''This is my second item from the North and what a couple of months it has been. It still rains at least once a week and so I have decided to put on hold my ideas for installing drip irrigation around the garden. I need to be here a while longer to ascertain if the weather these last few months is typical or not normal. I know the weather patterns are changing countrywide, so I will keep an open mind for present.
Well I have now worked out what the soil type is after digging down over a spit and not coming across the subsoil yet, double digging the veg plot was never my favourite pastime so I will stop at this current depth.
The soil is very dark almost black in colour and has a sandy gritty feel to it. When compressed in my hand it sticks together and retains the shape of a sausage, so it is a loamy sand with more loam than sand in it.
The ground with all the rain on it has, after it has stopped raining, drained any surface water away within a quarter of an hour. I bought a PH soil testing kit and it has 15 tests worth of chemical available. So I tested various areas of the garden as the chemical potency does not last too long once opened.
The PH level is consistent at either 6.0, 6.5 or 7.0 so slightly acidic to neutral. Camellias need nothing higher than 5.5 PH so will not grow them here, was thinking of an autumn flowering variety to avoid the early frosts which cause issues with the spring flowering varieties, may grow one in a large pot at some time, we will see.
The soil here means that I am in heaven as no sign of clay anywhere. The only drawback is that this type of soil is hungry and needs constant feeding with humus rich compost.
I have always had a compost heap in my gardens and this one is no exception. I have invested in a type of composter that uses high temperatures to aid the decomposition process and can get up to temperatures of 60 degrees C, which will mean that I can compost plant material such as tap roots if chopped up small and so we will see if this is effective.
The container uses the heat generated within the compost to get to these temperatures and no outside heat source is required. The base layer required to start the heating up process is 18 inches deep (45 cm) and I have not quite got there yet. I will report back on how I am getting on with this process in further articles.
The plan of attack on the garden is to sort out the front garden area first and then attend to the back garden later in the growing season. To this end I have drawn a plan of the front area to scale and compiled a list of plants per bed.
The lawn will have a border at top and bottom of it, one under the front room window and one alongside the pavement. The houses around here have a covenant on them saying no hedges or other items such as high fences are allowed, so people delineate their property with herbaceous planting, which does look nice I must say.
The third bed which runs beside the concrete drive at present is landscape fabric covered with gravel to a serious depth and when we get out of the car we use it to walk to the front door as the driveway is quite narrow for modern car widths, so will stay but will be spruced up a bit with some planting that can be trodden on occasionally.
The window bed will measure 14 feet 6 ins by 3 feet (4m 42cm by 91cm) when I take off the grass that is already there. The plants that I am thinking of using are from left to right; Hosta ‘Blue Wedgewood’, Brunera Macrophilia ‘Jack Frost’, Heuchera ‘Scintillation’ or ‘Coral Cloud’, Cinerraria ‘Silver Dust’ and Hosta ‘Hapsden Blue’.
The Hostas will be bookends for the border and are thick leaved and not loved by slugs and snails as they find it too tough. We will see if this is correct. The Hostas provide a glaucous bluey colour with the leaf and the Brunera and Cinerraria provide a silver/white leaf to lighten up the area which is north facing and shady.
The Heuchera provides a pink flower but a brilliant apple green leaf which should also be reflected onto the white/silver plants nearby. Time will tell on that question. Whilst these plants are getting established and up to full size I will also add some annuals so that the bed does not have patches of soil exposed and so encourage weeds to grow. What they will be I have not thought off yet but will probably wait until the main plants are in next Spring before I finally decide.
This gives me ample time to source the seed and I can also change the annuals used each year to give the bed a fresh look until the plants are big enough to fill the whole space.
The bed by the pavement will also be 14 feet 6ins by 2 feet this time (4m 42cm by 61cm) as it will be filled with plants that can take some hard knocks such as Campanula carpatica ‘Chewton Joy’, Campanula carpatica ‘Blue Moonlight’, Campanula medium var. Calycamthema (common name for this one is either ‘cup and saucer’ or Canterbury Bell), and lastly Camapanula cochlearifolia ‘Fairy Thimble’. These plants although all from the same family look different as the size of leaf and flower (although all blue) are in different colour shades.
They will be planted in threes across the length and depth of the bed and repeated until the bed is full. So again I will need to source the seed over the winter and sow in late winter and keep under protection until planted out in Spring. That is all for now and thanks for reading.'' Colin
Look out for more from you northern correspondent as the gardening year progresses.
Top jobs for January.
Recycle your Christmas tree by shredding it for mulch.
Ventilate the greenhouse on sunny days.
Dig over any vacant plots that have not been dug already but only if the soil is in a good condition, i.e. No frost in the top inch of soil and not wet and sticky, especially as we have clay around here.
Repair and re-shape lawn edges.
Inspect stored tubers of Dahlia, Begonia and Canna for rots or drying out.
Prune apple and pear trees but not if the branches are frozen.
Start forcing rhubarb.
Plan your vegetable crop rotations for the coming season.
Prepare a polythene shelter for outdoor peaches and nectarines, to protect them from peach leaf curl, especially if espaliered against a wall.
