The big cutback part 4: The titanic struggle with the big ficus and I invoke help from Wigan!

The last thing I tackle in my winter cutback is my attempts to prune back my big ficus tree. This sits majestically in a gravelled area on part of my front garden. The pruning is a mammoth task mainly because the ficus gets bigger year by year whilst I get smaller over the same time frame. Those of you who regularly follow this blog will remember that I pruned this tree back to a donut effect over 12 years ago by cutting out the central trunk to create a hole in the middle into which I inserted a statue of the Cheshire Cat from Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland.

The big ficus has always seen this reshaping as an affront to its dignity, and as such has sought to punish me over the years by various means including:

  • Becoming infested with wooly aphids and many other creatures
  • Deliberately dropping its leaves to make the gravel area untidy
  • Tripping me up in its roots
  • Throwing me off my ladder when I am entering the centre of the tree

Anyway let’s get on with this.

2nd February 2023. Things I have been doing lately:

Pre-fight psyching out with the big ficus. An important part of my pre-pruning ritual is to build up my courage by pre-prune psyching out. This is a bit like boxers at the weigh in. We stare at each other, I strike postures around the tree and issue a series of blood curdling threats. For its part the tree just waits silently knowing it’s time is coming. The photos below show the big ficus before the fight, followed by the early stages with me striking postures with the tree. The final photo shows my new gardening jacket bought from the sales- I didn’t get a choice of colour. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Big moody and emanating menace
I think I look quite handsome in my new gardening jacket. Note the intimidating power pose I am striking

Day one of the fight. This is the most difficult day as I start by pruning round the sides using my long reach trimmers. But standing on my little platform and wielding the heavy trimmers began to take its toll as the day wore on. The first photo below shows that I wasn’t making much progress. Even with the Cheshire Cat looking on it was very heavy going. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Day 2 I call for assistance. At the end of day 1 I searched the internet for some source of help, and by chance discovered it in the most unlikely of places – Wigan! I didn’t realise that Wigan had a flourishing Pruners and Pie Eaters Guild. Evidently this ancient and honourable society exist solely to assist gardeners in distress and requires no payment other than plentiful pies with lashings of gravy.

The Brother Pruner they sent – which is what they are called in the Guild -insisted that his calling forbade him from revealing his identity, so the only photos I took he insisted that I did not show his face. Anyway, it was fascinating he started the day with what I can only describe as a Haka similar to the New Zealand rugby team, but involving pies. He then liberally smeared himself with gravy and after a few ritual bows to the tree he ascended his scaffolding and began his work attired only in his fading grey cowl. Those of you who are interested in the study of folklore may be interested to know that he sang a series of ancient songs as he worked. To be honest I couldn’t make it out as most words started with th. The series of photos below show him at work. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Upon completion of his work he left without a word or seeking any form of payment, leaving only the faint smell of pies and a few puddles of gravy.

The big clean up. An important part of the big cutback is to make sure you clean up any debris, as if left this will attract snails and slugs. The photos below show the big clean up in progress. The final photo shows Cruella’s (my wife) chickens moving in to hunt down snails and slugs. Click on each photo for a larger view.

And finally, it is all over for another year and the Cheshire Cat is where it belongs back in the centre of the tree.

Note the enigmatic smile

The big cutback part 3: and Cruella becomes a “feeder”

I am now heading for the final push on the big winter cutback, ideally everything should be cut back in your garden before the end of January. If you leaving cutting back much later then you are likely to be cutting off this years growth. This last bit is always heavy going for me as I leave the big heavy stuff to the last so that I can build up my courage and stamina. The very last thing I do is reshape my big Ficus tree which is a bloody painful experience each year.

As if dealing with the most stressful part of the big cutback was not enough, I spend most of my evenings preparing my defence against the summons served on me by the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer of the National Chicken Council on account of my alleged slander of calling Cruella (my wife) chickens fat. Anyway more of this later, on with the big cutback part 3.

27th January 2023. Things I have been doing lately:

Cutting back my tower of flowers. Regular readers of this blog will know that years ago I cut back a palm that had fallen victim to the Palm Weevil. Instead of completely taking the Palm out I instead wrapped it’s shortened trunk in mesh and have happily grown a variety of climbers up the truncated trunk. This provides me with a lovely tower of flowers all summer, but needs to be cut back every winter to encourage new growth.

In case you are interested the plants I used to clamber up the trunk include:

  • Pink Trumpet Vine
  • Solanum
  • Jasmine
  • Stephanotis

All of the above flourish beautifully. The first photo below shows the flowering tower at the end of Summer. The next two photos show the tower before and after it’s annual cutback. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Pruning a variegated ficus. I have two variegated ficus one is quite small, whilst the other is larger and I have subjected it to cloud pruning. The secret with any variegated plant is to make sure that the moment you see a fully green leaf you instantly pluck it out. You can quite easily lose variegation as the green leaves can prove very dominant and will soon take over. Spain’s gardens are full of variegated ficus that have lost their variegation and are now common or garden old ficus – you have been warned, don’t come crying to me.

Ficus are relatively slow growing and are very forgiving if you prune them a little badly. My poor old ficus can be seen in the photos below before and after being subjected to my artistic pruning. My aim is to produce an inchoate, but interesting shape whilst exposing the stark white of the bark – good eh! Click on each photo for a larger view.

Maintaining the sight lines for my European Fan Palms. If you read my last post, and I am sure that you did, then you will remember that I wrote about the importance of sight lines in your garden. Sight lines are views or vistas in your garden that perform the function of providing a special view or focal point integral to a particular part of your garden. My European fan palms perform a dual function they give a privacy from my front gate and present a dramatic entrance for guests, whilst at the same time presenting a stunning sight line from the house.

These palms are lovely, but they grow like crazy and happily self seed around themselves. This means that get very top heavy with abundant new fronds whilst at the same time becoming overcrowded at the base. The first photo below shows the unpruned plant viewed from the gate towards the house and secondly from the house to the gate. From these photos you can see the problem. Click on each photo for a larger view.

After much vigorous pruning shown in the two photos below, the sight line can be seen fully restored in the final photo. It is important to note that when pruning any large palm you must wear eye protection or you can easily be damaged by their spiked stems. It is bad enough that they shred your clothes without losing an eye. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Pruning Sago Palms. Sago palms are one of the most popular plants in Spanish gardens. They can be found planted in the ground or happily growing in pots as their slow growing nature ensures they are happy in pots. To be honest these plants do not need that much pruning especially if you grow them in the way that I do with an exposed trunk. I think that exposing the trunk gets you the best out of the plant; you see the ruggedness of the trunk whilst at the same time appreciating the architectural shape of the fronds. To achieve this look, just get out your lopers and take off all the circles of fronds just leaving the top two circles. This is important as if you ever lose one circle to disease or damage, then you have a reserve. The photo below shows my multi-stem sago palm before and after its trim. Click on each photo for a larger view.

An interesting and rewarding part of sago palms is that they will throw off “pups” at their base. These in effect are mini sago palms that can be removed and cultivated. I am not doing this at the moment as I am too busy, but this is the process if you fancy having a go.

  • Clear the earth away from the pup to expose a hard coco nut shaped growth
  • You need to separate this growth from the trunk by cutting down with a sharp spade or similar
  • Once you have removed the pup cut off all the fronds attached to it
  • Place the now frondless pup in a shaded dry area for two weeks to allow the scar where you have cut time to scale over
  • After two weeks place the pup in a compost mixture of 60/40 compost to sand and place it into a very tight pot and place in bright but not full sun
  • Water once then leave it till the soil is completely dry and then water sparingly
  • If you are lucky, in about a month you should see some growth

The photos below show some photos of my ready to harvest pups. I have cut one side of the fronds off so you can get a better look. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cutting back hedges. I consider a good mixed hedge to be one of the delights of living in Spain. Far too many people surround their property with high sterile walls that stop any meaningful growth in their shade. Planted correctly hedges can give you all the security of a wall, but at the same time can delight you with different foliage and flowers not to mention abundant wild life.

I have a rather unorthodox approach to hedge planting. I have over two hundred metres of a variety of mixed hedges all of which are planted closer than normally recommended so that they eventually form a thick impenetrable wall of living colour with each hedge flowering like crazy as it fights for its space. This means that all I have to do is get my hedge trimmers out and trim it all back to the desired height each year and leave it to get on with it again.

When I say all I have to do, to be honest it is like a military operation assembling all the ladders, platforms and tools needed to do this job. The first picture below shows me beginning to gear up for the task in hand. Whilst the subsequent three pictures show parts of the actual task in hand. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Finally below you can see the finished hedges in all their glory.

Preparing my defence. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier I have to spend most of my evenings locked in my room preparing my defence against the summons served on me by the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer of the National Chicken Council on account of my alleged slander of calling Cruella (my wife’s) chickens fat. The nub of Cruella’s case rest on the fact that she has sworn an affidavit saying that her chickens are only fed normal chicken food and therefore cannot be deemed fat.

I on the other hand have mounted a defence that no ordinary chickens could be as fat as these unless they were getting extra food. To assist my defence I have been secretly monitoring Cruella and her chicken feeding habits. The first thing I noticed was that some of the chickens gather inside Tango the blind Labradors old kennel every time he is fed (10am and 3pm). The photo below shows the assembly starting. This spot is just beside where Tango’s food is kept and where he is fed.

The assembly of the fatsos

By mounting a hidden camera I now have proof that Cruella is illicitly feeding her chickens with high calorie insect treats that obviously encourage obesity in chickens. The photos below are legal dynamite as they not only show excess feeding taking place, but I have also included a photo of the illicit feed. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Obesity in a bag

Confronted by my portfolio of evidence Cruella has admitted that she may have acted hastily and has subsequently written to the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer of the National Chicken Council withdrawing all allegations against me. Unfortunately, all of this has drained me and I am not currently up to battling with the big Ficus tree so there will be a Part 4 of the big cutback.

The big cutback Part 2: My new garden kneeler and accusations of chicken discrimination

It all started when I was explaining to Cruella (my wife) how my new garden kneeler works. I had just finished explaining the kneeling element and was going on to outline the workings of the seat part, when she suddenly blurted out “you are so boring”. Obviously, I was taken aback, but I quickly countered with “well your chickens are fat”. I probably went too far as she burst into tears and accused me of body shaming her girls. Any way it all went down hill from there and it now appears she is threatening to report me to the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer of the National Chicken Council. I think she made this up so I am just going to get on with Part 2 of the big winter cutback.

I don’t want to make you choose sides, but just look at my new garden kneeler in the photos below and compare that with the fat chickens. Eh! Who is boring now. Click on each photo for a larger view.

