Tag Archives: gardening tips

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


Harvest festival and your garden



Harvest festivals are traditionally celebrated around the time of the Harvest Moon which is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. It’s an important time in the garden as well as on the farms.

Harvest festivals are thanksgiving festivals, a way of showing gratitude to one’s God or gods for a good store of food to keep the people fed through the lean winter months. Historically, Harvest festival was also an opportunity for the Landowner to give a feast for his workers in recognition of their hard work over the growing season. The first new ale would be drunk and loaves of bread made with the freshly gathered and milled wheat.

So why is the autumn equinox important to your plants? The Harvest Moon usually falls as a full moon at the end of September, but occasionally falls at the beginning of October. It’s at this point in the year that the day and night length are equal. The plants in your garden and allotment will notice the difference as they respond to day length.


Well actually, it’s not quite that simple, not all plants decide to hibernate once the nights become longer than the days; whether we’re having an Indian Summer or an early hoar frost makes a difference too. So, without dumbing down as you’re an intelligent bunch of readers, let’s have a brief botanical explanation as to why the plants in your garden start behaving differently now we’ve reached the autumnal equinox.

It’s important for a plant’s existence that it knows not to lets its seed germinate during winter, when hard frosts would be likely to kill the emerging seedling. Nor would it be productive to flower when there are no pollinating insects around. Neither is a good plan for survival of the species! There are both internal plant factors, such as the production of particular hormones and external factors that affect plant growth. It is the two major external factors that we’re looking at, and they are, as you’ve probably guessed, light and temperature.

white tulips

Generally speaking, most plants require a certain temperature in order for the seed to germinate and for the plant to grow. Which is why many plants lie dormant or semi-dormant over the winter months. Some plant species require a period of cold to encourage germination of the seed; for example, Tulips. When these plants are grown where the winter is not cold enough, Florida for example, they can be artificially chilled so as to stimulate flowering in the spring.

Photoperiodism, or plants’ response to day length, has been constant over millennia, and it is only recently, over the past couple of hundred years or so, that humans have been successfully able to interfere with the process artificially. Flowering plants are especially sensitive to photoperiodic stimulus; for example, have you ever forced Hyacinth bulbs for Christmas by putting them in a cool dark cellar then bringing them in to the warmth and light to flower?

There are three main grouping of flowering plants in relation to day length and their growth and flowering. Assuming that the plant is sufficiently mature and ready to flower, the day length becomes crucial for many of our favourite garden flowers.


Short day plants, Chrysanthemum, for example, react to the day length being shorter than a specified time; or put another way, when the hours of darkness are longer than the hours of daylight. So these plants tend to flower later in the season, during late summer and autumn.

Long day plants, such as Gypsophilla, tend to be spring and summer flowering plant; they respond to the day length being longer than a specified amount of time. However, day neutral plants, for example, Viburnum, are unaffected by the length of daylight hours and will flower when they are mature enough to do so.

So this is why the Autumn Equinox, as illuminated by the Harvest Moon, is a crucial turning point in the gardening year.

The cover illustration for our newest eBook “In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design” shows Demeter, who was the Greek goddess of the harvest and fertility and one of the aspects of the Triple Goddess, or Earth Mother, Gaia. An appropriate subject for a book about crops and harvest and food in your garden and allotment, we thought.

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

Plews Potting Shed – Information for You


We’re moving this gardening blog onto our new Plews website very shortly. You should be able to find us ok, as we’re hoping to have an automatic re-direct. But we’ll add the link on here as soon the new site is live.

We’ll be celebrating when it’s all done, and we’ll be posting up an offer for you, Gentle Reader as well.

This Harvest and Autumn Equinox weekend will see the Plews Blog still here, so until then, why not click on this link to one of our  ‘how to’ videos  and enjoy a Harvest Festival picture of the Earth Mother , Gaia, from the front cover of  Plews Autumn Almanac. We hope you keep following, reading and viewing us as we’ll still be following you.

Marie, Nathan and the Plews Team

Plews Garden Design – Resolving Your Gardening Issues with Inspirational Ideas and Flexible Solutions
In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

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

Spring flowering bulbs

bulbs laid out ready to plant

bulbs laid out ready to plant

Although it is possible to have bulbous plants flowering in your garden nearly all year, most of us in the UK and USA treat spring as the most important season for a flowering bulb display. Although they flower in the spring, these bulbs need to be planted in the autumn; so now is the time to be planning and purchasing your spring flowering bulbs.

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

Rather than dashing into spring bulb buying and then regretting the result next year, make yourself a coffee and

“Take the time to plan before you buy. 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.”

(Extract from Plews eBook “In Your Autumn Garden”)

Tulip 'dolls minuet'

Tulip ‘dolls minuet’

As for planting, the rule of thumb is to plant bulbs about three times as deep as the diameter of the bulb. This could be time consuming if you’re going to measure each one! The rough guide we use at Plews is that for larger bulbs, for example, Tulip, Daffodil and Hyacinth, we make a hole about 6-8” or 15-20cm deep. For smaller bulbs, for example, Crocus, Muscari, Bluebell, we make the hole about 4-5” or 10-12cm deep.

