Gardening Journal – Entry 19

Friday 19 March 2021

I decided to take this past week off social media because the recent news was getting very heavy and I found myself ‘doom scrolling’ a little too much for my liking. It was a breath of fresh air. I spent my evenings being fully present, whether it was revising for a plant ident test or just sitting watching RuPaul’s Drag Race UK (#TeamBimini all the way). So instead of a daily journal, this one is going to be a round-up of the week, including work tasks, college practicals, my own garden work and the new volunteer job I’ve picked up.

Monday 15 March

We kicked off this week with some border maintenance. The weeding had been done a few weeks before, so all it needed was a good cultivate. We were working in a stunning churchyard, with shrubby borders currently bursting with Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ and a few violet hyacinths. I used a cultivator to ‘tickle’ the top two inches of soil. This helped to break up any large clods, buried annual weeds before they set seed and left the soil looking fresh. 

Tuesday 16 March

On Tuesday it was much of the same, except for a mammoth litter round. I’m incredibly excited about more people being out and about and using the gardens as we navigate this roadmap leading to 21 June, but the litter is going to pile up! 

Wednesday 17 March

This week I was back at college, for the first time since last year! It was lovely seeing all my classmates and tutor again, after our months of online learning. We used the session to catch up on practicals. We learnt about the safe use of rotavators (which is a brand name for a rotary cultivator, by the way!), sowing seeds of three sizes, looked at some of our plant idents in person and planted some bare root trees. Here’s how they went:

Rotavating:

  • Rotary cultivators come in many sizes and are used for several tasks, including simple cultivation of soil, removal of weeds, digging up lawns and digging in vegetables
  • We looked at pre starter checks and talked about the importance of having split pin bolts to replace any broken ones 
  • Then we actually used the machines and practiced our turning techniques. Both machines had forward, neutral and reverse gears, which meant that we were able to do a three-point turn in the corners. I preferred the wide turning technique used by farmers with large tractors. This involved keeping turns wide and passing up and down the bed in long lines, allowing you to keep moving and spend less time changing gears. Overall, this technique saves time and fuel and I found it a lot easier on my back 

Sowing seeds:

  • We had done this practical task before, but it was brilliant to get some extra experience, as I don’t often get the chance to do propagation
  • We sowed small, medium and large seeds. I sowed Papaver orientale mixed with sand, Cabbage seeds and ornamental broad been seeds
  • To find a quick guide to seed sowing, check out this video I put together

Plant ident:

Every fortnight, we get a new list of plants to learn, each in a different group. We started with evergreen shrubs and have since learnt bulbs, perennial weeds and now alpines. I love alpines. On any given day, you can find me either dreaming of – or wandering around – the beautiful South American and South African rock garden at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. I love the succulent-like leaves, the minute details and the stunning, showy blooms. When it comes to creating a curated but rugged aesthetic, nothing beats a rock garden-fernery hybrid, in my opinion.

If you’re interested here are the plants we learnt for our alpine plant test. While it is okay to only know the common name when working with the plants in your garden, it is always helpful to know the botanical name when working with them professionally. While it is largely considered a dead language, Latin is universal in horticultural circles and this helps to avoid miscommunication when working working in other countries, with people who speak different languages. I also like to learn the family name, as it helps me to make connections between similar plants and is a good way of grouping plants and understanding common requirements.

Genus species ‘Cultivar’ – Common name – FAMILY NAME

  1. Armeria juniperifolia – Juniper-leaved thrift – PLUMBAGINACEAE
  2. Echeveria elegans – Mexican gem – CRASSULACEAE
  3. Gentiana sino-ornata – Showy Chinese gentian – GENTIANACEAE
  4. Lewisia cotyledon – Siskiyou lewisia – PORTULACACEAE
  5. Phlox douglasii ‘Eva’ – Creeping phlox – POLEMONIACEAE
  6. Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ – Spoon-leaved stonecrop – CRASSULACEAE
  7. Sempervivum arachnoideum – Cobweb houseleek – CRASSULACEAE
  8. Saxifraga ‘Tumbling Waters’ – Saxifrage ‘Tumbling Waters’ – SAXIFRAGACEAE
  9. Saxifraga x urbium – London Pride – SAXIFRAGACEAE
  10. Thymus pulegioides ‘Archer’s Gold’ – Thyme ‘Archer’s Gold’ – LAMIACEAE

Planting a bare root tree:

This is another practical we had done before, but the more practice, the better! Here are a few new things I learnt this time:

  • Placement of the stake is very important. In London, the prevailing wind comes from the South West, so you want to stake your tree against the wind. The stake should be between the direction of wind and the tree, as this allows the stem some movement and avoids unnecessary rubbing, which can result in cuts to the epidermis and the risk of disease.
  • When tying the tree to the stake, the strap can look unsightly if there is too much excess sticking out. You can use a nail and a hammer to secure the end of this and keep it looking neat.
  • Suckers and any dead, diseased or damaged branches should be removed with secateurs once the tree is planted.

Thursday 18 March

Yesterday was spent practicing plant division. We divided some Liriope in a raised container and replanted half of them in situ, leaving some others for another site. Division is a form of propagation which involves lifting clumping and spreading plants out of the ground and slicing through the rootball to create more than one plant and thin it out every three to five years.

I kept about half of the divided plants and planted them in a shady corner of my garden. They look lovely and lush.

Friday 19 March

Today was my half day at work but it was busy! I started off doing a litter round and tidying up a graveyard in one of our churchyard sites. This involved clearing some of the paths of soil that spilled over with the recent rain. Then I cleared the weeds and ripped off the dead leaves from some Iris. I love the look of a graveyard – the moss creeping over the soil and the classic Ilex aquifolium tucked into the corners. The Helleborus were out in full force today, with the beautiful magenta flowers and their Jurassic-like toothed foliage. I saw that the Hellebores had self-seeded and potted up a few larger seedlings. With the Liriopes and Helleborus seedlings in my bag, I looked like a cycling garden centre on the way home!

After work, I planted all my finds in the garden. This garden is a doer-upper and I’m doing it up as cheaply as a can. In the past two weeks we laid some paving we found to create a little seating area and my grasses and hellebores will be a lovely addition.

After planting up my seedlings, I cycled off to Whittington Park, where I volunteer once a week. It’s a great opportunity as a multi-use space where we grow food, plant for pollinators and keep a wormery – all in close proximity to passersby, who we can chat to about gardening and nature. It’s a great way to get people interested in horticulture! Today I filled some potato grow bags in preparation for the chitted potatoes to go in, I cleared an overgrown area and weeded it, and finally I gave the lettuce seedlings I sowed last week a good water.

All in all it was a very busy week, and I’m so glad. I felt a little bit like I had been hibernating since November. Spring is in the air and the maintenance work is getting a little more exciting. It has been wonderful to see plants coming into bloom. Of course, we’re seeing Narcissus all over the place, but watching the cherry blossom and magnolias open up has been such a treat. Bring on the warmer days.

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