This isn’t all of them, the others were so fat they couldn’t get out of their coop

19th January 2023. Things I have been doing lately:

Pruning fig trees. Now is the time to prune your fig trees, as all the leaves should be off by now and the sap should have stopped rising. I have two fig trees; one of which is espalied. The photos below show my figs waiting their annual prune. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Fig pruning is a multi year event, you must first let the tree grow to the size that you want it, and which fits in with your garden. Once you are happy with the size then cut back hard to an open structure of branches and then leave it alone for a year. It will grow a whole new set of fruit bearing branches from this main structure, and it is these that you will prune back each year, and by this method you will keep the tree in shape and stop it becoming a behemoth which dominates your garden. It is important to note that the branches of the espalier fig are not cutback, as I am training it along wires, only the side shoots are taken out. The photos below show my trees after their annual prune. Click on each photo for a larger view.

A useful adjunct to your pruning is to leave the cut stems on the ground for a few days to let them fully dry out, and then shred them and lay them as a mulch under your trees. The photos below show the final mulch laid around the tree.

Pruning grapevines. In a similar way to the fig, grapevines should now have lost most of their leaves and the sap should no longer be rising. I have three grapevines which are basically ornamental, but look lovely in summer. The main grapevine grows along the front of our Naya and it’s stems hang down to form a lovely fringe along the front of the house. The other two grow along balustrade at the side of our pool and provide a barrier to table tennis balls going out of the pool area (don’t ask). The vines can be seen in their uncut state in the photos below. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Many people in Spain just leave their grapevines to become a big shapeless, tangled, amorphous mass. But this is not fair to the plant and it will not give of its best when left like this. You need to leave the main stem alone, but cut back all the side shoots to the nearest bud node, and then tie it all in to stop wind rock tearing at the main stem.

The vine along the front of the house is tied back to wires, but will more or less stay in shape as the vine stem thickens and it gets older. The ones around the swimming pool needed to be rehung for the best display. Note that it is important not to tie up vines with a single strand of wire, as this will dig into the stem and allow pathogens and pests in. Instead form a loop of wire as shown in the photo below like a little hammock for the vine stem to rest in.

The photos below show my vines pruned back, and finally you can see the wire hammock to hold the stem. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cutting back Dame de Noche. Many of you will have a Dame de Noche plant in your garden for the beautiful night scent they give off in the summer. This plant is especially useful near outside seating areas or close to the house where an open window will allow the scent to flood the house.

Dame de Noche in itself is not an intrinsically beautiful plant, but it makes up for this by its scent. However, to maintain the shape of the plant and its scent you need to prune in a specific way. Right now you need to cut back the plant by two thirds using your electric trimmer or lopers. Normally this will suffice and allow the plant to grow quickly by the summer, and back to at least it’s original size. However, sometimes the centre of the plant will become congested as mine has, then you need to get your chainsaw out and cutback lower to main branches.

The photo below shows my Dame de Noche ready for pruning, and if you look at the centre of the plant you can see that it is congested.

The first photo below shows the level you would normally cutback each year. However, I have to cutback further because of the congestion at the centre of the plant, and the second photo shows the drastically pruned plant. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cutting back Oleander. Oleander is another of those Spanish plants which you can only cutback in the winter after the sap has withdrawn from its stems. Failure to obey this simple rule of thumb will probably leave you with badly burned hands and arms from the caustic sap.

Cutting back Oleander is simple. First stand back and assess what you want out of the plant; do you want it to be large and dominant, or in a hedge, or like me do you want it to play its part in a sympathetic blending of plants. If you decide to prune then it is very simple just go down the stems to the height you want the plant to be, then cut just above a pair of leaves on each stem. Try and leave as little stem as possible above your cut, as this is dead and will only attract pathogens and pests if left too long.

The first photo below shows the Oleander I want to cutback to stop it dominating this part of my small “dry garden”. Often it is best to cutback Oleander via its back door from behind as you get a better view of the stems and where you need to cutback, as in the second photo. The third photo shows where to cut on each stem, and finally the newly pruned plant. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Creating sight lines in your garden. Unfortunately, I have to finish this post now as I have received a court summons from Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer of the National Chicken Council, evidently they do exist, and I have to prepare my defence. But before I go I want to tell you about the importance of sight lines in your garden.

Sight lines are views or viewpoints that exist within any garden large or small that display either the whole garden to best advantage or a particular area. In this case it is the view at the end of my drive. I have planted the end of the drive in various ways but the dominant plants are a Californian False Pepper tree and a Myrtle-leaf milkwort bush. Unless both these plants are kept in shape with regular pruning then the sight line at the end of the drive becomes messy and confused. This is an important sight line for my garden as it is the first thing visitors see as they come down the drive.

The first photo below shows the end of the drive with the plants overgrown and not providing the sharpness that I want in this sight line. The next photo shows the two main plants pruned back and the sight line restored.

For this sight line to work you have to see through to the Wild Wood behind
What do you mean you can’t tell the difference!

Hooray! It’s time for the big Winter cutback and Cruella holds a farewell party for the idiot son

Christmas is over, a new year has begun, the idiot son has gone back to London to ruin the financial system, Cruella (my wife) has sunk into the abyss of despair and grief at the departure of the idiot, even though we had a great party before he left. She has spent days in his bed sleeping with his clothes on, sometimes accompanied by a chicken. However, I am about to start the first stage of the big winter cutback; what’s not to like.

January 12th 2023. Things I have been doing lately:

The big winter cutback Part 1. Your garden this summer will be defined by your actions over the next few weeks. Now is the time to cutback your plants fiercely, in order that they will be reinvigorated for the summer. Failure to cutback now will leave your plants weak, leggy and prone to disease. The cutback is also an opportunity to redefine the sight lines and paths in your garden and to freshen and renew your whole plot, whether it is a terrace or a plantation.

The winter cutback is not for wimps, you can’t be too precious with your plants so cutback hard, don’t worry they will survive and reward you with vigorous new growth. Most general plants, bushes and trees will benefit from being cutback hard, but do not cutback succulents and cactus. It is best to cutback your garden in a set order, my preference is as follows:

  • Roses both to plant new ones and prune existing
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Perrenials
  • Small bushes
  • Large bushes such as Oleander and Ficus
  • General mixed hedges
  • Trees (but not citrus at this stage)

Planting bare root Roses. Now is the time to plant new bare root roses, don’t plant container bought roses yet as the ground will be too cold, this is best left till the end of February. I stupidly killed some of my roses this summer as I turned off their irrigation after days of heavy rain and then forgot to turn it back on; by the time I noticed it was too late. This meant I had to buy in some old English bare root replacements from David Austin.

The secret to planting bare root roses is to keep them in a cool dark room until you are ready to plant them, then before planting soak them for at least 24 hours. The first photo below show my new bare roots roses resting in my shed, whilst the second shows them soaking before planting. Click on each photo for a larger view.

When you are ready to plant out, prepare the hole before removing the roses from their soaking. Also, and if possible, sprinkle the roots with Myrrcohirzal Fungi which will stimulate the roots to promote rapid growth. When you plant any roses you must make sure to bury the bud union (where the stems join the root) below the surface as this will be where the new shoots come from. Where possible back fill with well rotted compost and firm the soil all around the new plant as this will stop root rock in the wind.

The first photo below shows my new roses being lovingly coated in fungus. The next shows the depth the new rose bud union should be planted to (if possible 3 inches). Finally, a photographic triumph of me firming around the new plants. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Pruning roses. Now is the time to prune your roses. If you have lots of Roses – and I do – then sometimes to save yourself a lot of time you can prune in two stages. Firstly, get out your hedge trimmer and cut all your roses back by about two thirds;this can be scary, but I assure you it works. Wait a few days and then go back and do a traditional prune by opening up the centre of the plant to create a “wine glass” open shape. This will save you lots of time, and lessen your blood loss as you try to get into the centre of the plant. Do not use this method for climbing roses, they need only have their side shoots trimmed back.

The photos below show my rose beds before and after the massacre, followed by my climbing roses pruned more prudently. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Pruning back Chillis. Normally I grow chillis afresh every year from saved seed, but this year I have decided to cutback my existing plants and see how they grow this summer. I have plenty of seeds in reserve if I feel that the cutback plants are not performing, so it should be fun. If you want to try this, then just cutback quite low on the plant to an outward facing leaf node. Top dress with some nice fresh compost, water profusely and then leave in the shade for about three days before returning to full sun. The first photo below shows my chilli plants ready for pruning, the next shows the trimmed back plants and finally their lovely compost top dressing. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cutting back Cannas. Cannas are one of my favourite plants, they are tall, majestic, colourful and with lovely foliage. But, perhaps more importantly they keep on multiplying so every 3 or 4 years you dig up the rhizomes (ugly bulbs) and get a whole new bunch of plants. If you have Cannas, then now is the time to cut them down, their foliage should have gone fully brown and shrivelled and all the goodness from the foliage will be stored in the rhizome.

Using your secateurs cut each stem back to about 4 inches from the ground. The length is important as it just enough to convince the plant that this stem is no longer viable and it will not try to regrow. Also the 4 inch stem will ensure that water from the ground cannot seep into the cut stem and rot the rhizome. The cut stems will not regrow, instead the rhizome will send up a completely new stem from an eye on the rhizome. By the end of the summer you will be able to pluck out the old stems from within the new growth.

The first photo below shows one of my stands of Canna ready for their winter cutback. The second photo shows them cutback to the regulation 4 inches. Finally, a canna rhizome with its old stem cut back, but I have marked the eye in the rhizome where the next stem will emerge; isn’t God wonderful. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cut ornamental grasses back hard. Most ornamental grasses will benefit from a really hard cutback at this time of the year. Last year I divided a large Fountain grass as it had started to die back in the middle. I discarded the middle and split it into 8 parts, replanted four and gave the rest away to friends. I am pleased to say that all the new plants have taken and had a good first summer.

Now is the time for their first big cutback. Using a hedge trimmer or shears cut the whole plant back so that it forms a small mound. Then water it and leave it alone, it will come back this summer bigger and stronger. The photos below show some of my grasses before their cutback, and what they look like now after their trim. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The idiots sons leaving party. There is so much more of the big winter cutback to tell you about, but Cruella insists that I tell you about the idiot sons leaving party. To be honest, it wasn’t much of a party, there was just the three of us, together with the chickens and Tango the lonely blind Labrador.

The day started quietly with the idiot rehearsing the chickens for a big dance routine that Cruella had devised. But the little white chicken was too shy to get involved so was designated a stage hand. The first photo below shows the start of rehearsals, whilst the second shows the little white chicken shyly refusing to get involved. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Everyone was made to dress up, and I was forced to have a bath. The worst of all was Tango the lonely blind Labrador who was forcefully brushed by Cruella and the idiot boy whilst the chickens looked on mockingly. To be fair to Tango he can’t see and he thought he was being mugged, especially as the little black chicken had stolen his plastic bone earlier. The first photo below shows Tango being forcefully brushed, whilst the second shows the mugger with his bone. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The day progressed relatively slowly with Cruella insisting that we all sit through what she called her “fashion show”. This consisted of her sashaying up and down our drive (or chicken walk) as she called it, carrying a different chicken for each change of clothes. To be honest I was shocked to find that she had persuaded Nike to produce a range of what she calls “chicken couture”. The photo below shows her parading part of her sports range.

After each sashay Cruella pirouetted at the end of the drive, bowed and then went into the shed to change into her next outfit; the chickens were in the shed already waiting to be matched with her next outfit.

The evening ended in a raucous manner with a themed country and western event by the swimming pool. We all had to wear cowboy outfits, which greatly perplexed Tango as although he can’t see, he could hear my leather Chaps rubbing. The finale was the idiot boy insisting on wrestling with Tango which resulted in the poor dog thinking he was being mugged again. The first photo shows the idiot son dressed as a cowboy, much to Tango’s bewilderment, whilst the second shows part of the end of day wrestling. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all Spanish Gardeners and chickens

As the gardening year comes to an end I want to wish all followers of spanish-garden.com blog a peaceful blessed Christmas and a floriferous happy new year. I am sure that all of us are looking forward to having the sun on our skin and our hands in the soil in the new year.

God bless,

James McAllister

23rd December 2022. The Chickens Christmas Party

As an end of year treat I am posting some photos from the chicken’s Christmas party that Cruella (my wife) insisted we hold. I was extremely reluctant, as we are having Turkey on Christmas Day and thought it would be disloyal. Anyway she got her way especially as our idiot son was arriving for Christmas and this would be a double treat.

I spent a day decorating the chicken coop, whilst she prepared a festive buffet for the chickens from her chicken fusion menu. I refused to get involved in wrapping their presents as I thought it was a stupid idea, but she said “wait till you see their little faces on Christmas day.

Anyway, we have all been practising singing carols in chickenese. I pretend that I understand but really I don’t. The idiot son is good at languages and speaks both Spanish and Japanese with a basic understanding of English.

The photos below show the festivities. Don’t worry we will be back to gardening very soon and to be honest I am already not sleeping with excitement about the big January cut back.

The first photo below show me preparing the fresh orange juice which Cruella insisted upon. The next photo shows Cruella with her party food. The following photo shows the idiot son laying out the buffet.

Cruella had planned a full evening of party fun for the chickens starting with a magic show where the idiot son changed costume constantly and made chickens disappear (he just stuffed them up his tee shirt, but we all went along with it).

The evening ended with us all playing charades, which for some reason involved the idiot son being dressed as an elf. The photo below shows him acting out a four word answer, whilst Cruella standing behind him cheats by signalling answers to the chickens. I was loudly booed for suggesting Kentucky Fried Chicken and acting the whole thing out including the frying part.

The evening ended with everyone tired but happy and all the chickens were put to bed by Cruella still dressed in her party frock.

This may look like a headless chicken, but in fact it is “big Bertha” who does not like having her photo taken as she gets embarrassed about her weight.

Jobs you should be doing now; not including chicken entertaining!

We are now well into Autumn and you should be finishing off all the loose ends of summertime. Do not be tempted to start your big winter cutback until January, instead you need to be doing the pre cutback chores which will be too late by January. In addition to all my normal tasks, Tango the blind Labrador and I have also taken on the task of chicken entertainers, but more of that later, let’s get on with the gardening.

5th December 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Cutting back and tidying Bird of Paradise. Strelitzia is one of the delights of Spanish gardens and they flourish here in the Costa Blanca. However to keep it at its best you need to regularly deadhead and cutback flopping fronds. When deadheading, don’t just cut off the flower head, I find it is best to go down the stem until you see a diagonal join in the stem. If you cut here then a new stem and flower will grow from this spot. You can only do this once on each stem before you have to cut right back to the ground next time.

In addition to cutting back stems, it is helpful to peel the dead parts of flowers away as this stimulates further flowering from the front of the flower head. Once you have cut back flowering stems and stimulated further flowering, then it is time to go round the whole plant cutting back any floppy fronds and taking non flowering stems right to the ground.

The first photo below shows my Strelitzia ready for its winter tidy up. The second shows how to stimulate further flowering, whilst the next shows where to cut on the stem to produce another flowering stem. Finally the tidier plant. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Don’t cutback Cannas yet! At this time of year it is tempting to tidy up your Cannas. All those lovely tall flowering stems are gone and the beautiful showy leaves are a shrivelled mess. But don’t cut back now or you will hinder next years growth. Canna need to fully die back with no green left in their leaves. This allows the plant to draw back into its corm (ugly bulb) all the energy from its dying leaves which will power next summers flowers. The photos below shows some of my canna clumps not yet ready to cutback. Strangely they possess a passing resemblance to Cruella (my wife) and her coven as they come home from another night drinking strong potions. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Time to harvest Chilli seeds. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I have been growing some lovely Chillis for the last couple of years. To keep this process going each year I harvest seeds for my next years crop. In August I marked the best looking chillis for seed gathering by marking their stem with tape to ensure I didn’t harvest them by mistake. I then leave the marked chillis on the plant to fully wither and to allow the seeds to ripen and mature. Once harvested I place the full chilli pod in an envelope ready to recover the seeds next Spring.

The first photo below shows me checking out the almost mature chilli. The next photo shows an almost mature chilli but not ripe for harvesting as long as the stem is green. Finally, the fully mature chilli ready to produce next years crop. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Close weeding your bulbs. Most of the year my favourite garden tool is my hoe. This allows me to perform a quickly daily sweep up and down my flower borders to keep them weed free. However, once bulbs start to come through their is a danger that you will accidentally hoe off your lovely new bulb shoots by mistaking them for grass stems. Well now is the time to hang up your hoe and get down on your hands and knees for some close weeding; and if you like say a prayer while you are there.

Close weeding is very therapeutic as it lets you get down close to your plants and allows you to feel the soil running through your fingers. Using your trowel, gently work around bulb stems to probe and lift out any encroaching grass stems. Although it can be difficult to tell grass stems from bulb stems at this stage of growth, a good rule of thumb is that generally bulb shooting stems are round whilst grass is flat in blades.

The first photo below shows my last hoe of the year and the beginning of the close weeding season. The next photo shows me feeling for the tell tale round stem of a bulb, and finally the gentle easing out of grass stems that threaten to choke emerging bulb stems. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Tie up your climbing plants. If you have climbing plants, then now is the time to tie them up and make sure that your wires and trellises are secure. Whilst normally the weather in this part of Spain is usually lovely, we can get strong winds occasionally. Strong winds are usually ok in the summer as the plants are full of sap and are flexible and better able to bend with the wind. It is different in the winter. The sap has been withdrawn to the roots and the stems are less flexible and much more brittle which means you can lose a plant as it will snap off at the roots.

It is time to wander round and check all your trellises and wires. If you are using vine ties, then tighten them up and if you can oil them to keep them usable. It is silly little jobs like this that you can do now that will ensure your plants stay climbing as opposed to crashing to the ground destroyed or losing years of growth.

The first photo below shows me midst tightening with my various accoutrements. The second shows some of my newly oiled vine ties. It may look boring but it is heaven, it keeps me out of the house and Cruella can’t see me when I am close to walls and not moving; she has the same type of vision as a Velociraptor. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Chicken entertaining. Regular readers of this blog will know that Cruella’s fancy chickens are causing havoc in my garden. At the first sight of bare earth they immediately begin digging with their huge dinosaur type feet. I have tried my best at chicken proofing the garden by placing small wire fences around my flower beds. In addition I recruited Tango the lonely blind Labrador as a watch dog. The folly of this approach soon became obvious as he is blind. However, I supplemented Tango’s efforts with my trusty water pistol which I would wield at the first sign of any chicken indiscretion.

But unfortunately it was all to no avail. The first minute my back was turned one of the chickens would hop over my little fences and start digging up my bulbs. As a last resort Tango and I have been holding evening concerts in the garden for the chickens in the hope that this will act as a diversionary tactic. Each night we assemble on the front veranda. Usually I start by telling a series of “why did the chicken cross the road” jokes; which I have to be honest do not go down too well. I put this down to chickens lack of road safety awareness as opposed to my joke telling skills.

After I have finished my turn, or as I prefer to call it set! we have the interval. At this point Cruella emerges carrying a tray like an old fashioned cinema usherette. The difference is that she is dressed in a full chicken costume and on her tray are a huge range of very expensive insect based treats for her girls. She proceeds to address them all by name in chickenese whilst at the same time dishing out individualised treats. The chickens have become such fussy eaters that Cruella now has them all on bespoke diets, or as she calls it her chicken fusion menu.

After the break it is over to Tango the lonely blind Labrador who performs a series of stunts mainly involving bumping into things and falling down steps. Tango’s act is a real chicken favourite as they wave their wings and cluck enthusiastically at each bump and crack on poor Tangos head; if you can imagine Romans in the Colosseum whilst Christians are being eaten by Lions that is the sort of thing. Tango finishes his turn with his old favourite roll overs which are well received.

The whole evening comes to an end with an enthusiastic singing of the national anthem in chickenese; (as a staunch republican I take no part in this and remain as silent as an Iranian footballer). As the sun goes down Cruella leads her girls back to their roost lustily singing The Battle Hymn of the Republic again in chickenese.

The first photos below shows the audience assembling for the evening concert. The second shows Tango the lonely blind Labrador nervously waiting his turn to go on. The next shows the evening finale with Tango doing his world famous roll over. The final photo shows an exhausted Tango resting after the show; it really takes it out of him. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Disease, pestilence and the start of the first great chicken war

I agree that the title of this post does have an apocalyptic feel about it, and that is because this is how I feel. I am battling to make sure that various garden pests don’t overwinter on some large plants, bushes and trees in the garden, whilst at the same time Cruella (my wife) has opened a “second front” in the chicken wars which means I am now fighting on two fronts. Let’s start with the garden pests before getting on to the chicken pests.

5th November 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Dealing with garden pests. As the cold weather comes along so sap begins to drop in all your plants. This in turn means that most sap sucking pests will either die off or worse try and overwinter on your plants. I have two particular insect problems I am dealing with at the moment.

I was walking past my weeping Ficus tree the other day when I noticed lots of dried up leaves lying under the tree. If there are no watering problems (which there aren’t) then it is obviously an insect infestation. After looking very carefully at the tree I could see nothing. But this is where gardening guile comes in, if you can see nothing then stand back and run your hand roughly and rapidly through the leaves, then watch very carefully. In my case clouds of whitefly emerged all of which are particularly difficult to see on variegated plants. The solution is to spray daily for three days with an appropriate insecticide.

The first photo below shows my ficus looking very sorry for itself. The second shows the fallen leaves which are the clue to the problem. I am very proud of the next photo which shows me manfully diagnosing the problem. And finally the solution. Click on each photo for a larger view.

My other main insect problem was on my large Indian Laurel tree which is another ficus. This time the problem is with an infestation of Wooly aphids. Unlike white fly, Wooly aphids are easy to spot as they form cotton wool type clusters on branches and leaves which are there to protect them and their eggs. Most garden chemicals are ineffective because of their wooly protection. The simplest thing is to wash them off with a high pressure hose. You will have to do this every day for a few weeks until you decimate enough of the colony.

The first photos below show you the nature of a woolly aphid problem. The final photo shows me administering watery retribution. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Dealing with rogue bamboo. Regular readers of this blog will remember that some years ago I foolishly planted bamboo close to one of my water features. I diligently caged it within a square of large tiles and took many other precautions to stop it escaping and proliferating. Unfortunately about six months ago I noticed that it had begun to make a run for freedom. I instantly executed it with a strong weed killer and have instituted a vigorous daily watch of the dead plant for any signs of life. At one point it did come back with some little signs of green, but again I destroyed these.

Once you are sure that bamboo is dead, then as an extra precaution set it on fire. The fire will burn down through wire like roots and destroy any chance of a comeback. But the real solution is do not plant bamboo unless it is in a pot or a specially dug protected trench. The first photo below shows me preparing to take out the bamboo roots and the tile box that was supposed to contain it. Secondly you can see my fires of righteousness delivering vengeance. Lastly, the newly retrieved spot as the bamboo is no more. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cutting back Cruella damaged plants. Most of you will know that Cruella (my wife) is not allowed anywhere near the garden. For whilst she has green fingers they are the wrong type, every plant she touches dies, as can be seen in the photo below.

It is the nails that do the damage

The problem this time was that she touched a lovely Solanum and a Hoya both of which had been growing gloriously all summer and climbing decoratively up the side of our outside kitchen.

From the first photo below you can see the blackened stem where Cruella has touched it. The second photo shows the damaged plant in its entirety, whilst the third shows my remedial work which will hopefully save the plant. If you have a climbing plant that has been damaged then be brave and cut some of the stems right to the ground leaving the undamaged stems to hopefully recover. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cruella (my wife) damaged the Hoya in a different way. I explained to her that Hoya (especially in pots) need very little water. When I returned to find the obviously overwatered plant she said she hadn’t overwatered it, but admitted to giving it what she called her special plant food.

Again the remedy is to cut it right back and do not water till it is fully dry in the first top 3 centimetres of the soil. The problem and solutions can be seen in the following photos. When I asked Cruella what was in her plant food she showed me the label exclaiming proudly “it is all natural”. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cruella’s secret all natural ingredient

Remove citrus suckers. At this time of the year you need to go round all your citrus trees and pull off any suckers that are growing from the trunk or just below the soil. Suckers can be easily identified, they are bright green and generally grow straight up. Suckers are non fruiting stems that will take the goodness from the tree in non productive growth. If you remove them regularly then they come away very easily. Just put your gardening gloves on and grip the sucker at its base and pull sharply down, it’s as easy as that so get out there now – never give a sucker and even break. The photos below show some suckers that I am about to remove. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The start of the first great chicken war. Regular readers of this blog will know that Cruella (my wife) is now the proud owner of 5 fancy chickens who she insists are allowed to roam freely in the garden. This has forced me into erecting a line of defences similar to the Siegfried Line to keep the destructive chickens at bay. The photo below shows some of my defences.

My first lines of defence. I am thinking of electrifying them

The fact that I have had the temerity to erect defences has only engendered a militarist mindset in Cruella and she has taken to marching on manoeuvres every day with “her girls”. Most mornings at about 10.30 she assembles her chickens for inspection and then marches them round the garden in a line singing what she has entitled her regimental song. She tells me it is based on the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”. But as she is singing in Chickenese it just sounds like this: puck pa puck pa puck pa puck.

Anyway whilst I was erecting my latest line of defences around the base of a vine. I suddenly became aware of the fact that Cruella was advancing with her chickens and attacking my defences on two fronts. At each point the chickens succeeded on jumping over my defences and clawing where my newly planted bulbs where. Even though I had recruited Tango the lonely blind Labrador as a guard dog, there was an obvious flaw in my plan, namely he can’t see.

The first photo below show my work site where I was preparing the defences and you can just see the chickens assembling in the background for the charge.

The start of the skirmish

The first photo below show a scouting party that was sent out to reconnoiter my defences. The following photos show the first stages of the attack when Cruella and her chickens emerged from behind foliage singing their song and attempting to rush me. Click on each photo for a larger view.

At first I rushed to defend the vine, but it turned out it was only a diversionary attack the real attack was taking place on the flower borders which I had left Tango the lonely blind Labrador to defend; but he was overwhelmed by superior numbers and hampered by the fact he couldn’t see them and was facing the wrong way. The photo below shows the battle of the borders beginning.

I don’t blame Tango he was outnumbered

When I confronted Cruella she claimed it was all a misunderstanding, whilst the chickens said they were just following orders. By way of compensation she agreed to help me plant all the bulbs on the lawn, see photos below. But I still don’t trust her, she started off ok and worked diligently, but gradually her chickens kept creeping nearer. The funny thing is she kept feigning interest in the garden and asking me questions but I knew she was just trying to find where I kept my bulb plan. But don’t worry it’s safely locked up.

This looks suspicious

I have a bulb plan, Cruella has become Frankenstein and the little white chicken is back from the dead

This was going to be a straightforward gardening blog packed full of all the things we gardeners need to get on with at the end of Summer; it was to be calming and reflective instilling peace into our souls. All of this has been destroyed by the return of the little white chicken from the grave. How it happened was this. I was calmly digging holes for bulbs when I caught a flash of movement from the corner of my eye, and there walking towards me was the little white chicken! Yes, the one I buried just the other week. I will tell you more later, I need to talk about gardening to keep me sane.

23rd October 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Making a bulb plan. Bulbs are not something that we often think of for our gardens here in Spain. In most gardens it is all succulents and gravel, however, bulbs can give your garden an added delight in the Spring and late Autumn. You can plant bulbs individually, in drifts dotted throughout your lawn or in dramatic clumps springing up as islands of beauty in your gravelled areas.

There are lots of online bulb suppliers who will deliver a range of healthy bulbs ready for you to plant now or in the Spring. I favour an organisation called “Farmer Gracy”who have a superb on line catalogue and excellent service and delivery. But there are many others. Or you could just buy a few packets of bulbs from your local garden centre. The photo below shows the delight of my bulbs arriving for autumn planting.

Half the joy is browsing the catalogue and then making your choices, I am like a child in a sweet shop

But don’t just rush out and begin planting. If you do, you will never remember where things are planted, you need to make a bulb plan. Just basically measure your planting area and draw up a simple plans that shows you where you have planted your bulbs. Drawing the plan up also helps you to reflect upon which bulbs will go where. You can then allow for shade, full sun and companion planting. The photo below shows the start of my bulb plan process.

Such fun it is like working in God’s planning office

The photos below show some examples of my various bulb plans. Every garden is obviously different, but a bulb plan will make you think it all through, it will also tell you what you planted, where you planted them and in what quantity. Click on each photo for a larger view.

It is important to remember that not all bulbs are the same; some will need special treatment before planting such as chilling or soaking but mostly they are very straightforward. Just remember the golden rule “pointy end” faces up. The photos below show some of my bulb planting activities. The first photos shows some anemones being soaked before planting out in a shady area with companion planting of Kaffir Lillies. The next photo shows some tulips ready for clump planting. The final photo shows how I mark each bulb planted area with a white stone. This is essential as it will stop me hoeing off the new shoots and guide my companion planting in the Spring. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Finally a couple of photos of me with my new super duper heavyweight bulb planter. You will definitely need one of these if like me you plan some drift planting across your lawn. Even with this tool you will need heavy rain or a good watering to make your Spanish lawn soft enough to plant through grass. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Time to remove fruit netting. By now all the fruit should be off your trees and there is no need for netting to remain in place. It is good practice to take netting down as it stops birds being caught up in raggedy nets and obviously you can’t prune back in Spring with nets on. Don’t try and save nets for next year as it is just not worth it, just cut them off. The photo below shows my net removing efforts and some last minute fruits. Click on each photo for a larger view.

There is one danger you should remember when removing nets from fig trees, apart from falling off the ladder and breaking your neck, and that is burns from fig sap. Stupidly I ignored my normal advice of wearing covering clothes, and instead pulled the net off wearing just a vest and shirts. The result was a series of sap burns to my skin. The photos below show you just some of the damage so be careful, especially at pruning time, and only prune in January when the sap has stopped rising. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Time to plant out your spring cuttings. Sometimes you will have plants sitting on your potting bench and they seem as if they have been there forever doing nothing, then suddenly they come to life as they have made sufficient root to begin growing. I have just planted out a Stephanotis and a Jasmine and will soon plant out a rose, all of which have come into growth spurts. I can thoroughly recommend taking cuttings, there is nothing as satisfying as seeing a little twig you potted up six months ago suddenly come to life. The first photo below shows the little Jasmine in its new home, followed by the Stephanotis ready to propel itself up a trellis. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Take Dipladenia cuttings. If you have Dipladenia, and lots of you do, because it is now very popular in Spain, then why not take some cuttings. Just cut off some strongly growing stems (with a knife never secateurs), pinch out the lower leaves, leaving just a few at the top. Then dip in rooting hormone if you have it (not essential) and plant them in fours around the side of a four inch pot. They probably won’t all root, but you will definitely get some new plants out of the process and it’s free. The photos below show how simple it is. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The resurrection of the little white chicken. As a Christian I obviously believe in resurrection, but not for chickens. So it was to my amazement that I witnessed the second coming of the little white chicken. There it was strolling around the garden spying on me as usual, despite the fact I had recently buried it. I confronted Cruella (my wife) about this phenomenon and her only comment was “oh is she back already, good, we have work to do”. I’ve checked the grave it’s empty.

You know the worse thing? The little white chicken is now accompanied by a small black chicken with a white head, who is now its evil companion. I accused Cruella (my wife) of conducting Frankenstein like experiments with chickens and mixing body parts, which she of course denied. But I know something is up because every time she sees the little white chicken she shouts out “she lives” and cackles like a maniac. The photos below show Cruella speaking chickenese to her new, or recycled girls! Click on each photo for a larger view.

Finally, Cruella (my wife) has adopted a new chicken hairstyle that she affects when marching her girls up and down the garden as they chant in chickenese. I am thinking of moving.

She just told me a joke in chickenese and then started laughing at me

The little white chicken is dead but Tango the blind Labrador is keeping morale up

It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that the little white chicken, or as I called it “the spy”, is dead. Cruella (my wife) was at our English house with the idiot son, so all the blame has fallen on me. Despite my assuring her it was not my fault, she has lapsed into only speaking chickenese and muttering darkly with her remaining “girls”. I sleep with the wardrobe pushed up against my bedroom door.

In mitigation, this is how it happened. The little white chicken began to look ill, wouldn’t eat, and barely came out of the coop. With the help of YouTube, chicken websites and other reliable sources I diagnosed that she was egg-bound. One of the remedies offered was to bath her in Epsom Salts. At great expense I ordered Epsom Salts and duly bathed her, towel dried her and then blow dried her. By the time I finished she looked like a fluffy cotton bud had exploded. But it was to no avail, as she died anyway. But as the photos below show at least she died clean. She lies at rest in the Wild Wood. Cruella goes to her grave every night and howls in chickenese whilst I cower down by the compost bins. Click on each photo for a larger view.

However, there is some good news before we get on with the gardening. I have taught Tango the blind Labrador to do “rollovers” to cheer up the other chickens. The photos below show Tango performing to a rapt audience of bemused Click on each photo for a larger view.

11th October 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Potting up seedlings. If you have osteospermums in your garden or any Margarita type Daisy, then they are magnificent self seeders and now is the time to dig up the seedlings and pot them on. I also cut back some mature osteospermum and leave them in the beds to over winter, but mostly I rely on fresh seedlings each year.

The process is simple. Look under and around any Osteospermums and you will see a profuse amount of little seedlings. Gently ease these out in clumps using your trowel to lever them out of the soil. Then holding them by the leaf, never the stem, pot them up into pre prepared seed trays in a free draining compost with added Perlite for drainage. The first photo below shows the little seedlings waiting to be plucked to new life. The second shows the pre-prepared seed trays, the third shows my trowel action. The next shows a seedling with healthy roots being transplanted. The final photo shows the trays of happy seedlings. It just shows how simple it is to get new free plants from your garden. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Clearing and mulching beds. By now you should have cleared all of your summer plants out of your beds and borders and it is now time to give them a good mulch before putting in your winter bulbs and plants. After clearing the beds of plants, give them a thorough hoeing to clear out any residual weeds. Following this thoroughly water before adding your mulch as this will ensure that the mulch will lock in moisture. Do not plant anything in the beds for at least two weeks to allow any remaining weeds to show themselves before a final hoe and planting.

The first two photos show the final clear up. The third shows the necessary watering before the mulch. The next shows the finished bed waiting for its new plants. The final photo shows a bed that I mulched a couple of weeks ago, and you can see the weeds making a re-appearance. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Time to take your last cuttings of the year. October is the last month you can take cuttings in Spain. Any later cuttings will not have time to make some root before the cold weather. Prepare everything before taking any cuttings, as it is important you get your new cuttings into the soil as soon as possible to stop any drying out. The first photo below shows everything you need before starting. This includes:

  • Pre-prepared pots
  • A sharp knife to take cuttings (never use secateurs as these can crush stems)
  • Rooting hormone liquid or powder (not absolutely necessary, but can help)
  • A dibber to make holes for your cuttings

The final photo shows my tray of winter cuttings that I am preparing for a friend who has a particularly dry garden. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Some last jobs. There are always last jobs to be done in a garden at this time of year. I would recommend trimming Jasmine back to the wall or supporting trellis. Left to it’s own devices Jasmine will flop forward and inhibit the growth underneath making it go brown. By trimming it back you will encourage good healthy new growth all over the plant. Another final job is to give your lawn its final feed of the year. This needs to be done when your grass still has some growth or you are wasting your time and money. The first photo below shows my trimmed back Jasmine. The second shows the grass food I use (others are available). Click on each photo for a larger view.

My garden has suffered the desolation of Mordor and Cruella has taught her chickens to hunt as a pack!

I’m back, I know I didn’t tell you I was away mainly because I now work on a need to know basis, as every time I go away Cruella (my wife) and her fancy chickens devastate the garden. Well enough is enough I broke down In tears when I saw the neglect and wilful damage they had inflicted on the garden. The photos below speak for themselves. Click on each photo for a larger view.

To make matters worse whilst I was berating Cruella for the damage she and her fancy chickens had caused, she just sat there stroking the little white one and whispering chickenese into its ear like some Bond villain. Just then I caught a slight movement under a fig tree as the chickens operating in unison had stalked a little bird and made it fly into the fig net. The photos below show the hunting party setting off, followed by their lookout who is set to keep a eye on me. The next photo shows “big Bertha” stalking like a lioness under the fig tree. The final photos show the poor little bird that I managed to rescue and free. Click on each photo for a larger view.

This is in danger of becoming a chicken blog, so let’s get on with the gardening.

24th September 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Gathering seeds. Now we are moving towards autumn it is time to look around your garden for seed heads to provide you with next year’s plants. In my garden at this time of year, there are usually seedheads to be gathered from:

  • Marigolds
  • Sun flowers
  • Trumpet vine
  • Loofahs
  • Jasminium

And so much more as we move into autumn. Even if you have never grown from seed , why not try it, it can prove very addictive. The photos below show an array of seed heads picked and ready to be processed. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Most seed are very easy to process. The photos below show how to harvest Marigold seeds. First only pick the seed heads when they are fully dry and completely brown with no sign of green. Then rub off the top part of the seed head which is made up of a rough nape. Following this roll the seed head between your thumb and forefinger pressing gently to crush the seed head and release the seeds. When you have all the seeds let them fall between your palms as you blow gently to separate the seed from the chaff. Finally store the seeds in an envelope till you need them next year. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Processing Loofahs. I gave lots of loofah seeds out during my open garden day so I am sure you will all now be ready to reap your harvest. The secret with loofahs is that you must leave them till they are completely dry, brown and wrinkled (yes, I know, just like me). The secret to knowing if they are ready for harvesting is to shake the pods, and if you can hear the seeds rattling free inside, then they are ready.

To harvest loofahs you just follow these simple steps:

  1. Use your secateurs to clip the pods off leaving about 2cm of stem.
  2. Then holding the pod upright just use your thumb to flip open the top of the pod by pressing on the side of the stem. This will easily come away leaving a hole the size of 2€ coin.
  3. All you need to do then is to pour the seeds out into your hand.
  4. Next grasp the now empty pod between your hands and gently crush it to loosen the skin covering the pod.
  5. Peel off the pod skin
  6. And there you have it a lovely loofah to keep your skin supple and beautiful.

I would let you have some, but Cruella takes my whole crop and sells them to her coven as nose wart removers. The whole process is shown below. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Tying up Cannas. At this time of the year large cannas can begin to look a bit untidy. But don’t chop them down! You need all the goodness from the stems to start flowing back into the corm (ugly bulb) which will form next years plant . So for now you need to tie your cannas into an upright position for a couple of months till they get really scraggy, brown and raggedy, (yes, I know we have already had that joke).

I use broomsticks for this as they are strong enough to bang into the ground and tie the canna up even in strong winds. This year I bought myself some new broomsticks and Cruella thought I had bought her a present. I didn’t have the heart to tell her so I fitted her broom on a new stick. The photos below show the process. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Clearing borders and applying mulch. By now a lot of the plants in your borders will be well past their best. Once you have collected any seed that you want, then it is time to clear your borders and get them ready for cutings, seedlings and bulbs. Because not all plants die off conveniently at the same time, it is better to do this in stages. Don’t be tempted to just clear everything because a few plants are looking untidy. There are two main benefits of leaving plants a bit longer. Firstly, as already mentioned it allows seed heads to mature. But secondly, and just as important it allows the birds and insects to feed on the decaying plants. Sometimes it pays to be an untidy gardener for a few weeks.

The photos below show the start of my border clearing process and the application of a thick rich mulch to renews the soil. My friend Hilary has just started composting and is excited to get going and it may sound slightly pathetic but nothing beats the sight and smell of your first home made compost. Cruella just shouted out “shut up you idiot”, but she has her chickens all I have is my compost. Click on each photo for a larger view.

It is time for the Costa Blanca Cut and Cruella has started the chicken wars

The above heading may appear confusing but I have to tell you I am having a hard time of it at the moment with Cruella (my wife) and her fancy chickens. But more of this later, it is time to get on with the Costa Blanca Cut (CBC). Yes, that is right CBC! It is a term that I invented last year that denotes the time when you can judiciously trim all your flowering hedges and shrubs to hopefully get a late summer bust of flowering whilst at the same time making your garden look neater.

I have to confess that I stole the idea from “the Chelsea Chop” which is the period just after the Chelsea Flower Show when you can cut back; I think my term is better and the timing is just right for our hot summers. Anyway let’s get on with the gardening.

23rd August 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Trimming hedges. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I have a range of densely packed hedges along the front of my garden. I packed them together so that they would fight for space and provide a dense flowering wall. Whilst this works very well, at this time of year it is necessary to trim them back just enough to encourage new flowerings and to keep them neat.

The first photos below show some of my hedges inside and outside my garden in all their glory. From this you can see there are still lots of flowering but some are attempting to go to seed. Click on each photo for a larger view.

All that is required to bring your garden back into shape and give you more flowers, is that you lightly trim back with a hedge trimmer or shears. Do not over do this, the big cut back is in January, so remember less is more. The photo below shows me manfully using my large extendable trimmer to good effect – mind you I now have a bad back, again! Click on each photo for a larger view.

The photos below show the extent of my cut back, but remember it will all be worth while with masses of new flowers within a month. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Trimming Olive trees. Regular readers will remember that I trimmed my olive tree by cloud pruning it years ago into a series of balls. To keep this shape sharp, you need to prune back 3 or 4 times a year. The before and after effects can be seen in the photos below. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Time to trim standards. If you have flowering standards in your garden it is always difficult to give them a trim as you are torn between the nice neat shape of a standard and their many flowers. Well, you can have both as long as you trim little and often. This approach will keep the plant flowering and the bees will love you, whilst at the same time keeping your nice round ball. The first photos below show my standards floriferous but out of shape whilst the second photos show them reshaped; I am happy to tel you they are already flowering.

Time to cut the lawn. Yes, I know it is madness having a lawn on the Costa Blanca, but there you have it, I’ve got one. Obviously there has not been much mowing going on in our current heatwave. But sometimes you have to clean up general debris from the grass. This means setting your mower blades as high as possible and just running the mower over the garden much like a hoover. The photo below shows the end results of my mowing. I call my lawn Schwarzenegger as it always comes back.

The chicken wars have started. Regular readers of this blog will know that Cruella (my wife) hasn’t been the same since the cat died. The cat and her were very close, the cat happily sat behind her whenever she flew on her broomstick. In addition Cruella would use the cat as a “familiar” by whispering instructions into her ear which the cat happily carried out. As you all know she has now gotten over the loss of the cat by buying herself a flock of fancy chickens; and this is where it has all gone wrong.

Who would have thought that chickens were incompatible with a neat well designed garden. Well let me tell you they are. Despite spending a fortune on a coop and fencing to create what can only be described as a chicken paradise, Cruella has now decided that “her girls” need to be free to roam. The result of this is that chickens have proceeded to take liberties with the garden (have you seen their feet) They mock me and Tango the lonely blind Labrador as they strut around the garden as if they have diplomatic immunity.

The photos below show how they deliberately mock poor old Tangos space. Click on each photo for a larger view.

A raiding party

Well I have had enough me and Tango are fighting back. I have bought myself one of those super soaker water pistols and happily chase them around the garden and squirt them when ever they commit any garden transgressions. Tango is taking a more pacifist route and has written to the Kennel Club and asked for asylum. The photo below shows my trusty pistol ready for action.

I’m locked and loaded

The only problem is that Cruella is fighting back and has started whispering malign instructions into the Chicken’s ears – just as she did with the cat, see photo below. Just the other night I woke up in bed only to find the little white chicken perched on my chest and pecking my nose. That’s it the chicken wars have begun and I am fighting to save the garden.

They both speak chickenese as they know I can’t understand; but I have picked up that three puck pucks followed by a cluck means danger

Tie up, deadhead and cane!

Summary

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://spanish-garden.com/2022/08/08/tie-up-deadhead-and-cane/

Transcription

Tie up, deadhead and cane!

The above heading is reflective of the activities you should now be undertaking in your garden as we move towards the back end of summer. Unfortunately when I mention these activities my garden blog tends to be inundated with requests for rude sexual services which have nothing to do with gardening. Cruella (my wife) accused me of doing this deliberately, but I remained dignified and only replied “honi soit qui mal y pense”, she then accused me of swearing at her in Swedish!

Anyway as summer goes on and things flop over – oh my God, there I go again, I think I have developed Tourette’s syndrome – you need to keep on top of the garden. Enough of this, let’s get on with the gardening .

8th August 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Tying up various plants. All along your borders and beds your flowers will be at their absolutes best. To keep them this way for as long as possible then you need to deahead every day and use cane and string to keep your plants upright. Now when it comes to string, we gardeners need the right string for the job. To achieve this you need 3 types of string as a minimum. String type 1 (the thinnest) can be used for tying up annuals as it will rot within a year, as will they. String type 2 (referred to as intermediate) can be used for tying in perennials, roses etc as it will last for up to to 5 years and allow the shape you are trying to achieve become set. String type 3 (referred to as heavy) can be used for trees and heavy perennial branches etc as it will last for up to 10 years. The plastic coated wire shown can be used to tie in light stems.

The photo below shows the strings. This photo will form part of my doctoral thesis “String gauges and their uses by type in the twenty first century garden”

Cruella mocked me by saying what type of man has three categories of string. I merely walked away muttering under my breath – a real man

Deadheading. If you want flowers all summer then you need to deadhead daily. But not all flowers are deadheaded in the same way:

Sunflowers. Don’t deadhead sunflowers yet, let the seeds fully form so that you can either use them next year, or let the birds feed on seeds. But you will need to tie them up so that they don’t collapse. Use stout canes to keep them as upright as possible. Keep an eye on the dead flower head and when it has fully died and dried scrape the covering off the top of the flower and underneath will be the seeds packed tightly together. Using your thumb, see if you can remove one or two seeds easily; if you cannot then leave it a week or so until the seeds are loose.

The first photo below shows my mini sunflowers tied up and waiting for their seeds to be ready. The second photo shows that they are not ready yet. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cannas. Although canna are favoured because of their lovely large colourful leaves, they can also produce nice flower spikes. When deadheading canna be careful not to cut off the coming flower spike. Because the flower spikes come in twos they often dieback at different times, so do not take off the complete flower head but only the one that is dead. The photo below shows me deadheading the correct flower spike.

Marigolds. I could deadhead my marigolds twice a day and that still wouldn’t be enough. They love this hot weather and they are flowering like crazy. To deadhead marigolds you must be careful not to leave any long bits of stem that not only look unattractive, but could let in disease. With your secateurs move down the stem away from the dead flower head until the next stem bifurcation and cut there. The first photo below shows my lovely marigolds, the others show me mid prune. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Other plants you should be deadheading at the moment include: Dipladenia, Bird of Paradise, Kaffir lilies and any flowering agaves or aloes. See photos below: Click on each photo for a larger view.

Shadowman. Gardening can be a lonely job so I have invented a gardening companion who follows me round all day I call him “shadowman”.We chat about various things as we wander round the garden, but he has to go as soon as the sun goes down; which is the exact opposite of Cruella and her friends who have to hide when the sun comes out. I thought you might like to see a photo.

Pretty cool eh!

Sawfly caterpillars, Brynhildr and the chicken Furies

I was happily meandering through my roses yesterday, when you can imagine my distress and horror as I saw the unmistakable trail of destruction left by sawfly caterpillars. I went weak at the knees and my life flashed before me. Eventually I pulled myself together and screamed at the top of my voice ”sawfly caterpillars emergency, emegency”. And now you know why I am rushing this special post out.

23rd July 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Dealing with a sawfly caterpillar infestation. Those of you who have roses need to go out now and check whether you have sawfly caterpillars on them. The tell tale sign of an infestation is that starting from the top of a rose stem and going towards the ground all the leaves will have been eaten leaving a mere filigree of leaves. The photo below shows the damage to my roses.

If you look carefully you can see the stem is tear stained

To understand what is happening here, you have to understand the life cycle of the very clever sawfly. Mummy sawfly gets her name from the fact that at the bottom of her abdomen she has a saw like implement that she uses to saw a long strip from a rose stem. Once she has completed the sawing she then uses the same implement to insert a large number of eggs into individual cells along the cut which she then seals over. The cut is always made towards the top of the rose branch so that when the caterpillars hatch they then happily eat their way down your rose (getting bigger and fatter as they go) before eventually imbedding themselves in the soil before it all starts again.

Now here is the tricky part, you cannot kill sawfly caterpillars with caterpillar spray, because they are not caterpillars, they are larvae. Even though they look like a caterpillar act like a caterpillar etc. Anyway, the only way you can break this cycle is to pick them off by hand and then dispose of them. The funny thing is that they try to stop you by rearing up and looking at you with their pretend eyes and acting as if they have a sting. This works with birds, but not with us old intrepid gardeners. The first photo below shows mummy sawfly’s nursery. Whilst the second photo shows the extent of the infestation and the defensive position of the caterpillars. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I was just about to dispose of the collected caterpillars in the time honoured way of seeing if they could swim, when from out of nowhere I heard the music from Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries. Suddenly Cruella (my wife) appeared in a winged helmet, running across the lawn leading a motley crew of chickens. “Onward girls, onward”she kept screaming (in chickenese) as she pushed me roughly aside and the chickens attacked the sawfly caterpillars. Cruella was moving too fast for me to get a photo, but the photo below is a good depiction.

Since the sawfly incident Cruella has insisted I call her Brynhildr, she prefers the traditional spelling

The outcome was never in doubt as Cruella (or Brynhildr as she now insists on being called) and her chicken Furies descended on the sawfly caterpillars. The photos below show the ensuing massacre. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cruella has now demanded that I take the name Siegfried, but I have refused as I know how it all ends and I am staying away from the Rhine.

Giant Marigolds, must do jobs and the Chicken Messiah

Yes, I know its hot and you just can’t bear it, but you knew all that when you started gardening so remember our motto: “when the going gets tough, the tough get hoeing”. Anyway, you think you’ve got problems, the idiot son has been with us on holiday and Cruella (my wife) has fixated on him being the next Chicken Messiah and leading her flock to the promised land. More chicken stuff later, in the meantime let’s get on with the important gardening.

18th July. Things I have been doing lately:

Selecting flowers for next years seeds. Wherever, possible I grow plants from my own seeds or cuttings. This not only improves your knowledge of gardening and is very inexpensive, but more importantly it will bring you joy. To get the best seeds you need to assess your plants as they flower. Look for good strong plants, with well shaped colourful flowers. You then need to select the best and mark them by placing a piece of masking tape around the stem; this will stop you deadheading the selected flowers as you want them to go fully to seed. There is no point waiting till all the flowers are dead and then selecting seedpods as they all look the same. The photos below show my flower marking system in action. Click on each photo for a larger view.

One of the major benefits of selecting flowers is that in the Darwinian sense you are mimicking natural selection and will get bigger better blooms. The photos below show me with some Marigolds that are over a metre to a metre and a half tall. I have been selecting these for about 6 years. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Time to cut back your Dame de Noche. If you have Dame de Noche (night scented Jasmine), and you want late season flowers, then now is the time to cut back. Cut the whole plant back by a third (no more). By taking a third off you will stimulate the plant into a growth burst that will reward you with a full flowering in September that will fill your late summer evenings with its intoxicating perfume. The photos below show my Dame de Noche before and after its trim. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Dealing with pests. With the intense heat you are probably not getting out in your garden as much as you should. But this does not mean that nobody else is in your garden. On the contrary garden pests are enjoying this weather, and proliferating and destroying your plants. You need to get out there and check stems and under leaves to see what is eating your prize plants. How you deal with these pests is up to you, chemicals or no chemicals, but deal with them you must.

The photos below show pests getting set to destroy parts of my garden. The first photo shows Farmer Ants happily setting up a Greenfly farm on my Dame de Noche, whilst the second shows an infestation on my Dipladenia. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Shading plants. I always argue that the right plant, in the right place should be able to stand anything thrown at it by the weather. And I stand by this maxim providing the plant is in the ground. However, if it is in a pot then it is different. Plants in the ground can always take their roots deeper to find cool and moisture. But this is not the case with plants in pots, they have no where to go and they are trapped in hot plastic buckets.

I don’t really grow vegetables, but at the moment I am growing some Chillis and a couple of Avocados and they are normally fine in full sun. But lately it has just been too much for them and they have been dropping leaves in distress and in the case of the Avocado it has become badly scorched. I have had to move all these plants to the rear North facing terrace where they will get early morning and late aftrenoon sun, but miss the terrible heat of the middle of the day. They are all now recovering, but the Avocado looks terrible and gives me reproachful looks every time I walk by.

The first photo below shows the plants now thankfully recovering in the shade. The second photo shows the Avocado reproaching me. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The coming of the Chicken Messiah. As I mentioned earlier our idiot son is with us on holiday and he has immediately taken to Cruella’s fancy chickens, but more importantly they have taken to him. The chickens follow him round, feed from his hand and let him cuddle them as he puts them to “bed” at night Cruella is in paroxysm’s of joy as she believes he is the promised one, “the chicken Messiah”. Given that Cruella is our local Church Warden, I mentioned that this might be seen as blasphemous, but she quickly countered with “we are talking chickens here not our Lord and Saviour”.

Anyway the upshot is that she wants him to leave his very successful career in City finance and come back home to be the Chosen One. To this end she is teaching him Chickenese and the hidden secrets of chicken wrangling. Me! I just ignore it all and carry on gardening.

The various photos below show the idiot son and his new found chicken followers. The next photos show Cruella conducting her evening Chickenese lessons from her perch beside the coop. The final photo shows the Chicken Messiah with Tango the lonely blind Labrador. Tango doesn’t even know we have chickens I’ve told him we have a CD of farmyard sounds. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Poor old Tango they even go into his kennel and drink his water

It is time for the world fig netting championship – and Cruella steals the show

Yes it is that time of the year again when you have to net your figs and other soft fruits, as failure to do so will only make the local birds happy and fat, whilst driving you insane. Regular readers of this blog will know that as part of my committment to international gardening and world peace I encourage fig netting teams from across the globe to assist me in this annual event. Past competitors have included teams from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Hemel Hempstead and Wigan.

This years competition filled me with a frisson of excitement as not only were last years champions from Wigan returning, but they would be facing a crack French team with all the bad will of Brexit adding a competitive edge. Anyway on with the gardening.

5th July 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Preparing figs for netting. I have two fig trees one is a standard tree that I prune and pollard every winter whilst the other is an espalier that I have been gradually growing up a wall for about 8 years. The first photo below shows the large fig after its Winter pruning whilst the second shows the espalier in Winter. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Before netting your figs check that the tree is in good condition to ensure maximum fruiting. From the photos below you can see some yellowing in the leaves of the espalier, denoting chlorosis or lack of iron. This was quickly overcome with a good feed and a large dose of iron, and in a few days everything was looking good. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The next major problem before netting was to try and get the large fig to an appropriate size for netting. Now you should not prune figs in the summer for two main reasons. Firstly, they will weep a stringent sap all over you and it burns. Second, there is a possibility of letting in disease. However, needs must it had to be lightly pruned or the net could not go over.. The photos below show me manfully trimming a few of the longer branches whilst dodging the caustic sap shown in the final photo. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The last thing you have to do before netting, is to make sure you have the right size mesh netting. Too small a mesh means that the birds wont see it and will damage themselves flying in to it. Too large a mesh then the birds will think they can get in and you will end up with a lot of fat birds hanging upside down in your net each morning. The photo below shows the right size net as chosen by Goldilocks.


The world fig netting championship. With all the preparations done, the waiting was over and it was time to introduce the teams. I normally start the contest with a team line up, photos and playing of respective national anthems, followed by an opening speech of welcome given by me. However, this years opening ceremony was somewhat chaotic as Cruella (my wife) insisted that she should be involved and give the opening speech. However, this proved to be extremely problematic. As regular readers will know Cruella has recently purchased 5 fancy chickens which she dotes on and has even taken to speaking to them in what she calls ”chickenese”. Because of this she insisted in conducting the whole opening speech in chickenese, whilst simultaneosly placing her arms on her hips like wings and bobbing up and down like a demented chicken. The photo below tells it all.

The speech went something like: puck, puck , puck, squawk

Throwing down the fig challenge. Before things can start the captain of last years winning team from Wigan has to throw a fig at the opposition team, and if they pick it up then the challenge is accepted. The photo below shows Gordon the captain of Wigan throwing the ceremonial fig at the French, before John the French captain picks it up. The second photo shows the French ceremonial bow in accepting the challenge. Throughout this ceremony Cruella can be seen shouting out instructions in chickenese whilst still doing her chicken dance. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Stretching the net. The first stage of fig netting is the ceremonial stretching of the net. This stage encourages teamwork and lowers the potential of violence later in the competition. The whole process got off to a shaky start with the two captains adopting macho one handed net stretches. The first photo below shows the French captain adopting his aggressive one hand net hold. The second photo shows that the Wigan captain reciprocates. The only redeeming feature about this stage was that both the women competitors could be seen working in cooperation whilst I tried to calm the whole situation down. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The photos below show some other aspects of the net stretching that may be of interest to gardeners and anthropologists.

Unfortunately this stage ended slightly acrimoniously (as can be seen in the photos below) when the French captain accused the Wigan team of flying a drone overhead to spy on their technique, whilst Cruella insisted on showing everyone how to tie a net around your waist and do the chicken dance. Luckily I was able to calm things down by doing the ceremonial jog around the net which seemed to distract everyone. Click on each photo for a larger view.

This is harder than it looks as it involves 20 circumnavigations of the net running forwards and 10 backward

Raising the net. This stage is the most complex part of fig netting as it requires close cooperation between the teams. To be honest it should have gone far smoother than it eventually did, as I had already laid out all the necessary equipment and tools as can be seen in the photo below.

It is all in the preparation, or so I thought

Things got off to a pretty friendly start as can be seen in the photo below. But I knew there would be trouble as Cruella demanded a leading role as main net lifter. I only agreed because it was the only way I could keep the aggression low between the two captains and keep them apart. Click on each photo for a larger view.

However, the whole thing started to go wrong quite quickly when Cruella began to cry and hyper ventilate saying she was trapped in the net and wanted out; at first no one understood her as she was speaking chickenese. The photo below shows Cruella in distress.

I had to place Cruella in her chicken coop with her flock to calm her down

With Cruella safely out of the way I took over and we soon had the whole process back on track as can be seen from the photos below. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Tying down the net. As the evening drew on the final stage of the netting process; tying down was soon upon us. Basically this involves using lengths of string to tie the net to the lower branches of the tree. This is usually a non contentious stage as most aggression has been used up in the early stages. The photos below show a high level of cooperation between both teams. But the final photo shows one last flare up between the two team captains as they unexpectedly come across each other in the foliage. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I had to throw myself between them to stop violence

The annual fig netting championship dinner. I am pleased to say that overall things went well, we managed to get to the annual dinner and award ceremony in the evening without too much violence. The only problem was that Cruella insisted on giving the annual dinner closing speech; yep, you’ve guessed it, in chickenese. The photo below shows Cruella mid flow whilst Camilla from the Wigan team looks on mystified, Ann from the French team looks away in bewilderment and John the French captain can’t suppress a laugh. Meanwhile Gordon the Wigan captain is a seething mass of inchoate rage.

The main thrust of Cruella’s speech was: puck, puck , puck puck-puck-puck; it went down very well

I Choose joy over design and Cruella has a new business idea

Sometimes in the most impeccably designed gardens there is a slight lack of joy that has been replaced by meticulousness, neatness has removed spontaneity and love of plants has given way to colour symmetry. And that dear readers is why I have broken all my design rules and grown my mini sunflowers; just for the heck of it. But more of my joy later, it is so hot and there is so much to be getting on with, and to add a frisson of danger Cruella (my wife) is back with a new business idea.

20th June 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Keeping Geraniums alive. Many people in Spain have more or less given up on geraniums because of the blight of geranium moths. These small moths lay their eggs underneath the flowers and on the stems of geraniums before they hatch out and burrow into the plant leaving it an unsightly mess that eventually dies. I have only started growing geraniums again last year, and I have a steely determination to keep them alive. My routine that has worked so far, involves the following.

  1. Taking each plant out of its pot holder once a week and holding it up to inspect underneath the leaves.
  2. Where I find any browning or decaying leaves I remove these at the same time as deadheading.
  3. Feed each plant with a specific geranium feed; this keeps them strong and able to withstand any moth damage.
  4. Spray all over the plants with special anti moth insecticide (do not spray in sunlight).

The photos below show the war of the moths in action. I told Cruella (my wife) I am thinking of making myself a Moth Man costume; however, she reckons that all my clothes look like a Moth Man costume. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Digging up garlic. I normally plant a few cloves of garlic under one of my trees each Autumn and harvest my little crop roundabout now. This has worked well in previous years, but has been disappointing this year. The bad weather in the Spring and the recent extreme heat has meant that when I dug up the harvest it was very disappointing. Given that I only grow four plants, two of them had small skinny bulblets rather than the large plump bulbs I normally find.

Anyway, if you want to grow garlic, start in October by planting a few cloves finger deep. Dig them up roundabout now, but always use a spade not a fork as you do not want to puncture the bulbs. Once you have dug the plant up leave the stem and leaves attached and place them in a shaded dry area to give them time to dry out. Do not attempt to wash the soil off the garlic bulbs as this will just create mould. Instead leave them to fully dry out and then gently brush the dirt off after a couple of weeks. You can then start to use the garlic just as you would from a shop.

The first photo below shows me getting ready to dig up the crop. The second shows me using a spade to go round and gently lift the crop. The final photo shows my disappointing crop waiting to dry. I can’t help but believe that Cruella (my wife) may have had something to do with this crop failure. For obvious reasons she doesn’t like garlic. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I am still going to hang it outside my bedroom door

The joy of sunflowers. I try to plan my garden where possible with scale, colour and design kept in some sort of proportion. But earlier this spring you may recall I got a sudden fancy for another little flowerbed and created one next to my water feature. Normally the dictates of garden design meant that to keep the scale and design of the water feature I should have planted low growing plants with small foliage and flowers. But bugger, that I fancied some real joyous heart stopping fun plants. So I planted Mini Sunflowers, a new type of clump forming Marigold and Gazanias.

The result has been joyous and it makes my smile everytime I walk across the lawn towards the new flower bed. Even at this stage, before its full development it is fantastic. Yes, it is out of scale, viewed from some angles it looks awkward. But viewed full on, you cannot help but smile; I have chosen joy over design and I’m so pleased.

The first photo below shows my little flowerbed viewed from the rear, and I can hear you say what has he done , it is totally out of scale. But wait for it, the second shows the same flowerbed how you are meant to view it. All you can do is smile; and say thank you God.

Nothing to see here
Ta da!

Succession planting. Because I love my mini sunflowers so much I am going to use them in my summer succesion planting in the borders along my drive. The basic idea behind succession planting is that as one set of plants die back so you have another set growing ready to infill border spaces. I don’t want to go into the full process here, but I will comeback to it in the Spring.

But at the moment I have been removing some Osteospermums to create gaps in the borders which I will now infill with my lovely new sunflowers. The photos below show that I have taken out selected plants to create the necessary gaps, but still left enough Osteospermums to ensure lots of seeds for next year.

Below are some photos of gaps (photo journalism at its best), followed by one of my mini Sunflowers ready to create smiles. Click on each photo for a larger view.

You will note that slug and snail protection has been sprinkled around the stem

Cruella returns with a new business idea. Cruella (my wife) has been at our English house with our idiot son and has returned with a whole new business idea to add to her existing product lines. A few months ago Cruella decided that as I spend all my time in the garden she needed some new interests, hence, Cruella Enterprises. So far her product lines include:

  • Magic loofahs, guaranteed to remove even the most stubborn nose warts.
  • Eggs from her fancy chickens at roughly €500 per egg.

She now proposes to add to her product lines a whole range of commercial signs for the busy witch. When I pointed out that she only ever sells 13 of anything which is exactly the number of people in her Coven, she flew into a rage and screamed that I never back her in anything she does and that I am always trying to undermine her. Anyway it turns out that the Chicken Coop is quite comfortable.

The photo below shows Cruella’s new range of signs, they will be in full production by Halloween.

Plant, Weed, Feed and Deadhead

No I am not talking about Johnny Depp’s solicitors, but the jobs you should be doing now in your garden; oh and looking after chickens of which there is more later. Summer is now in full swing and there are some jobs you need to be doing every day if you want to stay on top of things. But before that some of the things I never got time to post before Open Garden Day took up all my time.

The things I did a little while ago and forgot to tell you:

Planting Loofahs. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I grew Loofahs last year for the first time, and they were such a success with Cruella (my wife) and her friends from the Coven where they were in such demand for their skin smoothing properties and efficient removal of nose warts.

You will remeber that I planted the seeds in March and it was time to pot them up. Loofah do not like their roots to be disturbed so I always plant them in 4 inch pots before carefully transferring them to a larger pot – two to a pot. Loofahs love full sun, lots of water and a weekly feed. The first photo below shows my loofahs ready for potting. The second shows the extensive roots and the next photo shows the loofahs in position ready to grow through my balustrade. And finally the loofahs as they are now. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Planting up my new flower bed. Regular readers will remember that I created a new flower bed a month or so ago. This was now ready to be planted up with mini sunflowers, Marigolds and Gazanias all grown from seed. The first photo below shows the planting in process. Followed by the newly completed bed and then a photo I took just the other day. The final photo shows the mini sunflowers stripped of their lower leaves to allow light into the underplanting. This process does not weaken the sunflower as the top layer of leaves are the important ones. Click on each photo for a larger view.


8th June. Things I have been doing lately:

Now, that our we are up to date it is time to settle down into the routine maintenance work that will sustain your garden through the summer so here we go.

Waging war on weeds. People often say to me that they don’t worry about weeds as the summer sun soon dries them all up. I hate to tell you this, but you better keep up your weeding otherwise all those weeds will flower, turn to seed, and their offspring will revisit you for a thousand generations. The best time to weed is in the morning, when the soil is slightly damp with dew, or even better after rain. Your first line of defence is to hoe regularly. But when you do have to hand weed between plants, don’t just pluck the leaves off the weed, instead grip it firmly at the base and wiggle it around till you can free the roots and extract the whole plant. I’m not showing any photos of weeds, you know what they look like.

Feeding plants. Just as you cannot survive on one meal a year, the same is true of plants. Now that we are in peak growing season, a regular weekly feed will make your plants healthy and vibrant. The photo below shows the variety of plant foods that I use. But I do not want you to get hung up about the different types. A standard universal feed will be ok for most plants. It is only old fuss pots like me that prefer to use specialised feeds.

This looks like a little plant food choir

The feeds shown can all be bought in normal garden centres. Left to right they are:

  • Ordhid feed
  • Fruiting plants feed
  • Universal feed
  • Granular longer lasting universal feed (can be scattered in flower beds)
  • A mix of iron that I add a glug to all feeds
  • Geranium feed
  • Acid lovers feed
  • Citrus feed

Deadhead if you want more flowers. Deadheading is the Cinderella of gardeners chores. A lot of people don’t bother as they think it takes up too much time, but if you do it then your plants will be become showy princesses. The first thing to do is grow your thumbnails long. This is an important tip as it saves you the time going to the shed to fetch your secateurs. Instead you merely nip spent flower heads off between your thumb and forefinger. The photo below shows my thumbnail ready for action together with those of my wife (Cruella). Click on each photo for a larger view.

Deadheading should be a daily job now that Summer is in full swing, and your reward will be abundant repeat flowering. Different plants are deadheaded in different ways. Dipladenia, which have become very popular in Spain are deadheaded by pulling spent flowers gently from the stem. Marigolds should have their first sets of buds pinched out between thumb and forefinger to encourage bushy growth and mass flowering, once flowered then deadhead rigorously. Dianthus and carnations should be nipped between thumb and forefinger and of course roses should be done with secateurs by taking back to the next viable bud node. The photos below show deadheading in action; and you thought Tom Cruise in Top Gun Maverick was the hight of thrills, gardening beats it every time. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Taking care of chickens. And who says men can’t multi task. Cruella (my wife) has flown back to our English house to spend all her time cuddling and sniffing the idiot son. She has foolishly left me and Tango the blind Labrador in charge of her fancy chickens. This has added 3 hours to the end of my already busy days as I try to round up the chickens and make them go to bed.

I have tried various techniques, bribery with food, creeping up on them, involving friends as chicken wranglers and rounding them up with Tango the blind Labrador. The last of these has been the least successful as Tango and I have charged around, him bumping into trees and knocking me over whilst the chickens flee in every direction. To be fair it is not Tangos fault he cant see the chickens, they can see him and all he gets is me shouting ever more frantic instructions that I have recycled from “One Man and his Dog” the TV programme about shepherds; and I have no idea what “come by” means.

The photo below shows the chickens in action and poor old Tango lying exhausted after our nightly efforts. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Its Open Garden Day soon – but Cruella is trying to upstage me with fancy chickens

Everyone knows how hard I work to try and make our local Open Garden day a success, but this year Cruella (my wife) has decided to try and upstage me by purchasing chickens. I wouldn’t mind if they were ordinary chickens, I could cope with that, but she now has little fancy fluffy chickens and large ones that appear to be wearing trousers. She has threatened to rename Open Garden Day “Chicken Day 2022”and invite all her strange friends. When I complained she just screamed “you and your bloody garden, get over it”. She has taken to calling me chicken and making clucking noises every time she sees me. I am making enquiries about moving and taking the garden; I will keep you informed.

In the meantime if you want to come along to Open Garden Day then the details are below. But Cruella has insisted that in order to provide balance I have to include a photo of her with one of her fancy chickens.

Note the Chicken legs, and the chicken has quite nice legs too

I have been victimised by an ungrateful Blackbird

In these times of re-wilding etc, we are supposed to try and harmonise our activity with the natural world. And personally I have been doing my bit by feeding a local Blackbird with a large number of Rose Chafer maggots as I empty a compost bin. In total I must have given this Blackbird over 60 maggots, but has it been grateful. No it bloody hasn’t it has started digging in my seed trays and has now moved on to digging up new seedlings when they are planted out. To see seeds and seedlings I have lovingly cared for torn up by this winged demon has been unbearable.

I approached Cruella (my wife) to ask about the rogue ungrateful demon, as she is usually behind any plan to destroy the garden; but she denied any knowledge apart from offering to find 23 others if I want to make a pie. I have become like David Copperfield’s aunt Betsey and her alarm at donkeys, only in my case it is Blackbirds. At the first sight of any Blackbird I jump up and run out into the garden flapping my arms and screaming “Blackbirds”.

The first photos below show one of the many maggots I have been feeding the ungrateful bird followed by some of the senseless damage he caused in return. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The next photos show my attempts at defence. At first I tried suspending a CD disk over the seedlings, but this didn’t stop him so I was forced to cage my seedlings in. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Lastly, the culprit himself who when thwarted by my defences turned to digging up seedlings. Click on each photo for a larger view.

16th May 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

We are about to get into full summer mode, so there are some jobs you need to get sorted before the big onslaught starts.

Clearing leaves. Whilst the great autumn fall of leaves has gone, there will still be leaves falling on to your lawn and gravelled areas. Yes, they may be few and far between, and you may just stop noticing them, but they mulch down to a fine tilth and present a perfect medium for weeds. so get out your blower, rake etc and clean them up. The photo below shows the fruits of my efforts.

I huffed and I puffed and I blew the leaves down

Time to look at the lawn. I know it is only idiots like me that have a lawn in Spain, but if you have one fhen you have to take care of it. This includes starting the first cut of the year. After all the rain my lawn is looking quite lush, but at the same time its is absolutely full of wild false garlic. This is obviously weed of the year and is very prevalent at the moment in Pinar de Campoverde where I live. Whilst wild garlic has its upsides, such as lots of Cruella (my wife) special friends dont visit, this obviously has to be dealt with. My strategy to date involves three prongs. Firstly, I pull all the flowerheads off as I wander round the garden, Secondly, I hoe it out of the borders, and thirdly I treat it with selective weedkiller and mow the lawn so it just looks like grass. The main problem is that it happily grows from little bulblets under the lawn.

In addition to dealing with wild garlic, now is the time to feed your lawn. Ideally you should feed your lawn round about three times over the summer growing season. If you don’t feed then your lawn will become exhausted with weak growth. The first photo below shows the horror of wild garlic, the second shows my trusty mower surrounded by a forest of wild garlic, the final photo shows the start of the lawn feeding season. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Deadhead and cutback bulbs. If you have followed my advice, and I am sure you did, then you will have cut the seed heads off your bulbs a number of weeks ago. Well now is the time to cut the stems right back to the ground. Once you have done this then top dress them with a deep layer of compost. Don’t forget to say goodnight and thank them for flowering, and if you can say a little prayer with them just as you would with a child going to bed at night. The first photo below shows the deadheading process, followed by the big cutdown, the overflowing compost bin and finally top dressing.

Final trim of hedges. Although I am being preyed upon by a maniac Blackbird it does not mean I have any ill intentions to birds in general, so that is why now is the absolute last time to cut back your hedges until September. Bird’s nests will proliferate throughout your hedges and just because you cant see them doesn’t mean they are not there. So lay aside your shears and trimmers and enjoy the birdsong. The photos below show the light trim given to the Solanum by my front gate. Click on each photo for a larger view.