Garden Journal 28.3.20

OK, so, I’m going to keep this journal entry as normal as possible, which might not be that easy all things considered, but here goes…

This week I’ve developed something of a split persona between work and home life. Like many but not all gardeners, my situation has meant that I’ve been able to continue working whilst following good social distancing guidelines. I get up, take myself directly to work, keep an ample distance away from employers, work all day in two pairs of gloves, wash frequently, go home, put everything in the wash (me included,) and repeat. My already ridiculous hand washing routine has been ramped up to the point where hand moisturiser cream is now essential, not just an occasional extravagance and oily inconvenience…

Naturally I’m tuning in to the daily updates to see if that situation changes, but for the time being at least, in a unique situation I’m able to continue working alone and to cling to one of the few constants in my life, my work; something I’m incredibly grateful for.

In my work’s garden in Broadwell as elsewhere, the sunny weather has arrived and with it the feeling that the growing season is finally underway. Bees and butterflies have responded rapidly to the rising temperatures, the grass is growing keenly now, and the countless winged sycamore seeds that have lain between the Cotswold gravel have started sprouting – more’s the pity…

Over recent months the garden generally has been tidied and nurtured, and generally speaking is coming along nicely. I wrote weeks ago about restoring the walled garden too, and plans are established that will see this, in time, become an enchanting and very productive space. However, needs must, and with food supplies under threat comes a challenge for the nations gardeners to get out their dusty seed trays, wash them down, and to get sowing. This has gripped me too and with spring vigour I’ve set about sowing both at home and work with a plan to supplement food supplies if at all possible.

My first image below therefore hints to some some work based Grow Your Own activity. I’ve sown a range of seeds including courgettes, carrots, lettuce, French beans, mustard, radish and spring onions, plus onions, shallots, garlic, dill and basil – oh and trays of potatoes are a chitting too. It certainly feels like I’ll be Digging for Victory, but of course I’ll be wrestling with the established trend for No Dig gardening – Decisions decisions…!

Growing our own…or trying to…

Next up, a pot-washing image (one of my favourite Whichford basket weave clay pot designs as it happens,) which hints to all the re-potting activity going on at the moment. Some containers are simply being refreshed or top dressed, some are having a complete turn out and re-pot, and some display containers have been cleared out in readiness for a new season of display or veg growing – whichever suits the times better!

Pot washing in action!
Pot washing

Moving on, the following four images simply aim to celebrate spring. Yes, we know the weather will be changeable and wintry yet awhile, but this week the daytime temperatures have risen and it has been so so welcome. To me, it felt like a warming, reassuring hug from Mother Nature!

Ladybird on a sot mullein leaf
Ladybirds on a mullein leaf..

In this image, a seven spot ladybird and its friend emerge from the velvety creases of a mullein leaf. Mullein, or Verbascum thapsus is a plant used historically for medical respiratory disorders. I’ve always admired this soft yet tough plant, and not least for its tall stems of yellow flowers. This last week however, when passing one frequently I couldn’t resist reading up about its uses again. I’m now convinced that along with Mullein’s other use as a substitute for toilet paper, this plant could very well hold the key to saving the human race! (You can now see why I’m not working in the health profession…)

Rheum palmatum or Chinese Rhubarb
Rheum palmatum

Rheum palmatum or Chinese Rhubarb just had to feature here at some stage or another. I’ve watched this in my garden slowly push forward from red pimples on the side of its disheveled winter crown to feature tiny (by rhubarb standards) leaves that will I hope continue to grow and colour. It’s a real eye catcher and it more than earns its leafy space.

Spring cherry tree blossom
Spring Cherry Blossum

This Prunus is presently flowering in the garden at Broadwell. The tree is seriously old for a cherry, with a swollen lower stem well over half a meter in diameter. The crown spreads gracefully in a triangular form as if trained by a great Bonzai master, and whilst it does have some dieback, the remaining branches hold an abundance of blossom – it’s an absolute stunner and was humming with honey bees this week!

Last image for me today is this Vinca major, or periwinkle. Another medicinal plant as it happens, and pictured here blossoming on a sunny bank at work. The clearest blue flowers have been present for a while now, although the numbers have grown these last few weeks, until finally I couldn’t resist stopping to take a quick photo. The flowers are exquisite and always make me smile within.

Vinca major, or periwinkle flowers
Vinca major, or periwinkle

My week of activity, in summary: Monday – seed sowing, plus table and container shifting (A to B, then back to A again – all might be revealed in due course!) Tuesday – mowing, lots of, and container work. Wednesday – finished clearing an area alongside the pond, removing debris from an earlier tidying exercise I began with volunteers. Thursday – a day of planting, finding locations for numerous potted specimens. (This was a day of digging deep, literally!) Friday – a changed day of activity included, mostly, moving many semi-mature box plants and planting in a ‘slip garden’ area beside the walled garden.

To finish my journal this week, I did want to write a tiny bit about the situation we’re in – some observations from a humble gardener’s perspective. I realise though, that if I were to embark fully on that topic, it would draw me in and a day will easily vanish whilst I dally with the right words and thoughts – maybe I’ll devote an article to it at some stage…

Just for now, I will say this. Out of this demoralising time we find ourselves in, I have faith that we as a larger community will come back stronger, more connected, and will be more informed and focused on real world priorities. I have hope that we shall never again in our lifetimes take our resources for granted. If we ever return to it, I know that I’ll never again give a meaningless handshake, will never again hug without heart, and I’ll cherish every opportunity more than ever to explore our world freely.

