Iris reticulata Katharine Hodgkin

 Iris reticulata Katharine Hodgkin making an early appearance.

Planting Fruit Trees

If you have never experienced the sheer unbounded joy of casually picking some apples or plums from your own fruit tree and then sharing them with friends and family then you’re missing out on an unique experience.
Apple, pear and Victoria plum trees are all ideal fruit trees to plant in your garden. Not only will they enhance its natural beauty but they will also provide you with the most organic and natural fruit money can’t buy. The fruit is delicious in itself and can also be used to make delicious ciders, wines, moonshine, chutneys, preserves and jams. But it’s important to note that to ensure a healthy tree and productive harvest, it’s always best to plant certain fruit trees in Winter.

What Type of Fruit Trees are Suitable for Planting in Winter? 
Deciduous fruit trees such as apple, pear trees and Victoria plum tree should always be planted in Winter, as opposed to evergreen fruit trees such as Olive and Loquat which are hardy but best planted in the spring or more tender trees such as lemons which should be overwintered in a cool conservatory. Deciduous fruit trees have evolved in a temperate climate and require exposure to the cold of Winter in order to produce fruit and flowers. This is known as the minimum chill requirement. The growth buds of these particular trees do not blossom properly until they experience a full winter.

How to Plant a Fruit Tree in Winter 
Fruit trees are in their dormant stage in late Autumn and early winters, so this is the best time for planting. Always soak the roots thoroughly and avoid placing in the ground if there’s a frost because the soil needs to be moist. Place your fruit tree in a position in you garden which benefits from both sun and shelter. When it comes to digging a hole ensure it is a third wider than the tree’s roots and the same depth. Insert a stake to support the tree and fill the hole with soil. Water the ground well, but only well enough to keep it moist. You do not want to drown the tree’s roots.

Things to be Weary of When planting fruit trees in winter 
To maximise the amount of fruit they yield almost all deciduous fruit trees require careful and regular pruning. It’s also a good idea to apply a grease band to the trunk of your tree at least 18 inches above soil level to protect it from moths and other insects who will eat its leaves and fruit. The application of fertilizer, organic or chemical, is a personal preference but it can give the fruit tree just the boost it needs to start bearing the sort of fruit that will make you the talk of the town.

Planning the Allotment for the Year Ahead

When starting out a vegetable patch or at an allotment, it is often quite overwhelming as there is so many possibilities when it comes to the different produce you can grow. This Vegetable Planner can help when organising your time and your allotment, and starts with 8 basic vegetables that can be used in a huge variety of meals. However, starting out on a vegetable patch or allotment can be quite daunting so here are some tips to help you get growing.

Tips for starting out on an allotment
·         If you’re a beginner, starting on a smaller plot will make it easier for you to manage.

  • When starting out it’s a good idea to talk to other gardeners who work on the allotment to find out what’s been successful and what hasn’t been on their plots – this could save you a lot of time in the long run!
  •  First job should be take care of your soil and make sure it’s fit for purpose, so sort out any weeds and other pests.
  •  Make sure your tools are up to scratch and well looked after – investment in the long term will yield better results. Keeping them in a secure shed or outbuilding will ensure that they stay safe and in good condition.

Broccoli – a popular variety that is commonly grown is the Sprouting Broccoli Claret F1. It’s easy to pick and grows in poorer soil so this is a great variety for when you’re just starting out.

Cabbage – there are three different general types of cabbage – winter, summer and spring types. For example, the Kilaxy variety of cabbage is a summer type and can be harvested in late summer/early autumn.

Carrot – if you want to start growing carrots as soon as possible, go for the type Adelaide AGM as this can be sown in February or March. Make sure to use a cloche for protection.

Cauliflower - there are many different varieties of cauliflower – why not try a purple variety such as Purple Graffiti to add some vibrant colour to your vegetable patch. Just remember to harvest cauliflower as soon as it’s ready.

Lettuce – Set AGM is a variety of lettuce that is fairly easy to grow, so would be good for beginners. However, in the summer watch out for lettuce root aphid – this pest attacks the lettuce roots so you may not be able to see it but look for ants around the plant as this can be a sign. Keep the plants well watered as this can help suppress the damage.

Onion – You can start sowing onions from March to April and they are better suited for open ground so they are a great choice of vegetables if you’ve got an allotment or a spacious vegetable patch.

Potato - Ideally potatoes need be in a sunny site away from frost, so before planting anything have find out how much sun exposure your plot receives. March/April is the perfect time to start planting tubers.

Tomato – You can plant tomatoes indoors or outdoors depending on what you resources you have available. Ferline beefsteak tomatoes have some resistance to tomato and potato blight so could be a good variety to start with for a beginner.

Whatever you decide to grow, good luck and here's to a bumper harvest in 2015.

Looking after your garden in the Frosts

 If you’re lucky enough to be living near the equator, then you don’t have to worry about winter. But the rest of us stress and prepare for winter from as early as August. Don’t just abandon your garden to the elements over winter. There are lots of steps and precautions you can take to save the lives of your plants, and here are a few of the basics:

1. Move less hardy plants indoors or into a greenhouse - heated if possible. If you’re unsure whether or not your plant is less hardy, just search for it on Google – find out where it’s from and if anyone recommends you take it in over winter. If you have a heated Greenhouse, make sure you get ahead of spring and furnish it with a few plants and maybe a sapling fruit tree.

2. Don't allow snow to build up on the roof of your greenhouse or on the netting of fruit cages – they aren't designed to take weight. Move any items that are likely to be damaged by sliding snow away from the roof if possible. This might seem obvious, but many people forget. The crash of a collapsing greenhouse is a dreadful sound, and it’s impossible to clean up in the snow.

3. Wrap terracotta pots in horticultural fleece or bubble wrap to protect from frost. Alternatively, they can be wrapped in straw. If they're empty, put them away in a shed or garage. This isn't technically a plant tip, but it’s very important, and your plants do stand a better chance if their pots are intact. The Daily Mail wrote a great article with tips for wrapping terracotta pots; have a read if you’d like to know more.

4. Any plants that can't be moved can be protected with straw or horticultural fleece. Do not use bubble wrap for this; it will create a cold, damp environment and cause plants to rot. Taller plants should be firmly secured to their supports to minimise wind damage.

5. Make sure you clear footpaths of snow as soon as possible. Remember: hard packed snow is as slippery as ice and you can't tend to your plants from a hospital bed. This is good advice even if you don’t enjoy a spot of winter gardening. Keeping your garden clear will make every other job you do all the easier.

There you have it. These tips should see most of your garden plants through the long winter and into spring. Don’t get too down about the garden this season; remember that the cold gets rid of all of the pests for a few months. Take the good with the bad, eh?

Keeping Busy in the Winter Months

Prune apple & pear trees
The winter period is quite a good time of year to prune your apple and pear trees as they are now dormant. Trim back to one or two buds, thin out branches that are congested or rubbing against other branches. By doing these jobs you will increase the  light and air flow through the tree. Remove any "mummified" fruits still hanging on your trees as these can be a source of rot going into the new season.

Despite it being January there may still be plenty to harvest, Leeks may well be standing ready but if a sustained freeze is expected then you can dig a few up and heel them in to dug ground. Parsnips and swedes in the ground can also come up when you are ready, but until then cover them over with fleece or straw to stop them freezing solid into the ground. The cabbage family should be providing some sustenance and beet leaves (perpetual spinach) and chards will be available. On a sunny day it is worth emptying your potato sacks and check for any that are starting to rot before it spread

Protect tender plants
Tender perennials such as Cordylines and Fuchsia should be kept out of the frost, so bring them into the green house or conservatory.

Brush heavy snow off trees
If you get a heavy snow fall then brush shrubs and conifers with a broom to prevent branches getting damaged.

If the ground is now frozen finish off any digging over you still need to do.

Thoroughly clean and oil your loppers, secateurs, and other hard worked tools so they’re fit for another years maintenance in the garden. Start off by giving them a good scrub with some hot soapy water and leave them to dry thoroughly before wiping over with an oily rag to stop them going rusty.

If you dont have any (or enough) then this is a good time to plant in the green especially if a friend of neighbour can provide them to you.

Helleborus 'Annas Red

Helleborus 'Annas Red'  at the RHS Plant and Design Show 2012
One of the most stunning hellebores to look out for at the moment is Helleborus 'Annas Red'. This Hellebore which has such a deep red flower and marbled leaves, was the work of breeder, Rodney Davey. 

It took Rodney some twelve years to achieve the goal of breading a red hellebore with marbled leaves. Firstly of all he had to bread the mother plant, carefully transferring pollen from one plant to another in the hope that at least some of the seedlings created from each cross would have some of the characteristics Rodney was looking for. When he was finally satisfied with the mother hellebore that he had created, Rodney was then able to start on the next round of crosses, using the pollen from several different hellebores and the newly created mother plant. For several years he then sowed the seeds that resulted from this second round of crosses, saving only the very best from each cross, but in each batch of several thousand young plants, he rarely kept more than a handful to grow on. Eventually, however he succeeded and Anna's Red was born!

How to Grow a Pear inside a Bottle

Food photographer Ed Gowans shares a passion of his on this great You Tube video growing pears in a bottle. Each year, Gowans adds quality alcohol to his bottles containing his home grown pears, and presents them to friends as Christmas gifts.If you fancy giving it a go, here's how its done!

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