Saving a Plant called Alan

I know the above heading sounds suspiciously like a World War 2 film starring Tom Hanks, but bear with me I could have the making of the next big horticultural blockbuster, possibly since Day of the Triffids!

It all started with our idiot son, (who regular readers will know from his infrequent appearances in this blog). When he was at university some 8 years ago be decided to buy a plant from a market, and not knowing the names of any plants, decided to call it Alan. Alan the plant suffered severe neglect throughout his university career until eventually they both emerged at the end. Idiot son with a 1st Masters in Physics (which I am very proud of); Alan however, emerged a dehydrated, emaciated stalk with barely a sign of life (which I am not proud of).

The upshot of all this is that Alan is dying. Over the past years I have taken numerous cuttings from Alan and he has been given to all and sundry. But Alan the original was in a sorry state. When I told the idiot son that Alan was headed for the compost heap he went through all the 5 stages of grief as he begged me to do something, or, at least write his obituary in this blog. I promised I would do my best, but knew it was all over as I headed to the compost heap with a decrepit Alan. But, just as I was dismantling Alan to put him in the compost there was a glimmer of green appearing at one side.

With a bit of luck we may have saved plant Alan. It is early days, but we shall be singing 10 Te Deums at Church this Sunday in thanksgiving to God for his survival so far. The first picture shows Alan on his deathbed, the second shows me administering the Last Rites before commending him to the compost heap. Finally Alan in intensive care; pray for him. Click on each photo for a larger view.

5th June 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

Cutting back Jasmine. Jasmine is one of those fast growing climbers that sometimes needs to be cut right back every few years to reinvigorate it and to keep it under control. In my case the severe cutback was forced upon me as we are having our house painted and I didn’t think it would be right to just paint around it. Late Spring early Summer is a good time to cut back Jasmine, as it will be growing strongly and will soon recover. Don’t be afraid to cut back right to a couple of inches from the ground. Never cut right to the ground as you may let an infection in. Once you have cutback, water and mulch, and hopefully you will soon see new growth.

The first photo below shows the Jasmine before its drastic cut. The second shows the cutback point. Whilst the final photo shows the plant already recovering and reaching for the wall. Click on each photo for a larger view.

My Solanum has recovered. Regular readers of this blog will remember that Cruella (my wife) touched a lovely climbing Solanum that I had grown to over 30ft along the walls of our outside kitchen. Again regular readers will know that Cruella’s icy touch is guaranteed to kill any plant by instantly turning its stem black.

Like the Jasmine mentioned above, my only recourse was to cut it back to the ground and see if it would recover. Now I am not saying that this works every time, but if it looks like you have lost a precious plant then it is always worth cutting it right back to see if you can save it. After all what have you got to lose.

The first photo below shows the Solanum in its blighted state after being touched by Cruella. The second shows the cutback. The final photo shows the Solanum growing at a great pace and should be at least half its former length this season. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Repotting a Fig cutting. Figs trees provide good cuttings and grow on quite easily. So if you have a tree you can either take cuttings to add to your stock, or take them just to give to friends. Once your cutting has been in its pot for a couple of years it is a good idea to pot them on, but remember that figs don’t mind their roots being tight, so don’t go too large.

In my case I have a cutting that is two years old, produces fruit, yet I don’t want to put it into the ground. In addition it is in a black plastic pot in full sun, and I think it’s roots are being baked. Before transplanting a fig make sure you prepare a nice free draining compost. Do not use compost straight out of the bag, instead make a mix of 2 parts compost, 2 parts garden soil and 1 part sand. You can also throw some Perlite in if you haven’t got sand. Mix all of this together well and place your cutting into its new home with as little disturbance to the root ball as possible.

The first photos below show my little fig being baked whilst waiting for his new home. The next photos show my mixing process in action, whilst the final photo shows the fig in its new home, which should be ok for about 5 years.

An update. For those of you interested the photo below shows the latest extent of my Agave Americana flower spike. I asked Cruella if she would take this photo, and she always says the same thing every time I ask her to take a photo- “are you going to get changed”; I think she is implying my gardening clothes are scruffy.

Cruella has become a blue comedian

Now those of you who know me, will know that I cannot abide crudeness. It is not that I am a prude, but it just seems wrong and an abuse of language. The problem started when I told Cruella I was worried because my balls were misshapen. No sooner were the words out of my mouth before she launched into a full blue comedian routine starting with, she wondered why I walked that way etc. When I explained that I was talking about my Olive balls, this only made her worse. She has now written up a complete comedy routine around my innocent statement; and I’m not talking to her. On with the gardening.

25th May 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

🍈 Reshaping my Olive balls. Don’t you start! – As regulars readers of this blog will know I cloud pruned my Olive tree a few years back into a series of balls. This is relatively easy to do and adds structure and shape to your garden. Most people have Olive trees which are large amorphous lumps sitting in their garden, and they never even process the Olives. If this is you then it is time to cloud prune your tree. Olives are easy to prune to shape and you can shape it to boxes, stars or balls which ever you prefer.

Once you have chosen you design just get stuck in using hedge trimmers and make you basic shape. You will need to trim it up twice a year but this doesn’t take long. The first photo below shows my misshapen balls – stop it! Whilst the second and third shows my newly pruned balls, right that enough I’m leaving this topic. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I lay on my back under the tree to bring you this photo; now that is what you call dedication.

🌸 Cutting back Daisies. By now the first flush of flowers on all types of Daises, Margarites, Oesteospermum etc should be finished. Now is the time when you should prune off the seed heads and reshape them so that they will keep flowering. If you have a lot of these it can be a time consuming process. So whilst you have your hedge trimmer out reshaping your you know whats, then just run it over the Daisies. This looks brutal at first, but I promise you they will grow back as good as ever.

The first photo below shows a bed of Oesteospermums that are more or less spent. The second photo shows them brutally cut back. In the words of Arnie “They’ll be back”. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🍽 Feeding plants. Now that summer is about to get into its stride, don’t forget to feed your plants. And just as people don’t all like the same food, the same is true for plants. Your citrus trees need a weekly feed at the moment with specialist citrus food. Similarly your non citrus fruiting trees and plants need a different type of food. Your lawn, if you have one needs to be fed at least three times over the growing season. You will also need a good all round universal plant food for everything else, especially potted plants. In addition to the various types of plant food, I also mix up a big container of iron and put a glug of this into most waterings (but not succulents).

The first photo below shows some of my different types of plant food, together with mixed iron feed. The second photo shows my trusty feed spreader ready to give the lawn a snack. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🪚 Cutting back some Iris. If you have heeded my advice in previous posts, you will have deadheaded your Iris and left the stems there to feed the bulbs for next year. I know this can look a little untidy, but you get your rewards next year. By now some of your Iris stands should be ready for cutting back, but not all of them. Cut the stems right back to the ground, and don’t forget to thank them for their beautiful flowers. Always say goodnight and I either say a prayer or sometimes we sing a hymn or song. Favourites at the moment are “Abide with me” or “We’ll meet again”. Don’t be tempted to crack jokes, or make attempts at gallows humour, I assure you it is not appreciated and a tad insensitive.

The first photo below shows a stand that is ready for cutting back. The second photo shows one that is not ready. The final photo shows the use of a trailing Lantana to cover the bare area where the Iris has been. Click on each photo for a larger view.

👌 Some updates. For those of you interested, and that includes all of you I am sure. I thought you might like to see how my Loofah experiment is going and get a look at how my mighty Agave Americana flower spike is going; Cruella has just sniggered when I told her I was going to show you this. The first two photos show the progress of one of my Loofahs, including the start of a new baby Loofah. The final photo shows the Agave spike, it is now about 15 foot tall. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I don’t know what will happen when it reaches the tree

My Agave Americana has been named in a paternity suit

I know this is not the type of smut you are used to in my much respected and loved gardening blog, but I am afraid that an aspersion has been cast and it needed to be answered. I need to explain this to you from the beginning. My friend Jenny mentioned that she had a large cactus that had outgrown her garden and she enquired as to whether I knew any one who might like it. I suggested that our local Church garden would be a good recipient and it was agreed that I would call round and collect it.

However, little did I know that this was a mere ruse to frame my poor agave (I think lawyers call it a fishing expedition). Upon arrival at Jenny’s and the usual inconsequential chit chat we gardeners indulge in, Jenny showed me her Agave Victoria (no pun intended) which was obviously showing exceptional swelling and beginning to flower. I of course congratulated Jenny, when suddenly she became stern and serious. “How do you think that happened she enquired”. I of course said I had no idea. She responded saying “I think you do”. You are the only person in this village with flowering Agaves and they have obviously been setting seed!

To cut a long story short she went on to accuse my Agave Americana of impregnating her Agave Victoria. I was astonished and responded that my Agave had been grown properly in a Christian household and knew how to treat females with respect. Jenny responded sarcastically that my plant was obviously Agave Arnold Weinstein, I thundered back that her plant must be Agave Jezebel Floozy. Jenny then demanded maintenance payments for her plant including specialist plant food and a bigger pot. I responded that I would see her in court, but offered to go to mediation with Alan Tichmarsh.

Anyway the case is pending, but I still haven’t calmed down I feel stressed with this hanging over me. Let’s get on with the gardening. The first photo below shows my innocent Agave with the next showing the Jezebel.

13th May 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

🪡 Tieing in plants. It can get quite windy on the Costa Blanca so you have to make sure that tall or delicate plants are suitably tied in and secure from being broken or just whipped around. I use canes, twine and for some plants I use plastic ties. The plastic ties are very cheap and the most useful in many cases. It is important that you place the tie round the cane first before then looping it around the plant in a figure of 8. This means that you only have to untie the plant part to slide it up without damaging leaves. The photo below shows a growing sunflower with its plastic tie.

Another use for plastic ties is when you are tieing in whippy espalied stems. I have been growing an espalier fig tree for 5/6 years and it is important to tie the leading branches in before they get too woody. The first photo below shows a fig stem about to be tied. The second photo shows the espalied fig on its way to fulfilling its potential of covering the wall.

🔪 Keep trimming Yucca. Regular readers of this blog will recall that I severely cut back all of my Yuccas that were in pots because they kept blowing over in the wind. As expected all started to resprout from the shortened trunks and now have to be selectively pruned. The aim is to have the emerging leaf spears equidistant from each other in a pleasing pattern that stops overcrowding. Also don’t have any leaf spears pointing into the centre of the plant as it ruins the aesthetics.

The photos below show a range of my Yuccas being pruned to be lovely.

🌼 Pinch out Marigolds. If you have grown Marigolds from seed then you will already know easy they are to grow. By now all your seedlings should have been planted out and the first ones should be coming to flower. Now this is where you have to be cruel to be kind. If you want bushy multi-flowered plants then you need to do the following.

As soon as you see the first flower bud appear at the top of the stem, pinch it out between your thumb and forefinger (I know you will all have grown your thumbnails long as I told you). After a week or so the flower will then throw out two further flower buds, one left and one right. Again pinch these out between your thumb and forefinger. The plant will then panic and think it is under a sustained attack by a grazing animal and it will then throw flower buds out all over the place.

