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Gardening diary.

kent cottage

cimbria cottage


A leaf out of nature's book

Great ideas: We might not be able to win Test Matches, World Cups, Wimbledon or even the Open, but we British can certainly garden.

Great English Gardens by Andrew Lawson and Jane Taylor (Phoenix pounds 14.99) is a celebration of England's greatest gardens and its greatest gardeners and designers.

It ranges from landscapers such as William Kent and old Lancelot 'Capability' Brown to legends of the 20th century such as Sir Edward Lutyens and the doyenne of horticulturalists, Gertrude Jekyll and her preoccupation with making "beautiful pictures" fro m gardens.

The gardens themselves range from the vast expanses of great houses such as Chatsworth to a cottage garden in Kent.

The gardens are not only beautiful to see they also provide an historical record of the vast wealth of the great landowners who could spend what would be millions today on what are major construction projects to create lakes, follies, parkland and garden s in styles ranging from Greek to Italian to the farm workers who packed every bit of land with plants.

The cottage gardens can have vegetables mixed in with the flowers. In the 19th century it was only the relatively wealthy rural workers who could afford the luxury of purely flower gardens.

Most had to use what little land they had available to grow food, often with a pig around the back, to eke out subsistence wages - often earned working for the landowners on their expansive schemes. Like all such books the descriptions of the gardens and their photographs give ideas for your own garden.

And for those who enjoy visiting gardens either while on holiday, or as a day out, there are 40 gardens open to the public and 11 gardens open on certain days.

All have telephone numbers so you can check opening times and charges.

The Midland gardens include Chatsworth in Bakewell, Derbyshire along with the nearby Haddon Hall, Hidcote Manor in Chipping Campden and nearby Kiftsgate Court.

There is The Menagerie in Horton, Northamptonshire, The Old Rectory at Sudborough, near Kettering, Powis Castle at Welshpool, The Priory at Tewkesbury and Waterferry Gardens at Wheatley in Oxfordshire.

Seen, above right, is a clapboard cottage in Kent with a narrow path from the gate to the front door flanked by roses, poppies and daisies. Nothing flash or expensive but a cheery sight to welcome home whoever lives there each evening.

Cumbria is an area where sunshine and bright weather is less common than grey skies, rain and mist - particularly in summer. This low stone cottage, above left, brings its own colour with hanging baskets and regimented rows of bright coloured flowers.

Still in Cumbria - on a sunny day - is the topiary at Levens Hall, left, a garden which dates back to the time of William of Orange which might keep you happy by re-creating it in the back garden for 300 years or so.

Don't burn up that garden waste, says Roger Clarke, there are much better things to do with it.

I am a great believer in rending unto Caesar that which is Caesar's - or, to be more specific, bung back in the garden whatever you take out of it.

With autumn approaching the air will soon be heavy with the scent of burning leaves along with a few whiffs of smouldering bedding plants, rose prunings, weeds, grass cuttings and anything else that will burn.

Whenever I mention bonfires it always attracts a bit of flak about polluting the atmosphere and carcogenic smoke, but come what may many people will be clutching the matches and itching to see those flames rising over the next few weeks.

But before you join them look at how much you are about to burn could easily be returned to the soil, improving its texture and saving on fertiliser.

First of all there are the leaves. Leaf mould is up in the medal positions as a soil conditioner. It is expensive to buy, if you can get hold of it, yet is easy to make.

All it needs to produce it is fallen leaves - obviously - and time.

Collect up all the leaves you can find then store them for about a year. The simplest method is to store them in black plastic bags with a few drainage holes punched in the base and a few holes in the top to allow rain in.

For larger quantities you can store them in a cage - wire or plastic mesh prevents them from blowing away.

If you want a real back-to-nature job, and have enough leaves, then pile them into a mound.

This is the way nature does it in forests with the leaves collecting in hollows, against barriers or just piles up around trees where it breaks down to feed the forest floor.

This is not a composting exercise, leaves break down with a different set of bacteria, so, although a few can be added to a compost heap, leaves in bulk need a different technique.

You stack em up, exposed to the elements and keep well away for at least six months to a year.

The mound will shrink by about 80-90 per cent as it rots down to a crumbly texture, so you do need a lot of leaves to end up with a useful amount.

The mould can be used as an addition to potting compost or as a conditioner.

If you have the room and want to be really up market then lay down a substantial stack of leaves each year, starting a new stack each autumn

The mould improves the longer it is stacked so three stacks, for example, would provide you with a vintage lea a good house leaf and a young everyday leaf.

Next in the autumn clear up comes all the bedding plants and the cut off stems and foliage from the borders. These can all go in the compost heap.

If you don't have a compost heap then it is time you started one - and a pat on the back for Birmingham City Council at this point.

The council has been offering compost bins for householders for pounds 10 to encourage people to process their garden waste.

It saves on refuse collection and disposal and will improve the quality of the soil - even badly-made compost is better than nothing because whatever mess you, or at least your compost, gets into it will be sorted out once it is in the soil.

If you don't have a compost heap or bin you can still create compost.

For example dig the trenches where you are going to grow runner beans next year, but dig them a bit deeper, 18in or so, and then half fill the trenches with organic matter, covering with soil as you go.

Worms and bacteria will break the material down to provide extra humus and moisture retention for next year's bean crop.

Another method is to create an underground heap, which means dig a big hole which becomes your subterranean bin. Fill it with organic material, covering each 9in layer with a couple of inches of soil.

The compost can be dug out and spread over the vegetable patch or you can grow plants such as marrows on the heap which will appreciate the deep root run and moisture.

A different hole each year and slowly the veg patch becomes fertile and rich in humus.

On an even smaller scale I have mentioned my father-in-law's method in the past.

He digs holes around the garden and buries kitchen and garden waste 9in or so down.

The material is deep enough not to affect normal planting and over a period of years vast quantities of organic material are returned to the soil improving its structure.

The method does have a few novelties in that the odd marrow seedling or tomato seedling will appear which you can either pull up as a weed or grow on as a plant.

He has reduced the amount he digs in this year though after buying a wormery.

Once operating efficiently a wormery will consume huge quantities of organic, particularly, kitchen waste.

The worms eat their own weight of organic material every 24 hours, and as eating and breeding seem to be their main preoccupations, you end up with an awful lot of worms eating an awful lot of kitchen waste.

It is not a fast process. I have been chucking kitchen waste into an Original Wormery bin for 12 months or so now and it is still not full.

Lifting it though is heading into truss territory with more than half of the bin now consisting of solid worm casts which is a superb top dressing for lawns or a base or supplement for potting composts.

As beds are cleared either for autumn planting or just to look neat for winter, try sowing a few hardy annuals such as calendulas and larkspurs where you want them to flower. They will not set the world alight during the winter but come spring they will take off as strong sturdy plants and will be in bloom weeks earlier than spring sown plants.

Sow thinly in clumps thinning out the survivors in spring.

Sweet peas are another candidate for autumn sowing.

Among dedicated growers there is much debate about the best time to sow with late September early October one of the options.

Autumn sowings produce the earliest blooms, about six weeks earlier than spring sowing, with what are regarded as the largest and best quality flowers.

You can sow where they are to grow, or more commonly, sow in pots or sweet pea tubes - long thin pots often of bitumenised paper - and overwinter in a cold frame or cold greenhouse.

The plants are then planted out with minimum root disturbance in early spring. Perennial sweet peas are more usually sown in spring. They were a standard cottage garden plant but have been less popular in the past few years as people swing more towards b edding plants, replanting much of the garden every spring and autumn.

The everlasting pea, Lathyrus grandiflorus has about three large blooms on each stalk and is a vigorous climber although the blooms, blue and purple, are not that spectacular.

The perennial pea, L latifolius has had more breeding work expended on it producing a number of varieties such as Albus, a white, Red Pearl and a number of other named varieties of various hues.

The plants can have have anything up to 12-15 blooms, more than an inch across, on each stalk.

It will grow to 10ft to cover a column, wall or fence, or can be grown as a rather sprawling ground cover without support.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 19, 1998
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