Tag Archives: Garden

Autumn Pruning – some Questions and Answers


Plews Weekend Blog

Our regular blog has moved back to the website – or more precisely moved onto the new website!

you can find it here –


We’re still sorting out a few wrinkles but  you shouldnt have any problems still following the blog; if you do please drop us an email and we’ll do our best to sort it.

To celebrate our new website, there’ll be a special offer in the October monthly e-newsletter; you can sign up and find out what it is on the website: http://plewsgardendesign.co.uk

Your feedback is appreciated

Marie, Nathan and all the Team at Plews Garden Design

Resolving Your Gardening Issues

Plews Garden Design Team including Sharpe

Plews Garden Design Team including Sharpe


Spring Gardens: “sow” much to do



Feeling overwhelmed with spring cleaning tasks in the garden? Why not take some time out to relax with Plews & discover how soap is made from your garden plants; you do after all need soap in order to get things clean.

Spring cleaning in your garden is one part of the general tidying and cleansing that we indulge in or make ourselves take part in over the year. Spring cleaning as a tradition has a number of origins, from ritual cleansing for religious festivals such as the Jewish Passover to the more mundane reasons of March being warm enough to have the windows and doors open to sweep the winter dust away.

In the garden this may include spring lawn tasks such as scarifying, last minute pruning of apple trees, buying seeds and cleaning pots and seed trays. Because there are so many potential chores that need our attention, I thought a quick foray down memory lane to look at some garden plants that have been used for spring cleaning in the past.

It could be fun and economical to use homemade soaps and cleaners to clean both your house and garden; by garden, I’m thinking mainly about paths, patios, decking, greenhouses; garden tools and of course plant pots and seed sowing equipment. Alternatively, you may just enjoy reading about it and letting someone else do the hard work! Museums and historic houses frequently use the softer traditional alternatives to modern detergents for washing delicate fabrics, so if you’re a devotee of vintage clothing, you may like to try out them out too.

We have been using soap, rather than just water, for cleaning at least 5000 years. Archaeology also shows that the Romans used to plant Soapwort (Saponaria officianalis) near their bathhouses to use the leaves as part of washing themselves clean. If you fancy a go at making your own soap with Soapwort, the process is quicker using the leaves than the roots, although the roots would seem to make the more efficient soap.



The Romans also used the oil from Olive trees (Olea Europea) as a soap base. If your Olive tree has fruit you may like to try the following (the extract is taken from our eBook “In Your Spring Garden”)

“Olives, the quintessential tree of sun drenched Mediterranean slopes and groves are relatively hardy in more temperate areas of Europe and North America. Olive oil was the main ingredient in the original ‘castille’ soap. Mixed with a little wood ash it makes an historical and fairly useful soap. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and Beech (Carpinus betulus) are both good ash to use, but Apple (Malus) results in a paler soap. The resulting soap is abrasive, so if preferred the oil can be strained; add scented oils or dried flowers for perfume.”



old toothbrushes for cleaning seed trays

old toothbrushes for cleaning seed trays




This homemade soap could be used for cleaning out your seed trays ready for sowing those seeds that need to be started indoors. An old toothbrush is good for getting into the crevices so that no old soil or growing media is left that might cause problems.

For cleaning larger decks and patios for clients, our Nathan likes a pressure washer to be used. In keeping with the ‘homemade’ theme, he suggests that vinegar can be used with a stiff brush to remove mould and moss from a wooden shed. The addition of vinegar helps reduce the likelihood of them returning, as vinegar is a weed killer.

For more on seed sowing there’s a short blog on the website but for more information and gardening tips about your garden in spring, why not look at our new eBook “In Your Spring Garden”

“In Your Spring Garden” eBook would make a good Mothers Day or Easter present for the gardener in your life.



Rhubarb – growing your own Rhubarb Triangle


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.

Gardens of Remembrance


The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Even gardeners stop for two minutes to observe the silence.

Remembrance Sunday is about gratitude and respect for those who gave their lives to protect us. The planting around the headstones and in the graveyards is in the charge of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

Sir Frederic Kenyon summed up his vision for the Commission cemeteries in February 1918 thus:

“The general appearance of a British cemetery will be that of an enclosure with plots of grass or flowers (or both) separated by paths of varying size, and set with orderly rows of headstones, uniform in height and width.”

Many of you will be surprised to learn that the CWGC is one of the world’s leading horticultural organisations. To keep the cemeteries looking good seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year in all weathers is not an easy task. Not only does the planting need to offer something in all seasons, but the number of visitors in all weathers puts particular stress on the turf paths and lawns.

The headstone borders are generally planted with a mix of roses and herbaceous perennials. Of these latter some will die back over winter and regrow in the spring; others will retain their foliage year round; the Heuchera in the photograph is an evergreen herbaceous perennial except in the hardest of weather. Care is taken in choosing plants for each cemetery, for example, there are Maples from Canada at Dieppe.

Designing the planting requires thought to the length of flowering season, of foliage interest, so that visitors have something to see. It also needs to be reasonably low maintenance, both for the border planting and for the turf, or grass. Not merely from a time and therefore economic perspective, but also because it would interrupt the mood for those paying their respects to have a gardener trundling around with a mower for a couple of hours. These particular pressures have encouraged the War Grave horticulturalists to be innovative in planting designs and in the equipment they use. Petrol lawn mowers were introduced in the 1920s; and many of the mechanical tools developed for the CWGC have since become standard domestic gardening tools and equipment.

Climate change has its own requirements and a proactive approach has been taken. Drought tolerant planting, including turf have been introduced and trialled.

So next time you buy a poppy for Remembrance, important though it is as a symbol, remember it’s not the only flower that grows in Flanders fields.




For garden design and planting ideas; or Christmas gift vouchers for garden lessons in your own garden from a qualified teacher, why not drop us an email? info@plewsgardendesign.co.uk

Pumpkins, Hallowe’en and the Three Sisters Garden #2


Are you ready for the ‘trick or treat’ mob? Maybe this year you should quiz them in the uses of pumpkins and apples before handing out the sweets…or should I say turnips?
In the last post we looked at cultivating pumpkins, in this we look some of the links between pumpkins, apples and Hallowe’en.

Jack o’lantern is a term commonly used for the carved pumpkin faces seen at Hallowe’en. It originally described the eerie lights seen over marshes and peat bogs. These are also known as will o’ the wisp or ignis fatuus, literally ‘foolish fire’ or ‘false fire’. The lights are actually gases (including methane) caused by decaying organic matter – but I don’t think you’ll see them over the compost heap!

The origin of Hallowe’en dates back at least 3,000 years to the Celtic celebration of Samhain. This celebration, the Feast of the Dead, was held on October 31st and was a not a morbid festival, but one that honoured those loved ones who had died. It was one of the turning points of the Celtic year, the change from light to dark, from summer to winter. This was an agricultural society and the changing seasons were important markers in the year.

On the night of Samhain, glowing jack-o-lanterns, carved from turnips or gourds, were set on porches and in windows to welcome deceased loved ones and to act as protection against malevolent spirits. If you’re wondering why turnips, this is because pumpkins were introduced from the ‘New World’ by Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century, whereas turnips were grown throughout most Europe from Roman times or earlier. Oh and ‘jack o’ lantern’ when applied as a description to the carved out pumpkins dates from the 19th century.

Games were played, including one similar to the apple bobbing we indulge in now. The apple was important in Celtic mythology, an apple tree was found on the Isle of the Blessed. And the ‘bobbing’ may have reflected the heroes journey to obtain the magic apples. More prosaically, the apple harvest would be finished by Samhain so there would be plenty of apples to eat.

Pumpkins – winter squash – are an excellent crop for storing and will keep until February in the right conditions, cool, dark and frost free. As for what you do with the flesh scooped out from your Hallowe’en lantern, you could try pumpkin soup; a recipe we use can be found here.

For planting ideas to grow your Jack o’ lanterns for next year, why not drop us an email? info@plewsgardendesign.co.uk

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


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…

What is garden design?


We’re often asked what garden design is, and what does having a garden designed actually involve, so I thought a blog on it might help answer some of these questions. Plus it will hopefully give an insight into one of the main services we offer, and help clarify what Plews could offer you in the way of garden design.

All too often the garden becomes an afterthought and the last priority in home improvement budgets rather than being considered as part of the whole ‘let’s improve and renovate our home’ process. Garden design is important in helping you get the best out of your garden, whatever its size.

However, many people are not fully aware of what garden design is, or should be. Getting it wrong can be costly; even ‘just a patio’ can cost thousands of pounds and it would be a shame to spend your money and not get good value and the garden you would like at the end.

If you’re having a total rethink of your whole home environment your garden designer should be part of the beginning conversations that you have with architects, builders, landscapers so that your house and garden flow seamlessly. Asking the garden designer to come in after you have added the extension and narrowed the access when you wanted the steep slope behind the house flattening out, is like asking someone to shut the door after the horse has bolted. Garden designers are clever people but not usually miracle workers.

It may be that your house is fine, but you’re thinking about refurbishing your garden. Once again, garden design is the first stage to consider. A good garden designer needs to consider you and your garden from an expert’s viewpoint to enable you to get the best out of our service (and therefore the best garden possible). It involves a lot of listening and asking of questions, and also includes other aspects that a designer needs to look at and consider, both practical and creative.

