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Monique Gudgeon, Sculpture by the Lakes

Monique Gudgeon, Sculpture by the Lakes

” Never look at a failed plant as  a loss, …always a new planting opportunity…”

As we edge closer to autumn and swap warm summer evenings for cooler nights, my thoughts turn towards tidying the garden for winter.  Although I love the exuberance of the garden in summer, when all is heavy with flower and fruit starts to ripen on the trees, it all tends to get a bit messy as autumn comes in and I itch to get going with secateurs, shears and rake.  I resist the temptation to the last possible moment though, because of course, this time of year is one of the most important for the wild creatures that share our gardens.

Late flowering plants, seed heads, fallen fruit, leaf litter, dead stems and grasses – all these form the basis of the winter larder and warm cosy nests, and are vital in keeping wildlife alive during the winter months.   So I keep my tidying impulses well under control and enjoy the garden for the remaining warm days.

Of course it’s not all about shutting down for the winter because we are fast approaching that time of year when spring flowering bulbs need to go into the ground, or into pots for early displays.  Planting bulbs is such a positive thing to do when the days are getting shorter; when the days start to lengthen again and those first green shoots appear you realise you have a whole new growing season to look forward to and spring is nearly here.

I have already ordered my tulips for the containers that will sit around the café terrace – a mixture of red and purple this time – plus a variety of new alliums will be going into the house borders together with some foxtail lilies.  These lilies love dry conditions and of course last winter was so wet that all my specimens rotted in the ground, but I am determined to give them another try.   One of the joys of gardening is that determination to look for the positive;  as a fellow gardener once said to me, “never look at a failed plant as a loss, look at it as a new planting opportunity!”  Wise words and a mantra that is often quoted…

Charles Dowding, the King of No Dig, writes on ‘easier gardening’

This week’s Guest Blogger:

Charles Dowding  

”the king of no dig”

Easier Gardening

Since 1982 I have been testing simpler and quicker ways to grow plants, and have always been impressed by the effectiveness of a no dig approach. My amazement is increased when I read so much advice saying the opposite, and giving the impression that soil preparation is complicated. It’s not, just the one thing is to mulch weeds throughly in year one, using variations of cardboard/compost/polythene to starve weeds of light, until they disappear, even couch grass.

The main thing is to feed soil organisms, so that they can be busy and breed and set up a thriving network of subterranean life. We don’t see them being busy but we see the result which is healthy plant growth. This comes from spreading compost on the surface, say 2-3in/5-7cm and just once a year.

The benefits include:

  • there is much less weeding to do
  • soil stays moist for longer because it’s mulched (covered) instead of being exposed to dry sun and wind
  • in wet weather your feet are less muddy because undisturbed soil is less sticky
  • fungal networks are preserved and they then pair with plant roots and help them find extra food plus moisture
  • when water is applied to mulched and heavy soils, it soaks in quickly without smearing the surface.

A nice example is potatoes, they are so much easier no dig, no forking or loosening of soil before planting. Use a trowel to make a slit in the compost and drop the seed potato in. Pull compost around if you see potatoes pushing up and into the light, but first earlies like Rocket and Casablanca often mature before you need to ‘earth up’.

To harvest, all you need do is gather the stems between both hands and pull gently. Half the potatoes will emerge, the rest can be found easily in the loose surface compost.

In terms of vegetables for winter harvests, most of the action is now for salad leaves. There are many you can still plant, from sowings in early September, such as rocket, mizuna, mustards and spinach. Growing them in a greenhouse or polytunnel will increase the harvests hugely: these plants don’t need heat and are frost hardy, but protection from wind and weather makes all the difference in winter.

The only sowing in October is garlic, and I had a comment about the joyful result of sowing supermarket garlic on my website forum in July, after I had suggested it’s worth a try: “The supermarket garlic I sowed last October turned out to be hard-neck. I cut the scapes off a couple of weeks ago,they were lovely. Last week the tops went over, then I harvested 21 of the biggest garlic bulbs I have ever grown, thanks Charles.”Every little helps””.

After sowing garlic I apply the annual mulch or ‘feed’ of compost, 1-2in deep, which is enough to keep soil lively and fertile for planting another more vegetables after next summer’s garlic harvest. In late June to early July you can be planting French beans, kale, salads etc. Wow thinking of next summer already, I wonder whatever the weather may be, and I hope you enjoy the experience of growing, harvesting and eating the wonderful flavours of home-grown vegetables.”

Charles Dowding



Mark Lane….on 2 types of Gardener

This week’s guest blogger:

Mark Lane

He writes:

No matter what level of ability you have there is a gardening task that you can undertake.                    Being the UK’s first garden designer and BBC gardening presenter who uses a wheelchair full-time, I really want to show how gardening can help both physically and mentally. For me, I suffered with depression for many years and still have the ‘spectre of depression’ sitting on my shoulder, but by being outside, getting my hands into the soil, which releases endorphins in the brain and serotonin, I start to improve my mental health. Rubbing soil within the palm of your hand and between the fingers can help with manual dexterity. By thinking about what to sow or grow, planning pots for autumn or the spring, or creating a new border you stimulate the neurons in your brain.

Garden tools have come a long way, and there are some great ergonomic ones and tools specially designed for individuals who live with weak wrists or are unable to clutch a tool. I would always recommend trying out tools before you buy. Make sure they feel good when you use them, are lightweight and well-made.

There are two types of gardener – an active gardener who continually gardens and loves sowing, planting, planning and creating; the other is a passive gardener who enjoys sitting back and enjoying a garden and the feeling that the space creates, the scents, colours and the wellbeing benefits of being outdoors. It doesn’t matter which type you are, whether you garden alone or garden as a social activity the knack is finding a gardening task that you can do. Pace yourself and at regular intervals just sit in your garden, whether it be a patio, a balcony, a few window boxes or a rolling estate and enjoy nature at its best.

Gardening and garden design has changed my life for the better, and with TV and radio work I feel extremely lucky. 

Mark Lane







Alan Titchmarsh offers sage advice about.. ‘having a go’!

Alan Titchmarsh offers sage advice….about ‘having a go’…..

He writes:

When I started my working life as a gardener back in the 1960s I had few aspirations, other than to spend my life growing plants. Sixty years on I can look back on a career – and a good deal of leisure time – when I have done just that.

But when other opportunities come your way – attractive opportunities – it seems churlish to turn them down. So it is that I have managed a career that has encompassed presenting music programmes, interviewing members of the royal family, hosting a chat show and writing novels. I say this not boastfully, but only to encourage others to have a go. All too often we remain focussed on a primary goal and are blinkered when it comes to recognising unexpected opportunities that come from left of field.

I’ve been so lucky in my life and work, but when I said this to my next-door neighbour he said ‘That’s funny. I find the harder I work, the luckier I get.’ Up to a point, yes…but we still need people who can see in us things that we don’t always see ourselves. I am about to embark on a publicity tour (dreadful phrase) for my eleventh novel ‘The Scarlet Nightingale’. Eleven! How did that happen? Well, back in the late 1990s I had an idea for a story about a television gardener (always write about what you know, they say). That first novel was called ‘Mr MacGregor’. And then I had another idea… I write about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances – perhaps that, too, is a result of personal experience. But gardening continues to be my first love, and the thing I do every day in my Hampshire garden, or a patch of earth on the Isle of Wight where we have a bolt hole.I know I’ve been lucky and, yes, I do work hard. But the luckiest people in life are those who discover where their own particular talents lie, and who encounter ‘ the enablers’ – people who will encourage them when their own confidence is not up to the job. That’s what happened to me. I hope I’ve been generous spirited enough to do the same for others.

Alan Titchmarsh