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Donate Your Harvest

The transition of Autumn into winter marks a time of year when several communities begin preparations and celebrations for a number of different year’s end feasts and festivals. Many of these special seasonal observances share very similar features, such as a period of reflection over the events of the ending year, and the optimistic acknowledgment of rebirth or regeneration going into the New Year. While this regeneration may be celebrated in a religious or secular context, that these observances happen when they do is no surprise—many of these holidays wrap up just as the spring officially arrives, heralding a time of renewal and bounty. The upcoming months are a time for many people, in the midst of the hardships that may come with winter, to think on the plenty of the spring and summer with appreciation, and reassure themselves that good times are just around the bend.

Harvest cucumbers

Harvest cucumbers

At the end of this month, many of us in the United Kingdom will observe Christmas. Both celebrations are about showing appreciation for the harvest, and acknowledging the harvest as a symbol for all of the rewards reaped during the year. At the same time, while we take a moment to recognise all of the blessings and privileges we enjoy, we also remember that there are many people going without what we consider necessities.

Hunger and poverty have increased since 2000, with around 15% of Brits at below the poverty threshold. For the millions of people struggling to stay fed, Thanksgiving can be a painful time.

So, what does this have to do with gardening?

Well. Everything, actually.

Although the growing and gardening season is over, you can still plan ahead to use next year’s garden to not only stock your pantry, but also your local food pantry. You may not realise it, but a food pantry in your area is probably interested in your bumper crop of cucumbers and asparagus.

The UK has non-profit organisation that connects gardeners with food pantries, making it easy for the home gardener to make good use of excess harvests, and making good quality local produce accessible for those in need (sadly, fresh nutritious produce is not often available at food pantries).

The site gives exposure to small and largely unpublicised pantries so that they can be located much easier by those looking to make a donation, and allows gardeners to simply enter their zip code to find the closest participating pantry. Pantries can also use the site to specify when they are accepting fresh produce donations, so gardeners know exactly where and when to go.

Participate in growing food for others

Participate in growing food for others

Participate in growing food for others

Registration and participation in this program is absolutely free for food pantries and gardeners. Food banks can a network that makes it convenient for donators and pantries to locate and work with each other. If you are interested in this program (and we hope you are!), food banks have tons of information about how to register your pantry, how to locate a participating pantry in your area, and how to prepare and deliver your produce.

There is no good reason that any edible piece of produce should end up rotting in the garden soil, so after you’ve given away or canned as much as you’re able, a food pantry will happily accept the rest. This is a win all around: good food gets to those who need it, gardeners can contribute to the community without spending extra money, and nothing usable is wasted. So, as we enter the holiday season, a time we reflect on what we have and try our best to provide for those who don’t, remember that providing for others needs to happen year-round, and this giving can be a natural part of our favourite hobbies and daily life.

How to creating a Rockery Garden

A Rockery Garden, it can look good and can provide a suitable environment for growing plants which would otherwise be smothered by more vigorous neighbours in your borders.

The first thing to consider is location – the rockery should be shade free for most of the day. Next, size. Aim for a minimum area of about three and a half square metres (forty square feet). Then, choose the rocks carefully. Many types are available in garden centres, or you could possibly use a local quarry. Either way choose something that will match any other rocks in your garden/house and ideally use a rock that features in your natural landscape as these will look much better.

If you are creating the rock garden in a lawned area, all the turf and any perennial weeds should be completely removed – very important you don’t want these coming up in the middle of your rockery.

If the area is badly drained it is essential that this is improved or choose another location.

Then, it’s a matter of setting your stones in place. These should have been chosen carefully and should all be of the same type of rock. Choose which face of the stone you want exposed, then look for strata lines – these should all flow in the same direction so your stones all need aligning with each other to look like a natural outcrop. If you don’t go through this process, the garden will not look natural at all – just a pile of soil with rocks dotted here and there.

Place the stones in positions in relation to each other, which look pleasing, leaving small gaps between as planting holes.

The rocks need a firm foundation of rubble so that they don’t move and can be walked over. The top surface of exposed rock should slope into the garden, so that when it rains water will not be shed but will percolate through, watering all your plants. Build up the rocks in layers, moving across the garden in lines and stand back frequently and check the over-all effect.

