Wednesday, 23 January 2013

What NOT to do in January 1840

"Never under any circumstances give a plant in a pot a very little dose of water because the weather happens to be dull and the plant not thoroughly dry. The true rule for watering pot plants is to wait till they are really dry, really in want of it, and then give them a thorough dose, by filling up the pot to the brim, and repeating the operation when the first dose has sunk.

Never water a plant in a pot from the sides of which the earth has shrunk away, leaving a crack all round. The earth should be firmly pressed down with the thumb or with a blunt stick; that once done, the water will sink equally through the ball instead of quickly passing down the sides, leaving the ball and most of the roots dry."          The Amateur Gardener's Calendar by Jane Loudon (1840)

"Never move soils or manures, or barrows or carts with any heavy load over the soft surface of a garden while you have an opportunity of doing it when the ground is frozen hard, as it may be done so much easier in the latter case."

"Avoid as far as possible digging when the soil is saturated with water."

In the Greenhouse

"Never wait for the presence of more than half a dozen specimens of aphis to be assured that fumigation is required."

"Never waste valuable space on the stages, pits or benches of houses by keeping on them dormant fuchsias, bulbs, subtropical plants etc. which will be quite as well stowed under the said benches or stages, or in any dark place perfectly free from frost.

Never commence any forcing of fruits, or plants, or indeed any important stage of cultivation in a plant house of any kind without having previously thoroughly cleansed every surface."

Jane Loudon (1807 - 1858)

 It all sounds very sensible and familiar and I particularly like the one about not digging! We have hundreds of books, magazines, TV programmes, websites and blogs all telling us what to do (or not do) in January, February, March ....  It's difficult for us to imagine a time when such advice was not freely available.  Jane Loudon changed all that.

Her husband, John C Loudon, was an eminent horticulturalist who had published numerous works on gardening.  Before her marriage she knew nothing about botany but she worked with him and learnt how to plant and propagate in his meticulous manner.  They were regarded as the leading horticulturalists of their day - the Victorian equivalents of  Mony Don and Sarah Raven.  Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackery were counted as friends.

Jane realised that the garden manuals of the day were not written with amateurs in mind: they were aimed at people with some experience and knowledge so didn't go back to basics.  'Instructions in Gardening for Ladies'  was published in 1840 and went on to sell over 200,000 copies.  It is still in print today. 

She published a number of gardening books  which are now collectors' items.  One is up for sale in New York at $19500 (over £12,000).  I've searched the attic but we must have thrown our copy away.

Alternatively, you can read them for free here!

The most expensive books contain her beautiful art.

You can see an exhibition of her work at the Victoria and Albert Museum or just read a little more about her life (she was a real Victorian heroine) by clicking here.

Using the word 'horticulture' made me think of another female I admire ... Dorothy Parker   (1893 -1967).
As a panelist on a radio show she was asked to use the word 'horticultural' in a sentence.  Quick as a flash she replied, "You can lead a whore to culture but you cannot make her think!"

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Kirby Hall

It had been snowing overnight so we set off early to get to Kirby Hall on time for the English Heritage tour.  The site has limited open days at this time of year but this was an exclusive members only tour.  We had to leave the car at the gates and walk down the snow covered drive but that gave us a wonderful first view of the house.  It appeared shrouded in fog like a set from a ghost film: the epitome of wealth and elegance.  It came as a surprise to find we were the only people taking the tour until they explained they had managed to contact everyone else to tell them not to come!  But Beryl was happy to be our private guide.

Kirby Hall was built in 1583 by Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor to Elizabeth 1.  In 1561 he came to the attention of Elizabeth as a young man of 21 fresh out of Oxford.  Apparently she was much enamoured by his legs ... and his dancing ability.  (My history teacher called her The Virgin Queen: modern media would have a different title I'm sure!).  A contemporary described Hatton as "tall and proportionable" and he became one of the Queen's favourites.  By 1564 he was a member of the Privy Chamber; by 1572 the Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard; in 1577 he became Vice Chamberlain of the Royal Household and she gave him a knighthood. Another gift was a London property belonging to the Bishop of Ely - the Bishop was not impressed but what could he do?  That part of London is still called Hatton Gardens. Mary Queen of Scots was convinced he was being rewarded for some very special royal duties that he carried out for the Queen!  

Hatton built the Kirby Hall with Elizabeth in mind. 

At the time it was the largest privately owned Elizabethean house in England.  It was reported to have been 7,300 square metres.  It was three stories high; had two large state rooms; a beautiful long gallery and well furnished accomodation for elite society and their servants.  It was built in the Italian style - symmetrical facades; Doric columns and 123 huge glass windows (at a time when glass was very expensive).  He had rooms specially decorated for Elizabeth and private rooms directly above hers for himself. 
This was the original building. 

The cost of building the place almost bankrupted Hatton.  He died relatively penniless eight years after its completion. Unfortunately there are no records that Elizabeth  ever spent a single night in that house. 

On Charles Hatton's death it passed to his nephew.  In 1607 it was bought by James 1 and 40 years later Charles 1 was kept prisoner there for six months until he was handed over to Parliament.  The property was then sold to Adam Baynes, a captain in the New Model Army.  He demolished most of it - leaving only a small domestic wing!  It was remodelled in the nineteenth century but fell into disrepair.

I don't believe in ghosts but I left there feeling slightly bereft.  Don't get me wrong - I had enjoyed the tour, well worth the trip,  but that house had been so full of life and hopes and dreams and now those days were gone.  The house was like a ghost and English Heritage now look after the remains.

I will return to Kirby Hall at some point just to see the formal gardens ... and the sixteen peacocks.

  In the 1700s the gardens covered 15 acres.  It has a formal structure that stretches out 1700 feet to a stream and a 'wilderness' area which was carefully laid out as it contained " almost the whole variety of English trees and ranged in an elegant order." 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Twig listing!

Guest Blogger - Andy Mason

Here's a handy method to identify some common garden birds - just keep your eye on a single twig!

Every birder lists. Any birder that tells you he/she doesn't keep any list at all is being economical with the truth. I know all manner of birders...some with world lists of over 7 000 species, a lot with world lists of 4 000 - 5 000 and even more with world lists around 1 - 2 000 (Which is where I am). I know walkers who like to bird when they are walking and some of them claim not to keep any lists at all. So what is it you are writing in that little notebook as we are walking then? I know a bloke who keeps a TV list - all the birds he has seen on the TV; a bloke who keeps a bog list - not the marshy kind but birds he has seen whilst sitting on his loo! The most common are year lists, patch lists, county lists and country lists - any country that the birder has visited. Some dedicated birders keep day lists and where they get the time from for this they only know.
Because the BTO and the RSPB publicise garden bird-watching (The BTO all year; the RSPB during a single weekend) nearly everyone has a garden list.
I have taken this a stage further and thought I'd start a TWIG list! Pick a single twig and see what lands on it. This narrows your birding right down!
This year I have seen 17 species on this single twig. It's kind of interesting and rigidly boring at the same time....I need to get out more.
I have managed to get some photos of a number of species to prove that I am looking at the same twig. So Long-tailed Tit:
Long-tailed Tit - On a twig
And Goldfinch in this week's snow.
Goldfinch - On THE twig
 And Great Tit before the snow - much the most frequent denizen of that twig.
Great Tit - On THE twig
 Greenfinch in the snow - the second most frequent bird.
Greenfinch - Same twig
 Blackbird - obviously! No other thrushes though 'cus there aren't any.
Blackbird - Same twig
Blue Tit. Not as frequent as I would have thought. Probably too wary of the local Sparrowhawk and so these pop out and soon shoot back into the cover of the bushes behind.
Blue Tit - Same, it is!
 And Chaffinch which doesn't seem to be much bothered by anything, including our cat.
Chaffinch - On THE twig
Siskin, Tree Sparrow and Dunnock have been on and off as though they were electrocuted. Wren, Robin and Coal Tit are much more frequent but I have not had the camera handy. Starling, Collared Dove, House Sparrow and Song Thrush have been Twigged but only once.
Now you just know you want to find your own twig!

Follow Andy Mason at

Sunday, 13 January 2013


This is Stinking Hellebore or Dungwort (Helleborus foetidus).  Personally I think I prefer its other name - Bear's Foot.  It's an evergreen perennial, very easy to grow and it is taking over one of the borders in my garden.  One plant can produce hundreds of seeds; Andy bought one plant about fifteen years ago so we now have a self seeding problem!  At this time of year when there is very little else happening I don't really mind.  Despite its name I have never noticed a smell from it but I do know it is poisonous and can cause vomitting so I'm careful not to handle it too much.  It prefers well drained soil in a shaded position.

Obviously these are very easy to grow from seed but if you want a plant now Victoriana Nursery Gardens will send you 5 scented 'Miss Jekyll's' for £1.40 each.  They are also offering a Cottage Collection of mixed colours and cultivars or the hybrid Lenten Rose 'Helen Ballard' for the same price  .... the more you buy the cheaper they get ....  buy 100 they are charging 85p a plant.

Helen Ballard was famous for her work with hellebores.  She began late in life with just four plants: two whites and two reds.  Over thirty years she introduced new varieties and colours.  Farmyard Nursery offer a beautiful range of her double hellebores priced between £9.99 and £11.99 per plant.  Alternatively, if you want to follow her example, Mr Fothergills will send you a deep burgundy variety and a white one with pink edges for £12.95.

B&Q had an offer on this week in my area - three Christmas Roses for £10 which I thought quite reasonable because the plants I could see were a good size ... but they only had two! 

Ashwood Nursery have a magical collection on their website too. I can totally understand why Hellen Ballard became obsessed!

Thompson and Morgan have Christmas Rose seeds for 69 pence (40 seeds) or Washfield Doubles (10 seeds) for £4.99.  I tried them last year but they failed to germinate.  Perhaps I took them out of the fridge too soon!  I will try again this year.

This is the hellebore I wish was taking over the garden!  Helleborous niger. I bought it from Wilko last year.  It was in a very sorry state so I got it at a cut down price but it survived and it has returned this year ... it's only just appearing at the moment ... this picture is from last year.  Who knows, with some care and attention I might be telling you about another self seeding problem in fifteen years!


Feeling creative?  There is a very detailed stencil available here.  Perfect for making your own gift paper, table cloth, wall decoration ....

Use the link at the side to read more about Helen Ballard or Hellebores.

Saturday, 12 January 2013


A fews weeks ago Shirl at Shirl's Gardenwatch suggested peanut butter as a treat for the birds.  Well, today we gave it a try.  We smeared it on the tree bark; we left small piles on top of the rose arch and we put some inside a bird feeder.

It didn't last long!

The garden was full of hungry birds.  This blackbird was so keen to get his share of the treat he attempted to hover at the feeder.  Blackbirds don't hover! He took to flying by and grabbing a beakful.  Thanks Shirl, it was a very good suggestion.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Stuck in a Rut!

Inspired by Rooko and Garden 65 I eventually ventured out to the allotment yesterday.  I planned to stay a couple of hours. It was a lovely crisp day ... perfect for digging a bed or two. 

As we slowly drove through the gates I said, "I don't think this is a good idea.  It's very muddy and we might get stuck."
"You're right," he replied as the car moved side ways.  "Best reverse and leave it on the track."
Mud began to fly as the wheels started to spin.  We pushed and shoved, we put straw and carpet bits under the wheels, we cursed our stupidity but we were well and truly stuck.
At the nearby stable we met Trevor.  He didn't have a 4x4 but he did have a large rope (and a heart problem for which he'd had a by-pass and 9 stents fitted but he'd changed his diet and leant to take things a bit easier ....!).  Lovely man who went out of his way to help.  Then the pig farmer drove by ... Trevor's neighbour ... so he stopped to help which was useful because he was driving a 4x4!  As we were slowly being pulled out two more men stopped to make sure we were okay.  People can be so nice.  Wouldn't the world be a marvelous place if we all acted with thought and consideration like this all the time?

Well, Andy took the car to be washed and I stayed to do a bit of the digging.  I didn't want to leave when he came back for me.  This always happens ... the idea of going there doesn't really appeal but once I am there I love it! 

I picked some leeks and onions and went home to make Leek and Potato Soup.  I thought about consulting the Sarah Raven Cook Book but decided to just chuck everything in a pan then add some chicken stock and a few herbs. Delicious! 
Recipe here.

Last night I won first prize in a raffle - a bottle of wine - but I don't drink.  People always look amazed when I say that ... I must look like a drinker!  I tried one of those alcopop things a few years ago and fell out of the car when he got me home!  The last time I was properly drunk was February 1975 ... the night I met my husband!  Anyway, I digress.  I asked for the second prize instead - this lovely Spring basket. Much better.  It was the only reason I entered the raffle.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Sir Joseph Paxton

We went for a walk near Chatsworth House today.  They have cleaned the stone and painted parts of it gold ... it's looking great!
Chatsworth House
Joseph Paxton - 1803 - 1865
Chatsworth Head Gardener
 Joseph Paxton was a remarkable man.  He was born in 1803, the seventh son of a poor farmer.  He was not formally educated as he left home at 15 to work as a gardener at Battlesden Park near Woburn. By the age of 19 his talent for design showed through when he created his first lake.

A year later he applied for a job at the  Horticultural Society’s Chiswick Gardens.  He was only 20 years old so he added a couple of years to improve his chances.  He got the job but some historical records still state he was born in 1801 due to this falsehood. 

 He had a flair for his job and developed a reputation for hard work.  After only a year he was promoted to foreman. Over the course of the next two years Paxton became known to William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire, and owner of Chatsworth House.  Cavendish was a hugely important man at the time: he was Chamberlain to King William IV; owned vast tracks of land and was a personal friend of such people as  Charles Dickens and Czar Nicholas I of Russia.  One of his properties was next door to Chiswick and the Duke would frequently take a short cut through the garden.  He was so impressed by the young Paxton that he offered him the post of Head Gardener at Chatsworth.  Paxton was 23 years old.

Apparently Paxton accepted the position and immediately caught a train to Chatsworth.  He climbed over a wall to gain admittance because the Duke was abroad.  He spent his first day wandering round the grounds and meeting the housekeeper's daughter - she was destined to become Mrs Paxton.

The Duke developed a passion for gardening after meeting Paxton and the two men made radical changes to the grounds around Chatsworth.  Over the next six years Paxton designed an arboretum, fountains and a model village.
Between 1836 and 1842 he created this magnificent structure:
It cost £33,000 to build and at the time it was the largest glass building in the world.  Queen Victoria took a carriage ride through it.  It was heated by coal which had to be transported in small trains through underground tunnels.  It proved far too costly to heat during the First World War (and they didn't have the staff to keep it going anyway) so all the plants died.  It had to be demolished in 1923.  It had been so well built it took four attempts to blow it up.

Another one of Paxton's structures which has been lost to us was built to house a giant lily named after Queen Victoria, Victoria amazonica, Paxton had been given the specimen after it had failed to flower for the staff at Kew Gardens.  The Chatsworth gardeners succeeded.  The leaves of the plant are large enough to accommodate a child.
In 1844 Czar Nicholas I of Russia declared his intention to visit Chatsworth the following year.  The Duke wanted something to impress his guest and Paxton designed The Emperor's Fountain.  An eight-acre lake was dug on the moors 350 feet above the house to supply the water pressure needed.  It took six months to construct but the Czar died before he could make the journey.  The fountain has reached a height of 90ft but tends to operate at half that pressure.  Here's a YouTube video of it in operation.
After the Great Exhibition the Crystal Palace was moved to Penge

Paxton is most famous for designing Crystal Palace - the building that housed the Great Exhibition of 1851.  Over 200 designs were submitted.  Paxton drew his on a piece of blotting paper. The building  was erected in just six months, with 293,655 panes of glass, 330 huge iron columns and 24 miles of gutters.  It was destroyed by fire in 1936.

Sir Paxton was knighted in 1851.  He died in 1865.  He had packed a lot into his 62 years:

  • During the 1830s Paxton was editor of a horticultural magazine and set up The Daily News ( appointing Charles Dickens as editor).
  • Paxton's Flower Garden was published in three volumns between 1850 and 1853
  • He was a leading figure in the railways and improved his wealth through investing in their development. 
  • From 1854 to 1865 he was MP for Coventry.  
  • We can still see his influence today in many of our public parks as he was responsible for landscaping in many parts of the country.

An illustration from Paxton's Flower Garden:

Sunday, 6 January 2013


Andy has joined the 365 Project - you document your life by taking a photograph each day for a year.  This is going to be very useful for me as I 'borrow' his pictures for this blog.

Saturday was warm and sunny and he joined me in the garden to photograph the snowdrops.  A lot of ours are out already.  I've made a note of the Easton Walled Garden Snowdrop Week (16th - 24th February) and I went to the NGS website to check the dates for others ... that's when I found the App!  I now have the Yellow Book on my phone!  Isn't technology wonderful!  We have information at our fingertips: we can communicate with family and friends at the touch of a button.  I know it can intrude at times but we are in control so we can switch it off.  There's a lot of lonely old people out there from my mother's generation but I'm convinced my generation won't feel quite so isolated as we blog and tweet from our nursing homes!

Anyway, if you want to note down the dates of the Snowdrop Weeks in your area you can find the dates here.

In the mean time I have uploaded that snowdrop picture to the Jane Greenoff Cross Stitch Gold program and it came out looking like this:-

I've put the chart on the Craft page (see tab at top) ... sorry it's not very good, I will try to produce a better copy in the next few days!

Another date for your diary is coming up - 26th - 27th January is the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch.  If you register now they will send you a £5 voucher to spend on their on line shop. 

The BTO are also asking for information this month - they are conducting a January survey on Blackcaps:

"Blackcaps are an increasingly common sight at garden feeding stations during winter and are spotted most often early in the New Year. The foods that we provide seem to be having a profound effect on the ecology of these birds, changing their migratory patterns and subsequent nesting habits.
With your help, we want to find out more about the behaviour of Blackcaps in winter gardens. Choose one day this January to help us answer these three key questions:
1) Which foods are Blackcaps eating?
2) Are there equal numbers of male and female Blackcaps?
3) Are the Blackcaps aggressive with other, similar sized birds?"

While I'm mentioning birds I will just add a link to Cock of the Rock ... Andy has been out birding every day this year and is growing increasingly concerned about the lack of thrushes in our area.  Very few Redwings, Fieldfares, Mistle Thrushes or Song Thrushes.  Hopefully they are all happily feeding in other parts of the country!

Happy spotting!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Virtual Gardening

I was looking for free gardening apps for my phone.  I don't know why ... I hardly ever use apps!  Anyway, in the process I came across an app called My Garden.  The blurb described it as "a mobile version of the excellent My Garden social networking site."

I'd never heard of the My Garden social networking site.

Well, I had a look.  It's free to join and there are over 4000 members at the present time.  It began in 2011 with the intention of helping gardeners share advice.  From the site you can link to the other members; make your own To Do calender (list the plants you already grow and the calender shows you what's blooming each month in your garden and tells you when to prune it ... I quite liked that!); send messages; create a wishlist and ask for exchanges.  For a small fee you can get additional features including the ability to add a link to your blog so possibly increasing your readership. It is still being developed but I think it will be successful in the same way Ravelry has worked for the knitting online community.

  Of course the RHS online community, also called My Garden,  links you to other gardeners and offers advice too. I envisage a sort of class war in the offing ... rather like Facebook followers v Twitter!


Do you know about the Marks & Spencer Christmas card recycling scheme?  They have special bins in store all month and for every 1000 cards collected M&S will plant a tree with the Woodland Trust.

We have a good weather forecast for our area tomorrow so I plan to do some REAL gardening for a change!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013



I know this is a very late post but it's been a lovely, busy couple of weeks.  Our sons returned with their girlfriends so the house was full of people to feed.  Lots of laughter, hours of talking and far too many calories later they have packed up and driven away again so I have time to relax. 

2012 was a memorable year.  My mother celebrated her 90th birthday; one sister became a grandmother while the other survived a cancer scare; my eldest son qualified to fly fast jets and my younger one began working for Warwick University SU. And what did I do?  I got an allotment, enjoyed my garden, saw a bit more of the world and started this blog.  Does that sound dull?  I've had a wonderful year!  "May you live in interesting times" is an old Chinese curse ... I'm hoping to be just as content in 2013 as I am now!

The sun was shining this morning and the bird feeders were full.  I looked round for likely subjects to photograph and was pleasantly surprised to find the snowdrops are about to bloom ...

and the primulas are out...

.... while these hellebores have sprung up all over the place.  I'm not complaining as I quite like them when they are fully grown but I have an hour or two of transplanting to do.

I spent half an hour in the greenhouse this morning examining the geranium cuttings and checking the sweetpeas.  Won't be long now until the heater will be on and the seed trays filled. 

My seed wish list is complete.  I collected quite a few seeds last autumn so lupins, cornflowers, poppies etc should be okay. I have been looking for smelly flowers in the catalogues this year.  I want to walk passed that trellis and delight in a heady perfume!  I now have to compare the catalogues to get the best prices.  Someone needs to create a website like based on major seed retailers.  The prices per packet and the number of seeds vary quite considerably.

Once I've finished my flower list I still have to make my veg list ... I can't believe there are so many different kinds of carrots!

Here's a few views from 2012: