Ruthlessness in the garden

March 25th, 2015

Spring has sprung, buds are bursting, it is nolonger safe to move plants around the garden, it is too late to prune most shrubs (wait until after flowering for spring flowering shrubs (Forsythia, Ribes sangiuneum, Spiraea ‘Bridal Wreath’)), in theory we should be able to sit back and enjoy the sunshine. But oh no! There are seeds to sow and nurture, grass to cut, weeds to keep on top of, staking to be positioned, lawn edges to tidy, dahlias to ease out of hibernation, plants to plant …. the fun is just beginning!

The sunny March weather has been most welcome by us gardeners as well as to bees and wildlife in general. I’m afraid that I haven’t been able to make the most of the fine weather in my garden as I have been snowed under helping clients with their gardens, I have to steal an hour here and there for my own garden. But it was in the sunshine of a client’s garden that I was told of a 16th century saying “a peck of March dust is worth a king’s ransom” (a peck was a dry measure of two gallons) – an interesting thought.

Another quote, this time from Victoria Glendinning “The test of a good gardener is ruthlessness” (said to be Rita Sackville-West’s quote) – this is something I see all the time and definitely something for us to ponder on!

Bees venture out

February 12th, 2015

On Sunday we enjoyed glorious spring sunshine, I spent the afternoon tidying the garden as bees from my hives tentatively sought out fresh nectar from early flowering plants. It was a joy to feel the warmth of the sun – for everyone and everything. Here is a bee on  Daphne Jacquline Postil

Exhibition at Glastonbury Abbey

February 12th, 2015

I have been working towards a joint exhibition with Angie Rooke (landscape painter) and Jo Lucksted (ceramics) at Glastonbury Abbey which opens on Saturday.  It is a lovely event and venue – an oasis in the middle of a busy market town.  From the exhibition you can see carpets of snowdrops and crocus and if you venture out into the extensive grounds you might find the Ginkgo biloba from which I collected leaves in the autumn and then experimented with in my studio (the results are on show!).  Do come along, the exhibition runs until 4th May and when the weather warms up there is an outdoor cafe!

No Digging with Charles Dowding

February 5th, 2015

At university there was talk about direct planting into stubble after wheat crops, saving fuel, time and reducing the number of annual weed seeds being brought up to the surface where they germinate.  Permaculturists never dig the soil and neither does Charles Dowding.

I completed a Permaculture Design course about 10 years ago and the reason for not digging made sense to me for the reasons mentioned already but also because in nature everything has its own niche.  The soil flora and fauna have their own niches within the soil profile – where they each have their own jobs to do – if we start turning the soil over then we destroy the micro habitats of this invisible but crucial world and also make hard work for ourselves.

The action of digging temporarily breaks up the ramifying mycorrhizal strands in the soil profile as well as exposing bacteria that live in the dark to damaging UV light.  It is not irreversible damage of course but it is worth pondering on this before reaching for the spade.  There is growing awareness about the importance soil has to play in sustaining life on earth (for example in a recent BBC broadcast and did you know this year is the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s International Year of Soils.  Growing without digging – give it a go!

Here is a summary of last night’s meeting with Charles Dowding:


No dig gardening is a fine way of taking the back ache out of gardening and reducing the number of annual weeds in your garden however you will need to tackle the perennial weeds.

The key is to suppress light from the surface of the soil until the weeds die, bearing in mind that different weeds take different amounts of time to die, for example: dandelion about 4 months, buttercup about 3 months, couch grass 9 months and field bindweed about 10 years! Old black plastic is good for excluding light in the early stages of clearing ground / killing weeds, but you can use ‘landscape fabric, cardboard and biodegradeable membrane (which doesn’t exclude enough light on its own) – experiment with what you have. Note: cardboard with mulch ontop – the cardboard rots too fast and couch grass grows up through.

Loosen and lift out regularly any weeds that come back (i.e. those perennial weeds)

When growing vegetables make beds approximately 4 feet apart, paths are 15-18inches wide.  A raised bed can be made using timber then placing a layer of cardboard over the ground then fill bed with well rotted organic matter (18 months old). Use cardboard on the paths and cover with sawdust (or other organic matter) (cardboard alone will break up under your weight)

By not digging annual weed seeds are not brought to the surface to germinate. Only 2 hoeings a year will be necessary, the first hoeing is usually at the end of winter

Top up each bed with well rotted organic matter every winter (ideally in December) to keep the surface looking clean, to allow the weather to start breaking down the organic matter, to encourage worms to take it down too and to create a dark brown bed which will warm up quickly in spring.

The wooden sides can be removed once after a few months as they tend to harbour slugs and woodlice (Charles only uses them to form new beds)

Do not dig woodchip nor sawdust into the soil, leave it ontop


It is probably better to crop intensively a small area rather than less intensively a larger area (saves time and effort), therefore after onions plant your second crop (e.g. endive for autumn), after early potatoes plant carrots, leek, salads, celeriac or cucumber.

Space salad plants generously, pick outer leaves of salads only, each plant will crop for 10 weeks, you will only have to do 2 repeat sowings (+1 for the winter) instead of 4 (+1). Towards the end of the 10 weeks underplant with rocket, endive, white mustard…

Charles does not harden off plants but plants plug raised seedlings directly outside then covers them with horticultural fleece.

Have a ready supply of seedlings in the green house growing in plugs ready for planting out. Charles only sows carrots and parsnips directly into the ground

Green manure – white mustard is killed by the frost – a very easy green manure


Don’t start sowing too early. “If you sow carrots now (February) then you won’t have to eat carrots”

February – sow onions (4-6 seeds per module), Boltardy beetroot (4-6 seeds per module) , broad beans, peas (2-3 seeds per module)

Apply well rotted organic matter to beds ideally before Christmas (late February is OK) – the idea is that you are feeding the soil not the plants (winter application gives time for the organic matter to break down).

