img_1Gardening is a very flexible past-time.  It has its constraints, but it is very facilitative in that if you really want to do some gardening you can usually find a way.  Even if it is owning just one spider plant or a window box or going to the grand scale of many acres, there is gardening to be enjoyed.

Most people have a budget, a limited amount of money with which they can pursue their gardening habits.  Some budgets are large and will include large statues, a landscape designer and a herd of wildebeest.  Other budgets are far more limited, each packet of seed, each plant, each tool has to be costed for, saved for and maybe not afforded at all.  It is therefore good that some of the best and most favourite plants I have in my garden are the ones that have been free as I have propagated them myself.

There are many ways to propagate plants and this time of year I am gearing up for seed sowing and dividing.  Dividing is one of the simplest and most satisfying way of creating more plants you can do.  These days when I buy a plant I hardly ever buy more than one of anything.  I peer into the pot and try and determine how many plants are really in there.  Some perennials you can see definite clumps/crowns of growth that if you cut carefully you can slice between, pot up individually and grow into several more plants.  This is of course not always possible, but generally after a year or so plants will have grown enough to allow this to happen.

A good example of this was last year I bought some asters, when I looked in to the pot I could see some new growths coming up towards the edge of the pot.  I used my sharp gardening knife to cut down deeply to make a cutting that would include a bit of root and potted these waifs and strays up.  I checked in the greenhouse the other day and they were still growing and will make nice additional plants.

Of course I know not everyone has a greenhouse and this is the first time I have lived in house with a garden large enough to have one.  Previously I have used windowsills, even the floor in a sunny room, any surface that was warm and has sun (and preferably away from where the cats might walk across them).  Those small, vinyl covered greenhouses are very good and when I only had a backyard were extremely useful.  They also lasted a lot longer than I thought they would, they can be quite hard wearing.

The other joy of making plants for free is that you can be generous with them.  I regularly swap cuttings/divisions and seedlings with gardening friends.  I can look around my garden and see plants I identify with specific people and that gives a small happy memory.  For gardening is always so much more than just planting and growing.

We are very lucky in the United Kingdom to have such a rich history with some fantastic houses and gardens to visit, none more so than in Lincolnshire.  The county has a number of hidden gems and I managed to visit a couple of them recently.

There is plenty to see at Belton House even if the weather is wet

There is plenty to see at Belton House even if the weather is wet

First stop was Belton House three miles north east of Grantham on the A1.  It is the quintessential country house estate built for Sir John Brownlow in the 1680s.

The house certainly impresses with its classically proportioned mansion sat in elegant formal gardens, looking over 1300 acres of historic deer park.

The Orangery and surrounding Italian garden was built around 1820, and was mainly used to show off plants rather than grow oranges.  Today it is filled with some delightful plants; including palms, water features and climbers, and looks like it would have done back in its heyday in the early 1900s.

Children are particularly well catered for with a recently restored outdoor adventure playground and an indoor play area which is great for wet days.  There is also a restaurant and café

If you have problems with mobility there are many areas with uneven cobbles and gravel paths, so give them a call before visiting if you’ve not been before.

For more information visit

The Victorian walled gardens at Gunby Hall

The Victorian walled gardens at Gunby Hall in the Lincolnshire Wolds

The final stop was Gunby Hall and Gardens near Spilsby.  The house was built in 1700 for Sir William Massingberd, and remained in the family until 1963.  Between 1967 and 2012 the house was tenanted, but is now under the direct management of the National Trust.

If you stand in front of the Hall it still has its circular driveway designed for carriages which looks very impressive with the main house standing majestically behind it.  There are three floors to visit with a collection of interesting pieces amassed by the family over the years.

There are eight acres of beautiful gardens to stroll through, as well as a walled garden with arched pergolas of fruit trees, herbaceous and cutting borders, and a rose and herb garden.  Growing in the kitchen garden are varieties of old fashioned vegetables, fruit and flowers.

Another must is a visit to the Old Laundry tea room where you can enjoy some of their homemade cakes and other sweet treats.

It is disabled friendly, and allows friendly dogs on leads in the garden.

For more information visit

Other places worth a visit are Burghley House, Doddington Hall, Ellys Manor House and Lincoln Castle and Cathedral nestled in the heart of the city.

Enjoy your garden.


Lucy Chamberlain

Lucy gardens at the Grade II listed East Donyland Hall, Fingringhoe in Essex

Want to grow your own fruit but bewildered by the choice of crops?

Lucy Chamberlain, Head Gardener at East Donyland Hall, has some pointers.

I’m busy planning our fruit garden this autumn, and a friend asked me to design hers, too.  It made me aware that to plan such a productive plot involves lots of daunting decisions. What exactly should I grow, and how many of each plant will I need?  It’s tempting at these crossroads to run on autopilot, assuming that you need one row of this and another of that, but the reality can be quite different.

The first and obvious question to ask yourself is what do you like to eat?  Are you after a forest garden that you can lightly forage from in the summer, or do you yearn to freeze bag upon bag of produce? I’m a bit of a jam fiend, and with two chest freezers at my disposal am looking to squirrel crops away.

Also determine how much time per week you want to spend maintaining your plot?  To me, an hour or two spent in the garden each night is the perfect way to unwind from work, but do you really want to be tethered to the garden this way?

Know your plot

Check your soil type and pH if you don’t know it (you can buy pH kits cheaply from garden centres, and a gardening neighbour can help check if you’re on chalk, loam or clay if you’re unsure).  The majority of soils are fine to grow most crops but some, such as blueberries and raspberries, need acidic soil (this has a low pH).

Finally, map the route of the sun over the garden.  Certain crops, such as figs, gages, dessert cherries and peaches, need ample sunshine and warmth to ripen well, whereas other, like gooseberries, rhubarb and redcurrants, can take a bit of shade.  Note windy, exposed areas that pollinating insects could be shy to visit, and low areas that might be more likely to freeze.  Run rows north to south so that valuable, sunny walls aren’t cast in shade.

With your basic checklist complete, now comes the interesting bit – choosing what to grow. Selecting varieties isn’t daunting when you realise what to look for.

While it’s simple to tell the different between ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’ and ‘Golden Delicious’ apples, you’d be hard pushed to distinguish between different varieties of redcurrants. I think it’s worth going to tasting days to help you choose apples, pears and plums (many larger gardens and fruit specialists run them in autumn) but when it comes to crops such as blackcurrants, raspberries and blueberries, look instead for different maturity times so that you can stagger harvests, and attributes such as disease resistance.

The strawberry season runs from May to October

The strawberry season runs from May to October

With a bit of careful selection, for example, you can be picking fresh strawberries from May right through until October.  In Essex we’re quite dry so diseases aren’t so much of a problem, but move to the rainy West coast and scab and mildew-resistance will become top of your list.

When it comes to quantities, I’m astounded how much space the average family needs to devote to strawberries.  Consider an average yield per plant of 400g, compared to that of a single redcurrant bush (10 times that quantity) and you can soon see why a row of the latter isn’t necessary.

Gooseberries and blackcurrants are equally heavy cropping. A 3m row of raspberries will yield around 8kg of fruit, so think twice before buying a huge bundle of canes (unless, like me, your freezer allows it).

Growing trees as fans or espaliers rather than free-standing trees not only allows you to squeeze more plants in, it can easily halve yields.  Specialist nurseries are an excellent resource here – one worth its salt will be able to guide you on quantities, and double check that any pollination requirements are met.


The new apple variety has been on trial for a number of years

The new apple variety has been on trial for a number of years

New plants are being bred and introduced every year, and one that caught my attention was the apple ‘Core Blimey™’ from fruit specialists, Frank P Matthews in Worcestershire.

It’s an eating apple, which produces a reasonably sized, good looking bicoloured fruit.  The fruit are a dark red / blush on a green / yellow background and should be available for picking from around late September.

The fruit should store well through the autumn and on into the winter.

World Radio Gardening presenter, Geoff Hodge said:  “It has a lovely ‘fruit flavour’ with a good acid sweet balance.  Is nice and firm and beautifully aromatic.”  I can’t wait to try it myself.

It should suit small gardens, as it is fairly slow growing with a slight weeping habit and would look stunning grown in a container on the patio.

And how did it get its name?

The Urban Orchard Project (UOP), a charity which promotes orchard and fruit tree growing, ran a competition for London schools and the name was picked.

“‘Core Blimey™’ is a perfect name for the new variety,” said Katherine Rose, The UOP CEO.  “It encapsulates London, it’s fun and, as a cockney term of surprise that dates back to the 1880s, the phrase has a lot of history.”

For more information visit

Enjoy your garden.


Swiss Garden bridge web

The bridges prove a popular backdrop for wedding photos

I recently visited The Swiss Garden at The Shuttleworth Trust, Old Warden Aerodrome nr Biggleswade in Bedfordshire.  I had a lovely look round this garden with Garden Manager Corinne Price, and it’s magnificent.

The garden is coming up to 200 years, and is very interesting with meandering paths and surprises around every corner.  But it’s also quite unique and doesn’t look like your typical Regency garden because you’ve got rustic buildings dotted around.

Also unusual for a Regency garden is the Swiss landscape created by Lord Robert Henley Ongley in the 1830s.

The Fern House is beautiful and intriguing.  It’s an odd cruciform shape, with four extending arms.  Two of the arms are glazed with a lovely dome in the middle.  The other two arms have been changed quite significantly by Joseph Shuttleworth who bought the garden in 1872.  They have been lined with Pulmaite stalactitic sort of grotesque stone features all the way through which adds something quite dramatic to the building.

Water is a big feature throughout the garden.  Ongley’s ponds are still the original ones and make a lovely feature with two of the original wrought iron bridges with an elaborate design of swirls and twirls.  There’s also a Shuttleworth bridge over the pond cascade.  Stand in the right place and you get a lovely view of the bridges, something I’m told is popular with brides.

The good thing about the garden for visitors is access is good; the paths are extremely good for people with disabilities or parents with prams and pushchairs.  The woodland walk and sculpture trail are also completely accessible.

The Swiss Garden is open daily.  For more information visit

Enjoy your garden.