Tag Archives: gardening tips

Penny’s gardening blog: jobs for January & how to promote biodiversity


At this time of year every thing is pretty dormant in the garden, so it’s a great time to really have a look at the bones of your garden and work on making it a good environment for wildlife, hence promoting biodiversity. This is really important if you are going to garden organically.

I have always bought the Guardian on Saturdays and for years enjoyed Christopher Lloyd’s articles on gardening. I was sad when he died and still miss reading his writings.  Alys Fowler has replaced him and I love her enthusiasm and promotion of permaculture and wildlife. Below I will give you some links to a couple of relevant articles written by her.

part one: how to promote biodiversity in your garden

build a small pondto encourage frogs and toads. This can be as simple as having a bucket or bath. Look at Alys Fowlers article on wildlife ponds for more information. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/dec/14/alys-fowler-wildlife-ponds

encourage birds – create a bird table or hang fat balls full of seeds and nuts to lure birds into your garden. informationhttp://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/alys-fowler-s-gardening-column+environment/wildlife

wild areas – create some wild areas in your garden.  A few of logs left to rot, for instance, will encourage all sorts of insects, small mammals and amphibians.

plant climbers along walls and borders of garden which will provide ideal nesting habitats.

Part two: January jobs in the garden

clear fallen leaves and debris from areas where bulbs are coming up.

cut back last year’s growth on perennials, leaving any with seed heads still intact for birds and insects. Some people cut everything to the ground in the autumn and like everything neat, tidy and manicured. Personally I like to leave the dead growth up for as long as possible. A lot of seed heads are really pretty and are also a perfect habitat and provide shelter for insects during the winter. Some growth looks awful and rots down into a nasty slimy pile like hemerocallis (day lilies) and agapanthus for example. This can go!


dig out perennial weeds such as dock, couch grass, brambles, buttercups and the like.

thin out dead and diseased wood from established trees and shrubs.

prune wisteria by cutting back shoots to 2nd or 3rd buds.

in the veg garden

Don’t be discouraged if you had a terrible year trying to grow vegetables last year. It was awful for everyone, amateurs and professionals alike. We cannot give up, we need to soldier on and adapt to the situation. Who knows what the weather will do this year, but I am ever hopeful for a better season ahead.

plan your rotation for the year – the allium and brassica family are the ones to rotate. Alliums include onions, shallots and leeks and brassicas include cabbage, kale, cauliflowers, rocket and mustards. You should rotate these crops by giving a three year break before planting in the same area. This helps to reduce problems with onion rot in the allium family and club root in the brassica family.

weed beds ready for onions and shallots – choose an area that is well drained and preferably was manured last autumn. Onion sets are now available to buy and can be planted from now on although some people like to wait for a month or so.

sow broad beans for an early crop.

prune apple and pear trees.

order seeds or plants – look at what we are offering in our veg, flower and herb boxes to grow this year.  These kits are a fabulous way to get into gardening and grow your own veg, flowers and herbs. They come with plants, seedlings, seeds, full instructions and plenty of advice on how to grow your own produce.

If you have any further questions or want advice on gardening feel free to comment or email help@riverford.co.uk and I’ll be happy to help.


In Penny’s gardening blog – how to make use of those fallen autumn leaves



The leaves this autumn are spectacular. I don’t know about any of you, but I have a tendency to get a bit down towards the end of September. The nights drawing in, everything coming to an end in the garden and the thought of a long, cold, damp winter fills me with dread, gloom and doom.

But once the leaves have turned I force myself out of my sorry state of mind and there is nothing more cheery than a good walk in the local woods. I am lucky enough to live close to Hembury Woods, which skirt the River Dart and is full of many ancient trees. It is predominantly a western oak woodland with a wet alder wood in the valley. There are plenty of silver birch, beech, holly and hazel. The colours alone are so uplifting that the experience of walking amongst these trees really gets me into the spirit of autumn and winter, hot fires and chestnuts, big scarves, thick socks, woolly hats and all those sorts of things.


Leaf Mould

My point is there are lots of leaves falling off the trees at this time of year. Raking them up is a good idea and why not make some leaf mould which makes a great soil conditioner when left to rot over the winter and ready for the summer.

You don’t want to put leaves onto your compost heap as they are slow to rot down. If you have space, make a separate heap for leaves alone or otherwise a put them in a black plastic sack with holes punched in the bottom.

Some folk rake all the leaves onto the lawn first and then mow them up, which chops them up a bit. You can mix them with some lawn cuttings too to help speed up the rotting process a little. Either way is fine.

Put the leaves in heavy duty black bags. Once filled, pierce the bottom of the sacks and put them in a corner out of the way and by next summer you should have some good leaf mould. This is a great low nutrient soil conditioner and can be spread onto your flower or vegetable beds or added to pots and tubs. It will improve the structure of your soil.

Next gardening blog

I am going to give you tips on putting your gardens to bed for the winter and what you can do in your kitchen gardens to prepare for next year. I will also make suggestions on things to plant now for a spring display.

Penny’s gardening blog….

