Category: Blog

How my Grandfathers influenced me – part one

My first gardening experiences were, as a very young boy, either observing or assisting my grandfathers.
Abraham was a larger than life character, a retired farmer. My overriding memories of being with him were his personable laughter and his whistle. Probably a reflection of the time but his trouser waist band seemed to be almost under his arm pits, supported by the inevitable braces. Why over the next three generations the waist band has dropped to below under pant level perplexes me and one has to question how much further can it possibly go?
Abraham’s garden though, to me, did not reflect his personality. Perhaps he was conforming to the expectations of the time – who knows?
Heavily manicured, over mown lawns and from what I remember the overall design had little content. Regimented rows of standard roses surrounded by weed free bare soil. That is my memory and it may not clearly reflect what was actually there. His diligence and hard work did earn him prizes though and I can still see several certificates for his endeavours, in his garden dotted on a mantle piece here and there in his bungalow.
I can clearly remember his lawn mower. A kick start Atco cylinder mower. My weight prohibited me from starting it as I couldn’t overcome the compression of the engine – probably a good thing in hindsight. It was a heavy beast and I imagine that I would have been dragged around the garden and through his precious roses by it.
Like most of his generation he’d been through WW2 and growing your own wasn’t then considered as the “Good Life” but a necessity to survive. Like many of his generation he continued this production in a small corner of his garden. He grew the standard vegetables (potatoes, cabbages, sprouts etc) but his piece de resistance was his greenhouse.
You stepped down into what, to me was a hot, dusty building .The amplified warmth exacerbating a very odd aroma. Slightly agricultural with a hint of tomato.
The two innovations that he used in here are perhaps his legacy to me and were simple ones.
Firstly he sank small flower pots at the base of the tomato plant stems to ensure his liquid feed was targeted in the right direction. You poured in the juice knowing it was going to be effective and not going to waste. This is a technique I use today to save water when growing certain vegetables.
Secondly to the juice. Just outside the door of the greenhouse he had a large galvanised tank with a wooden lid on it. I think this may have been tap filled but I cannot be sure now. Into the water he used to drop a hessian sack of manure and in doing so producing his own, free, liquid organic fertiliser. No mixing ratios, no diluting rates in it went and out came the smelly ferty brew.
He grew some absolute beauties and a tomato sandwich, with a little salt and pepper using a fruit from Abraham’s greenhouse was something to be savoured. Never to be forgotten!

There’s Something Interesting At The Bottom Of Our Garden…

There’s something interesting at the bottom of our garden,
I noticed it when we moved in.
Just a glimpse in the melee of moving pots, pans and Tele
I must remember to look at it again.

That interesting thing in our garden
Has been put to the back of my mind
With a mortgage to pay and kids on the way
It’s now more difficult to find.

There’s now nothing interesting in our garden
The paths vanished and borders have too
One great morass of overgrown shrubs and grass
I really don’t know what to do.

Kids growing up and we’ve inherited a pup!
This wilderness has just to be tamed
New turf and a trim to create an outside gym
But how is this to be attained

I’ve called in the pro’s the Hill’s with the hoes,
The strimmers, secateurs and the know how
In a short space of time they’ve cleared, turfed, it’s all fine
And not a single bead of sweat on my brow

That interesting thing in our garden
You know – The one at the bottom by the shed
My glimpse was mistaken away they ‘ve be taken
A rusty barrow, bike and an old bed stead.

Moss – Your lawn’s nemesis

After a most disappointingly damp and dull summer in 2012 and a cold wet winter your lawn may be looking for a little help as it comes to life this spring.
The weather conditions over the last 6-8 months may have accelerated the incursion of moss into your lawn aided by numerous other factors. Now is your call to action to help your grass plants by combating the moss and therefore allowing the grass to flourish.

The “knee jerk” reaction may be to race to the local supplier, buy a Moss Killer, apply it and wait for the results.
But before you do and waste your money on a short term fix, how about dealing with the conditions that are conducive to moss invasion! After all – prevention is always better than cure.

Although this list is not exhaustive the main reasons for moss taking hold in lawns are;
1. Soil ph- certain mosses thrive in acidic conditions, whilst others prefer an alkaline ph.
2. Poor drainage – moss prefers to have wet feet!
3. Low nutrient status – your lawn has not been fed correctly, at the right time and is nutritionally challenged.
4. Compacted – frequent foot fall and the regular use of heavy machinery, the rolling action has reduced the number and size of soil air spaces. Your grasses roots can’t breathe and you are more likely to water logging.
5. Cutting you grass too low – scalping your lawn is a “no no”. Effectively you are chopping off the grass plants food production system (the leaf blade). Too short and it’s going to struggle for food – simple!

If you have addressed the environment the grass has to survive in you are well on the road to recovering the situation.
Now you can gently assist the grass plant with a little tonic. Sometimes we all need a little “pick me up” don’t we?

Iron sulphate applied at the correct rates and at the right times will perk the plant up (green it up) and will also help you in your battle against the moss.
This product can be found in Lawn sand (the sand being a carrier) and those coverall fertilisers found in garden centres. We at Hill’s Garden & Grounds Care, apply it in solution using a sprayer.

One note of caution before you go mad flinging or spraying this around, is that you should definitely ensure you do not get it on your prized and very expensive patio or paths as it will stain it. It is difficult or near impossible to remove the stains. So be very careful!

Tickle ( carefully folks) a dose of this on, followed in a few weeks by a spring fertiliser, and in no time you will see the shoots of recovery (grass) and the demise of the infiltrator (moss).

If you’d like to discuss a complete program of lawn care please call us on 01952 814111.
As always, there is not a one shot quick fix cure-all solution, – lawn husbandry requires full and consistent consideration over a period of time to maximise its health, look and productivity.

Stung into action….

If you’ve ever used the phrase “I am as busy as a bee” have you ever wondered how busy a bee can possibly be?
You can see a Bumble coming, wings a blur, making a silent approach. It zips by you and onto work.
Head down, doing its daily toil and then back to base to unload its precious liquid gold- nectar
It’s not an aggressor but a worker, only likely to sting you if you interrupt its schedule or be aggressive to it.
I am a fan but wary of anything that stings, having inadvertently disturbed the labours of a family of wasps on one occasion by strimming through a nest hidden in a bank.
As with most situations like this there is plenty of helpful advice. Don’t run but walk away. Human nature takes over and so does fight or flight. If you’ve got angry little fellas around your neck you don’t hang around. I ran (forgot my “what to do in a bee/wasp sting situation handbook) to my customers house. The upshot – my nurse customer beating me, with my shirt off with a fly swat, trying to remove the wasps. Picture that if her husband had walked in!
Busy chaps bees are and they play a significant part in our ecosystem and food production process as a super important pollinator. So important that it has been quoted that the human race would only survive a maximum of four years without their efforts.
The value of their services has been estimated at £200 million and their produce £1bn
If they vanished entirely imagine how many people with feather duster pollinators it would take to replace a hive of 55,000 bees that could pollinate half a million plants in one day. Not practical is it!
Unfortunately in recent years there has been a worrying and notable decline in their numbers and in some cases total loss of complete hives.
Scientists (those on the bees side) have pointed the finger in various directions including habitat destruction, weather change, contagious diseases and agriculturally applied insecticides.
A large digit is currently aimed at three insecticides (used mainly in crop seed protection) and the EU is currently proposing the banning of three such chemicals in an attempt reduce the decline in the bee population. Several countries have already done so and in the UK B&Q and Wickes have ceased sale of chemicals containing the insecticides.
You can help by encouraging them by enhancing their environment. Go bee friendly with your planting.

Landscaping in the winter

The onset of winter sets new challenges for the landscaper, shorter working days, inclement weather and occasionally freezing temperatures that can cause work to cease altogether.
Ground conditions can get a bit sticky underfoot and this makes the hard work even harder. You go to work with size ten boots and in clay they grow in size weighing you down and trip you up.
We suffer from S.A.D (seasonally affected digging) gone are the dry times and the soil that once delightfully slipped off your spade blade now clings on like a terra limpet.
In the animal world it is well known that hibernators binge eat to prepare for winter to fatten themselves up. Landscapers, in the main, increase their calorie intake so as to fuel their high energy requirements and to keep warm on those cold winter days.
They adopt their winter apparel – the layers go on. Base layers, thick socks, and insulated boots, middle layers, fleecy over layers, hats, gloves, overalls and coats. That’s the day starting clothing. Within five minutes of starting work the landscaper strip tease begins – off with the coat, hat etc. Stop work it all goes back on again.
Thankfully the UK winter is usually a short one (2011 being an exception and not the rule). The winter solstice comes and goes and the onset of dusk slowly draws out every day. The sun gradually moving towards its summer vernal equinox and everyday in doing so cheering us as the onset of spring nears.

Gardening – good for the soul…

I consider myself to be very lucky.
This weekend we were working in a long standing customers garden, the weather was superb (a rarity this summer) and all was well in my world.
As usual after a few minutes of using the fork I was joined by the resident Robin (every garden has one). They’re bold little souls the Robins, getting quite close to where I was working to take advantage of my hard work and a dip into the buffet I was providing for him. You should have heard his frantic, almost excited “cheep cheep” knowing he was going to get a free lunch. The Blackbird is a little more circumspect and hangs back hoping to pick up a few scraps.
This particular garden has had years and years of soil improvement and nurturing. The regular, year in year out manuring shows, as the soil is so so beautiful to work ~ dark and crumbly and very fertile. I marvel at this once again as I take the fork to the potato row.
I get quite excited about harvesting vegetables as it’s the revelation of the preceding month’s hard work – preparation, feeding, watering and pest and disease control. With potatoes you never know what’s in store (or going to be). Carefully under forking the roots , and lifting to avoid damage to the crop, you lift away and hope for the best. Fortunately I was rewarded with a very nice sample of 2nd earlies and I contently placed these in a box and proceeded to the runner bean stand.
Every year on this plot I’ve grown runner beans on three wigwams using the customer’s poles. However these poles have had their day and I retired them last season. So a new bamboo frame was erected over a trench one foot deep and wide (which was filled with homemade compost).
The Bean plants sexily named “Pole Dancer” where very slow to get going in pots and frankly looked sick. Once planted out though they took off and rapidly wound around and up my new structure in readiness for flowering and bean production. The Bee’s have had a tough time this year in the cold wet conditions but they are complete troopers and did their work – beans in the box! If I had one request it would be for someone to develop a bean that was a different colour to the foliage – it’s so easy to miss them if our not very careful to return again and find a few that are a foot long and are drawing their pensions.
This property overlooks the railway line and it’s not the quietest garden I work in – train whistles and the rat a tat tat of metal wheels on track every half hour takes some getting used to.
As I feel the sun and marvel at the wildlife as I collect the fruits of my labours (which I add all go into the elderly customer’s kitchen) I often look at the passengers on the trains commuting to and fro to their places of work. I am reminded of the film “The Wall” (Pink Floyd) and see anonymous, expressionless, even sullen faces as they are transported to their offices, computers and unnatural lighting.
The raison d’être of this piece is to say that if you have a garden and a lifestyle of offices and indoor living – get out there and enjoy your little wildlife wonderland and make the most of it growing what you can – it is extremely rewarding and great for your soul.

Why is the grass greener on the other side of the street?

Have you ever driven down your road slowly and taken note of the front lawns?
Has it ever crossed your mind why the quality of the grass varies so much and why there are so many varying colours of green?
Why is one lawn a verdant colour and lush whilst another is pale and lack lustre and full of weeds and patchy.
Unfortunately this down not down to luck but good husbandry – the application of scientific know how!
I could bamboozle you with science but the fundamental factors affecting your lawn and those that maybe making it look like a worn out field rather than a bowling green are soil, water, nutrients weeds, pests and diseases.
A professional in lawn care will assess all of these factors and know how best to deal with them in a cost effective and timely manner.
If you want your neighbours to be green with envy give Hill’s Gardens and Grounds Care a call and we can assess your lawn and recommend the correct management techniques and treatments.