Like all the gardeners and farmers out there, who are incredibly busy – I intend to grow my way through this time, to focus on plants and people, and as one of my favourite mugs states, I intend to: Keep Calm & Carry on Gardening. I hope you can too.

Do follow me on Twitter or Instagram, where you’ll most often find me in the garden…
Regards, & stay focussed!

Garden Journal 21.3.20

Garden tasks from Gary Webb’s  Garden Journal 21.3.20

The Intro… I’m a professional gardener/horticulturist and post weekly to record my gardening experiences and journey. My main workplace is Broadwell Manor, Gloucestershire, and needless to say – this journal is independent and does not represent views of my employer or any organisation.

What an incredible week filled for many with anticipation, worry and uncertainty. I’ve pondered as the days passed how I could even attempt this week’s journal entry by simply talking about my gardening. But, and here’s the thing – I’ve come to understand that it’s more important to me now than at any point ever.

I’m aware as much as the next person how being outdoors and the process of gardening is increasingly being known for the health benefits they can provide – the all important ‘wellbeing’ we seek. Therefore with the global situation set to continue, it wasn’t a great leap for me to see how much more important growing and our green spaces will become for some of us over the weeks ahead.

A range of grow-your-own seeds for containers.

Now, I’m not suddenly going to change into a veg expert and preach to you, that’s not what this journal is about. Added to this, I know that many people are already in self isolation with heavily reduced options.

I was fortunate though to get out over the last fortnight to collect some seeds and compost (peat free of course – we have standards to maintain!) and as the weeks pass I’ll be featuring a bit of this growing both at home, and hopefully at work too. If in the process it inspires anyone else to have a go, then it can’t be a bad thing, surely – maybe you have a spare packet of seeds down the sofa… (Or, do check out the website of your local plant nursery or garden centre, as many will deliver necessary items to get you gardening over the coming weeks).

The first image above therefore, shows my initial material acquisitions which over the coming weeks I will put into production at home – in a range of containers I hasten to add!

Getting this journal entry back onto its normal footing though, the above image simply records the process of top-dressing some containers. On the whole the pots are in great shape and have performed really well over winter – due entirely to the the expertise and careful selection by their planter – not myself I hasten to add! However, as is often the way, a couple that featured Heuchera showed vine weevil activity, so complete re-potting has been necessary.

Aside from this ongoing task, here’s my weekly summary of activity: Monday – made a start on top dressing and re-potting some key containers. Tuesday – a good deal of mowing and more container work. Wednesday – a day supported by volunteers Alex and Mary – we dug out two shrubs as part of a border renovation project and moved onto selective thinning of an informal cherry laurel hedge. Thursday – Strimming, to follow up mowing, then moved onto seed sowing into pots. Friday – A day off! Although a few more garden supplies collected to fuel sowing projects over coming days.

Chitting potatoes
Chitty chitty bang!

Images both above and below show seed activity, with seed potatoes set out for chitting – they’re now placed in good light on a cool window sill. The pots shown below contain French bean and courgette seeds, and these are now enjoying the sunlight on another slightly warmer windowsill too. A small start to food growing at Broadwell, but more to come for sure with seed sowing and ground preparation from Monday.

Pots of  freshly sown vegetable seeds
Pots of joy!

Stepping out of the works garden, I seemed to be here there and everywhere on Friday – something that already seems too much of a luxury… One of the many highlights of the day, pictured below, was this fancy Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ – an upright or ‘fastigiate’ tree growing just around the corner from me.

One of many floral highlights of the week, it reminded me in the moment that the day was indeed the vernal equinox, something of which I’m more informed thanks in part to Lia Leendertz’ wonderful Almanac. The vernal or spring equinox, or first day of spring to some, is one of those stepping stones for gardeners when day length becomes equal to night.

In short – longer days combined with increasing temperatures result in more plant growth – so expect some exciting developments outdoors over the coming weeks. Even Monty referred to the equinox in last night’s first 2020 episode of BBC Gardeners World – an absolute delight to have back on our Friday night screens btw!

Coming up over the remainder of the weekend and through next week I’ve a great deal of gardening lodged in the mind, including more seed sowing, a touch of mowing and more container work. Some of it might even get done if I can just finish typing!

The week ahead does hold uncertainty though. But, although it won’t solve all our problems, if I can throw anything into the mix it would be this: look to plants, and look to nature. Spring is here, plants are bursting into growth and bees, birds and insects are already busily preparing for the year ahead. If you have to isolate then look outside and try to be part of that cycle – sow something, tend something, or simply observe.

Keep Calm, and Carry On Gardening!
Keep Calm and Carry On Gardening!

Regards, And take care, Gary

If you want to follow my gardening progress through these crazy times, you can also find me on Twitter and Instagram. I’ll be trying my best to stay out in the garden!

Garden Journal 14.3.20

The Intro… I’m a professional gardener/horticulturist and post weekly to record my gardening experiences and journey. My main workplace is Broadwell Manor, Gloucestershire, and needless to say – this journal is independent and does not represent views of my employer or any organisation.

This week’s garden journal represents a week that seems to have moved very slowly to begin with, just to gain pace with more varied and random tasks from Wednesday onwards.

In summary: Monday – Complete re-potting of a large container where vine weevil activity had been discovered, followed by work to begin renovating a tennis court. Tuesday – More tennis court. Wednesday – Even more tennis court work, but also work began to create a new fruit border, and some additional border mulching (Thankfully supported by volunteers). Thursday – Key task was further ground preparation for that fruit border, and acquisition and fitting of wires for tying in fruit. Friday – A little support for an onsite event, some border hoeing and maintenance, and container work – relocating, removing protective wire and some cutting back.

Skipping back to last Sunday, I made a brief visit to Packwood House to breathe in some cool fresh air, to soak up some early spring sunshine and to simply enjoy being in a quality garden space. Packwood’s garden like many others is still holding its strong winter structure, something particularly brought to the fore in my image below of yew hedges being restored.

Yes hedge renovation at Packwood House, Warwickshire.
Yes hedges in a renovation programme at Packwood House

Knowing the garden in its summer clothes however, it’s incredible to think just how much it will change over the coming weeks. Plastic tubes and protective cloaks will soon be lifted off tender plants and exotics presently hidden away in glasshouses will take their place in the borders. Visitors will (hopefully) return in numbers to crunch along the paths, insects will zip around the mount in search of hot coloured herbaceous flowers on the terrace walk, and Instagramers will be seen crouching here and there in search of that one spectacular photo. I’m wishing myself there already…

Daffodil, or Narcissus RIP van Winkle
Narcissus ‘RIP van Winkle’

Moving to my garden at home, I had to add this image of a dwarf Narcissus called RIP van Winkle, an old cultivar known from as early as 1884/5. I’m not generally drawn to the larger attention grabbing daffodils, although I can’t deny their worth, but I was drawn to try this little beauty, and I’m so glad I put a few bulbs in a pot all those months ago – very much worth the wait.

Next image to illustrate my week shows what difference a pressure washer makes to moss buildup on artificial grass. OK so the court hasn’t been used in a while, and it’s not exactly gardening, but as part of the fabric of the site it needs to look good, for sure. Time constraints and the pace of the task meant it could only be half completed, so more of this in due course but for now, as Mr Robson used to say – it’s back to the weeding!

Tennis Court Shenanigans…

Next up is a simple image that I am glad to share as a reminder that the soil, depending on where you are, might be good enough to begin hoeing. This tulip border was mulched thinly after planting, although was already showing a sprinkling of weed seedlings. Therefore, for this border, now is the ideal time to gently get amongst the plants, to push the hoe, and to dislodge those pesky little weeds. Very satisfying indeed!

Hoeing through the flower border
Time to get hoeing…

Amongst the border shown above and across the surface of many containers, tulip foliage is well advanced now and the next image just brings attention a little closer.

The waxy coating on each leaf tends to send tiny globules of rain water down to the base, but while my image doesn’t exactly capture the detail as I’d like, I hope in the least that it encourages you to nip out and have a closer look if you haven’t already – it’s a pure delight, and for a good while now, there’s been plenty of rainfall to top up those little reservoirs!

Beads of water at the base of a tulip

My next and final image gives a flavour of the border work we started on Wednesday and completed on Thursday. Essentially, a new border has been cut and dug over, and a wire network fixed to the wall to tie plants into – quite an intense piece of work that will be in place for many years to come, so it had to be done just so.

The work shown above signals a change in activity from the cutting back and sorting out period that I feel I’ve been in since the autumn, to the putting back and the creative period that we are now entering in the garden at Broadwell.

Border work well under way, and materials for wall support…

I’m thankful and hugely appreciative for the support from those around me, both physically in the garden and also online. We all know of the pitfalls of social media but I find it heartening how the online gardening community in particular has developed. Yes it can judge and scold people, but above that it can work to offer a nurturing, encouraging environment – and one that certainly spurs me on.

Whilst I do a lot of social media, some people do much less and some much more. It’s taken me a while to figure out what I want to do on social, and to work out what to contribute, and if truth be known I’m still figuring it out and adapting daily – you can tell that by seeing how often I change my bio! But without wishing to get sidetracked, I do question what life would be like for the countless solo gardeners and self employed people who spend much time working alone in complete isolation:

– what would it be like to get home after a dreary, rain soaked day, and to not draw encouragement from other folk in similar situations.

– what would it be like to not draw inspiration from pictures of blossom buds bursting across each nation in spring.

– what would it be like to not chuckle at a gardeners Instagram story during a much needed sit down and coffee break.

– and what would it be like to not get a like – that seal of approval for a horticultural highlight you captured; and especially after you had to peal off sodden gloves and risk your precious smart phone in the process!

Whatever we draw from using social media, it certainly has an incredible ability to do good and share positivity, and whatever you draw from it, I hope it continues to serve the community well in the days ahead. Just remember – days are stretching out, temperatures are lifting, seeds need nurturing and bees are already busy pollinating. I hope we will all continue to share our gardening passion and positivity over the coming days and weeks – we’re going to need it more than ever!

In mind of my comments above, do look for inspiration from some of the online communities. I can recommend the #SixOnSaturday Twitter hashtag meme that Encourages the sharing of garden and floral action every Saturday. There’s also GardensHour every Monday evening between 9 and 10pm, and amongst the many focus groups on Facebook, for horticultural types there’s All Horts!! – Which offers a really supportive and useful forum (I’m a recent convert to AllHorts!! After it was suggested in The Plant Based Podcast – another great place to learn about and engage with horticulture).