So, what are some of the more popular spring flowering bulbs? Some of Plews favourite spring flowering bulbs are:

Narcissus 'jetfire'

Narcissus ‘jetfire’

For vibrant displays:

Narcissus ‘February Gold’ and Narcissus ‘jet fire’ – a mix of to give you a brightly coloured display to liven up your mornings from February to April;

Bright red Tulip ‘Red Riding Hood’ has variegated foliage so extends the interest beyond flowering time; looks good in pots and borders.

Hyacinth 'Delft blue'

Hyacinth ‘Delft blue’

For softer shades:

Tulipa ‘dolls minuet’ has soft crimson red petals, with the subtle markings of the viridiflora tulip group;

Hyacinth ‘delft blue’ has the added pleasure of a delicate scent; plant it near a door so you can enjoy the perfume.

daffodils and pansies in patio container

daffodils and pansies in patio container

Remember to protect your bulbs once planted, so the squirrels don’t dig them up. If you’re planting in pots, we’ve found that adding shallow rooted winter bedding over the top of the spring bulbs generally works. The flowers in your winter display should keep going until your spring bulbs flower; how organised is that!

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design
Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

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

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

Gardening tips for watering in the hot weather

oriental poppy

oriental poppy

Many parts of Britain are basking under a summer sun; and our gardens are potentially baking under a summer sun. How do we enjoy the fine weather, keep our flowers blooming , our grass green and still have an easy maintenance garden?

We would all like to have an easy life and a beautiful garden in the hot weather. There is the option of not having any organic planting whatsoever, but I will be looking at zero planted gardens in another blog, so we’ll leave that topic for now.

The two main areas to consider for hot weather gardening are watering and drought planting. Watering your garden during a sustained hot spell or drought is  a short term response to the weather. Drought planting is a longer term design plan to reduce the maintenance requirements of your garden in hot, dry summer weather and in cold icy winter weather.

The short term – what do I do about it now? – tips for reducing the amount of watering that needs to be done in your garden during a drought period can be broken down into three types: re-think what and when you water in the garden; reduce the amount of water needed; re-use water when you can.

As most people would prefer to spend their leisure time enjoying the weather rather than watering the garden we’re concentrating on easy maintenance options.

santolina in need of watering

santolina in need of watering

Focus on the plants that need watering; this sounds obvious, but many people use limited water supplies on tending their established shrubs first and have run out by the time they reach their tomatoes! Food crops have different watering requirements. Fruit bushes and trees need watering at key times such as pollination & fruit setting. Annual food crops such as peas and tomatoes need more frequent watering as they have a shallower root system.

Flower, shrub and tree borders planted this year will need watering too as they won’t have had time to send roots deep into the soil. A thorough watering of the roots is more effective than spraying water all over the soil or plants. Not all of your new plants will need watering everyday even in prolonged hot, dry summer weather if you’re thorough in your ‘root watering’ . Check the soil at root level by gently digging down; if it’s damp then the plant doesn’t need watering.

Established plants should rarely need watering. There will be some exceptions, flowering herbaceous perennials under the shade of a tree, for example. Pot plants and annual bedding will also need watering.

Lawns – when you’re in your local park have a look at the grassy areas. They haven’t been watered. Neither do you need to water your lawn at home; the grass will recover when it rains. Set your mower to a medium rather than short cut as the longer blades of grass tolerate drought better. The only exception is where you have a recently laid turf or seeded lawn. These will need regular watering for about six weeks after installation and will require you to water them during a prolonged period without rain in their first growing season.

newly laid lawn with edges of strips separating - not laid by Plews!

newly laid lawn with edges of strips separating- not laid by Plews!

When should you water? Water in the evening as this reduces evaporation; unless you have a slug/ snail problem in which case watering in the early morning is better. This reduces the moistness around the plants overnight, when those gastropods are most active.

Re-use water; how? Your water butt may be empty, but there’s plenty of spare water in western households. When you’re washing up dishes in the sink rather than the dishwasher, wash them in a bowl instead. The water can be tipped into a bucket outside the back door and used on your ornamental plants once it’s cool.

Put a bowl in the basin so when people wash their hands this water can be used as above. This ‘grey water’ doesn’t store without treatment so use within a day or two.

Do you need to run the tap to get hot water? Make sure the water is running into a basin not straight down the drain! As this is clean not ‘grey’ water it can be used on food crops as well as ornamentals.

tomato tigerella

tomato tigerella

If you need to feed your peppers and tomatoes, water them first, as they then absorb the feed more efficiently.

Whilst we need to get the water to the plants’ roots rather than the top level of the soil, the soil surface shouldn’t be crusted. This will cause both your watering efforts and the rain (when it arrives) to bounce off the surface rather than be absorbed, which is not what is wanted! Break the soil up with a hoe if necessary.

Drought planting or designing a garden which is sustainable in prolonged hot weather is a long term view, something which we would plan for at the beginning of a garden design. Part of the design brief and discussion would be to look at how hot the climate is and for how long; what is the water availability for watering ornamental plants; how much time does our client wish to spend maintaining the garden (watering, deadheading, pruning etc) ; and the size of their budget. It’s an interesting topic, relevant to sustainable gardening and easy or low maintenance gardening and worthy of a blog post in its own right. (Watch this space)

For more tips on watering your garden during a drought, check out our blog archives or drop us an email with your specific query. We like to help.

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

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner

Chilean Glory Flower (Eccremocarpus scaber)

Chilean Glory Flower

Seeds and Seed Sowing Indoors


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

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 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


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.


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.