Salads for the winter in a polytunnel – sow September, plant out in polytunnel October

February – plant out seed grown onions under fleece (sow 4 or 5 seeds per module), approx 15cm apart, in a 1.2m (4”row) you can crop approx 30 onions

You can bend the rules a bit, for example sow sprouts in May, plant out in July after salads…

Sow Florence fennel in June so it doesn’t bolt

Runner beans – you can let them go to seed, harvest the dry seeds and store dry, soak prior to cooking…

Strawberries – Cut back all foliage on strawberry plants after cropping in July to stop them spreading – keeps the orignial plant

Tomatoes – remove all foliage up to first truss. Tip the plants on 10th August. Underplant with salads

Celeriac likes good spacing (15” 35cm) and lots of well rotted organic matter

Sow seeds 2 days before the full moon


Use horticultural fleece or Enviromesh on leeks against leek moth

Horticultural fleece, Enviromesh or bird netting on vegetables against rabbits, pigeons and deer


Taunton Dene kale – crops all winter

Basil Sweet Genovese

Sungold tomatoes – early and prolific

Melon Sweet Heart (for polytunnel)

Crown Prince squash

Charlotte potatoes

Lettuces – Winter Density, Freckles, Green oakleaf (Avoid red and green saladbowl as tend go to seed fast) A website worth checking regularly as it is full of tips and informations

6 September 2015 2pm -5pm open day at Homeacres, Alhampton, Shepton Mallet BA4 6PZ

Bulk supplier well rotted organic matter – Viridor compost from the recycling centre at Dimmer near Castle Cary

Ginkgo biloba

December 2nd, 2014

I have been invited to take part in a Spring exhibition at Glastonbury Abbey along with two other local artists, Jo Lucksted a ceramicist and Angie Rooke a painter.  The exhibition opens on 14th February and will run until 4th May 2015.  This is short notice but fortunate that at this time of year I tend to have more time away from the drawing board and time to catch up with my garden and weaving in my studio.

The different strands of my life are intertwined; nature, plants, garden design, gardening, winter maintenance such as hedge laying and coppicing, weaving with twigs and leaves… therefore it is a perfect time to work towards an exhibition.  I take inspiration from the hedgerows, garden prunings, fallen leaves from the trees and faded leaves from the flower borders, etc… It is an exciting time of year and my eyes are always peeled and it was whilst I was in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey I caught sight of a golden yellow Ginkgo tree above a deep carpet of yellow – irresistible!

My studio is now scattered with fan shaped Ginkgo biloba leaves and woven banners of dancing yellow leaves which I have never worked with before.

This is a time consuming process without knowing how successful the outcome will be.  I have found that the leaves need to be dried out as quickly as possible once I get them to the studio to avoid them discolouring as the decomposition sets in.

To tidy or not to tidy

November 18th, 2014

I don’t usually like to tidy the garden in the autumn, I prefer to let it collapse on itself protecting the soil structure, giving shelter to tiny creatures (e.g. newts) and seed heads for the birds. However 4 years are up and the herbaceous perennials need to be split (before everything becomes over whelming!) so now my compost bin is heaped with dead and woody stems and my borders look re-organised and neat. Of course neat and tidy gardens are not the perfect wildlife haven but there needs to be a balance between the gardener’s needs and that of the wildlife.

I am poised to mulch my beds with woodchip and I have potted up many of the split plants that I no longer have space for (these will be donated to a local plant sale next June).

There is space in the beds now for the spring bulbs to put on their show in a couple of months time – I can’t wait!

In the meantime there is some good foliage and the Iris unguicularis has been flowering for weeks.

Willow sham castle

November 10th, 2014

Despite chilly fingers and getting wet on Friday, year 4  pupils at Oldfield Park Junior school have just completed a 4.5 metre willow castle which will be a great play den.

The nicest email I have ever received

October 23rd, 2014
email received 18.15  23/10/14

Hello Angela

I just wanted to email – I have just gone through the plant list, one by one, looking at all the plants listed and I am overjoyed with your choice. In fact, I am totally amazed that one person can get the choice 100% perfect for another one. I only had time today to go through the list from start to finish.

For instance, you have chosen delicate little nodding flowers in the clearest blue, gorgeous bulbs, fabulous climbers and my most wanted plant a daphne odora – I am so pleased Angela.

It will take me a while to be able to thank you properly, which I will do when the garden starts to wake up next year, but in the meantime, thanks so much to you and Mike too for making our garden take shape and look so much more how I dreamt it could.


That is Mike from Castle Gardens, Sherborne

Pub garden

October 11th, 2014

Last autumn I designed a pub garden, the brief changed many times as did the budget, eventually I only worked on the concept and planting.  I planted in April this year, in fact the budget was so tight I even raised  a lot of the plants myself.  Yesterday I was passing by and was delighted to see how established the planting is  looking, it struck me that the strong organic shape of the paths had a hint of Oudolf Meadow about them  (Piet Oudolf’s new garden at Hauser and Wirth near Bruton)!

Garden leaves

September 15th, 2014

Leaves of Hemerocallis, Iris, Crocosmia, bluebell and reed from the pond can be put to second use.  At this time of year I have a quick tidy up of my collection of Iris and Hemerocallis plants in the garden.   Once the leaves have faded, I dry them out and store them until I have some time to do some weaving, then I soften them in a damp towel for up to 6 hours then weave away…