Do check these out if you haven’t already, and do feel free to point us to more groups in my comments – I’ll happily share. Until next week, have a good one…! Gary

If you want to follow my gardening progress, you can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

Garden Journal 7.3.20

The Intro… I’m a professional gardener/horticulturist and post weekly to record my gardening experiences and activity. My main workplace is in Broadwell, Gloucestershire, and this journal is independent – content does not represent views of my employer or any organisation.

This week’s garden journal covers another very full and physical week in the garden at Broadwell, and I thought I’d start by adding a new and simple summary feature from here onwards to help me track the range of tasks that are being carried out on a daily basis.

In summary: Monday – Ordering supplies, backfilling trial pits, and gravel filling a raised bed. Tuesday – Completing hedge trimming, removing sticks from lawns and first ‘proper’ mowing of main lawns. Wednesday – Conifer hedge cleanup, and first attempt to clean-up lawn edge around pond with help from Alex and Mary. Thursday – Relocating delivery of 2 tons of topsoil and compost, (from roadside – the lorry couldn’t make it through the gate…) and preparing a raised bed for planting. Friday – Chris, Anne and Jill joined me for a thorough tidy of south border (previously cut material,) with bonfire to clear dry debris.

Creamy coloured crocus flower, posibyl ‘Creme Beauty‘
Crocus flower studded lawn at Charlecote Park.

Looking to the above image, I’m taken swiftly back to last Sunday on a visit to a local garden when a drift of crocus captured my attention. Potentially ‘Creme Beauty’, their flowers were intensified by a mustard coloured centre and a vivid, pumpkin orange stigma – exquisitely simple.

My next image below is from Wednesday’s pond edge clearance, with an aim to curb the growth that is marching steadily into the lawn. Alex and Mary thankfully joined me, and continued in the rain, and together we cut woody stems hard back and tightly trimmed other vegetation. I was particularly happy to get my very effective scythe back in action!

Scythe action in the garden
My kind of cut-backs in the garden…

The pond is completely contrived and an aesthetic feature, yet it’s clear that wildlife has come to depend on it – indeed the coots and geese were quite vocal about us disturbing their peace! Naturally there is a balance to be found between this as a wildlife resource and garden feature, but I’m certain this will continue to thrive and tick both boxes more effectively as we move forward.

Bird box being fitted in a tree
Sterilised bird box in place for spring 2020

Looking up, literally, is a quick view to remind me that the boxes should have been up already, ideally before February is out – better late than never as people say! This box was very kindly made and donated by Alwyn Knapton who dropped in recently to compile a first bird list for me at Broadwell – a stellar individual and wildlife champion personified.

Next up, I can’t help but introduce the ‘Sunshine Crew’, for on Friday they arrived with a special offer of a day’s volunteer work – and how grateful I was! You’re looking at a south facing border that has been heavily ‘pruned’ around a month ago, with the tangled, dried up debris having been left to dry as much as possible before a bonfire could clear the way. (I already have a large compost stack of decaying woody material elsewhere!)

The Sunshine Crew!

The work is part of a longer term renovation of this border. Having identified key plants for retention, and having moved a couple of shrubs to new locations, this is another phase of ground preparation before the ground is ready for new introductions over the coming months. More to come from this little spot for sure!

Below I just had to feature another of the gorgeous Chionodoxa flowers, known commonly as glory-of-the-snow. They’ve clearly very happy in the conditions on offer in this Cotswolds garden as they’ve seeded themselves here, there and seemingly everywhere – such a none-delicate beauty!

Chionodoxa, happy in the sunshine.

In my final image for this week, I have the sun setting over the distant hill, after a very productive week at Broadwell. Even for just that day, it finally felt like spring had arrived.

Another exquisite Cotswold sunset.
Sun setting behind the hill…

Wider afield gardeners are sowing seeds for a productive year, and like me they’re full of hope for the winter chills to be gone and for another vibrant growing year ahead. Social media channels are packed with gardening productivity and creation from balconies, allotments and back yards, to grand gardens and estates. For me they all have something in common – they each have someone taking care of the garden, someone growing, someone nurturing life in a special place.

There may be some serious challenges coming our way from the wider world, but I think you’ll know what I mean when I say that being in the garden is likely to take each of us to a special place; a place for finding balance, for re-focusing and for restoration. I sincerely hope you’re able to find your special place through a garden, however great or small. Until next week…. Have a good one. Gary

If you want to follow my gardening progress, you can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

GardeningWays Journal 29.2.20

Welcome to my garden journal entry for February 29th 2020.

The Intro… I’m a professional gardener/horticulturist and post weekly to record my gardening experiences and activity. My main workplace is in Broadwell, Gloucestershire, and this journal is independent – content does not represent views of my employer or any organisation.

This week’s garden journal entry should be re-titled ‘close encounters of the weather kind,’ for every day has seemingly thrown something different at us. The sharpest of sharp days with temperatures barely above freezing to start the week, which tailed off into the constant rain that moved in for Friday – and looks to be staying very close for the weekend.

If you could have copied my image in the murk that was Friday, you could have pasted me seamlessly on to a Lowry canvas, so was the mood in the garden. However, I shall swiftly say that before the dreariness that became Friday, there were some exquisite hours, minutes and moments that I’ll focus on from here onward.

I started the week in Sunderland – my adopted home in the north east, and whilst I had fostered a somewhat naïve hope to get out and visit one of the many brilliant gardens in the area, this wasn’t a key reason for the trip – and I guess the first image might be giving it away already! (Pardon the selfie – I’m not a comfortable selfie taker!)

Proudly wearing my new Barbour made, and purchased in South Shields
‘EST. 1894’ – the company, not the gardener…

Outdoors is where I spend most of my time and as such, I seem to have forever searched for the key item of workwear that is ‘the winter coat’. I’ve tried many types and I don’t know what you’ve found, but I have to say it’s sometimes hard to tell between fashion and working gear.

Well, although I wear a wax jacket for knocking around generally, I had for many years overlooked the option of a wax for workwear, and was genuinely surprised recently to rediscover this as a serious gardening option. If they’re good enough for farmers and all that…

My search for a good supplier started last autumn, and to my joy I was ultimately delivered, last weekend, to the South Shields home of Barbour to make the not insignificant investment. I had become fascinated and lured by the history of Barbour as a British company – a story that began in 1894 in South Shields, where the jackets are still handmade to this day.

Daisy flower in the sunshine
An already nibbled daisy enjoying the sunshine

Suffice to say that I made the presumption that my new jacket would signal end of winter and it would stay unused for the months ahead, but how wrong I was! My jacket has already been pressed into snowy action on Thursday and in the torrential rain on Friday. I’m certainly no victim of fashion, but all things considered, I’ll be wearing my Barbour Beaufort with pride – and I hope our friendship is a long and productive one!

Back in the garden, the ‘tube of tubes’ in the image below is an item released from its place on the tool room shelf this week, and fixed to a south facing wall to provide a nesting place for some species of bee such as the red mason bee (Osmia bicornis).

I’m always looking for ways to improve a garden’s attraction to wildlife and this little product couldn’t make things any easier, offering perfect nesting tubes for some species of solitary bee. Quite by accident I’ve already discovered ground nesting bees, and many of the walls on nearby buildings are peppered with cavities and potential nesting places, so there’s very likely no need for additional nests such as this one – but if it’s not there we won’t know will we…

The way solitary bees operate, and the benefits they bring for our gardens is incredible. For example, as Grow Wild UK states ‘a single red mason bee is equivalent to 120 worker honeybees in the pollination it provides’. It’s therefore surely not too much trouble to place out an additional nesting opportunity.

Yes, the tube shown above is pre-made and simple to install, but it’s relatively easy to make your own too. For tips on making yours, and for more fascinating information on solitary bees and more, I’ll waste no time in directing you to a website from those knowledgeable folk at Kew. If you love wildlife and gardens, and not visited this site before – you’re in for a treat! (Grow-Wild UK Link at bottom of page).

In terms of gardening, what became the task of the week was a trim of a conifer hedge – whilst being aware at every moment the potential for nesting birds to be present. Along the whole hedge length there was but one redundant twiggy nest long-since consumed by woody growth. There’s a little more to finish yet, but I’m conscious that the grass is growing all around now and for that reason I’ll be glad to leave this hedge to its own devices as we head into March.

The machine pictured above is a very useful tool, and on Thursday morning we became very close as I sharpened every one of its 140 teeth. Whilst it works perfectly, I couldn’t help but wonder that with the establishment of battery powered kit, how long it would be until these machines become silent and smokeless museum exhibits…

The final two images I’ve chosen to remind me of this week in the garden. Above was a photo snapped quickly of this bumblebee spotted crawling across some meadow grass – a ‘Buff-tailed bumblebee‘ I believe – and I’m happy to be corrected if you can tell from my image. Although sunny, it was pretty nippy, which is probably why this bee was keeping on the move!

Lastly, are some decorative primulas growing in a lawn at Broadwell not very far away from where the bumblebee was crawling. Such a pretty sight that can’t help but focus the mind on spring, and especially on a dull day.

A garden primula bejewelled lawn
Garden primulas

To round up my garden journal this week, I have to state that it’s been a tough one. Although not starting my working week until Tuesday, I seemed to fast track into the latter end of the week due to two days of simple but heavy going hedge cutting – and I mean hedge cutting as opposed to hedge trimming!

The week finished with a much needed but weather enforced planning session, where I firmed up my plan for March, at least in terms of the range and scope of known tasks that would need looking at – scheduling these in is another matter entirely! Garden tasks, mixed with project work will ensure next week, the first week of spring, will be a busy one.

Before I finish, I have to return to the weather for one last comment. As a gardener I’ve always been a firm believer that the weather, as Monty says, “just is,” and I’ve always took it as it comes – rain, shine or whatever. This winter though has been one to test my resilience to the core. There have been blindingly sunny moments working in shirtsleeves atop the ladder, and moments of extreme dreariness, in full weather gear, with puddles and gloom all around.

Focus on the ever changing seasons I say, for it will pass, and before long we’ll be knee deep in meadow grass, butterflies will be flitting across flowers, and fruits, if we cherish the pollinators, will grow to feed our souls.

If you want to follow my gardening progress, you can also follow me on Twitter or Instagram.

Let’s hope my wellies dry over the weekend! Have a good one. Gary

Links: GrowWildUKBarbour

GardeningWays Journal 22.2.20

Images from my GARDENINGWAYS blog for February 22 2020
GW Journal images 22.2.20

Welcome to my garden journal entry for February 22nd 2020.

The Intro… I’m a professional gardener/horticulturist and post weekly to record my gardening experiences and activity. My main workplace is in Broadwell, Gloucestershire, and this journal is independent – content does not represent views of my employer or any organisation.

Once again I’m tempted to focus on the weather we’ve experienced this week. However, as I know that so many have suffered much more severely, and in neighbouring counties too – I feel I can’t moan about what was simply, for me, just a few more wet and windy days that caused me to change my work plan.

Counting my blessings then, I can thankfully focus on the positive days, moments and tasks that have filled this gardening week, such as with my first image below of Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’, basking in the Saturday sunshine in my garden. The petals are almost too light for my taste, especially knowing some of the deeper blue flowers available, but the deep yellow and patterns on the falls are just mesmerising – and all the more agreeable for the £1.75 I paid back in November!

Iris reticulata ‘Katherine Hodgkin’
Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ (Reticulata)

My next three images record a pretty intense activity that kept me very occupied on Tuesday and Wednesday – coppicing a handful hazels that were established either side, and possibly through this lovely dry stone wall. I did post a video to my Instagram account but suffice to say, it was quite a jumble and not your average coppice stool.

An established coppice stool prior to coppicing
One of the coppice stools awaiting attention.

It was clear from the outset that a good amount of decaying wood was present, but whilst I found some healthy wood to cut back to, the extent of dead material was considerable. Knowing this makes wonderful habitat for a range of insects, it was too good to waste, and so I constructed a nearby habitat pile.

I could not guarantee that a few bug homes weren’t shaken up during the coppicing work, but I could at least offer a longer term bug hotel just next door for the foreseeable future.

A coppiced stool and nearby habitat pile.

My keenness to take on the congested mass of woody growth wasn’t just to make an area tidy, but also for the good and useable timber it would supply. As such, after cutting the shrubs back to basics, all the harvested growth was sorted into similar sized piles, and will wait in the wings for the opportunity to play a supporting role in the garden this year. The coppiced ‘stools’ will now be allowed to grow back naturally over the next few years, before the exercise is repeated.

Hazel rods after coppicing has taken place.
Freshly cut hazel rods awaiting storage.

I have to say that I love coppicing. It’s a task that grounds me, being an age-old activity that demands simple things: a little knowledge, a sharp saw, a methodical approach, and for me – a deep rooted feeling that I’m repeating an activity that has been done before, and will hopefully be done again in a handful of years.

Coppicing literally brings you to your knees, and forces you to think about things like the passage of time, the manipulation of nature for our own ends, and a productive activity that seems timeless. Or maybe that’s just me…

Sharp Felco secateurs
Happy pruners after a good clean and sharpen!

OK, so maybe I’ll refer to the weather just once more, when on Thursday the heavens opened repeatedly. Thankfully again the forecast had been very accurate, and so with sodden soil I had written-off outdoor gardening for the day, and wasted no time by servicing some of the tools that had worked very hard of late.

Furthermore, whilst the hail hammered against the brew house windows where I’m based, I set about some garden planning for the next few weeks – which look to be rather busy with project work bringing many more people onsite. Mind you, I have to add that the rain did eventually clear through, the sun returned and the little primulas in the lawn shone once again – what a way to end the day.

I’m very aware that next weekend sees the arrival of meteorological spring, and even at this early point in the year the grass is actively growing, tulips are breaking the soil surface in search of light and blossom buds are bursting in the trees. It might not be spring as we wish it, but even if the weather does turn again, a new growing year is well under way now and the pressure of mounting tasks build! (Yes gardeners do feel pressure too – it’s not all lightness and joy!)

Other tasks this week included some hedge tidying and the trimming of an ornamental pear that needed its crisp, umbrella-like shape returning. Shrubby tasks like these need to be drawn to a close now as birds are actively seeking places to nest – spring seemingly breaking earlier has moved all of this activity forwards, and needless to say – all of the above work was carried out after a good search for any signs of nests under construction.

That brings this week’s garden journal nearly to a close – a very heavy but rewarding week of activity. Next week I have a volunteer day to plan for, amongst many other tasks in preparation for spring.

If you want to follow my progress in the garden at Broadwell, you can also follow me on Twitter or Instagram.

I hope you enjoy your bird friendly gardening this week too! Regards, Gary.

GardeningWays Journal 15.2.20

GardeningWays Journal Images 15.2.20

Welcome to my garden journal entry for February 15th 2020.

The Intro… I’m a professional gardener and post weekly to record my gardening experiences and activity. My main workplace is Broadwell Manor, Gloucestershire for Rachel de Thame, although this journal is independent and content does not necessarily represent views of my employer.

The past week was expected to be sandwiched uncomfortably between Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis, so before the weather could move in last Saturday I nipped out for a quick stroll at the nearby National Trust garden of Charlecote Park, for some fresh air and a floral fix. I was certainly not disappointed with a subtle and pretty selection of late winter blooms on offer alongside the twining, log-edged paths of Mary Elizabeth’s woodland garden.

