Thursday, 29 June 2017

Product Review - Phostrogen ® Plant Food – a complete plant food

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Phostrogen ® Plant Food – a complete plant food

Following on from my recent posts on Baby Bio® Orchid care, I am continuing to trial products for the company, which also produces Phostrogen® and Toprose. As stated in my previous posts, I am not a serious orchid grower but ask me to trial plant food for more general garden planting and I am back into my comfort zone.

I was sent a box of Phostrogen® plant food products.  I read the packaging carefully for each one so that I could understand how best to use them.  The products are not organic, they are a synthetic fertiliser blend containing micronutrients.  I am not an organic gardener but I am also not a consummate user of chemicals.  I use them when I feel they are the best method for what I want to do.  Like in all things, I believe that balance and being proportionate matters.  A garden is generally a managed artificial space, even in my Wild Garden I am removing dominant weeds I want to discourage and I introduced yellow rattle to manage the grass growth.  It is not a completely natural space.  When it comes to growing plants in containers, which is an even more artificial way of growing, then I believe extra help is often required.

First to be deployed was the Phostrogen® Slow Release Plant Food and Moisture Control.  In truth I am not the best container planter in the world, but I do seem to increasingly grow plants in this way.  When I was repotting plants a few weeks ago for the growing season and when I was planting up my containers with annual planting I used this slow release plant food.  The packaging promises that it reduces watering by 75%.  Containers are very prone to drying out quickly so this is a very useful feature.  This slow release plant food is designed to last for six months, which is perfect for the main growing season.
I enjoy planting up this old coal scuttle with bright annual bedding and it lives on my front door step in the summer months.  I measured out the Phostrogen® Slow Release Plant Food and Moisture Control granules and added them into the compost.
I have been delighted with the results.  I confess to forgetting to water the front door step plants more often than I should, but these plants have thrived.  The colours are bright and they have survived in the recent hot weather really well.
I also used the Phostrogen® Slow Release Plant Food and Moisture Control to revitalise a hanging basket I had set up last year.  It is planted with Begonia Illuminations and as I knew that this is a tough begonia I overwintered the hanging basket in the greenhouse.  I started watering it in spring and lo and behold the begonias began to show signs of life.  I scraped out some of the compost so I could add some new and at the same time added some of the Phostrogen® Slow Release Plant Food and Moisture Control granules.  In a hanging basket having the moisture control is very useful and the slow release of the food will keep it looking good through the summer. 

The basket was duly hung into place when it was showing good growth and the first flowers will be here soon.  I am very pleased with it.
I often write of my ‘Courtyard’ plants, who are all in pots.  This is a particularly difficult area of my garden as it is shady for most of the day.  Every year I check the plants and many often need potting on.  This year the Rhododendron luteum has been repotted and again the slow release food was used.  It looks very happy.
I have been using the Phostrogen® Patio Plant Food on all my container plants.  The brugmansia, dombeya and begonia luxurians are all hungry plants and the Patio Plant Food has been meeting their needs.  The begonia in particular was looking a little sad at the start of the year but it is now putting on good growth.
Finally there is the Phostrogen® All Purpose Plant Food, which can be used anywhere in the garden on flowers and vegetable plants.  This year I am growing fewer vegetables than usual due to the vegetable beds being laid over to growing flowers for my daughter’s wedding.  I have used the All Purpose Plant Food particularly on the dahlias I am growing.  You can water it in or you can use it as a powder.  I have found that adding it as a powder just before it rains works very well.

I have found this range of products very effective.  They do what they say they do, they are easy to use and if, like me, you have container plants but you want to make the management of them as easy as possible, then I can fully recommend them.

Products used:
Phostrogen ® Slow Release Plant Food and Moisture Control

Phostrogen® Patio Plant Food

Phostrogen® All Purpose Plant Food

 Sponsored post.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Book Review - The Jam Maker's Garden by Holly Farrell

I was sent a copy of this new book, The Jam Maker's Garden by Holly Farrell with photographs by Jason Ingram to review and I was delighted to read it.  I am likely to enjoy any book that starts with a quotation from Alice in Wonderland and indeed a favourite one about the rule about 'jam today'.  It made a good start.

Some of the best things that can be made with garden produce, in my opinion, are jams and jellies.  This book tells us, from start to finish, how to make the most wonderful of recipes.  When I say from start to finish, I mean the very start.  Holly tells us what varieties to plant, how to plant, how to look after them and when to harvest. Then there are the recipes to try and these are plentiful and many are fascinatingly unusual.  There are over 50 recipes, some of them I am familiar with and some I have never heard of yet now want to explore.
I was taught how to make jam by my maternal grandmother when I was a child.  I think it is fair to say that those early expeditions into jam making were rather hit and miss but I learned the basics and that stood me in good stead.  Then when an adult I returned to jam making whilst at school I learned more about the science of what I was doing which meant I could better understand how to be successful.  I pause for a moment to wonder if jam and chutney making is still taught in schools and I think I can guess the answer to that.

Holly makes sure we understand the basics, talking about how to garden, the soil pests and diseases.  Once we get into the specifics of jam making then there is clear guide to equipment, ingredients and very importantly, definitions. So I now know the difference between a jam, a jelly and a compote.  I know what distinquishes a ketchup from a relish and a curd from a cheese.  Those, what I deemed as 'pretentious' names for such things on menus I now realise have a meaning.

This book is more than jams and jellies, there are curds and cheeses and cordials.  I really want to make some cordial when the rose-hips are ripe.  There is also the recipe for medlar fudge, I think this will be a must try too.  I have made medlar jelly in the past and it is a wonderful thing, but fudge sounds even more amazing.

Making jams etc is not difficult as long as you understand what you are actually doing to the ingredients to achieve your desired aim.  This book is an excellent guide.  It helps you have success and gently explains why you might go wrong.  I really liked this book and I think I will be dusting off my jam-pan very soon.

The Jam Makers Guide is published by Frances Lincoln

Sunday, 25 June 2017

A day at the marvellous West Woodhay Gardeners' Fair

I received an invitation the other day to go to the West Woodhay Gardeners' Fair; a quick check on the map and I thought it would make a nice day trip.  I happily said yes and waited for the weekend to arrive.

I have never been to West Woodhay before and I do not know that part of the country hugely well.  It is around two hours from where I live and the journey (particularly once I was off the motorways) took me through some delightful countryside.  In particular as I got closer to the fair I noted some impressive trees.  I also noted the impressive signage to the fair.  I have rarely seen such good clear signage that took me from when I left the main road straight to the fair.  I give a big thumbs up to this.
The day when it arrived was warm but rather overcast.  Actually in truth it was beautifully sunny at home but got cloudier the further south I drove.  It tried to rain a couple of times during the day but nothing significant and it was not unpleasant.  It has been a hot week so it made a nice relief.
The fair was thoughtfully laid out.  Lots of space to stroll and enjoy and some really good stalls to peruse.  We are talking a high standard of stall such as Hardys and Special Plants, a full list of exhibiters is here   There were beautiful things to buy as well as plants,
I loved this stall selling garden ephemera,
and also fell deeply in love with this bench.
There was also plenty of space to sit and eat, drink, buy Pimms and ice cream.
I am going to give special mention to the food which was by Honesty Catering who are based at a nearby pub.  The food was wonderful - thank you.

