This Week’s Guest Blogger is Anna Matthews who is a professional gardener and book lover

Why I think we all should make an effort to buy old gardening books.

I’ve been a professional gardener for over 30 years. When I started my career I couldn’t always afford expensive new gardening books so I often searched through charity shops, jumble sales and car boot sales for old books. Nowadays its much easier with the likes of Ebay and Facebook Marketplace for example.

As a result I have bookcases all over my home with hundreds of old gardening books. Most of them I’ve paid a few pence for or a couple of quid. A lot do not have dust jackets, just plain exteriors and most were published after the Second World War. I usually ignore the section on chemicals used for pest and disease control although there are some old fashioned home remedies that are still safe and legal to use!

I always recommend Percy Thrower’s ‘How to Grow Vegetables and Fruit‘ to new kitchen gardeners but I can’t include a photograph of the book here because someone has borrowed it! I’ve lost count of the numbers of copies of the book I’ve bought over the years and given away. I was very fond of Percy Thrower. I remember watching him gardening in the Blue Peter Garden on TV. I used to always pick up copies I saw but its getting harder to get hold of. There are some brilliant new fruit and vegetable varieties that aren’t mentioned in this book but many of the old tried and tested stalwarts are included. He writes in a way that is easy to understand, it doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or experienced. He encourages you have a go and offers solutions as to why things may have gone wrong.

When buying secondhand gardening books always find out who the author was. For example a favourite book I refer to frequently is ‘The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs and Conifers’ by George E Brown. My copy was published in 1995 and wasn’t cheap when I bought it. The original version was published in 1972 and my version is updated and the flush cut techniques found in the first edition had been replaced by more modern theories. George Brown worked for decades as an assistant curator at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, where he was in charge of the extensive arboretum. His knowledge was incredible and he wrote in an way that I understand and can visualise what I am trying to achieve.

Choosing a couple of random books from the shelves:

Popular Orchids‘ written by Brian and Wilma Rittershausen cost me 40p because the price is still inside the cover. The photos are black and white but the authors were the second generation to run the family orchid business so their knowledge is learned first-hand and not gleaned from information found on the internet which is sometimes what I have found in later published books that contain glossy colour photos but incorrect information. That’s not just true about orchid books but many other more recent gardening books.

Dahlias‘ by Philip Damp cost me 99p in 2015: it was published in 1987 and contains many colour photographs! I was amazed to learn how many varieties of dahlia that I thought were relatively new were in fact well- established when the book was written. Philip Damp was an international dahlia specialist and a long standing member of the National Dahlia Society. He wrote several other books about dahlias and received several honours from dahlia societies around the world.

Having read this blog I hope you will consider buying more second-hand gardening books and stop them disappearing into landfill or being recycled. They may be plainer than modern books, often missing a glossy cover and with no colour photographs inside, but the wealth of information we can learn from people who were in horticulture for decades and really knew their stuff still impresses me today with each new purchase: and my overloaded bookshelves are the proof of this!

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Evie Somers Lead Editor at Up Gardener

“Can I use coffee grounds in the garden?” is a common question. The answer? “It depends!” Here’s what you need to know about composting with coffee grounds

For many of us, a cup of coffee is an integral part of the morning routine. If you’re someone who enjoys making their brew from grounds rather than instant, then this post is for you. We’re going to teach you how to use coffee grounds for composting, and the benefits they’ll deliver.

Why use coffee grounds in the garden?

There are a few good reasons to use coffee grounds in your garden, which we’ll introduce below.

Reason 1: Sustainability

This one is simple: Coffee grounds can be used in the garden, so surely it’s better to do so than to throw them in the bin. Whether or not you’re a strictly organic gardener, reward yourself with the warm fuzzy glow of doing something small for the environment.

Reason 2: Nutrients

Coffee grounds are rich in essential nutrients, especially nitrogen. One of the main functions of compost is to nourish your plants and encourage growth, but not all compost is suitable for all situations. If you’re growing plants that need nitrogen-rich soil, compost containing coffee grounds will be helpful.

When composting, a general rule of thumb is to add ‘brown’ and ‘green’ ingredients, in a ratio of about 4:1. Brown ingredients provide carbon and help air to circulate in the compost pile, while green ingredients provide other nutrients, including nitrogen. While coffee grounds are brown in colour, they’re considered green compost ingredients. Chuck them in your pile along with other green ingredients like fruit and veg scraps, and brown ingredients like straw, newspaper, dried leaves and more, and your pile will start to develop nicely.

Reason 3: Versatility

If you’re not an enthusiastic composter, you may not know that there are several common composting systems. Coffee grounds can be used in all of them –

  • Cold composting: This is the most common, sling-it-all-in-a-pile method. The compost bins you see at the end of people’s gardens contain cold compost. You just chuck stuff in and leave nature to take its gradual course.
  • Hot composting: In hot composting, you mix the pile regularly to encourage aerobic breakdown. When done properly, the inside of a hot compost pile can get up to 70 degrees Celsius! At this temperature things break down a lot quicker.

Circulating compost speeds up the whole process!

  • Bokashi: Technically this is a fermentation process rather than a composting one, but many gardeners lump them together. Bokashi uses bran to provide enzymes that ferment all sorts of food, and coffee grounds can be used alongside or as an alternative to this bran.
  • Vermicomposting: ‘Vermi’ is the Latin root for ‘worm’, and in this method, worms play an active role in composting by processing whatever scraps you give them. Worms can’t tolerate many coffee grounds, so go easy.

A few caveats

You’ll notice we’ve focussed heavily on compost so far. Here’s why: Uncomposted coffee grounds can actually cause harm in your garden!

You may hear people recommend using coffee grounds directly, either by working them through the soil, or applying them as a top layer of mulch. Despite being fairly common advice, this should be avoided. Uncomposted grounds still have a high caffeine content, and caffeine has an allelopathic effect on some plants.

What does allelopathic mean?

Allelopathy is a process through which one plant inhibits growth in another plant. You hear about plants competing for sunlight, with the loser not getting the nutrients it needs to photosynthesise enough. Well, caffeine can have a similar impact. Some plants produce caffeine as a means of gaining a natural advantage over surrounding plants by stifling their growth. With this in mind, adding raw coffee grounds seems like less of a good idea!

How not to do it

What about using coffee grounds as mulch?

Maybe you’re wondering whether you can use coffee grounds as mulch for plants that you’re sure won’t be negatively affected by caffeine. Again, we’d advise not.

The reason here is that good mulch needs to have certain properties: It needs to keep moisture in the soil below, while also allowing air and new moisture in. Unfortunately the texture of coffee grounds leads them to compact into a layer that’s too dense to let enough air and water through.

Chuck them in the compost pile, though, and they’ll become part of a mixture that lends itself well to use around the garden!

Coffee and compost

There you have it: Three reasons why you should be using coffee in your compost, along with a couple of caveats to avoid common pitfalls.

Thanks for reading. It’s our hope that you’re now inspired to save your coffee grounds from the rubbish bin, and divert them to your compost pile instead. Whichever your preferred means of composting, coffee will make a fine addition

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Colin Skelly, A Regenerative Horticulturist at The Eden Project

I would like to persuade you, in the 2 or 3 minutes you take to read this, that there is a lot hanging on the way we think about nature. There is widespread agreement that being immersed in nature from time to time is good for us. But the very sense in which nature is understood here implies that humans exist outside of nature. I want to persuade you that, when you think of nature in future, you should include humans in it – that humans and our activities are not separate from but are an intrinsic part of the great complex set of interactions of all living things on earth.
Our lives are integrated, intertwined, interwoven within the biosphere of a planet spinning around a star that provides the energy source for life’s existence. The strange modern way of thinking of humans as separate from nature arose from the industrial revolution and urbanisation. This placed much of lived human experience in environments shaped by human activity, in contrast to the wilder landscapes where human control was yet to appear paramount.
Yet we are rediscovering through the science of ecology, that there is no such separation. Everything that is synthesised by humans derives from rock, water, air or other living organisms. Plastics and fossil fuels – to name a couple of contemporary environmentally damaging products – derive from the human manipulation and use of the remains of life on earth 300-350 million years ago, namely oil and coal. Even the boundary between human and non-human in our bodies isn’t clear cut, our health depending on the microbes that live on and in us.
We need to return, from a modern perspective, to an understanding of nature that includes humans within in it but with an ecological sensibility that puts the relationships and complex interactions between all living organisms and their external environment at its heart.
Likewise, the relationship between humans needs to become more ecological, bringing sociology, cultural studies and environmental science together. This social ecology at its most basic is an awareness that our actions have consequences that shape human society, and that this shapes our relationships with the land, water, air and other living things upon which we depend for our existence. In short, without a more equally balanced relationship with each other, a restorative relationship between humans, other living things and the earth’s resources is unlikely to be possible.
What, you may ask, has all of this got to do with gardening? Well, gardening is a microcosm of the relationships I have been talking about, the human relationship with plants, birds, insects and your friends, neighbours and community. When you are gardening, think about how you are impacting your fellow living things, the earth’s resources and your social relationships. If we aim to gain in all these areas and to avoid losses, then we not only move beyond being sustainable (making things no worse) to genuinely regenerating our patch of earth. I will leave you to consider the wider possibilities and opportunities. All I ask is that next time you hear or use the word nature you make sure that you include us humans as part of the picture, not separate from it.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Marty Reville the Head Gardener at Kilmokea Country Manor and Gardens

5 of my favourites from 2020

The strange season of 2020 has drawn to a close, with a closed garden for most of the year, Kilmokea Gardens in the South East of Ireland benefited from more time for experiment.

  1. Calendula officinalis ‘Sunset buff’

A plant easily done from seed, initially intended to be a one year annual to fill empty spots has grown on me massively and will definitely feature for years to come. From containers to larger herbaceous borders it fits in anywhere to add something different. The pale orange petals on top with dark centre, the underside totally changes with dark lines adding a different dimension to the plant.

  1. Dianthus ‘Pinball Wizard’

A Dianthus that catches the eye like no other. Takes very easy from cuttings and will instantly create its own feature in any container. The close relation of Dianthus ‘Chomley Farran’ can be a bit too much for some to be spectacular but ‘Pinball Wizard’ is as easy on the eye as a red rose.

  1. Chrysanthemum ‘Dixter Orange’

A lovely Chrysanthemum that just keeps on going. Very little needs to be said on this one. Just put it in and enjoy it for as long as possible.

  1. Cobaea scandens

A climber I did from seed this year. A real showstopper in a sunny position. Will flower for a long time and if sheltered with the fortune of a mild winter will overwinter and continue to add colour with its purple and white bell-shaped flowers. Fairly easy to train up string or wire supports.

  1. Rhododendron ‘Cynthia’

Kilmokea, for those who haven’t ever visited, is quite a mature garden. Created from the 1950s onwards many of the older plants that include Rhododendrons, camellias, Eucyrphias and a huge selection of other plants have matured and now preform year after year without fail. One of these that in particular caught my eye was ‘Cynthia’. A nice size, roughly 2-3 metres in height and width, was covered in clusters in dark pink/maroon like flowers. A definite for any who are lucky enough to come across it.

For those of you who wish to see more from the Garden I manage and my own personal garden, please follow my Instagram page; thewexigardener. I became a head gardener at 25 for a 7 acre garden with many beautiful features and some areas for improvement, please go to my Instagram to follow my journey and feel free to get in contact. We welcome visitors from the 17th of March to the 1st of November with accommodation on site.