THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN MARCH
January was typical of our winter weather these days with temperatures as high as 10C and as low as -5C. Some sharp-eyed readers have commented to me that their thermometers register lower readings than my reports; this will always happen especially in the frost pockets i.e. low areas where the cool air gathers. My outside thermometer is housed in a meteorological screen fixed at one metre above the ground, this avoids extremes due to sun or wind chill. Rainfall in January was well below average at just 33m (just over an inch in old money), the long-term average is around 80mm. February however is already heading for above average rainfall with 60mm (around two inches) already recorded before halfway through the month – the long-term average for February is 60mm; in one twelve hour period on the 8th we had 19mm along with the high winds.
This year is the centenary of the Forestry Act that led to the formation of the Forestry Commission and the planting of commercial forests but also the planting and management of our great woods to replace huge losses of mature trees to feed industry and two World Wars. I am very concerned about the loss of mature trees in Tatsfield, losses due to old age, development (remember the row of big trees in the back garden of the Old Ship?) and gardeners wanting more light. Please think carefully before removing trees in your garden, imagine how Tatsfield would look without our great trees and read the thought-provoking poem below, reproduced by kind permission of Jim Crumley.
LAMENT FOR A WOODLAND THAT WAS NOT
SCENT THE DISTILLED WHISKEY OF THE LAND.
SCAN THE SHEEP-SHORN GLEN.
TOAST THE WOODLAND THAT WAS NOT.
TO EVERY WILLOW
THAT NEVER WEPT WITH THE JOY OF BEING.
TO EVERY SILVER BIRCH
THAT NEVER FOUND ITS CROCK OF GOLD
AT SUMMER’S RAINBOW’S END.
TO EVERY ROWAN
THAT NEVER RAISED A GREEN BANNER OVER THE EAGLE’S THRONE
AND TO EVERY EAGLE EYRIE NEVER BUILT
AND EVERY EAGLET
THAT NEVER FLEDGED AND NEVER
FLEW FROM A ROWAN-BRIGHT NURSERY.
TO EVERY HAZEL, OAK AND ALDER
THAT NEVER SHADOWED THE BURN
AND EVERY TROUT AND SALMON
THAT NEVER LINGERED IN POOLS NEVER SHADED
TO EVERY SONGBIRD
THAT NEVER PIERCED EACH SILENT MAY DAY DAWN
AND NEVER LIVED TO DIE IN THE FAST CLUTCH
OF EVERY SPARROWHAWK
NEVER WEANED IN NESTS THAT NEVER LEANED
BY TALL PINE TRUNKS THAT NEVER GREW
IN THE WOODLAND THAT WAS NOT.
TO EVERY TREE-CREEPING, WOOD-PECKERING, OWLHOOTERING THING
THAT NEVER CLAWED BARK THAT NEVER WRAPPED
ALL THE UNGROWN WOOD,
AND EVERY ROE AND STOAT
BADGER AND BAT,
SQUIRREL AND WILDCAT,
FOUR-LEGGED THIS AND THAT,
THAT NEVER STEPPED INTO CLEARINGS
ALL ACROSS THE WHOLE UNWOODED GLEN.
TO EVERY WOODLAND MOTH
AND MITE AND MOSS AND TREE-THIRLED LICHEN,
A HEALTH TO YOU WHEREVER YOU PROSPERED.
IT WAS NOT HERE
IN THE GLEN GROWN BARREN AS A HOLLOW TREE.
FROM “THE GREAT WOOD: THE ANCIENT FORESTS OF CALED” BY JIM CRUMLEY
THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN JANUARY AND FEBRUARY
They say it never rains till it pours and so it was in November when Tatsfield had 141mm (the long term average is 88mm); the minimum temperature was -2, and the maximum was 13,5; Dec rainfall was 97mm (the long term average is 84mm); the minimum temperature was -3 and the maximum was 12.5. The mild conditions have resulted in some winter flowering shrubs starting earlier than usual; on the 1st of January I counted half a dozen small bumble bees feeding hungrily on my winter flowering Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) and my Sweet Box (Sarcococca humilis) – fill your garden with winter scent and help our wildlife to survive!
