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.

Its time to deal with the Palm Weevil before it gets your trees

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

4th May 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

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

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

The Palm Weevil in my palm, but not the tree.
Note that my trees are neatly trimmed, but only cut in winter when the weevil is not around

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

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

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

The first photo shows a simple perforated tube inserted into the trunk which could be topped up each month. The next photo shows my new deluxe minimalist weevil killer (top of the range). This has a short piece of tubing just to fit into the tree (this version stops the perforations clogging up). Note that each version has a cap at the end, this is to stop anything else getting into the tree. Make your own one up or just stick a bit of rag in there. The final photo shows the weevil system in place. You can see from the angle of the cap that the liquid is always being forced into the tree by gravity. Click on each photo for a larger view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s time to make your bed

I am of course speaking of flower beds. You can never have enough flower beds, the sight of a packed floriferous bed is enough to set your heart singing and make you begin to wax poetical. Here in Spain it can be depressing when you see how many people have tiled or completely gravelled their garden turning it into what looks like a car park or a landing strip. Yes, I know all the reasons, easy maintenance, heat of the Sun etc, but such gardens will never make your heart sing. But the good news is that it can all be reversible, whether its gravel, tiles or grass, new beds can be created. And here is how!

30th April 2022. Things I have been doing lately.

Creating a new flower bed. Now is the perfect time to create a new flower bed in your garden and bring life, vibrancy and wild life into your garden. Gardens are living things and you should not be afraid to make changes. With this spirit in mind I decided to create a new flower bed. And here are the stages you need to undertake; and it is the same for tiles, gravel or grass.

Mark out the shape of your bed. You should never just start digging, as that way lies regret. Instead using a hosepipe to provide an outline try various shapes that you might like your bed to be. If you like take photos of each shape and think about it overnight and consult with your partner. I never discuss aspects of the garden with Cruella (my wife) as her point of reference is always a graveyard. The photos below show my two possible main shapes. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Once you have decided on your basic shape, then you need to mark it out using ground marking spray. If you are digging out a grassed area the it is helpful to spray with weed killer and leave a week. The first photo below shows the marker paint that I use. The second photo shows the site ready for digging out. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Digging out. When you are making a new bed, there is no point scraping a bit of soil away and hoping for the best. You have to create a new soil bed that is rich in nutrients and will last for years. In my case this meant digging down at least four inches, and maybe more if you are digging out a previously gravelled area. The first photo below show my digging out stage.Followed by loading all turf squares into the compost bin. Finally, my fully dug out bed. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Filling the bed with compost. If you do not have a compost bin, then shame on you, but all is not lost just fill the bed with bags of compost. The picture below shows me getting ready to fill my wheelbarrow with the first of 8 loads that were required to fill that little bed.

Key things to note in this photo. Cockroach spray at the ready, water bowl on the ground ready to drown Rose Chafer giant maggots, and I am wearing shoes as I am fed up with cockroaches running between my toes.

The first photo below shows the beginning of filling the bed, when you do this it is important that where possible you mix in some of the old soil. The second photo shows the bed filled and finally the last photo shows the boundary stones in place. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Having tea. Stopping and having a pot of tea is one of the most important things a gardener can do. At the end of a tiring task make your self a pot of tea and have one of your favourite biscuits. This not only gives you a well earned rest, it gives the blackbirds time to forage around for insects in your new bed. The first photo shows my Darjeeling leaf tea brewing under my favourite teacosy. The second photo shows my special biscuit warming up over my cup and beautifully melting the syrup in the biscuit. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Finally a picture of Tango the blind lonely Labrador after a hard day watching me work.

Its a hard life

For everything there is a season…a time to plant and a time to harvest 

Hey, I’ve gone all Biblical on you by quoting Ecclesiastes 3-2 in the above heading. But as a quote it is very apt for this time of year for two reasons. Firstly, Cruella (my wife) is back from her visit to the UK and she is angry because the conflict in the Ukraine meant she had to fly low and consequently her new broom is shredded. This in turn has meant that through fear I have been sleeping with my Bible under my pillow and a string of garlic around my neck; hence the quote. Secondly, it is time to deadhead and tidy up spring plants so that we can encourage new growth. Lets get on with the gardening.

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

Cutting back early Spring flowers. Now most early spring flowers only really have one flush of flowers, but sometimes with the right encouragement you can coax a second flowering from them. So, if you want some more flowers then you have to be quite ruthless and radically deadhead now.

You can start by deadheading your Euoniums these have flowered spectacularly this year all over our part of Spain because of the heavy rains. But now it is more or less all over. Dont leave the untidy now brown flowerheads on your plant snip them off at the point below the flower where you can see the stem thinning. If you keave the flowerheads on they will either eventually die back and fall off over a period of time, or, the plant will try to grow through the defunct flower. Either way you are left with an untidy plant in your garden for months.

The first photo below shows you where you should prune your dead Euniom flowers. The second photo shows a plant trying to grow through the flower. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Other early Spring flowerers in my garden that need cutting back now include Ice Plants. These come in a variety of colours and add real charm to the garden in early Spring. You now need to trim these using either small hand shears (which I prefer) or if you don’t have these just use ordinary garden shears. The first photo below shows an Ice plant in need of pruning. The second shows me just gently going over the plant trimmimg off only the dead flower heads, try not to cut into foliage. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Feeding plants. Now that the growing season is getting underway it is important that you begin your plant feeding routine. Now there are lots of different plant foods, and I don’t want you to get hung up about it. If you just have a small garden or terrace, then normally a general purpose feed will do most things and not really harm anything. However, if you have a larger garden then where possible specialist feeds can help.

The main feeds I use can be seen in the photo below. From left to right they are: Fruiting non citrus plants, general purpose feed, Citrus feed for oranges and lemons etc. An iron mix which I add a glug to every feed, Rose feed and finally Orchid feed. There are plenty of brands so just choose the ones that suit your garden and pocket.

A plant feast

Removing tree suckers. An important thing to note when feeding your citrus trees is that you must remove all tree suckers. Suckering mainly occurs in older trees, where the tree takes the easy route of not pumping all the goodness up to existing branches and leaves, and instead throws out new soft suckers further down the trunk. You can recognise suckers by their bright green soft whippy growth and tendency to grow straight up. To remove them all you have to do is pull them sharply downwards and they will come away easily. The photos below show suckers and my suckering action. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Encouraging gardeners. It is important that we gardeners encourage the next generation of gardeners, and where possible draw new people into the wonderful world of gardening. For those all over the world who read this blog I am including two ways in which I am currently encouraging gardeners: Open Garden Day and The Sunflower Challenge. Both will raise some funds for the work of our local Church in our community, but just as importantly they will draw people into gardening. Why not replicate these in your area or country. Please feel free to copy and make the world a greener place. Click on each photo for a larger view.

If you would like further information on how to set up either or both these events , then just contact me.

Cruella’s weather curse continues but I seek revenge by turning the kitchen into a seed factory 

The bad weather that Cruella (my wife) cursed me with when she left to visit our idiot son has continued now for almost a month. I was at my wits end as I needed to get seeds going, and then I had a good idea, why not turn our kitchen into a seed factory. I laid out all the seeds I needed to get going and I mixed everything up in the kitchen. The first photo below shows my seeds laid out ready to go. The second photo shows Cruella’s kitchen cabinet, I didn’t dare touch anything on there. Click on each photo for a larger view.

4th April 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Soaking seeds prior to sowing. Some seeds benefit from soaking prior to sowing and this is mainly for two reasons. Hard seeds such as loofah and sunflower etc benefit from a soaking in warm water to soften the seed casing. Others such as Jasminium and Trumpet Vine that are blown on the wind are given a short soak to mimic the ideal conditions when they hit the ground.

Loofah seeds are best soaked for three days in warm, but not hot water. I just place them in a cereal bowl by the sink, and just keep topping it up with warm water. After three days dry the seeds and then plant them in four inch pots. Place two seeds in each pot with the weaker seedling being removed later. The first photo below shows my loofah seeds happily bathing in warm water. Then being dried off in paper towel before being sown in four inch pots. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Jasminium. This is my first year attempting to grow Jasminium from seed so I am quite excited. I got a few seedpods from my existing plant and they were very large and tactile. See photos below. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The seeds were only soaked over night before being placed in one of Cruella’s colanders for straining, and then planted on the surface of a seed tray before being gently covered with a sprinkling of compost. See photos below. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Chilli seeds. I grew some chillis last year which were a great success with Cruella. She even started looking after them whilst I was away as she said they reminded her of little drops of blood. In a previous post, last Autumn, I explained how you leave a chilli pod on the plant to get wrinkly and give the seeds time to mature. I then dried them on tin foil in the sun and stored them to sow this year. I planted the seeds in fibre pots so as to minimise root disturbance when planting out as they don’t like their roots to be disturbed. I planted two to a pot and sprinkle covered with compost. Again the weaker seedling will be removed. The photos below show the process. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Keeping seeds warm. Most seeds need to be kept at a warm temperature to encourage germination, but the problem is that it is too wet and cold to put them outside. In the UK you could put them on a sunny window ledge indoors, but in Spain houses tend not to have internal window ledges. So instead I have placed them in a little naya that has glass curtains and covered them with a sheet of perspex – don’t tell Cruella. The photo below shows my seeds happily basking in the warm. And the good news is some have sprouted already.

The bell on the table is for Cruella to summon me when she needs more gruel

Accepting failure: Gardening, like life, has its successes and failures, and whilst I never like to give up on a plant, sometimes I just have to accept the inevitable. Regular readers of this blog will know that I planted Golden Photus cuttings in a pot on my Naya about 6 months ago. And at first they seemed to grow well and I even bought a special stake for them to grow up. But no matter what I did they just seemed to wilt. It wouldn’t have mattered so much but this particular plant was a favourite of Tango the lonely blind Labrador. Every day without failure Tango would bump his head on the plant pot as he exited the front door, and then by way of compensation he would always sniff the plant.

I had decided to replace the Photus with a geranium that was thriving on the nearby window ledge. The first photo below shows the dying Photus and the upstart geranium in their respective positions before the the great replacement. The second photo shows the reproachful look that Tango gave me when he discovered what I had done. The final photo shows Tango disdainfully staying away from me that evening. Normally he sits right by me whilst I drink wine and we discuss the days gardening, but he would have nothing to do with me. Luckily he had forgiven me by breakfast time. Click on each photo for a larger view.

He wouldn’t even lie in his bed, and I think his little blind eyes were crying

Cruella curses the weather and I thwart a bamboo escape

Cruella (my wife) flew off to England the other day to visit our idiot son. She was a bit worried about the Russians but I explained they would never pick up her broomstick on their radar as she flies so low. But as a precaution she insisted on carrying a cage full of bats to decoy any incoming missiles.

She asked me to do some decorating whilst she was gone, but I refused as I said I would be too busy in the garden. She snorted “I think you will find that you won’t be”; and that dear reader is how we have ended up with days of endless rain – I can only apologise.

24th March 2022. Things I have been doing lately.

Wandering around disconsolate in the rain. The weather has been atrocious – and yes, I know we needed it, but just not this much. This has meant that all the stuff we should be doing now in the garden is delayed. Seeds have not been planted, lawns have not been cut, cuttings are drowning, citrus blossom is being damaged and that is just the start. The photos below sum up my gardening at the moment.

The first photo shows one of my two large water butts overflowing, The next shows what I now call my canal. Followed by my water storage area. Then some of my poor cuttings drowning. Finally, poor old Tango the lonely blind Labrador finding his dinner by the splashing sound in his bowl.

Things you should not be doing in your garden. I know its counter intuitive for a gardening blog to be telling you not to garden, but I am afraid at the moment, that’s how it has to be.

Lawns. don’t attempt to cut your grass whilst it is this wet you will only damage the grass and probably your mower. Similarly, don’t feed your grass, I know it is growing like Topsy, but any feed you try and put into it now will just be washed through before it can do any good. The photo below shows one of my lawns sulking in the rain.

Yes, I know it looks rough, and I am ashamed

Fruit trees. All of your citrus fruit trees will be in full blossom and they were looking and smelling lovely. However, whilst this rain will be good for growth, it may unfortunately damage our future crops for two reasons. Firstly, the force of the rain will have stripped off quite a lot of blossom which will lower yield. Secondly, most of the pollinators cannot fly in this weather so the opportunity to pollinate may be lost. Lastly, you should be feeding your citrus trees weekly whilst they are in blossom, but stop at the moment as the rain will just wash your feed straight through. Wait for a dry day before feeding again. The photo below shows one of my orange trees waiting forlornly for a pollinator.

All dressed up and her date has stood her up… see you later pollinator

Thwarting a bamboo escape. Tango the lonely blind Labrador and I wandered disconsolately round the garden today; me in full wet weather gear and Tango gamely following and painfully banging his head on every tree. Suddenly I saw that my green bamboo was setting up to make a jail break. Now bamboo are lovely, but they are notorious for invasive spreading. This means that if you decide to grow them, then you need to plant a barrier to stop them escaping. I had planted this particular plant inside a square of large tiles that I has inserted into the ground to act as a barrier to possible spreading. I had left the tiles sticking out of the ground by about an inch, as bamboo spread by ground runners which I would see as they tried to leap the tiles.

The crafty bamboo had opened up one side of my tile square and has just started sending out a runner. If I had not caught this then it would have rapidly sent out its runner, which in turn would have sent up a bamboo cane every six inches or so. I was nearly the owner of Campoverde’s first rain forest theme park. Anyway, I have caught it (hopefully) pulled it up out of the soil and will deal with it when it stops raining (if ever).

The first photo shows my discovery and preparation to dig up the escape tunnel. The second shows where it was off to. The third shows the extent of the escape I thwarted.

Each of the nodes you see on the root stem are a potential bamboo cane. I am thinking of putting up searchlights

Thinking of better days to come. By now we should have been planting seeds, but the weather has just been too bad. The photo below shows the promise of happier days to come – I cant wait, and I still haven’t done that decorating.

Little packets of potential, we will be singing round the potting bench soon

Cruella creates a marsh and I sing laments with the Agave Attenuata

I know the above heading doesn’t fill you with optimism, but it has been a very trying time. Cruella (my wife) has flooded part of the garden and destroyed my Lavender and on top of all this I caught her trying to poison me again! As if this is not bad enough I have two Agave Attenuata passing on to Gods garden in heaven. Anyway lets get on with the gardening, or whats left of it.

13th March 2022. Things I have been doing lately.

Removing Lavender. I knew there was something wrong with the Lavender around my water feature. It should have been starting to flower by now but it has remained stubbornly grey and dull. When I checked the stems there was no sign of green but more importantly the ground around the water feature was soggy and water logged. As I am sure you all know Lavender requires very dry soil with very little watering.

I remembered that I had asked Cruella to keep the water feature topped up when I was away. When I confronted her she admitted that she had forgotten to turn off the hose and had left it running over night. I told her enough was enough and that I was going to tell everyone what she had done in my blog. she just smiled at me malignly and said I might regret that. Anyway to cut a long story short, when I came in 10 minutes later I found her about to poison my teapot. The photo below could probably be used in a criminal prosecution.

I took the concoction off her and threw it into the sink; we now need a new sink as it melted

The first photo shows the lavender looking suspiciously dead, whilst the second shows it heading towards the compost heap. Click on each photo for a larger view.

It is time to cut your palms: If you have palms trees, especially Phoenix Palms, then now is the time to get them pruned back. The Palm Weevil will be emerging soon as the weather begins to warm and they like nothing better than a nice freshly cut palm frond. Depending on the weather you probably have till the end of April before they fully emerge, so you better get cracking. If you have large Palms then you will need the services of a Palmista, don’t try and climb up long ladders wielding a chain saw, leave it to the professionals unless you have excellent health insurance.

The photos below show some of my 13 large palms freshly cut and looking neat and trim. The final photo shows the enemy. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Planting Aeonium cuttings. When large Palm tree are cut back there are certain disadvantages. Those large palm fronds that look so light and airy 40 feet up in the air are actually 15/20 foot long branches that are spiky and extremely heavy as they thud to the ground. Despite my best efforts to protect plants there are always casualties.

The easiest plant to deal with after destruction is the Aeonium. Just simply make up a nice free draining compost mix, go round and pick up the stems that have been knocked off the plant. Cut the stem With a sharp knife, leaving it roughly half its length. Fill the requisite number of 4 inch pots with your compost and then water them whilst they stand in a trug. This is my tip of the day, by watering them in a trug you allow the pots to sit in the water for a few minutes before taking them out to drain. The residual water in your trug can be poured over your compost heap or over some deserving plants. Your cuttings will soon take and can be planted out in about 3 months .The photos below show this process in action. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Preparing to plant seeds. You may be tempted to begin planting your seeds, but depending where you are in Spain, it may be too early. Even in the lovely sunny Costa Blanca night time temperatures are still too low for good germination. Leave it a few weeks and things will begin to warm up nicely. This doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. There are a couple of practical things you can be doing now that will get you off to a good start.

Firstly you can get out all your seed trays and check them over for damage; cracks and splits in trays mean you will lose water. Also it is very important that you thoroughly clean your trays of any trace of last years soil as it may harbour viruses and pathogens that could destroy this years seedlings.

Secondly, you can prepare your planting medium. For seeds you need a very free draining compost. I find the ideal mixture is two parts of a good store bought compost together with one part Perlite to give you that nice free drainage that seedlings prefer.

The first photo below shows some my seeds trays drying in the sun, the second shows the start of the mixing process, the following shows what the final compost mix should look like, and finally, the compost I am using. Other composts are available, but please do not buy a cheap one as it will be inferior and lead to poor germination. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Singing to my plants. Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a firm exponent of singing and talking to plants; and on occasions poetry can be efficacious. However it is important to match your output to the appropriate stage of the plants life. Seedlings and cuttings like jolly songs and nursery rhymes. Whilst mature plants are happy with show songs mixed in with a bit of country music; in my experience very few plants like rock music.

Anyway, the whole point of this is that I currently have two Agave Attenuata coming to the end of their flowering life, which in effect means death. I wouldn’t mind, but for a plant that usually only flowers after 10 or more years and then only once, I have had three in a year. Cruella thinks this signals the “end of days” and the second coming, I think its just good gardening.

With end of life plants your songs and poetry are obviously different to those you would sing or read to say, bulbs, because you know they are coming back. Both the Attenuata and I know we are talking end of life care. This involves a lot of tears, late night talks about when they were young, and often I will bring out old photos of when they were seedlings. We sing mainly opera and a few requiems. My aria of choice for these situations is always “Che gelida manina” from La Boheme with me singing the part of Rudolfo and the Attenuata as Mimi.

The end is near and we have started singing “Sona Anadati” so she knows we are at the end stage. I am dreading the death scene when I have to sing and sob “Mimi…Mimi” if you haven’t heard this then listen to it and cry. The first photos below show my Attenuata at the beginning of their flowering. The final photo shows me and the large Attenuata singing the aria “Che gelida manina”; you will notice I am holding her hand as the role demanda. Cruella took the final photo at my request, but she kept mockingly saying “I can’t hear the plant sing”; I replied “of course not, for that you need a Soul”. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Note the sadness, gravitas and poise I bring to this role

The struggle with the big Ficus a modern day story of heroism

This post has an end of term feel about it as I have at last finished all my jobs before I start planting seeds in a few weeks. But don’t get complacent as this post includes the traditional battle of the big Ficus tree, whereby I try and cut back into shape my big Ficus tree, whilst it tries to generally, cut, maim and impale me. But hey ho its just another gardening adventure.

27th February 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Dividing Fountain grass. Regular readers will remember that in my last post I told you how Cruella (my wife) had destroyed my Fountain grass seeds whilst I was away. As I explained last time, this left me no choice but to divide the plant as its centre has died. This is quite common in grasses and other clump forming plants like Iris, Agapanthus etc. The photo below shows the grass with its centre that will never grow again.

There’s a hole in my Fountain grass dear Lisa

If you have a plant that looks like this then you need to divide it as the centre will never grow back. There is a good part and a bad part of dividing plants. The good part if that by dividing you get more plants. The bad part is that it can be back breaking digging out an established large plant. Anyway on with how to do it.

Firstly you need to assemble all the tools you will need which will include the following:

  • A large metal lever
  • 2 forks
  • 2 spades
  • A saw
  • A wheelbarrow

The first item on the list, the large lever is a bonus. I don’t have one but my neighbour Bill who is a car mechanic kindly lent me his.

Start be clearing the area around the plant so that you have room to work. Then using your fork work your way around the plant, gently trying to lift the edges. Then using a spade and the large lever begin to attempt to lever the plant out. It is important that you try not to damage the roots; so go as deep under the plant as you can. Once you have the plant out and into your wheelbarrow (I needed Cruella’s help to lift it) then take it to your lawn or a similar area where the falling soil won’t be a nuisance. Next place two forks back to back in the centre of the plant and attempt to lever it apart, if you have a lever then use that as well. Once you have the plant basically divided, then use your saw to cut out the dead parts and to divide the plant into new manageable chunks. Try and make sure that you leave sufficient root on each part to allow the plant to regrow. The photos below tell the story. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Planting a peach tree cutting. If you have any tree cuttings that you have been growing over winter, then now is the time to get them in the ground. You can normally tell when a tree cutting is ready for planting out. Firstly it should have had a good year of growing in a pot and you should have gradually cut off side-shoots to develop a nascent trunk. Next it should be showing some leaf buds that have taken on a slightly “furry” look and feel.

When planting your new tree out, you will need a mixture of 50% compost and 50% soil from the hole you have dug. It is also helpful if you have some Mycorrizhal Fungi which helps stimulate root growth, this can be bought online. Sprinkle some of the fungi into the planting hole and then sprinkle some over the roots before planting. When you plant make sure that you gently, but firmly, tread down the soil around the planting ball. Finish by placing a stake at an angle across the bottom of the trunk to provide support in strong winds.

The photos below show my little peach tree being planted. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The titanic struggle with the big Ficus. To be honest given the damage that this tree has done to me over the years, I am sometimes tempted to misspell Ficus! Anyway if you have not been privy to this annual battle before, let me briefly give you the background. About 10 years ago I cut the central trunk out of this particular tree to create the attractive donut effect you see in some Spanish towns. Since that point I am obliged to prune the tree each year to keep its shape. The main problem is that the tree gets bigger every year, whilst I get smaller. The photo below shows the tree ready for its annual reshape.

It just oozes malevolence

The tree has always resented the indignity inflicted on it all those years ago, and consequently it has sought revenge ever since. I dread the annual reshaping as I know it will be painful. Over the years the tree has inflicted untold damage upon me, including: concussion, broken fingers, dramatic blood loss, and cuts and abrasions too numerous to mention.

I plan my approach carefully each year. I don’t sleep for weeks and when I do I have nightmares about the struggle ahead. I start by cutting underneath the tree to flatten the bottom all the way around. I then spend the rest of the first day reshaping the bottom half of the sides. Day two finds me on my platform reshaping the top part of the sides. By day three I am doing the really dangerous stuff; overreaching on a ladder to cut the top and then climbing into the centre to reshape the middle. The photos below show me in action. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Finally I thought I would treat you to some photos of my finished work. In the photos below you can see the Cheshire Cat safely back on his perch at the centre of the tree. Some avant garde photos taken by me lying under the tree; I have to take these quickly as if I lay there too long Cruella trys to bury me. Finally the tree in all its reshaped glory. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I’m back with gardening and teapots, what’s not to like.

I’m back! I know I didn’t tell you I was going away, but it is for the best. If I tell Cruella (my wife) that I am going away she does terrible things to the garden whilst pretending she is caring for it. That is why I told her that I was just popping out for a moment and walked back through the door on Tuesday three weeks later. She didn’t even notice I was gone.

Anyway, I had a nice time caring for our English garden and seeing our idiot son. I fear however there was a culture clash, I tried to drag him to museums, theatre and gardens, which he manfully resisted. Whilst simultaneously dragging me to bars, restaurants and football matches which my liver and waistline are now both regretting.

Anyway, enough of this folderol on with the gardening.

18th February 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Dealing with Cruella’s damage. The next few weeks are literally the calm before the Spring descends upon us for real, and you will end up running around your garden trying to keep up with nature as it bursts forth. Before you get set to planting your seeds etc there are some last minute things you need to be doing.

My first job was to repair the damage Cruella had inflicted upon the garden. As I toured the garden on my return I saw various signs of Cruellas neglect. I asked where my tray of fountain grass seeds had gone – Regular readers of this blog will remember I sowed these seeds about 6 weeks ago, kept them inside, and only just placed them outside before going off. Cruella denied all knowledge, but eventually I found them as the photo below shows.

I cried

I will now have to split the parent Fountain grass in the next day or two or it will be too late this year. I will cover this process in my next post.

After getting over the disaster of the fountain grass seeds, I asked her where my orchid had gone. She produced a pot from behind her back and said “is this what you are looking for”. See photo below for the remnants of my orchid. Luckily after clearing all the dead away I found a glimmer of green. It is in intensive care.

Feeding Citrus Trees. People often ask me if, or when they should feed their citrus trees. Well the answer is simple, once you see the first sight of blossoms on your trees, then begin to feed weekly. It doesn’t matter if you still have oranges or lemons on your trees you need to start feeding. You need to use a specialist citrus feed which can either be liquid or granulated, but it needs to be citrus feed. Feeding your trees now will assist the blossom to bring on a good crop of fruit later this year.

The photos below show the tell tale signs that it is time to feed. The second photo shows one of the feeds I use; other feeds are available, but this works for me.

Repairing paths and lawns. By now you will have noticed that weeds are growing like crazy. It is sort of counter intuitive for us Brits as we expect weeds to grow in the summer. But in Spain weeds grow strongly in the winter as it is too hot in the summer and they would just be burnt off.

You will find weeds growing strongly in your paths and gravelled areas, but also on your lawn. Dealing with weeds on paths and gravelled areas is relatively easy, you just spray with your weedkiller of choice. Now I know that lots of you like to take an organic, non-chemical approach to weed killing. But I am old fashioned and prefer to nuke them with chemicals. But, whatever your preference lawns are different to paths and gravel. The photo below shows my drive midst weed spraying.

Begone damned weeds

When dealing with lawns the big problem this time of year is broad leaved weeds and patches or holes in your lawn. Dealing with weeds first. Broad leaved weeds are a group of weeds that send out their leaves in a rosette around their stem thereby shading out all competition and of course your grass. I have found the best way to defeat this class of weed is to first mow your lawn. When you mow you cut off the top section of the weed, but this leaves the root intact. This in turn forces the weeds into a growth spurt and it quickly puts on a lot of leaf growth. You can then happily spray these nice new leaves in a weeks time with a selective weed killer for lawns.

There is no point seeding holes and patches on your lawn at the moment as the grass has not yet really started to grow and all you would be doing is providing a picnic for ants who will happily carry away your grass seed. Instead just mix some good compost with a bit of top soil and fill in your holes and cover your bald patches. Most Spanish grass when it starts to grow will soon grow into your treated areas. If like me you suffer from squirrels and blackbirds, then place a bit of wire mesh over your treated area.

The first photo below shows my trusty mower ready for its first action of the year. The second shows some of my patched areas, and lastly a photo of the selective weed killer I use.

Finally to teapots. What do teapots have to do with gardening I hear you ask?Well, gardening is hard but enjoyable work that gives us gardeners great pleasure. But sometimes we forget to stop, sit back and just look at our gardens in way that allows us to absorb the beauty of nature, appreciate our hard work and God’s hand in our labour. And this is where tea comes in, get yourself a teapot, make some real leaf tea and sit back and enjoy.

Cruella (my wife) insisted that nobody would be interested in the tea and gardening nexus and that everybody would think I was boring, well we will just have to see. I thought you might be interested in my recent visit to the teapot museum. The first photo below shows me luxuriating in the depth of the teapot museum. The seond shows some plant based teapots that will definitely pique your interest. The next photo shows the extent of the collection? followed by a photo of Sue who owns the collection showing me the teapots that got her started. Finally, and I know I am building up to a peak of excitement the next photos show the gardening theme teapot I bought from the museum followed by the gardening themed teacosy knitted by my friend Sara for which I will ever be grateful.

When I proudly showed Cruella (my wife) this post she just scoffed and said nobody would be interested in my stupid teapots. She then ran into her lair and emerged proclaiming this is what I call a teapot; I wouldn’t mind but she only drinks coffee!

This is a life model

I have become a hedge fund manager – without the fund

I am continuing with the big winter cutback, and the end is almost in sight. The really big job over the last week or so has been cutting back my hedges. I have about 150 metres of hedges that consist of a wide variety of plants. If you don’t have a hedge, then you really should consider planting one, they are a joy to behold for a number of reasons:

  • they present continuous flowering for about 9 months of the year
  • provide shelter and nesting for birds
  • they are a larder for bees and other pollinators
  • they are easily maintained, just requiring a winter cutback
  • they provide a living alternative to walls

I am thinking about writing a novella entitled “in praise of hedges”. Anyway on with the gardening.

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

Cutting back hedges. The annual cutback of hedges needs to be done before the end of January as most hedge plants have a very short dormant period before they are back in bud again. If you want a hedge then be brave and pack it out with all your favourites. Don’t be tempted to go for one type of plant, as you should be aiming for a floriferous wall of planting rather than monoculture greenery.

I pack my hedge plants relatively close together and encourage them to fight for light. I have to act as the referee to stop any one plant taking over, but they all grow strong and flower like crazy. Just for information, in case you are thinking of planting a hedge, my hedge includes the following:

  • Hibiscus
  • Plumbago
  • Bignonia
  • Pink Trumpet Vine
  • Jasmine
  • Jasmine variegated
  • Roses
  • Bougainvillea
  • White Mulberry (self seeded)
  • Pomegranate (self seeded)
  • Callestimon

The photos below show the hedge from various angles prior to me beginning the big cutback. Click on each photo for a larger view.

This is not even the whole hedge. I need a wide angle lense or something

The cut back process is simple. First you need to trim the sides of the hedge; but don’t trim them straight, instead try to angle your cut so that the bottom of the hedge is slightly wider than the top. By doing this you will stop the top shading the bottom and leading to sparse growth at the bottom. Next, you need to square off the top. The ideal tool is electric hedge trimmers to create a nice even level that lets every plant get some light. I use a small platform for this work as it saves me bobbing up and down steps. I also have long handled lopers ready for the particularly tough stems.

The photos below show the big cutback in action. I think I look particularly dashing as I sweep all before me. The final photo shows my annual cuttings victory dance. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I could be mistaken for a giant in a sack race

And finally some photos of my hedges cutback for another year. They will start growing again within a month, and then off we go again. Isn’t God wonderful to provide us with such joy. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Pruning Sago Palms. Many gardens have sago palms in my part of Spain. They provide a bit of the exotic mixed with Jurrasic Park. You can if you like just leave them to themselves and let them grow into a big spikey ball, or, you can trim them back to give shape and interest. My preference is to do the latter.

When pruning sago palms my method is to use long handled lopers to prune up from the bottom towards the top but leaving at least two rows of stems at the top. By leaving two rows you are providing yourself with an insurance policy in case anything happens to one of them. Also if you prune from the top you are cutting out the growth part of the plant and will probably damage it. You can prune sagos this way whether they are in the ground or in a pot.

The photos below show my large sago before and after its prune followed by a smaller plant in a pot. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I am facing the final battle. Apart from trimming up a few ground cover lantanas etc that is more or less the big cutback completed. There is only one final obstacle that stands in my way. And it is a big one. Yes, the giant Ficus awaits our annual battle. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I pruned and shaped this tree about 10 years ago to leave it with a doughnut type hole in its centre. For its part the tree has never forgiven me and viciously protests against its annual cutback. I have fallen out of this tree more times than I care to forget. It has given me vicious lacerations on my skull. Broken my fingers and hurt my back so much that sometimes I look like Quasimodo.

To date I have always eventually triumphed in our annual battle, but to be honest I think I might just be too old for another beating. I am thinking of bringing in a contractor; I will let you know what I decide. In the meantime here is a photo of my opponent; he gets bigger every year, whilst I shrink.

He exudes an air of menace, I cant sleep at night

Cruella has designed clothing for blind dogs, whilst I have lost a gallon of blood and turned to alcohol

Cruella is still fragile concerning the departure of the idiot son, I have only to mention him and she flees to his room and dives into his bed. I know what you are thinking this must be making it very hard for me to get on with the big winter cut back, and you are right, but Cruella fails to see my point. Anyway I managed to get her out of the house for a few hours whilst I got on with the important things.

I suggested to her that she should make one of her favourite meals, “Witches pie”, see photo below. If you don’t know this particular dish, the main ingredients are: Eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog, Adder’s fork, and blind worm’s sting, Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing. Anyway I cleverly threw away all her Lizard’s legs and she had to go shopping. The things we gardeners have to do.

It tastes better than it sounds

13th January 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

Pruning Roses. You need to start pruning your roses now as they will have already started to bud and you don’t want them to waste their energy just for you to prune it off.

Now I am going to start this section with a health warning . Pruning roses always results in considerable blood loss, no matter how careful you are. And if you are an old idiot like me who also takes aspirin to thin his blood, then you are going to bleed like a stuck pig. And this is where alcohol comes in. You need to get yourself some antiseptic alcohol from your local Farmacia and be ready to apply this to the many cuts you will receive from your roses. I don’t want to overly alarm you, but 11 million people die of sepsis each year, and we gardeners are prime candidates with all our cuts and hands in the soil etc. So why not take precautions. The first photo below shows some of the rose inflicted cuts to my legs and arms, I daren’t show you my hands as they are X rated. The second photo shows my alcohol, go get some. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Pruning climbing roses. You prune climbing and standard roses in different ways. With climbing roses you are aiming to keep height and main stem length. This means you do not cut back the main upward growth, instead you should aim to prune back side shoots (to an upward facing bud) by as much as two thirds. This will push all the initial growth into the main stem and the side stems will soon grow out as summer progresses and give you lots of flowers.

When pruning all roses start by cutting out any diseased, weak or crossing growth. Then, in the case of climbers, stand back and tuck in to your trellis or support all the stems you want to retain. After this prune back all the side shoots by two thirds and finish by tying in any long loose upward stems to stop them being wrecked by strong winds. Finally check for suckers that may be coming from below the soil just by the roots, remove these by twisting them rather than using secateurs. That’s it, done for another year.

The first photos below show my climbing roses before their annual prune, followed by the pruning and tying in process in action, and then finally the finished plants. If you cant see any difference, then I despair as it took me two hours to prune these four roses. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Pruning standard roses. When pruning standard roses the process is completely different to climbing roses. The overall aim is to reduce the size of the whole plant by at least a third, but you can take it back by two thirds, and even in extremis right back almost to the soil. However, you would only cut a rose right back if you were aiming to regenerate an old plant or one that has been severely weakened by a pest or disease.

Just as with climbing roses, start by pruning out all diseased, weak or crossing stems. You are aiming to leave an open space at the centre of the plant much like a wine glass shape. The pruning cut is the same for all roses. Go to the stem you are going to prune and then follow it down to the nearest outward facing bud that is roughly at the height you wish to prune. Cut a sloping cut with your secateurs just above the bud. The rose will grow from this point and the outward facing bud will ensure it does not grow towards the centre.

The first photos below show my main rose beds prior to pruning, whilst the last photo show some of my my pruned beds. Click on each photo for a larger view.

If you look carefully you will see grass growing under my roses. I find this shameful, but I have laboured every year to remove it , and lost countless pints of blood in my pursuit of rose perfection.

Cutting back grasses and bamboo. Many gardens in Spain have a variety of grasses and bamboos and these are prime candidates to cut back now. If you leave them then they will just become big lumps of green that will look like an explosion in a cushion factory. Instead, if you cut back now you will get fresh invigorated growth and it also gives you the opportunity to rake out unsightly dead growth.

There is no great science or skill to cutting back grasses. Just get your shears or better still a hedge trimmer and cut them back to a low mound. Once you have cut them back, put on your gardening gloves and rake your fingers in and out of the mound to remove any old growth. The first photo shows my grass ready for its annual trim. The next photo shows my inimitable grass raking technique; don’t be afraid to get right in there and rake all the dead stuff out (who cares about snakes – only kidding). Finally you can see my grass reduced to a mound. The hole in the middle tells me that it is time to subdivide the plant, but I am too tired today. Click on each photo for a larger view.

When dealing with bamboo you can be much more radical and cut it back almost to the ground. I only have one bamboo plant that I have encased within four sunken tiles to stop potential spreading. To be honest I envisaged its tall stems waving in the wind beside my water feature, and that as a side benefit I would get lots of canes for the garden. But instead it has failed to thrive and I still lack canes for the garden. The photos below show my puny bamboo before and after its radical prune. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Trimming Myrtle. If you do not have Myrtle-leaf Milkwort in your garden then you are missing a treat. This long flowering shrub, thrives in full sun and needs very little water. Put it in the right place in your garden and you will have a show stopper. I have grown mine at the entrance to what I call my “technical area”, where I have my potting benches and compost bins. Cruella calls it “the dump”. I grow this plant so that it obscures the entrance to the technical area, and I can hide from Cruella. It also forms a magnificent backdrop when I have concerts with the plants on the potting bench. I swear that the Myrtle sways as we all belt out “…riding along on a crest of a wave and the sun is shining bright”. The photos below show Myrtle before and after her styling (real ladies get styled not pruned). Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cruella has designed clothing to help Tango see. Regular readers of this blog will know that we have one maurading Labrador left. The untimely death of his brother has left Tango as the lonely blind Labrador. In an effort to help Tango see her better Cruella has made a costume that she swears will enable him to follow her around. From the photo below you can see that things are not going well so far.

She’s behind you!

The idiot son has gone, Cruella has taken to his bed and I am in winter cutback heaven

The above heading says it all. Yes, the idiot son has gone back to ruin the UK banking system (move your savings). Cruella (my wife) has in the meantime sunk into the abyss of despair at losing someone she can mother and has taken to his bed wearing his hoodie and refuses to come out of his room. I meanwhile have been prioritising and getting on with the big winter cutback.

The only slight drawback is that the evil Peacock is still here, but at least he is patrolling outside the gate. The first picture shows Cruella (my wife) in her moment of despair (I will have to hide when she sees that I have posted this). The second picture shows the evil Peacock patrolling outside our gates, whilst Tango the lonely blind Labrador looks the wrong way. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Let’s get on with the gardening there is so much to do.

6th January 2022. Things I have been doing lately:

The big winter cutback. 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.

There are two main approaches to the big winter cutback.

  1. You can take a plant based approach, where you cutback your garden by plant type over a few weeks.
  2. You can take an area based approach where you cutback all the plants in a particular area of your garden at the same time.

Normally I favour the former but I will cover an area based approach in my next post.

Pollarding Californian False Pepper. The false pepper is a common site in our part of Spain with its weeping willow looks and its strings of small red berries. However, if left it can be unsightly and messy, growing to a huge size and discarding its berries into your pool and over your terrace in strong winds.

The secret to getting the best out of this tree is to pollard it hard every couple of years. It will soon grow back and provide you with its weeeping willow look, but this time in a manageable shape. The photos below show my false pepper, before, during and after its pollard. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cutting back and dividing Cannas. If you have followed my advice (and I am sure you have), then you will have left your Cannas to go fully brown and withered to allow the goodness to go back down to the corm. I know this can look unsightly for a few weeks, but it is worth it as your Cannas will be refreshed and bursting with vigour for the summer. The photos below show my Cannas ready for cutting back. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The secret to cutting back cannas is to cut them off about 3 to 4 inches from the ground. By doing this you are ensuring that the plant will not think it can start sprouting again, and also by leaving a stalk of 3-4 inches you will stop ground water from seeping down and rotting the corm. The photos below show my cutting technique together with examples of what the finished cutback should look like. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The good thing about Canna is that they multiply under the soil and provide you with lots of new Cannas either to plant elsewhere in your garden or to pass on to friends. All you have to do is carefully dig up the clumps of corms every two to three years, divide them, and then replant them about 4 inches deep with the eyes on the corms facing upwards. The first photo below shows my gentle, but efficacious digging process, followed by my bounty of new corms ready to replant. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Trimming Weeping Ficus. Variegated Weeping Ficus are a common sight in the gardens of the Costa Blanca where they bring colour and interest. However, they can become shapeless lumps, so I think it is a good idea to do a little cloud pruning to bring some shape and expose their lovely white bark. The photo below shows my annual efforts before and afterwards. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cutting back my flowering column. Regular readers of this blog will know that, some years ago, I created a flowering column of climbers around the trunk of a cut down palm. This is stunning in the summer and simply needs to be trimmed back with a hedge trimmer this time of year to keep it in shape. Cruella insisted that I involve the idiot son in some of my garden work as she accuses me of not spending enough time with him. Anyway, the photo below shows him helping; I insisted that he put his hat round the right way before starting but he still seems to be failing to follow the instructions on his belt.

Cruella insisted that he was not to go up ladders or do anything dangerous. She is standing just behind him out of picture with a safety net and I had to nail the step ladder to the ground.

Cutting back Dame de Noche. Night scented Jasmine is a lovely plant to have near a seating or dining area outdoors. It gives off a heavenly perfume that once smelled is unforgettable. However, like many Spanish plants, to get the best out of them you have to be cruel to be kind and cutback hard. You need to cutback your Dame de Noche by at least two thirds at this time of year. If you do it now then you are guaranteed that intoxicating scent in mid summer.

The first photo below shows my Dame de Noche in its uncut state standing at some 9 foot. The second photo shows it cut back to about 3 foot, but next year I will go lower. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The idiot son is coming home, the Peacock is back and I’m hiding from Cruella

Cruella (my wife) has been in a frenzy preparing for the Christmas visit of our idiot son. To most people this would just mean tidying the house and preparing his room, but to Cruella there is so much more to do. First she drew concentric chalk circles around the outside of our house, then she sacrificed a number of small animals, before finally howling at the moon and calling curses down upon the head of anyone who hindered his passage to Spain. I bought him a six pack of beer!

But perhaps most worrying is that Cruella, in her preparations for the idiot, has conjured up the Devil Peacock again (see picture below). He sits on our roof and keeps a ghoulish vigil, squawking and shrieking if anyone approaches the house; and his eyes glow red at night. Anyway, because of all this activity I have been able to keep under the radar and get on with quite a lot of gardening.

This is the best photo I could get. If I come any closer it alerts Cruella to my presence

17th December 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

Planting out seedlings. You need to get any seedlings you have been growing on into the ground very soon. Here in the Costa Blanca we do not get very cold winters and usually we have no frost. However, all seedlings will benefit from getting into the ground whilst the soil is still warm. If you remember from previous posts I collected some 120 Osteospermum and Marguerite daisy self sown seedlings and potted them up. I kept them out of full sun whilst they were taking root and then brought them out into the sun for a week before planting out.

The first photo below shows the newly pricked out seedlings resting on the potting bench, whilst the second shows them luxuriating in the sun before being planted out. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Before you plant out your new seedlings make sure that you thoroughly hoe the planting bed to remove all weeds; don’t be shy about getting your hands into the soil to clear out any stubborn weed seedlings. Also as you plant each individual seedling I like to fill the planting hole with water, followed by a prayer to give the little chaps a fighting chance. The photos below show me ready to begin hoeing, then my famous hand in the soil shot, and finally a healthy well rooted seedling ready to get growing. Click on each photo for a larger view.

In addition to planting out the Osteospermums I also planted out some Chlorophytum comosum, usually called spider plant. This under rated plant is very easy to grow and provides some nice winter variegated colour to shady areas. The photos below show the baby spiders ready to go. The second photo shows the strong root growth these plant can put on in just over a month. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Normally the final job for me when I plant out seedlings is to put up canes to protect them from my rampaging Labradors, Nero and Tango. But as regular readers of this blog will know Nero died not long ago and poor old Tango is blind and lonely. Anyway, I put up the canes just to make Tango feel better, I even kicked over a few canes and pretended to trample some seedlings to perk him up, but I am afraid his rampaging days are over. The photos below show my normally tempting cane structure and the sad, lonely, blind Tango resisting my encouragement. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Pruning grapevines. Grapevines can be safely cutback now as the sap will have stopped rising and most of the leaves will be off. You can, if you wish, wait till every last leaf drops, but if you do, you are in danger of cutting off the new growth as it tends to come through very quickly. To prune grapevines you simply need to cut off all the side growing shoots to leave a strong thickening stem. The photos below show my grapevines prior to pruning and in their newly pruned state. Don’t forget you can use the pruned side shoots as cuttings and they will take very well this time of year. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Pruning Fig trees. By now all the sap from your fig tree will have been drawn back into the roots and most of the leaves will have fallen. One of the benefits of pruning now is that you will not have the corrosive fig sap weeping out of every cut as this can cause burns to those of us with delicate skin. You may be interested to know that Cruella (my wife) uses fig sap as face cream; she swears by its efficacy in maintaining her complexion by keeping her deathly pallor and deepening her wrinkles.

I have two fig trees one of which is an espalier. Now the problem with fig trees is that they are robust and are capable of tremendous growth once they are mature. Left unpruned this can leave you with a behemoth of a tree that dominates your garden, darkens your house, and yet has unreachable fruit. When pruning mature figs you have to be brave and prune severely to an open structure that you maintain each year. As figs fruit on new growth you have to make sure that you do not cut branches back to the trunk or there will be no fruit on that branch.

The photos below show my trees before and after pruning. I know it looks drastic but they will be fine. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Now normally I would wheelbarrow away the prunings to shred them down by my shed, but in a burst of inspiration I decided to bring the shredder to them – this is how the wheel was invented and civilisation develops. In addition, in a further burst of inspiration I decided to place the shredded branches around my fig trees as a mulch. Now I have to give you a warning here, in case you rush headlong to copy my new approach. Normally, I would compost shreddings before placing them on soil as I have always believed that fresh tree shreddings would impart too much nitrogen to the soil. But hey ho, you only live once I’m going for it, call me crazy, but I’m just that kind of guy. The photos below show history being made. You might want to cut these out and save them to show to your grandchildren. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Clean your garden tools – and I clean Cruella’s hobby room

By now everything should have stopped growing in the garden, but apart from annuals you should not be cutting anything back yet till the end of this month at the earliest. If you chop things back too early you do not let the dying leaves do their job of returning the goodness back to the roots, bulbs, corms etc. So in this hiatus as we await the big cutback, there are a number of jobs you can be getting on with.

7th December 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

Cleaning my gardening tools. Now is the time to clean and overhaul all your gardening tools and get them ready for the new season. At its simplest this should include:

  • Tightening screws and nuts and bolts on tools
  • Checking handles are not loose
  • Washing down spades, forks and hoes of any dried in soil
  • Cleaning and oiling all small tools such as secateurs
  • Conclude by sharpening everything that needs sharpening

It is also useful to make a list of any tools you don’t currently have so that you can put them on your list to Santa. The first photo below shows some of my small tools ready for their annual overhaul. All you need is some oil such as WD40 to help you remove any rust, a small sand block to rub things down; (you can get this from DIY shops), some rags for wiping down and a sharpener to give some tools an edge. The second and third photos show the cleaning process in action. I happily spent a couple of hours down by the potting benches absorbed in this heavenly activity. Click on each photo for a larger view:

After all my efforts at cleaning I was proudly showing my work to Cruella when she started to compliment me on how well I had done, anyway the upshot was she asked if I could possibly clean the instruments in her hobby room. I spent the whole day in there and scrubbed everything clean even the stubborn red stains. I must admit overall I was pleased with my efforts, but unfortunately I couldn’t get the scratch marks off around the door, they were just too deep. The photo shows the hobby room after my big clean up.

I used two whole cans of WD40

Cleaning up fallen fruit. After the recent rains you will probably find that a lot of your fruit may have started to split and have fallen from the tree. This is caused by the pulp in the fruit expanding faster than the skin can grow, hence you get a split. It is ok to leave this on the ground for a couple of days so that the birds and insects can get a feed. But, do not leave fallen fruit any longer as it can become mouldy and introduce spores and pathogens into your soil that may cause long term damage. The photo below shows my timely clean up efforts.

Taking Ice Plant cuttings. One of the few plants in flower at the moment is the hardy Ice Plant. This lovely trailing plant is ideal for rockeries, or in my case planted out on my water feature. It is doing so well on the water feature ever since I diverted the water flow and created a rockery because of Cruella’s mouse army – see previous posts. Anyway, I want to plant some more on the water feature amongst the rocks.

It is easy to take cuttings from Ice Plant. In my case I used another plant that I have in a pot. Just find a nice strong growing non flowering stem and snip off about 4- 6 inches. Nip out the leaves all the way up the stem leaving a couple at the top. Plant 4 cuttings around the edge of a four inch pot filled with very free draining compost. when you have finished put the pot in a sheltered place out of the sun. They should start to root in about a month.

The first photo below shows the Ice Plant happily growing in my water feature rockery. The next photos show the host plant with lots of potential cuttings, and the cutting process in action. Click on each photo for a larger view.

A big snake has taken up residence in the rockery , I hope it eats Cruella’s mice army!

Getting ready to plant out seedlings. If you have been growing on seedlings in a shady area to protect them from the sun, now is the time to get them out in the sun ready for planting. Put your seedlings trays out in a sunny area for about a week so that you can acclimatise them before planting them out. You will need to get any hardy seedlings planted out before the end of December whilst the soil is still warm. The photo below shows a range of plants ready to go out in various spots around the garden.

Nothing beats the pleasure of planting out your own plants. Give it a go instead of buying forced plants from garden centres

Agave Attenuate flowering again. I have lots of Agave Attenuate planted around the garden and I am always taking cuttings and planting them elsewhere including in the Wild Wood. Well I don’t want to boast, but in this period of Advent when we are awaiting the birth of Jesus, I am awaiting the flowering of not one but two Agave Attenuate. Given that these plants normally flower about every 20 years, and I have already had a flowering elsewhere in the garden this year, it is nothing short of miraculous. The photos below show the two new Agave flowerings in the Wild Wood. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Birds and small animals return in Cruella’s absence and we clear the Wild Wood

Since Cruella (my wife) has been away at our English house visiting the idiot son, the garden is gradually returning to normal. Small animals and birds have started tentatively appearing again, admittedly they were very fearful at first bearing in mind many of their compatriots have been turned into soup, patés and table lamps by Cruella. But for the moment at least they are back and this means that I sit and have my morning pot of tea like St Francis of Assisi surrounded by small creatures and birds all gratefully twittering, mewing and growling with delight.

However, Cruella’s absence has been noted in our village and I have had to explain to people that she has gone to England to celebrate her birthday with her coven. I explained that it is a special birthday, as it is not every day you are 603. Anyway I have had to issue the photo below of Cruella to show that she is ok. The photo shows her outside coven HQ in her ceremonial evening regalia about to start the evening chant.

Cruella’s room is at the top of the right hand tower, the one without windows.

Anyway that’s enough about Cruella, let’s get on with the gardening.

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

Clearing the Wild Wood. Regular readers of this blog will know that there are many different parts to my garden all of which serve different purposes. The Wild Wood is an area that I keep as natural as possible, it mainly consists of pine trees, and Lentisco with all sorts of grasses and wild plants together with some odds and ends that I transplant down there. The Wild Wood also contains our guest accomodation which we had built specially so that guests could enjoy this area. In addition the Wild Wood is the graveyard of past pets and dare I say future ones; (don’t tell Tango the lonely blind Labrador). However, every 10 years or so it is necessary to undertake a general tidy up of the wood to ensure that general shrubs do not get to big and crowd out everything else. I call it managed diversity and Cruella calls it a mess. The photos below show the wood in its overgrown state. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Now of course I am too old to tackle this on my own, so I called for specialist help from a local contractor in my village. Dean, together with his son Lee have been chainsawing, strimming and generally cutting back for days. The photos below show them manfully getting stuck in. I am in charge of overall strategy and tea making. Click on each photo for a larger view.

And finally some photos of the Wild Wood cut back, but still wild and ready for a new lease of life in the Spring. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cleaning up leaves for leaf mold. Whilst Dean and Lee have been doing the hard work in the Wild Wood, I have been been undertaking the first clean up of leaves ready to make leaf mould. There are only really two types of tree in my garden that offer the potential for leaf mold. These are my Fig trees and the big Mulberry. Leaf mold is in effect a side benefit of the necessary task of cleaning up fallen leaves. If you don’t clear up fallen leaves then they will smother your lawn and create a weed growing medium in your gravelled areas. I like to clear up fallen leaves in two stages. The first removes the bulk of leaves , whilst the second about a month later fully clears the area under the trees. The photos below show the Fig and Mulberry ready for the first clear up. Click on each photo for a larger view.

To make leaf mold you must rake up the leaves and place them into a plastic bag. It is important that you crush the leaves down into the bag, this not only gets you more leaves in each bag, but it helps the composting process. You will need to prick holes into your plastic bag to allow for air circulation and also make sure they are kept slightly moist. On e you have your bags filled, then place them in a shaded area well out of the Sun.

Now normally it can take 2 or more years to fully compost leaves, but, in my case I just add them to the general compost bin after about six months. The leaf clearing photos below include: a pile of leaves under the Mulberry tree, my leg in a plastic bag and plastic bags being pricked by a fork. I am beside myself with joy at my chances of winning the world’s most boring photograph category in the gardening section. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Planting garlic. Now that you have cleared all that space under your trees, then why not put it to good use by underplanting with garlic. Garlic is easy to grow and does not in any way harm the tree. Take a normal shop bought garlic bulb, split it up and select the fattest cloves. Strip off the papery outer coating from each clove and remember that you need to plant them with the flat part of the clove down. Stick your finger into the soil, using the full length of your finger, then pop a clove into each hole you make. Try and plant in some sort of pattern so that you will recognise the first shoots as they emerge and don’t hoe them off. I always plant in a cross pattern around the tree as I am a Christian, but also because it annoys Cruella as most of her friends hate the thought of crosses and garlic.

The first photo below shows my shop bought garlic bulb ready for splitting. The second shows the separation of the fat and thin cloves (one of Jesus’s lesser known miracles). The third photo shows the correct way up to plant the bulbs, and finally a man with his finger stuck in the soil. And to think that Cruella says I am boring, well this will show her. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I am thinking of having this reproduced as a print for sale in poster shops

Cruella has flown to England but she still misses the cat

Cruella (my wife) has flown off to our English house to visit our idiot son; but I must admit it has all been a bit traumatic. The problem was that ever since the cat died she has not been able to balance her broom properly. Normally the cat would sit at the back providing appropriate ballast and balance. But since Cruella, in her grief, mummified her, she just can’t get the weight right and our late cat keeps falling off the back. The end result is that she had to do a series of trial flights up and down the lawn before leaving which resulted in multiple mishaps as she toppled forward and over the handle. I was really worried that some real damage would be done, but thankfully all the plants are ok.

16th November. Things I have been doing lately:

Taking hardwood cuttings. Continuing the theme of how to get plants for free, it is time to take as many hardwood cuttings as possible. I am sure you are used to taking softwood cuttings in the Spring. Well, it is more or less the same technique, but the cuttings will be from wood that has hardened off rather than the nice green whippy stems you take in Spring. I have taken three types of hardwood cuttings this week.

Myrtle. The Myrtle bush is one of my favourites as it is very hardy, needs little water and trys to flower all year. I have an excellent specimen beside the path that leads to my potting area. I wanted to take some cuttings as friends often admire this plant and it will give me an opportunity to pass it on. The photo below shows my Myrtle still in flower.

Myrtle is such a lovely name for a girl, I am going to re-popularise it through the power of cuttings

When taking hardwood cuttings you have to find a non flowering stem and using your knife (never secateurs as they can crush) cut it about six inches long. Whilst you do not have to rush hardwood cuttings straight into a plastic bag to stop them drying out – as you do with soft wood cuttings. You should still try and get them potted up as soon as possible. Strip off all the leaves from your stem apart from a few at the top and then pop up to 4 cuttings around the edge of a six inch pot. The first photo below shows my cuttings ready for potting, whilst the second shows them happily bedded down for Winter. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Roses. Are ideal for hardwood cuttings, so if you have a favourite rose, then why not try and replicate it now. With roses you need to take the cuttings from this years growth, which means the stem should be green and not brown. You need to cut a stem that is about as thick as a pencil and which has no sign of disease. The photos below show my choice of stem and the eventual cuttings. Click on each photo for a larger view.

With rose cuttings you need to cut off all the leaves which will leave you with a bare twig. I know it sounds stupid but you must not mix up the top and bottom of the cuttings as roses do not grow upside down; though they may possibly pop out in Australia! Other good tips are to slightly nick the leaf nodes on the stem with a knife to encourage them all to root. Also, cut the bottom of the stem at a 45 degree angle to give you more rooting potential. When you are ready pop them into a 6/8inch pot and leave them at the back of the potting bench well out of the sun. If all goes well you can pot them on individually in late spring, and then, plant them out next autumn (God willing). The photo below shows my cuttings ready for planting followed by them bedding down for the winter. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Mulberry. The last hardwood cutting I have been taking this week has been Mulberry. Now Mulberry is a tree and I shouldn’t really take cuttings this time of year as the sap has stopped rising and the leaves are falling. However, a nice old Spanish lady who admires my tree has asked for a cutting for her daughter. I have told her it may not take and asked if she could wait till the spring, but it appears time is of the essence, so I am at least trying.

Same routine as before find your best non flowering stem, cut it about 6 inches long, trim it back and then pot it up. I think the Mulberry will do better in a very free draining compost, so I have mixed in lots of Perlite. The photos below show the cuttings process, the compost mix and the eventual pot. One last thing before we leave hardwood cuttings; make sure that you label all your pots as one hardwood cutting looks much like another. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Taking seeds from Fountain Grass. Lots of gardens in Spain have Fountain Grass and it is a fantastic showy plant. I have a lovely specimen which I have had for about 10 years and it never fails to impress. Just cut it back hard in January and it will start growing almost immediately, and by Summer will be back to its stunning best. The photo below shows my grass.

If you want to propagate your fountain grass then you have two options. You can take seed now just by running your cupped hand up any stalk that has promising looking seeds. Another option is to wait till January, and after the plant has been cut back, you can lift it and divide it. I am going to do both if necessary. I have taken a selection of seeds and sown them in free draining compost with Perlite added. I have then lightly covered them with soil. I await the outcome, but if all else fails, then it is dig and divide time. The photos below show the seed collection and sowing process. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The last of the Chillis. This sounds a bit like an eskimo version of the “last of the Mohicans”. But no, nothing so prosaic, my two Chilli plants are now exhausted and are ready for the compost bin. I have to say they have been a great hit, especially with Cruella who loved the fact that they looked like drops of blood. But all good things come to an end. Over the past month I have kept one fully ripe Chilli hanging on the plant so that it fully matures and its seeds ripen. So whilst the rest of the plant goes on the compost this little Chilli will be father/mother to a whole new generation. By the way don’t forget to say thank you to your plant as you place it gently in the compost.

To harvest Chilli seeds you just need one good ripe Chilli. Cut the top and bottom off, and then with a sharp knife split the Chilli lengthwise. Over a plate tease out the seeds, removing as much detritus as possible. Then take you plate and put it somewhere in full sun for about an hour. You are best to do this on a window sill indoors otherwise the dried seeds will blow away. Once the seeds are nicely dried out place the seeds in an envelope in a cool dark place till you are ready to plant out next spring.

The first photo below shows my old Chilli ready for the great compost bin. The second photo shows my seed Chilli together with the last of its unripe brethren. The final photo shows my seeds ready for drying off. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Hand weeding around bulbs. Some people pay a fortune for psychotherapy, others attend Mindfulness classes, still others lie on psychiatrists couches telling them about their dreams, whilst a pitiful few take psychotropic drugs. Whereas, if you follow my advice you just need to do a bit of close concentration hand weeding. Now I know Cruella isn’t here, but I can just hear her saying … ”you are just soooo boring”. But we will see who gets the last laugh when I start advertising my classes. Close hand-weeding is positively therapeutic as you concentrate and focus on a simple but beneficial task. Anyway, enough of my money making schemes.

A problem we gardeners face this time of year is that just as bulbs are starting to pop through the soil, so are perennial grass weeds. Now if you are not careful, it is easy to carelessly hoe off the tops of all your bulbs which can ruin your whole early spring flowering. So, the answer is to set aside your hoe, cast aside your gardening gloves, get down on your knees … and pray! No I’m only kidding I am sure you pray anyway. But at the moment get down on your knees and get your hands into the soil and remove the blades of grass by hand weeding. Although blades of grass and bulb shoots may superficially look the same, if you feel them with your ungloved hand you will see that bulb shoots are rounded whilst grass blades are; well blades. This easy distinction means that you can pluck out the grass blades weekly, until such time as the growing bulbs will shade them out.

The first photo below shows my zen and the art of hand-weeding technique, whilst the second shows the fruits of my labour. If you are interested I am thinking of holding weekly classes. All together now Ohm, Ohm. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cruella has sent me a plague of wooly aphids and a vulture!

Now that Autumn is upon us, the days are shorter and we gardeners are having to pack as much as possible into our days before we lose the light. All of this would be bad enough is it wasn’t for the fact that Cruella (my wife) has cursed me again. Regular readers of this blog will know that this is a regular occurrence, but this time it is not the usual stuff like a plague of boils, or being struck dumb, or having to hop on one leg for a week. This time it is serious she has cursed the garden. All will become clear below.

4th November 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

Dealing with Wooly Aphids. The first sign of Cruella’s curse appeared the very next morning as I did my morning patrol of the garden. Passing under my large Ficus tree, to my horror I found it totally festooned with Wooly Aphids. To those of you not familiar with Wooly Aphids, they are like normal Aphids only with a white fur coat. Wooly Aphids secrete a wooly wax white coat around their colony whilst they use their mouth parts to suck the life out of your plant. If you see evidence of wooly aphids on your plants then you need to deal with them.

Now I don’t want to exaggerate or make a drama out of a crisis, they usually wont kill your plant (especially a tree), but they can be a vector that allows other diseases into your plant. In most cases your first port of call should be to use a high pressure hose to wash the nests away. I have been doing this every morning for a week, and I am confident of victory. The first photos below show the scale of the infestation. whilst the final photo shows my heroic hose work. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Take that you pesky aphids

Mulching your flower beds. Readers of recent posts will remember that I have finished mulching my fruit trees with compost from my bins. Now is the time to mulch your flower beds to get your soil ready for Spring sowing. Mulching has a number of benefits. Firstly, it introduces worms and beneficial nutrients into your soil, secondly it increases moisture retention and lastly it inhibits weed growth. What’s not to like! However, to mulch properly you need to undertake the following stages.

  1. Hoe your flower beds every night for a week, this will ensure that you get rid of any weeds and it also breaks the soil surface up to enable it to engage with the mulch
  2. After you have finished your thorough weeding, water the newly hoed beds to thoroughly soak the soil
  3. Apply a layer of mulch as thick as you reasonably can
  4. Gently use your hoe to mix the soil and the mulch together

The first photo below shows the start of my nightly hoe. The second photo shows the watering and mulch spreading stages. You also get a bonus appearance by Tango the blind lonely Labrador as he gobbles up the fallen dates from under a palm. The final photo shows my gentle hoe/mix methodology. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Pruning standards. Standards are those plants which have a bare stem topped off with a small round canopy, a bit like a lollipop. Standards are quite often grown in pots and if they are, as in my case, then now is the time to prune them to make sure they do not suffer wind damage. The first photos below show my standards very top heavy and ripe for wind damage. Click on each photo for a larger view.

From the photos below you can see that I have been very radical and taken them right back. But don’t worry they will be back with re-growth starting quite quickly. You may think you do not have to do this as your standards are in heavy pots – as mine are- however, stems can still snap even when the pot doesn’t fall over. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cloud prune Olives. Regular readers will know that I cloud pruned an Olive tree some years ago and this needs to be reshaped two or three times a year. The whole point of cloud pruning is that you keep the shape sharp, otherwise in my case you get odd shaped balls. When I informed Cruella (my wife) that my balls were an odd shape and needed pruning, she collapsed with laughter. Personally I find this low level sea side humour demeaning. Anyway ignoring this vulgarity the first photo below shows my misshaped balls – for goodness sake, not you as well! Followed by my reshaped balls. That’s it “Honi soit que mal y pense”. Click on each photo for a larger view.

My perfectly shaped balls

Keep scarifying lawn patches. You will remember in my last post that I scarified my lawn with my scary machine. If there are still patches of stubborn thatch on your lawn then you need to remove them by using a leaf/lawn rake as below.

Clean up fallen leaves on gravel. This is a continuous job during autumn and winter. If you leave fallen leaves on your gravel, then they will mulch down to form an excellent medium for weeds. It is far better to pick them up now by using a blower and leaf rake than waiting till spring when your gravelled areas will be a sea of weeds. The photo below shows my tried and trusted technique of leaf wrangling.

Cruella has sent a Vulture. As if wooly aphids weren’t enough a Vulture has appeared in our village. People keep wondering how it got here and what it wants, but I had a shrewd idea that Cruella was behind this. When I asked Cruella if she had seen it, she said “of course, it is just here to do a little job”. Since then I keep moving in the garden, and never lie down. It is circling overhead as I write this post and I think it is looking at me in a funny way. The photos below shows it sitting on a roof nearby watching me.

Cruella and her friends scared my lawn

When I told Cruella (my wife) that I wasn’t looking forward to scarifying and slitting the lawn. I explained to her that the scarifying machine was terrifying. Don’t worry she instantly said I’ll do it, I like scarifying and I will invite some friends over to help. And that dear reader is how it came about that I woke up the next morning to find Cruella and her terrifying friends dancing around the lawn in ritualistic circles. The photo below explains all.

It took me ages to get the scorch marks off the lawn

23rd October 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

Scarifying the lawn. If you have a lawn – and I recognise that not many people do in Spain – then now is the time to give it a reviving scarification. All lawns get a build up of thick matted dead grass, which if left in place long term will cause water logging and patchiness. To stop this happening then you need to completely scarify the lawn every year or at least every two years. Now if you have a small lawn then you can do this with a grass rake, just scratch away at the surface and gradually remove all the underlying dead grass which has formed a thatch.

However, if like me you have a large lawn then you are better off buying or renting a scarifier. I have owned a scarifier for about 3 years but have to work up my courage to use it. It makes a tremendous noise stirs up huge clouds of dust and coats me from head to toe in dead grass. To scarify your lawn, first cut it very short, then water it and wait till the next afternoon before scarifying. The blades of grass should be dry, but the soil moist. All you have to do then is just hang on and pray for dear life. The photos below show me toiling in the wake of the scarifier.

It is not time to prune trees or to undertake the big Winter cut back; that will all happen in January. However, there is some tidying up you can be doing. Here are some of the things I am up to at the moment.

Trimming up the False Pepper tree. The Californian or Peruvian False Pepper Tree is a big favourite in Spain. This tree with its weeping willow looks can be a stunner in any garden, providing you keep it neatly trimmed. Too often I see glowering monstrosities spilling over garden fences and onto the pavement. To get the best out of this tree keep it neat but not constrained. I trim my tree back about every 6 months to keep its shape and do a drastic chop back every 5 years. The photos below show my False Pepper before its very overdue trim and in its new neatly coiffed appearance.

Tidy Yuccas and Palms. If you have growth coming from the bottom of your Palm trees and unwanted growth on your Yuccas (all of which sounds a bit Frankie Howerd; international readers will need to look him up on Google) then now is the time to take them off. This growth saps strength from the main plant and to my eyes is not aesthetically pleasing. Just using long handled lopers slice off the unwanted foliage and compost where appropriate. The photos below some examples of foliage I removed.

In addition to snipping off the unwanted foliage I also tackled the big cutback of my European Fan Palms. The photos below show the battle; I emerged the victor bloodied but unbowed.

Tying up Cannas. By now your Cannas will be looking untidy and scraggly. But don’t you dare cut them down; if you do you will be left with weak, weedy growth next Spring. Instead you need to tie your Cannas up and hold them in place. By doing this you will be allowing the plant to draw the maximum benefit from the foliage back into the Corm (ugly bulb) fattening it up and getting it ready to burst with life next Spring. The photos below show some of my Cannas newly tied up but looking like Cruella after a night at the Coven.

Finally check your irrigation. Now that we are firmly moving into Autumn you need to do a couple of things with your irrigation systems. Firstly, alter your timings to allow for the fact that most things will either stop growing, or grow only very slowly. So you will need to alter the watering intervals and also the length of watering time. Secondly, you need to check your batteries. I have 10 seperate watering timers, but I change all the batteries at the same time to ensure that all are in good working order. It is a false economy to think some are ok, and that way lies confusion. Dont forget to make a note of the date when you did the big battery change over. The photo below shows me at the start of the process.

This is one of my least complicated configurations.

I’m taking cuttings and growing seedlings whilst Cruella is growing a puppy

As the poet Keats said, “It is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”which means it is time for seedlings, cuttings and new plantings . All of this exciting activity can be found in this post ; what’s not to like lets get gardening

11th October 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

Collecting the Persimmon harvest. The Persimmon or Caqui as the Spanish call it is a lovely soft and very sweet fruit which looks much like a large tomato when it is ripe. This is my last fruit of the season and is well worth waiting for. When it is ripe you can just cut the top off the fruit and then using a small spoon you can eat as if you were eating a yoghurt from a pot.

I would highly recommend getting a Persimmon tree. it is easy to grow doesn’t get too big and a new tree can be planted out anytime between now and the end of January. When the tree is fruiting you will need to net it as the bright red colouring of the fruit as it ripens signals dinner time to the birds. When you harvest the fruit you need to ensure that you snip it off leaving some stem still attached. You can use the fruit directly from the tree in a manner of ways. served individually as a pudding, spooned out into your cereal or porridge, or just eat it as a snack.

The photos below show the netted Persimmon tree safe from birds, being harvested with stalk attached and finally ready to eat. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Harvesting seedlings. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I removed all of the Osteospermums from my flower beds a couple of months ago. I did this because they get woody and leggy after a long Spring/Summer of flowering, but also safe in the knowledge that they would have set seed. By removing the parent plants I let in air and moisture to the seedlings confident that they would soon show up. Well the photo below shows that they didn’t let me down.

Hello new plants I’m your Daddy

Once the seedlings look big enough to prick out then there are a few simple stages before you get your nice new plants:

  • First prepare a nice free draining compost by mixing a good amount of Perlite into your compost.
  • Fill plug trays with your nice compost making sure to tamp it down to remove air pockets, but not so much that you compact the compost.
  • Thoroughly water and drain the plug trays then using your dibber make a nice wide hole so that you can get all the roots in

Each of the above stages are shown in the photos below. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Now the preparation is over, it is time to go get your new plants.

  • Using your trowel slide it under a group of seedlings and ease them to the surface. Take care not to damage their delicate roots.
  • Gently separate the seedlings and begin to pick out those with the most leaves and the best roots.
  • Holding the seedlings only by the leaves, gently lower them into your pre-prepared holes pushing their roots into place with a pencil and cover them.
  • Finally stand back and admire the fact that you now have 96 new free plants.
When grown on each plant would cost you 4 euro, so you see it makes sense to grow from seeds and cuttings.

Taking late summer cuttings. Now is an ideal time to take a few late summer cuttings. And if they take then great, but if they don’t you have lost nothing. I don’t normally grow geraniums and pelargoniums because of the dreaded geranium moth. But I grew some this Summer and sprayed them regularly and they were ok, so I have decided to take some cuttings. The photo below shows my plants ready to be reshaped for winter and to provide me with my cuttings.

The first thing to do is to search down into the plant and look for a non flowering stem that has not gone woody. Geraniums stems will turn woody quite quickly, but you are looking for the succulent still green stem. Cut of the stem and then cut off all the leaves on the stem leaving only a couple at the top. Next dip your cut and prepared stem into some hormone rooting liquid before planting against the edge of a four inch pot. You can plant two cuttings to each pot. Finally place a cane at the centre of your pot and place the pot into a plastic bag. Blow the bag up with your breath so it is full of nice carbon dioxide and then tie at the top with twine. This neat little wigwam will stop your cutting drying out over the next few weeks. You can use this method to take soft wood cuttings over the next month. The photos below show the process. Click on each photo for a larger view.

8 geraniums to add to my 96 seedlings

Planting Golden Pothos. Before I went on my recent trip to the UK to see our idiot son. I put some Golden Pothos cuttings in a glass of water to see if I could grow them on. Regular readers will remember that I have a Golden Pothos on my Naya that I grandly wish to grow around a mirror. I had attempted planting cuttings straight into the pot but they failed, so I thought this method might work. I am pleasd to say that they produced good roots and are now planted in the main pot to supplement the mother plant.

The photos below shows the new roots in all their glory, and finally planted in with the mother plant. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cruella is growing a puppy. When I told Cruella (my wife) all about the seedlings and cuttings that I had taken to make new plants, and explained to her the process, she feigned her normal disinterest. However, despite her show of indifference I could see that she was somewhat interested; I can always tell because the wart on the end of her nose glows and makes her look like an evil Rudolf the red nosed reindeer.

Anyway a few hours later I found her furiously brushing Tango our blind Labrador, or as we now call him “last of the Labradors”. When I enquired what she was doing she informed me that she would use the hair brushed from Tango to grow him a new companion. When I complained that she was being stupid, she said it is either that or she would raise Nero (our recently deceased Labrador) from the dead! The photo below shows Cruella and Tango together with her potting material.

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