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
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
Lavender is without doubt one of the most popular shrubs to be found in any garden and with good reason too, providing a plethora of pleasures from the amazing aroma to the wonderful lilac flowers, particularly as they sway hither and thither in a gentle summer breeze. Planted alongside paths and walkways, as a small hedge, the perfume emitted is
therapeutic for the person, whilst at the same time attracting butterflies and bees. Planting lavender in clumps or in hedge form ensues a profusion of blossom and is more beneficial for the insects as it means they can jump from flower to flower with ease, compared to a sporadic planting plan.
Towards the end of August is the favourable time to prune and harvest the flowers, the soil temperature is at its warmest and once pruned the plant will have an opportunity to grow new shoots before the approaching winter, these shoots will then spring into life the following year.
Lavender angustifolia is by far the most suitable to grow here in the UK, the varieties Hidcote and Munstead being the most popular, the latter producing a slightly darker flower.
Both fall into the RHS pruning group 10 classification, meaning they flower on new wood and regular pruning will prevent them from becoming too woody.
The best time of day to harvest lavender for its aromatic properties is early morning, during this time the oils of the flowers are most profound. As the daytime temperature increases the fragrant oils dissipate and the flowers will then begin to open up more and this is the desired time to harvest for decorative purposes.
It is important to use sharp secateurs or shears for pruning as a clean cut is essential and one must avoid from cutting too low into the wood stem section as this will prohibit any new growth which is formed on the upper section only. Aim for cutting one third of the leaf section and in doing so forming a nice evenly rounded mound for aesthetic purposes
The cut stems and flowers can be bundled together with an elastic band or garden twine and hung for drying away from direct sunlight and in a dry sheltered location. Once the lavender has dried, approximately 3 weeks, the buds can be rubbed or shaken off and stored in a lidded jar.
There are numerous applications for dried lavender with imagination being key. The reputed therapeutic benefits include induced calmness, promoting sleep and lowering the heart rate all attributing to a more relaxed state.
To enhance the aromas of the house, dried lavender can be used to aid cleaning with a sprinkling of the flowers on carpet prior to vacuuming to release the fragrance.
Lavender oils also have multitudinous benefits and uses and a visit to the UK’s most southerly lavender farm based here in Cornwall is highly recommended. Here a wide range of products can be purchased, providing much inspiration too.
Contribution by Oliver David Cook on behalf of Green Landscapes Cornwall Ltd
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!
Summer bedding plants provide and create a temporary floral and foliage display during the
warm summer months. The form of display can be within the garden beds, hanging baskets or a
container of your choice. It is an excellent opportunity for one to become creative, not only with
the variety of plants available but, with also the type of container which can be used. For
example, a disused wheelbarrow or a pair of old boots can make authentic and attractive
Although grown from seed, they can be purchased in cellular trays and multi-packs ready for
planting and providing an almost instant effect.
The majority of the summer bedding plants are categorised as tender/half-hardy perennials,
hardy annuals, half-hardy annuals and hardy biennials. The following are some of the popular
- Sweet Peas
- Busy Lizzies
Generally, summer bedding plants are regarded as being frost tender and suitable for the
summer months only. They are excellent for filling any bare or vacant areas within the garden
beds, the larger areas can be planted with what is known as carpet bedding plants. Essentially,
these plants are more compact and closely integrated which give the effect of a carpet and it is
possible to create various different designs and patterns by using different colours of blossom.
This is widely seen in public gardens and commercial landscapes around the country where
many thousands of plants are used, the design layout being from a computerised plan.
The private garden does not have to be quite as formal, but an effective display can still be
achieved, whether the same colour is used in large clumps or long singular rows, it is another
opportunity to be creative in the garden.
Hanging baskets are a great addition for any garden or property and bedding plants with a
pendulous and trailing characteristic will create the best effect. Popular plants suitable for
hanging baskets are Lobelia, Begonia and Periwinkle, but, why not try the edibles of
strawberries and tomatoes.
Colour themes have long been popular and simple to achieve, this is known as monochromatic,
where each container or hanging basket is composed of plants with foliage or blossom in
shades of the same one colour. Again, another opportunity to be creative.
Regardless of the choice flowers and the location of planting, either within the borders or
container, the addition of summer bedding attributes to the garden a feeling of completion.
There will be minimal bare areas, a surrounding of flora with a profusion of colour and one must
not forget, a chance to be creative.
Contribution by Oliver David Cook
THE CHELSEA CHOP
When one talks of gardening in the month of May, without doubt the Chelsea flower show
will spring to mind. However, due to the unprecedented events this year and the prohibition
of the coming together of large groups of people and social gatherings has equated to the
nations favourite flower show unfortunately being cancelled.
For the first ever time the show will be a virtual event which can be viewed online:
Nevertheless, just because there is no actual Chelsea flower show it does not mean that
we cannot partake in the Chelsea Chop.
The Chelsea Chop, to clarify, is a pruning method to determine the size, shape and the
flowering season of many of the herbaceous perennial plants. It is so called as it is carried
out towards the end of May, coinciding with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
It is suitable for late flowering perennials. But, why should we carry out the Chelsea Chop?
It goes against the natural instinct to drastically cut back a plant prior to flowering.
If a herbaceous perennial is chopped down to half its height, using secateurs or shears, it
will delay the flowering until later in the summer. The plant will be more compact and
shorter which equates to less staking and the flowers can be more numerous if slightly
smaller. This is because the top shoots have been eliminated and side shoots lower down
will develop and produce the new flowers. Overall, the plants will look much tidier and less
If only half of the perennial clump is cut down, such as the front section, this will induce a
prolonged flowering season as the rear section will flower first, then followed later by the
pruned front section.
Plants which can benefit from the Chelsea Chop are:
- Phlox paniculata
- Echinacea purpurea
The following are suitable for coastal gardens:
- Anthemis tinctoria
- Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’
- Aster ‘michaelmas daisy’
The Chelsea Chop is hugely beneficial for perennials subjected to the coastal environment
of wind and salt spray. The chop creating shorter and stiffer stems and more stability.
The Chelsea Flower Show will be greatly missed this year, so why not visit the gardeners
world website and their own guide to carrying out the Chelsea Chop.
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
In these unprecedented times the garden can become our saviour, a place where we can temporarily escape
from the tribulations which are unfolding around us and the rest of the world too.
The garden provides food and medicine for the soul, but it could be regarded as reciprocal, that is the
plants no doubt benefit too from human presence.
There have been scientific studies that plants may benefit from being spoken to by humans and a great
advocate of this was the Duke of Cornwall himself, The Prince of Wales.
It was back in 1986 that Prince Charles famously quoted ‘I just come and talk to the plants, really – very
important to talk to them. They respond.’
Indeed, the plants will respond from the release of carbon dioxide which is produced when people exhale
as they speak. The plants then absorb the carbon dioxide which aids them with their growth and through
the process of photosyntheses, oxygen is released as a by-product which in turn is breathed in by the
It also maybe plausible that plants benefit from sounds such as a person talking. Sounds are forms of
vibrations which the plants do respond to.
An experiment was carried out several years ago by a television crew who arranged plants into separate
greenhouses, each greenhouse having a different theme of sound. One greenhouse was silent, another was
subjected to the sound of people talking, another to classical music and one to the sound of rock music.
The greenhouse which remained silent had the least growth and the greenhouses with music being played
had the most growth, the greenhouse of rock music having the most growth of all.
However, from this conclusion it is recommended that one must not play loud music in their garden if it
would cause any tension with the neighbours at this time of self-isolation, but some gentle singing maybe
Why not try an experiment yourself? It can work with house plants too. Have two identical potted plants
which are placed apart from one another, but if possible the same amount of sunshine and water.
Continually talk to one and not the other and after three weeks, the results may prove conclusive, either
way it can help pass the time of self-isolation.
Otherwise, venture out into the garden and start talking or singing to the plants, select a different area of
the garden each day if possible.
When asked at a later date if he still spoke to the plants, Prince Charles responded ‘No, now I instruct
Whether you wish to instruct them or talk about the day to day events which are unfolding rapidly in front
of our eyes, without doubt it will benefit both the plants and the person who is speaking.
BY OLIVER DAVID COOK
Hello everyone, Green Landscapes Cornwall are sharing with you some ideas about how to implement different features for your garden!