Have you noticed that there is one plant guaranteed to do well over the winter period and that is moss; why is that and what is moss anyway – is it really a plant?
Moss is a plant but a very primitive one, it does not produce flowers nor does it have proper roots, it also does not have the internal ‘plumbing’ system of tiny tubes that transport fluids and nutrients around stems, shoots and leaves.
The reason why it thrives on our lawns and borders at this time of the year is that it loves cool, dull, damp conditions; when the weather warms up and daylength increases it produces spores and largely dies off ready to burst back into growth when conditions are just right again. In dark damp shady places you will notice that it can survive all the year round.
Tidy gardeners and lovers of fine flawless lawns consider it to be the enemy and must be destroyed by using moss killers, rakes and lots of energy! Before you charge off to the garden centre to prepare for war, pause a moment; the various forms of moss are beautiful to look at close up, they are an important part of your garden ecosystem not only because they are an important part of a birds nest but much more than that. If you are a grass-nut then consider that the moss is in fact telling you that your lawn drainage and aeration is very poor, and maybe in shade, using chemicals will not change these situations. Use a garden fork and fill the lawn with holes by pushing the fork vertically into the ground giving it a generous wriggle on the way down and back up. This takes a lot of time but is very good exercise and is much more effective than the spikers for hire – they only penetrate a few inches. In late February and into March give the lawn a good raking (scarifying) to take out moss and other dead plant material (the professionals call it thatch). Putting a couple of handfuls of moss in a net and hanging it from your bird table will get you a big thank you from your birds and provide much entertainment! If you are still feeling energetic after that then apply a dressing of sharp sand and brush it into the holes; but if all this activity is making you feel faint, then learn to love your moss!
THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN DECEMBER 2018
At last the long period of dry weather has broken but as I write I can confirm that the soil in my garden is dry as a bone just 6” deep! October rainfall was only 49mm (average is 98mm); so far in November we have had 88mm (average is 89mm); on the 10th November we had 20mm in just 24 hours! - in ‘old money’ an inch of rain is approximately equal to 25mm. We had more ground frosts in October but only one air frost (when the temperature reaches zero); November so far is mild but we are expecting drier conditions and colder weather in the second half of the month. As for December, forecasters are, as usual very cautious, but we can surely expect some cold spells, especially if the high pressure remains to the North and East of us.
What do you buy that person who is a keen gardener who has a shed full of tools and gadgets, and boasts a good knowledge of plants? A great idea would be to buy them membership of the Royal Horticultural Society (www.rhs.org.uk ) a monthly magazine full of information, access to the RHS advisory services, early notice and special members deals on shows all over the country, free entry to gardens on members days – great value!
It is hard to resist those pots of lovely fresh herbs on offer in garden centres and the shops; nothing like fresh Parsley, Coriander, Chives, Sage, Mint, Thyme, Basil and many others for real flavour but how do we keep them from going yellow and drooping over the edge of the pot? In nature they want to be cool with good light, so why not keep them outdoors in mild weather and bring them in when needed – even a day outside will make all the difference - great idea as a present for the keen cook.
Planting Violas and Pansies for winter and spring colour is a great idea especially if they are in a fairly sheltered sunny spot and free of a risk of waterlogging. They will try to make a lot of seed pods that will drain energy from the plant and that in turn will reduce the amount of flower; have a look at them each week and nip off all old flowers and remember to avoid any feeding until late March to give them that early boost to make a big spring show.
It has been a superb autumn, our local hedgerows and garden plants have provided an abundance of berries for our birds, but have you noticed that many of them are moving into our gardens now that they have eaten their fill? Please do not forget them over the next three months or so especially if the weather is cold. Why not buy a new bird table and feeders as a present; children love to watch the birds busy on window feeders or squabbling over peanuts and fat balls.
THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN OCTOBER 2018
Tatsfield has done it again; a Gold Medal in the South and South East in Bloom competition! Congratulations to all our wonderful Tatsfield Community Volunteers for making keeping our village right up to the Gold Standard throughout the year – this is no mean task as the other competing villages get better every year. The Tatsfield in Bloom Group are always looking for more volunteers – many hands make light work – if you would like to have a chat about how you can get involved in keeping Tatsfield looking great why not contact Jill Hancock on email@example.com or ring her on 577622. The In Bloom Group will be meeting this month to discuss our plans for next year – every year we have a new theme – if you have an idea of something special happening in the village next year get in touch and let us know!
Our weather continues to be very dry overall but I am expecting that we will begin to see rainfall at more normal levels this month at long last. August turned out to be just above the long-term average with 85mm of rain that was really useful, it made a big difference to hedgerow fruit that was looking very poor in July. September is looking like being very dry with only 4.4 mm by the 15th.
Many of our trees have lost their leaves very early this year but this does not mean that they have died. It is not unusual for Limes, Birch, Chestnut and Cherries and some others to lose their leaf canopy early after a very hot spell; if our rainfall levels return to the averages expected then these trees should recover and present a full canopy next year. If you have a lot of early leaf fall on your lawn make sure to sweep them up as soon as possible at this layer can prevent the grass from recovering after such a long dry spell.
If you want a good show of winter and spring colour make sure to plant your Primulas, Polyanthus, Pansies, Violas, Bellis (Daisies), Wallflowers, Forget me Nots and spring flowering bulbs as soon as they are available, usually at the end of the month. This gives them time to make some stem and root growth before the cooler weather sets in. It is very important to make sure to give them a good drink of water if the dry weather continues.
With our winters tending to start much later there is still time to fill in those gaps in the vegetable garden with some quick growing crops. Sow winter lettuce, salad leaves, spring onions, radishes, stump rooted carrots – go on give it a try!
THE TATSFIELD GARDENER IN JUNE 2018
There are many inaccurate stories around about the Hornet, especially the ‘invasion’ of the Asian Hornet. There is no invasion of the Asian Hornet, its sting is not fatal unless you are highly susceptible to insect stings. It is true that the Asian Hornet is known to prey on honey bees but not exclusively so. Hornets do not attack humans in swarms – unless of course you decide to use their huge nests as a football! Hornets are large wasps and live their life cycles fairly peacefully and do not prey on humans.
Why am I mentioning this? Well in early May I spotted my first Hornet (a Queen) in Tatsfield; it was looking for a nesting site around my wood store and in my garage. It was a common European Hornet that looks like a large noisy wasp. It sounds a bit like a noisy Bumble Bee and flies much slower than the common wasp. Just in case you should see one and think it is the Asian Hornet just remember this chap is much darker than the typical yellow and wasp stripes and it has yellow ‘socks’ on its legs – they common European Hornet has dark coloured legs.
Hornets are difficult to kill so if you have a large grey football shaped nest you should get in touch with a professional pest controller who has the right stuff but it may not work in one single treatment, better still why not leave it alone. However we are being encouraged to report sightings of Asian Hornets so if you think you have an Asian Hornet nest you should report it to firstname.lastname@example.org
My weather station recorded nearly 80mm of rain (including wet snow) in April which is towards the top end of the long-term average and May is already looking to be average or below. There were a few frosty mornings but they soon dispersed; however many plants are now showing the effects of the earlier very cold weather.
Please remember that hedges must not be cut until after the end of the month at the very earliest as there are many bird species still nesting, many with second broods. If you must have your hedge cut please make sure that you have – very carefully - examined it to be sure there are no active nests.
I have been hearing tales of woe from gardeners with failed germinations with beans, peas and other vegetables. Seeds will not germinate in cold wet ground! After record winter rainfalls our Tatsfield clay is holding a large amount of water and clay is a soil that is slow to drain and warm up so be patient! Work the soil as soon as it starts to dry, add a little sharp sand to help it along and make a tilth ready for sowing.
I enjoy the debate about whether the Ash is before the Oak (there will be a soak e.g. lots of rain this summer) to form a full leaf canopy; I am happy to report that the Oak is well before the Ash so according to country folklore it will only be a ‘splash’ – we will see!