Hello Everyone

Oops, it’s been over a month since I wrote my last blog so I apologize for this lapse and all I can say is that I have been far too busy working and also having a jolly good time too. So before I launch into gardening tips, photos etc, a little bit about ….

My jolly good time

I went to the most amazing festival, just inside Cornwall called The Port Eliot Festival or the Lit fest. It is held on the most beautiful estate and has a rare mix of literary guests, fashion designers, brilliant bands and DJ’s, fantastic food, drinks, a flower show and lots, lots more.  Take a look at the gallery of photos on their website : http://www.porteliotfestival.com/

The highlights for me were:

  • Coming across an acoustic band of young men called Maia the Band performing along the estuary skirting the estate, http://www.youtube.com/user/maiatheband
  • Watching another quite new band called Toy – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcQ2nXDvWDY  who were amazing and am sure are going to be really big
  • Meeting a charming man with a v, v, gsoh from Ottery st Mary, called Sebastian, who took me on a midnight walk and showed me the maze on the estate. Unfortunately I lost him on the dance floor later on (or maybe he suddenly got the fear and did a runner, poor thing!!). Anyway, whatever hey! So thank you Sebastian from Ottery, your tour has made me think about mazes in a completely new light and maybe sometime I will write a blog dedicated to them alone. So much fun has been had. Now back to work….

Cut Flowers


Monarch mixed cut flowers (in our Riverford Boxes to Grow) 

As you know I am an organic flower grower (as well as a gardener, a gardening blogger and a Riverford  Farm Tour guide). The terrible weather we have had this season has made life very difficult for anyone attempting to grow anything. I can’t remember worse conditions for all the years I have been a grower.

Over the last couple of months my flowers have finally started producing beautiful blooms which need regular cutting, conditioning, bunching and delivering to Riverford’s Field Kitchen restaurant, Riverford Farm Shop and to various parties and weddings that have booked me. So, my life is quite hectic as you can imagine.


 Snapdragon, Antirrhinum ‘bizarre hybrid’ –

this variety has unusual speckled markings on the blooms

Tips on cropping your flowers from your cutting garden

Some of you have had our cutting garden ‘grow your own’ kit this year so here are some tips on cropping your flowers and how to care for them:-

Cutting your flowers:-

  • It is best to crop your flowers either first thing in the morning, before it gets too hot, or later in the evening when its cooling down. If you cut them in the midday sun they will wilt before you get a chance to put them in water.
  • Always cut your flowers at an angle, allowing a bigger surface area to take up water. The first flowers such as Cosmos, Rudbeckia or sundflowers for instance, may be fairly short. Cut the central flower to some lower side shoot. These will lengthen and so your next stems should be longer.
  • Put them in a bucket of water in the shade and give them a drink.
  • Some flowers will wilt unless you condition them.  Euphorbias are a classic example. The milky sap that is produced when you cut them blocks the stems and stops the water from being taken up. It is also highly allergic. The answer is to sear the stem ends in hot boiled water for twenty seconds, then refresh them in cold water again. This method is useful and worth a try with any wilting flowers.
  • All the leaves that are going to be below the water line of your vase must be stripped off. If you don’t do this the leaves start to rot in the water, the water becomes rather a smelly bacterial soup and will shorten the life of your flowers.
  • Refreshing the water every day or two will also help you get a longer life out of your flowers.
  • Regular picking is essential if you want your flowers to carry on producing. If you leave them to go to seed the plant will think that this is what you want and put all its energy into producing seeds rather than flowers.



A few gardening tips:-

  • Dead head flowering plants such as Dahlias and Cosmos to encourage more flower production.
  • Cut back any perennials and annuals that are over and looking messy, being mindful about leaving those seed heads that are strong enough to withstand the wet rain and wind. These can look fabulous in winter when Jack Frost visits and covers them in a layer of sparkly, diamonté like crystals.
  • Feed any container grown plants. I have a patio full of pots, tanks and old metal baths. I plant these up in May with pelargoniums, scented geraniums, morning glory, salvia and all sorts. Any thing grown in pots will need a good feed every couple of weeks to keep them healthy and looking good through out the season.

In the next few weeks I will be writing about –

Riverford Farm Tours – I will show you in photo form some of our hot house crops growing in our relatively new 3 acre polytunnel.  With the kind permission of his mum and dad, here is a picture of one of my recent Riverford Farm Tour customers, Benji:


Benji was clearly not that interested in the statistics I was giving them on the tomato crops and yields etc and was just champing at the bit to get back to the tractor, which is so obviously his passion at the mo. I love the fact that he really does look like a proper grumpy Devon farmer who is really hacked off with the awful weather we’ve been subjected to this season.

I’ll also be writing about the Herb Garden in front of the Riverford Field Kitchen which I designed and planted up over seven years ago. It’s worth a whole blog on it’s own too.


Riverford Field Kitchen herb garden

I also have more stunning photos of plants and planting combinations in my own garden and some gardens I tend and look after, to share with you and inspire you.  Here’s are a couple of pics below, keep following my blogs for more.

Late summer flowering plants:-


In the foreground we have Rudbeckia goldsturm, crocosmia in the

middle and cotinus in the background


Photo Verbena bonariensis with Stipa gigantea behind