My first image below therefore represents the numerous hellebores that were informally placed around the gardens, with their hanging flowers just waiting to be delicately upturned for closer enjoyment. In addition to some beautiful hellebores there were many other blooms to enjoy including a variety of Galanthus, and Primulas, even a Bergenia.

Hellebores orientalists flower close up at Carlecote Park
Helleborus orientalis

Before long the garden visit, indeed the weekend was over and done with, and it was to Broadwell for me on Monday to start the week with a ‘storm walk,’ to check for any weekend damage.

Thankfully damage was restricted to twiggy offerings and most of this was actually dead branch tips that Ciara had helpfully lowered to the ground for us – although the next image is a reminder that even the softest of dead timber can cause damage if it falls in a particular way – so always be aware!

Lime harpoon!

Despite the fluctuating weather patterns, the late winter flowers presently to be found around Broadwell Manor are looking magnificent just now. Sprinkled confetti-like in many lawn areas, drifts of snowdrops, early crocus and various primulas have perfectly seeded around. Throughout this week’s 26 miles of walking I frequently witnessed these flowers dancing comically in the chilly winds.

Crocus tommasinianus, or early crocus, or ‘Tommies’ in the garden at Broadwell Manor
Crocus tommasinianus

As if by magic, the clouds parted on Wednesday – perfectly timed for the first 2020 day of activity based volunteering at Broadwell. I was glad to welcome Alex and Mary, who joined me for a very physical and seemingly very long day of shrub removal that included shoots, roots and every scrap of energy!

The image below therefore, as an action shot, shows a well rooted trunk having its roots loosened. It previously supported a dense evergreen top that once removed left a wonderfully clear and newly illuminated space that in due course will be home to a glasshouse and cold frames – a new engine room from which the garden will grow and develop. It may be some time before construction begins, but I’ll look forward to sharing this in due course.

Garden volunteers in action!

Now the next image illustrates the contrast in weather that many outdoor workers ‘enjoyed’ this week – the sun was shining and the rain pouring both at the same time. Crazy weather indeed but the atmosphere exhilarating and the light – just too good to resist a snap or three!

February days in a Cotswolds garden.

My last image record of the week was simply a pile of sticks, but a valuable pile of sticks nonetheless. The first thing to strike my mind on seeing post-storm the twiggy garden debris is usually ‘what a mess’. Yet there’s often a bright side on which to focus. On closer inspection you’ll see that much of the wood is decayed, and as nature-friendly gardeners will know they’re perfect if cleared away to a shady corner of the garden and left to decay slowly in dead wood piles.

Beetles, woodlice, ladybirds, fungi and more will quickly take to these piles and break them down on our behalf, so of all the sticks collected on Monday last, and probably on Monday next too, can all be used to support wildlife in the garden. Every cloud has a silver lining, as people say…

Five, six, pick up sticks…

My week summarised included: debris clean up; moving two evergreen shrubs; rose pruning; shrub removal; area surveying; plant sourcing; tool cleaning; and the first proper mowing of the season. Yes, mowing in February!

A physically demanding but hugely enjoyable week with a real feeling of progress but, being another week closer to spring, the pressure to get more done in preparation increases now. Next week looks to again start with brash clean up, followed with more border renovation and more.

I hope your gardening week has been equally rewarding, and not too badly affected by the swirling weather patterns that keep gracing our forecast maps! Regards, Gary

You can follow my gardening journey daily on Twitter or Instagram

GardeningWays Journal 8.2.20

Six gardening images to illustrate my gardening week

Welcome to my garden journal entry for February 8th 2020. If you’re new to my journal you’ll find that I’m a professional gardener and I post here to record some of my gardening activity and discoveries from the past week. I contribute and channel my memories through the ever popular SixonSaturday gardening meme, so please remember to check out some of the inspiring SoS hashtags on Twitter and Instagram.

This week I’ve again been beavering away in the garden at Broadwell, but before I mention more I’m going to mention the snowdrop weekend that I did manage to attend last weekend at Hill Close Gardens.

A Warwickshire named snowdro variety
Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus ‘Warwickshire Gemini’

There’s simply no holding back the love and appreciation people have for these charming little flowers, and on the day I visited the hedged Victorian gardens in Warwick the visitor numbers had reached record levels – to the point where the cakes had run out – yes – there was no cake! ( Which means I was able to buy more snowdrops… 😉 )

The welcoming and the very tidy gardens however were as good as ever, along with a collection of snowdrop varieties that is now 130 strong – yes I discovered that being ‘snowdrop blind’ is actually a thing!

Anyway, I’d love to visit and write about gardens all week long, but on Monday it was most definitely back to the weeding for me, with a brand new area to tackle. I say the word tackle, for five days on from those tentative first steps into the border, I find myself with aches where I haven’t ached before and hands that have still to relinquish bramble thorns – brambles don’t give up their ground easily!

It was hard to capture a tell-all image but a large mixed border it was, that had simply been left for a while to its own devices. By the end of the week I’d worked through 75% of the unwanted vegetation, and it was clear to see that the obviously deep and fertile soil had encouraged strong weed growth, so things do bode well for future growing activity – once the unwanted specimens are taken care of.

Garrya elliptica shrub in an English garden
Garrya elliptica

Above I snapped a picture of a Garrya elliptica, a visitor from the California coastal area as I learned during some brief research. The Garrya was looking handsome with the setting sun behind, A sun that has worked its magic across gardens this week. Things may be about to change with a storm moving in but for now, lets revel in the sunshine!

