I recently had to write an essay on Food Sovereignty and it was during this research I became totally fascinated with the Seed Sovereignty aspect of La Via Campesina’s movement – the right to breed and exchange diverse open source seeds which can be saved and which are not patented, genetically modified, owned or controlled. I had no real understanding of the devastating impact on our biodiversity due to a number of factors, not least, the agri-behemoths who control seeds around the world for farmers and home gardeners alike. 94% of our seed varieties have been lost (forever!) since the turn of the 20th century – that’s frightening!
But, there are people all around the world doing their bit to save our seeds and ensure we don’t lose our precious heirloom varieties and to keep our food heritage alive – Janisse Ray is one of them. A writer, naturalist and activist, Janisse is a seed saver, seed exchanger and seed banker and has been growing food for nearly 30 years!
The Seed Underground is a charming read – it’s a collection of stories about her past and people she has met along her way, characters who are striving to save open-pollinated varieties that will be lost if people don’t grow, save and swap their seeds. These are not activists in the militant sense, just ordinary people who are connected to their environment and the food that they produce and eat. If you’re interested in gardening and food then this book will be a light and happy read that’ll still make you think.
I’ve been massively inspired and as a result I’ve been experimenting with heritage varieties this year and will be trying to make my own contribution to the movement by saving and exchanging my seeds. I’ve bought another book – Back Garden Seed Saving from The Real Seed Catalogue (where I also bought some heirloom corn and carrots ) which I’m hoping will help teach me how to do this. I can’t wait to give the tomatoes a go as well as a few other things.
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 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 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 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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
I’m trying to be a bit more organised this year so have spent some time this week going through all my seeds, bulbs and young plants working out what needs sowing, propagating, planting etc and when! The conservatory is fast filling up with things in pots as it’s way too early to risk putting anything outside yet – we learned our lesson on that score last year! We’re also not risking being so late that loads of things don’t make the productive stage (another lesson from last year).
It looks like, all being well, we should have a great harvest this year, with well over 40 fruits and veggies, not counting the herb garden. We’ve also got some interesting new things to try like, oca, cucamelons and heirloom corn as well as some more unusual varieties of other kitchen garden staples.
In other news ‘operation gas tank’ has begun – predictably what was supposed to be a 2-day job has already been four and we’re only halfway through. The front lawn was dug up and a new gas tank inserted. Some of the internal connections have been done however there still needs to be some pipework done to connect the new tank to the house. Once that’s been done they’ll transfer any gas from the old tank in the back garden to the new one and then remove the old tank. I can’t wait – we’ll be able to make a lovely new bed in that space, just as well with all the seeds and plants I’ve bought.
I also heard this week that the very kind people at What Shed have listed APG in their round up of Best UK Gardening Blogs – thank you! You can check out the others on the list here.
Despite being buried under a foot of snow again earlier this week, things are definitely looking up on the gardening front, not least because I’ve been doing lots of garden planning and subsequently lots of garden purchasing.
The post has been full of wonderful arrivals over the past couple of weeks including books on companion planting, biodynamic gardening and a couple of Beth Chatto’s after seeing her on Gardener’s World – Monty rated them very highly.
Live Plants, including horseradish (let’s hope it does better than last time, it was all spindly little roots that would’ve been a nightmare to peel – are we the only people that can’t grow it?!), strawberries and blueberries (ours weren’t great last year but planning to do something to make the soil more acidic this year and hopefully some cross-pollination will help). I also got garlic, a variety especially meant to be planted in UK soil, rather than just planting cloves from supermarket garlics which is what I’ve always done before, I’m hoping that my soil maintenance over the Winter will mean it’s less clay-ey and we’ll get much bigger bulbs this time around.
Seeds, all the seeds have been arriving! This year I’m hoping to save some money by bringing things on from seed instead of from plants but being so high up we have a very short season. The heated propagator is working well and the tomatoes and companions seem to be thriving. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to sow more in normal seed trays without them getting too cold in the conservatory at night.
and stuff! Cane holders for the climbers, plant clips and a hanging basket chain – all to be revealed with that one in due course.
The potatoes have been chitting – we have Pink Fir Apples, Salad Blue, Mayan Gold and Epicure. And, I finally braved pruning, I’ve been too feardy the past couple of years but I went on to youtube and learned how to prune all sorts of things – nothing was safe once I got started – roses, blueberries, apples, buddleias, blackcurrants, jasmine, fig, ivy and lilac – not sure if I haven’t gone a little too far with some of them, guess time will tell.
Next job is to write a new to-do list, plan my seed sowing and raised beds and get back to the chicken run that was interrupted by the Avian flu restrictions, fingers crossed for some nicer weather soon. I’m also deliberating on whether to buy live worms or to invest in a wormery so if anyone has some thoughts, I’d love to hear from you (definitely not sure about the dog poo wormeries I found on amazon – who knew there was such a thing?! the thought of worms who’ve digested that around the veggies isn’t filling me with great joy despite it sounding like a clever bit of kit).
Just as we were starting to get excited about the brief whiff of Spring we had, the snow returned – whilst it looks beautiful here when the white stuff comes down, it does rather dampen the enthusiasm a little.
Our new heated propagator has arrived – after much deliberation, I finally decided on one with six smaller trays as it seemed the best value for the most space (it was £40 from Thompson & Morgan), along with a load of seeds that I’ve optimistically ordered – our season is so short here that growing from seed is a risky business so hopefully the propagator should help things along.
I’m especially excited about some of the tomato seeds we’ve got – Indigo Cherry Drops, a dark purply colour that will go nicely with a mixture of other yellows and reds in a variety of sizes. We also bought some companion plants to help control pests – marigolds, calendula and cosmos – time will tell if this works but at east things will look pretty as well. It’s all about biodiversity this year…
The Avian Flu restrictions that were in place have now been lifted in Scotland, a low-risk zone, meaning that as long as extra biosecurity measures have been taken (removing bird feeders etc) that our birds are allowed back outside. I was very excited although with fresh snow on the ground they had to be coaxed with mealworms initially. Now we just need them to start laying again – another effect of them being cooped up for 3 months.
A relatively clear weekend meant that I finally got the chance to settle down with a gardening magazine (I was given a subscription to Grow Your Own for Christmas. an excellent present), my notebook and some seed catalogues.
This year we’re planning on being a bit more structured as last year was poor in terms of harvest – the weather didn’t help but we also sowed seeds way too late for them to come to anything and were just generally a bit disorganised.
This time round we’ll be growing things we actually like to eat and in the quest for beauty and biodiversity we’ll be companion planting too. Starting to get impatient now, however, the garden needs a really good Spring clean so there’s plenty to be done.
Am considering getting a heated propagator to get things started – saw an amazing looking one in a magazine but it was over £100. Think I may try a smaller one first to see how it works. I met someone a couple of weeks ago who uses one when making bread so at least it’ll have another use if it doesn’t work out.
In other news our new bulb planter arrived – it was one of those deals you get when ordering plants that seem like a really good deal – £5 instead of £15 – thank goodness it was only £5 as I can’t for the life of me see how it’s going to add much value, guess I’ll find out when our Summer bulbs arrive and I can put it into practice.
Keen & willing (if slightly clueless) and gardening at 1000 ft – life in & around our Scottish Pentlands garden