Mega mulching

When the 900-litre bag of compost that I ordered online was first unloaded, I thought I might have miscalculated. How on earth (no pun intended), was I going to get through all of that?!

900-litre bag of mulch
900-litre bag of mulch

3 good reasons to mulch

Mulching (what a wonderful word!) is the best thing you can do for your garden.

  1. Mulching reduces weeds (less weeding).
  2. Mulching retains moisture (less watering).
  3. Mulching improves the structure of your soil (healthier plants).

‘Black gold’

I have heavy clay soil, so I try to add as much organic material as I can throughout the year from my two compost bins, along with various shredded materials. But this year, with a bit more time on my hands than usual thanks to Lockdown, I decided to give my garden a treat and mulch on a much grander scale.

And so I found myself ordering a whole lot of compost mix called ‘black gold’, a blend of peat-free soil improver and well-rotted farmyard dung and animal bedding.

Premium mulch
‘Black gold’: a premium blend of soil improver and well-rotted manure

Wheelbarrows of mulch

Shifting all that compost was a bit of a daunting task, but I was soon pushing wheelbarrows heaped with organic goodness across my lawn and shovelling heaps of it onto my borders.

A wheelbarrow full of mulch
A wheelbarrow full of mulch

Mulching depth

The thickness of your mulch matters! It is better to pile 2–4 inches of mulch on a small area of soil around your plants than spread it thinly across a larger area. A thick mulch will prevent annual weeds from growing by cutting out the light.

Ideally, you should do all your weeding and plant dividing before you mulch, as the less it is disturbed the better. I’d managed the weeding part, but I fully expect to be dividing and moving various plants over the coming weeks, so it will have to put up with a bit of disturbance.

Mulch your borders
Add 2–4 inches of mulch to your borders and try to leave it undisturbed to fully reap the benefits

The end result

Within 2 days I had emptied the bag, spreading all that organic loveliness, across the borders and raised beds in my front and back gardens. In fact, I still had two borders to do when I ran out, so they will be treated to my homemade compost instead.

The borders are looking so much better for it, and I know the plants will benefit.

Border weeded and mulched
Border weeded and mulched – tick!

It turned out to be a pretty good workout too. Bonus!

Six on Saturday: Tulip mania

This week has been all about the tulips.

1. First tulip

It all started with this very first perfectly formed specimen flushed with a delicate pink.

First tulip 2020

2. Radiant blooms

As more tulips started to open, and the sun shone, the garden basked in the radiance of their blooms.

Radiant tulips

3. Fabulous colour combos

Some of the colour combinations have been simply divine. Here, the deep burgundy satin blooms of Havran stood tall over the red-crimson petals of Couleur Cardinal and the sunset colours of Prinses Irene.

Tulip colour combinations

4. Inner beauty

On closer inspection, as the tulips unfolded, the insides revealed a further hereto hidden inner beauty.

Hidden beauty inside tulips

5. My favourite tulip

It was hard to choose, but Slawa came out the winner this year for sheer wow factor. A deep rich burgundy edged with apricot, all in one perfect goblet-shaped bloom.

My favourite tulip, Slawa

6. Tulip tableau

The stage was set, and all that planting earlier in the year did not disappoint. The tulips have been an absolute joy, particularly at a time when I have needed cheering up. And I wanted to share it with you …

Tulip tableau

A safe space

The advice is clear: STAY AT HOME and prevent deaths. Now that we are confined to our homes for all but essential reasons, any of us with a green space of our own should be feeling extremely blessed right now. I know I am.

stay at home
The advice is clear – stay at home!

Our gardens offer safe full-time access to fresh air and sunshine, and provide us with a purpose. Most importantly, in this time of heightened anxiety and uncertainty, they are a crucial means of maintaining our mental wellbeing.

Haven from Covid-19
I can think of worse places to be in a lockdown

Working from home

I am working full time from home at a desk-based job, so my time in the garden remains limited to 15-minute bursts of activity. Given the ever-stricter curbs on daily life that we are now getting our heads around, those 15 minutes spent outside, working with plants and reconnecting with nature, seem even more precious.

Physical and mental benefits

The benefits of gardening are well documented and numerous.

  • Provides regular easy access to fresh air and sunshine.
  • Provides an opportunity for ‘moderate’ physical activity – why not burn a few extra calories.
  • Helps to maintain heart, muscle and bone health.
  • Relieves stress.
  • Improves mood.
Garden for your physical and mental health
There is no place I’d rather be right now

In these scary times, our gardens offer a safe place away from Government press conferences, social media memes and toilet roll hunts … as well as from Covid-19 itself. So if you are feeling anxious, stressed, helpless, confused or angry (I’ve certainly experienced all of those emotions in the last 7 days), turn to your garden. It’s waiting for you.

Stay home, stay safe, stay positive!

Rainy day jobs

Us gardeners have a love–hate relationship with the rain. We moan when there is too little of it, we moan when there is too much of it. We want it to rain for the benefit of our plants, but only when it’s convenient for us. Right now, we don’t have a lot of say in the matter. It’s raining (a lot), so we have to make the best of it.

Wet-garden
The frustration of yet another rainy day.

Not that I’m complaining. In the South, we’ve come through Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis relatively unscathed. A few puddles here and there is nothing compared to the devastation some people are dealing with, and my heart goes out to all those affected by the floods.

So, although the lawn is too squelchy (love that word!) to walk on and the heavy clay soil in some of my borders has become unworkable, there is still plenty I can do. Here are my top 5 rainy day activities.

1. Feed the birds

Birds require high-energy foods right now; not only do they need it to keep warm, but they are also building up reserves ready for nesting and breeding.

We put out a scoop of no-mess bird seed on each of our 3 bird tables every morning, and top up in the afternoon when we can. And we keep the bird feeders filled with nuts and fat balls. (Note I say ‘we’. As his and her gardening tasks go, this one’s a shared one.)

Blue tits - Big Garden Birdwatch
Birds welcome a helping hand at this time of year, so don a cagoule and fill up those feeders.

2. Start sowing

If you’ve got a shed, garage or greenhouse to shelter in, now is the time to start sowing vegetables and slow-germinating annuals. The young plants can then be planted outside when the soil starts to warm up.

Waiting for germination - seed trays
Tomatoes, chillis, aubergines, kale, salvia and sweet peas can all be started indoors now.

3. Weeding and pruning

I wouldn’t advise working in the garden if gale force winds are hurling things around, but if you’re feeling game, put on your woolies and waterproofs and get out there. You can do everything you do in a T-shirt and trainers in a cagoule and wellies instead, particularly if you’re only out there for 15 minutes at a time. Just avoid walking on waterlogged lawns and borders – it won’t do them any good.

the right clothing for wet weather gardening
With the right clothing, you can still get out there.

There’s plenty of pre-Spring pruning to do and if your soil isn’t too much of a sticky mess then you may be able to tackle some weeding from a solid footing on paths or patios.

I’m fortunate to have a large patio to work from, and my raised vegetable beds are surrounded by bark chippings, so no excuses there. The borders next to the lawn will have to wait though.

4. Get organised

Rainy days are a great opportunity to get organised.

  • Tidy the shed
  • Sort seeds and plan sowings
  • Order seeds and plug plants
  • Take an inventory of supplies
  • Plan your 2020 garden
42 perennial plug plants by post
Order plug plants now – there are a lot of bargains online.

5. Clean and maintain tools and pots

It’s a dull job, but if you’re at a loose end on a rainy day, then you could spend 15 minutes cleaning pots and tools. Also check that your hand tools are in tip top condition for the gardening season ahead. Oil and sharpen secateurs and loppers, and check you’ve got cord for your strimmer. Don’t forget to service your lawn mower too.

Clean-pots
Cleaning pots: a dull job on a dull day, but essential to prevent the spread of diseases.

And after all that, nothing beats settling down with some good reading material and a cuppa and picking up some tips from the experts.

Reading-material-gardening
Ah, so that’s the way to do it!!