It’s all too easy to keep your focus on the job in hand, but one of the wonders of working outdoors is the moment you stop to straighten your back, only to notice a spectacular scene that may sometimes be seconds in duration. The crocus below is another example. Drifts of these little beauties embellish the lawns at Broadwell just now, along with aconites, hellebores and more, but this single wide open flower caught my attention as I walked by – it would have been rude not to record the moment!

“Give me all the sun you’ve got!”

Last of my floral pictures below this week brings another snowdrop moment, but with a little soil splatter and a spider web or two for added reality. Tough as they may be, the humble snowdrop does its thing at the muckiest time of year, but it doesn’t make them any less perfect. It’ll soon be time to think about lifting and dividing some to share the joy.

And finally…. is an image that tried to capture the mist that hung beautifully around for much of Thursday. Well, not that successful in capturing the mist but a nice image nonetheless, with the sun shining down through lime branches dripping with moisture. I guess you had to be there…

A very active week it was, and an enjoyable one for sure. Whilst I continue to beaver away in the borders, plans for bigger garden developments are moving quickly along and foundations are literally being laid; from which a new garden will soon be created – it’s all very exciting and I look forward to posting some news as soon as I can.

Next week will see a continuation of border clearing, more rose pruning and a range of hedging activity to name but a few tasks. Oh yes, I’ll also be surveying an area to inform planning for a new glasshouse no less! Let’s cross fingers that the storm passes swiftly over and leaves us free to continue spring preparations – my goodness, I do believe that 2020 has really started!

Hope your garden is blossoming too. Regards, Gary Webb, GardeningWays.

Follow me on Twitter. Follow me on Instagram. Check out #SixOnSaturday on Twitter.

GardeningWays Journal 1.2.20


Welcome to my garden journal entry for February 1st 2020. If you’re new to my journal you’ll find that I’m a professional gardener, and I’m recording here my gardening activity and discoveries from the past week. I channel my thoughts through the ever popular #SixonSaturday gardening meme, so please remember to check out the inspiring other SoS hashtags on Twitter & Instagram.

This week in the north Cotswolds garden where I work the weather has on the whole been kind, and other than being away from the ‘office’ on Wednesday for an ATV awareness day, I have been busily working away at Broadwell.

Let’s face it…

I started working the garden late autumn last year, with a full workload to keep me active through the winter. The weather has been regularly wet, but am I glad that it’s been mild, which has allowed me to plough on and begin returning things to good order. Put simply, I knew from the outset that the more I could achieve during winter, the better start I’d have when the spring madness gets going.

To this end, I’ve been regularly taunted by the above conifer hedge from day one. It hadn’t received a cut last year but although fluffy, was sitting quietly at the end of the long list for a trim, especially as ideally, I’d prefer not to trim in winter. That said, with continuing mild temperatures, a time slot was found on Friday afternoon and I made a start on facing up the hedge. To be continued!

Lesser celandine shining wild in the January garden
Lesser celandine

The above lesser celandine is one of very few flowering ones I’ve spotted in the garden so far, although I’m certain will be joined by many more soon. They’re often over shadowed by attention grabbing hellebores, snowdrops and crocus just now, but are no less beautiful when singled out from the crowd.

Another task on the agenda this week was to see to the winter pruning of an established wisteria. Well, to say it had made itself at home would be something of an understatement, for it was ‘at one’ with the water pipe, having twined around and around.

Obviously the wisteria couldn’t be allowed to dominate the pipe or it would cease to function and damage would be costly. Suffice to say that delicately, piece after piece was removed, and the pipe is now clear. The remaining wisteria is now tied in and ready once again to climb; although hopefully now in a more controlled fashion. Who knows, we may even see a flower or two if we’re lucky!

Wisteria climbs up the water piped
Climbs up the water spout…

Next image below is one of numerous early crocus patches we’re currently enjoying. Tommasini’s crocus, or ‘tommies’ for short, are just exquisite at the moment and towards the end of this week began their flowering turns whilst dancing in the breeze. How perfect…

Early crocus or ‘tommies’ in the January garden
Early crocus glowing amongst the grass.

Another discovery whilst delivering some material to the compost heap were patches of wild garlic, ramsons or ‘bear’s garlic’ I now also discover. Anyone for pesto…?

Ramsons making their presence felt at the end of January
Ramson time begins!

Finally, I close this week’s images with one from Monday morning, when the sky was bright and the snowdrops were at their shivering best not just in this garden but along the lanes nearby too. Yes, it would turn out to be another challenging week, but what a way to get it started; I couldn’t have asked for more…

Snowdrops in the morning sunshine
Single snowdrops bright and early

This weekend looks like another mild and sunny one, at least in this area, so hopefully there will be chance to get out to walk amongst some flowers. I’ve got one eye on a visit to Hill Close Gardens in Warwick for their Snowdrop Weekend, which always delivers an eye-watering display after many years of collecting – over 130 varieties now! I’ll have to make time to drop in…

Weather permitting, next week I’ll be digging deep, literally, to prepare for some plant moving and to reclaim at least some of a border that has, shall we say, gone its own way for a while. Will have to put Epsom salts on the shopping list…

Kind regards, Gary Webb, Gardening Ways.