Once you have pinched out those first three flower buds do not do any more, instead let the plant flower and deadhead as normal. The photo below shows the first buds being nipped out. As I do this I tell them to close their eyes and I recite St Julian of Norwich “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” 

🤺 Continue to take cuttings. I have already discussed in previous posts about taking cuttings. Growing from seed and taking cuttings is all part of being a gardener. If you just buy plants from garden centres or markets then you are not really gardening you are shopping. This is not to say that getting the odd new plant is not important, but it should definitely not be the mainstay of your garden.

Try and get out in your garden each morning and take three cuttings per day. Also, carry your knife and a small plastic bag everywhere you go, so that if you see a nice plant you can quickly take a cutting. If you get stopped by the police for carrying a knife, tell them it is ok as I have given you permission. Not all of your cuttings will survive, but if you have too many to use then give them to friends and family as presents, they will love it.

The photos below show a variety of cuttings I have been taking lately. This includes a nice Geranium from my litigious friend Jenny. As I snipped it off she sarcastically commented that it was “not the only thing that needed snipping round here”.

My garden has become the Lourdes of Spain

I don’t want to worry you but my garden appears to have become a miraculous plot a bit like Lourdes, but for plants. My garden is a place where plants that only flower every 50 to 100 years have started flowering. Now this may be a portent of the end of days or it may be that I am just a very good gardener! I prefer the latter possibility. Let me explain. You will remember that one of my Agave Attenuata has started to flower after 20 odd years; the down side being that it dies after this. But also, there has been another miracle flowering, one of my Agave Americana (known as century plants for the time it takes to flower) has just started throwing up a flower spike. More of this later, let’s get on with the gardening.

6th May 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

😪 Saying goodbye to the Agave Attenuata. Those of you who follow this blog will know that to my astonishment one of my Agave Attenuata threw up a flower spike. This has been a source of great joy tinged with sadness, as after flowering the plant dies. I have been preparing for this moment for weeks, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh was as nothing compared to my arrangements.

The Agave had said all its good byes to its pups and we had already made arrangements for which area of the compost bin she would be laid. She had not requested a blindfold as she said the saw held no fear for her. The music had all been agreed. If you are interested here is the running order:

  • Miserere mei Deus
  • Chopin funeral march
  • Elgar’s Nimrod

After the formal stuff and whilst I laid the large Agave to rest in the compost bin, all the plants on the potting bench belted out the potting bench chorus of happy songs. The biggest hits were “Wind beneath my wings” and “Somewhere over the rainbow”. There was not a dry eye in the house. The whole event was almost spoiled by Cruella (my wife) shouting at us and telling us to “stop that racket”.

The first photo below shows the flower spike at its peak. The second photo shows me about to administer the coupe de grace by saw. Finally, the flower spike lies ready for composting and a return to the earth. But happily the Agave leaves lots of happy pups behind to continue the line. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🛁 Planting out Loofahs. You may remember that I sowed Loofah seeds earlier this year and they have been very successful. Loofahs need lots of heat, water and good supports to help them climb. You need to pot on seeds and cuttings when you start to see roots creeping out the bottom of their pot. Unfortunately loofah do not like being disturbed so it is a dangerous time when you are potting on.

I have decided to grow my loofahs in our pool area so that they grow up and along balustrades. I haven’t told Cruella (my wife) yet, but it should be ok as she cannot go out in daylight!. The photos below show the loofah ready to be potted on, followed by their place in the pool area. The final photo shows them beginning to take off. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🧹 Little things you need to do now. Now that everything is coming along nicely in the garden, there are little jobs and activities that you should not neglect. These include:

  • Tidy overgrown grass at the edge of paths
  • Now that the first bloom of Roses is almost over, prune further back for shape
  • Shade your potting bench in the afternoon sun to stop scorching

The photos below show my efforts in each of these areas. Yes, I know the potting bench shading is like a shanty town; I’m a gardener not a builder. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🇺🇸 Celebrating Agave Americana blooming. I am obviously a very lucky gardener to have two of the most reluctant flowering Agaves to come to bloom in my garden. Just when I was at my lowest point, mourning the loss of Agave Attenuata, God sent me comfort in the amazing flowering of Agave Americana. For those of you who don’t know, Agave Americana is known as the “century plant” as it takes a very long time to flower. The downside is, like the Attenuata it will die after flowering. However the good news is that the flower spike is spectacular rising in many cases to over 20 foot. I am looking forward to the next few weeks as the flower spike emerges (sometimes by two foot a day).

I don’t want to be morbid, but we are planning the funeral already. The potting bench chorus are rehearsing “Pie Jesu”, this will be followed by “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” which the Americana has informed me is its favourite hymn. Watch this space for future updates, I am thinking of getting a funeral plan.

The first photo below shows the Americana when I first noticed the flower spike emerging. The next photo shows me pointing out the obvious. The third photo shows me standing in awe, Cruella decided this blog’s photos are too boring and she insisted that I posed dramatically; perhaps you can tell I didn’t go to drama school. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Songs from the potting bench – the cuttings chorus

Now is the time to start taking cuttings from around your garden. The plants are full and juicy with vibrant growth and the cuttings when they are taken are full of optimism with their whole life before them. This combination of vibrant growth and optimism engenders the cuttings chorus.

Once you have taken your cuttings then spend sometime with them at the end of each day. Linger by the potting bench and just listen. Gradually as your ears become attuned you will hear the first faint choruses of joyful songs as the cuttings begin to sing. Some of their favourites include “Walking on sunshine” and “lovely day”, but their all time favourite is “I love to go a wandering” I especially like it when they belt out the chorus


This especially effective when the smaller plants take the soprano parts whilst the older cuttings come in with tenor and bass.

As the cuttings gradually become accustomed to my presence I sit on the potting bench and beat out the time to each song by drumming my feet and clapping my hands. This all goes on till the sun goes down when we all say our prayers before I bid them goodnight and promise to see them in the morning. On occasion Cruella (my wife) will come down and catch me, she of course can’t hear the cuttings singing and asks “why are you making such a noise?”. I never tell her even though she calls me an idiot – I fear she would do something terrible to the little cuttings if she knew they were happy. She has no soul; no I mean it she actually hasn’t.

Anyway let’s get on with making your own cuttings chorus.

27th April 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

🔪 Taking cuttings. By taking cuttings, you get copies of your favourite plants for free. You can either plant these out in your garden to increase or replace existing stock, or, you can give them away to friends and family as presents. Taking cuttings is easy, but I must warn you that not all will survive.

🏗 Preparation. Making appropriate preparations to take cuttings is very important. You should always take cuttings in the morning before noon as that is when the plants will be most hydrated. You will need a sharp knife. Never use secateurs as these will crush the stem. I use an Opinel knife which can be sharpened and always has a good edge. You will also need a plastic bag to place your cuttings in to stop them drying out. The photo below shows my trusty knife that I have used for over 30 years, together with a plastic bag stolen from the kitchen.

Next you need to prepare some pots ready to receive your cuttings. It is best to do this the night before you are going to take your cuttings as this means you will not be delayed whilst your cuttings are in danger of drying out. Try and use good compost mixed with Perlite. You should be aiming for a free draining mix that feels “crunchy” when you squeeze it. It is a good idea to leave your pots watering from the bottom overnight, you can then leave them to drain on the potting bench when you go to take your cuttings.

The first photo below shows my mixed compost ready in a trug. Whilst the second shows the filled pots soaking to absorb water overnight. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌞 Preparation on the day. On the morning you are going to take your cuttings you need to do a little bit of preparation. You will need the following:

  • Some plastic bags
  • A selection of canes cut to about 9 inches
  • Hormone rooting powder/liquid is helpful but not essential
  • A dibber to make holes for your cuttings (a pencil will do)

🌿 Solanum cuttings. Solanum are lovely climbing plants which have a long flowering season and enjoy full sun or partial shade. When looking for a potential cutting look for a fresh (whippy) stem that is non flowering. Make a cut just below a leaf node to leave you with about 5 inches of stem. The photo below shows the ideal way.

Once you have the cuttings back at your potting bench, then you need to cut off all the leaves up the stem leaving just a few at the top. Dip the stem into some rooting liquid and then poke it deep into your prepared pot. I put three cuttings in each pot equally spaced around the edge. Cuttings do much better when they are planted close to the edge; don’t ask me why it’s magic.

Once you have all your cuttings in place stick one of your short canes in the middle of the pot and then cover it with a plastic bag which you will need to tape down in a couple of places. The plastic bag will keep the cuttings hydrated for the first week or so till they get some roots. Whilst the cane acts like the centre pole in a circus big top and keeps the bag up stopping it flopping on to the cuttings.

The first photo below shows the bits of equipment you will need. The second shows the cutting after its leaves have been trimmed. The final photo shows the cuttings in their very own big top. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌸 Dianthus and Carnation cuttings. To take cuttings from Dianthus or Carnations you don’t actually cut. Look for good fresh looking non flowering stems and then instead of cutting pull sharply on the stem and the top two or three inches should come away. Now you need to peel away (don’t use a knife) the lower leaves till again you are left with a few leaves at the top. These can then be planted as before with three cuttings to a pot.

The photos below show the cutting prior to its stripping, and then after and ready for potting. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌿 Trailing Lantana cuttings. I like trailing Lantana as it is a good ground cover plant and makes interesting islands in gravelled areas. Another important use for trailing Lantana which I mentioned in my last post, is to plant it close to bulbs. Then when the bulbs are finished you just allow the Lantana to creep over what would have been a bare space in your border.

Taking cuttings from Lantana is similar to the process for Solanum. Again you look for a good fresh looking, non flowering stem and cut below a leaf node. This time instead of cutting the lower leaves off with your knife, pinch them off with your thumbnail and forefinger. If you have failed to grow your thumbnails – as I requested you to in an earlier post – then you only have yourself to blame.

The photos below show the cutting prior to its stripping, and then the process of snipping off with your thumbnail. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🎼 Adding to your cuttings chorus. For the next month or so you should be out in your garden taking cuttings. By the end of Summer you should have a veritable choir singing their heads off each night and entertaining you. You will find that gradually their repertoire will increase till eventually they will be trying three part harmony and all the great songs from the musicals. Go ahead, give it a go. All together now…


Off with their heads and then tie them up

When I told Cruella (my wife) that I was going out into the garden to cut heads off and tie things up she immediately expressed a sharp interest in being involved. Filled with excitement she ran off to get what she called “her tools” and returned two minutes later with an axe and rope. However, there was a palpable air of disappointment when I told her I was deadheading Iris and tieing them up. She stormed off accusing me of deliberately misleading her; but not before aiming an axe blow at my head which I thankfully ducked.

Anyway, enough of all this non gardening excitement, let’s get on with the really good stuff.

26th April 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

🪓 Dead heading Iris and other bulbs. Here in Alicante province most of the Iris and other bulbs have been in bloom for weeks; and it has been a very good year. However, if you want excellent flowers next year you must dead head as soon as the flower has finished. If you fail to dead head then the plant will direct all its energy into creating seed and this will diminish the bulb and next years potential flower.

A few years ago it became fashionable when bulbs had finished flowering to tie the plant leaves and stems into a tidy knot. This was especially the case with daffodils and tulips. But please don’t do this as it is disastrous for the bulb. For the bulb to be replenished you need the stem and leaves to continue the process of photosynthesis to feed the bulb with energy.

When deadheading Iris go just below the spent flower head and you will see a swelling of the stem, cut just below this swelling for the maximum benefit. The first photos below show various stands of Iris at various stages in the deadheading cycle. It is important that you don’t wait till all the flowers in a particular stand have finished flowering. Treat each plant individually and dead head them as they become ready. The final photo shows exactly where to cut for the best results. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Finally with long stemmed plants like Iris you don’t want them flopping down and shading out other plants as they die. So the easiest thing to do is just tie them up loosely. Also make sure you think of succession planting, a large stand of Iris will leave a big hole in your border, and you will not be able to plant directly into the bulb area. I overcome this by having a ground cover plant such as trailing Lantana which sits beside the Iris stand and then comes into play when I eventually chop down the stems. The photo below shows my loosely tied Iris with the ambitious Lantana waiting to take over.

Another bulb that I dead head is a few pots of spiral grass that I leave sitting on window ledges. After deadheading the flowers I will cut back the stems in about a month or two. These will be left sitting on the potting bench till late Autumn when they show some re growth and then they will be back in action for Winter and Spring. I am replacing them on the window ledges with Geraniums which will be swopped to the potting bench and replaced with the spiral grass in its turn; ah the beauty of seasonality. The photos below show the spiral grass flowers getting the chop and finally finding their way to the potting bench. The final photo shows the upstart geraniums who have taken over. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Finally, before I leave deadheading for a while, don’t forget to deadhead every day on repeat flowering plants such as Roses. The more you dead head the greater will be the repeat flowering. And also, don’t forget to compost all your spent flower heads as you will be adding to the wonderful circle of life in your garden. Oh, and another thing always thank your plants as you deadhead them it pays to show your appreciation, and if you like, say a little prayer and tell them how much you are looking forward to seeing them next year. The photos below show a couple of colourful trugs heading for the compost bins. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Slugs, Snails, Greenfly – this time it’s war

Just as everything gets growing in the garden so we start to face the normal onslaught of nature red in tooth and claw. Suddenly, everything wants to chew, chomp, gnaw and generally eat every plant you have lovingly grown all Winter. It can be heartbreaking to see all your hard work being destroyed, sometimes literally overnight by an invasion of Greenfly that you did not notice till it is too late.

Now there tends to be two basic responses to this; either you use chemicals, or you rely on nature to correct the balance. But in my opinion neither of them hold true on all occasions. You can be against chemicals and hope that nature will self correct, and on the rare occasion armies of Ladybirds will fly in and save some of your plants. However, from my experience you will have to sparingly use some chemicals just to keep the overall balance.

Anyway let’s get on with it. Get your glasses on and have a good look at your plants, it’s war out there.

21st April 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

🍃 Dealing with Greenfly. If like me you are getting old and need reading glasses, then it is time to put them on and have a close look at all your plants. I suspect you will find that Greenfly are building vast colonies on most of your plants and sucking the life out of them. Greenfly are one of nature’s greatest camouflagers and can blend expertly with a wide range of plants. When I donned my glasses the other day for a quick check around I was confronted by Greenfly on my Roses and a Dame de Noche. The first photo below shows the heavily infected Dame de Noche and the second shows the start of a colony on a Rose. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Now, generally Greenfly won’t kill a plant, but they can greatly weaken it and destroy its shape and looks. If you are going to use chemicals (and I do when necessary), then you need the right tools for the job. For large infestations I suggest that you use a 5 litre pump action sprayer these are very cheap and efficient. You can mix up enough chemicals for the whole garden and get it sprayed all in one go. For smaller infestations, and to make sure they don’t become big ones, then you need a hand held ready mixed proprietary spray. With the smaller spray you can just pop to the shed and fetch it when you see a problem. The photo below shows the chemicals I use and my spray equipment. Other brands are of course available.

Note that the term “Polivalente” on the packaging is important as it ensures it will cover a wide variety of harmful insects

🐚 Planting Marigolds and dealing with snails. By now you should have started planting out all your annuals that you have grown from seed. This year I am planting out lots of Marigolds and Sunflowers. Now Marigolds are an absolute favourite of snails who will travel quite a distance just to chomp on the delicate new stems of young Marigolds. Given that I have planted out over a 130 seedlings this presents a veritable feast for slugs and snails.

The gallery of photos below gives you an idea of my planting marathon. I have included some panorama photos as an experiment. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Unfortunately there is only one way to successfully save your Marigolds from slugs and snails, and that is to use slug pellets. Make sure you use only bird and pet friendly pellets. Water in all your seedlings and then wait about an hour before sprinkling the pellets around each seedling. Do not water the seedlings for about three days as this will give time for all the snails to try and get to the plants. After three days the plants should have hardened up a bit and the snails will have been dealt with.

The photos below show the brand of slug pellet that I use together with my sprinkling method. If you don’t believe in the efficacy of slug and snail pellets then the last photo shows the tsunami of snails that threw themselves against my defensive wall around one seedling. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I have tried using beer traps in the past, but all I got was drunken happy snails

💐 Enjoy your garden. After this tale of the terrors of the garden it is all to easy to think of gardening as a chore. But it is not, gardening is a gift from God, who has allowed us to explore the wonders He has made. The photo below shows a couple of mottos I have attached to my outside kitchen wall just to remind me. Followed finally by my delight in this years Roses.

Moments like this make it all worthwhile

It is time to grow your thumbnails long and Cruella killed a squirrel

Both of the above statements are perfectly true and pertinent to the appropriate conduct of this gardening blog. However, Cruella (my wife) is denying the squirrel murder, but we all know she has form when it comes to unexpected deaths. Anyway all will be explained in a moment, let’s turn our minds to less morbid stuff. On with the gardening.

14th April Things I have been doing lately:

💀 Deadheading. By now the garden is gradually getting going and you should have seen lots of early flowers so far. But the key to keeping them coming is to deadhead on a daily basis. If you don’t deadhead, then once the plant has roundabout 50% seeds heads then it will stop flowering and transfer all its energy into producing the seed. To stop this you have to take away it’s seed-heads by deadheading so that is forced to produce more flowers.

At this time of year it is a good idea to grow your thumbnails long as this will provide you with a pair of secateurs at the end of each hand. By pressing your thumb against your forefinger you can neatly deadhead most plants. I do not recommend this method for Roses otherwise you will need a blood transfusion quite quickly.

The first photo below shows my handy secateurs (pun intended) together with Cruella’s for comparison. By the way don’t think that’s nail polish on her thumb it’s not!

The next photos show my various deadheading activities as I wander round the garden. Don’t forget to compost all your deadheads. And remember it is not just flowers that need deadheading; plants such as Mother in Laws Tongue need to have spent stems pulled out. You can detect which stems are ready by gently pulling on them, those that are dead will just pull out. Click on each photo for a larger view

🪡 Tying up plants. Long stemmed plants such as Iris will need to be supported by tying up. With all the rain we have had on the Costa Blanca lately they have been very battered about. Given these flowers are relatively short lived make sure you tie them up to support them and enjoy them a little longer.

Where possible I will grow long stemmed plants through other stronger plants so that they get good natural support. But where this is not possible then it’s out with the canes and string to give some support. The first photo below shows a stand of Iris growing through some Elephant Bush.

There are two clumps of Iris in this bed and both are forced to grow tall to compete with the surrounding plants

The first two photos below show other clumps of Iris before they were battered by the rain. The second two photos show my efforts at holding them up. Click on each photo for a larger view

🌱 Hardening off seedlings. If you are growing seeds – and I certainly hope you are – then don’t forget to harden them off before you plant them out. Even here in sunny Spain you must accustomise your plants to the garden by gradually hardening them off. Hardening them off basically means bringing your seedlings out of their sheltered accommodation each day for about five days before you eventually plant them out. The photo below shows the great hardening off process.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

🪚 Dealing with Yuccas. I have lots of Yucca in various spots in my garden and they range from the small potted variety to large garden giants. Left to their own Yucca will just keep growing to quite a great height and the drawback to this is that at eye level you are just left with a trunk and you miss out on the sword like leaves and the flowering stems. So don’t just leave your Yucca, manage them to your advantage.

I have a stand of Yucca that I have grown between the drive and my potting area. Two of these have been leaning over the path, one left and one right. Although I trim the sharp end of the leaves, I sometimes forget and consequently my scalp gets spiked every time I pass this area. Enough was enough so I cut the main stems of these two back by just over half. They will of course regrow. The photos below show the miscreants before and after surgery. Click on each photo for a larger view

In addition to these two I had another large clump of Yucca that needed to be cut back . The central stem in this clump had grown very tall and the flower spike was too far in the air to be appreciated. In addition this was now shading the light from my bathroom. When I mentioned this to Cruella (my wife) she said incredulously “who needs light? I just talk to my mirror and ask it who is the fairest” I explained to her that not everyone has a talking mirror that lies; she hasn’t spoken to me for a week.

After Cruella eventually calmed down I explained that I needed her help to cut this Yucca back. The problem I faced was that I needed to push on the trunk of the Yucca to make sure it fell in the right direction, whilst at the same time wielding my chainsaw. Cruella eventually relented and armed with a swimming pool brush her role was to push on the trunk whilst I cut.

The first photo below shows the problem with the main stem of the Yucca casting shade on the window. The second photo shows Cruella (with her newly dyed hair) pushing with all her might on the trunk. Click on each photo for a larger view

The next photo shows the newly cleared area letting more light into my bathroom. The final photo shows the trunk lying on the driveway ready for disposal. Now this is the bit when it gets spooky. As I moved the trunk I noticed something furry wedged in the very top spike of leaves. On closer inspection it was a dead red squirrel that had either fallen into the Yucca from the nearby palm, or, it had been placed there. When I questioned Cruella about storing dead animals she at first confessed to nothing. Blurting out “I don’t know anything about a dead squirrel” when I pointed out that I hadn’t said which type of animal she stormed off shouting “you never support me in my hobbies”. Click on each photo for a larger view

🤺 Reshaping small Yucca. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I have a range of Yucca and other plants on a terraced area at the rear of my house. Because of high winds in winter, these yucca were regularly blown over, breaking leaves and quite often pots. To overcome this I undertook a drastic cutback to the stem for all of them last January. Once the top growth was cut off the leaves on all the stems were removed. This left bare trunks which I knew would sprout new side growth. The photos below show the initial stage of the cutback. Click on each photo for a larger view

When the new growth starts to come through you need to select how many leaves you want to retain and their position on the trunk. Taking a sharp gardening knife just simply slice out the growth areas you do not want. Try and achieve a pleasing distribution and make sure the new growth is not clumped together. You will need to do this every week for a month or so till the plant recognises the dominant growth you want and then it will stop producing new shoots.

The photos below show my various slicing activities. I do not intend to let these Yucca grow too tall as I don’t want to start over again. Click on each photo for a larger view

🇺🇸 Cutting back Agave Americana. If you have Agave Americana, then you will know that it is the brute and assassin of the Agave world. This is a plant not to be messed with its long arching leaves are edged with deadly spikes and it has a dagger like point at the end of each leaf. You should never plant Agave Americana near paths or walkways as they will inevitably spike people or at their worst take out the odd eye or two.

Having said this, planted in the correct place this can be a stunning plant that is a real talking point (no pun intended). I have three very large plants all of which are planted off the pathway at the top of my wild wood. Overall the plants are very easy to take care of, just give them the right dry conditions and then stay well clear. I noticed this year that Lentisco bushes were growing up around the Agave spoiling their look, and that the plants themselves needed a trim to reshape.

The first photo below shows my Agave being overcrowded by the Lentisco and looking a little untidy.

There are three of them in there, but you would not know it

The next photos show the Agave freed from the encircling Lentisco and nicely tidied up. I meanwhile am lacerated from head to toe and have lost at least three pints of blood. Click on each photo for a larger view

The big palm weevil special

When I told Cruella (my wife) that I had to rush out a special Palm weevil post by popular demand, she just curled her lip and scornfully replied “it’s only a bloody beetle get over it”. I hope this conveys some of the pressure I face on a daily basis. I would leave her but she is holding the garden ransom, and on a number of occasions she has threatened to curse the ground so nothing grows. All of this may seem strange especially as she is our local Church Warden, but I think she is working undercover.

7th April. Things I have been doing lately:

🪳 Dealing with Palm weevils. First some background. The red palm weevil first arrived in Spain in 1994 probably in a cargo of trees from Egypt. Since then it has rapidly infested Spanish Phoenix palms. At the moment it appears not to attack Washingtonia palms in Spain but it has been known to do so elsewhere. In the main it will attack trees under 20 years old but not exclusively.

The adults will cause a certain amount of damage by feeding, but the main damage is caused by the larvae. The adult female lays up to 200 eggs at the base of the fronds in the crown of the tree. When these hatch, they merrily munch their way up the inside of the fronds, eventually resulting in the fronds collapsing and the tree dying. In a severe infestation you can put your ear to the trunk of the tree and hear the grubs feeding. The first photo below shows the enemy. The second shows some of my palm trees and explains why I need to be careful.

🌴 Preventative treatment for palm weevil. When you first arrive in Spain, no matter how good a gardener you are, you are not prepared for the palm weevil as we do not experience it in Northern European. When you lose a palm you are distraught, so it is important to act quickly. If the tree is relatively low, or you can reach the crown with a short ladder, then you can spray the crown and this should act as a preventative.

If the tree is large then you need to either bring in professional sprayers every couple of months, or devise a method that can deliver chemicals directly to the crown of the tree. I have devised and revised a method over the years that works for me, so please feel free to copy the system described below.

🥷 Preparing the palms. At its simplest this process seeks to deliver the chemicals into the trunk of the palm which the rising sap will then take up to the crown of the tree and infuse the fronds with weevil killing chemicals. Over the years I have refined and revised my methods. But at the heart of the process is to drill a hole at a 30 degree angle half way into the trunk round about a metre from the ground. You then need to insert a piece of simple irrigation pipe into the hole. The hole and the tube is at this angle because you don’t want the chemical dribbling out and also you want to keep a gravitational pull on the chemicals so that they constantly feed into the tree. (I hope that doesn’t sound complicated, as it is not).

The first photo below shows my original version. Here, I wrapped tubing around the tree that acted as a reservoir for the chemicals as they were fed into the tree. This could drip feed the chemicals over a period of three months. Cruella (my wife) put an end to this system when she encouraged a pack of rabid red squirrels to eat my weevil tubes.

The next photo shows my anti squirrel revised version whereby I ditched the reservoir and instead had a simple perforated tube inserted into the trunk which could be topped up each month. The final version is my new deluxe minimalist weevil killer (top of the range). This has a short piece of tubing just to fit into the tree. Note that each version has a cap at the end, this is to stop anything else getting into the tree. Make your own one up or just stick a bit of rag in there.

The final photo shows the weevil system in place. I am showing how far to drill into the trunk and you can see the angle from the cap. By the way the holes I appear to be pointing to are nothing to do with weevils, this is where the palmista who cuts the trees sticks his spiked boot into the trunk. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🧪 The equipment. All the equipment is very cheap and can be bought in any local gardening store. The photos below shows the basic equipment and mixing method which is simple. Click on each photo for a larger view.

  • a proprietary weevil killing chemical that can be diluted
  • a measuring jug to make sure you get the right amount of water (in my case 1 litre)
  • a garden syringe to measure out the chemical before adding it to the water
  • an old Fairy Liquid bottle needed to squirt the chemicals into the tree

🤺 The process. Once you have mixed your chemicals, then how you use them depends on the palm size. The first photo shows my trusty Fairy Liquid bottle being used to squirt liquid into the trunk. This method is used for high trees where you cannot get to the top.

The second photo is the method used for small trees. Just use your Fairy Liquid bottle (other brands are available) to squirt the chemicals on to the base of the palm fronds. This will act as a deterrent to the adult weevils.

The final photo is the process for those trees that are just a bit too big to get at easily. You could get a ladder out, but you can’t be bothered. Just squirt the chemicals up into the base of the fronds. Don’t do this on a windy day and if possible wear a mask. Many a day I have weevil proofed myself and it doesn’t taste nice.

😥 Don’t despair if you lose a palm. I lost two palms when I first arrived in Spain and I was of course upset. The thing to do is don’t just chop the tree down and leave an unsightly trunk shaped root sticking up in your garden. Nor should you try and make a table out of the palm by chopping it back and placing a table top on it. The resulting table will never be in the right place and you will eventually abandon it.

Instead, what I did was to get the palm chopped back to about 12ft. I then wrapped mesh around the trunk and grew climbers up its length. This gives a spectacular display of flowers all summer and is a joy to behold. The photo below shows my dead palm tree brought back to life.

I hope all of this helps. Let me know how you get on.

Cruella and I are going into the wart removal business

I know the above heading may seem a little strange for a gardening blog, but bear with me. It all started when I mentioned to Cruella (my wife) that I was going to grow loofahs from seed. She asked me what was the point as you couldn’t really eat them. When I explained that they were wonderful for skin care and worked wonders on exfoliating dead skin, her eyes lit up. She then archly enquired whether they would be good for warts, when I said possibly, she ran off to immediately contact all her friends in the coven.

It turns out that warts are a big problem in her coven as is the issue of dead skin as most of their bodies are made up of dead skin and various calluses. Any way the upshot is that Cruella is setting up an online skin care business for witches. All I’ve got to do is grow the loofahs!

3rd April. Things I have been doing lately:

🧽 Sowing Loofahs. I was given a loofah pod by my friend Eric, and I have extracted lots of seeds; whilst the actual loofah sits proudly in my shower. The starting point for successful loofah growing is to soak the seed for at least 48 hours in warm water (every time the water gets cold just refresh it). After 48 hours the seeds will have plumped up a little and be ready for sowing. Sow each seed in a four inch pot with rich compost by pushing the seed about 2cm into the compost. You then have to keep it warm – they don’t like to get cold. I put my pots into my little mini greenhouse and after two weeks they are beginning to sprout.

I will keep you abreast of events as they unfold. The first photo below shows some of my precious seeds. The next photo shows my soaking seeds. The final photo shows my emerging loofahs; this time next year I will be a skin care millionaire in a specialist market.

If anyone would like some seeds and you live near Pinar de Campoverde then let me know. Click on each photo for a larger view.

⛳️ Taking care of the lawn. I understand that not everyone has a lawn here in Spain. However, if you have, then it is time to start your lawn care programme. Most grasses, but not all, will have started to spring into growth. The first thing to do is to run the mower over the lawn with the blades set high, this will serve just to neaten things up and remove any debris that has accumulated over Winter.

The next thing to do is give the grass its first feed of the year. I tend to use granulated feeds dispensed from my spreader. Make sure you water your feed in unless it is expected to rain. Next you should do some patch repairs where you have bald areas. Both of our marauding Labradors will dig in the lawn given half a chance, so patch repairs are a constant part of my gardening. I do not have a good track record with general or even specialist grass seeds. However, I have found that the mixed seed and feed patch product shown in the photo below works well.

The first photo shows my trusty lawn mower. This is followed by my feeding stuff and then the patch stuff. The final photo is taken as I sit under the Mulberry tree after the work is finished. This is my favourite spot after working on the lawn. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌻 Growing sunflowers. Regular readers of this blog will know that I suffered the great 2020 seedling disaster last year, when my little mini greenhouse blew over in strong winds and all my seedlings were destroyed. Cruella denied all knowledge of what happened, but I’m not too sure, as for weeks afterwards every time I went out she would mockingly blow me a kiss!

This year, apart from my loofah enterprise, I am growing sunflowers and Marigolds. I love both these plants as they flower all summer and make a good contrast to the early flowering Osteospermums. If you get your sunflowers in over the next few weeks they will gain sufficient height so that the Marigolds or similar can then be used as under planting.

The sunflowers are being planted in those little fibrous pots that you can plant straight into the ground once they are hardened off. The photos below show my little (but soon to be giant) sunflowers ready to be planted out. The next photo shows my mighty array of canes some are designed for the plants to grow up, others are part of my defensive line (It is a bit like the Marginot line in the First World War) to keep the marauding Labradors at bay. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌼 Pricking out my Marigolds. Those of you who have grown Marigolds before will know how easy they are to grow. However, I haven’t grown Marigolds for a couple of years as I kept using my same seed from the year before and eventually they lost vigour. But this year I am starting afresh with a pack of orange and another of mixed. As usual they have germinated very well and I am now at the stage of pricking them out

I am using using individual cell blocks rather than normal seed trays, as this makes transplanting easier with little root disturbance. Once the seedlings have at least two “true”leaves then they can be pricked out. To prick out successfully I use my trusty pencil which I have had for over 20 years. Ease a clump of seedlings out using a pencil or similar, then use the pencil to gently separate out the roots. Make sure that you do not pick the seedlings up by their stem as this will damage them. Instead hold them gently by a leaf and then lower them into pre dibbed holes in your tray. When you water them afterwards make sure to water from below as you can damage the new seedlings with fierce watering. Once complete put them somewhere sheltered with full light and in a week or so you can begin to harden them off outside for a few hours each day before eventually planting out.

The first photo below shows my successfully germinated seeds ready for pricking out. The second photo shows my pencil pricking out technique. The third photo shows me midst pricking out. And, finally some of my seedlings successfully transplanted. I eventually ended up with 144 plants. Not bad for a couple of packs of seed. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Spring is in the air but I am singing death duets with my Attenuata

Yes, it is that time of year when everything starts to grow; buds are bursting, flowers are opening and seeds are being sown; what’s not to like. But, and I’m sorry there is always a “but” in gardening. Death is in the air and my Attenuata is nearing the end. I don’t want to dwell on things or become all maudlin so let’s get on with it.

18th March. Things I have been doing lately:

🍟 Refreshing pot compost. One of the most common questions I get asked in Spain is “why is my potted plant not flourishing ”? And the answer invariably is, “because you have left it sitting in the same old compost for five years you bloody idiot!” Think about it, if you leave plants in the same old depleted, virus ridden compost for years at a time, it is bound to make them sad. It is a bit like me giving you one meal that is expected to last for years – you would be sad.

You need to refresh the compost in your potted plants every year and it is a very simple process. There are two ways you can do this. Firstly some plants will have outgrown their pot and it is time to move them on to a larger pot. That is fine you just replenish all of the compost. But, the majority of plants are not due for repotting, but still need new compost, so you need to do it now or it will be too late in a few weeks.

You need to start by removing any stones or other mulches that you have put on top of the soil to stop the plant from drying out. Then using a trowel dig down into the pot compost as far as you can and begin to remove as much of the old compost as possible. Now, when you do this you will invariably cut into some of the small feeder roots, but that is not a problem as these will soon regrow. But try to be careful not to damage main roots and especially try not to skin the roots as this can let in a virus.

The photo below shows one of my potted standards ready for its annual refresh. The three trug system shown in the photo was invented by me. Trug 1 to take the stone mulch. Trug 2 to take the depleted old compost. Trug 3 for the new compost. The little pot is full of granulated feed and the stool is for me because I am old. When I excitedly told Cruella (my wife) about the three trug system, she said it was the stupidest thing she had ever heard and that I was a moron.

The 3 trug system in action

Once you have removed as much of the old compost as you can safely do, then add in a couple of handfuls of granular long lasting feed (the blue stuff). You can then top up with some nice new compost. Try and buy the best compost you can afford and do not be tempted by cheap shop alternatives. A little tip for the house proud gardener. Once you have topped up your compost don’t be tempted to just throw your stones or mulch straight back on top. Instead sieve the stones to remove all the small bit of debris that inevitably lurk there and may harbour diseases. The first photo below shows the pot ready to be refilled, whilst the second shows my patented wheel barrow sieving process (patent applied for). Just so you know Cruella wasn’t impressed by my wheel barrow sieving system either. When I ran in to tell her she just groaned and held her head in her hands. I told her even Bill Gates had to start somewhere she said yes, but he wasn’t an idiot.

Once you are finished, stand back and enjoy your handiwork. If you listen carefully you will hear your plant sighing contentedly as it get ready to reward you with renewed vigour. The photo below shows one very contented plant.

If you look carefully you can see that the leaves are smiling

🌱 Beginning to sow seeds. I try to grow everything from seeds or cuttings with only the occasional purchase, and even then I always take cuttings from any plant I purchase. Anyway, it is time to get going with your seed sowing. If you haven’t grown from seed before then it is very simple here in Spain. You don’t need a large greenhouse or heating etc. All you need is a simple little plastic 3 or 4 shelf greenhouse that will cost between 20-30€. Your seeds won’t be in there very long as nearly everything will need to be outside by mid to end of May.

To start you need to buy yourself a sack of good compost and some Perlite or Vermiculite. Mix the compost with the Perlite to create a nice airy free draining compost mix. Once you have your compost mix fill as many seed trays as you need. Tamp the surface down lightly and then water and leave to drain for 10 minutes. The photos below show the compost mixing process and the array of things you need to sow your seeds.

If you are using shop bought seeds then read the instructions on the packet carefully. In some cases seeds may need to be put in the freezer for a couple of nights to mimic the conditions that starts their germination in the wild. In other cases you may be advised to soak the seeds in water for 24/48 hours. But don’t get freaked out as growing from seed can be fun.

Once you have the seed trays ready then you are all set to sow your seeds using the seed sowing tool that God made specially for you. Yes, that’s right if you curl your hand palm facing upwards you will see a nice long groove down the middle of your palm. Pour your seeds into this groove and form them into a line along your palm. Then, holding your palm over the seed tray, begin moving the hand with the seeds in whilst at the same time tapping with your other hand on the outside edge of your palm. As you tap the seeds will all begin to move along your palm in a uniform line till they gradually begin to fall on the compost.

Once you have sown all your seeds then you need to cover them with compost to the depth recommended on your packet. I use a simple method to do this using a small sieve that was purchased as part of child’s beach bucket and spade set. Filling the sieve with compost I just lightly shake it over the seeds till they are covered. The last thing to do is to place your seeds in your mini greenhouse or similar. But don’t forget to open this up during the day or your seeds will bake. The first photo below shows God’s seed sowing tool in action. The second shows my little sieve. The final photo shows the mini greenhouse which will be gradually filled over the next couple of weeks. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🧹 General garden maintenance. All good gardens need a certain amount of ongoing low level maintenance. The first and probably most important is weeding. Most weeding can be effectively carried out by regularly hoeing between plants. If you hoe every couple of days you will never have weeds as you will be denying them the chance to set seed. The only exception is weeding between growing bulbs. To weed between bulbs you need to get down on your knees and get your fingers in the bulb foliage to pull out the inevitable grass that grows in between. You can usually easily distinguish between the bulb foliage and grass just by feeling as the grass will have flat blades whilst the bulb foliage will have a more rounded feel. If you don’t believe me get out there now and try it.

The second most important low level maintenance is only necessary for those of you who have gravelled areas in your garden. I am sure you have put membrane down before applying your gravel and although weeds will seldom grow through your membrane, they will certainly grow on top of your membrane if you let them. Leaves and other general garden detritus will lie as a thin layer of debris on top of your gravel and gradually mulch down to a fine tilth that is an ideal medium for weeds to grow in. To overcome this you have to regularly use a garden blower or rake to remove this layer before it gets nicely settled.

The first photo below shows my intrepid bulb weeding activity whilst the second shows my gardening equipment ready to tackle the gravel. Click on each photo for a larger view.

⚰️ Preparing for the death of the Agave Attenuata. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am currently enjoying the flowering of one of my Agave Attenuatas. Like the Swan that only sings when it is dying, the Attenuata only flowers after 20 years to promptly die. The flower stem of the Attenuata is a spectacular concoction that flowers from the base and gradually reaches to its tip over a period of a couple of months. The bees are attracted to this plant like no other. It actually drips nectar that runs down and drips off its stem. The only problem being that it then promptly dies.

I have been preparing myself for this death and have even sought grief counselling. In addition I am writing an opera to memorialise the Attenuata. I have always been a lover of Puccini so I am basing my opera on La Boheme and in particular the aria “Che Gelida Manina”. I of course play the part of Rudolfo with the Attenuata being Mimi. We duet most evenings just as the Sun is going down and I hold the Attenuata stem just as Rudolfo holds Mimi’s hand. I am proud to say there is not a dry eye in the garden. The whole garden weeps copiously at the Attenuata’s Mimi and when she enters into the coughing fits I sometimes break down and am unable to come back on for my encore.

it saddens me to say this, but when Cruella hears our singing she shouts out abuse such as “is that weed not dead yet” and on one occasion accused the Attenuata of being a hypochondriac saying “she’s just putting it on, there is nothing wrong with her…drama queen”. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep at night and dream of the Attenuata going to heaven. The photo below shows me and my lovely Attenuata midst duet.

If you look carefully at the ground you can see the nectar stain caused by the consumptive coughing of the Attenuata on the high notes

The black hand of Cruella and her mice army is ruining my garden

I didn’t want to start this post with such a downbeat heading, and I don’t want to be writing a misery memoir, but to be honest I think that Cruella (my wife) is beginning to grind me down. Despite my best efforts at cheery gardening her wilful destruction of all my efforts is taking its toll. I outline below some of my recent efforts to mitigate her malicious activities, but to make things worse she is now manipulating the weather against me. I mentioned to Cruella last night that the garden was somewhat dry and I wish we could have a bit of rain. I should have known better, she instantly retorted “if it’s rain you want I am sure we can arrange that”.

Anyway, the results of my careless wish were visited upon me this morning. We are in the midst of a biblical deluge that would have swamped Noah and his family. The whole garden appears to be floating on a tidal wave. It’s so bad that even the Labradors are refusing to go out and dig up the lawn. When I complained about the rain to Cruella she mockingly replied that I should be careful what I wish for next time. The photos below give you a small picture of what’s going on. Click on each photo for a larger view.

7th March. Things I have been doing lately:

🚜 Turning my water feature into a rockery. Long term readers of this blog will remember that I created a stream like water feature a couple of years ago. This involved much back breaking work collecting large rocks from fields in the local area, transporting them home and then hauling them into place. Cruella never liked this feature as she claims it was a desecration of an ancient burial site of her ancestors. When I pointed out she came from Wales she huffily said there was a Spanish branch of the family El Jones; but I think she made that up.

Anyway the upshot was that when I was away recently she conjured up an army of mice to eat the water proof membrane of my water feature. Despite my best efforts at patching up the mice returned every night to feast, even eating my patches. The photo below shows my water feature just after I had finished construction.

I envisaged a burbling stream, Cruella turned it into a Miceopolis.

Having given up the battle with Cruella’s mice army I set out to creat a rockery in my destroyed water feature by planting up the stream bed and cutting off the stream thereby just having a water spout. The photos below show my construction efforts. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The photos below show the final outcome. To be honest I am rather pleased with it as the new plants complement the existing plants that have matured since first construction. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🧟‍♀️ Cutting back the Solanum that Cruella touched. Regular readers will remember in my last post I told you how Cruella had touched my much loved Solanum and made many of the stems go black. I was then faced with the dilemma whether to wait and see if it could be revived in any way, or, to cut it right back to the ground hoping for new growth.

In the end we took the decision together (the plant and me). I sat beside her (all Solanum are ladies) for most of last Wednesday evening and we talked over the choices. She said she had dreams about a white light drawing her towards the compost heap. But, I pleaded with her not to go into the light. I said there was hope and if I just took out the blackened stems then she may recover. “No”, she said “I’m too far gone, there will be other plants and other days and you will soon forget me…you go on and enjoy your life”.

Sadly the decision was taken out of my hands. Despite an all night vigil she passed away about 4 in the morning. When Cruella asked why I was crying I told her I had lost the Solanum. She mockingly pretended not to know what I was talking about saying “oh, I didn’t know it was ill you must let me know if there is anything I can do to help” As she walked away I saw her rubbing her thumb and forefinger together, and black dust was falling on the floor. The photo below shows my lovely Solanum 3 years ago.

The photos below show the big cutback, whilst the final photo shows my hope for the future; she looks just like her Mum. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🍊 Tidying up citrus trees. Now on to some more positive stuff. By now your citrus trees should be starting into blossom, so it is time for you to do your annual round of tidying up to ensure you maximise your fruit crop. By removing suckers and opening up the tree to light and air you will get a bigger more healthy crop next year.

The first thing you need to do is to cut back any branches that are going to be too high for you to reach fruit. I use an extendable long reach loper, but you could use ladders and medium lopers. Just cut back anything that is just too high.

Next you need to get into the heart of the tree and cut back any suckers. Suckers are those bright green new shoots that will either come off the bottom of the trunk, or shoot up from branches at the heart of the tree. In most cases they are growing straight up. You need to remove these as they suck energy from your growth. Suckers are mainly a problem on old trees, but they can be seen on some young trees with a compromised graft at the base of the trunk. If you catch suckers early they can just be removed by pulling down on them sharply. Once you have removed the suckers open up the canopy so that you can see a good amount of sky through it. The photos below show suckers and their removal followed by the open sky letting in air and light to the centre of the tree. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🍔 Beginning to feed plants. Over the next few weeks you will need to start feeding your plants as they begin to burst into growth. It is important to remember that plants are like people, they don’t all like the same food, and some have real preferences. Over a year I will use a wide variety of feeds including long-term Rose feeds, but my mainstays are shown in the photo below. From left to right:

  • General purpose liquid feed to perk up potted plants
  • Specialist feed for fruiting plants
  • Specialist citrus feed for orange and lemon trees
  • Specialist orchid feed for potted plants
  • Specialist feed for acid loving plants
  • General purpose slow release granulated food that can just be scattered around
To my plants this looks like a fancy restaurant.

It is time for the big composting special

Hooray its that time of year again when I regale you with advice on the merits of composting. Remember that Coca Cola advert that appears on the television every Christmas, where a large truck with a picture of Santa Claus on the side goes through towns accompanied by the sound track singing “holidays are coming…holidays are coming”. Well that has been me for the past few weeks I have been singing “compost special is coming…compost special is coming”. To say this has annoyed Cruella (my wife) would be an understatement, so much so that I now mumble it under my breath, and when she says what did you just say, I reply “nothing”. I know it’s not much, but I count that as a small victory.

Anyway, on with the show let’s keep the excitement bubbling.

1st March: Things I have been doing lately

🧠 Why compost. All garden soil gets depleted over time and lose micro nutrients either they just get washed away by the rain or the plants take them up and the soil needs replenishing. Composting can help improve soil by adding back these nutrients and encouraging helpful bacteria that will break down and improve your soil. When added to your garden compost will help suppress weeds, lessen the need for chemical fertilisers, retain moisture and give you a warm feeling that you are doing a “green thing”. So no matter what your motivation, by composting you will be improving your garden.

👨‍🎓 How to compost. You don’t have to make a big deal out of composting and anyone can do it. Whether you have a large garden or just a little patio garden with pots adding compost will improve your garden. The basic need is to have a compost bin, or compost heap where you can store your compost. This can be very basic such as a little patch of your garden where you tip excess produce and cuttings etc. You could just have a heap in the corner covered by an old carpet, or if you like make a basic container out of chicken wire.  It might be easier just to buy a compost bin from a store and there are thousands of them, from basic one simple bin, right up to multi-bin purpose built composting systems.

As you would expect, I have a purpose built composting system consisting of two large bins with lid for easy access and doors that can be raised to allow me to get at the compost from the bottom. The photo below shows my composting system.

Pretty cool eh!

Now, I don’t want you getting compost bin envy, that’s not the idea. I designed these and had them built when we first moved to this house because this size garden calls for this amount of compost. There are fruit trees to be mulched, lots of beds that need seasonal replenishing, lawns that need some topping and all the planting and stuff on the potting bench.

🌿 What to compost. Now you can compost most organic material. Examples would be:

– all plant cuttings and mown grass

– vegetable trimmings etc from your kitchen

– old newspapers and cardboard

– hair and fur from your dog, cat, hamster or velociraptor

– twigs and branches up to about an inch thick

– eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags

– fruit, but not too many lemons or oranges as they will make the heap acidic

☠️ What not to compost. You must be careful not to compost the following:

– cooked food of any sort (this will encourage rats and cockroaches). This includes: meat, bones, fish, fat or dairy

– leaves or cuttings from plants that have been infected with disease or pathogens such as rust on Roses or mildew. If you compost these then you will infect the heap.

– dog or cat poo; and don’t even think of human poo.

🔐 The key ingredients of compost. Quite simply good composting requires four things:

1. Green items: that add nitrogen (grass, leaves etc)

2. Brown items: that add carbon (twigs, branches, newspapers etc)

3. Water: to keep the heap moist but not wet (don’t let it dry out, but don’t over soak it)

4. Air: oxygen is needed to encourage the composting process, so once a month you need to stir your compost with a fork or spade to keep the air circulating.

There is one other vital ingredient that you can choose to add to your compost heap, and that is “compost accelerator”. This is normally added as a powder which encourages the development of microbes in your compost heap and speeds up the composting process. The photo below shows all the key ingredients apart from air; but I assure you it is there. In the photo you will also see a special compost turning tool that I bought some 20 years ago. You just push this into your compost heap then the two little wings at the bottom of the rod come out as you pull up and the whole heap is lifted and turned. If you can find one, buy it.

Note the shaft of sunshine – God smiles on composters

🔭 What should  compost look like? A question I am always asked (I lead an interesting life). The photos below show the recent state of my compost bins. The first photo is the bin currently in use, and you can see all the ingredients I talked about above. The second photo shows the resting bin that I have just emptied. You can see from this photo that the bin is half empty, and this is because all the insects and beneficial microbes will have eaten stuff whilst making the compost. The final photo shows the finished compost; or as I call it black gold. Each of these bins will on average give me 20 wheel barrow loads of compost each year.

🏎 Restarting an empty bin. Once you have emptied a bin then you need to begin the process of getting it going again. The first thing you need to do is to line the bottom with a layer of twigs retrieved from the live bin. This will give you a nice airy base to build upon. Now the gory part, when emptying your bin you should have unearthed a large number of Rose Chafer beetle maggots, which out of necessity you will have drowned at least half. Retrieve these poor mites from their watery grave and sprinkle them liberally over the bottom of your bin to provide a bit of an organic starter, (not forgetting to say a short prayer). The last thing is to sprinkle a little bit of compost accelerator just to get things going.

The first photo below shows the exciting potential of an empty bin. The second photo shows the twig prepared bottom of the bin. The final photo shows the drowned maggots about to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Getting in the compost bin. One of the great joys at the end of a hard days gardening of trimming and cutting is to get in the compost bin and tread it all down. What do you mean you’ve never done this, just me then. The photo below shows me (last summer) happily stomping up and down in one of my bins. Just after she took this photo, Cruella slammed the lid down and I was in there for two days. I must say they where the happiest two days of my life. She only got me out because the dishwasher needed emptying.

I wear the sunglasses because I want no publicity

Cruella has killed my Solanum just by touching it

We are just at the start of the gardening year here in Spain and already things are warming up nicely with most plants moving into early growth. So if you don’t want to get caught out then there are some things you need to do now.

18th February. Things I have been doing lately:

🍊 Planting a new orange tree. Regular readers of this blog will remember that our idiot son helped me with some tree work when he was over for Christmas. One of his lumberjack tasks was to cut down an old orange tree that had already been heavily pruned back twice and had no more to give. The photo below shows the idiot about to take the chainsaw to the tree.

Since this photograph he has bought himself a check shirt

Now, if you are thinking of planting new citrus trees then you have to get them in the ground within the 3-4 weeks. After this time they won’t have enough time to set some new root before the heat of summer comes along. The important thing about replacing old trees is that you cannot plant back into the same spot as the soil will be depleted and the roots of the old tree will be everywhere in the ground.

The first thing you need to do is find a good replacement tree. Here you have choices. You can buy a tree that has been forced and is basically a lollipop with a very thin trunk and a round ball of new leaves at the top. If you are lucky a tree like this (if it survives) may produce fruit in 5 years. Or, you can buy a tree that is 3-5 years old, has been grafted on to good root stock grown on for a few years and has been pruned back to provide good fresh growth. The first tree will cost you about 20€, the second cost me 95€, but will provide fruit next year. Cruella (my wife) who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing has calculated the cost of oranges and has accused me of gross profligacy. The photo below shows my proud new purchase next to the remnants of its predecessor.

I consider this a mini Stonehenge.

Start by moving your planting site at least 3 metres away from the old tree. In my case it was important that the new tree should be in line with the old tree so that I could pick up on my existing tree irrigation system. You then need to transfer the ground covering stones away from your new site into the old tree site so that it blends into your garden and doesn’t become an eyesore. The photos below show the magical transformation from the old to the new site. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Once you have your site prepared then the really hard work starts. You need to dig a roomy planting hole which ideally should be twice as large as the root ball of the new tree. I have to be truthful with you I seldom manage this here as the soil can be rock hard in my orchard. So I think myself lucky if I can dig it big enough for the root ball. Once you have broken your back digging the new hole get as much good rotted compost in there as possible and top it off with some slow release granulated feed. Finish by planting your new tree, treading it in well to avoid wind root rock, and then place a cross stave low down the trunk to again stop root rock. The photos below show the best planting hole I could manage, together with the new tree in all its glory. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌱 Killing lawn weeds. I know not a lot of people have lawns in Spain, and technically speaking though I have four of various sizes, they are mainly the play areas for my Labradors to rampage around on a nominal grass surface. Nevertheless, whether your lawn is a bowling green or a prairie, they will all be suffering from broad leaf weed growth which really takes off from February to May. After May it is too hot and their leaves will shrivel, but by then they will have set seed and bequeathed you a whole new generation for next year.

I took a vow last Summer not to use a general weed killer on my lawns after I enjoyed the flowers of the low growing weeds including: Creeping woodsorrel and Asian ponysfoot. Instead I now use a selective weed killer that targets broad leaf weeds. It is important to kill off the broad leafed weeds as they will shade the grass out and leave you with a bare patch of lawn when they die back where their leaf rosette has been. The photo below shows the product and method I use together with one of the culprits.

it’s a dead weed growing.

🧟‍♀️ Cruella has killed my Solanum. Regular readers of this blog will know that my wife Cruella is a practitioner of the dark arts and does everything in her power to undermine my work in the garden. I only ever let her near the garden when I have to go away, and even then I leave her strict instructions. These have not stopped her wreaking havoc over the years including:

  • Killing all the seedlings and cuttings on the potting bench
  • Destroying my one attempt at growing tomatoes
  • Allowing our Labradors to dig holes bigger than WW1 trenches on the lawn
  • Summoning the wind to blow away my little mini green house
  • Encouraging her army of mice to eat the lining of my water feature

I could go on, but it only makes me cry, so I will have to stop there. Anyway, I have had enough, she has killed my Solanum. And it is not just any Solanum, I was given this as a cutting and have nurtured it to become a 9 metre long behemoth which I have trained up wires to cover the walls of our outside kitchen. It flowers profusely all summer and is (was) a joy to behold.

I first noticed a problem after I came back from a trip to Florence where I had taken the idiot son in the hope of inculcating some culture into him. I absorbed the culture, he thought Florence was a great place to play Pokemon Go! Anyway as soon as I came back I noticed there was a problem with the Solanum. It just didn’t look right. Over the next few days the sturdy stems started to blacken, but only at certain points. Sometimes a stem would be a lovely green brown and then at the next stem junction one part would be black.

It turns out that despite my instructions (in writing) to Cruella not to actually touch any plants, she thought she would just stroke the stems. The results can be seen in the photos below. I have also included a photo of Cruella’s hand so you can see the problem. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I wouldn’t mind, but when I insisted on taking this photo, she chose this as her best side.

Saving a Plant called Alan Spanish Garden

This episode is also available as a blog post:
  1. Saving a Plant called Alan
  2. Cruella has become a blue comedian
  3. My Agave Americana has been named in a paternity suit
  4. My garden has become the Lourdes of Spain
  5. Songs from the potting bench – the cuttings chorus

As your Mum used to tell you… it’s time to make your beds

Yes, the big winter cutback is over and it’s not quite time for planting seeds. But there is still lots to do, and the first thing is to begin to make your beds ready for the summer. I of course mean your flower beds, this is not the sort of blog that would consider being so outré as to contemplate any other sort.

8th February. Things I have been doing lately.

🌱 Weeding and then thinning self seeders. Normally I would weed with a hoe, (no pun intended). But for the first proper weeding of the year you need to do as Jesus requested and get down on your knees. You need to get close to the soil, and using your trowel selectively dig out all the weeds and grasses that you have allowed to creep into your flower beds.

Whilst you are doing this thorough weed you need to begin the process of thinning out any plants you have allowed to self seed. Marguerites and Osteospermums are wonderful self seeders and I happily let them grow away during the Winter until it is time to do the great thinning. The photos below show my flower beds at the beginning of the the great weed and thin. Click on each photo for a larger view.

After thinning out the self seeders I then plant a few more of the plants that I have set aside. The idea is that I am creating clusters of plants that will provide me with early colour, whilst at the same time leaving spaces where I will plant my new seedlings such as Marigolds and Sunflowers when I sow in a few weeks time. The photos below shows some of my plant clusters. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🚜 Adding a compost mulch. Once I have fully weeded the beds and thinned out all the self seeders I add a thick layer of compost mulch from one of my compost bins. This bin is hopefully timed to be ready for Spring, when I use it for mulching the flower beds and providing a thick layer around my fruit trees. The photo below shows me mid mulch.

How often do you get the opportunity to see an action based mulching shot.

🌿 Dividing plants and planting out cuttings. Once you have prepared the beds you can consider planting out any cuttings that you have ready, and also looking for some of your existing plants to divide. Dividing plants is an easy way of getting free plants. The only thing to remember is that if you have a plant that is thriving and is ready to be divided, then make sure you plant the new divided plants in a similar environment. If it is thriving in shade then plant the new plant in shade, and vice versa if in full sun.

I have lovely Kaffir Lilies that thrive in quite deep semi shade, including the front wall of my garden which faces North. These plants are slow growing, with lovely deep red flowers, but if they like their environment then they will gradually plump up and be ready for dividing after about three years. Simply force your trowel down between the plant and take off a substantial chunk of growth together with a good amount of root. In total I created 5 new Kaffir lilies this year. The first photo below shows some plants that I divided last year now coming into flower. The second photo shows one of my existing plants ready to be divided, followed by some photos of the new plants ready for planting. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The final plant to be put in my shadier bed is the much maligned Chlorophytum Comosum or Spider Plant. This denizen of many a shady bathroom comes into its own when planted out in a shady area as its striped leaves shine through the gloom. I plant out two or three of these every year from cuttings, but remove the mature plants after 1 year as they get too messy. The first photo shows the removal of last years plants as they head to the compost heap. The next photo shows the strong roots you get from cuttings after a few months. The final photo shows the Kaffir Lilies and the Spider plants ready to illuminate a shady bed during summer. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌻 Planting new purchases and taking cuttings. Sometimes you will have a gap in your planting that you can’t fill from your cuttings or seed. Or, you may have a problematic area of your garden where existing plants have failed. In my case I have failed on a number of occasions to successfully grow anything up an arch which is in full sun. My latest attempt is to try Stephanotis. I have purchased two plants ready for another attempt.

The secret to buying plants, is where possible don’t, just grow your own or take cuttings. But if you do buy plants, then you need to do two things. Firstly, you need to take cuttings from your new purchases so that you get lots of free plants. Secondly, and very importantly, you need to get them in the ground and growing before the end of March. Here on the Costa Blanca, any new plants put into the ground after the end of March stand a high chance of being burnt off by the Sun before they get established, and you will have wasted your money.

The first photo below show my newly purchased plants waiting to be planted. The second photo shows the Stephanotis newly planted and ready to grow. The final photos show the cuttings being taken and ready to hopefully root and provide me with free plants. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The old man and the tree – an epic battle

Regular readers of this blog will know that the last activity in my winter cut back is the reshaping of my big Bay tree. I reshaped the tree in question about 9 years ago by cutting out the main trunk and then trimming the top, bottom and sides to create an open donut effect.

This is a style that can be seen in various town squares in my part of Spain and one that I would recommend to anyone with a big shapeless tree. However, there is one drawback; the tree resents this and will harbour feelings of hatred and revenge for the rest of its growing life. Bay trees are the elephants of the gardening world – they never forget!

Contemplation and preparation. The task of reshaping the big bay is not only physically draining, but it also requires mental stamina and inner fortitude. For weeks both the tree and I know what is coming. I up my daily exercise regime and even employ methods of meditation and prayer. The tree for its part prepares by oozing sap from its leaves and encouraging huge infestations of Wooly Aphids.

The first two photos below show the big bay ready for the coming battle. Click on each photo for an enlarged view.

The photos below show me contemplating the coming battle and with the various equipment needed. The tree hates these photos and has complained in previous years that I look like a big game Hunter being photographed with his prey. Click on each photo for an enlarged view.

Day 1, let battle commence. There was a time when this battle would only take one day. But since I am almost 72 I have recognised the toll on my body so it now takes two days and enough pots of tea to sink a battleship. The main effort in day 1 is to trim underneath the tree to create a nice flat and level base. This is followed by trimming the bottom half of the sides. To achieve theses tasks I work from ladders and also a scaffolding platform using electric hedge trimmers and electric telescopic trimmers. As the tree has grown in height this is becoming progressively more difficult (or maybe I’m shrinking).

For its part the tree does not hesitate to fight back. I am regularly thrown off my ladders and scaffolding by whipping branches. My hands and face are lacerated by twigs, leaves and branches. But it’s worst trick is to drop hundreds of Wooly Aphids directly into my mouth as I look up to trim. In addition Aphids and leaves are dropped down the back of my tee shirt and into my shorts. All of this has the effect that I end day 1 looking like a medieval leper in need of curing.

The first photo below shows me beginning the process of shaping the sides, whilst the second shows the tree at the end of the first day. Click on each photo for an enlarged view.

Day 2 pushing through to victory. The continuing effort in day 2 is to trim the top half of the sides flat, then to angle the telescopic trimmer to get at the top and cut it flat. After the sides and top are complete then it is time to do the really dangerous stuff. This involves going up a ladder and climbing into the middle of the tree and sitting on the stump where the main trunk used to be., whilst at the same time wielding an electric hedge trimmer. The purpose of this exercise is to cut away the inner branches and leaves to redefine the hole that forms the central part of the donut. On numerous occasions I have had to fling the hedge trimmer away from me as I fall ignominiously down the tree and onto the stones below.

The final stages before the big clean up is to use long reach telescopic lopers to trim off those pesky bits of branches that are still sticking up at the top. When you have finished primping the tree, clean up the bulk of the leaves and then leave the residue for about three days. After three days the rest of the fallen leaves will have shrivelled and dried and can easily be cleaned up with a blower or leaf rake. The importance of clearing away all leaves cannot be over stressed as, if left they will break down and form an excellent mulch for weeds in your gravel. Cruella has just looked over my shoulder at the last sentence and said I was pathetic and needed to get a life; I think she meant it kindly!

The first photo below shows me battling with the long lopers as I look for the perfect cut, whilst the second photo shows the tree at the end of day 2. Click on each photo for an enlarged view.

The photos below show the newly redefined hole at the centre of my topiary donut and the tree a few days later after the big clean up. The final photo shows my statue of the Cheshire Cat returned to its pride of place at the centre of the tree. Click on each photo for an enlarged view.

As the Cheshire Cat said to Alice “…we’re all mad here, I’m mad” I have taken this as my gardening motto.

The big cutback continues and Cruella has become a fugitive from the law

Thanks to Cruella’s (my wife) run in with the law this gardening blog is in danger of becoming a true crime drama. Like all descents into criminality this all happened so swiftly. You will remember from a couple of posts ago that the idiot son and I cut down a large Yucca and duly laid the cuttings on the pavement beside our garden wall. The procedure in our village is that you put out prunings and cuttings and then telephone the town hall’s contractor. They in turn will then come along and take it all away.

Having made the requisite call to the contractor twice, I assumed all was in hand. Unfortunately my confidence was misplaced as the Police duly turned up at my door and enquired why I was littering the street. I explained all, and they left quite happy. The next day two more different Police turned up and asked the same questions. Again I professed my innocence and they left only to turn up later when I was out to leave a fine of €50 in my post box.

Now the fine was bad enough, but the worst thing was that they had named Cruella on the fine documents and not me! The eruption of fury from Cruella was galactic. She called down all sorts of damnation on the town hall and insisted on going straight out to where the cuttings where lying and proceeded to do one of her ritualistic dances weaving in and out of the cuttings whilst casting spells on the town hall and the police.

The photo below shows Cruella as she finishes her dance with a final ritualistic flourish which involved spinning around on one leg before pointing at the object of her spell.

I hope the Police are ok the last time she did this dance our postman was turned into a frog.

26th January. Things I have been doing lately:

🪚 Cutting back hedges. As I move towards the end of the big Winter cutback there are only a few major jobs to do, one of which is to cut back all of my hedges. I love hedges and I have planted them so that they all fight for the space to flower and survive. Over the Summer they knit together into a tight interwoven group of floriferous mayhem along the borders of my house. Currently I have the following fighting it out in my hedges:

  • Plumbago
  • Bignonia
  • Bouganvillia
  • Roses
  • Mulberry
  • Pomegranate
  • Jasmine
  • Solanum
  • Lantana
  • Pink Trumpet
  • Hibiscus

The photos below show various aspects of my hedges after all the flowering has finished and just before I began the cutback. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The hedge cutting process is very simple. None of the plants are treated as individuals, instead they are all cut back to the same height and width so that they align with the railings on top of my garden wall and also with the edge of the lawn. Using a hedge trimmer I first square off the sides. Then using a chainsaw or long handled loper I cut the thick stemmed plants down to size. Finally using the hedge trimmer I square off the top and the outside edge facing the road. The photos below show the outcome. The hedge will quickly grow again to be up to 10 feet high and be flowering again in a month or so. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌴 Cutting back Palms. I leave all the really big Palms to be cutback by a professional Palmista; It is important to know when to use professionals in your garden. However, there are a number of smaller palms that I will happily keep in shape. Amongst these is a stand of European Fan Palms that we have planted in a round bed in the middle of the path that leads from our front door to the front gate.

These Palms are ferocious self sowers so I start the cutback by taking away all the low eye poking projecting fronds using long handled lopers. Once this has been achieved I use an extendable long reach loper to cutback the fronds at the crown of the palm. Given Cruella’s recent run in with the law I decided that I would get her to separate the fronds from the stems and then neatly stack them in a large sack for disposal. At first she refused to take part as she does not like coming out during the day, but I explained to her that as well as being fined she has to do 36 hours of Community Sentence. I have not yet told her that her appeal against the fine has been upheld and she has been cleared.

The photos below show the Palms prior to their trim and after the cutback. The final photo shows Cruella serving her Community Sentence. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Wait till she finds out that she is an innocent woman! There may be trouble ahead.

🌳 Pruning Sago Palms. Lots of gardens in Spain have these slow growing and expensive Palms. I have two, a large multi trunk specimen, and a smaller version in a pot. For these Palms to look there best you need to prune them once a year to expose their interesting trunk. However, because these are so expensive you need to be careful that you don’t over prune. You should prune back the lowest fronds until you leave at least two rows of fronds at the crown. In this way you should guarantee that if anything like frost or wind damage happens then at least one row of fronds should survive.

The first photo below show the sago palm before its trim. The second shows me reaching in carefully with long handled lopers to trim off the unwanted fronds. The final photo shows the newly trimmed and neat plant. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🪓 Preparing for the battle with the big Bay Tree. The last job of the Winter cutback each year is my annual battle with the big Bay tree. I am already in training for this grudge match and I am also practicing meditation so that I can psyche it out. A full battle front report will be contained in my next post. In the meantime here is a photo of my adversary.

Bring it on … I’m ready; we’ll nearly.

Alcohol is the gardeners best friend when it comes to pruning Roses

No, I’m not talking about the huge quantities of wine that Cruella (my wife) and I are consuming during the almost continuous lockdowns imposed on us all. What I am taking about is medicinal alcohol that you will need to cauterise and anesthetise your various cuts, wounds and general abrasions that your Roses will inflict upon you during the annual prune.

It is an interesting but disturbing fact that a number of gardeners die each year from sepsis of the blood caused by cuts whilst gardening. Now I don’t want to scare you but it is better to be safe than sorry. The photo below shows my little bottle of medicinal alcohol together with some heavy duty make up removal pads that I stole from Cruella. Before you start pruning give your secateurs a good clean with the alcohol to stop cross infection then keep the others for cleaning up the blood and gore inflicted by the Roses.

Better safe than sorry …especially if you take aspirin; it usually ends up a blood bath.

14th January. Things I have been doing lately:

🌺 Pruning climbing Roses. I have six climbing Roses, two are doing very well, two are doing middling, and two I had to move last Summer as they were getting too much sun. Pruning climbers is different to pruning standard Roses. With climbers you want to keep the height but lose the bulk. To do this you should start with about 6 strong stems growing from the roots (if you have more it looks messy). Let these grow year on year until you are happy with the height. Each year start by pruning out any diseased, dead or crossing side shoots. Once you are satisfied with the result then prune about a third off each side shoot. This process will encourage growth and flowering.

The photos below show my climbers before and after their annual prune. The last two photos show my most successful ones. You may not be able to tell the difference, but I assure you the plants know. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🚑 Pruning standard and shrub Roses. I have two beds of 20 mixed Roses. With standard Roses you can be much more severe. Do the normal stuff like cutting out dead, diseased and crossing stems then, depending on how long the plant has been in the ground you treat it in different ways. For the first couple of years just cut the plant back by one third. But thereafter you can more or less take it to the ground if you like. With many Roses the greater the cutback the stronger the growth.

The photos below show my Rose beds before I started with the annual prune and then after its completion. You can tell the difference if you look closely, as you will see my blood spattered throughout the beds. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌱 Pruning Trailing Lantana. Most people in Spain have Lantana in all its various varieties. But, I particularly like trailing Lantana, especially when it is planted in parts of the garden that are gravelled. It’s long trailing stems stretch out over the stones providing island beds of planting, whilst it’s long flowering season gives long term interest. When pruning trailing Lantana take it back by about two thirds. Ideally you should cut it back to forked stems, but there is no need for perfection, just go for it.

The photos below show one of my many Lantana in its overgrown and sprawling Winter state. The second photo shows the plant pruned back and ready for a spurt of Spring growth. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌵 Drastic pruning of Yucca. I have a number of Yucca in pots that are placed along with other plants along the back and side of my house. The recent high winds have caused chaos with these plants as they are continually blown over and end up damaging the other plants close by. Up until now I have just been picking them up on a daily basis and cleaning up around them. But to be honest this is a continual problem that I have tried to solve in the past by tying the plants to the balustrade close by.

it is now time for some drastic action. I have decided to lower the levels of all these Yuccas to stop them being so prominent a target for the wind. To achieve this I have sawn the top two thirds off each plant leaving them looking rather comical. But do not despair. As Yucca are canes they will begin sprouting new leaf spikes growth from each side of the sawn stem. I will then keep these at a reasonable hight to stop the problem happening again.

The photos below show some of the carnage that had to take place. I pretended that it was an episode of “Game of Thrones” and I told each plant Winter was coming! Click on each photo for a larger view.

🍁 Making leaf mould. By now you should have cleared up all your fallen deciduous leaves; especially if they are lying on your lawn as they will kill the grass. Don’t just throw your leaves away as they will eventually breakdown into lovely rich leaf mould which you can use as compost. The simplest way to do this is just gather up all your leaves and put them into plastic sacks. Tie the sacks at the top then using a fork pierce the bag a number of times to encourage air circulation. The sacks should be placed out of the way in a shady corner of your garden and left for about a year. You can then use them as a compost mulch or place them on your compost heap to break down further. The photo below shows my leaves bagged up and waiting for nature’s miracle to take place.

It may look an unloved corner of my garden, but it is a very important one.

The big cutback continues and the idiot son joins in

By now you should be at least half way through your big annual garden cutback. You should have firstly shaped up the overall structure of your garden, this should have been followed by pruning grasses and shrubs etc, then small trees, bushes and vines. We are now heading towards pruning Roses, hedges and the inevitable battle with trees, especially my large Bay tree. If you get all this done before any growth starts then your garden will burst back to life in the Spring with renewed vigour.

The next stage of my annual cutback has been given added piquancy by the supposed help from our idiot son who has been home for Christmas. Cruella (my wife) has been in mothering ecstasy since his return; she has fed him night and day like a giant cuckoo chick and has allowed him to drink all my best wine. Every morning we have to watch videos of him as a baby interspersed with old episodes of “Bewitched” (Cruella was the witchcraft and spells coordinator on the show).

Let’s get on with the gardening!

4th January. Things I have been doing lately:

🥭 Pruning figs. I have two fig trees. One standard that is now about 12 years old, and one which is an espalier I have been growing up a wall for about 6 years. The secret with fig tree pruning is to do it regularly otherwise the tree will just get away from you and produce its best fruits 20 feet in the air. Figs are produced on old wood so you need to be building a structure of branches that remain within easy reach.

Start off by cutting back any diseased or crossing branches. Next reduce the overall size to keep the fruit within your reach. You should be aiming for a wide but open structure that lets light into the centre of the tree. Pruning my espalier is different. Here I first take off all the stems facing into the wall. I then aim to train one stem along each of my espalier wires. The eventual aim with this fig is to cover the entire wall with trained branches bearing fruit.

The photos below show the figs before and after their annual prune. Don’t worry they will grow back vigorously and will be sprouting leaves in a few weeks. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🍊 Chopping down old fruit trees. Most Spanish homes have one or more fruit trees. Orange and Lemon are the most common. Often these trees are just left to themselves, never pruned, never fed and seldom watered. The end result is old, gnarled and unproductive trees that look messy and produce a few undersize fruits. If you want good productive trees then you have to do some work. I won’t dwell on this at the moment but will cover this subject in a month or so after all my fruit is off the trees.

However, one thing you should be doing now is looking to replace old and unproductive trees. I have one orange tree that needs to come out. I have pruned it hard in the past and got a few more years out of it, but now it has to go. In my efforts to remove the tree I was assisted by my idiot son who insisted on being in charge of the chainsaw. With old trees the first job is to take them down to a stump. Once the stump has been left I will drill into it in a few weeks and add “root out” to kill off any growth. In the autumn I will use an axe to remove the by then rotted stump. You can get the stump ground out but it is difficult to find people in Spain to do this.

It is not possible to plant a new tree into the same area as the old tree as the soil will be depleted and the roots will be everywhere in the soil. In this case I will move the tree planting area a few metres to the left of the existing tree, in this way I will keep the same linear structure in my orchard and utilise existing irrigation pipes. The new tree needs to be in the ground within a month before everything begins to heat up. The photos below show the idiot son playing out the role of lumberjack. Click on each photo for a larger view.

At one point he was holding it by the wrong end.

🪵 Cutting back the giant Yucca. I have a giant Yucca that needs cutting back every five years or so. When I originally cut it back it was over 30 feet tall, and, since it’s last cut back it is now almost 20 feet again. When you cut yuccas back you can be quite brutal as they are canes and will grow again relatively quickly. One of the benefits of keeping your yuccas a manageable size is that the lovely flower spikes will once again be at eye level as opposed to 20 foot in the air.

If you are cutting back a multi-stem yucca as this one is, then it is important not to cut all the trunks to the same level. Instead you should cut them at different levels as this will stop the new growth crowding each other and will create a more rounded pleasing plant. The photos below show the big yucca before its prune and then afterwards. The idiot son arrived after I had done all the work and insisted on posing with the pruned plant; for some reason Cruella (my wife) is convinced that he should give up banking and instead become a lumberjack model! Click on each photo for a larger view.

🌳 Pruning standards. If you have grown any plants as long stem standards then you will know by now that they are in danger of blowing over in the current high winds. The big problem with standards in pots is always the dilemma of whether you put them in plastic or ceramic pots. Of course ceramic is much better, but if the pot is not big and weighty enough then it will blow over and smash, which can be expensive. Plastic meanwhile is cheap, but, does not look as nice and can lead to roots overheating.

The solution is big weighty ceramic pots whilst keeping the flowering ball relatively small and tight. By this method you will stop wind rock on the pots. My two standards are either side of a side swimming pool gate, this area is both hot and can be windy. The photos below show the untrimmed standards and then in their final state. To keep them safe I prune 2 or 3 times during the growing season. Click on each photo for a larger view.