Category Archives: Gardening tips

Gardening Thoughts – Winter 2014

What to write about at this time of year and with this appalling weather? The ground is too wet to do any digging, or even to walk on your borders to clear the dead growth from last year to tidy them up for Spring. So, I think my thoughts for this issue are going to be fairly brief! Phew, you say, thank goodness, methinks he normally doth protest too much!

Anyway, I’ll get a bit in. I know I’ve mentioned it before, and without meaning to bore everyone, but apple and pear trees should be pruned, and also Japanese maples, as these will bleed if pruned once they start to grow, as will grape vines – they can bleed to death if pruned too late in the year. Autumn fruiting raspberries can be cut back to ground level. All of this should only be undertaken if you can do it standing on a lawn or a hard surface, like a plank, so as not to compact the saturated soil.

Vegetable gardening is basically a “no-no” at the moment, though I’ve bought my shallots and red onion sets for planting as soon as possible, and I’ve also got some early crop seed potatoes, which I’ve set out in egg trays to chit. They need to be in the light, in a frost free place, to develop good strong buds ready to spring into growth and produce a wealth of lovely small, waxy delicious spuds – dream on for early Summer!

One crop that is growing is my garlic. I planted the cloves in November and I’ve got some more to plant asap! We are just now using our final cloves of garlic from last year’s crop, and they’re still delicious.

There’s obviously nothing to report on the hedgehog front, and I can’t say that the dogs have done anything exciting recently, so with all that in mind it’s TTFN.

Jeremy Burden

February (Winter) 2014

Gardening thoughts – August 2013

Jeremy t shirtNow is the time to start reaping that which we have sown (ref. Sheepwash Chronicle Summer 2012!).

Despite the extremely dry weather, crops have produced. We are lifting acceptable roots of potatoes and picking the peas, which, although initially covered in flat pods, have managed to fill out. I don’t know how many pounds we’ve picked and frozen, but if you don’t get them quickly they will go tough and unpleasant. The next crop is the broad beans, shallots and garlic having already been lifted and spread out to dry before storing.

Enough of vegetables, except to say, watch out for blight in your potatoes and cabbage white butterflies on the greens – look out for the tell tale cluster of orange eggs on the underside of leaves and rub them off, but don’t delay – they hatch into voracious caterpillars in no time and can thin your crops! Keep watering the runner beans and mist their flowers to help pollination and bean set.

The flower garden should now be in full swing and dead heading of all flowering plants will help to keep them flowering, as will constant picking of sweet peas. Water as and where necessary, and certainly water pots and baskets of summer bedding every day and feed once a week.

What more can I say? ‘Tis the time to enjoy the garden before the work starts again for winter preparation for spring sowing. How the year goes by!

Jeremy Burden

August 2013

Gardening Thoughts – Summer 2013

Here we are, all on tenterhooks, hoping that the weather is actually improving and that which we have sown we shall duly reap! But it all seems a bit slow and vegetable crops are certainly slow at coming forward – but they will catch up. It’s just that what you would normally (though what is normal?) be doing now will be done in a few weeks time.

Hopefully, your peas, broad beans and potatoes are now all thrusting through the soil, ready to produce a bountiful harvest. I think one of the finest meals is boiling bacon with freshly dug new potatoes, freshly picked broad beans and fresh parsley sauce – a summer feast – I shall be looking forward to that!

Plants that you can be getting on with now are courgettes, marrows (these will need frequent applications of feed to produce good yields), and sweet corn. Sow sweet corn in a block, not a row, as it’s wind pollinated – pollination will take place in a block, whereas in a row it won’t.

Salad crops can be sown in short rows at about fortnightly intervals to give successional cropping.

Runner beans should be sown now, as should French beans, but do erect the canes or poles for these before sowing. Tomatoes and cucumbers can be set out in the greenhouse, but wait until next month to try outdoor tomatoes.

The blossom on apple trees is amazing this year – I just hope there are enough bees about to pollinate, as they seem very few on the ground. Which makes me wonder how well the swallows and martins are doing with so few insects for them to feed on. But I digress. Back to gardening.

Spring flowering bulbs should be deadheaded and given a good feed to encourage the bulb to develop well for next year. Don’t tie up or cut back the foliage until it has naturally died back to allow the plant to store up reserves for next year.

Once spring flowering plants, like polyanthus, have finished flowering they can be lifted, split and planted out in a shady situation to grow on for replanting where you want them in the autumn.

Plant out sweet peas on the frames you want them to grow up. I know this probably sounds a bit late, but as I said earlier, this year is somewhat backward. You should nip out the centre growing tip of sweet peas, as this encourages strong lateral buds to develop, which grow better.

Supports for perennial plants, such as delphiniums, oriental poppies and lupins, should be done now so that as they grow they hide the support.

And so to summer bedding. The choice is vast and I’m not going to make any recommendations. All I’ll say is, don’t rush to plant them out (we can still get some cold nights), but when you do, regular feeding once a week will give a good result. Hanging baskets need watering every day – but here I’m probably teaching granny to suck eggs, as they say!

There’s lots more I should write about, I’m sure, but memory starts to slip with age, so that’s it, folks. Except to say that our hedgehog is back and active, the swallows have looked at their nest under the tallet but have rejected it, but the martins have built and are using a nest right next to our bedroom window, so the need for an alarm clock has been superceded by their very early morning twittering – and I don’t mean computer usage!

Jeremy Burden

June 2013 (Summer issue)


Gardening Thoughts – Spring 2013

In my last article for the Chronicle I made the comment that spring was just around the corner and we would all soon be beavering away in our gardens. Well, it currently seems to be further away than just around the corner, what with the bitter east winds and freezing weather we have endured. If you didn’t need to go outside it was far more comfortable to stay indoors and use up more expensive fuel keeping warm!

Anyway, hopefully it can’t last and we will soon be up and running. I said last time to get on with planting shallots and onion sets, and this still applies, although it’s a bit late for garlic now. I planted some shallots and onion sets last October/November. The shallots are literally just starting to grow, and of the one hundred onions, Jan and I counted nineteen that have survived the wet winter. A salutary lesson I shall not repeat!

My seed potatoes have duly been placed in egg boxes to chit, but again, I think due to the cold, they seem very reluctant to start chitting. Also, I had trouble with a mouse making a meal of some – it wasn’t content with nibbling just one, but had to try several before I got him!

But enough of my problems! What to do when we can get going?

Well, the first peas and broad beans need to be sown as soon as possible, and parsnips, carrots and spring onions can also be sown this month. If you grow your greens from seed, rather than buying young plants as the time arises, late March is the time to sow Brussels sprouts, calabrese, kale and summer cabbage. Next month beetroot and salad crops can be sown. The list goes on and on – if I list every crop that can be sown in late March and April there won’t be space for any other contributors in this issue of the Chronicle!

As I said optimistically in the last article, it is all beginning to happen – and not just in the vegetable garden, the flower garden needs attention too!

Sow sweet peas, if you haven’t already done so, two seeds to a pot, and first soak the seeds in water for a few hours to split the seed case to help germination, as these seeds have a very tough outer case. Hardy annuals, such as Californian poppy, night scented stock and love in a mist, when sown in the borders, will give a great show later on.

Roses need pruning, but do be careful and wear thick gloves – try as I might, I always seem to get attacked by the roses fighting back! Cut to an outside bud and remove any branches that are crossing or weak, and clear out the centre of the bush to allow air to circulate.

Buddleia can be cut back pretty severely, again cutting out any weak growth. This is a shrub that flowers on new wood so the growth it makes this year will bear flowers, unlike forsythia and mock orange (Philadelphus) which flower on second year wood and so must not be pruned until they have finished flowering this year.

It’s pretty much time to be looking out for hedgehogs. I haven’t seen one yet, and Ella, our spaniel, hasn’t either -or if she has, she hasn’t told us. She has, however, spotted a blackbird’s nest in a winter flowering clematis we have growing against a wall, so we’ll have to fence that off or not only will she try to get to it, she’ll destroy the shrubs and plants under the clematis as well, lovely little dog that she is!

Hope that’s enough to keep everyone going!

Jeremy Burden

April 2013

Gardening Thoughts – Autumn 2012

Jeremy t shirtThe swallows and martins are gathering on the wires, the nights are drawing in, and mornings are darkening. There is a general air of Autumn, of mists and mellow fruitfulness. So what to do? It’s time to put the garden to bed.


Lift your maincrop potatoes, and store them. Dig the parts of the vegetable garden not planted with Winter crops, and leave them rough-dug for the Winter frosts to break down the soil ready for an early seedbed in Spring.

Prepare a fine seedbed for planting garlic now – split the bulb into individual cloves and plant them just under the surface six inches apart, with a foot between rows. You can also sow broad beans now for an early crop next year.

Shallots should traditionally be planted on the shortest day, to be harvested on the longest day. Again, plant them six inches apart, with a foot between rows.


