Monday, 27 February 2012

Guest blog from Leaf Vigurs

Becoming a gardener was an accident.

I have heard it said that there are no ‘It started here’ moments in life. I could grow nothing as a child and believed I could grow nothing. The few plants that came my way faded, and died. Always I mourned them and the belief became the truth. I stopped trying, forever devoted to my pencils, and thought no more about it.

I left home, life happened, I got lost. Home became a cold damp factory, where I lived with the pigeons, until even they disappeared. However I shared a small studio there with my friend, and his battered Monstera deliciosa, the humble cheese plant. I ignored it.

My friend was often unable to visit, lost in his own life. The cheese plant became more battered, leaves gradually died and fell. I barely noticed.

We faded together.

I do not remember the change. At some point, without even noticing it, I began to pour old drinks onto the shrunken root bowl. Cold tea, coffee dregs, ( so many coffee dregs), the occasional forgotten beer. The cheese plant could hardly be said to living, but it stopped dying too. We survived the longest coldest winter I had known and spring came. Irregular watering crept into our lives and one day a new leaf burst from a withered stem, bright green, smooth, full of promise.

My friend bought a house, and I rented a room off him. Our cheese plant went with us. I stopped giving it old tea and abandoned coffees and started watering it regularly. Other houseplants began to fill my room and I discovered that you could also feed them. Some I lost and again mourned but slowly the survivors began to thrive. They spilled from my room and collected on windowsills around the house, small eddies forming on tables and shelves. The cheese plant had to be moved to the living room as it grew, so I re-potted it with fresh compost and installed a florescent light on a timer. It thrived and touched the ceiling in delight.

My brother went to horticultural college and trained to become a gardener. We began to talk about gardening together, and from him my plant collection doubled. I realized that with a garden there was much more I could grow and planted my first apple tree.

When my brother moved to Wales I began mowing the lawn for an old client of his. Their garden was enormous…

I fell in love and moved to Essex. Looking for work more gardening jobs came my way. My clients were happy and I realized that I was happy. I learned a lot but not enough, so I went back to college and studied horticulture. My gardening business grew along with my enjoyment of my work.

Now there is not a day without some thought or action rooted in the garden. I watch the seasons turn and have learned patience. The gardens grow and breathe, and we feed each other.

I still visit my friend and Cheesy. He too is now a gardener and they are both well. If I visit in late summer I get free apples too.

Thursday, 23 February 2012


At this time of year it’s easy to find yourself looking out at the garden searching for that fresh verdant flush of new growth that tells you spring is coming, whilst at the same time forgetting that there is another source of plant life to keep our gardening side happy even closer to hand. Houseplants.

Houseplants seem to exist in a strange realm. Many avid gardeners I know are unfazed by plants as soon as they enter the home, suddenly they don’t really count in any true horticultural sense. Even those who quite like having them around rarely treat them with the same care and attention they give to plants in the garden. There’s a myth that runs among us, a myth that all houseplants are they same, that if they look poorly the best thing for them is more water, a myth that they are simply replaceable. It’s time to forget these myths and relearn about the joy of sharing our homes with a whole plethora of different plants.

As you may have no doubt guessed I’m a bit of a lover of my houseplants, as well as a bit of a collector (luckily I’ve an understanding family): at a rough estimate I’d say we had near a hundred plants in the house at the moment. Many of the larger specimens get to spend the summer outside where they get watered by the rain, warmed by the sun and add an element of the exotic to the garden, they also to put on a load of growth before I have to try and find a place inside for them in the winter.
It’s best remembered that the majority of houseplants are indoor for the simple reason that our climate is either too cold or too wet for them to be permanent features outside and therefore like it best in the light and erring on the dry side. It’s time for me to get on my soapbox again I’m afraid. Please stop overwatering your houseplants. I’m sure we can all think of a poor waiting room plant somewhere that has dust laden leaves and lives in shrunken crumbs of dry soil and this is what often springs to mind when one of our own seems to be suffering, plus we’ve the lessons learnt from the garden where watering can often help. However living in cold mud is even worse especially if it’s used to free draining soil and a tropical climate. So stop watering, if it starts to droop and the soil seems dry then give it a little to begin with rather than submerging in a bucket and forgetting about it until it’s time to dry it out again.

Houseplants are gloriously varied. They can live a long time with you as you move from house to house, I’ve a cheese plant that I took as a cutting from the parent that used to live in my folks back room when I was a child. The cutting itself is already fourteen years old and has been a fond companion to my live as a gardener. Another new addition to the household is an indoor lime which is a seventh cutting generation from one of Sigmund Freuds plants. I’ve a peyote grown from seed by a wonderful man now sadly passed away, that must be somewhere in its third decade already. An umbrella plant in the lounge I rescued from a skip thirteen years ago and it’s looking great. I could go on.

I heartily recommend discovering the world of indoor gardening. Get a spider plant baby from someone and get to know another life that will happily live alongside you for many years to come, it won’t judge you or badger you for food and when it finally gets tired and looks longingly at the compost heap you’ll have a whole heap of its plantlets to carry on the line and a house full of greenery all the year through.

So go on, give it a go and maybe next time I’ll tell you about all the good they do us physically and mentally. It’s a wonderful plant filled world out there, let’s bring some of it in.

Monday, 13 February 2012


It was a crisp winters day when leaving the house I spied a fellow gardener tired, gaunt and cold tottering across the lawn amongst the snowdrops. From a distance easily confused with a piece of fallen bark, up close a friendly snout and spiky back greeted me, this was no random gardener but a seasonal friend up way too early and suffering because of it.
After a quick check for injuries he was bundled up into my coat, secreted away in garden box, cosy on top of a hot water bottle and soon snuggling down into the fleecy depths of comfort. Now the joys of technology came into their own for this was my first proper close up encounter with a hedgehog but thankfully I have fine friends who I know to have a more informative grasp of Britains wild side. After a quick phone call to my Little Sampford sister she’d given me the low down on what to feed them and what not to and more importantly the number for South Wales Hedgehog helpline (02920 623985), they were then able to pass me onto a lovely lady called Amy at Cardiff Hedgehog Rescue (07590 293194) who took in rescued hedgehogs.

What followed was a very hasty tidying of the days work up to that point, this pretty much meant 5 minutes of chucking heaps of prunings behind the garage, tools quickly wiped down and popped back in potting shed before dash to train station with hedgehog still snuggled down in fleece lined hot water bottle box. It’s a good job I like the spiney gardeners as I was starting to miss my jacket by this point and now had a public transport jaunt across 10 miles of Cardiff from one side to the other, many a puzzled glance did I receive on that journey. A hairy, muddy man with his jacket in a box desperate to traverse a cold windy city with a little slug muncher secreted away, not your normal Wednesday encounter on the number 58 bus.
Thankfully I managed to complete the journey with minimal delays and the hedgehog was in the capable hands of Amy and her house of sleeping garden urchins before he knew what was happening. Renamed Zebedee he was soon taking in fluids and hopefully on his way to a happier year.

Sadly this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Zebedee had only been born the previous Autumn and hadn’t had chance to put on sufficient fat stores to reach the 600g he needed to be to get through hibernation. It’s likely he was already too dehydrated when I found him and was already in the process of organ failure with only a few more hours ahead, at least I was able to give him the chance for a comfy final few days.

Hedgehogs are amazing creatures, an invaluable friend to the gardener and we should cater for them more. It’ll only be about another month until they start waking and making their ways out into our gardens, so it’s time to take a bit more care with tidying up, be wary when using strimmers and putting forks into the undergrowth. Leave a water source out a ground level the birds will thank you too and if you’re really lucky a hedgehog might think your garden is good enough to set up home in.

Special thanks to Amy for all the work she puts in with countless hedgehogs every year, the natural worlds a better place because of it.

Thursday, 9 February 2012


February comes around before we know it. I find it a funny month in the sense it’s somehow caught between seasons not yet spring but at the same time not quite winter. Of course we’re still prone to snow and frosts but with the New Year retreating into a distant memory there’s already plenty of signs of the years growth ahead. Bulbs are often one of the first signals many of us will have seen of things to come, snowdrops and crocus being amongst the first to light our days with their flowers but with the milder winters we’ve been having these are often accompanied by daffodils which for me are a true spring flower.
A walk in our gardens this month is like tentative glimpses of a new sweet shop soon to open, ripening buds on trees, a freshening of green amongst the evergreens and lawn, flowering winter shrubs and longer days all add to the building excitement. Of course this is no reason to be blasé; February can easily be one of the coldest months and with the added element of a biting wind can make the outside seem quite hostile at times. However a well wrapped up gardener with hot tea to hand can always find things to do and with spring approaching there are certain jobs that’ll need completing before the month is out.

Jobs this month:
Final chance to prune apple trees and acers before the sap rises
Planting of roses
Mulching of beds though watch out for emerging bulbs
Keep an eye on camellias and be prepared to protect with fleece against sudden hard frosts
Prepare greenhouses for coming year, now’s a good time to clear out and fumigate
Watch out for newly planted plants being damaged by the wind
Sow your early peas, beans and carrots
Chit potatoes in well lit and frost proof room
Check lawns for winter compaction, avoid walking on if frost still present
Tender house plants should be examined to see how they’ve faired, watch for new growth appearing