Cruella has destroyed our English garden


You will remember from my previous post that I was leaving our Spanish garden in the supposed care of Cruella (my wife), and heading to off to see what was happening in our English garden. The aim of my visit was, in order of importance:

  1. Rescue and reshape our English garden
  2. Visit some gardens of note that I haven’t seen for a while
  3. Make sure our idiot son was ok

Remember that old saying “it is better to travel in hope than to arrive” well its true.

15th September 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

Cutting back our jungle. Regular readers of this blog will know that our English garden is a long narrow rectangular walled garden adjacent to the river Medway. It is designed as an easy maintenance garden as most of the time we are in Spain. It has Flag paving on the ground and the walls are adorned with a series of climbers which flow up and over the wall. I had told Cruella exactly what to do when she was last over, but she completely ignored my advice and neglected the garden apart for the fact that she touched two precious plants and killed them. The photos below show the extent of her crimes. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The worse thing was that she has place garden statuary around the garden and animated them as an alarm against intruders. There was a malign looking lamb, an evil duck with ducklings and a decapitated head. When I first went into the garden they all started screaming at once. The ducks quacked evil high pitched quacks, the lamb bleated like an old rusty door being slowly opened and the decapitated head screamed out intruder, intruder, but in Latin “intrusor”. The photos below show the evil trio. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The photos below show the garden finally cut back and generally tidied up. I fear the Box is a goner, but I will wait and see. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Sissinghurst Castle. I have always wanted to visit Sissinghurst Castle the home of Vita Sackville West the famous writer and more importantly gardener. Vita was not an innovator but she did some things very well including planting borders in a single colour. I took our idiot son with me to try and educate him and to give the banking profession a rest from chaos. I asked him if he would take a photo of me in the famous “white garden” which he did by making me look as if I am wearing a Tutu.

Margot Fonteyn would be envious

Another feature that I liked at Sissinghurst was the dry garden. This consisted of large rocks, gravel and pebbles with intermittent Mediterranean planting. This would work very well in Spain and I might even think of working this into my large lawn. The photos below give you some idea what it is like. Click on each photo for a larger view.

RHS Wisley. As a member of the RHS I try and make a visit at least once a year to see what is going on and if I can pick up any tips and get my moneys worth out of my membership. Unfortunately the gardens didn’t look at their best – possibly because it is late in the year. In addition the RHS has gone mad on wild flower meadows and wild planting which seemed to be everywhere. The photos below show some of the things that interested me including another dry garden that would work in Spain. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The Rangers House Greenwich. If you have ever visited Greenwich park, then the chances are that you have concentrated on the view across London and the Royal Observatory. But you will probably have missed the Rangers House which sits right at the back of the park. The house used to have a beautiful Rose garden, which again, and unfortunately now has intermittent planting of wild flowers and roses. I don’t want to seem curmudgeonly but formal rose planting and wildflower meadows do not sit well together. Judge for yourself from the photos below I am off to write a letter of complaint to the Times. Click on each photo for a larger view.


Visit to Steve’s garden. My friend Steve lives in West London and gardens on a typical London plot. Clay just about six inches below the surface that has been improved by years of spreading compost. Where possible I always include a visit to Steve’s garden because he is one of those gardeners who could stick a dry twig in the ground and it would sprout almost immediately. There is not much we Spanish gardeners can learn from this garden as everything he grows would shrivel and die in the Spanish sun.

Anyway, just to make you hanker after floriferous displays here are some photos of Steve’s garden. Ending with a photo of Steve and me. After seeing this photograph he rang me the next day and has sworn that he is now on a diet; I will make sure he keeps it up. Click on each photo for a larger view.

This time next year he will be as thin as a stick

Cruella is making bird and bee Porridge and destroying my garden

By the time you read this you read this I will be tending my English garden. I know I should have told you before I left but I was too ashamed of the fact that I have left Cruella (my wife) in charge of the Spanish garden. I have left her copious written instructions but I know she will just ignore them. When I took her round the other night (she only comes out at night) and explained everything I could tell she was just feigning interest. Each time I explained something to her she just said “yeah, yeah, whatever”, when I remonstrated with her over her lack of interest she just said “blah de blah”.

Anyway, here is what I was up to before I left.

7th September 2021. Things I have been doing lately.

Trimming back Lemon trees. By now most of your lemons should be off the tree and any that are left will not be much good. Now is the time to tidy your trees up before the new crop begins to set. Your starting point should always be to cut out any diseased, crossing or upright growth. Having done this make sure you create a hole in the centre of the canopy to let light get into the centre of the tree. Finish off by lightly trimming around the outside of the tree to bring it back into shape.

I only have one old Lemon tree and over the years I have been shaping it around the dining area of our outside kitchen. To create what I grandly term “a dining arbour”. The photo below shows the tree before the start of the big trim. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The next two photos show the outcome of my labour. Where possible I shred the leaves and branches and add them to the compost bin. But the lemons would make the heap too acid so they are thrown into the wild wood. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Removing fig nets and tying in espalier. By now all your figs should be over and it is time to remove your nets; this assumes that you sensibly netted them. If you didn’t net then you probably have fat grateful birds in your garden!. Don’t try and remove fig nets to save them for next year, it is just not worth the trouble, you will only damage the tree and it is not as if nets are prohibitively expensive.

Using scissors just move around the tree and cut all the net off with as little damage to the tree as possible. Whilst I do not recycle the nets, I always save the CDs that I hang on the trees to scare the birds. I worry that no one uses CDs anymore and that the birds won’t be scared by my hanging a copy of my Spotify subscription. The photos below show my net cutting activity together with my CD retrieval. Click on each photo for a larger view.

In addition to my normal fig tree I also have an espalier tree that I have been growing against the wall of our outside kitchen for some 5/6 years. This is netted in a similar way to the big fig tree. But the difference is that once the net is removed it is time to tie in the branches to ensure that they follow the espalier wires. The photos below show the espalier netted, then de-netted (a term I have just invented) and finally you can see a branch being tied in to maintain the espalier. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The final episode in my de-netting odyssey is to transfer a portion of my removed net to my Persimmon tree. The Persimmons are gradually beginning to ripen. But they do this very slowly which means you can sometimes forget them. However, the birds never forget, they know exactly when the time is right to strike by the colouring of the fruit, so it is best to get your net in place now to save tragedy later. The first photo below shows the first signs of ripening, whilst the second shows my trusty recycled net in place together with a selection of Mantovani’s greatest hits on CD.

Tidying borders. My last act before leaving for our English garden was to clear out the long borders along our drive. Because they are in fierce sun all day I only plant things here that can stand this ferocity. My succesion planting keeps this area in flower from early March till the end of August. The planting normally includes:

  • Various bulbs
  • Carnation and Dianthus
  • Flag Iris
  • Marigolds
  • Osteospermums

When it comes to clearing out borders I have been taking out individual plants by hand as they are spent. But now it is time to get industrial, just use your hedge trimmers to take off the sides and tops of the Osteospermum. This allows you to get a good look inside to see which plants are too woody, and which it is worth trimming back and letting go through the winter. In a future post I will cover the self sown seedlings that will be coming through soon in this area.

The photos below show my hedge trimmer strategy in action, finishing with my overloaded compost bin. The final photo shows my nice cleared beds and clean drive ready for the winter. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Cutting patterns on the lawn. This time of year I like to let the lawn grow quite long to encourage seed setting and to help the birds and bees. My lawn becomes alive with bees and lots of little birds happily pecking away. I wander among them like a latter day St Francis. However, Cruella calls this the time of the great harvest and sets traps and makes bird and bee gruel for her breakfast.

I always cut a pattern just for fun. The photo below shows this years homage to the Yellow Brick Road.

Frank L Baum would be proud of me.

Cruella hears the death rattle of the Loofah

As Summer moves smoothly towards its decline it is time for us to be harvesting the bounty of our labours. For me this means fruits, seeds, berries and loofahs. My fig trees have supplied a bountiful harvest, whilst this years Marigolds have been astounding especially as they followed a lovely show from the Sunflowers. But to be honest it’s the loofahs that have been the greatest success and caused the greatest consternation to Cruella (my wife).

21st August. Things I have been doing lately:

Harvesting Loofahs. If you haven’t grown loofahs, then you really should. They are a lovely annual climber which produce a profusion of large yellow flowers which the bees love, with the added bonus of loofah gourds which are fantastic for skin care. It was Cruella’s idea that I should grow loofahs as she had heard that it was good for exfoliating the skin in general and the removal of warts on the nose in particular, both of which are perennial problems in Cruella’s coven.

Cruella became impatient for the loofah harvest and would ask me daily when they would be ready. I explained that when the gourds turn completely brown and I can hear the seeds rattle, then they would be ready. In that case she said they are ready. When I asked her how she knew she explained that she could hear their death rattle as she passed them every day. I asked what it sounded like and she said just like a human death rattle; I left it there. The photos below show. Cruella confirming the loofah death rattle.

When your first loofah harvest is ready, all the gourds will be a deep dried brown and you will be able to hear the seeds rattle. If you are lucky you may get a second harvest. The first photo below shows some of my loofahs ready to be harvested. The second photo shows a second harvest coming on. The third photo shows the bag that Cruella gave me to store the harvest in, she thought it very fitting. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Processing loofahs. Processing a loofah gourd could not be easier. First you gather in all the gourds that are ready. The photo below shows part of my harvest.

You start off the process by snapping off the end of the gourd which is opposite to the stem. This presents you with a neat little hole at one end from which you can pour out the plentiful seeds. Once you have all the seeds out you should gently crush the gourd by rolling it in your hands. This process will crack the skin and allow for it to be peeled off very easily. The loofah is then ready for use. The final part of the process is is to gently blow away the seeds paper like coating. The easiest way to do this is to toss the seeds into the air and blow; between you and the wind they will all fly away.

The first photo below shows how easy it is to snap off the end of the gourd (it works every time without fail). The second photo shows the seeds pouring out. The third photo shows my gentle crushing technique. In the next photo you can see the bathroom ready loofah. Finally my award winning gentle seed blowing. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Harvesting Marigold seeds. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I told you to mark the first and best of your Marigold blooms by placing a strip of masking tape around the best blooms. The purpose of this was to mark where the best blooms where and to make sure that you didn’t deadhead them.

The photo below shows some of my saved seed heads just after I harvested them. They are ready for harvest when they are fully brown and dried looking. Never harvest them when they are wet with rain or dew. It is best to harvest late on a hot sunny afternoon as this will stop any rot or mildew setting in whilst the seeds are being stored.

To begin harvesting the seeds, cut off the stem and marker flag. Then holding the seed pod upright gently pull and rub off the remnants of petals and bits of furze on top of the seed pod. Once all this has been removed gently roll and crush the seed pod between your thumb and forefinger. If you keep up a gentle pressure the seeds will gradually flow out into your hand. This process can be seen in the photos below. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Finally the photos below show the saved seeds ready to be stored in a plain white sealable envelope ready for planting next Spring. Isn’t God good. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Finally I have a new friend. Most of the regular readers of this blog will know that I lead a wretched existence as I scurry between the potting bench, compost bins and the safety of my shed. I have a haunted look about me and try to stay in the shadows. All of this is brought about by Cruella (my wife) who seems constantly intent on findings things for me to do other than gardening; she has no sense of priority.

Anyway, a light has entered my darkness. I have made a new friend. It is a baby squirrel that introduced itself to me one morning by running up my leg (I had shorts on at the time). We now meet regularly when I feed him large nuts which he sits bedside me happily chomping away. He is obviously mad as he has no fear and is happy to come a find me wherever I am hiding in the garden. The photo shows my little squirrel chomping a nut.

My greatest fear is that Cruella will sniff him out. She is already sniffing the air and goes around saying fee fi fo fum. She may grind his bones to make her bread!

My breakfast has come back to life in the compost bin

I recognise that this is not the normal heading one would expect to find in a gardening blog, but these are strange times. Cruella (my wife) is missing our idiot son who has returned to London to continue wrecking the banking system after his brief holiday here in Spain. This has left Cruella bereft and with time on her hands, both of which are things that are dangerous for me.

Without things to distract her Cruella notices me and my happy life of gardening all day comes under close scrutiny. Worse still she wants to know what I am doing, how I feel about things and even wants to talk about our relationship. Most of the time I can just mumble platitudes and gradually fade into the background before slipping away. But the other thing that happens is Cruella in her unhappiness can distort nature. Which brings me to the point of my breakfast coming back to life in the compost bin.

8th August 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

Growing Avocados. Every Sunday for breakfast I have poached eggs on a bed of mashed Avocados on toast.; yes I know it’s boring, but I like it. Anyway, since Cruella has distorted nature, I have noticed a sudden profusion of avocados growing in my resting compost bin. These have sprung up from the middle of the compost at a rapid pace. The photo below shows two of the avocados reaching for the light, I now have 6.

It’s alive

I have now potted these up. I left them standing in the shade for a few days, just so that they could get used to the light. They have now been moved to full Sun and I cut one back just to see if I could encourage new and more bushy growth down the stem. This has been a great success and I expect to get them all in the ground next year. The first photo below shows the stem bursting from the avocado stone. The second shows them resting in the shade. The final photo is a bit blurry but you can see the new growth coming from the cutback stem. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Keep up the deadheading. I know I keep on about it, but you must deadhead daily if you want a long flowering season from your plants over the summer. Most plants will turn fully to seed production if about 50% of the plant is not deadheaded. The plant thinks that it has enough seed for its future propagation and will no longer bother with flowers but instead concentrate all its energy on the seeds. By deadheading you are forcing the plant to produce more flowers to make future seed.

Different plants will require different types of deadheading, but the simplest rule is do not leave any dead stem that can look unsightly and potentially become infected. This means you don’t just cut off the flower head, but you slide your secateurs down the stem till you come to a leaf junction and you cut there. The photo below shows me deadheading Marigolds.

Don’t forget – everything goes in the compost to improve your soil next year

If you deadhead daily you will get a wonderful display all Summer. The photo below shows some of the Marigolds which line my drive. These have been in bloom since late April.

Not bad for one packet of seeds

Solving the problem of a shady Naya. Here in Spain Nayas (shaded verandas) are an essential especially in our current exceptionally hot weather. Much as I love my naya, there is one spot just by my front door where plants continually fail to thrive. In the past I have put this down to Cruella going past and looking at them, but she assures me she never flys in by the front door, so it must just be lack of light.

Anyway, I have found the solution, and it was staring me right in the face all the time. The back of my house is North facing and I have brightened this up by growing shade loving plants in trays on the window ledges. Amongst these is “Golden Pothos” a variegated ivy type plant. This grows very well in this area and I suddenly had the thought why no try it on the Naya. Well, it just loves it, it is growing like Topsy, and it’s variegation lights up the shade on the Naya. I have now taken a series of stem cuttings from the mother plant to supplement my original cutting which I am now growing up a stick and hopefully, eventually around a mirror.

The first photo below shows the the Golden Pothos growing in trays on the window ledges at the back of the house. The second shows the newly tied up plant ready to grow up the stick. The third shows my cuttings paraphernalia, with the final photo showing the plant ready to give me a display that will be both vertical and trailing. Wish me luck I will let you know how it gets on. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Forget the Chelsea Chop, I have invented the Costa Blanca Cut

When I informed Cruella (my wife) that I had invented a whole new gardening procedure to replace the Chelsea Chop, she instantly exploded saying if you think we are going vegetarian then you can forget it. After I had explained that the Chelsea Chop was not a cut of meat she calmed down, but kept mumbling about sausages for over half an hour. Anyway, all of you gardeners know what I mean and I am sure will share my excitement.

Normally the Chelsea Chop refers to a cutback of herbaceous perennials that takes place at the end of May in the UK and coincides with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The aim is to cutback whilst the plants have had their first blooms and are still growing vigorously with the aim of getting much more flowering. This of course doesn’t apply to Spain, but after experimenting last year in July, I am proud to announce the Costa Blanca Cut (pat pending) is here to stay. I haven’t sold the film rights yet, but I want to be played by George Clooney whilst Cruella has expressed a preference for Morticia from the Addams Family.

Anyway on with the gardening.

30th July 2021. Things I have been doing lately.

The Costa Blanca Cut. Before beginning the Cut you need to decide which plants in your garden will benefit and assemble the necessary equipment. From my experiments so far any herbaceous woody perennials including Plumbago, Bignonia, Jasmine, Bougainvillea etc. If cut back now all should give a really strong second show of blooms. The photo below shows my assembled equipment.

This was just an advance scouting party.

Hedges. All across the front of my garden I have planted a large hedge that contains all the favourites that grow in the Costa Blanca. Over the years I have crowded more in and allowed them to fight for space to flower. This works exceptionally well and normally only requires a big cutback in January. But because the display can get a bit tired in July I invented the Costa Blanca Cut.

The first photos below show various aspects of my hedge in full bloom and before the Cut. Do not trim right back, but just shape the plant up by taking 6 to 12 inches off the stem. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The photos below show the hedge after the Costa Blanca Cut. As you can see the plants have been reshaped and lifted but they still have plenty of blooms. This will hopefully spur new growth into the Autumn. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Last but not least a sack of flowers that have been sacrificed for the greater good of the garden.

This could be a Nosegay for a giant.

Trimming the Flowering column. Regular readers of this blog will recall that years ago I had a diseased palm cut down to about 12 ft which I then wrapped in mesh and used as a support for climbers. This has been a spectacular success and was a prime candidate for the Cut. The climbers include: Solanum, and Pink Trumpet Vine with a later addition of Stephanotis. The Trumpet Vine produces magnificent and showy seed pods up to a metre long, but I don’t want them now as this stops the plant re flowering. By trimming up now I will have more flowers plus the seed pods in late September. The photos below show the flowers column before and after its trim.

Cut down Sunflowers. By now your Sunflowers should be over and done with. By all means keep the seed head to feed the birds, but otherwise cut them down now. With my Sunflowers I just cut off the stem about 6 inches from the ground. By leaving the root in the ground till the Autumn I stop all the disruption that would entail by dragging a large root ball out from the middle of a plant packed border. The photo below shows some of my Sunflowers making their last journey to the compost bin. As I wheel the wheelbarrow to the bin I sing the requiem Pie Jesu it seems to comfort us all.

By this time rigor mortis had set in.

Keep trimming Lavender. If you want your Lavender to keep having successive flower stems, then you need to trim it back as soon as the flower stems go black. I explained in the last post how to do this so I won’t repeat here. But just to say where you have a large plant, or lots to do, don’t hesitate to use your hedge trimmers as they will do an excellent job and save you lots of time. The photo shows the big Lavender clumps by one of my water features which were trimmed with hedge trimmers at the same time as I was undertaking the big Cut on my hedges. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Thin fruit. I don’t normally thin citrus fruits as they usually take care of this themselves. Similarly with Figs, I patrol the trees every day and take fruit off as it becomes ripe. The exception is Persimmon. I have a small Persimmon tree which is now about 5 years old and provides me with a small selection of its lovely fruit each year. However, to make the fruit larger and to stop it dropping too many fruits, I thin where bunches of fruits are too close to each other. The photos below show prime candidates for thinning whereby I take out the middle fruit where there are three. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I have been gardening in the nude so Cruella has made me invisible, and the idiot son has heatstroke.

In an attempt to deal with the grief at losing Nero (the Labrador), I have been gardening all day throughout the current oppressive heat. Of necessity this has meant that I have divested myself of all my clothes, apart from my gardening hat of course. Cruella (my wife) is concerned that the neighbours may see me so she has rendered me invisible. Anyway more of this nonsense later, let’s get on with the gardening .

12th July 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

Keeping gravelled areas clear. With all this heat, trees and perennials are starting to shed their leaves and foliage. This is a defensive mechanism to stop the plant losing too much water. The outcome of this is that gravelled areas of your garden will start to get covered with plant detritus which will soon mulch down into the gravel presenting a perfect mulch for weeds to take seed. To overcome this you need to rake or blow these areas clear. Failure to do this will mean that a whole new generation of weeds etc will spring forth from your gravel this autumn to torment you.

The photo below shows me cleaning up one of my gravelled areas; or at least it would if Cruella hadn’t made me invisible. If you look carefully to the left you can still see my shadow as I bent down to pick up the trug.

You can’t see it, but I have a very fetching all over tan

Cutting back foliage. Because of the heat you may find it necessary to trim back some of your plants foliage. This is especially the case if the plants are in pots as they will not be able to drive their roots down in search of water. I have had to trim back two large standards that grow in pots in my swimming pool area. Normally these would be lightly trimmed back after flowering and then severely pruned in the Autumn. However, the current extreme heat has meant that I have had to trim and sacrifice some short term flowering for the sake of the overall plant health. The first photo below shows the Standards with rampant foliage, whilst the second shows their life saving trim.

In addition to the Standards I decided to trim back two Red Peach cuttings I have been growing on. The largest of these will go in the ground next year, but in the meantime they need to be cut back because of the stress. From the photos of the before and after, you can see that I have just trimmed them back to give them a bit of trunk.

Pruning back a badly mauled Dame de Noche. I have a large mature Night scented Jasmine which is placed right beside our outside kitchen and seating area. Normally I can coax this plant to provide its exotic scent throughout mid to late Summer. However, the plant is liable to greenfly, whilst normally this is not a problem if you catch it on time. This year it had a bad infestation in early May and through my carelessness I didn’t spray until the infestation was well underway. When I did finally spray that stopped the infestation, but it was too late as the soft Spring growth was damaged by the sucking Aphids (when I saw the damage I didn’t say “sucking”.

Unfortunately the outcome is that I have had to take the plant back about six inches. This will lose me the mid Summer flowering, but I should get flowering and scent by Mid August. The first photo below shows the distortion caused to the stems by the Aphids. The next two photos show the Dame de.Noche before and after its trim.

Checking irrigation. Just because you put an irrigation system in a number of years ago, does not mean it is still in full working order. The current intense sunshine and high heat levels will play havoc with your irrigation system, causing leaks, clogs and general breakages. In addition the Spanish authorities have a habit of turning down water pressure in the Summer, which means water from your irrigation system may not actually be reaching your plants. By the time you notice that your plants are wilting it may already be too late.

You need to overhaul your system now by doing the following:

  • Turn on your system
  • Go round looking for any leaks and repair these
  • Once all the leaks are repaired, turn your system back on
  • With the system fully on, adjust each nozzle individually to make sure each plant is getting the necessary amount of water
  • Finally check that the batteries in your timers are still ok

The first photo below shows one of my many recent leaks that is now thankfully repaired. The cause of the leak can be seen in the second photo. From this you can see that the tube had become brittle in the sun and developed splits and cracks.

I have entered the Gardeners Turner Prize competition. I collect watering cans like Cruella (my wife) collects other peoples finger nails, small dead animals and noxious substances. She is continually berating me and asking why I need more watering cans, but when I explain that there is a watering can for every occasion, she merely scoffs that when I die the lot will be thrown out; we are working on our relationship, but overall I think we are getting on better.

Anyway, I digress. If like me you have a lot of watering cans, and like me you are always falling over them., then behold in the photo below my new artistic creation.

What’s not to like, practical and artistic. They are not all there, I need a bigger trellis

The idiot son got heatstroke. I may have mentioned that the idiot son is over on holiday. This has sent Cruella into paroxysms of motherhood. He is being fed like a big fat cuckoo chick and his every whim is being met. He watches what he wants on television, sits in the front of the car while I am left in the boot. But the worst thing is that she insists on carrying him on her back wherever we go. If you don’t believe me see the photo below. She carried him around for 5 hours the other day in the blazing sun and then he got heatstroke and she loved giving him cold baths.

She likens the whole process to St Christopher carrying God. I told her this was blasphemy and she would not go to heaven. She merely replied that she has another reservation waiting

Nero is dead – but he was framed by the squirrels and blackbirds

It is with great sadness that I have to inform you that Nero is dead. No not the Roman emperor, he died in 68 AD. I mean Nero one of our Labradors. Regular readers of this blog will know that we have (had) two Labradors who regularly featured in posts as they mauraded around the garden destroying my gardening efforts. Both dogs are old; but we still think of them as puppies, Nero was 10 whilst Tango is 12. Both suffered multiple ailments, Tango is blind and Nero suffered from bad arthritis, a dodgy liver and terminal stupidity.

This is what happened. We knew Nero was ill and the Vet warned us it was probably terminal. We asked if he would survive long enough for our idiot son to see him before he died. Both he and Nero were very close in intelligence and behaviour. But unfortunately it was not to be Nero died in my arms at 1.15am on Sunday morning and the idiot son arrived at 10.30 am. The idiot son and I dug his grave in our wild wood and he was laid to rest with all due ceremony. Cruella (my wife) at first wanted to reanimate Nero as she euphemistically called raising him from the dead, but eventually agreed to just sing “Dido’s Lament”. I read the epic poem “Beth Gelert” and the idiot son performed an expressive hip hop mime he had specially composed based on unrequited bereavement.

My reading of Beth Gelert was no accident, as the saddest thing is that Nero was infamous for digging up the lawn, causing me great fury and many hours patching it up. It turns out that Nero was innocent all along, just like Gelert. Since his demise digging activity has taken place and it appears that Nero was framed by squirrels and blackbirds who were the culprits all along. Because of this terrible injustice Cruella has insisted that I walk barefoot to Thomas á Becket’s shrine in Canterbury to make penance.

In memory of Nero I have included some photos below, but just so you know what he was like here are some of his greatest hits:

  • He ate a whole giant poisonous Toad and nearly died
  • He ate a blanket (yes a blanket) and Cruella had to pull it whole out of his bottom
  • He careered through flower beds and destroyed thousands of plants
  • He snapped his leg ligaments whilst running on the beach and I had to carry him half a mile to the car whist he was soaking wet and covered in sand; he weighed 45 kilos
  • He could swim whilst at the same time holding three tennis balls in his mouth
  • If you got in the way of Nero and a tennis ball whilst in the pool he would claw his way over you to get to it
  • He won best in show at our local dog show as a puppy by just sitting like a sack of depressed coal
  • He dug up the lawn on numerous occasions (offence now rescinded)

The first photo below shows Nero resting by a newly dug hole in the lawn, whilst the second shows Cruella trying to protect him from what has now turned out to be my unjustified wrath. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The photo below show a young brave and ambitious Nero being taught to swim by his big brother Tango.

And finally his grave in the Wild Wood. Normal garden blogging will resume when I am back from my penitential pilgrimage to Canterbury.

My final apology for wronging Nero will reach out beyond the grave. May the regret of Llewelyn at the death of Gelert serve him as a suitable epitaph.

Vain, vain was all Llewellyn’s woe; 
” Best of thy kind, adieu! 
The frantic deed which laid thee low. 
This heart shall ever rue!” 

I am hiding on top of the shed! Extending flowering and saving seed

When I told Cruella (my wife) that I had to urgently get this post out she scoffed and said there was no way I could waste time on my hobby as we had to get the house ready for the idiot son’s annual holiday in Spain. I argued that seeds and flowers wait for nobody, but she insisted. So that basically is how I ended up on top of the shed.

Over the years I have developed a passive aggressive strategy that involves agreeing to everything Cruella says and then basically going and hiding where she can’t find me. This tactic has served me well, but Cruella has got wise to it. As I lie in my new hiding place, at the back of the shed roof I can hear her searching all my normal hiding places. So far she has searched inside the shed, raised and slammed down the compost bin lids, plunged her hand down into the water butts (she knows I have a snorkel). She is now standing in the middle of the lawn threatening to cut the heads off of all the flowers if I don’t come out.

I will let you know what happens, in the meantime on with the gardening.

3rd July 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

🌻 Extending Sunflower flowering. If you have grown sunflowers this year then the main flower may just be about spent. You can if you wish leave this deadhead on to completely turn to seed which in turn will feed the birds. But if you want more flowers then you have to act now. You can get a second flush of smaller but perfectly formed sunflowers on the same stem, but only if you cut off the main flower head. Cut off the head and stem just above the last leaf at the top of the main stem. With luck and the right variety you will end up with a flush of mini sunflowers coming down the stem.

The first photo below shows my sunflowers just as they were beginning to come into flower. The next photos show the effect that cutting off the main head has on extending the flowering. And if you are worried about feeding the birds, then don’t; instead of getting a main course, they get a selection of Tapas (they are Spanish birds after all). Click on each photo for a larger view.

In total I planted 20 sunflowers and they all did wonderfully

🌼 Making the most of Marigolds. If you have sown Marigolds then you will know they are a joy to grow as they germinate quickly and provide you with hundred of flowers from one seed pack. But, if you want them to last all Summer and be at their absolute best then there are a number of things you should be doing right now.

The first thing you need to do is to save seed for next year from the very best blooms. The first flush of flowers will always be the biggest and the best, with successive flowering’s gradually getting smaller. It is from this first flush that you need to save your seed. Don’t just rely on you remembering which flower was the best. When they are all brown and withered they all look the same. Get some masking tape and wrap a piece of this round the stems of the best flowers. In this way when you come to dead head you know to leave these alone and let them go to seed.

The first photo below shows my trusty masking tape ready to be deployed, whilst the rest of the photos show the chosen ones. Click on each photo for a larger view.

As well as collecting seed you need to make sure that you tie up the stems to stop them dropping. This requires lots of canes and string, but it is worth it. The other important thing you have to do is deadhead daily to ensure consecutive blooms. The first photo shows my tying in activities, whilst the next photo shows a deadheading foray. The final photo shows the view down the drive. Click on each photo for a larger view.

🪚 Keeping lavender trimmed. Lavender grows very well in our Spanish climate, and most people will have all sorts of lavender in their garden. The secret to multiple flushes of lavender is to trim it at the right time and in the correct way. Not all types of lavender will be ready to trim at the same time. So before you trim make sure that the flower stems are fully dried, but preferably before they start dropping seed.

The first photo below shows one of my mini water features which I have surrounded with a lavender circle that is now ready to trim. The next photo shows you exactly where you need to trim. Trimming should be at the bottom of the dried flower stem, but you must not cut into the green growth as this is where your next flush of flowers is coming from. The final photo shows the newly trimmed lavender ready to get flowering again. Click on each photo for a larger view.

I haven’t yet achieved a full circle as I have to put new cuttings in each time one dies.

🫖 Taking a break. We keen gardeners can sometimes forget how old we are, and think we can garden all day, just as we did in our young days. But in the Summer heat it is important to take regular breaks and get your self out of the sun. I don’t want to go all “Nanny state” on you, but it is not a good idea to drink alcohol and then garden in the sun. Far better to drink water regularly, or if you are a tea fanatic like me, buy some good loose leaf Early Grey and mix it with loose leaf Darjeeling and let it brew for 3 to 6 minutes before drinking.

I offer you the elixir of life. Sin leche y sin azucre.

Forget the Olympics, it’s time for the Fig tree netting championship

I can tell that the tension and excitement has been building up for weeks amongst regular followers of this blog as we ready ourselves for my annual fig tree netting championship. For those of you who haven’t followed this international sporting event, then get ready for a thrilling read.

If you have a fig tree, and many of us do in Spain, then now is the time to net your tree to protect the fruit from maurading birds. Failure to net the tree will result in no fruit for you and lots of fat birds in your garden. So let’s get on with the gardening.

24th June 2021. Things I have been doing lately:

Preparing to net fig trees. I have two fig trees. A standard medium size tree and an espalier that I have been growing along a wall for about 6 years. Now ideally you should have pruned your fig tree in January or February by training it to shape, and that should be it as figs grow on old wood. And, whilst I do not recommend pruning figs at any other time, this year has been exceptional. The heavy rain in the spring has produced abundant growth with long stems that will not produce fruit. The photo below shows my overextended fig tree that will make it difficult to net.

Note the long whippy unproductive branches

Before pruning figs at this time of the year you have to prepare to protect your skin. When cut figs weep a copious amount of white sap from each branch end which is corrosive and will easily burn unprotected skin. Just because it is hot day doesn’t mean you can prune a fig without a shirt on or with just a t-shirt. As you lean into the tree to prune the sap will smear your arms and chest and can lead to severe burns.

The first and second photos below shows me in my fig pruning outfit and in action. Despite the fact it was ferociously hot I was completely covered including gloves and protective glasses. The second photo shows an example of a weeping stem. Whilst the final photo shows my newly trimmed tree ready for netting. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Netting the fig trees. It has been my usual custom in recent years to invite international teams of Fig Netters to assist me in my netting. This serves two purposes, firstly it allows me to observe the different national and regional customs. Secondly it is really cheap and Cruella (my wife) usually refuses to get involved. Last year I had a very successful mixed team from Northern Ireland and Scotland. But this year I have ambitiously opted to bring in a crack husband and wife team from Wigan in the UK where they have been the All Wigan Champions for the last 5 years and are now in the Wigan Fig Hall of Fame.

Gordon and Camilla arrived here in Campoverde to assist in the fig netting, but unfortunately they were in an agitated state as the French had impounded their Pack of Whippet Fig Hounds (despite Gordon assuring them they were fully Covid compliant). After calming them both down despite Gordon muttering threats to Macron underneath his breath, we began to plan the netting. Ideally fig netting requires a team of four. Traditionally this has been husband and wife teams. Though following the lead of Strictly Come Dancing, I may look to include same sex couples next year.

You need to start with a small mesh bird friendly net, this will ensure that even the smallest birds will not be able to squeeze through and get caught in the net. Failure to abide by this rule will guarantee that when you come out each morning you will be met by the sight of fat angry birds hanging upside down from your net. Once you have your net you need to stretch it fully to ensure the mesh is fully open. Normally this takes four people, but to make up the numbers Cruella had conjured up a disembodied hand to help out. The photos below shows the preliminary net stretch process. Interesting things to note – apart from the disembodied hand – are that Gordon has struck a typically challenging male ritual Wigan pose involving leaning back and holding the net with just one hand. Whilst Cruella has dyed her hair to match Camilla’s top in a form of female bonding. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The next photos show Gordon trying to explain that in Wigan the Whippet hounds stretch the net. His attempts to harness Tango the Labrador proved to be a poor substitute as Tango is blind. This point is emphasised in the second photo by Tango facing completely the wrong way whilst waiting to be harnessed. Click on each photo for a larger view.

Preparing for net hoisting. Here you need one person as the net hoister, in this case Cruella claimed precedence as she had brought along her best extendable wand. Gordon and Camilla meantime are displaying their world famous Wigan Mill Wave. This pose originated in the noisy Wigan Mills when a young man wished to convey that he fancied a young woman across the noisy Mill shop floor. The man stands with his left leg slightly raised whilst pointing up with his right hand. The woman (if she finds this approach acceptable) will enthusiastically respond by throwing both arms into the air.

This is Camilla and Gordon’s go to pose and has been highly acclaimed as far as Bolton.

When everything is ready then net hoisting can begin in earnest. Ideally you should cover the whole tree, yet still leave yourself enough slack to pull the net up and pick your figs. Normally this stage of the process is covered by mixed male and female teams singing traditional netting songs. Many of these songs are handed down from generation to generation and involve regional pronunciation. Camilla and Gordon soon launched into one of their favourites sung to the tune of “what shall we do with the drunken sailor”. Unfortunately their accents were so strong I could only get a few words, but the gist of it was … Wigan Pier, chips and gravy and the loyalty of Whippets. Cruella who was brought up in East Ham made pathetic attempts at singing this in a Cockney accent. Even the disembodied hand was waving with enthusiasm. Click on each photo for a larger view.

The “tying in process”. This is solely a female activity and it can be considered bad luck for a man to become involved as it will ruin the harvest. The first photo below shows Cruella and Camilla working rhythmically and singing a song that only women are allowed to know the meaning of. All I know is that the tune is similar to “ I will survive” by Gloria Gaynor.

I had to move their handbags out of the way to take this photo.

Unfortunately the whole tying in process went completely wrong when Gordon insisted that the women were doing it wrong and tried to show them how to do it properly. The first photos below show Gordon interrupting the women’s work. The next photo shows Cruella’s complete astonishment at this intervention, which could have ended badly knowing Cruella’s powers (we already have lots of frogs in our garden who can attest to this). But it all ended well when Gordon offered Cruella an apologetic Wigan Masons handshake. Click on each photo for a larger view.

By way of an apology Gordon offered to end the netting of the big tree with both he and Camilla performing the end of netting mating dance. This type of dance has been performed in Wigan for over 300 years. In the main it involves both dancers facing away from each other as if they have no interest. But slowly and then more quickly, the male begins to dance with rhythmic pounding of both feet whilst at the same time slapping his knees and lunging forward to project his bottom in a provocative manner. The female throughout this performance studiously keeps her back turned to the male and affects no interest.

I have sent a copy of this photograph to National Geographic for inclusion in their “Native world dances”.

The day ended on a happy note all round when Camilla and Gordon performed their signature net which involves netting an espalier fig. Following this we all retired for traditional Wigan fare: chips with gravy washed down with Brown Ale. Despite Cruella’s attempt to appear inclusive, she still threw up all over the flower beds.

Please note that an important part of this performance is that the woman’s face is obscured. Gordon valiantly kept his arm up as Camilla had forgotten her Fig Veil.

Saving a Plant called Alan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruella has become a blue comedian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

My Agave Americana has been named in a paternity suit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My garden has become the Lourdes of Spain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Songs from the potting bench – the cuttings chorus

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

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

Val-deri,Val-dera,
Val-deri,
Val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha 
Val-deri,Val-dera. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Val-deri,Val-dera,
Val-deri,
Val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha 
Val-deri,Val-dera. 

Off with their heads and then tie them up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moments like this make it all worthwhile

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

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

14th April Things I have been doing lately:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The big palm weevil special

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

7th April. Things I have been doing lately:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruella and I are going into the wart removal business

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

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

3rd April. Things I have been doing lately:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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