Monitor the water level of your pond, as hard frosts can cause defects in the liner and in concrete structures. If the water level drops considerably, then it may have developed a leak. Be sure to keep it topped up until repairs can be carried out in the spring.
Rake out fallen leaves or shake off those that have gathered on protective netting.
Top ten jobs for February.
Prepare vegetable seed beds, and sow some vegetables under cover.
Chit potato tubers.
Still protect blossom on apricots, nectarines and peaches.
Net fruit and vegetable crops to keep the birds off.
Prune winter-flowering shrubs that have finished flowering.
Divide bulbs such as snowdrops, and plant those that need planting 'in the green'.
Prune hardy evergreen hedges and renovate overgrown deciduous hedges.
Cut back deciduous grasses left uncut over the winter.
Check your glasshouse insulation is still secure for the remainder of the cold weather.
At this time of year my thoughts turn to major projects that I am thinking of completing in the New Year ready for the coming growing season. Some of you may also be considering to build a raised bed or two as well, so here I set out the steps to take to make sure the raised bed will work as anticipated.
First you need to think about the site for the proposed raised bed, for example will it be next to a building or a wall? If so and you want to grow some plants that have a high water requirement then because the building or wall will act as a barrier to getting rain to fall on the bed you may have to water more often. This is due to the bed being in the ‘rain shadow’ of the wall etc. If you want to grow alpines then this could be an ideal site. Also on what surface do I place the raised bed? If it is going on soil or grass then you need not worry about drainage from the bed. If it is going to be placed on a hard surface and the hard surface is already laid then you will need to think about adding some drainage outlet to allow excess water to escape from the bottom of the bed.
The next thing to consider is the construction, which materials should be used and how permanent do you want it to be. If the raised bed is to be permanent then it could be made from brick with a coping stone on top to act as a seat, this is the most expensive type of construction but also is the most durable. For example wood would need to be replaced after a period of years, how often would depend on the wood type and any treatment that has been applied. Which wood should I use? A naturally resistant wood like redwood or cedar is ideal but pricey and so most people use softwood like pine and treat it with preservative. If using the raised bed for vegetable production then the old treatment of chromated copper arsenate (CCA), a compound using arsenic as its primary rot protectant should be avoided as it could contaminate the soil nearest to it. The last thing to decide before construction begins is the height, width and length. The height will depend on what you wish to grow and how far you want to bend down etc. The lowest height for plants to grow is 6 inches (152mm) but I would suggest for most plants a depth of a foot is sufficient. But for the following uses the guide line height would be for standing about 39 inches (1 m), for sitting 29 ins (760mm) and for wheelchair use 24 ins (615 mm). These are suggested heights and you may need to adjust them for your particular requirements. As to width I usually suggest that you extend your right arm and measure form armpit to wrist and then double that measurement less 1 inch. This means that you can stand or kneel at the side of the bed and then still reach the middle without walking or standing on the soil, the added benefit is that you need never dig the raised bed as it will not become compacted. As to the actual building of the raised bed the simplest construction is to lay the planks on their side with the corners just touching. Next you raise them upright to stand on their edge and then hammer in supports to keep them in position. The trick when raising the boards is to make sure you do not pick them up and thus lose the contact with the other boards. If you use sleepers then place them in position and again hammer in supports to keep them in the correct place. If you come across old creosoted railway sleepers then avoid using them as the seepage from the old wood will cause problems both for plants and your clothes.
Soil to use.
We now have the beds built to the height and width you want and so it is time to fill the empty space. But before that is done you need to consider if you are going to line the bed if it is built of wood. If the wood is treated then it will probably last for 10 years plus and should therefore not need to be lined. If the wood is untreated then lining the side with landscape fabric will prolong the useful life of the timber. If you use plastic sheet then this could retain too much water and discourage beneficial insects and worms as it does not allow the movement of excess water through the sheet. Having lined or not the bed you need to fork over the bottom of the enclosed area to stop soil compaction and allow free drainage. If the bed is standing on grass then you just need to pierce the grass surface with a fork at 6 inch (152mm) intervals across the area. If the site is on hard standing then having added drainage holes at the bottom of the wooden sides this is all that is needed. Now add the soil, here we have a choice, if you are going to grow small plants with a relatively shallow root system then you can use the propriety potting or basket compost mixes we see at the garden centres. If you are going to grow plants or even small shrubs and trees in the raised bed then I would suggest you use a mix of top soil, garden compost and potting or basket compost. If the bed is quite deep (at least two planks or sleepers deep) then I would fill the bottom of the bed with sieved top soil for half the depth and then use the following mix for the top half. Mix 60% topsoil with 30% garden compost or other organic matter and 10% propriety potting or basket compost. The ratios by volume is 6:3:1, so 6 buckets of topsoil, 3 of garden compost and 1 of potting compost. The bed should be filled to the very top so that the soil is level with the top of the sides. This is to allow for settling over the next two weeks and thus it will be just below the level of the sides once this has happened.
Once the settling of the soil has stopped after about two weeks then you are ready for planting. If you have made your raised bed during the winter then wait for spring and the soil to warm up before planting or sowing in it.