Learn to garden with Mike. #GardeningMadeEasy

Over the past fifteen weeks of COVID-19 lockdown, I have shared my garden, live, every Friday morning on Instagram. My ‘Weekly Wander‘ has allowed me to showcase my garden as it has grown away and burgeoned through the season. Every week an enthusiastic gathering of gardeners (is there a collective noun for lots of gardeners?) has tuned in and watched my garden’s progress. Along the way (he said, avoiding the much overused word ‘journey’) trug-loads of gardening questions have been put to me.

Mike’s ‘Weekly Wander’ – Week 14

Watch Mike’s ‘Weekly Wander’ – Week 14 by clicking this link.

It occurred to me that there are many, many aspiring amateur gardeners out there. Gardeners who want a beautiful green space of their own, no matter what the size. Whilst I trained professionally as a gardener, I clearly remember my very early days of making mistakes (and there were many), muddling through and trying to do my best. It was hugely frustrating at times. Things were different in those dark, ‘Neanderthal’ days (yes, I really am THAT old). There was no Instagram. There was no easily accessible community of gardeners on Facebook. I had Alan Titchmarsh in my lounge on a Friday evening for half an hour, but he seemed not to notice that I had my own specific questions, individual concerns and associated problems.

And so I am introducing #GardeningMadeEasy.

My idea is not rocket science, it’s been done before in various guises, I suspect. #GardeningMadeEasy is about sharing my love, passion and knowledge of gardening and plants with others. I certainly don’t know it all, but I know a fair amount and I love chatting (as you will have noticed) and sharing that knowledge with fellow gardeners.

Whether you are a complete newbie to gardening or looking to increase your existing gardening knowledge and skills I will be here to help.

#GardeningMadeEasy will be driven by the gardening jobs that need to be done right now to help your garden, your pots, containers and hanging baskets flourish. There will be:

  • Easy to follow, live Instagram demos and talks with the experts
  • Helpful IGTV videos, and
  • Plain English blog posts

I will aim to demonstrate, explain and de-mystify some of the gardening basics and some of the more complex tasks that budding amateurs will want to strive to achieve.

Amongst MANY gardening topics I will explain:

  • Confusing gardening terminology
  • Different composts and soil improvers and when & how to use them
  • How and when to feed and fertilise plants
  • Pruning and propagation
  • Pests & diseases and how to use them effectively.

I’ll also be lifting the lid on some garden design tricks of the trade, which you can use in your green patch.

I’ll not be able to cover everything, of course, but you’ll be able to message me with any problems you are struggling with.

If this is something that will be of interest to you, please SUBSCRIBE to my blog (www.mike-palmer.com) and my Instagram feed (@mikepalmer01) to see all details of live demos and talks, IGTV videos and blog posts and SHARE with all of your gardening family and friends.

Thank you.

Mike

April 2020 – The Joys of being a Plant Parent

Firstly, I need to let you know I’m not a parent; not in the true sense of the word. My partner, Peter and I are ‘parents’ to two rather gorgeous moggies, Benson & Willow, but thereafter any ‘parenting’ is pretty much non-existent. That having been said, alongside aforementioned felines, I do tend to take a somewhat (tough) parental path with the plethora of plants in my patch. I do, its no joke!

Each morning, particularly in April, I’m seen running around the garden cajoling my unruly ‘kids’ to get out of bed (not so much a bed as a greenhouse really) so that I can feed and water them before making them presentable for the day ahead. And then, of course, the longer term goal of keeping them fit and healthy for the school term, sorry, the gardening season ahead.

This month is all about ‘waking up’ sleeping plants. Dahlias, deciduous agapanthus, zantedeschias (Calla lilies), Abyssinian bananas, pelargoniums and brugmansias all spend the winter months cosied up in the greenhouse. Not that cosy though; ‘tough love’ parenting means I set the temperature to just above freezing at 2-3°C maximum. I won’t be tolerating any ‘namby-pamby’, cosseted plants on my watch. And so, with the spring sunshine (hopefully) streaming into our daffodil-laden gardens the process of gradually wakening these sleeping beauties begins. With all of the aforementioned plants, a sip or two of water is their only initial requirement; just enough to dampen the compost around their roots. Too much water and tubers or root systems might rot. Slowly, slowly catchy monkey. As the month romps away, and blimey, April can move like shiitake mushrooms off a shovel (I believe that’s the phrase), watering is gradually increased in terms of both volume and frequency. Towards the middle of the month a fortnightly liquid feed (tomato feed with seaweed extract) is incorporated into the H2O regime. These plants will need to perform brilliantly for their ‘pushy’ show-business parent and, beginning to feed now on a fortnightly basis is the perfect time to put those ‘show-time’ wheels in motion.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ beginning to grow away

Towards the end of April, if not sooner, signs of life will become evident (the plants, not me). Finials of fresh green foliage on deciduous agapanthus and zantedeschia (Calla lilies) will push up determinedly from within the pots; the dark, plum-coloured, juvenile foliage of the Abyssinian banana will twist up slowly from the top of its ‘rubbery’ stem and fresh, green leafage will gradually emerge from the seemingly dormant stems of brugmansia. Similarly with dahlias, small dark, shiny eyes will begin to twinkle across the tops of the awakening tubers.

Yes, we have no (Abyssinian) bananas

In other greenhouse news, cosmos and tithonia seedlings are growing away nicely, thank you for asking. Once the first set of true leaves have unfolded, usually mid-April here, it’s time to prick them out and pot on into my plastic, modular cell trays. As they’re plastic, they’ll continue to be used now until such time as they are no longer fit for purpose.

Cosmos seedlings

My castor oil, Ricinus communis ‘Red Giant’ seedlings, true to their variety name put on monstrous growth fairly quickly and were potted on into 1L pots of rich garden compost in the first week of the month. A rich compost will serve them well as they need all the energy they can muster to attain their epic proportions in my borders. These six foot ‘giants’ will stun and amaze all who visit the garden, which seems likely to be just the two of us and the cats, as we speak!

Dark and moody foliage of Ricinus communis ‘Red Giant’

In the garden, borders are fed with chicken manure pellets to nourish the tentative signs of perennial growth, just beginning to peek above the surface of the soil. A gentle word of warning; both you and your neighbours will be aware that chicken manure has been deployed! The woody stems of Penstemon ‘Andenken an Friedrich Hahn’ (syn. Garnet) and P. ‘Hidcote Pink’ are cut down to approximately ten centimetres, just above the newly emerging flush of new growth. I keep the top growth on penstemons during winter as it protects the crowns and roots on those seemingly never-ending cold, wet days.

April is also the time to consider lawn care options. Never a particularly enjoyable task (for me, at least) but attention now will pay dividends later. Lawn care now consists of

  • Scarification, (the removal of thatch from the lawn) which in law (my law), has to be done with the help of an electric/petrol scarifier. Don’t try this at home the ‘old fashioned’ way (by hand) unless you’re looking for a week convalescing in bed with backache.
  • Spiking the lawn with a garden fork (which is a ‘GREAT’ workout) is also incredibly beneficial for the lawn (and me) as it helps alleviate compaction and gets oxygen down to the grass roots, both of which will work wonders for that lush, green, striped, summer sward.
  • Over-seeding, to cover any bare patches.

It’s been a glorious April with clear, blue skies and temperatures soaring to 21°C. In my garden, blooming their spring socks off this month have been Tulipa ‘Purple Dream’, T. ‘Ballerina’ and T. ‘Prinses Irene’ alongside ivory Narcissus ‘Thalia’, Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Alba’ all overlooked by the delightful purple, red and pea-green shades of unfurling acer foliage.

See you next month folks!

Tulipa ‘Ballerina’, T. ‘Prinses Irene’ & T. ‘Purple Dream’