During the month of March the northern hemisphere spring equinox occurs, thus the length of daylight is
equal to that of darkness. From then onwards the daylight hours increase and the gardening season is well
and truly upon us and no doubt a floriferous spring and summer to look forward to.
A variety of summer bloom can come from the bulbous plants and the month of March is ideal to plant
the following popular bulbs:
- Cannas Lily
All of the above can be regarded as sub-tropical plants, which thrive in the sunny and warm locations of
the garden. Therefore, it is best to take heed of the weather forecast and not to proceed with planting if a
frost is imminent.
Essentially the difference between spring bulbs and summer bulbs is that the spring bulbs require several
weeks of cold temperatures to trigger the upward growth, hence they are planted in autumn and remain in
the soil throughout the winter with growth and blossom occurring in spring. However, the summer bulbs
with their preference for a warmer climate do not require this slumber period of cold temperatures.
The term bulb is used generically as it includes bulbs, tubers, corms and rhizomes. They are all
underground storage organs, the correct name which classifies them all under one umbrella is
‘Geophytes’ originating from Greek, earth (Geo) and plant (phytes).
The planting depths can vary depending on the type of bulb, a good rule of thumb is two to three times the
size of the bulb which more than often equates to planting approximately 100mm deep.
Dahlias are root tubers and can benefit from being pot planted in a greenhouse for the initial growth to
commence and then transplanted into the garden, this is to ensure they do not succumb to any frosts. It is
however, the temperature of the soil, a minimum of 13c and not the air temperature which contributes to
healthy and beautiful dahlias, therefore, it is best to choose an area with full sun and lighter, free drainage
Gladioli and Crocosmias are both corms and to be planted approximately 100mm deep and it is advisable
to prepare the planting bed by adding some compost after loosening the soil with a garden fork. The
Crocosmia corms will benefit from being planted in clumps, whereas, the Gladioli should be planted
individually with the point of the corm facing upwards and by placing several in close vicinity to one
another, one will be rewarded with a fabulous display of blossom. Gladioli also make excellent cut
flowers for the enthusiastic florists amongst us.
Begonia tubers are suited for containers and hanging baskets and will provide a continuous colour
throughout the summer and autumn. The fibrous rooted variety are more suitable for the garden beds. The
tubers have a convex side which is planted downwards, the concave side will posses the new growth and
faces upwards. Plant in a pot with a thin layer of gravel/shingle to allow for drainage then the remainder
with compost and plant the tuber just beneath the surface.
The range of colourful begonias available ensure hanging baskets are a great addition to any garden.
The canna lily is a rhizome (underground stem) and the large bold tropical leaves and striking flowers
make for a terrific display and should be planted in full sun and a sheltered location away from strong
winds. Plant the rhizomes, with the growing points facing upwards, 100mm deep with 500mm spacing
between each one for a superb summer display and then water thoroughly.
It is highly recommended to use a soil thermometer probe before the planting of summer bulbs, then one
can be sure the necessary soil temperature of 13c has been reached for a successful summer bloom.
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
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
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.
Hello everyone, Green Landscapes Cornwall are sharing with you some ideas about how to implement different features for your garden!