Add a decent planting mix around the rocks. If you’ve got good topsoil this can be mixed with 1 part leafmould or other well rotted organic matter and 1 part stone chippings or grit.

Most plants that will grow in rocky situations survive best on low nutrient levels so don’t add any fertiliser.

Then add the plants – choose alpines which are not vigorous, otherwise one or two will come to dominate the whole area. This way you can get lots of different types of plants in the various positions which will flower throughout the year and will look great. Finish off with a top dressing of grit or chippings that is sympathetic to the rock colour.

Maintenance will largely involve weeding and adding new grit where necessary.

There are many, many thousands of plants you can grow in these situations but here are just five to get you started: Androsace lanuginosa, Campanula carpatica, Cyclamen hederifolium, Erinus alpinus and, lastly, Lewisia cotyledon.

What garden hand tools make for a great gardening experience

It can be daunting looking serious project in the garden, you just really don’t know how to approach such a big task. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of professionals out there they can more than easily handle the task or project that you have in mind but that’s expensive and we really want to try and work out how we can compartmentalise the job and get it done without spending that’s all the money. In this article and take a closer look at what gardening hand tools will really make things feeling overwhelmed.

You just can’t go wrong with a garden fork and spade

One of the most important garden hand tools you can start with his fork and spade. You just can’t go wrong organising yourself a high quality kit here. You use a fork and spade more than any other item in the garden and it doesn’t really matter what the project is, you really going to benefit from spending the money here. From my perspective it makes sense to buy a garden fork and spade that have got a complete metal frame handle. Don’t buy one with a handle that wooden or plastic because he ultimately it will break and just mean that you need a second trip up to the garden centre.

Next on the list of garden hand tools is a high quality set of garden shears. It doesn’t matter what garden you work with, you’re always going to need to trim and prune bushes. Trimming and pruning bushes with blunt tools is a real nightmare. Not only is it difficult to cut through shrubs. It’s also difficult to make sure that you keep them healthy. If you’ve got a blunt Edge then you do more damage to the tree or shrub. This means that your own unlikely to do any serious or good work with them.

My favourite garden hand tools to get the job done

Without a doubt my favourite garden hand tools is the edging tool. This unique and interesting tool can really help you keep your grass beds and law and looking really sharp. There’s nothing worse than having the launch slightly over growing into the flower bed and it looks kinda rough and not not straight or even. This beautiful wedding tall can actually solve that with no issues at all when is extremely easy to use. It’s actually really quick as well if you’ve got a sharp blade it means that it will cut the lawn very straight too.

Given that it only costs a few pounds it’s really a great item to have in the shed. I know you aren’t actually going use it all that much because it’s basically only for trimming the glass straight, but ultimately it’s a great piece of kit to have around.

Why not consider power tools as well to get the job done in the garden.

I know we talking about hand tools but it’s also actually quite useful to have some battery powered or electric tools in the garden. Just imagine if you’ve got a tree stump do you need to cut up using a hand saw is actually quite a pain in the neck. If you’ve got something like an electric chainsaw for example that a really speed things up for you and of course doesn’t actually have to cost that much money at all. I’ve seen chainsaws in Screwfix for example for less than £50. If you consider that a normal bow saw could cost you as much as £20 then it’s not all that expensive.

Coton Manor is a Beautiful traditional English Garden

Coton Manor is a beautiful traditional English garden centred around a honey-coloured 17th Coton Manor house. In the 1920s the present owner’s grandparents began developing the garden and successive generations have continued this process to the present day, making best use of its natural setting which provides stunning views across the Northamptonshire countryside

Close to the house, terraces and borders are filled with plants such as Alchemilla mollis (Garden Lady’s-mantle), Centranthus ruber (Red valerian), Euphorbia and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ and throughout the year large pots are changed with the seasons using Tulips, Agapanthus, Lilies and Osteospermums. But perhaps it is the climbers such as Wisteria and Clematis grandiflora covering the walls of the house that at their peak, provide a stunning backdrop to the rest of the planting.

In 2005 the owners took the difficult decision to clear the Old Rose Garden next to the house as problems with rose sickness had become too difficult to overcome (perhaps not surprising as it is thought roses had been grown in this location since the 1920s). It was decided to replant with specimens that enjoy sun and good drainage so the subsoil was replaced with gravel, the original top soil replaced and the whole area thoroughly dug over. Planting now includes Lavender, Agapanthus, Sedums and Salvias. Some of the new plants are tender and only time will tell which will thrive and which will need to be replaced.

Water forms a large part of the charm of this garden and on arrival one of the first views is of a large spring-fed informal pond surrounded by grass and mature trees but this is just the first of many water features. One of the most spectacular is the formal rill bordered by closely mown grass set amongst old apple trees underplanted with spring flowering bulbs, Cowslips and Snake’s head fritillaries. The contrast of the formal and informal in this area was a brave design move yet it works surprisingly well. Although of considerable age the trees are still productive and the apples and pears are used for making jams and chutneys in the shop and for puddings in the Garden School.

The garden makes full use of its site at the top of the hill, not just in its views, but also in how it uses its supply of water. The main pond supplies the water garden which meanders its way down the hillside and provides something of interest for much of the year including Primula, Ligularia, Caltha, Astilbe, Acer and Hosta. On a warm sunny day this cool shady area contrasts nicely with the hot terraces above.

Coton Manor is lucky enough to have two examples of the most wonderful sites in the plant world: a Bluebell wood and a wild flower meadow. Visiting the garden in the second week of May 2010 on a beautiful sunny day the Bluebells were looking spectacular beneath the Beech trees. There are no Spanish invaders, no other understorey (or understorey, underbrush, undergrowth) planting to spoil the effect, just lovely English Bluebells. The recently planted wildflower meadow has recently been added to provide conservation interest in the garden. In May Buttercups provide the first splash of colour with the meadow really coming into its own during June and July with Ox-eye daises, Meadow crane’s bill, Ragged robin, Common vetch and Yellow rattle, followed by Knapweed, Field scabious, Birds-foot trefoil, Wild carrot, Yarrow and Lady’s bedstraw. A meandering path cut into the meadow allows visitors to wander at leisure in amongst the flowers and insects attracted to their nectar.

One of the most practical sides of this garden is that most of the plants are clearly labelled so the visitor can make a nlabelled so the visitor can make a note of their favourites and perhaps even purchase a specimen from the well-stocked nursery. Those gardeners who would like to learn more about gardening would do well to check out the Garden School which runs half and full day courses on a variety of topics often presented by lecturers who are top of their field such as Fergus Garrett, James Alexander-Sinclair and Bunny Guiness.

This garden can certainly both inspire and educate the visitor: it would not be difficult to recreate planting combinations in smaller back gardens while at the same time the continuing redevelopment gives the garden the opportunity to take account of some of today’s ‘hot topics’ such as planting for biodiversity and climate change.

February to March

April to May

June to July

August to September

September to October

Thank you images by website

Coton Manor is located near Junction 1 of the A14 at Coton, Northamptonshire, NN6 8RQ.

Think Your Hanging Basket is Big? You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet!

We do love hanging baskets here at the Garden Toolbox blog, and they’re always guaranteed to put a little smile on our faces. Usually, when we talk about hanging baskets, we mean the small type that we’ll hang over our front doors; or even indoors if we’re feeling a little creative about interior design. What we don’t mean is a basket that would literally pull the entire house down if we ever tried to hang it off a tiny pole above the front door, or at least block enough sun that our home ended up in perpetual darkness. That’s probably why the bloke who designed this giant hanging basket doesn’t do something as silly as trying to hang it there.

If you have trouble remembering to water your hanging baskets then you’ll probably want to avoid growing one as big as Dusty Bessleys (great name by the way!). His 5.5 tonne basket is made up of more than 2,500 plants; measuring 21 feet wide and ten feet deep, and if he wants to water it he has to climb a ladder and take a good chunk of time out of his day. Thankfully an automatic sprinkling system waters the plants twice a day, but he does have to climb inside the basket from time to time to tend the plants; a feeling he describes as “a bit like being at sea”.

The structure was created by burying a h-shaped girder in the ground along with four metres of concrete. The basket itself is made up of steel greenhouse hoops that are suspended from chains held together with a central pin. In other words, you’re not going to be hanging it from your house any time soon. He then added plants such as geraniums, marigolds and pansies.

Dusty isn’t man to sit on his laurels, welcoming all challengers by saying “if anyone can come up with anything bigger then I’d like to see it.” Although if someone made one even bigger when would it cease being a hanging basket and instead becoming a flower shaped Eiffel Tower?

Unfortunately Dusty can’t get a Guinness Book of Records entry for it; apparently “they don’t do records for these”, but if a guy can get a record for tallest mohican then surely Dusty should get a bit of recognition? He’s taken the UK record instead, although we should point out that he pretty much just made that up on the spot.

Apart from being a pretty magnificent sight Dusty’s flower explosion has actually raised almost £20,000 for charities since he first hoisted the hanging basket up. This money is raised by people having a go at guessing the amount of flowers in the basket, and this year it’s going to prostate cancer charities, so it’s definitely a worthy cause.

If you do fancy going to take a look at his big one you can see it at Beesleys Garden Centre in Ravenstone, Leicestershire. Just try not to bang your head on it like I usually do with hanging baskets! Unfortunately we only sell the small kind of hanging baskets, but that’s probably for the best.

British Government Racing to Stop English Oak Tree From Being Wiped Out

oak sapling

oak sapling

Have you got an oak tree in your garden? Or even just oak trees in your local area that you’re particularly fond of? Unfortunately they may not be around much longer if the mystery disease that’s currently affecting them across the UK isn’t dealt with before it tightens its deadly grip on all the oak trees around the country. Thankfully the British government is trying to do something about it, but is it already too late?

The British government is spending £1.1 million on an emergency project to save the spectacular English oak tree. The mysterious disease causes the trees to ‘bleed to death’, killing oaks within four years once it takes hold. It causes ‘dark weeping patches’, mostly on the stems of oak trees that are more than 50 years old, which is what gives the disease the appearance of causing ‘bleeding’.

So, the task that the government has is to try and stop the spread before it wipes out our heritage. They’re doing this by felling thousands of trees, stripping the bark and burning them in an effort to stop the spread. It’s unfortunate that so many trees have to be destroyed, but it’s the price we have to pay to make sure that the tree doesn’t go extinct.

Dr Jaems McDonald, from Bangor University, is doing DNA research to try and identify the bacteria, although one theory is that the oak jewel beetle is causing it.

“It is a very complicated issue. It could involve new bacteria that have been isolated from the lesions on the stems or the oak jewel beetle. We are looking at their involvement but both could be passive bystanders in the process. We don’t know.”

A big effort is being made to understand how the disease spreads, with the government conducting a large scale study of trees across Britain and taking samples from 200 woodlands. The latter is being carried out by the Forestry Commission and bioscience experts at Bangor and Cambridge Universities.

The head of the Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Service told the Daily Mail that “we are determined to do everything possible to protect our trees”. Let’s hope that it works, or the UK will suffer the loss of a magnificent tree that has become a staple of the British countryside.

UK Charity Soil Association is Working to Encourage a Healthy and Sustainable Planet

We’ve been talking a lot lately about the value of teaching children gardening skills, but it’s important that they learn about other aspects around that too. Children also need to learn about where their food comes from, how it can be done organically and protecting the environment around them so that the next generation can continue to help foster a sustainable future for our planet. We also believe that a lot of adults from learning these things too, not only because they can teach their children skills they themselves have learned but also because we need to begin creating a healthy and liveable planet today and not just in the future. This is why projects like the Stroud Valleys Project are so important, and there are many others, such as the Soil Association, working towards similar goals.

The Soil Association is the UK’s leading membership charity that campaigns for healthy, humane and sustainable food sources, farming and land use. They believe that healthy soil and healthy people is the key to creating a healthy planet for everyone; whether that is plant, animal or human life. It’s a big promoter of organic solutions to fostering a “durable and humane solution to the challenges facing us”. It does this by concentrating on three key areas;

  • Planning for the future: People should be able to live, eat, farm and grow from the resources that are available. More work is also needed on new solutions to tackle climate change, support biodiversity and improve animal welfare and fairness. They encourage organic farming; meaning no factory farming, no genetically modified crops and creating havens for wildlife.
  • ‘Good food’ should be available to all: People should have access to fresh organically grown, minimally processed and fairly traded food as a right. Its ‘Food For Life Partnership’ works in schools to help improve the life and health of children around the country, encouraging communities to build healthier food cultures by growing organic food wherever possible.
  • To enable and inspire change: The Soil Association also works with farmers and businesses to offer technical advice and provide the Soil Association Certification. This certification hopes to create and inspire consumer trust in the organic market, and by helping customers understand organic principles they will hopefully trust the product stamped with the certification logo.

The Soil Association continues to promote these three key principles through various campaigns and activities that run throughout the UK. They have recently received a £3.6 million grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s Well-Being Programme that is being put towards their ‘Food For Life Partnership’ to continue the charity’s work in schools.

They will also run Open Farm Sunday on 9 June, where you can visit farms near you to meet the farmers who grow your food and care for the countryside, which is excellent for all the family. These days have various activities, mostly for free, such as viewing newly hatched chickens, seeing animals being cared for (such as pigs rolling about in the mud), farm walks, tractor rides and more. Take a look here for all the farms that will be taking part in the day.

One campaign you can get behind is the ‘Not in my banger’ campaign. This is campaigning against industrial pig farming; they believe that pigs should be allowed outdoors to enjoy normal pig behaviour, mother pigs should be allowed to build a nest and no pigs should have their tails chopped off. You can take part in this by donating, or simply buying pork products that have labels like ‘outdoor bred’, ‘outdoor reared’ or ‘free range’.

Supporting charity’s and organisations like the Soil Association is key to making sure animal welfare remains a top priority, children and adults alike are encouraged to eat healthy food and people know how to maintain a sustainable environment and grow their own food. You can learn more about the Soil Association here, and it’s definitely worth getting clued up on the key principles.

The Doctor Who Maze

Whilst this is not strictly gardening related; it’s in the ball-park enough for us to give it a mention. If you’re a Doctor Who fan you’ll certainly appreciate it, assuming you haven’t had the opportunity to see it already…

We present to you a maze that has been shaped to form a Dalek and two of the Doctors who have been featured in the show, both past and present (William Hartnell and Matt Smith, to be precise).

You can get an idea of just how big the maze is by looking at the houses on the left of the picture and trust us when we say that they aren’t small houses by any means! The maze itself measures over 300m in length (roughly a 1000ft for those of you who aren’t great at converting) and has been carved into a maize field in the North Yorkshire area. More impressive is the fact that over 6 miles (10km) has been cut into the fields to form these pathways that magnificently depict the Doctor Who show so well. The time this must have taken to get right almost hurts to think about…

Obviously by now you’re wondering who’s done this and why? Well, we can tell you that an award winning company called YorkMaze Ltd are the ones responsible for this spectacle. In fact, they design a different maze every year and make it an annual event between July and September. As for why, well, it’s the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who this year and to mark the occasion the team at YorkMaze thought this would be rather appropriate. Colin Baker, the actor who played the part of Time Lord back in the 80’s was so impressed that he happily agreed to open the attraction on July 13th.

York Maze have previously created a Harry Potter themed maze too.

York Maze have previously created a Harry Potter themed maze too. || source :

As previously stated, the maze is only available until September (8 weeks from opening) because the field is full of maize and needs to be harvested before it dies. Then they rinse and repeat in preparation for the next year! You can even provide your own design ideas to them if you feel you’ve got something that would work well as a maze…

For more information on getting there, ticket prices and other attractions in the area, check out the YorkMaze website mentioned previously – everything you need to know for a great day out can be found by having a browse on there.

So, if you have a significant other or family member that is a massive Doctor Who fan, get in the car and have a journey up to North Yorkshire and treat them to a day that they will be hard pushed to forget. Mostly because of the blisters on their feet after trying to navigate a 6 mile maze, but don’t blame us for that! Just make sure you don’t pick a 30°C day to visit on as the maze takes over an 90 minutes to navigate and we don’t want to be responsible for adding to the number of sunburn pictures that are being posted on social media sites.

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