December is an ideal time to plan a garden reset or makeover in preparation for the following spring and if not practising already why not try cold frame gardening.
Cold frame gardening is a method of planting different types of green life, mainly produce, in a microclimate created by a man-made structure.
The addition of a cold frame within the garden enables the growing season to be extended. They are versatile, require little surface area, ideal for a small garden and are easy to build, alternatively, they can be purchased flat pack or ready-made from an established retailer.
Essentially a cold frame is a bottomless box with a skylight, a halfway house between a greenhouse and exterior planting.
They can be positioned directly onto any garden bed and assist in warming bare soil in early spring.
The transparent lid allows the sunlight to enter and simultaneously prevents heat loss by convection which would otherwise normally occur, particularly during the night. Thus, a microclimate is generated with an increase in soil and air temperature and also providing protection against the elements, such as strong wind, rain, hail and even snow. Plants can be started earlier in spring, such as seedlings which can then be transplanted to open ground once established.
A variety of produce can be grown in a cold frame, the most popular being lettuce, spinach, kale and green onions. However, a variety of root vegetables and brassica can be grown too.
When deciding to position the cold frame, take in consideration that full sun is essential and the transparent cover should slope downwards at a slight angle facing southwards to absorb the heat from the sun and to allow for rain run off.
A cold frame can be constructed from any material, the sides being of a solid material such as wood or masonry and the top being of a transparent material such as glass. A wooden structure can look aesthetically pleasing as well as being portable too, whereas, brick or block structure will be a more permanent feature and choice of location should be greatly
considered before building.
The most simple method of construction being straw bales used as sides and an old disused glass window or door placed on top. Imagination is key!
It can be designed and built to suit your particular needs, hinges and handles attached for ease of opening the cover and if preferred one crop could occupy the entire cold frame or a combination of crops in rotation to provide produce throughout the year. It is important to ensure the transparent cover is clear from any debris, as this will inhibit heat absorption and with crops being under cover, regular watering will be required. Increased humidity can be a problem within a small enclosed area, therefore, allow for slight ventilation within the cold frame structure.
Specific frame designs are available so they can be positioned on a hard landscaped surface such as paving. These can take on the appearance of a miniature greenhouse and more suitable for potted plants.
Cold frames are cheap to buy, easy to build and easy to maintain. They can be sited directly onto a garden bed, gravel or a paved surface and are a valuable addition to any garden, large or small. A mobile and modular solution for growing plants, lower in price and occupying less space in comparison to a greenhouse, there are many advantages of
cold frame gardening.
contribution from Oliver David Cook
They maybe all around us now and covering large areas of the garden, often regarded as a hindrance when it comes to the maintenance of a neat and tidy garden. But, alas, leaves falling to the ground is a message from nature which one should take heed of, and that message being leaf matter is the best natural and free mulch available for the gardener and grower.
Fallen leaves can be found residing in many areas, from resting on the lawn to wind blown corners of the garden and now is the time to sally forth and gather. A large pile of leaves can be transmuted into leaf mould, the decomposed matter formed when the leaves have decayed over time. The leaves can be stored in plastic bin liner bags with a few holes
pierced in the sides and bottom, once full, a sprinkling of water is advisable then storage in a shady area of the garden is essential and the following autumn the rotten leaves form a crumbly rich surface mulch.
To be left for a second or third year will allow for increased decomposition of the leaf matter and this, with its added microbes, can then be used as a conditioner and soil enhancer which can be dug into the soil to aid in water retention for drier ground and for improving drainage in heavier soils. If preferred a leaf storage bin can be constructed and there are numerous methods of construction, one composed of chicken wire which permits air to travel through, being the
most simple. Once a large amount of leaves have been placed into the bin, apply a sprinkling of water and then cover with some black plastic sheeting on top to encourage the decomposition.
