We often strive for an orderly and well maintained garden, one which looks tidy with regular pruning, mowing of lawns and the weeding of garden beds. Aesthetically pleasing and satisfying this may be, the garden, however, becomes devoid of any mess and untidiness, and this in due course can have an adverse affect on the wildlife and beneficial insects.
The beneficial insects being those which create a natural ecological balance within the garden, attracting a range of prey and predators. These insects and mammals work in harmony and will reduce the unwanted pests which can attack the vegetable garden and shrubs alike. They will also lessen the need for any chemical applications. To entice these insects into the garden, a suitable, natural habitat is required, and the most appropriate is a dead wood habitat, essentially, a pile of logs or a wood stack.
Winter is an ideal time to procure the dead wood, either from gathering any fallen branches within the garden or by pruning the dead limbs and branches, particularly from deciduous trees and shrubs. Avoid collecting the wood from natural woodlands and hedgerows as this will be disrupting an existing habitat and the natural environment.
Alternatively, ask neighbours if they have any excess dead wood they are wanting rid of, I am sure it would be greatly appreciated.
The location of the wood pile within the garden is critical for a successful dead wood habitat, it should be away from direct sunlight and sited in a full shade area, or with dapple light. This environment will augment the wood decay and encourage fungi, mosses, lichens and insects.
To construct a log pile it is advisable to find logs with the bark still attached, the bottom layer of say four to five logs to be partially buried into the ground, the decaying wood beneath the soil’s surface attracts certain types of beetle. Ensure there are nooks and crannies for insects and mammals to enter and then add leaf litter into the gaps to encourage hedgehogs seeking hibernation. Another couple of log rows can be placed on top, the dark and damp conditions will lure centipedes, millipedes and woodlice which in turn attract the predators such as birds, toads and hedgehogs.
A wood stack is constructed with smaller branches and twigs and is just as beneficial as a log pile for wildlife. Firstly, it is recommended that branches/stakes are driven vertically into the ground, forming a rectangular shape and with approximately half metre remaining above ground.
Then start with laying the larger branches at the bottom and begin to fill the formed rectangular shape with the remaining branches and twigs until the desired height is reached.
A mixture of wood is good for both log pile and wood stack, however, poplar and willow cuttings can have a tendency to re-sprout if in prolonged contact with the ground. The wood will slowly decay over a duration of time and more can always be added, thus, a permanent home has now been created to encourage the beneficial insects and assist
towards a balanced ecological garden. If unsure how to dispose of the logs and wood cuttings, then why not transmute them into a dead wood habitat, as dead wood breeds life.
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
The pumpkin is characteristic of autumn and synonymous with October and Halloween, it is also variety of squash and its true name being a cucurbita, which is the latin name for gourd. A gourd being a trailing or climbing plant, containing large fleshy fruits with a hard skin, some varieties being edible, others for decoration.
As a guide, the middle of October is an ideal time for harvesting of squash and pumpkin, however, one should be vigilant, they are frost tender and to harvest before the first frost is strongly advisable.
Allow the fruit to mature and colour wholly on the plant prior to the harvest, the colour being dependant on the type and variety which is grown.
The skins should be hard and not easily dented by a fingernail and its shine will also be slightly diminished. A soft outer skin will be susceptible to damage and eventual rot.
If the fruit cannot be harvested before a frost or a large amount of rainfall, then it is recommended to raise the fruit off from the ground, thus it is not in contact with the soil to lessen the chance of rot and infection. This can be done by the use of straw, cardboard or a solid object such as wood or a brick.
To reduce the chances of disease and infections it is best to harvest on a dry day and using a sharp knife or pruners and cut the stalk as far from the fruit as possible, ideally 10cm. The stem remaining intact with the fruit is essential for good health and storage and for this reason do not be tempted to carry them by their stems, the weight of the fruit causing it to brake off.
The fruit can then be cured, which entails leaving them exposed to higher a temperature, either outside or inside on a windowsill for approximately ten days.
This curing will improve flavour, heal any wounds and harden the skin. After they have been cured they can store for two to three months in a cool, dry and dark environment, ideally about 10c. However, beware that it does not become too
cold as they may soften and begin to rot.
During storage, ensure they are not touching each other and preferably, they are on a wooden surface or cardboard, do not store on concrete as it will increase the chances of rot.
Certain varieties of squash and pumpkins are suitable for a longer winter storage, whereas, others are best to be consumed this autumn, therefore, it is best to check which type you are harvesting. The popular squash varieties being the butternut, the golden butternut (coquina) and the striped harlequin are enjoyed with great gusto soon after harvesting.
Pumpkins which are best for consumption are not usually the best for Halloween carving and Jack-O-Lanterns. A rule of thumb being a smaller denser pumpkin will contain more flesh and are best for cooking, whereas, a larger pumpkin will have more area for artwork and with less flesh it will be easier to carve.
Gourds are extremely high in nutrients and being classified as a fruit they contain seeds too, which can also be salvaged and consumed.
It maybe for the culinary delights or for decorative purposes, either way, enjoy the wonderful squash and pumpkin which nature has provided us and after Halloween, why not return the pumpkin to the natural environment and use it as a bird feeder? It will be greatly appreciated.
Contribution by Oliver David Cook
Early autumn is an ideal month to divide the herbaceous perennials of the garden. These are the flowering plants which die back each winter, the roots remaining dormant beneath the soil until the arrival of the following spring, this bringing warmer temperatures which triggers new growth to commence once again.
There are a variety available, producing a beautiful array of colours for the entire summer season. Popular herbaceous perennials are:
The question is why to divide?
Herbaceous perennials can outgrow their space and look rather messy, particularly in the centres and after division, older plants will have an opportunity to rejuvenate.
The garden beds overall may have become overcrowded with plants encroaching on others adjacent to them and without dividing, the following summer the crowding will augment.
It is a productive method to increase the number of plants within the garden and to fill any empty spaces that may exist, this being division is quicker in comparison to growing from seed. It can also save money, if the garden has recently been landscaped then it is an excellent way of adding plants and colour to a newly formed bed.
When dividing, it is advisable to cut down the summer growth of the taller plants near to the base, then with a garden fork gently lift the plant working outwards from the centre as the most vigorous growth is found on the outer areas of the clump. Alternatively, the traditional method of digging deeper around the perimeter of the plant with the intention of
lifting the entire perennial.
A spade can be used on the tougher plants such as Hostas and slicing the clump in two after being lifted.
The smaller plants such as Geraniums, clumps from the outer edges can be lifted using a garden spade, then once lifted, they can be divided again into smaller clumps with the use of a sharp knife.
Perennials with tubers or rhizomes may naturally fall apart when dug, otherwise the tubers are often visible above ground, indicating where to divide.
The divisions should be planted as soon as possible and well watered, part of the clump could be replanted in the same position or a different area of the garden.
It is beneficial to clean the soil from the roots, the advantage being the health of the roots can be seen as one does not wish to replant damaged or diseased roots or tubers. When ever a plant is lifted it is subjected to shock, however, during the dormant time of autumn the shock is less profound. The plants growth cycle after division will be slow as it
recovers from this disturbance. The age old saying being;
‘After you divide a perennial, the first year it sleeps, the second it creeps, and the third
year it leaps’.
Contribution courtesy of Oliver David Cook on behalf of Green Landscapes Cornwall Ltd
Having made the obligatory bookends back in the mid 70’s, my path to wood-working was set.
Wood is one of those materials that you do not need a huge number of tools to be able to create and craft something from, a simple pocketknife is where most people can start. whittling....... a pointy stick, a bow some arrows, a spoon, a candlestick for granny.... and here the seed is planted for life; great oaks from little acorns grow. I am not saying we will all become great furniture makers or timber building experts, but you can make a living out of it. Over the course of my varied career I have often relied on my wood working skills in between jobs! To physically build something with your own hands I believe is possibly one of the most satisfying things that you can do. Start small and work your way up.