Seriously, everything you could want from a day out was here.  Including......
..... the grounds and gardens of West Woodhay House itself which were worth seeing fair or no fair.  Just let your eye follow the lines on the lawn that go up beyond the lake.  I loved this detail.
The signage at the fair encourages you to explore the grounds and the gardens, which also also partially across the road from the house.  The Walled Garden is must-see.
 The scent from all the roses bombards you as you enter the gardens.
The garden is made up of mainly narrow paths that open up to discoveries, like the matching dove-cotes atop their topiary mounds.
The planting is superb.  It looks casual but there are delights like the colour of this rose against the purple foliage behind.
and there is the kitchen garden, complete with bees.
These were immaculately gardened.  Everything was neat and tidy and looking perfect.  The scent from the sweetpeas wafted in the breeze.
You could wander through the glasshouses,
... pondering this amazing pelagonium that looked self-seeded into the ground.  If anyone knows what it is please let me know.
and this eruption of coleus just took my breath away.
The Justicia leapt onto my 'must find' list.
and I pondered on the use of this raised bed at the rear of the glasshouses.  I thought maybe squash/pumpkins?
Back into the main part of the Walled Garden and there are two matching incredible fruit cages set in a sea of roses.  They are beautiful and functional and, well, just awesome.  When I came out of the Walled Garden I felt like I had been on an Alice Through the Looking Glass journey, moving from space to space finding more wonders at each turn.
and of course a plant was purchased.  Just the one you say? Yes just one, I was very tempted by many but this one was on my list as it is a Sparmannia africana.  I first saw one of these when I visited Thenford earlier this year and I had been searching for one.  I bought this from Hill House Nursery who are part of the founding force behind the Independent Plant Nurseries Guide who are worthy of a plug.  This fair is all about independent plant nurseries and regular readers will know I am a huge fan of buying from independent nurseries.  The plants are the best because they are grown with knowledge and love.

The other impressive thing about this fair is that all the profits are going to various benefiting charities who include the NGS.

I leave you with this thought, there is a plant fair whose name is still whispered in hallowed tones by those who visited and those who wished they had.  All plant fairs since are measured consciously and unconsciously against this bright light that shone so brightly yet briefly.  As I walked around this fair the name of that show whispered through the trees and I nodded in agreement.  West Woodhay Gardeners' Fair is something special.  It has the capability to become something seriously seriously special and I will happily drive for two hours to visit again.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Irritating Plant of the Month - June 2017

This month the culprit shone out at me.
Rose 'For your eyes only' has been disappointing pretty much from the start.  Now I am being a little mean as it was given to me so no money exchanged hands, but it was a small plant to begin with.  Two years later it remains small and until this year has not bothered to flower until about October.  Then just before the frost sends it to sleep it sends up one grumpy flower and that's your lot.

So why nominate it now?  Well this year here it is with two flowers and in June.  This is great, this is success.  Is it irritating, well yes as it shows its been capable of performing all along.  I am, without doubt, rose-shaming.

It also comes with a built in ear worm, it is debateable whether it is Sheena Easton's finest (hard to decide, I want to say Nine to Five, but really U Got the Look has to be right up there).  But I feel that a moment to have a pause and think of Roger Moore as James Bond is never a bad thing.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Product Review - Gro-Sure Smart Ground Cover

I was asked a few weeks ago if I wanted to trial some Gro-Smart Ground Cover, which is made by Westland.  I hesitated a little before agreeing as I am not someone who generally mulches areas of the garden.  One look at my weed population will confirm this but I do like to have self-seeders and mulches will keep them controlled as well as the weeds.  After some thought I realised that it could be really useful in my vegetable borders where I do want to restrict self-seeders from colonising.  A short time later a bag duly arrived.
The first thing I noticed is that it is incredibly light.  I braced myself to lift the bag and it was really easy to lift.

Then I set to spreading it out where I am growing beans this year.  I am not growing a lot of veg this year but nothing beats the taste of freshly picked french beans.
I spread it so it was a few centimetres thick as the instructions stated.  I made sure the bed was well weeded and I also picked a day after we had had quite a lot of rain.  I thought it would help to have the ground well watered before covering it over.

The ground cover is made from wood fibre and the manufacturers state it is better than bark and has about 50% better coverage.  It certainly spread quickly and effectively.  The bed took about half a bag to complete.  Apparently the fibres lock together so they work even on slopes.  Despite it being very light it has not blown around in the recent gusty days we have had.
A few weeks later, and no annual weeds have appeared.  No weeds, none at all.  This is impressive.  It did not deter Bruce from sunning himself on the border, I think the fibres are quite cosy.

So I can absolutely recommend it, I might now be a mulch-convert.

More information on the Gro-Sure Smart Ground Cover can be found here:  it retails at around £9 a bag.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

and then it got hot

Suddenly after a somewhat chilly start to spring, June has galloped into action by firstly providing lots of rain and then almost without warning, a heatwave.  Now us Brits are used to newspapers and TV telling us we are going to have a heatwave but they do not always appear.  This weekend, suddenly, we were plunged into a bone fide, flipping hot, heatwave.
I had lots to do this weekend in the garden so I got ahead of the game by cutting the lawns when I got in from work on Friday.
This has become an increasing habit this year and it fulfills two purposes.  Firstly it is the best detox to the week I can think of.  After an hour or so of mowing things that are worrying me, forcing itself to the front of my mind, are muted by grass clippings and hopefully put away until Monday.  Secondly it means I am ahead for the weekend.  I do not have to consider getting the lawn cut on either Saturday or Sunday, I can just pile into the weekend gardening jobs......
...... except this weekend it was hot by 10am and by noon it was (gosh I hate saying this, but this time it is true), too hot to get anything meaningful done in the garden.   I found this fox nestling into the shady parts of the Prairie Borders.
Esme was spreading herself on the shady concrete by the coal bunker.  She seems to have been trying to get as much of her as possible flattened onto the cool path.
Whereas Flossy, who is a heat-seeking kind of cat, went more the for the dappled shade approach where she arranged herself in a lady like manner.  Flossy never lets me forget that she is the Audrey Hepburn of cats.
and as for his gingerness, well he was in wise Yoda mood and chose the shady end of the bench.  For most of the day he was not visible at all, he was in some shady spot in the garden keeping as cool as possible.  If Flossy is Audrey Hepburn then Bruce is the Fonz.  Now I have to think who Esme is, I think she is probably George from the Famous Five;  either that or she is Boudicca for I am pretty sure she was a warrior queen in a former life.
I managed some planting out fairly early on but by lunchtime I was struggling. I also knew it was only going to get hotter.  The heat brought out the scent of the roses magnificently in the garden, but I knew I would have to give up and go indoors.  This always seems a shame when it is so glorious outside but I know (because Noel Coward tells us) that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun and I am neither.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Bridal Flowers 3 - there is progress

It feels like the time is right to give an update on how the wedding flower growing is progressing.

It has been about ten weeks since the dahlias were potted up and they have virtually all started to grow.  This is a good start.
The majority of the dahlias have been planted into one of the veg beds.  They are getting a bit attacked by slugs but I am persevering in trying to keep them at bay.  I am have removed the growing tips to help them bush out and also to delay flowering a little.  The wedding is not until October so I am a little anxious that I need to keep them in flower.
A few of the dahlias have been planted into the Forest Deep Root Planter I constructed earlier in the year. It is perfect for growing dahlias in.
The first plump buds are starting to form, I just need them to keep flowering for another 16 weeks or so.
The chrysanthemums have now been planted out as well.  These should flower at about the right time too.
There are also marigolds and zinnia seeds now germinating well and some tiger lilies.  The tiger lilies  are vitally important as they are a key part of my daughter's fiance's bouquet.
The sweet peas were deliberately sown late and are now growing well.  I am very hopeful they will still be flowering when required.
I am also eyeing up the wild roses in the boundary hedge, they produce the most wonderful red rose hips and I think they could be very useful in an autumnal bouquet.

So far so good, as long as the slugs leave some dahlias all should be well.  I have been research button-hole making and had a brief consideration of flowery crowns.

I will update again in a few weeks as the day gets closer and if you could all keep your fingers crossed for me I would be very grateful.

The Bridal Flowers 1

The Bridal Flowers 2

The Bridal Flowers 4

The Bridal Flowers 5