In the flower garden, tidy perennials, but don’t cut them back, just clear the dead leaves – the stems and seed heads provide shelter for both the plants themselves and for insects, and the seeds provide food for birds.

Prune and train climbing and rambler roses, but not bush roses, although these may need a trim later to prevent the wind rocking them in Winter. Tidy up any fallen leaves, to help control diseases such as black spot or mildew.

Plant your Spring bulbs now, but leave tulips until late October. Also plant out wallflowers, split and replant polyanthus for Spring flowering, and plant Winter pansies for a show through the Winter. For indoors, plant prepared bulbs of hyacinth and paper white narcissi for Christmas.


Shrubs can be moved at this time of year, as the soil should be warm enough for them to start re-establishing themselves in their new situation.

Make sure you dig a big enough hole, with the bottom broken up and some muck or garden compost and some blood, fish and bone meal put in. Then, having lifted your shrub with a good rootball (so as not to disturb the roots too much), and thus knowing how big the new planting hole needs to be, plant your shrub and backfill around it, firming the soil down on the surface.

Pest control

Referring to my previous rant, our hedgehog is still about, and we think he may possibly also have a mate, as Ella, our spaniel, “retrieved” a small one some nights ago – she was quite pleased to drop it at my feet, as I guess the spines weren’t very pleasant in her mouth! However, despite this sign of a growing hedgehog presence, they are still falling short on slug control!

And unfortunately, the voles that ate our leek and onion seedlings are also thriving. Jan planted a row of Cosmos for cutting flowers, but the voles have used the plants for lumberjack practice, felling the stems hither and yon, so not many flowers, and definitely no vole control!

What a note to end on!

Jeremy Burden

October 2012 (Autumn issue)

Gardening Thoughts – August 2012

Jeremy t shirtRain, rain and yet more rain! I can’t remember a spring/early summer like it! My broad beans, though there was a mass of bloom, haven’t set pods as there have been no bees around to pollinate. My courgette plants, lettuce, and summer cabbage have been ravaged – yes, ravaged – by slugs, even though I’ve spoken seriously to our hedgehog about this – he says he just can’t keep up with them! And to cap it all, the voles have eaten off the spring onions and leek plants – AND I’ve got blight in my spuds.

There, that’s got that off my chest, and here’s hoping for better luck next year.

In the vegetable garden there should be peas, broad beans (if you have any), new potatoes and shallots to harvest. There’s still time to sow beetroot, spring onions and lettuce, and now is the time to plant out more leeks, cabbage and broccoli for winter cropping.

On a brighter note, the flower garden is an absolute jungle, with growth in profusion and, though a little late, blooms are now flourishing, particularly the roses.

Remember to keep dead heading, particularly sweet peas, because if you leave the pods to form and develop they will definitely stop flowering. Other plants are not so bad, but dead heading does make the plants produce more, and it also keeps everything looking tidy.

As lilies cease flowering, cut off the whole flower head, but leave the stems with leaves to continue growing. if they are in pots, keep feeding with tomato fertilizer to fatten up the bulbs for next year. I really recommend growing lilies in big pots, particularly Regale:  the scent from them is wonderful – it fills our courtyard, particularly in the evening. If you’re going to do this, place the bulbs on their sides in the compost to prevent water lodging in the crowns and causing rot.

There’s not much else to report, as plants have been planted and crops should be being harvested, but look out for more gardening tips in the next issue.

Jeremy Burden

August 2012 issue (Fete Special)

Gardening Thoughts – Summer 2012

Now is the time for planting summer bedding, once the risk of frost is over – which should be now, but who knows with the weather we’ve been having – one day beautiful spring sun, the next driving, cold rain. Anyway, if we don’t get on, nothing will be done.

People in Sheepwash have been asked to do a red, white and blue theme for Jubilee year. We’ve bought some red and blue (deep purple, actually) petunias and white nemesia, but there are obviously other plant combinations that you could use.

Plants in pots will need feeding – we use tomato fertilizer, which is high in phosphate and potash, to encourage good flowers. For bedding plants in borders use Phostrogen or Miracle Gro. Once a week should be enough.

Early flowering shrubs, such as camellias, forsythia and flowering currants, can be cut back now that they’ve finished flowering, as can mock orange once that’s finished. This gives time for new growth which will provide the flowers for next year.

As the summer goes on, dead head roses to promote continuing flowering and pick sweet peas almost daily. If sweet peas see seed pods they will stop flowering, as their job is done in reproducing themselves!

You can also cut back aubretia with garden shears once that has finished its Spring flowering – give it a liquid feed and you could get a second flush of flowers. This also applies to delphiniums and lupins.