Leaf mulch is high in nutrients which will pass slowly into the ground below. As with all mulches it prevents the ground from drying out during the summer months and from becoming too cold or even freezing in the winter months. It also reduces the opportunity for the unwanted plants referred to as weeds to grow.
The leaves can be gathered regularly as they fall with hand tools such as a rake or broom, a lawn mower can be used on a higher setting to collect leaves from the lawn whilst shredding at the same time. If the leaves are not collected soon after falling, then they will dry out and loose their nutrients.
If your own garden is devoid of fallen leaves then maybe ask the neighbours, I am sure they would be happy with the assistance of leaf clearing. Or vice-versa, others in the neighbourhood may require leaf mulch too. The coming together can create a community free leaf mulch, this way the local gardens will never be without a mulch or compost.
It is advisable to avoid leaves which have been lying on roadsides, they may contain toxins. Certain leaves will break down faster than others, Horse Chestnut leaves taking longer than Oak leaves. The leaves from Walnut and Eucalyptus do contain a natural herbicide, this may inhibit the growth of plants within the area the mulch or mould is
The splendour of the autumnal colours from bright yellow to orange to a crimson red, it is one of natures finest displays, the deciduous trees then sleeping for the winter months. They took nutrients from the ground to assist their growth during spring and summer, and now is the time to give back to nature and this can be achieved by gathering the fallen
leaves and making a leaf mulch or mould full of natural nutrients.
Contribution by Oliver David Cook
April is an ideal month for attending to any existing lawn care issues which may have arisen over time. If
it is a newly laid lawn which is desired then now is advisable before the average temperature begins to
For the first cut of the year it is recommended that the setting of the lawn mower should be on a higher
setting. This is known as the ‘one third rule’ meaning one must not cut more than a third off the length of
the blade of grass in one go. Cutting shorter on the first cut can stress the grass and if cut too short and
scalping occurs, then a bare patch would be inviting for weeds to grow.
Towards the end of the month the cutting height can be reduced to achieve the eventual desired length,
however, this is dependant on the weather conditions and if the grass is growing profusely then more cuts
maybe required or the cutting height may have to be reduced earlier.
Before the first cut is made, an overall inspection should be made of the lawn and with a grass rake in
hand, rake as much of the lawn area as possible. This is to achieve clearing the lawn of any stones or
debris which may damage the blades of the mower, it also lifts the grass blades signalling them into life,
removes any unwanted thatch and an opportunity to observe any bare patches or areas where weeds are
making an appearance.
Aeration is advisable too, particularly in the areas which are susceptible to compaction and this can be
carried out with a standard gardening fork, the numerous holes allow the root zone more access to air and
water and the chance for the lawn to breath. Aeration also aids in controlling the unwanted thatch which
hinders lawn growth.
The key for mitigating weed growth is to eliminate the bare patches of lawn, if the grass is thick and lush
the weeds have less chance of growing. One must ask why a bare patch exists and does it occur in the
same area each year, this maybe due to the area having minimal sunlight such as under a tree canopy. If
this is the case then it maybe worthwhile considering reducing the lawn size and create a shallow garden
bed for small shade tolerable plants.
Where there are other bare patches of a noticeable size the ground can be prepared for ready made rolls of
turf or alternatively grass seed can be applied. Preparation is of the utmost importance here and watering
after the turf has been laid or the seed has been sown is essential.
With the possibility of having more time available, then those deep rooted dandelions, providing they are
not too in abundance and the ground reasonably soft could be dug out by hand.
It is the bane of the lawn lover, but the dandelion with its bright yellow flowers is beneficial to pollen
beetles and bees particularly in the month of April, therefore, if desired the first cut could always be
It should be considered too that if the lawn was to remain slightly longer throughout the year, cut on a
higher setting, then this may result in less weeds. The greater surface area on an individual grass blade
equates to increased photosyntheses, which then results in more growth and increased root system, hence
reducing the space for weeds to grow.
by Oliver David Cook on behalf of Green Landscapes Cornwall
It is a month which at times can show signs of spring and entice one to partake in some gardening. Indeed, if the weather is genial then February is the ideal month to prune those plants which belong to the RHS category of Group Six pruning.
Essentially, these are the plants which flower late summer to autumn and on the current new seasons stems and growth.
Examples of plants which adhere to Group Six pruning are:
As these shrubs flower on the same years growth a hard prune is required during the month of February and as in the case of the hardy Fuschias almost down to ground level, this can be extremely therapeutic too for the person who is doing the pruning. Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ which exhibits a wonderful display of blue-lilac flowers, also known as Russian Sage, will benefit immensely from a hard prune back to its basal shoots. Perovskia thrives in many coastal areas and in many soil types and with aromatic leaves akin to sage and an appearance similar to lavender it makes an excellent low lying hedgerow.
Buddleja Davidii also known as the ‘Butterfly Bush’ can be cut down, using large pruners, to approximately half a metre from the ground, this will encourage upright shoots with a slight arching habit and will be greatly appreciated by the butterflies.
As a rule of thumb for shrubs which adhere to Group Six pruning, cut back the previous years flowering stems to one or two buds from the older framework.
Certain types of Clematis will also be required to have a hard prune in February, this is particularly the case for Herbaceous Clematis, Gypsy Queen and Clematis Viticella. They all flower on the current seasons growth in late summer and if they are not pruned annually the stems will be devoid of flowers and only up high will the flowers grow and most often amongst a tangled mass of growth. It must be noted that Clematis has its own pruning group classification, those which flower in late summer fall into Clematis Group 3, whereas, those which flower in early summer and on older wood or the previous years growth fall into Clematis Group 2. If unsure when to prune, then observe the time of year the Clematis will come into flower.
For the kitchen gardeners, autumn raspberries will fall into Pruning Group Six.
All old canes should be cut back down to ground level in February and the new canes will start to grow in spring and then fruit in late summer. It is important not to mistake summer raspberries for the autumn variety, as they fruit on the previous years canes, which would result in a loss of crop.
Contribution By Oliver David Cook
MISTLETOE the ‘air-plant’
Mistletoe, its true name being Viscum Album, is synonymous with this time of year particularly with the tradition of ‘Kissing under the Mistletoe’.
There are many ancient mistletoe traditions, the best known being the Scandinavian legend Balder, the god of peace, who was killed by an arrow made from mistletoe and was resurrected by the other deities. The goddess of love was then entrusted with the
mistletoe and regarded it as symbol of love, hence, any person passing beneath shall receive a kiss. Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic shrub with white viscous berries and of the natural order Loranthaceae. It is a native of Europe and North Asia and requires a host plant with which to grow on, such as an apple tree in the garden. Orchards benefit from the growing of mistletoe on their fruit trees, thus yielding a return during the winter months when the trees are dormant. This is what makes the mistletoe so unique, it is also known as an ‘air-plant’ that is it is not rooted to the ground but it attaches itself to other plants, the correct
name for such a plant is an Epiphyte, this word originating from the Greek words epi (upon) and phyton (plant).
The bark and the leathery mistletoe leaves are of a yellow-green colour and are oval- lance-shaped, mostly in pairs. In spring, there are inconspicuous yellow flowers which consist of four triangular sepals, a similar number of anthers and an ovary with simple stigma. This is followed by poisonous white berries, however, they are devoured by birds most notably the Mistle Thrush, the seeds becoming attached to the branches of trees by their agency. On germination the embryo pierces the bark and penetrates to the wood and here it draws most of its food from the tree, but it manufactures carbohydrates in its leaves.The constituents of mistletoe can vary due to the host plant with which it grows on
and it is believed the Druids regarded the mistletoe which grew on an Oak was the superior, although Oak being a rare host. It possible to grow your own mistletoe and there are numerous fact sheets and websites available including the following:
Hello everyone, Green Landscapes Cornwall are sharing with you some ideas about how to implement different features for your garden!