A design can be a total re-think of a whole garden, be that rear garden or front garden. It could also be a planting design for an existing border; or a partial garden design, for example, for a vegetable garden, new seating area or wildlife habitat within the existing garden.

We offer, as do most garden designers, an initial design visit. This is an opportunity for you to ‘dip your toe in the water’ and find out more about whether your hopes for your garden are achievable; and what other things may be possible, without committing yourself to a huge outlay.

A full garden design will look at the existing garden in all aspects; what your ideals are; whether these are achievable on your budget; how to manage the budget and project, for example, would a staged approach be more suitable; it deals with hard landscaping, for example, patio, decking, fences; soft landscaping turf, planting; the use of garden space, ie how you use it now, how you would like to use it, how this might change, for example, as the kids grow up or if you have a house extension; and sundries, for example, washing line, statuary, lighting.her your hopes for your garden are achievable; and what other things may be possible, without committing yourself to a huge outlay.
Plews Garden Design can offer you design only or a full design and build package. Look here for full list of options. And some more on the garden design process here. Or email us for more details and to start chatting.Your garden is in all probability the biggest “room” you own and deserves the same thought and design afforded to the kitchen, living room or bathrooms. A courtyard garden or a small roof terrace needs a good designer so the best use is made of restricted space.

“Outdoors and indoors are inseparable; they are complimentary and supplementary, two sides of the same door…” Garrett Eckbo

Spring into bulb buying


ImageBulb purchasing and planting is an autumn task, but it involves thinking back to last spring and forward to next. A lot of gardening and garden design, if not most, is about planning the future and bulbs epitomise that aspect of gardening.

So, when faced with packets of bulbs with a close up picture of a tulip on the front what are you thinking? When flicking through bulb catalogues, what are you planning? Unless you have a large garden or lots of different areas to fill with bulbs, your main thought is probably how many spring flowering bulbs can you fit into your pots and borders. Or it should be. Be tempted by colour and from when you know how many you need.

Take the time before you buy to plan. Some questions you may like to ask yourself: are you planting in borders, containers, naturalising in grass? How many containers and how big are they? If in the borders, let’s be practical, consider how many bulbs you have the time to plant. Oh yes, and is there currently room in the border where you’d like to plant or do you still have late flowering Helenium and dahlias in full bloom?

Let’s find some answers. If your borders are still full and looking lovely, then congratulate yourself on a having a fine late display of colour. Make a note to look for and buy later flowering tulips and narcissus (daffodils). These could be planted when your Heleniums have gone over and still flower when they should next year. Another option is to buy the early flowering varieties you covet but plant them in pots. A further choice is to accept that they are likely to flower a bit later as you’ve planted them later.

At Plews we don’t generally plant too many bulbs at one go. Planting hundreds in one day is a chore we leave to friends who work in National Trust gardens. However, we do offer bulb planning and planting as part of our service to regular clients, as well as part of an overall design. Designing and planting containers whether for seasonal variation or a special occasion is one of those tasks which is pleasant to add into a regular routine maintenance schedule.

Planting bulbs in the border requires thought as to what else will be on show at that time of year when the bulbs are flowering and also when the foliage is dying down. When designing a border to include bulbs, where the client’s brief is for easy maintenance, the bulbs are part of a long term planting scheme, so we will often plant herbaceous perennials for the bulbs to grow through. These won’t have much if any foliage the bulbs are in flower, but will help distract the eye from the bulbs’ foliage after flowering. They will live quite happily together for some years.Image

Alternatively, the bulbs can be treated as annuals, and dug up after flowering and composted if virus free. Where the space utilised is edged or framed with evergreens this is a good, if more labour intensive option. Hardy and half hardy annuals can fill the same space as the bulbs but at a later time.

Thinking back to the previous spring; this is an opportunity to review what worked and what didn’t in your garden. Taking photos helps with the process, which is why I tell my students to take photos of their own gardens on a regular basis. Perhaps you visited gardens in the spring and were inspired by their bulb displays, or combinations of colours? Much of that can be tweaked to fit your own garden.

ImageRemember to protect your bulbs once planted, so the squirrels or neighbourhood cats don’t dig them up.

If you’d like to know more about our design, maintenance or teaching services, why not get in touch?

Apples:Designing the Garden of Eden?


Designing a garden to include lots of fruit is always satisfying: at this time of year my imagination leaps off the page and sees next year’s mini orchard in full harvest. Apple trees are especially popular – did you know that Britain is “apple monarch of the world” with over 2000 varieties available?Image

This year’s weather has affected the apple harvest, by reducing the quantity and quality, and generally giving a later harvest. A single apple tree can produce up to 200 apples and live for 100 years, so there is time for another harvest, a better harvest.