Hard or soft, interior or exterior that is the question. Wood has been used over the centuries utilising its natural strength, durability, lightweight, and adaptability to build virtually anything! Different woods have different properties. I will confine my thoughts to the UK rather than the global list of timber. At the hard and durable end of the scale is the mighty Oak, usable both in its natural or ‘Green’ state for traditional timer framed houses or dried for furniture indoors or outdoors. Then there are the likes of Cedar and Larch both known for their natural durability especially outside, as in roof shingle/tiles and building cladding respectively. Then we move towards the softer woods, mainly used in modern house constriction, these can be slower grown such as the Scots Pine, or faster growing and softer Douglas Fir. All woods have their own unique properties such as Willow for cricket bats or Yew for longbows; they can be used in their natural form such as Hazel hurdles or kiln dried for fine quality furniture.
"To physically build something with your own hands I believe is possibly one of the most satisfying things that you can do. Start small and work your way up."
Whatever you decide to make there is always a tool for it, if correctly sharpened and used it can make your life much easier; but it is amazing what you can do with just a hand saw, a hammer and some nails! One of the most important things to remember is that wood working tools are sharp so that they can cut or slice through the tough fibres of the timber, what you do not want is the same cutting edge doing damage to flesh and bone. I have never met a woodworker who has not had too close an encounter with one of his tools and displays the scars with pride; but I do not
Now for the juicier bit… how and what to do with that wasted area in the garden that is on too steep a slope to be of any use, except as an Eddie the Eagle practice ski slope. Perhaps you need to extend your internal entertaining house space by taking the inside out! Building a Deck area either alongside your house or to create a special area within the garden does not have to be too daunting a task. In a nutshell, or perhaps I should say an Acorn? There are a few factors to take into consideration. For the sake of this blog I will assume that you have decided on a decking area rather than a stone patio. I will also take a more practical look at the process. Things to consider.
What material you want to use, there are several choices; dependent on budget, aesthetics, maintenance, and environmental impact… the choice is yours? Woods like Larch or Cedar that are more water resistant than say pressure treated sort woods. Hardwoods such as Teak or Oak are at the pricier end of the range but require less maintenance. Wood-polymer composite decking, made from recycled plastic and wood fibres, has come a long way in the last few years and in my opinion is a much better alternative to plastic (hollow) decking and has some qualities that start to compete with the softer wood options; both on longevity and upkeep. For a more contemporary feel there is Aluminium, generally made from recycled products. I have recently come across and worked with charred timber planks for decking. A technique originally used by the Japanese in the 18 th century referred to as “Shou Sugi Ban”. The surface of the timber is burnt to enhance its durability and aesthetics.
Whether it is a slopey side of a hill or an uneven bit of useless ground beside your home, setting your datum or starting point is essential. I like to call it “The Motherboard”, all boards are created equal, but some are more equal than others! If
you get this one right everything generally goes to plan, if not chaos will reign! This could simply be your desired finishing height or the height of an existing step or patio.
"I have recently come across and worked with charred timber planks for decking. A technique originally used by the Japanese in the 18 th century referred to as “Shou Sugi Ban”. The surface of the timber is burnt to enhance its durability and aesthetics."
You need to keep the decking planks up and away from potentially wet ground, therefore a solid and stable sub-structure is needed. You can either use concrete slabs or blocks or 100mm x 100mm posts concreted into the ground, this is my
preferred option as it ensures that what you build stays there! I would then normally recommend 50mm x 150mm pressure treated softwood or 6” x 2” for those of my age bracket (we don't discriminate); smaller timbers can be used if space and height is an issue but you will need to reduce your span distances accordingly. Then to nogging or not to nogging is the question? A nogging or a dwang if you are in Scotland or NZ, is a bracing piece of wood fitted between floor joists to prevent them from twisting under pressure; only really needed with larger structures and greater spans. I find the combination of upright posts and the decking boards themselves do for solid structure, another reason why I like to use posts. Then its just a case of laying out and fixing your boards; two screws in each board on every joist, with a 5mm gap between boards; a good little impact-driver savers a lot of time and your drill. Until next time.
Garden Inspiration During Lockdown..
We have recently experienced what was known as a lockdown and there has been much uncertainty. But
what was certain was the extra time which had become available and enabling more time to devote to
one’s own garden and to encourage inspiration for a garden makeover or similar.
It maybe starting to notice particular areas of the garden, at certain times of the day, are more desirable to sit and
relax in, areas which went previously unnoticed before, prior to the lockdown. A corner of the lawn, for
example, subjected to immense spring sunshine, could be transformed into a landscaped seating area for
all to enjoy.
There has been more time to ponder how a section of the garden could be better utilised and the potential
of a transformation.
It may be an area is suitable for growing produce, ranging from small fruits and berries, a selection of
vegetables or even the planting of fruit trees, which could be trained in an espalier fashion against a south
Or, a sensory garden to enhance the time of relaxation...
For sound, the installation of a water feature and the sound of running water is extremely therapeutic and
would also entice wildlife into the garden.
For scent, a variety of different plants are available and with a specifically designed planting plan,
pleasant aromas can be enjoyed throughout the year.
For sight, from decorative hard landscaping creating vistas to formal and informal designs it is limitless to
what can be achieved. The choice and range of plants from architectural to wild flowers will have a
dramatic affect on the appearance of the garden.
All of the above will entice wildlife, particularly birdlife, which are enjoyable to watch and the diverse
range of bird song being soothing to listen to.
Inspiration may come from perpetually looking at a rather bland boundary fence or wall which would
benefit from climbing plants attractively trained across them. These could be planted in a raised planting bed constructed in front of the existing boundary either from brickwork, coloured walling or timber sleepers to improve the entire aesthetics of the existing fence or walling.
Does the garden slope considerably and could it be levelled or even terraced into two or more separate levels, each level having a different theme, from a lawn section to a hand landscaped section to a wild-flower area, imagination is the key.
Or is the desire to have the immediate area at the rear of the house transformed as an exterior room, an
extension of the house for alfresco dining, to enjoy those warm summer evenings when the weather is
An area of dapple shade is a great attribute to the garden. The construction of a timber pergola is the
preferred option with a climbing plant or two growing over the cross beams at the top to provide partial
protection against the sun’s rays.
Whatever the change made to the garden, the extra time at home has provided much inspiration for all.
For more inspiration visit The National Trust website who have uploaded virtual tours of their properties.
During the peak months of summer and particularly July, the garden more often than not is in
need of water and it is important to monitor all perennials, shrubs and lawn to ensure they are
receiving a sufficient amount.
Hanging baskets, container plants and newly planted summer bedding plants are the most prone
to drought due to being shallow rooted. Shrubs and trees will be deeper rooted and will be able to
source their water supply from further down beneath ground level, that is providing the water
table level has not dropped too low from a prolonged period of dry weather.
There are two sources of water supply available for use in the garden and they are tap-water and
rainwater, the latter being natural and more beneficial as it contains no chlorides and has zero
hardness. However, when there is a limited supply of rainwater, then tap-water will be the only
Ponds and water-features this time of year can drop to a low level and will require the use of a
hose for a regular top up to maintain a sufficient level, this will also benefit any fish, particularly
with the addition of a spray attachment which will aid in aeration.
To maintain a lush green lawn during dry periods can be challenging and it is advisable to water
only once a week to minimise wastage. An excellent suggestion by the RHS is to place an empty
jam-jar on the lawn and with the sprinkler running for a sufficient time, that is until 13mm
(0.5inch) has collected at the bottom of the jar. This is the optimum amount before excess water is
wasted as the lawn has now received its required amount.
With regards to watering plants, it is more economical and efficient to use a watering can
compared to indiscriminate watering by a hose.
Water management is extremely important during periods of drought and the essence of this is the
method of water storage and harvesting. The most popular method by far is the use of water butts
positioned below downpipes which then take the run-off of rain water from various roofs such as
garden sheds, greenhouses or even the house. With the water butt raised up on blocks, the tap at
the base can be utilised to fill watering cans with the valuable stored rain water. The question then
is when is the best time to water the plants and lawn of the garden?
The blades of grass will hold moisture in the early hours of the morning, the moisture retreating
to the roots around midday. It is a general consensus that to avoid evaporation the best time to
apply water is in the morning or evening whilst avoiding the heat of the midday sun. The morning
application is the most favoured, this is because the ground will be drier as the day progresses
compared to the evening time, equating to a reduced chance of mildew diseases and the arrival of
slugs and snails.
The final question being: Is it best to water from the top, watering the leaves too, or from the
bottom and the roots only?
The jury is still out!
Hello everyone, Green Landscapes Cornwall are sharing with you some ideas about how to implement different features for your garden!