March 2019 | In Praise of Squashed Plants – Yes, Squashed

March 2019 | In Praise of Squashed Plants – Yes, Squashed

Welcome back to my blog and greetings to the Spring that has arrived following the pleasant surprise of a warm and sunny February – unheard of. My seeds sown indoors in January are progressing – leeks, white onions, red onions, broad beans, marigolds – and the February and March starters have gone into the propagator where some are showing already. This post’s title is explained at the end.

Seeds in trays growing indoors some inside propagator

Wildlife, Wildflowers and Corridors


Man looking delighted with robin on shoulder
This really is a shared world.

I continue to be made happily aware of examples of environmental attitude change. At the start of last month, in On Your Farm, Radio 4, I enjoyed listening to the exuberant Georgie Newbery who describes herself as a flower farmer with a large portion of her farm given over to cut flower production. Not for her flowers grown neatly in rows but grown in patches split up by areas of wild flowers and areas of woodland because wildlife like to have – her word “motorways” to use to get from one place to another. This explained to me the thinking behind the corridors we hear about.

Happy to hear that she too gardens on heavy clay in Somerset. Every August she puts down 16 tons of mulch and within a year the worms have carried it all downwards and the clay is once again visible.

At the end of the month, again in On Your Farm, Martin Lines in Cambridgeshire, arable farmer and founder of the UK Nature Friendly Farming Network commented on how in the past he had gradually started to notice that the once ubiquitous sparrow was no more. Over time, this and similar experiences, led to his conversion.

(I grew up in south west London and sparrows were everywhere there too. I haven’t seen one for decades in London.)

Martin learned farming from his father and what he learned was cultivation and production methods and this, he says, is what most farmers will know and be used to. The decrease in wildlife and pollinators he explains as due to so much of the landscape being managed as a monoculture. He now grows wildflowers in the areas of his land where he can’t grow crops and does so for the sake of the pollinators. These then go into his crops and he has seen a positive increase in yields. Another plus is that he now uses less pesticides. His profits are up and costs are down and he is, of course, happy with that. Now he is on a mission to influence others to adopt green farming policies.

Purple and white crocus buds naturalised in grass

Bulbs | Top Tips

White crocus bulbs

Only one of my clients has ever said she could leave all her bulbs in situ in the garden and they came up year after year, even the tulips. She was unique, the only person gardening on clay I have ever heard say that and I was very surprised because in my experience only daffodils are really safe. Tulips, of course, certainly always need lifting after flowering and overwintering elsewhere. Most public gardens discard the bulbs after flowering and replace them so that their bulb display is always perfect.

Yellow daffodils

Because this is their time of year bulbs have been on my mind. Thinking back to a client in whose garden we tried to establish a good display of bulbs I remember that the visiting badger always dug them up and left them scattered on the ground. Eventually we gave up the attempt to establish bulbs amongst the other plants.

Most of the Spring bulbs we can buy are hardy and can cope with the cold. The greatest number of them hail from countries where the winter is rather cold and wet and the summers are hot and dry with a short spring – a reasonable approximation of our climate. The biggest enemy we present them with is damp.

Purple crocus

I wondered if we have been missing a trick – this may take a bit of re-planning in the garden but if you are very keen to have a bulb display a separate bulb bed could be a solution.

The bed should be raised (for drainage) and the sides could be made of brick, breeze blocks or old railway sleepers. The bottom 30cm should consist of coarse stones or gravel, again for drainage reasons. Above this goes a layer, of about 10cm, of leaf-mould compost or spent mushroom compost. Above this goes a layer of 15 – 20cm made up of loam (see RHS advice below) or leaf mould and sand and grit in roughly equal proportions (more sand and grit for smaller bulbs). This last layer being the area where the bulb roots will be a general fertilizer can be added at the time of mixing the soil.

Loam is currently is not so easy to come by – see link immediately below for RHS advice on how to make a substitute.

The next link is to a video which is a good visual demonstration of how to build a bulb bed. It is American and the bed is enormous but the building principles are sound and the gardener goes to great length to make it animal proof so well worth a watch if this is your problem. Please don’t act on the weedkilling instructions unless you really feel you must.
Jim Gallot OKGardeningClassics Preparing a Bed for Planting Bublbs

Crocus bulbs naturalised at the foot of trees


At the Allotment | Top Tips


As expected, the compost heap is now empty with two beds replenished but two beds still to go.  Time for a compromise.  My plan was to use again the long narrow raised bed I made some time ago  for the greedy feeders like courgette and marrow.  Incidentally, when removing surface weeds from this bed recently I found all the cardboard layer completely disappeared and some lovely, crumbly soil with a good selection of worms.

My compromise is to resurrect an old allotment technique of trench composting.  A trench is dug in the top of the long narrow bed and I fill that with my kitchen waste without first putting it on the compost heap.  The raw kitchen waste is then covered over with soil and, so long as the roots of the crop do not actually make contact with the kitchen waste, this should work fine for soil fertility.

The ideal way to use trench composting is to dig the trench in the autumn, spend months filling it with kitchen waste then cover it over in time for the growing season.

My other  long and narrow raised bed contains the strawberries and it has at least another year to go before needing to be moved.  The textile covering will be lifted, the top of the bed spread with a thick mulch of leaf mould, and the textile replaced.  Quite a few strawberries have reproduced so new holes in the textile will be made and the yield should be larger than last year.

The other major task is the first edgeing of all the beds with newly sharpened shears – the grass at the allotment site is full of tough and unbiddable couch grass which needs keeping down.

single pink Camellia bloom

Back to gardens and the first buds featured in my last post have moved on, in the case of the Camellia, to be the first to put out a flower. Within a few days of the single bloom the other buds followed and the Camellia shrub was covered with flowers.

Camellia with lots of blooms

Shed Base Kits | Top Tips

In my February 2 post under Daylighting I talked about the runoff problem in my area – more precisely a problem with runoff having nowhere to go that was then aggravated even more by the concreting over of front gardens for car parking thus reducing absorbent land even more. I remember at the time, as part of horticulture studies, I was introduced to inter locking plastic permeable paving systems that could be used in front gardens – fine for parking and without the problem of land not being absorbent.

A no-longer-needed small communal shed was recently removed on our allotment site leaving behind a rectangular base of solid concrete with paving on top. That is going to take some hard work removing, I thought.

Viburnum sp - Lovely early Spring blooming shrub with a delightful scent.
Viburnum sp – Lovely early Spring blooming shrub with a delightful scent.

On leaving the site that day I looked for the first time at the bases of peoples’ sheds and noticed, in a couple of cases, the edges of the familiar plastic permeable pavers. I asked around and apparently these are shed base kits that are sold in several of the common shed sizes along with a geotextile sheet. You just need to supply the gravel to act as filler. These are much cheaper than concrete shed bases, easy to install (videos on You Tube) and far more environmentally friendly. These products had passed me by and, as I need to think about a new shed, glad I found them.


Magnolia stellata

Fuzzy buds of Magnolia stellataThe plant that gives you more than one season of interest is a star of the garden. Enter Magnolia stellata which I have mentioned before the perfect tree for the small garden being a very slow grower and only reaching 3m in height (but considerably more in width). In that previous post you can see the star-like pink or white flowers of this tree hence, no doubt, the epithet ‘stellata’ but did you know that at this time of year this deciduous tree is sporting lovely furry fuzzy buds that you can’t resist reaching out to touch.

Fuzzy Magnolia stellata buds

This Post’s Title

Bisected onion
The onion is probably the best known of all bulbs. Bulbs consist of a compact stem – the area at the base from which the roots grow downwards and the leaves grow upwards. The leaves in the onion are what we usually think of as layers. In the centre, marked with a pointer, is the main bud from which shoots and flowers develop and will form a bulb for the following year. It is also a food storage organ. The bulb is, in fact, a complete plant SQUASHED. It is one of nature’s clever survival strategies for locations where it is necessary to spend the greater part of life underground. Marvellous.

No bulbs were harmed or wasted in the writing of this post. This one went into Pea and Mushroom Risotto.

Bye for now – remember that April is so, so busy for gardeners – and not far off.  Happy gardening!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *