Category Archives: Penny’s Gardening Blog

Penny Hemming

I am an old friend of the Watson family, from early years at school in Totnes with Ben, Oliver and Guy. After many a teenage party and adult ones since, I could really dish the dirt on the Watson boys but I’ll stick here to the earthy sort of dirt.

I have been involved in horticulture since the early eighties when I moved back to Devon from a five year stint living in London. My partner owned a beautiful 12 acre smallholding on the edge of Dartmoor where we set up a small nursery growing plants to sell mainly at Totnes market. I started knowing very little and entered onto a very steep learning curve which I am still climbing. Horticulture is such an enormous and varied subject, and largely dependent on practical experience.
Twelve years, three children and a separation later, I found myself in a flat without even a window box, actually rather nice temporarily. I went to art college, studied three D design and specialized in metal work, and then combined teaching part time at the college with gardening in private gardens. This was around the time I started working for Guy Watson, looking after his garden at home and the planting around the Field Kitchen restaurant and the packing barns, for visitors and staff alike to enjoy.

There was, however, something about growing that I really missed. Riverford offered me a field and for the last four years I have been growing organic cut flowers which I sell through the Riverford Farm Shop as well as the Field Kitchen. This combines well with my new role at Riverford, where I will be bridging the gap between Riverford’s commercial growing experience and customers growing veg and flowers at home. I’ll be taking groups of visitors on guided tours around the farm (April-Sept) , writing a regular horticultural blog, keeping customers up to date on what’s happening on the farm, and helping them with what to do when in their gardens…..and I feel sure it will grow and develop down many exciting avenues, or more aptly around here, lanes.

slugs and snails

In my gardening blog today I will be giving some advice to the gardeners among you on how to protect your plants from slugs and snails. In the extraordinarily wet weather we have all been subjected to over the last few weeks, you may have been experiencing problems with them munching away on your newly planted seedlings. Seedlings are particularly susceptible to damage as the tender leaves are attractive to these predators. This is very disheartening and tricky to overcome at the best of times, but it is essential to be on the war path and be proactive in your approach, otherwise you may find that many of your seedlings and young plants will simply disappear.

Images

slugs and snails

Slugs and snails are related, and are biologically known as gastropods. They are hermaphrodites being both male and female, and each one can produce up to 500 eggs over a season. Their life span can be up to five years if they’re lucky. They feed on plant material and, as I said before, are particularly fond of young fresh tender growth so any seedlings you plant out are in danger of being devoured by these pests. They tend to come out to feed at night or during cloudy wet spells of weather. They like to shelter under leaves, stones, wood, plastic and the like. They don’t like open, dry, well cultivated, weed free ground.

slug pellets

Conventional slug pellets are made with metaldehyde or methiocarb and are not to be encouraged as they cause harm to other wildlife in our gardens, and also leave chemical deposits in your soil. Birds, beetles, hedgehogs, toads and frogs are all gardener’s friends and helpers, and will happily dine on these slimy creatures, helping to keep their numbers down and hence allowing you to successfully grow your own veg, flowers, and fruit. These slug pellets will kill the slug or snail and then the bird, beetle or toad etc that may eat it. It really is an absolute no-no.

ferric phosphate based pellets

These pellets are made up of iron phosphate and cause no harm to other wildlife and are Soil Association approved, although organic growers still need to get permission to use them.

nematodes

This is a biological control for use against slugs, but it is not effective against snails. It is a microscopic sort of worm known as Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita, and is a native species living in our soils already but not in quite enough numbers to really control your slugs and snails. Once introduced they will help protect your crops for up to six weeks. They need the ground to be damp to survive so a certain amount of watering may need to be done to help them.

home remedies

There are all sorts of methods that people adopt to try and overcome the problem of slugs and snails, some of which I have listed below. There is loads of info on the web so take a look and try some out for yourself. Primarily, take a look at your garden and discover where they like to hang out. Physical removal is a good start and tidying up your garden, clearing debris and objects where they congregate is key. Getting the balance right is hard though as a completely weed free, spotless garden doesn’t provide a habitat required to encourage the biodiversity that is essential to garden organically.
Find out more about the home remedies and have some fun. Here are more ideas to Google: salt, traps, eggshells, coarse sand, bran, copper bands, seaweed squashing, vinegar, beer traps, culling.

Penny’s Gardening Blog- flower box to grow

In my Gardening Blog today I will be wittering on about the weather as usual as well as warning those of you who have ordered a flower box to grow to get ready, showing off about my tractor driving skills and treating you to some more photos of beautiful garden shots.

The Weather

We have all been enjoying some proper hot sunny days the last couple of weeks and oh boy was it was needed. All around me I can see the effect on growth in my field, the herb bed at the field kitchen, the toms and cucs in our polytunnels and well just everywhere around. It fills me with joy I have to say.

 The Herb Garden at Riverfords restaurant , The Field Kitchen.

However…..I feel the odd heavy shower at night would improve life even more. Like the one we in Buckfastleigh had last Saturday night at 4 or 5 in the morning (officially Sunday). It was a proper deluge, a downpour and was so loud that it woke me up. I was delighted as I had just planted my first seedlings in my flower field that very morning. What luck! Obviously I had watered them in already but this extra dousing was just the ticket. In previous years I have planted up my field in the first couple of weeks of April. This spring has been unusually cold and then rained for ages and no one could get on the land to cultivate-hence a late start.

Flower Box To Grow

These cut flower kits are being delivered from next week. The plants have arrived and are looking great. A couple of varieties haven’t germinated very well so we have a bit of substitution here and there but all in all, it’s looking good. Having originally worried that this kit was going out too late in the season it turns out that what with the weather we’ve had, it’s really an ideal time after all. So if you have a box arriving, spend some time this bank holiday weekend preparing your site for your cutting garden kit.

If you haven’t already dug in some manure, do so now or chicken pellets will also do fine.  Flowers don’t need as much nutrients as veg so they say. You can end up with too much leaf and not so many blooms but I am not totally convinced. The years I have had muck spread before cultivation everything grew lovely and tall and produced buckets and buckets of flowers. Don’t over do it but a couple of sacks of well rotted manure chucked about ‘never did no one no harm’ as we say down here.

Tours

This week I have given my first farm tours at Riverford. I have been training over the last few months and to start with was very wary about driving a massive tractor, pulling an extremely long trailer behind it. But I have to say, not wanting to big myself up or anything; I am a dab hand at it now. I can back it up too, round quite awkward corners where pallets have been strategically placed in the way, to really put me through my paces!! Some of the male staff were pretty skeptical to begin with but I am pleased to say they were wrong. I am pretty good at it. But more about the tours next week where I will introduce you to Julius, a Ugandan pineapple farmer who I have had the pleasure of working with this week, teaching children about growing and showing them the farm.

Gardens in May

Here are a few photos for you to enjoy.

Foxgloves    

foxgloves 

Iris and sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalonis

Iris and sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalonis

Formal garden with loose informal planting.

Formal garden with loose informal planting

I am off to London for the jubilee celebrations and to see my offspring. Happy growing and don’t forget to water in this hot dry weather.

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Flower box to grow

I will be talking about the weather in true English style, be sympathetic and give some support to all you growers out there battling with your veg/herb/flower gardens, encourage you to try a Riverford Flower Box To Grow and inspire you with some photos of gardens I work in.

the weather

Heavens Above! What is going on? In recent times we have had the driest autumn on record, the driest winter, the coldest April and now the wettest too. How about the hottest summer next please. It really makes life rather difficult for anyone trying to grow anything at all. I read some garden articles in early spring listing plants suitable for drought as this is what we were all expecting then, hose pipe bans spreading across the country like wild fire and then it starts and we are all relieved to have at last a shower and then another….. and another …..But this onslaught and absolute deluge of rain that we have been subjected to over the last few weeks is just all too much. Maybe an article on damp gardens is called for now.

It is pretty miserable working out in this kind of weather and sometimes if it’s persistent enough one just has to give up. I have pretty good waterproofs in the form of fishermans salopettes,  wellies,  a coat and an assortment of hats, (shorts and a sun hat in the car too, just in case, yeah right!!!). It is not a pretty sight! 

Penny

Even some of the field workers have had their hours cut as no planting can be done because it’s impossible to get the tractors and planters on to the ground. Things are not happy!

box to grow

Veg and heb  box to grow customers have had their plants for a month now and hopefully  have manages to plant them up. Nothing has grown much this last month because its been unusually cold and very wet. My courgettes have copped it…just couldn’t cope, simply drowned and my other seedlings are sat there not growing and looking rather sodden and sorry for themselves . All you can really do is keep checking for slugs and snails who come out in troops in this weather. If really keen you could cover the plants with cloches to try and keep some rain off them and also raise the temperature a bit. We could all do with some sunshine to make the plants grow.

flower box to grow

The Flower Box To Grow is my baby in some ways as growing cut flowers is my speciality so riverford have used me to select the plants and varieties that come in this grow your own kit. I have grown organic cut flowers in a field I rent from riverford over the last four years. The Kit will provide you with flowers to cut and enjoy in a vase through out the summer and well into the autumn.  The flowers are all traditional English country flowers such as cornflowers, bells of Ireland, love in a mist, sunflowers, snapdragons and so on….take a look and be tempted.  The kit comes with 54 seedlings and two packets of seeds and is extremely good value for money and obviously I highly recommend it.

in the garden

What with all the rain perennials have pretty much doubled in size over the last few weeks and have been really enjoy this long awaited drink. I am lucky enough to work in some really beautiful garden in the local area and to cheer you all up and possibly inspire you I will show you some photos of some of these.

This garden is partly walled and formally planted with fastigiated yews and lots of shaped box and box hedging. It sits quite high on a hill and has lovely views across the valley. With in the formality it is planted quite loosely with loads of old fashioned roses, geraniums, day lilies and so on.

We let campion, forget me not, sweet rocket and valerian officianalis seed freely and then cull when necessary. This makes it look very natural and also fills gaps creating ground cover and hence suppresses growth of unwanted weeds.    

forget me nots

symphytum ibericum  comfrey

This is a low growing comfrey and a useful ground cover plant too

This is a taller comfrey useful for making a liquid feed  and  great for composting as it encourages the rapid breakdown of other materials  you put in your heap and its also very pretty.   

Symphytum x uplandicum   Russian comfrey

I love this combination of bright yellow Kerria japonica and a bright red Rhododendron behind. Very cheerful indeed.      

Penny’s Gardening Blog – identifying plants

This is a very short blog as support to any customers who have received a Veg Box to Grow and are having problems identifying the different plants. These pictures should help.

kohl rabi

kohl rabi

cabbage

cabbage

Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

mustard

mustard

beetroot

beetroot

lettuce

lettuce

spring onions

spring onions

parsley

parsley

coriander

coriander

rocket

rocket

tomato

tomato

courgette

courgette

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a cucumber plant to photograph and they do look very similar to courgette but… the cucumber was sent out in a pot and the courgettes were a block.

The italian parsley also may get confused with the coriander but easily worked out by giving the leaves a gentle squeeze and having a good sniff. Coriander has a quite distinctive smell that’s quite different to the odour of parsley. 

I hope this will be of use to those of you who are having problems and just to reassure you Riverford have taken on board that this is an issue and are working on finding a good solution for future boxes to grow.

Penny’s gardening blog – box to grow

In My Gardening Blog This Week
A cold snap has arrived down here in Devon and we’ve had some frosts in the last few days and now thankfully a little rain and hail.  On my way home I noticed even a light dusting of snow on the edge of Dartmoor. What with the untimely hot weather of last week where summer thoughts and searches for shorts were both on the cards in my life and now this!  What trickery Jack Frost!! Slow down and beware. Spring is just here, trees still bear of leaves and cold weather is still on the cards.

The first Boxes to Grow have been dispatched from Wash and will be being delivered over the next two weeks to customers up and down the country. Today I will give you some extra advice and tips on planting out and caring for your seedlings.

Box To Grow Welcome
I want to thank our growers first who have really come up trumps this year with the most fantastic quality seedlings and plants for our veg and herb boxes to grow. I am proud to say we have developed a really good growing kit.
When your box arrives you will find inside full instructions on how to care for your seedlings right from the start and how to then get on with the task of planting them out and growing them on. Below I am going to list the most important things to bear in mind. Please feel free to use me as support and leave comments and questions on my gardening blog.

Frost Protection.
In the veg and herb  boxes to grow there are tomatoes , courgettes and cucumber and coriander seedlings that are all quite tender so need extra care for the next few weeks or more. Basically these plants need to be protected from frost, wind and cold temperatures generally. If you have no option but to plant them out it would be wise to cover with a cloche or make a little greenhouse recycling a large plastic water bottle, or at the very least cover with  horticultural fleece. In the past I have put individual cardboard boxes over such plants at night. Do not forget to uncover first thing in the morning though!  I would tend to plant into a pot with some compost and grow them on a bit on a window sill if I didn’t have a greenhouse.

Snow
If you live in one of the areas that have been hit with snow then it will be impossible to plant out your seedlings until it is has thawed. Make sure to take the seedlings out of the box and stand upright in a seed tray or cut the box down so that the plants don’t get leggy searching for light. Place the seedlings in a polytunnel, greenhouse, conservatory or window sill. Basically they need light and protection from freezing weather for the moment and ideally shouldn’t be put anywhere too warm either. The plants shouldn’t need watering but if look at all wilted or dry then do water gently with a watering can.

Planting
Follow the instructions provided with the kits.
The Cabbages, beetroot, rainbow chard and the kohl rabi in the veg kits can be planted quite deeply however make sure  the other seedlings and lettuce particularly are planted level with the ground and not at all below the surface.

Watering and fleece
Be sure to gently water in your plants after planting them in the ground and check for slugs and snails before ideally covering with horticultural fleece. Fleece will help protect against frosts and cold temperatures and give your plants a head start generally. Remove the fleece carefully every few days for watering as required. Once the weather has warmed up the fleece can be removed. Keep an eye on the weather and check your plants regularly.

Weeding
Keeping your plot, planters or pots free of weeds is important for the success of your vegetable growing. Use a hoe if appropriate to your situation and hand weed around the seedlings themselves.

Patience
Your seedlings will take a few days to adjust and recover from their hike over dales, down and up hills and so on. Look after them tenderly and give them the best chance of success. Speak to them nicely and before you know it they will start doubling in size over and over so do pay attention to the suggested planting distances to. Good luck!

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Part 5

Gosh, its three weeks since I posted my last blog already. How time flies! Being a gardener and grower this time of year is pretty full on. I have lots of clients I work for on a weekly basis as well as preparing my field where I grow flowers and am also busy propagating plants to go in it. So life is hectic and I am slightly overwhelmed by the impending season. But it is also a very exciting time of year in the garden with the first signs of growth and plenty of plants in flower. In this blog I am going to give you all a reminder and do a final push on our boxes to grow. I will suggest some general gardening tasks and wax lyrical about spring flowering plants.

Boxes to grow

Veg, Herb and cut flower gardening kits

April is nearly here and deliveries of our vegetable and herb boxes to grow will be going out imminently, cut flower kits a bit later.  It’s not too late to order one as we have a few left. I don’t want to bang on too much about it but these kits are great value and a fabulous way to  kick start  your gardens in one fail swoop. No decisions on what to grow or where to get it all from. We have used our experts to select good tried and tested varieties to give you the best chance of success and comprehensive advice on how to plant and grow these are also included in the boxes. I will also be supporting you with my gardening blogs and here to answer your queries.  

If you have already ordered one remember to do the recommended site preparation we have on our website.

gardening blogMarch in the garden

 I have taken some photos of some plants I love that are flowering now. Its good practice to keep your eyes open  when out and about and observe good companion plantings around you and maybe think of incorporating these into your garden spaces to improve what you already have. In the foreground a red Camelia, clematis armandii climbing through a tree and in the background a magnolia tree. 

gardening blog

A close up of Clematis armandii. You can grow this evergreen climber up a wall,trellis,fence or through a tree. It has lovely glossy foliage its quite happy planted in more shady positions.

Hellebores are an absolute favorite of mine.  

Hellebores

Once big enough they can be split after flowering and replanted to increase your stock. I have done this in this little woodland area over the years and it really looks a picture at this time of year with the under planted periwinkle and primroses in flower too. 

white double Hellebore

This white double Hellebore is particularly pretty and looks great with Euphorbia as a backdrop 

Jobs in the garden

 

WEEDING This is the time of year to have a jolly good ‘spring clean’ in your gardens. Perennial plants are just beginning to grow again. Before things get too tall its an ideal time to really get in there and give your beds a jolly good weed. I have problems in a fair few gardens with perennial weed such as bind weed, couch grass and ground elder.  Gardening organically I would not use weed killers as they are detrimental to the wildlife in our gardens and leave nasty deposits in the soil too. Keeping these nasty weeds at bay is the answer. If you’re feeling thorough, this might mean digging up a perennial clump and teasing the roots of the said weed out and replanting the clump. Remember…DO NOT put these weeds in your compost heaps.

 DIVIDING up over crowded perennial clumps can be done now. Dig out the clump and put a sharp spade blade through the centre of the clump to cut it in half or more if necessary.

COMPOST  I have a rather tired body, being rather ancient doesn’t help and nor does the kind of work I have been doing the last few weeks emptying a fair few compost heaps in various gardens in the area. It is quite satisfying though to see what you have produced from simply garden waste.

gardening blog

This is great stuff to spread on to your beds, around the plants and lightly fork in. It will improve the soil and act as a mulch helping the soil to retain moisture. As a lot of us are already being threatened with hose pipe bans this is pretty essential.

In My Next Gardening Blog

As my seedlings are not ready for transplanting yet I will leave this till next time possibly with a video clip…heres hoping!

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Part 5

Gosh, its three weeks since I posted my last blog already. How time flies! Being a gardener and grower this time of year is pretty full on. I have lots of clients I work for on a weekly basis as well as preparing my field where I grow flowers and am also busy propagating plants to go in it. So life is hectic and I am slightly overwhelmed by the impending season. But it is also a very exciting time of year in the garden with the first signs of growth and plenty of plants in flower. In this blog I am going to give you all a reminder and do a final push on our boxes to grow. I will suggest some general gardening tasks and wax lyrical about spring flowering plants.

Boxes to grow

Veg, Herb and cut flower gardening kits

April is nearly here and deliveries of our vegetable and herb boxes to grow will be going out imminently, cut flower kits a bit later.  It’s not too late to order one as we have a few left. I don’t want to bang on too much about it but these kits are great value and a fabulous way to  kick start  your gardens in one fail swoop. No decisions on what to grow or where to get it all from. We have used our experts to select good tried and tested varieties to give you the best chance of success and comprehensive advice on how to plant and grow these are also included in the boxes. I will also be supporting you with my gardening blogs and here to answer your queries.  

If you have already ordered one remember to do the recommended site preparation we have on our website.

March in the garden

 I have taken some photos of some plants I love that are flowering now. Its good practice to keep your eyes open  when out and about and observe good companion plantings around you and maybe think of incorporating these into your garden spaces to improve what you already have. In the foreground a red Camelia, clematis armandii climbing through a tree and in the background a magnolia tree. O41 a close up of Clematis armandii. You can grow this evergreen climber up a wall,trellis,fence or through a tree. It has lovely glossy foliage its quite happy planted in more shady positions.