Not sure when to pick your apples? If they’re dropping to the ground as ripe rather than unripe ‘windfalls’ then it’s time to start picking. Cup the apple in your hand and twist gently; they should drop easily into your hand. Not all the apples may be ripe at the same time, so it may take 3 ‘goes’ at picking before the whole tree has been cropped.

What if you don’t have an apple tree of your own? If you’re thinking of buying one or two, now is an excellent time to taste different varieties and see which you prefer. You may find a good selection of apples at your local farmers market or farm shop. If you fancy them fresh off the tree why not find out if there’s an apple tasting day near you?

There are apple festivals aplenty – including one at Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection, where they’re also celebrating their diamond jubilee this year, just like Queen Elizabeth II. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale houses the world’s largest collection of temperate fruit on a single site. To see row upon row of apple trees is an impressive sight. And then you move on to the pear trees, the quince, the medlar, the plums, the cherries…

Choosing an apple tree isn’t just about taste of course, the size of the tree, whether you’d like a free standing tree or a trained form are also important considerations. Trained forms are particularly suitable for smaller areas as they make use of often overlooked space, for example, training an espalier along a fence. Single cordon apples can be grown in a large pot, ideal for a patio; I remember seeing some of these at Trinity Buoy Wharf many years ago, as part of ‘growing food in the city’ project.

But perhaps you fancy a tree with history? If you’re a scientist perhaps the Isaac Newton tree might appeal? The story an apple landing on his head in 1667 thus leading to Newton’s laws on gravity may tempt you to have an offspring of the same tree. The original tree stood in the garden of Newton’s home at Woolsthorpe manor, in Lincolnshire, and over the years grafts have been taken to grow new Newton trees. It is claimed that the original is still there, having regrown after falling over in a storm.

ImageThe Egyptians were among the first people to grow apples – apart from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I suppose. But the first person to grow the world famous Bramley cooking apples was Mary Ann Brailsford in the family home in Nottinghamshire in the early 19th century. If you’re wondering why they’re not called ‘MaryAnn’s’ that’s because the family moved away and it was a man called Bramley who owned the tree when some fifty years later a local nurseryman took cuttings and grew the fruit and trees commercially.

So what else do you need to know? Apple trees are sold as scions or grafts onto a rootstock. Basically, the rootstock determines the ultimate size of the tree whilst the scion will give you the variety of fruit. You’ll also need more than one, or need your neighbours to have a tree as well, as apples are not self-fertile.

In the meantime, taste away!Image

New beginnings…


September often starts with a blaze of warm weather as we head back to work, school and university after the holidays; this year the sun is reflected in the gold of those Paralympics medals…But is your front garden a medal winner? Do you have practical, neat and bee friendly passage between you and the outside world? Or do you have a weed ridden, sadly neglected wilderness?

It is all too easy to forget that the front garden is more than a depository for recycling boxes and dirty trainers. The eye tends to gloss over the bits that require effort and anyway, how much time do you spend looking at your front garden? Possibly you avoid looking because it’s a mess?

But your front garden should please you when you walk out of your door and when you return home. It is the first thing about you that visitors notice; it is the outward face you show to passersby. And if you’re trying to sell your house, an attractive front garden makes you feel better and improves the value of your property.

A front garden may compliment the style of the house – for example a traditional cottage could have a front garden in the cottage garden style; or it could have architectural and spiky modernistic planting ‘zinging it up’ for contrast. Although these days, especially in urban areas, front gardens also have to work hard to accommodate cars, bikes, recycling, as well as some greenery.

Budget constrictions often mean that the front garden is a low priority, being the space least time is spent in: it is often compared to a hall. But a hall can be a showcase for treasured pictures as well as a practical utility area for essential coats and shoes. Likewise, a front garden can be eye-catching and still accommodate recycling boxes as part of the scheme.

Why not employ a garden designer to resolve the front garden dilemma? Whether you’d like a ‘new beginning’ for yourself, or because you’d like to sell or rent out your house it’s easy to achieve a medal winning result. At Plews we can design, tidy, build and plant you a new space; or just design it for you, providing support for you to do-it-yourself.

We could design you a front garden which is both easy maintenance and increases the value of your property or which gives you the opportunity to indulge yourself with a planting scheme that wouldn’t stand up to the wear and tear of a family back garden. With the ‘feel good’ factor of the Olympics and Paralympics still at the forefront, we have devised a gold, silver and bronze packages for front gardens, aimed at those who are selling but suitable for those who are staying put too.

The smaller size of front gardens can be an advantage as a small budget for a front garden can achieve a big result.

For a re-design of your front garden, drop us an email