Mulch everything to retain moisture.

In the vegetable plot, now is the time to plant out or sow runner beans and French beans, the danger of frost being over, hopefully, although I notice that quite a few people have already done this and got away with it this year. There’s still time to sow peas. Broad beans should be growing away well now, though mine are very backward in coming forward. Watch out for black fly infesting the growing tips and once the plants are well in flower you can pinch out the tops to control this.

Sweet corn can be sown or planted out, but do this in a block planting, not a row, as these plants are wind pollinated and in a row pollination would be poor.

Courgettes and marrows can be planted out now, or even sown in open ground, two seeds per station at two foot intervals, pinching out the weaker of the two as they grow.

All salad crops can be sown. We do ours in short rows, successionally.

Plant out brussels and purple sprouting, at least two feet apart, for winter cropping (they need a good, firm bed), and cabbages for summer and autumn – but watch out for cabbage white butterfly:  look for clusters of orange eggs on the underside of the leaves and rub these off.

Leeks can be planted out about nine inches apart. Using a dibber to make a good deep hole, drop the leek plant in, fill the hole with water, not soil, and away they go.

You can also try some tomatoes outdoors in a sunny, sheltered position, in gro-bags. Pinch out the side shoots as the plant grows and once you have five trusses of flowers take out the growing tip. Tomatoes need a lot of attention and regular feeding to produce a good crop.

And now, I could doubtless go on about a few more things, but I want to get out into the garden!

Jeremy Burden

June 2012 (Summer issue)


Gardening Thoughts – Spring 2012

 Spring is here and there’s a lot to do in the garden.

Have you finished pruning and feeding your roses? If you’re going to spray them with a pesticide/fungicide, try to do it very early in the morning or later in the evening, when the good insects are in bed!

It’s not too late to lift and split herbaceous plants. Large, old established clumps can be split, keeping the outer, new growth and discarding the woody centre.

Having forked over and weeded your borders, now is the time for top dressing with Growmore, compost, or manure. As it appears that we are heading into a dry period, mulching with compost, lawn cuttings or wood chips is a good idea, to conserve what moisture there is in the ground.

Also, it’s time to cut back buddleia, ornamental elder and fuchsias, as these flower on new wood, and pruning controls the size of the bush. You can be pretty brutal without ill effects!

Forsythia and flowering currants should be cut back after flowering, and mock orange should be as well, although this will be a little later. The growth these shrubs will then produce will have flowers next year.

Dead head the flowers of daffodils, but don’t tie up or cut back the leaves, as they’re needed as a food source for the bulbs.

Seeds for summer annuals can be sown in trays now and placed on a warm windowsill or in the greenhouse – but don’t let them get too dry or too wet. There is a tremendous range of summer annuals, and as it’s Diamond Jubilee year, why not try a red, white and blue theme?

Plants that have been grown in pots or tubs will now need feeding, and they’ll probably benefit from new compost too, if they’ve been in the pots for a few years – compost in pots with annuals will only last a few years before it needs renewing. We mix one large (65 litres) bag of compost (preferably not peat based) with one 25 litre bag of John Innes No. 2 and one bag of Perlite to give a balanced mix. The danger with just using the proprietary compost alone is that if it dries out it is almost impossible to get it wet again, but the addition of the John Innes and the Perlite makes this easier.

All the plants that you’ve split and replanted, or just transplanted, should be well watered-in, and put a sprinkle of blood, fish and bone meal into the planting hole as a slow release feed. Any plants that you buy in pots should be well soaked in a bucket of water before planting. If they look poorly check for vine weevil grubs in and around the roots (these are creamy white in colour, with a ginger brown head). There might be lots of these grubs, in which case wash the roots clear of them and replant or re-pot (and kill the grubs!).

You should try to water your pots, tubs and plants early in the morning before the heat of the day – but don’t allow the pots to become waterlogged – there is an old saying that plants can die through, “an insufficiency of neglect”!

In the vegetable garden this is one of the busiest times of the year, with the planting of shallots and onion setts, and the sowing of peas and broad beans. Short rows of peas and broad beans sown every three weeks will give a succession of cropping, rather than one big harvest. Potatoes need to be planted in well manured ground, or, if no muck is available, give them a good top dressing of Growmore (I apologise to you organic growers and gardeners for my references to Growmore and pesticide sprays, but sometimes it’s the only way).

Happy gardening. Walk round your garden every day and enjoy it – if the plants are in the right place, you and they will be content!

Jeremy Burden

April 2012 (Spring issue)