

cover illustration “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” by Lucy Waterfield

Pumpkins, Hallowe’en and the Three Sisters Garden #1

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Late October and the gardener’s mind turns to pumpkins, especially when they have children who are hoping for a jack o’ lantern ready for Hallowe’en fun. Although it’s too late to grow your own for this year, it’s a good time to think about whether you could grow them for next year. They’re a fairly easy crop to grow and are tasty to eat, so worth growing regardless of Hallowe’en.

We grow 3 or 4 different varieties of pumpkin on the allotment for colour and size. They have space there to roam and they’re interplanted with other crops, in the Three Sisters system (see below) and with other companion planting. Growing pumpkins need not take up acres of your garden; they will wind their way along the ground between other plants both edible and ornamental. Smaller trailing varieties can be grown vertically on trellis, sweet dumpling for example. If vertical growing isn’t possible, then there are also bush varieties, which take up less space on the ground than trailing; neon is a vibrant medium sized orange one.

Pumpkins are members of the squash family, part of the larger cucurbit family which also includes cucumbers. All the squash are fruit not vegetables, and flesh, seeds and flowers are all edible. They’ve been eaten for centuries; 5,000 year old squash seeds have been found in Mexico; and squash can be grown in all the continents except for Antarctica. Pumpkins are a winter squash, the skins allowed to harden so they keep over winter. Summer squashes include courgettes and have soft edible skins; these don’t keep as well.

Both the North and South American Indians grew a lot of squashes; they had a cropping system called ‘three sisters’ where they grew squashes, beans and corn together for the benefits each gave to the others whilst growing. According to Iroquois legend, the three sisters, or plants, were gifted by the Sky Woman’s daughter, and gave agriculture to people.

This interplanting method of agriculture has known benefits. The maize provides support for the beans; the squash acts as a ground cover to reduce weeds and keep moisture in the soil; the beans provide nitrogen for the other two crops. The companion planting rather than pursuing a monoculture, or one species only, system also improves the condition of the soil by increasing beneficial mycorrhiza which encourages a symbiotic relationship between the plants roots and the surrounding soil.

Pumpkins have other uses too. For example, they’re supposed to be good for reducing freckles. There is some doubt about this; some sources say it’s because pumpkin juice was used for eczema and freckles were confused with or thought to be linked to eczema. Other hold that because being outdoors in the warm harvest weather increased freckles and post harvest – when inside and eating pumpkins of course – freckles decreased and so the two things were linked.

However, it is worth noting that pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil contain vitamin E, which is good for the skin. Along with the fatty acids contained in the seeds they are likely to improve certain skin conditions; and if you don’t fancy smearing pumpkin seed oil on your face, you could just eat the seeds as a snack or cook with the oil.

For planting ideas on where and garden lessons on how to grow your Hallowe’en pumpkins for next year, why not drop us an email?

More on pumpkins and Hallowe’en soon…