A Gardening Consultation with TV Gardener Katie Rushworth

I was recently asked if I would like to have a gardening consultation with Katie Rushworth from ITV’s Love Your Garden programme  as part of a campaign in conjunction with Tesco who have a range of gardening equipment and essentials in store. It’s fair to say that we’ve been so focused on the edibles side of the garden that there are a few very sad neglected areas that we could do with some advice on so I was more than happy to see what tips we could get.

The Queen of Spades and new TV garden presenter Katie Rushworth from Bingley.

The problem areas include the rockery, a long bed under a beech hedge and the borders in the new front garden we created last year. I sent some photographs to Katie ahead of our phone call and a brief description of the issues that we were looking for some guidance on.

The Rockery – we planted this a couple of years ago and a lot of effort went into lugging big stones around to create this part of the garden, in our heads we would plant it and then it would take care of itself. We planted a mixture of heathers, lavender, succulents and alpines and to be fair some of them have done really well, spreading around the rocks as we’d hoped. What we didn’t bargain on was a load of native thistles and wild grasses taking over large chunks making it look very messy and not what we had intended. Sadly there will be no quick fix for this one, Katie has suggested we remove all the stones and cover the area with weed membrane and let everything underneath rot down, ideally over Winter. Then next Spring to dig out the roots, put the rocks back and start again. Alternatively we could plant through the weed membrane. I think next time, we should also put down some chippings to help prevent unwanted plants taking root in this area.

The Rockery when we first planted it

The Beech Bed – we have a long border underneath a beech hedge that is very shady during the growing season but quite exposed during the Winter. It’s also very dry – apparently this isn’t just because of the cover but also because any plants would be competing with the well established beech for any water. We’ve planted a few shade-loving plants here – tiarella, heuchera, periwinkles and hellibores but nothing has ever really flourished – the lack of water seems to be a likely reason. Katie suggested that we spend some time improving the structure of the soil by mulching and digging in manure as well as using the juice from the wormery as a super rich nutrient hit as well as watering well by hand until any plants have become well established. She also suggested planting some hardy evergreen geraniums (Cantabrigiense Hanna) that are really tough, give good ground cover, have a good flowering season as well as having nice autumn colours.

The Beech Hedge along the right hand side.

The Front Borders – last year we had our front ‘garden’ of pebbles ripped out replaced with lawn and flower beds. We’d planted a few shrubs but nothing really seemed to be doing that much, with a lot of bare spaces with weeds starting to take over and nothing growing at all under the Leylandi hedge. Katie’s suggestion for this area was to create two symmetrical borders either side of the front door and plant things in threes, fives and sevens which she felt would give rhythm and cohesion. She also suggested looking in our neighbours gardens to see what is growing well there – sounds so obvious but makes perfect sense as we’ve spent a fortune on plants that haven’t worked out. She suggested putting down chip bark under the Leylandi and focusing on the other borders. She also suggested planting edibles in the borders for added interest and in true country cottage garden style. Kale, Kardoon, Chicory and Broccoli that can all add interesting colours and textures as well as being ‘useful’.

The new front garden

It was brilliant to be able to get some professional advice on these areas and has left me feeling quite inspired to dedicate the time, and not to mention the ££ needed to give these areas a makeover.

Love Your Garden will be returning to ITV later in the year but in the meantime here are Katie’s Top Ten Gardening Tips – I’m definitely going to be getting a hoe now, I’ve never used one before but it sounds like a really useful tool!

1. Plant out summer bedding, half-hardy annuals

Spring is the perfect time to dust off your trowel, get planting and give your garden some love. When you start, try to plant and stick to a colour theme throughout your containers and baskets. Maybe a mix of hot colours and the odd chilli plant thrown in to your window box might spice things up. If you fancy something a little more ‘cottage garden’ in style then stick with pastel shades and add some herbs to the mix. Half-hardy annuals such as Cosmos, Zinnia, Cleome and Nicotiana can all be sown straight into the ground at this time of year and are fantastic colour fillers.

2. Pressure wash, or hose down and scrub

A great and easy way to get your garden looking its best is to get the pressure washer out and give that patio, path or deck some TLC. Just removing any dirt and moss from your seating area will instantly make your garden appear smarter. They are also great for cleaning down garden furniture and children’s play equipment, often they look brand new again.

3. Paint a fence or wall

It’s a great time of year to treat any wood that is in the garden – spring offers slightly cooler days with a possible chance of sunshine (unpredictable English weather) so your fence/wall will have time to properly dry. Whether that be fencing, a shed, garden furniture, wooden planters or a children’s climbing frame – all will last longer if given some added protection against the elements, and it will also give them a new lease of life. If you’re feeling brave, add some colour! A brightly coloured wall can make a fantastic statement all year round, a steely grey coloured fence can add a contemporary feel.

4. Costs

Have a plan for your garden and stick to it. Keep an eye out for retailers and garden centres who will have a wide range of deals available in the lead up to the summer months. Tesco is offering some great deals on its garden range available, in store now or online.

5. Lawn

Don’t forget to look after your lawn, as a freshly cut lawn makes all the difference. One of the top gardening mistakes Brits with a garden are committing is letting the lawn become unruly and overgrown. Make sure you remove any bare patches by getting rid of any dead grass and moss from the area. Then sprinkle some topsoil, followed by some lawn seed. A final fine dressing of topsoil will keep any wildlife from eating the seed as well as ensure that the seed comes into contact with the soil. Lightly water to prevent any of the seed from being disturbed.

6. Stake and support plants

Any plants that you know need support to look their best will benefit if you visit your local retailer or garden centre and get those supports in now. Even if they are weeks from flowering and still have lots of growth to put on, getting those garden canes in now and tying things in is much easier to do when you don’t have to navigate excess foliage and other plants in flower. As the plant continues to grow it will also naturally disguise the canes or framework you have put in place and leave you with beautiful looking flowers.

7. Lighting

Garden lighting is often overlooked, but it can really extend the use of your garden and add ambience and atmosphere to any outdoor spaces. String lights always look fabulous and add a festival feeling, whilst clusters of lanterns on steps and tables add charm and elegance. Up lighting a tree can add drama and give the garden an evening focal point, as well as give that holiday feeling. Don’t forget the fire pit which also gives warmth as the evening draws in.

8. Hoe

According to Tesco’s research the most dreaded gardening job for over a third of adults with a garden is weeding. However this task won’t seem so daunting if you find yourself a hoe (this is my favourite garden implement). It makes easy work of keeping on top of those weeds! On a dry day, slice the top of the weed off just below the surface of the soil. This will prevent the weed from photosynthesizing and the root will dry out and die. Sometimes the weed may eventually regrow, but this definitely weakens the plant so it is much less likely to make an appearance. For more persistent weeds, removing the whole root maybe necessary. However intermediate hoeing can make weeding a much more manageable garden task.

9. Prune spring flowering shrubs

Any shrubs which have flowered this spring can be pruned now if they are getting too big and unruly. Tesco has found that people are not confident when it comes to pruning plants but this is really easy to do! Remove any dead or damaged growth first, then any growth which is weak or crossing over one another causing stems to rub together in a tangled mass. Always cut the branch on an angle and to a new outward facing bud to increase air circulation. Shrubs can tolerate being cut back hard now, so removing half of the plant may seem brutal and look a little drastic, but it will recover over the summer months and reward you with lots of fresh new growth.

10. Dress it

Cushions, throws and outdoor rugs are the finishing touches that really make your garden feel like an extension of your house. Tie the colours in with colours you have in the home as well as colours you have used in the garden to create a unified and cohesive design. You don’t need green fingers for this, and it’s amazing how much more welcoming a garden becomes when it has a seat with a lovely cushion and a throw on it. Also, don’t forget to invest in a decent BBQ – this is essential to have, especially if you are planning to entertain friends and dine alfresco.

The gardening hamper we received from Tesco

I had no idea that Tesco sold so many gardening and outdoor essentials until they kindly sent me a hamper to accompany my consultation with Katie – on further investigation they sell everything from tools and seeds to planters, greenhouses and sheds, furniture, bbqs, lighting, fencing and spas.  Click here for more information on the range of outdoor essentials and BBQ’s available at Tesco. 

You can also check out Katie’s website www.katierushworth.com

Beth Chatto’s Shade Garden – Book Review

I’ve only recently become a fan of Beth Chatto after a recommendation from Monty on Gardeners World. I promptly bought and thoroughly enjoyed her book ‘Garden Notebook’. I’d put her Shade Garden book in my amazon wishlist so it was perfect timing when I was asked if I would like to review the revised and updated version which was has just been published.

Beth is well known for coining the phrase and gardening philosophy of ‘the right plant for the right place’ and holds the RHS’s highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour as well as being awarded an OBE. She is a plantswoman. garden designer and author who created her own famous gardens and nursery in Essex in 1960. The Beth Chatto Gardens comprise a varied range of planting sites totalling five acres, including dry, sun-baked gravel, water and marginal planting, woodland, shady, heavy clay and alpine planting, and now include the Gravel Garden, Woodland Garden, Water Garden, Long Shady Walk, Reservoir Garden and Scree Garden. It was the development of these sites that prompted her to write books on gardening with what could be considered as “problem areas” using plants that nature has developed to survive in differing conditions.

The Shade Garden was originally published in 2002 and describes how she transformed a dark, derelict site into a garden that is tranquil yet full of life in every season. She offers a palette of more than 500 plants that will flourish in the shade. The book begins in Winter and follows the seasons in a diary style. We begin with snowdrops, aconites, narcissus and hellebores heralding the awakening of the garden and move through to the Summer when the overhead canopy provides the perfect habitat for ferns, hostas and grasses. Autumn brings the berrying shrubs and the glowing colours that are synonymous with that time of year. The book also contains a reference section of shade tolerant plants for specific hardiness zones.

I really love her writing style, it’s personal, based on her many years of experience and trial and error, it’s not like a more traditional factual gardening manual. You really get a sense of the gardens and her love of nature through the narrative and it’s illustrated throughout with lush photography. I’ve been sneaking up to bed early every evening so that I can read this and now have a growing list of plants to put into our shady border bed under a beech hedge where to date, we’ve had little success. Attention has been duly paid to ‘the right plant in the right place’ principle which should stand us in better stead this time around.

This book is great for anyone who has a shady area that they’re a bit stumped with or just for a good old interesting read that fills you with a rosy glow of well-being. It would make a great gift. I’ve also now purchased a copy of her book The Damp Garden that I shall savour for another day – she’s still winning fans at the age of 93, I’m one of them, which is pretty impressive. She still lives in a house in the gardens where she continues to work with her team, I’d love to visit one day.

The Shade Garden has an RRP of £30 however it’s on amazon for £20!

Rhubarb Ice Cream Recipe

We always get a good crop of rhubarb throughout the growing season – I often make jam, crumbles and cakes but I wanted to try something a bit different so decided to give ice cream a try. It’s fantastic – so tasty that I can’t believe it isn’t more common. I’ll definitely be making this again, and probably again.

I got the recipe from ‘The Ultimate Ice Cream’ book by Bruce Weinstein and have adapted the ingredients and measurements for the UK.

Rhubarb

Ingredients

1lb rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

300 ml water

Juice of a lime

150 ml maple syrup

200 g caster sugar

1 large egg plus one additional egg yolk

2 teaspoons corn flour

300 ml milk

300 ml double cream

Method

Combine the rhubarb, water and lime juice in a medium saucepan and place over a low heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until the rhubarb has broken down, approx 10-15 minutes.

Add the maple syrup, return to a simmer and cook for a further 2 minutes. Put the mixture through a sieve or a blender and puree. Set aside to cool.

In a bowl, beat the sugar into the egg and egg yolk until thickened and a pale yellow. Beat in the corn flour and set aside.

Bring the milk to a simmer in a medium to heavy saucepan. Slowly beat the hot milk into the eggs and sugar. Pour the entire mixture back into the pan and place over a low heat. Stir constantly until the custard begins to thicken. Be careful not to let the mixture boil or the eggs will scramble. Remove from the heat and pour the hot custard through a sieve into a large clean bowl and allow to cool slightly before adding the rhubarb puree and cream. Mix well and then cover and refrigerate until cold.

Once the mixture has cooled freeze in your ice cream maker according to the instructions. If you don’t have an ice cream machine you can freeze the mixture (in a freezer safe tub) but will need to ensure you take it out and stir thoroughly regularly to break down any ice crystals as it freezes.

 

Gearing up for a Bumper Edibles Growing Season

The past couple of months have been pretty hectic with Uni assignments but they’re behind me now and I’m just embarking on my dissertation – about people who grow their own food and then share these practices through blogs and social media – should be really interesting. I’m excited and terrified of undertaking such a huge piece of work at the same time.

Painted Mountain heirloom sweet corn

In between my studies I’ve been busy planting seeds and planning this year’s edibles. Biodiversity and companion planting to deter pests or attract them elsewhere is also part of the grand plan. With almost 60 new edibles for this year, along with over 20 already in the garden and companion plants, it’s ambitious, to say the least. I’ve had to set up a spreadsheet to keep me right with varieties and planting schedules. I also received a lovely box of organic veggies from Rocket Gardens yesterday with about 20 more varieties.

The Gas Tank has gone!

Thankfully our gas tank has now been removed from the back garden and a new one buried under the front lawn so we’re just waiting on the timber and soil for a new bed to take its place – it’s going to be much needed this year, along with bags and containers.

Mangetout and Peas – some of many seedlings on the go just now

There’s still a risk of frost here just now so the conservatory is bursting with plants and seedlings waiting to go outside. I can’t wait, especially as we’ve got some interesting new things this year like Painted Mountain sweet corn, Oca (New Zealand Yams), Jerusalem Artichokes, some interestingly coloured potatoes and tomatoes – no idea how some of these things will fare in our climate and short growing season but we’ll soon find out!

Rhubarb

We’ve already had a fantastic rhubarb harvest and I made some rhubarb ice cream for a change, oh goodness, it’s delicious, the nicest ice cream I think I’ve ever tasted – will definitely be making more. Will probably post the recipe too.

Since starting my studies my eyes have opened to many things I hadn’t known much about and this year we’re using as many heirloom seeds as possible so that we can start practising seed saving and it’s organic all the way – I had no idea about the control of agrochemical and seed companies and the huge global loss of biodiversity – very much looking forward to trying out these organic feeds that were kindly sent to us by The Organic Gardening Catalogue (I have a feeling this could become a new favourite site).