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Potting peppers, pruning shrubs and starting an orchard March 11 2015

Today we started by potting on some cayenne peppers which I'm already looking forward to harvesting later on in the year.

Cayennes are highly nutritious, packed with vitamin A (fab for skin) and are generally used in powder form for flavouring spicy dishes. Not to mention that along with lemon juice and maple syrup they form the sole ingredients of the Master Cleanse diet (if it’s good enough for Beyonce…). When we harvest them in the summer, I’m hoping to include them in some cocktails. I found a recipe that is made of vodka, peach juice and sugar syrup with a chilli added so I wonder if cayenne pepper would work. I’ll try it in due course and let you know.

Cayenne peppers at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.

Cayenne peppers at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.

Bridge showed us how to move the seedlings to larger pots... fill a new pot with compost, scrape the excess soil off the top, use a dibber to make a hole in the centre, then transport the seedling holding it by the leaves (always move seedlings using the leaves in case they get damaged in transit, there are a number of leaves but only one precious stem). Pop the seedling in right up to the bottom leaves, this will prevent them from developing weak stringy stems.

Digging in at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.           Digging in at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.

After that, we moved on to digging over a patch of land which will become an orchard. We broke up the earth and added lots and lots of nutritious soil from the compost. It was quite hard to move the compost, having no upper body strength but we got there in the end.

Kate and wheelbarrow at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.

We dug up a few shrubs which people were able to take home and also did some identification of weeds.

Creeping buttercup at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.

Creeping buttercup at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.

This is a creeping buttercup, which apparently is a bad thing in the garden. Just look at those roots trying to get all up in the other plants' grills. We swiftly disposed of these in the green waste.

Comfrey at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.

This however is comfrey and although it don't look too pretty just now it will grow into a very beautiful and very beneficial plant. We dug it up and have kept it for someone else to use as we didn’t need it in the garden.

Pruning the philadelphus at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.

We pruned the Philadelphus, also known as mock orange in reference to its flowers which look similar to those found on orange trees. The shrub was a bit crowded, with branches criss-crossing all over each other so we pruned about half a dozen branches right down to the ground. Bridge then asked us what waste branches could be used for. The answer she was looking for was to use Greentopia, a garden waste collection service, but the answer that she got was to make an Easter Tree. Gabriella came up with that one and I think that was a very good answer indeed. In fact, she actually went home and made one straight after gardening group, which I think will inspire us all to make our own soon. My answer to the branches question was to use it as kindling in a fire pit. Technically correct, but unfortunately we don’t have a fire pit. One day, when I get my own garden, that will be one of the first things I’ll build. We can sit around it on logs with blankets over our knees and I’ll make smudge sticks. Autumn evenings will be glorious.

Pruning the hawthorn at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.

There was some further cutting back and tidying of the hawthorn bushes which has really opened up the garden. I sat for a while last week and noticed how much birdlife uses the hawthorn for fluttering in and out of the branches. It’s very lovely. One day I’ll learn all the bird types so I can let you know which ones I’ve seen, and I’ll take a more active part in the Garden House contribution to the RSPB birdwatch next year.

Stipa Gigantea at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.

And finally, we opened the gardening salon for business and used afro combs to tidy up the Stipa gigantea and give it a bit of a punk look. Also known as golden oat grass, this perennial grass will have gorgeous wispy fronds, and is going to look breath-taking in the summer. Using an afro comb is such a clever idea, so good at removing the dead stalks. A hand fork could be used for the same exercise, but an afro comb is much more effective, and also a little bit more fun.

Stipa Gigantea at the Garden House Brighton by What You Sow.

 

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DIY projects at The Garden House, Brighton March 04 2015

It all got a bit Pinterest today at The Garden House, Brighton as we started work on a craft / DIY project to create a water feature using hypertufa. What looked quite simple on youtube actually turned out to be pretty difficult and Ro, Richard, Vicky and I spent most of today’s Wednesday Gardening Group trying different ways of making cement stick to an old kitchen sink!

Hypertufa is a type of cement commonly used to make garden ornaments and Bridge wanted us to use it to cover an old sink which she has found. The plan is to plant it up and it will become part of a water feature in the garden.

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Hypertufa            Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Hypertufa

Firstly, the sink was scored to get a bit of grip and then covered in a liberal layer of PVA glue which smelt of art days at school.

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Hypertufa

To give the planter the rustic look we added grit, sand and manure to our cement and water then got to work sticking it to the sink. Jeez, it was difficult. We tried various techniques; large handfuls, small handfuls, flinging the hypertufa at the sink to get it to stick. Every time we felt we were getting somewhere a huge clump of cement would slide off the side, gravity was not our friend today.

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Hypertufa

If you ever decide to try this yourself, our top tip would be to continually poke the hypertufa all over as you are spreading it, repeatedly prodding the bits you have already done to remind them that they are supposed to be sticking to the sides. If we were to do this again we would probably do one side at a time and work on that side face up to prevent it slipping off, but hey, you live and learn and after about an hour we had the whole sink covered and were quite happy with the result.

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Hypertufa

Once we were done we wedged some bricks underneath the sink, hoping that this will stop the hypertufa from sliding all the way off. The cement takes 7 days to dry so I’ll update you next week on whether it survived the week!

So what else did we get up to at Wednesday Gardening Group this week? Loads of big jobs, that's what. 

We pruned the hawthorn bush…

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Pruning the hawthorn          Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Pruning the hawthorn

We pruned and heeled (planted) some young fruit trees (Victoria Plum, Braeburn  Apple, William’s Pear and Morello Cherry)…

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Planting young fruit trees

We planted up the pretty chair that Vicky had made for Bridge’s birthday with a cushion of thyme…

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. A thyme chair.

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. A cushion of thyme.

We made some root cuttings of Papaver giant King Kong. The roots looked a bit like a dead squid, weird…

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Papaver giant King Kong

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Papaver giant King Kong

We set up the new propagation cables in the greenhouse. They were placed in a wooden box and covered with grit so that seeds and young plants can be placed inside. Here is Scott turning it on to 20 degrees, ready for some young seedlings to be placed inside,

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Propagation tubes.

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Propagation tubes.

and here are Deborah and Bridge working out what to put in their new toy.

 Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Propagation tubes.

And after all that hard work!? Well we all had a lovely walk around the garden.

You have to remember to do that every now and then, especially when it’s so full of Spring!

Garden House Brighton by What You Sow. Crocus.

 

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Composting fun at The Garden House February 25 2015

We had so much fun turning over the compost heap today that I can barely remember what else we did at The Garden House this afternoon. Compost needs a bit of attention every now and then to keep it healthy so every couple of months it’s time to turn it over and dig out the good stuff at the bottom. The Garden House has a set of three compost sections, each section filled with a mixture of compostable materials such as raw food waste, straw from the chickens and cardboard. Cooked food should never be composted as it can attract rats so this is fed to the chickens and worms instead. The compost is moved between the 3 sections every now and then so today we moved the top layers of one of the sections into the other 2 sections so that we could use the good composted soil at the bottom. This activity involves climbing into the compost and physically moving it which was quite hard but very enjoyable.

Composting. What You Sow at The Garden House

Composting. What You Sow at The Garden House

Composting. What You Sow at The Garden House

The compost we retrieved was then used on the revamped herb garden. Some of the herb shrubs had reached huge sizes so needed to be removed, cuttings taken and then put back in a more manageable size. Here you can see the Golden Oregano in the patch and in pots as cuttings. To split the plant we used a hacksaw as it’s quite tough, then we pruned all the scraggly bits and put the cuttings into individual pots for everyone to take home.

Golden Oregano. What You Sow at The Garden House

Golden Oregano. What You Sow at The Garden House

Golden Oregano. What You Sow at The Garden House

Apart from that, Bridge showed us how to pot tomato seedlings on. You can tell they’re ready when they have a couple of sets of leaves. 

Potting on seedlings. What You Sow at The Garden House

She told us that when moving them to always hold them by the leaves, not the delicate stalks. Overfill the pot with a multi purpose compost then scrape the excess off the top. Make a big hole in the middle with a dibber then pop your seedling in right up to the bottom set of leaves. This prevents the delicate stalks from going all wobbly. They will be ready for planting out mid May. With it having been such a beautiful warm day in the garden today, Spring can’t be far away, can it?

Potting on seedlings. What You Sow at The Garden House

Talking of Spring, the garden is absolutely packed full of crocuses at the moment. I took a lot of crocus pictures, most of which I will be posting on instagram over the next few days. 

Crocus. What You Sow at The Garden House

Some of the goodies we took home with us today:

What You Sow at The Garden House

And finally, in other news, look how quickly the lettuce seeds from 2 weeks ago have come up…

Seedlings. What You Sow at The Garden House

 

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Garden House Crocus February 18 2015

There's no Wednesday Gardening club this week as it's half term, so instead I'm going to treat you to a selection of pictures of the crocuses in the Garden. Enjoy...

Garden House Brighton CrocusGarden House Brighton CrocusGarden House Brighton CrocusGarden House Brighton CrocusGarden House Brighton Crocus

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Container planting, seed sowing and potting on at The Garden House, Brighton February 11 2015

Another fantastic day of gardening activities at Wednesday Gardening Group at The Garden House.
Today we sowed some herbs, planted some containers and potted on some succulents. Upon our arrival, we were greeted with these amazing brownies made by Deborah which we made short work of demolishing. They contained blueberries so as Barbara pointed out, constituted one of our 5-a-day. Good to know that Deborah and Bridge have our welfare in mind.

 
The herbs were sown into seed modules filled with a mixture of half and half vermiculite and compost (we should’ve used perlite but got mixed up - it doesn't matter too much though). They’re both used to improve moisture retention and aeration in soil and both absorb water, but perlite absorbs air too and dries out quicker than vermiculite. These are mixed in with the compost because seeds actually don’t need a nutrient rich soil to germinate. All the goodness and energy needed for the initial stage of growth is already contained within the seed itself. Yes, this blows my mind too. We sowed a selection of herbs; coriander, red giant mustard, savory and a few lettuce as well. These were then watered in and moved to the potting shed to germinate.

      Sowing herb seeds. What You Sow at The Garden House       Sowing herb seeds. What You Sow at The Garden House

Here we are, Generation Game style, sowing seeds into the trays. 

Sowing herb seeds. What You Sow at The Garden House

We all got involved in a bit of container planting, placing crocks at the bottom of each one to aid drainage, using a potting mix of half-half vermiculite and compost (correctly this time) and then choosing a selection of spring flowers and bulbs to make a display. 

Planting bulbs in containers. What You Sow at The Garden House
      Planting bulbs in containers. What You Sow at The Garden House

We chose from iris, hyacinths, muscari, ivy, primula and Ro and Patti planted some rosemary in a very special pot given to Bridge by a dear friend of hers who passed away just before Christmas.  

Planting bulbs in containers. What You Sow at The Garden House               Planting bulbs in containers. What You Sow at The Garden House

The containers were covered with moss or gravel to help with water retention and to make them look pretty.

Planting bulbs in containers. What You Sow at The Garden House

Planting bulbs in containers. What You Sow at The Garden House

Last autumn we took leaf cuttings of different succulents (echeveria) and now that they have grown roots it was time for a few of us to pot them on into slightly bigger pots. Some went into cardboard plant pots and some into the tiny paper pots we made a few weeks ago with the paper pot maker. Look at them. They are so adorable they almost made me cry. These are so easy to propagate, I recommend that you try some yourself. These plants don’t like much moisture and are less hardy than the houseleeks/ sempervivum that we planted on the green roof a few weeks ago so mine are going to stay in pots indoors.

Echeveria in Paper Pots. What You Sow at The Garden House

Echeveria in Paper Pots. What You Sow at The Garden House

Echeveria in Paper Pots. What You Sow at The Garden House

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Prepping the garden February 04 2015

This week’s tasks at The Garden House were mostly about preparing the garden for things to come.

Hellebore at The Garden House, Brighton. Photo by What You Sow.

We worked on the winter bed, planting snowdrops, hellebores, a rose bush and my new favourite shrub, Daphne (below). The bed was already inhabited by a number of shrubs providing winter colour; cornus and winter honeysuckle, and scattered with all manner of bulbs. As we planted the new additions we would dig up a bulb every now and then giving us a reminder of the plants that will soon be appearing above ground. The idea with the snowdrops is that they will hopefully seed and establish themselves, meaning an even greater number of snowdrops next year.

Daphne shrub at The Garden House, Brighton. Photo by What You Sow.

Then Bridge told us about the importance of fluffing and demonstrated how to do it. She wasn’t sure if that was actually the technical term, but it’s the practice of roughing up the earth with a cultivator after you’ve been treading all over it, an exercise that professional gardeners must get into the habit of to leave the gardens they’ve been treating looking nice.

Snowdrop at The Garden House, Brighton. Photo by What You Sow.

The chickens admiring our hard work...

Winter colour bed at The Garden House, Brighton. Photo by What You Sow.

A number of us worked on creating structures for sweet peas, handmade wicker archways to bow across the path creating a tunnel of blooms later in the year. Last year the sweet peas were huge and bright pink, and this year they will be brilliant orange. We potted them on to bigger pots last week and they’re currently in the greenhouse.

Sweet pea supports at The Garden House, Brighton. Photo by What You Sow.

Sweet pea supports at The Garden House, Brighton. Photo by What You Sow.

And last but not least, we made a start on setting up the wormery. This is something that I am ridiculously excited about and in actual fact I’m going to start blogging about it every week, starting this Friday. So I won’t reveal anything today other than to say that we made a start so check back on Friday to read about our first steps.

Here's a teaser picture of the wormery as we found it at the beginning of the day:

Can o worms at The Garden House, Brighton. Photo by What You Sow.

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A wintery day at The Garden House, Brighton January 28 2015

Due to the torrential rain, 2 out of 3 of today’s tasks took place indoors. We took some more hardwood cuttings, made bird feeders and sorted some seeds ready to swap at Seedy Sunday.

Taking hardwood Fuchsia cuttings at The Garden House, Brighton

It’s the time of year to take cuttings of dormant hardwood shrubs including things like figs, roses and gooseberries. Today was the turn of the fuchsia, pictured above. We took cuttings about 30cm long, cutting just below the node at the bottom and just above the node at the top. The nodes are where all the hormones are stored, so this is where the energy for growth comes from. Using sharp secateurs, we snipped the bottom flat and the top on a slant. As well as helping identify which way up to plant the cutting (after we’ve popped it down on the table for a second and forgotten) it means that the flat bottom can be abrased a bit, helping open more surface area to potentially produce roots. The slanted top allows rainwater to slide off the cutting, rather than gathering on top and becoming all damp.

Pruning hardwood shrubs at The Garden House, Brighton

The soil we used was a mixture of half compost and half fine grit, mixed together and put into tall square pots. We fit four cuttings to a pot, each one placed in the corner to allow maximum space for their roots to grow. In about a year and half they’ll be ready to be planted out. We’ll know when they reach this point as the roots will start to show coming out of the bottom of the pot.

Taking hardwood cuttings at The Garden House, Brighton

It’s a tough time for the birds in the garden at the moment. With slim pickings as far as food goes, it’s time for us humans to step in and provide some things for them to eat. We made bird feeders by hollowing out orange halves, attaching string to them and filling them with a mixture of nuts, seeds and lard. A very simple and attractive way to do our bit for wildlife this winter (NB, if you make these, they will feed the squirrels in your garden too, whether you like it or not). For an alternative to try at home, check out Messyla’s bird cake recipe for a very stylish version made of leftover bits and pieces.

Home made bird feeders at The Garden House, Brighton

Orange bird feeders at The Garden House, Brighton

The third task was preparing seed packets for Seedy Sunday, with seeds harvested back in the Autumn. Oh my, do you know how much I love sorting seeds? Just the thought that human people have been carrying out this activity for thousands of years fills me with so much happiness. Members of families and communities sitting together round a fire through the winter sorting out the seeds ready for the coming Spring, growing food to sustain themselves and in their own way maintaining the diversity of plants that makes our planet such a wonderful place to live. Now, I don’t think any of us in the Wednesday gardening club are necessarily saving seeds to aid our survival, but it’s good to know we are doing our bit to encourage the diversity of foodstuffs. Did you know that out of 50,000 known edible plant species, just 15 variants provide 90% of the world’s food crops*?  As climate change threatens to alter our environment with effects that none of us can yet comprehend, it’s important to have access to as wide a variety of crops and plants as possible in case any of these staple crops fall victim to pests and diseases that we have no way of eradicating.

Saving Marigold seeds at The Garden House

Saving poppy seeds at The Garden House

Seed sorting is such an enjoyable way to spend some time and between us we sorted thousands of seeds this afternoon as we sat in the garden house chatting and learning. We used a variety of different packets; a) Seedy Sunday packets which you can pick up from Infinity Foods, b) specially designed Garden House packets and c) a few of the What You Sow printable seed packets that we stuck together with washi tape and double sided tape.

Printable seed packets by What You Sow

Beautiful seed packets at The Garden House

We packaged a selection of seeds; poppies, cornflowers, stocks, and some more unusual flower varieties; tagetes cinnabar (a type of marigold), mina lobata (Spanish flag) and lunnaria annua (annual honesty). It was fabulous.

Seed saving. What You Sow at The Garden House

Saving seeds at The Garden House, Brighton

Seedy Sunday is the UK’s largest seed swap and takes place this Sunday at Brighton Dome and Corn Exchange. If you haven’t been before and aren't sure what to expect, I shared 12 tips for first time visitors on the blog earlier in the week. You can swap your own seeds that you’ve collected or pay a 50p donation per packet. There’s also a comprehensive programme of talks and loads of gardening themed organisations wanting to talk to you about gardening themed activities. Hope to see you there!

Seed saving at The Garden House

*It’s true. It’s on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staple_food

Links:

Seedy Sunday: http://www.seedysunday.org/

Printable Seed packets: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0445/2673/files/What_You_Sow_printable_seed_packets.pdf?715

Seed Saving ideas on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/whatyousow/seed-saving/

 

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New Term at The Garden House, Brighton January 21 2015

A new term began today at our Wednesday Gardening Club and we had a few new members join us for our course at The Garden House.

After a few weeks off it was lovely to see everyone and we were all eager to get stuck in. I’m going to give you an update each week on what we get up to and share some pictures of the beautiful things growing in the garden. It will act as a sort of diary for me which I’ll be able to use to plan my gardening activity in years to come and hopefully useful for you to see the sort of things that need doing in your own garden.  

Today’s tasks included some work on the green roof, potting on some sweet peas, sowing parsley and chilli seeds and taking hardwood cuttings. Here’s a bit more about what we got up to...

Garden House Brighton Green Roof

Some weeding was required on the green roof on top of one of the little sheds in the garden. The roof is normally covered in sedums and sempervivums but had become overwhelmed by clover (which I actually think looked lovely) and the odd dandelion (also a favourite of mine). Green roofs are ace, and very useful things for a number of reasons. They aid in absorbing rainfall, attract beneficial wildlife into the garden and can provide insulation to homes. I love what The Garden House have done, covering one of their smaller sheds in a layer of sedums, thus introducing the benefits on a small scale to a little corner of the garden. If you’re into green roofs yourself, The Brighton Permaculture Trust are holding one of their green roof workshops this weekend, which looks like a lot of fun, especially as you get to create your own green-roofed bird box. One day I’m going to go on this course to find out a bit more. Perhaps when I’ve got a house to add a green rooftop to!

Garden House Brighton green roof

So, our first job was to weed the roof, leaving a sprinking of sedums which were already growing there (you might be able to see the odd one in between all the clover in the picture above!). After the clover and dandelions had been removed, some gravel was added to provide a bit of extra drainage for the plants (sempervivums thrive only in extremely well-drained soil) and a selection of beautiful sempervivums from the pots pictured below were planted into the soil. They only needed to be planted fairly sparsely, as once the sun comes out they will grow like crazy and spread across the whole roof.  

Garden House Brighton sempervivum

Garden House Brighton Green roof

Next job was in the greenhouse, potting on sweet peas. I adore sweet peas, as I’m sure you all know, as I talk about them ALL the time. The scent, the colour, the ease of collecting seeds. They are such a favourite of mine. Something I learned on this course last year was that sweet peas are hardy, so if you plant them late Autumn, they will grow through the winter and at this time of year are ready to be moved into bigger pots already. Very useful if like me, you plan to sow them at the start of March then don't end up getting round to it until the middle of April. 

garden house brighton sweet peas root trainer

Garden House Brighton sweet peas root trainers

The sweet peas we potted on today had been grown in root trainers which give the roots plenty of room to grow. We moved each plant (variety Henry Eckford whose flowers will be a vibrant orange colour) to a bigger pot and added a layer of gravel on top to help keep the slugs off. Aniseed the cat was not a huge help but kept us company nonetheless.

garden house brighton sweet pea henry eckford

If you’d like to know more about growing your own, Sarah Raven has an excellent step by step infographic showing how to sow sweet peas which I have added to my Sweet Peas board on Pinterest.

garden house brighton sweet peas henry eckford

Then it was time for some seed sowing. Contrary to popular belief (Or maybe just my belief… I always thought that Seedy Sunday in February marked the beginning of the sowing season), there are many seeds that can be sown already, so we used plug trays to start off some curly leafed parsley (these were tiny and fiddly, see pic below) and some chilli. The chilli seeds need heat to germinate so they’ll live in the heated propagator, the parsley seeds will be okay on their own.

garden house brighton parsley sowing

garden house brighton chilli sowing

Finally, the group took some hardwood cuttings, and the results were divvied up between everyone. Look how happy Kate is with hers and what looks like a little spinach seedling too!

garden house brighton hardwood cuttings

Tune in next week for the next dispatch from The Garden House Wednesday Gardening Club!

 

Here are some links to more information:

The Garden House: http://www.gardenhousebrighton.co.uk/

Seedy Sunday: http://www.seedysunday.org/

Green Roof Workshops: https://brightonpermaculture.org.uk/index.php/courses/ecobuild/greenroofs 

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