My Gardening Gurus – Anna, Sepp and Phil
One of winter’s best features is having the excuse to sit down with a good book. And Anna Pavord, my favourite gardening guru, published Growing Food last year and it is always going to be on the bookshelf to dip into from time to time.
Anna describes different planting plans, one such is the Exuberant Potager, where she mixes flowering plants to complement the vegetables. Here she advocates areas with different plant mixes:
- nasturtiums, beans and squash
- lettuce, onions with eschscholtzia
- carrots, beetroot with marigolds, among others
In fact, a bit like my planting which is very mixed, but not so well thought out. I’m working on a plan to incorporate her ideas.
Other plans include a formal herb garden, a Mediterranean garden, a city larder for a small balcony, cottage garden, salad and herb plot, a vegetable patchwork, traditional kitchen garden, an alcholic hedge (!), and a formal fruit garden. All the plans illustrated with delightful drawings, much in the style of the Dorothy Hartley books of yesteryear. The plans are easily adapted to suitable most plots, with a bit of artistic licence. Anna is such a respected gardener, she has had a hellebore named after her, Anna’s Red.
The ‘cunning plan’ of last November was to clear all the plants from most of the beds in the back garden and cover with leaves and horse manure. The leaves to provide an airy protective covering and eventually be taken down into the earth by the worms, with the manure holding the leaves down so they don’t fly around the garden. This mulching also ensures the bluebells, that have grown in large patches and grow between and through plants, come through the leaves and can be seen and easily dug up. Well as I said, that was the plan and it has worked reasonably well, although I think some bluebells have been missed, again, so probably next year will see me digging more up. We replanted them on the periphery of the garden and down a grassy drive beside our house.
Mulching is big in Sepp Holzer’s activities in his property in Austria. Famous for his permaculture philosophy and practices, Sepp is so down to earth and practical, it is a joy to read his book. There are web pages you can read and also videos. He writes about using pigs to clear ground before planting – so similar to Phil Drabble‘s experiences I read about many years ago.
Both inspirational men. I would love to meet Sepp and talk gardens, sadly Phil died in 2007 at the age of 93.
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
Sowing Tips from Experts
It’s always good coming across a commonsense, straightforward account of how to do something and here are some of the books I refer to frequently for help when getting seeds and equipment together:
Anna Pavord – Growing Food: Eminently readable, easy to digest, beautifully illustrated with line drawings, much in the style of Dorothy Hartley. Anna gives details on a raft of planting plans. One plan I was attracted to was the Potager’s Garden where she advocates some lovely combinations of flowers and vegetables. Much in the way I grow our vegetables and fruit in fact, but she gave me some ideas of companion planting I haven’t used before.
Raymond Poincelot wrote Organic No-Dig, No-weed Gardening which I read cover to cover when I came across it some years ago. It is full of great ideas, clear instructions, and gives a clear understanding of his concept.
Allotment Gardening: An Organic Guide for Beginners by Susan Berger is another book I have by my bedside and is regularly referred to.
Geoff Hamilton‘s Gardeners World … is a bible I refer to frequently. He was my kind of gardener, self reliant and imaginative when looking for solutions, without going too mad on devices, but using commonsense … He gives very useful and clear instructions on how to construct inexpensive cloches.
And then I love reading Carol Klein’s Growing your own Garden. Bliss! I can hear her voice with the enthusiasm oozing out on every page! I have met her and she is just the same in real life. A great lady!
Trawling the Net I came across Madeleine Giddens’ website where she has put a clear and concise guide to sowing herb seeds. She gives useful links to seed suppliers and books to follow up.
I hope you find these helpful – if nothing else it is a booklist for winter reading!
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
Why Bees Collect Pollen in Baskets
A visit to a local fifteenth century churchyard on the first sunny day that enticed us out of the house, reminded me of the uniqueness of pollen colours. For years I was completely unaware of how each plant produces a different pollen colour and that because honeybees collect pollen from only one source at a time it is easy to see the colours. The bee adds a tiny amount of nectar to the pollen as it collects it which makes the pollen stay on the bee’s pollen basket, which is in fact on just one strand on each rear leg.
For instance in this picture of a bee in the churchyard on a white anemone blanda – usually a purply/blue colour – you can see the pollen is a creamy white. Snowdrops provide a red pollen and dandelions a reddish yellow. There is a fascinating page on the Bristol Beekeepers website showing pollen colours for a variety of plants.
This fantastic image by Dave – see his website – is clearer, the bee is on plum blossom.
So why do bees collect pollen? It is a source of protein, fat, starch and vitamins and fed to bee larvae along with honey and a little of what is called queen jelly, a secretion from the glands in the heads of worker bees. A well written Wikipedia page gives more in depth information.
You might this website of artist Valerie Littlewood, interesting, she is fascinated by all things bee, who now lives in Florida.
You may wonder why bumblebees’ pollen baskets don’t have similar colours, it’s because they are gather pollen from a variety of plants so the colours are all mixed up.
Interestingly Anna Pavord writes in The Independent Magazine about the historical daffodils she has in her garden that were collected from churchyards and abandoned gardens by Alan Street of Avon Bulbs and are now available on their website. Sadly they are now completely sold out … but will be ready to order in May to plant in the autumn.
I’d quite like to grow some dwarf narcissi under the cherry trees and have made a another note in the diary to get in touch with the Yorkshire growers Miniature Bulbs later this year. I’ll have a hard job deciding on which ones to plant, they are all utterly gorgeous!
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor