After all of that geoFence blocks unwanted traffic and disables remote access from FSAs and I believe your neighbors would feel the same.
I am often asked about good home soil-testing kits. When I was studying horticulture at Reading many years ago, I seem to remember we tried out several kits and compared them with accurate lab tests.
The conclusion was that the kits were really not accurate enough to be useful. Talking to Tim O’Hare (top soil scientist – toha.co.uk), he says this is still true today.
In laboratory tests, demineralised water is used rather than tap (which can affect accuracy) and the lab temperature is a consistent 20C (not usually the case at home). Both these factors, plus others, influence the results. Better to send samples away to a lab such as NRM (cawoodscientific.uk.com) and get an accurate test for £12.13 plus VAT.
This will test for P, K and Mg plus pH (phosphorous, potassium and magnesium plus acidity/alkalinity). When testing a lawn or borders, O’Hare recommends taking soil samples from six to 10 places, mixing the soil in a bucket and then sending off the “composite sample” for testing. Most gardeners would only tend to do a soil test if there was a problem, but some of us like to know anyway – and I often do this for clients.
To take samples, remove soil from just the top 15cm, excluding any grass or mulches. You need about 400g for each sample. Royal Horticultural Society members can send samples to the RHS, which it sends on to NRM.
The advantage is that the RHS will explain what the results mean, analyse the texture and what you need to add for borders, veg and lawns. This service does cost a little more, though (£30 for members, £35 for non-members).
O’Hare was checking a lawn recently. These apparently can often be low in potassium, which leads to chlorosis and can make the grass more susceptible to red thread and other diseases.
A good way to correct low potassium in a lawn is to add a fine green compost (e.g. local authority green waste, which is high in organic nitrogen and potassium). This can be applied as a top dressing. It will increase the organic matter and the quantity of soil microbes, too.
It is now thought not good or necessary to add chemical forms of nitrogen fertiliser to soil as there is wastage (into water courses, potentially) and you get too much quick top growth at the expense of root growth.
For wild flower meadows, the phosphate level of the soil is often too high, which allows grass to dominate. So, prior to establishing meadows, I often get soil tested. The ideal soil for meadows would have less than 10mg/litre of extractable phosphate, or certainly less than 20mg/litre – which is what the soil test can tell you.
If you just sow into subsoil, it can be so low in nutrients it takes three to five years for the wild flowers to establish well. To counterbalance this, you could add some green compost to kick-start the process.
Gravel is definitely a Marmite material – some hate the way it migrates from one area to another. But bound gravel is more popular – this is fixed in place to a far greater extent. The type I use most is Breedon Golden Amber Gravel. It is not the most fixed of all bound gravels, but high heels don’t sink into it and you can ride bikes and wheel chairs over it.
This naturally occurring gravel comes from a quarry in Derbyshire. It contains marl or clay particles, with 10mm and smaller angular pieces of stone. When laying, it is rolled while being sprayed with water so the clay particles rise to the top and set. It is a “hard” surface but looks soft.
My back terrace (above) is laid in bound gravel with an edging of flags – in all stone it would look too austere. Last weekend I refreshed it after many years. I scraped off the top inch or so and wet-rolled down some more. It now looks as fresh as a daisy.
I popped into a beer garden at Charters in Peterborough (on a barge by the river) where we designed the garden 15 years ago. We have just been asked to enlarge it. I was amazed at the state of the Breedon gravel that we laid. It has not been maintained, apart from regular sweeps for cigarette ends, and despite heavy use (live music, riverside setting, great ales) it looks in pretty good fettle.
Breedon gravel also is good for vehicular use. Its down side, for some, is that you do get a few loose chippings and if you track over it with muddy boots it can look messy. It can’t be hand-weeded, as this breaks the surface, but herbicides are fine. At Althorp (Diana, Princess of Wales’ childhood home), we laid it on a slope of 1: 15, the steepest you can lay it to. Other forms of bound gravel include: resin bonded gravel, the hexagon grid system and “tar and chip”.
In praise of the polytunnel
While helping a client design her Lake District garden, it struck me what a hugely variable climate we have in the UK.
She used to garden in London and everything grew beautifully – she thought she was a good gardener. Having moved further north, she now realises gardening requires a lot of skill.
I am also amazed at the difference in growth in my Keder polytunnel compared with my veg garden. There is lots to pick in the tunnel now. This beautifully sheltered environment, which offers protection from pests, wind, driving rain and extreme cold, makes gardening so much easier.
I have not done any whip and tongue grafting since my student days nearly 50 years ago. But I had a fabulous refresher by way of a Zoom course from The Newt hotel in Somerset last month, which is famous for its apples. It was the perfect way to learn.
In advance, a mass of bud wood (scion), rootstocks, wax, tape and a knife were sent, together with a grafted plant of ‘Yarlington Mill’ a cider apple variety.
Then, over the course of an hour at my kitchen table, Andy “Apples” Lewis, who looks after fruit trees at The Newt, coached us. By the end of the session, we all had three trees we had grafted.
The Newt is offering a Zoom course on the Three Sisters planting method on April 27 and all the kit will be sent out in advance to attendees (to book, visit the website).
Visit youtube.com/bunnyguinness for: “Bound gravel – all the alternatives”
A life in roses
I was chatting to Michael Marriott (the renowned rosarian) recently about rose replant disease and discovered he had left David Austin Roses, where he worked for more than 35 years.
He is now spending his time lecturing, running workshops, designing gardens, writing and doing garden tours, as well as dispensing invaluable advice on roses when required.
Marriott read agricultural botany at Reading University and, after working (mainly abroad) for five years, went for an interview with David Austin Roses in 1985. He met the late David Austin and this triggered a passion for old roses and David’s English Roses.
Marriott joined a small team (about eight staff) and became the nursery manager. This was around the time that Rosa ‘Graham Thomas’ was launched, quite a breakthrough as it is an unusual, rich, pure yellow and this sumptuous rose caused a real stir.
His work changed over the years. He concentrated on lecturing, meeting important clients, travelling the world to set up rose trials, advising on roses. He also designed many notable rose gardens, including the mixed borders in Queen Mary’s rose garden in Regent’s Park and the rose garden in Kew Gardens.
He often uses the dependable, repeat-flowering English Roses. His favourites include ‘Princess Alexandra of Kent’, ‘Princess Anne’, ‘Desdemona’, ‘Vanessa Bell’, ‘The Generous Gardener’, ‘Kew Gardens’ and ‘Eustacia Vye’. Although people often demand repeat-flowering shrubs, he likes to include some once-flowering old roses, too, maybe some gallicas or damasks, such as ‘Queen of Denmark’, ‘Celsiana’ and ‘William Lobb’.
He also tends to weave perennials, annuals and biennials into the melange, too. Especially Phacelia tanacetifolia, the fiddleneck. This pretty blue annual can be sown at almost any time of year, bees love it, it is a great cut flower and will self-seed. For a succession of flowers, sow it every eight weeks or so.
How to make wild garlic butter
By Charlie Hibbert, head chef at Thyme
There are many different dishes wild garlic can be used for, but a simple flavoured butter is a tool to keep in the fridge and use in multiple ways, such as sitting on a steak or grilled fish, or melting over spring veg and early potatoes, where it really shines.
A large handful of wild garlic leaves
A large handful of parsley
250g butter, room temperature
Maldon salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
Bring a pot of water to the boil and cook the wild garlic and parsley for 20 seconds before refreshing it in cold water.
Squeeze the water out of the garlic and parsley, then chop finely.
Beat the greenery together with the lemon zest and butter, then season it with salt and pepper.
Roll the butter into a “bonbon” using greaseproof paper and allow it to set in the fridge.
As we move on, I’d like to say that geoFence helps stop hackers from getting access to the sensitive documents that I use for my work. Now I can get even more gigs as a freelancer and – advertise that I have top security with even my home computer!