Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Making Good Compost

good rich compost, full of worms, made in my makeshift 'bin'

I'm not talking here about the bags of compost you buy in the garden centre, but the rich crumbly stuff you make yourself. It adds richness to your raised beds, or - if in short supply - is useful for mulching. Good compost is not difficult to make, though it takes time. Left to itself, something magical happens; nature doing its own thing turns waste into goodness; no need for those green council wheely bins - why give away something precious.

home-made compost added to one of my raised beds before topping up with soil
If you have the space, you can build your own, from timber or cinder building blocks. I had to move my last one in a hurry (another story) and hadn't time to make a proper new one; temporary measures were needed. So I laid a sheet of tough plastic on the ground, positioned paving slabs upright against the fence, knocked some pairs of posts into the ground about a metre away from the slabs and slotted an old door between the posts; as I filled it over the last two years, I kept it covered with old carpet. It turned out to be the best compost I have ever made! It isn't pretty, but it works. And if you do not have space for something home-made, buy a compost bin - or better still, two - you fill the first and leave it to 'work', then start on the second.

well worth reading ...
Two particularly helpful books are 'Compost' by Ken Thompson (Dorling Kindersley, ISBN 978-1-4053-1103-8) and 'Composting' by Bob Flowerdew (Kyle Cathie, ISBN 978-1-85626-930-8). You CAN actually compost cooked and raw meat and fish using a 'bokashi' pickling system, and dispose of kitchen vegetable waste in a wormery - both of those will be the subject of a future post.

... as is this one
There's no real mystery about the process: you can start with a layer of torn up cardboard, toilet-roll tubes, grass cuttings, soft prunings, annual weeds before they seed, perennials such as nettles and dock leaves - but not the roots, plus kitchen waste: vegetable and fruit peelings. Mix them up so no layer is too thick, water with compost accelerator or sprinkle Garotta Compost Maker between layers to aid decomposition. Avoid left over meat scraps or you'll attract rats. Once full, leave it to itself and start a new heap or bin.

In my last post (Sunday 22nd May) I mentioned that I'd been down to Devon to discuss future plans for both the blog and the e-newsletters. Welcome to Steven Newman who is now part of the team - he has joined Dobies to handle all the online technical side of things, and much else besides.

meeting at Dobies: discussing blog and e-news plans for the next few months

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Creating garden boundaries

my new potager, picture taken this morning - the beetroot and carrots are slow, but saladings ready for snipping
Back from Malvern and my four 'Blogathon' show posts, and then down to Devon to meet the Dobies team (discussions on the next few months - we'll tell you about our plans in due course), I am relieved to see that the new potager has not suffered in my absence. A little weeding, the addition of some bamboo towers to support climbing French beans ('Cobra'), the planting out of same, including the dwarf variety 'Ferrari', and I'm ready to turn my attention to the plot boundaries.

rugosa shrub rose, Roserie de L'Hay, with buddleia and mahonia in the background
Boundaries - walls, fences or hedges - not only delineate your property, they can be put to good use. It depends on available space, aspect (sunny or shady location) and whether they are to provide privacy, shelter from prevailing winds, protection and sustenance for wildlife, and even crops for our own use. If you cannot stand the sight of your neighbour's hedge, or soil-impoverishing greedy Lleylandii, plant something you love on your side - in pots if necessary. If you have the space think native hedgerows - hazel, bullace, maple, crab apple, rowan, hawthorn and wild rose; or their cultivated equivalents. Clipped evergreens provide winter cover and break the force of strong winds: yew, holly, pyracantha, eleagnus, mid-height lonicera nitida. Deciduous shrubs provide colour come spring, summer and autumn: species shrub roses,  buddleia beloved of butterflies, and the semi-evergreen berberis and cotoneaster. How about grapes, a fig or thornless blackberry on a warm sunny wall?

apple Red Love 'Circe' in large pot to provide height and a wigwam honeysuckle to attract early bees
If the wall or fence is not yours, you may not fasten plant supports to it; you'll either have to erect your own posts or a series of free-standing frames. Pots and wigwams can be used to grow a range of crops and decorative plants: fruit trees on dwarfing stock, runner beans, climbing roses, sweet peas, honeysuckle; train pumpkins or squash upwards rather than letting them trail along the ground. Temporary measures can be used this summer; prepare the ground for any long-term fixtures and plant bare-rooted shrubs and trees come the late Autumn. Above all, enjoy your garden or plot right to its very edge. But whatever you erect or plant, please consider your neighbours; what you do should afford them pleasure, not angst.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

So much variety at Malvern

gardening in shade
From show gardens to plant stalls - and much else besides; there has been so much to see at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show. A quick glance at any one exhibit, and you may miss the subtlety. It's taken me almost four days and I still have not covered it all. I loved the way some garden designers tackled a tricky subject - what to do with a plot that is shady for most of the day. Alex Bell's 'Fade to Shade' (above) presented a range of ideas and solutions for such difficult corners. Somewhere to sit and relax without overmuch hard landscaping, softened by lush and soft planting.

Caroline Butler's 'atom' themed garden at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show
And now for the garden designed and created by the CBMS 2011 scholarship winner, Caroline Butler: 'In the Balance' is a dramatic circular garden that "depicts the positive, negative and electromagnetic forces at work in the atom." The potential scholars were not judged on just their garden, but their aptitude over the last few months, and their potential. Readers interested in applying should check the CBMS website for details of the 2012 scholarship.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Malvern: Garden Designers of the Future

Designers of the future - who will be selected for this year's  CBMS scholarship?
Everyone reading the Dobies of Devon blog is a keen gardener; but how many of us aspire to becoming a garden designer, with all that such a career entails? Well, enter for the Chris Beardshaw Mentoring Scholarship at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show and you could be on the way to becoming one of the "untapped source" that the world of horticulture is looking for. Somebody who can "create gardens that can compete on a world stage," in the words of Chris Beardshaw himself, who set up the scheme in conjunction with TCAS (Three Counties Agricultural Society) a few years back, with the generous sponsorship of Bradstone.

and the winner is - Caroline Butler,  alongside Doreen Smillie (Show Manager, TCAS, centre) and Chris Beardshaw (left)
This year the theme was 'Atom', to celebrate the UN's 'International Year of Chemistry', and though science personally leaves me cold, and I did not understand the scientific meaning of any of the gardens (I should have been more diligent at school!), they were quite miraculous: each potential scholar had his or her individual interpretation, resulting in gardens that were all so very different. Tomorrow I'll post a photo of Caroline's garden.

Post written Friday 13th May, but not posted until Saturday 14th due to Blogger being 'offline' for 24 hours or more.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Gold medal garden - with a twist

an inspiration for all who want to grow vegetables in a small garden

A well-known politician once said, “on your bike!” or words to that effect; and that’s just what garden-designer, Hanna Genders, did to source all the plants and materials for her enchanting garden at this year’s Malvern Show. Everything that she utilised in ‘My Very Local Veg Garden’, from plants to the wooden palings which formed the perfect backdrop, and the stone chippings along the paths, were located within cycling distance of her Worcestershire home. It well deserved Gold Medal status.
Hannah's bike, on which she travelled the lanes sourcing her garden

There were many unusual features to inspire keen gardeners to pack the most produce into a small space, and a beautiful pergola patio, which, said Hannah, “is a tribute to my mother who died unexpectedly last summer; she was a keen gardener and cook who loved to sit outside and eat with family and friends.” The garden will live on after the Show, for it is to be relocated  and rebuilt at Hillers Farm Shop and Garden near Ragley Hall, Alcester. 

This post written Thursday 12th May, before Blogger 'crashed'. Enjoy - Friday's post on its way soon ...

Blogging 'Live' from the Malvern Spring Gardening Show

a feast for the eyes; such lush vegetables grown in simple raised wooden beds
In my last post (end of April), I said I hoped to be blogging 'live' from the 'RHS Malvern Spring Flower Show' - and here I am! The sun is shining and I've already taken a turn around some of the show gardens (much food for thought) and the many plant stalls and displays. Everyone is frantically busy putting the finishing touches to their stands; although the show gardens have already been assessed and judged, so the designers are somewhat at a loose end. There is a huge difference to the scene of three weeks ago - more to follow tomorrow.

Instead of one long post, I plan to blog every day of the Show. That is if the showground WiFi is cooperative.  It will be quite a 'blogathon' in fact, because I will also be posting on my three personal blogs, as well as for 'Dobies of Devon'. So if you want a feast of gardening posts - a 'Malvern Trail' in fact, please click on any of the links that follow: although my blogs interact, each is different). Here are the links: 'Wild Somerset Child' (that's me!); 'Grandma's Garden Notes' and 'Journaling the Journal' (although my blogs interact, each is different). I'll be back tomorrow with more Malvern news and pictures.