With more than a twist of humour I was asked the other day when we would receive warnings of hosepipe bans now the dry warm weather has finally arrived! With record levels of rainfall over the winter and early spring, our chalk aquifers regained their long term deficit and we should have plenty of water for our needs. But that does not mean we can splash it around with gay abandon! Our clay soil will hold on to huge quantities of water and not that far down either, so please be careful and check before you water! Use a stick or cane and push it a few inches into the soil and you should see a damp mark indicating there is plenty of moisture down there. With good preparation your summer flowers and vegetable roots should grow down to the moisture; this will also ensure that in very dry and hot conditions they will be better able to resist drying out.
I know it doesn’t look very pretty but if you take a large plastic drinks bottle and make some slits – not holes – at the top, fill it with water, screw the top on tight and push it into the soil upside down near your plants it will be a reservoir and release the water slowly as the plant needs it. If it is too slow, increase the number and length of the slits; you can also connect these large bottles to a seep hose and run it along a row of plants, or vegetables. Use rainwater wherever you can; it is much better for the plants – tap water contains chemicals to keep it ‘pure’, rainwater contains Nitrogen, a vital element for plant growth!
Should we ban slug pellets? Yes, this is one of the topics under discussion at the ‘other’ Parliament in Brussels! It is true that we are using far too many slug pellets; it is being detected in our drinking water and has to be removed chemically before entering the mains water system. Early opinion was that it was the farmers who were the culprits but now that we have very sophisticated water detection systems we know that gardeners are also responsible for putting significant amounts of slug killer chemicals such as metaldehyde in our water systems. If the levels of these chemicals in our drinking water are not brought down – by reducing use - then it is inevitable that approval for these chemicals will be withdrawn. There are alternatives to using slug killing chemicals, and they are unnecessary in dry weather; I think slugs get the blame for damage by other means! Be sure to check for the tell-tale slime trail and please use them sparingly or not at all!
Take a tip from our hard working volunteers and remove old flower heads, nip off the tips of those fast growing basket plants for good growth and continuous flowering throughout the summer.
This has been an exceptional spring for early growth and flower; have you noticed how long the flowers have lasted on all plants from bulbs to spring bedding plants, shrubs and trees? As I write there are Wisterias still in full bloom, with some honeysuckles (early types) matching them for a show – unusual to see them both flowering together. These will now charge ahead and make a lot of growth over the next four weeks or so and the trick with Wisterias to get consistent flowering is to shorten all this soft growth back by two thirds by the end of July. This will stimulate flower buds at the base and it will also tidy them up!
Last month I was asked to give advice on cutting back a Laurel hedge that had grown too high and too wide. I replied “If I needed to hard prune a Laurel hedge I wouldn’t do it now”, not the most helpful of replies you might think! A hard cut back at this time of year will leave the hedge looking unsightly for most of the summer as it struggles to recover; there is also a good chance that it could destroy or disturb a lot of birds’ nests. If you are in this position I suggest you wait until the end of this month and give it a light trim and plan to cut it hard in late January or early February; at that time of the year you should be ahead of bird nesting and you will also catch the spring growth response. Remember to aim to have the sides of the hedge gently sloping in towards the top to avoid that ‘top heavy’ appearance and ensure there is minimum shading of the base of the hedge. You will find that it may be necessary to cut the early shoots back in June/July to keep it in shape.
The early start to the season has tempted many to plant out runner beans and climbing French beans and where these have not been given protection from cold wind and some chilly nights they look a very sad sight now! There is still time to sow beans and harvest a crop; they might even overtake the recovering early plants so sow a seed near your struggling plants and see how they grow much better - and make a note for next season!
In late May I finally got round to rotovating the last quarter plot on my allotment and noticed just how damp it was beneath a dry surface. The surface soil can look very dry and this fools many who then start to apply lots of
water thinking the plants are going to suffer – not so! Please be careful how you use water in the garden, especially if you are still using mains water. With well prepared ground and initial watering to settle in your plants or seeds, it should not be necessary to continually apply water. Use a probe to gauge what water might be needed; a thin cane, or your finger, will do the trick and you will be surprised to discover that just a few inches down there is an adequate supply of moisture. A mulch of compost (there is still plenty of ‘Black Gold’ available from the Community Compost Scheme at the allotment site on Saturday mornings 10.00 – 12.00) around your plants will slow down the drying effect of any hot weather this month.