Gardening Journal – Entry 20

Friday 26 March 2021

What a week! I feel like I haven’t stood still since Monday. It has been a week of learning and there as not been much gardening, at home or at work, but I don’t mind – I’m here for the knowledge! This week started off feeling like spring had finally come, with enough sunlight to have me stripping off the layers. It truly felt like the first time I had felt the sun on my skin in years. I simply cannot wait for the warmer weather to finally arrive in earnest. 

Monday 22 March

I moved sites on Monday, to a location I have been obsessed with since I moved to London. I spent the day getting used to the site and trying to find my way around the maze-like stairs, gates and underground car parks. I eventually found my way to some herbaceous borders than needed digging over in preparation for some planting later in the week. 

I found myself crawling under spiny Mahonias and hopping around delicate lillies as I lightly dug over the soil. The sun was out and my pasty arms were as well! It was a lovely day and, while I missed working with Laurence, I loved the quietness of the site and the quirky characters practicing their fencing, wandering through the shrubs and chatting away to me about planting. 

Tuesday 23 March

This was a field trip day. We visited Regent’s Park to have a look at their winter bedding displays, as we are going to be designing our own bedding schemes for our workplace. We noted a heavy use of Heuchera villosa ‘Palace Purple’, as well as Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrecens’ for a darker look across the beds. It was interesting to see the planting choices and the unique designs they had created, although some had missed the mark, in my very humble and inexperienced opinion!

Wednesday 24 March

Our college day was spent… in college! Again! What a treat it was to see our classmates again and work on some of our upcoming practicals. We focused on planting containerised shrubs, spreading fertiliser, did our Alpine plant ident test and worked on edging a lawn. 

Planting containerised shrubs

  • These had to be a minimum of 2L pots
  • We made the holes we dug for these plants at least twice as big as the root ball and kept it sharp and square, to encourage the roots to grow outwards and down, instead of continue their circular growth pattern after being kept in a pot for a long time.
  • We prepared the soil by giving it a light dig over and raking it to a good tilth for planting of this nature. 
  • We checked the plants for weeds, pests, disease and ave it a little prune for diseased, damager or dead growth. 
  • The end result was quite pretty and it was shame to immediately have to remove them from the ground for the next group to practice with!

Spreading fertiliser:

  • This task is a lot more finicky than you might thing, due to the calibration required.
  • The calibration involves matching your walking pace and the size of the fertiliser spreader holes in order to achieve 35g of fertiliser per square metre. 
  • As most gardeners make two passes over a lawn, we worked to 17.5g per pass to add up to the total 35g. 
  • We measures the amount of fertiliser distributed by laying out a plastic sheet with a square metre drawn on it. We walked over this space at a steady pace and swept up the fertiliser that landed in the designated area and weighed it. 
  • We used vermiculite, as fertiliser is expensive and harmful if not handled correcting with appropriate PPE. 
  • Laurence and I worked together and managed to get to 18g on both the spreader and the drop spreader. But it took a good ten tries!

Edging a lawn:

  • This is where it all fell apart. 
  • Laurence and I have edged lawns at least twenty times, usually with excellent polished results. This time, we were contending with a hidden rotten wooden board and the wrong tools. 
  • We used a guide string to mark out the line we wanted to follow. Then we used scaffold boards to line up and stand on as we cut into the edge with a half moon. 
  • We removed the grass and soil that was protruding passed over the area with some edging shears, which tidied up any long blades of grass.
  • In theory, this should have been a quick job. In reality it took the best part of an hour and didn’t even deliver a straight line! 

Thursday 25 March

On Thursday we worked at a different site pruning fruit trees. I was incredibly excited for this practical day out, as I have only ever worked with ornamental plants. We started by identifying the species we were working with. There was a lot of Pear, Apple, Cherry, Damson, Plum and even Fig! The pear after bud break was incredible, as they had beautiful leaves protecting the emerging, plump flowering buds. 

The orchard was very neglected, with very few tree pits remaining and extensive damage to the trees, including broken branches and plants that had died completely. This was likely due to the popular football pitch adjacent to it. 

We started by removing the three Ds (dead, damaged and diseased), then removed any crossing branches that could lead to rubbing and then infection. After that, we used a half moon and hears to redefine the tree pit. This proved to be hard work, as the tree pits had likely not been attended to for over ten years. 

After that, Laurence and I walked to a nearby park and recorded our latest podcast episode

Friday 26 March

Fridays are always quite fleeting, as I am only in for half the day. On this particular Friday I was able to lay out some plants on the site I dug over on Monday. There were such beautiful ferns, including Dryopteris, Polystichum and Asplenium, as well as some Clyclamen, Euphorbia and Anemone

After that, I walked around the sites we will be designing winter bedding for and measured them out. We discussed our ideas for designs and have decided to opt for a winter prairie design, but I have created a more formal design using dot, subdots, groundwork and edge, just in case. But fingers crossed – it would be nice to add a little Jardins de Luxembourg, Paris to London. 

Gardening Journal – Entry 19

Friday 19 March 2021

I decided to take this past week off social media because the recent news was getting very heavy and I found myself ‘doom scrolling’ a little too much for my liking. It was a breath of fresh air. I spent my evenings being fully present, whether it was revising for a plant ident test or just sitting watching RuPaul’s Drag Race UK (#TeamBimini all the way). So instead of a daily journal, this one is going to be a round-up of the week, including work tasks, college practicals, my own garden work and the new volunteer job I’ve picked up.

Monday 15 March

We kicked off this week with some border maintenance. The weeding had been done a few weeks before, so all it needed was a good cultivate. We were working in a stunning churchyard, with shrubby borders currently bursting with Narcissus ‘Ice Follies’ and a few violet hyacinths. I used a cultivator to ‘tickle’ the top two inches of soil. This helped to break up any large clods, buried annual weeds before they set seed and left the soil looking fresh. 

Tuesday 16 March

On Tuesday it was much of the same, except for a mammoth litter round. I’m incredibly excited about more people being out and about and using the gardens as we navigate this roadmap leading to 21 June, but the litter is going to pile up! 

Wednesday 17 March

This week I was back at college, for the first time since last year! It was lovely seeing all my classmates and tutor again, after our months of online learning. We used the session to catch up on practicals. We learnt about the safe use of rotavators (which is a brand name for a rotary cultivator, by the way!), sowing seeds of three sizes, looked at some of our plant idents in person and planted some bare root trees. Here’s how they went:


  • Rotary cultivators come in many sizes and are used for several tasks, including simple cultivation of soil, removal of weeds, digging up lawns and digging in vegetables
  • We looked at pre starter checks and talked about the importance of having split pin bolts to replace any broken ones 
  • Then we actually used the machines and practiced our turning techniques. Both machines had forward, neutral and reverse gears, which meant that we were able to do a three-point turn in the corners. I preferred the wide turning technique used by farmers with large tractors. This involved keeping turns wide and passing up and down the bed in long lines, allowing you to keep moving and spend less time changing gears. Overall, this technique saves time and fuel and I found it a lot easier on my back 

Sowing seeds:

  • We had done this practical task before, but it was brilliant to get some extra experience, as I don’t often get the chance to do propagation
  • We sowed small, medium and large seeds. I sowed Papaver orientale mixed with sand, Cabbage seeds and ornamental broad been seeds
  • To find a quick guide to seed sowing, check out this video I put together

Plant ident:

Every fortnight, we get a new list of plants to learn, each in a different group. We started with evergreen shrubs and have since learnt bulbs, perennial weeds and now alpines. I love alpines. On any given day, you can find me either dreaming of – or wandering around – the beautiful South American and South African rock garden at Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. I love the succulent-like leaves, the minute details and the stunning, showy blooms. When it comes to creating a curated but rugged aesthetic, nothing beats a rock garden-fernery hybrid, in my opinion.

If you’re interested here are the plants we learnt for our alpine plant test. While it is okay to only know the common name when working with the plants in your garden, it is always helpful to know the botanical name when working with them professionally. While it is largely considered a dead language, Latin is universal in horticultural circles and this helps to avoid miscommunication when working working in other countries, with people who speak different languages. I also like to learn the family name, as it helps me to make connections between similar plants and is a good way of grouping plants and understanding common requirements.

Genus species ‘Cultivar’ – Common name – FAMILY NAME

  1. Armeria juniperifolia – Juniper-leaved thrift – PLUMBAGINACEAE
  2. Echeveria elegans – Mexican gem – CRASSULACEAE
  3. Gentiana sino-ornata – Showy Chinese gentian – GENTIANACEAE
  4. Lewisia cotyledon – Siskiyou lewisia – PORTULACACEAE
  5. Phlox douglasii ‘Eva’ – Creeping phlox – POLEMONIACEAE
  6. Sedum spathulifolium ‘Purpureum’ – Spoon-leaved stonecrop – CRASSULACEAE
  7. Sempervivum arachnoideum – Cobweb houseleek – CRASSULACEAE
  8. Saxifraga ‘Tumbling Waters’ – Saxifrage ‘Tumbling Waters’ – SAXIFRAGACEAE
  9. Saxifraga x urbium – London Pride – SAXIFRAGACEAE
  10. Thymus pulegioides ‘Archer’s Gold’ – Thyme ‘Archer’s Gold’ – LAMIACEAE

Planting a bare root tree:

This is another practical we had done before, but the more practice, the better! Here are a few new things I learnt this time:

  • Placement of the stake is very important. In London, the prevailing wind comes from the South West, so you want to stake your tree against the wind. The stake should be between the direction of wind and the tree, as this allows the stem some movement and avoids unnecessary rubbing, which can result in cuts to the epidermis and the risk of disease.
  • When tying the tree to the stake, the strap can look unsightly if there is too much excess sticking out. You can use a nail and a hammer to secure the end of this and keep it looking neat.
  • Suckers and any dead, diseased or damaged branches should be removed with secateurs once the tree is planted.

Thursday 18 March

Yesterday was spent practicing plant division. We divided some Liriope in a raised container and replanted half of them in situ, leaving some others for another site. Division is a form of propagation which involves lifting clumping and spreading plants out of the ground and slicing through the rootball to create more than one plant and thin it out every three to five years.

I kept about half of the divided plants and planted them in a shady corner of my garden. They look lovely and lush.

Friday 19 March

Today was my half day at work but it was busy! I started off doing a litter round and tidying up a graveyard in one of our churchyard sites. This involved clearing some of the paths of soil that spilled over with the recent rain. Then I cleared the weeds and ripped off the dead leaves from some Iris. I love the look of a graveyard – the moss creeping over the soil and the classic Ilex aquifolium tucked into the corners. The Helleborus were out in full force today, with the beautiful magenta flowers and their Jurassic-like toothed foliage. I saw that the Hellebores had self-seeded and potted up a few larger seedlings. With the Liriopes and Helleborus seedlings in my bag, I looked like a cycling garden centre on the way home!

After work, I planted all my finds in the garden. This garden is a doer-upper and I’m doing it up as cheaply as a can. In the past two weeks we laid some paving we found to create a little seating area and my grasses and hellebores will be a lovely addition.

After planting up my seedlings, I cycled off to Whittington Park, where I volunteer once a week. It’s a great opportunity as a multi-use space where we grow food, plant for pollinators and keep a wormery – all in close proximity to passersby, who we can chat to about gardening and nature. It’s a great way to get people interested in horticulture! Today I filled some potato grow bags in preparation for the chitted potatoes to go in, I cleared an overgrown area and weeded it, and finally I gave the lettuce seedlings I sowed last week a good water.

All in all it was a very busy week, and I’m so glad. I felt a little bit like I had been hibernating since November. Spring is in the air and the maintenance work is getting a little more exciting. It has been wonderful to see plants coming into bloom. Of course, we’re seeing Narcissus all over the place, but watching the cherry blossom and magnolias open up has been such a treat. Bring on the warmer days.

Gardening Journal – Entry 18

Monday 18 January 2021

After a weekend of not doing much and staying at home, as per government guidelines, I had a really hard time getting to sleep. After tossing and turning half the night, I woke up at 4:30am. Feeling terrible and absolutely shattered. Still, I’m a stickler for routine, so I got my weights out and did a bit of exercise to wake up my brain, before breakfast. 

This week I’m working without Laurence, as he’s on annual leave, writing new music. Working alone can be nice, especially on days like this, when you’re operating on about four hours of sleep and aren’t capable of cohesive speech! Still, I miss having someone to bounce ideas off, chat with and help me lift heavy things as well!

Today I worked on a site that is split onto two levels. On the lower level, there is a lawn, an ornamental pear tree, a coppice-style planting of Hypericum patulum, Pyracantha coccinea, Berberis julianae and Ilex aquifolium. On the higher level, there is a beautiful magnolia tree, two symmetrical L-shaped beds used for bedding, as well as two herbaceous borders. 

I like this garden as it feels quite concealed and private and has a lot of variety in terms of planting types, with the bedding, topiary, lawn, trees, coppice and herbaceous borders. There is even a mini topiary maze, although the lockdown hasn’t been kind to it and it is looking more like a thicket than the manicured Buxus it should be. 

Today, I spent a lot of time in the coppice area, clearing out leaves, weeding and giving a nice cultivate. I had to dodge a few poos, courtesy of the police dogs around the corner, but on the whole, it was a quick job. I must admit that there was a moment where my springbok rake was so caught up in the shrubs that I felt like screaming, but seeing the job done makes you totally forget the pain of it. 

Tomorrow, I won’t be working on my Tod, as I’ll be joined by another member of the team. I’m looking forward to having a chat and getting to know them a little better. Hopefully I can get a bit more sleep tonight so I don’t scare them with my eye bags. 

Gardening Journal – Entry 17

Tuesday 12 January 2021

Today was much of the same as yesterday. This time year, the jobs are quite limited, as a lot of the plants are dormant and growing at a snail’s pace. 

I started by weeding a small winter bedding display full of Erysimum. It didn’t take long and after giving it a little cultivate, we were done. We noticed that soil was very soft, which is a rarity in a usually busy area, where beds tend to get a pummelling from heavy footfall. I believe this soil has a better structure than some more compacted beds because it is so narrow, making it a rare site where all work can be done from the concrete surrounding it. 

After that, I worked on a bed on the second level. This was filled with herbaceous perennials like Euphorbia characias and our trusty friend the Anemone x hybrida. There was also a beautiful magnolia tree, bare of its leaves, but boasting beautiful furry buds, ready to spring open in a few months. This bed had a smattering of weeds, both annual and perennial, which were easy enough to hoe off or dig out, respectively.

We started by cutting back the euphorbias, as they were looking scraggly and were due a cut in autumn! We were careful when cutting these, as the photosensitive toxic sap is not something you want to be getting in your eyes, or anywhere on your face for that matter! Then, I moved onto the anemones, cutting back the dead growth, leaving the healthy green leaves to protect the new growth emerging in time for spring.

I then swept up the fallen magnolia leaves, any hoed-off weeds before giving the bed a good cultivate. This bed was in need of some work, and the job is far from over, even now. I always find that little and often is the best approach in gardening, so you catch the small weeds before they become an impenetrable jungle you have to hack through with a machete.

Tomorrow is our study-from-home-college day, which I’m quite excited about. While I love my early mornings and cycling into work while the city is still drowsily opening its eyes, I do appreciate a few extra minutes of sleep and the privilege of staying at home in COVID times.

Gardening Journal – Entry 16

Monday 11 January 2021

This week got off to a bit of crappy start – and I don’t mean I overslept or had an altercation on the cycle in. Today, I shovelled about 5kg of faeces before 9:30am, and it was completely fine. Sure, I almost threw up and laughed at Laurence almost throwing up until I cried, but I felt accomplished. We don’t call our litter rounds litter rounds; we call them ‘cleansing’, and we certainly cleansed the dark corner of that gloomy church today!

Aside from the dirty protest, we spent the day tidying up one of our sites. It was amazing to manage our tasks independently, work together to get the job done and look back on our work at the end of the day.

We started by clearing a herbacous perennial bed of weeds. There was a lot of Cardamine hirsuta with a touch of Stellaria media mixed in. Now that we have the opportunity to work at our own pace and independently, we also have the chance to use every task as revision. In this case, we tried to name every weed we pulled out. Aside from a couple of Bellis perennis here or there, we were lucky to be working with only annual weeds. This meant that the job was a little quicker, as we only had to tear off the growth above ground and needed our trowels every now and then for a stubborn root system.

After clearing the border of weeds, cutting back the Anemone x hybrida and giving it a quick rake, we cultivated it lightly. There was a little soil capping, due to the rainfall in recent weeks so after the little scratch we gave it, the beautiful purples and limes of the Heucheras popped against the dark, rich soil and made the border feel more like a feature and less of a bed of decay.

I created a clear divide between the border and the lawn by cutting the edge with edging shears. I later did this all the way around the lawn and the difference was amazing. I am more convinced every day that a little cultivation and a nice, sharp edge can make even the most neglected gardens look well-loved again.

We finished off by clearing the fern and grass beds of fallen leaves from the deciduous trees and then cultivated the soil before sweeping up. Then we loaded the wheelbarrow with our tools and went off to shovel another poo into another bag. It’s always good to start your day as you mean to go on.