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Olives. In the north!

I love my garden, although I don’t spend anywhere near as much time out there as I thought I would when I left work.

The last few weeks have been really great weather though and I have spent a bit of time tidying up, just doing jobs I should have done a while back, like tying the daffodil stalks back, even cleaning up some of the leaves.

I’ve done a bit of gentle pruning of my prized olive tree too.

I love the thing, if only because it is so incongruous to be growing it so far north – and it gives fruit! It’s in a perfect position, close to a big wall that shelters it well, and south facing so that it gets all the light there is to be had, and warmth from both the wall and the house. I was in trouble when I bought it as I spent over a hundred quid on the thing, but it was probably twenty years old already – I reckon that’s good value when you consider the investment in time that someone made.

It does bear fruit as well, not that they are of any use, they have to go through all sorts of processes to get to the funny things we eat.

images-3 Given that mine is still not much more than a sapling I reckon this lovely one must be several hundred years old – I wonder how long they last?

What I really need now is some good garden seating. I happily sit on the wall, but you won’t catch Mrs Beard doing that!


Men and Sheds

Is it just men who love sheds?

Actually I know that the answer to that has to be no.

I was watching George Clark’s Amazing Spaces which I loved, despite thinking that Clark and his forced Geordie accent got on my tits. His crazy static caravan refurb was pretty spectacular and inspirational, but also there were a few women featured. One girl built a beach hut in her garden and decked it out just like it was by the sea, except that she lives in the Midlands, about as far from the sea in this country as you can get.

I have had a few fine sheds in my time, I’ve slept in many of them even, and when we got our last dog I shared a shed with her for her first two weeks at home to toilet train her. It didn’t take long as each time she stirred in the night I was there, immediately awake and whipping her outside until she had her pee.

Now I’m thinking of going seriously up market. I have been looking at a company called OECO Garden Offices based in Ripon, North Yorkshire. Their sheds are of pretty near the same construction quality as my house, and I’m sure they’ll be better insulated. If we go ahead then I’ll be putting a bed deck into the shed, ostensibly for guests, but in actual fact I’ll be angling to sleep out there myself, even if only when Mrs BeeBeard is away on the cruise each year.

Actually I so love having a plan that it’s worth looking at even if I don’t go ahead.


The gentle art of mowing your lawn

I swear that one day I am going to buy myself one of those great little sit-on lawnmowers that make cutting the grass so easy and comfortable. I normally like gardening, but mowing the lawn has never been one of my favourite jobs. I usually put it off to the point where I can hardly see the postman when he drops off my mail. That’s when I know it has to be done.

That reminds me of my very first lawnmower many years ago. We had just bought a very small house with a surprisingly large lawn, in a fairly old suburb. The problem was that the lawn was in a terrible state. It wasn’t a lawn at all really; I later found out, from the neighbour, that initially the place had no lawn at all, but over time his lawn crept underneath the fence between our properties and took over my backyard.

Money was in short supply at the time and I could not afford an electric mower, so my neighbour gave me his rusty old manual machine. It was one of those models that, when you push it, had a rotating set of blades in front. At the best of times this meant a lot of sweat and not much progress. In my case, with a back garden that was extremely uneven, it meant the little lawnmower would, from time to time, get completely stuck and I had to manually remove it from whatever obstacle hindered its forward progress.

The only way this could possibly be done was to abandon the job from time to time and go into to the house for a quick beer. This way of mowing the lawn has since developed into a family tradition and I still use it regularly when mowing my current lawn.

Musings of an amateur gardener

Gardening is more than just a hobby for me; it’s also my time to philosophise. My favourite pastime is watering the garden, which is why I don’t have automatic sprinklers installed. I love to just stand there with the garden hose and give every single plant the attention and time it deserves. Sometimes it’s as if I can feel their appreciation and no, I am not going cuckoo.

My favourites are the potato plants. They ask for very little in terms of maintenance and care and in return they give me one of my most beloved vegetables. Unfortunately, I’ve had a problem with moles this year. To be more precise, moles and I seem to share a common passion for potatoes.

I hate killing them, so I’ve tried all sorts of techniques to try and scare them away, but they have proven to be extremely persistent. In fact they were so persistent that, by the time I harvested the crop, there was very little left for me. So if anyone out there knows how to get rid of moles without killing them or causing them permanent psychological damage, I would love to hear about it.

I also have a couple of fruit trees in the garden; the two peach trees are my favourites. When springtime arrives they are covered with the most beautiful pink flowers you have ever seen and they remind me of my dad, who also had peach trees in his garden. He spent many hours watering those trees and no doubt enjoyed it as much as I am enjoying it today.

Garden tools and how to make them last longer

Over the years I must have spent a small fortune on garden tools. In the process I have learned a few valuable lessons that could save any gardener a lot of money in the long run.

One of my biggest problems is that I’m rather absentminded. So after working in the garden I would often find that one or more of my tools were missing. This usually involves a lengthy search, because garden tools have an uncanny ability to camouflage themselves; the fact that many of them come with green handles doesn’t help much. To get over the problem I’ve started to paint the handles of all my garden tools a bright colour. I can promise you one thing, finding a pair of garden shears with red handles is much easier than finding a pair with green handles.

Something else that I learned the hard way is to regularly oil the joints of all my tools and store them out of the rain. When I was younger, I would often leave the tools in the garden overnight, especially if I wanted to work in the garden again the next day. I should have had the common sense to realise that would make them rust, but hey, we’re not all in the Einstein category, are we?

That brings me to another point; being lazy and not cleaning your tools after you’re done in the garden will simply ensure that you have a much harder cleaning job lying ahead. Ask me, I know and in case it’s already too late and you’re stuck with garden tools that are clogged with old dirt, get yourself a wire brush; that makes the job a lot easier.

Forty years ago it was possible to leave your garden tools lying around in plain sight of passers-by without much risk of them being stolen, but unfortunately this is no longer the case. I am surprised how many would-be gardeners there are among thieves. Although I am deeply sorry for these people, because they can’t even afford their own garden tools, in my own interest I built myself a nice little lock-up garden shed where I now store all my tools.

Even there I had to learn a hard lesson; finding a specific item among 100 different tools when they’re not properly sorted is a major job. So now I have everything neatly labelled, shears with shears, scissors with scissors and knives with knives.

Of course, my favourite garden tool is my hat. I have no intention of developing skin cancer at my age. Luckily, it’s easy to just chuck it in the washing machine with all the other clothing.

How to get that hedge looking great.

A gardener, whether they are an amateur or not, is likely to say that hedge care is one of their least favourite tasks.  It can be laborious, I know, but a well-maintained hedge can be a real centrepiece in a garden, drawing envious glances from visitors and passersby alike.  In terms of the laborious aspect of hedge trimming, I think if a gardener has the right equipment, they are less likely to find the job to be a source of frustration.  A secateurs, the small hand tool for cutting thin branches, is essential and a gardener should keep the blade sharp.  A branch cut with a blunt blade might not grow properly.

Another important item of equipment for looking after hedges are hedge trimmers, which are available as electric or petrol-fired models.  The great thing about an electric or petrol model is that removing projecting shoots and keeping the hedge trimmed in a particular way becomes a relatively straightforward task. I would suggest getting a trimmer that is light to handle and well-balanced, for ease of use.  It can be exhausting working around a large hedge, trimming it back.

Getting a hedge shaped correctly is not always easy, but a handy tip I have picked up is to use a laser level, like the ones used in construction, to judge the cutting line at the top of a hedge.

It goes without saying that safety is paramount when cutting a hedge, given the nature of the equipment that is being used.  I examine a hedge before cutting it, to ensure there are not any items a hedge trimmer can catch on in the course of being used.  If only I was so diligent indoors, as certain family members have suggested.  Using an electric or petrol-fired trimmer is going to be a noisy affair, so the gardener is not going to be as aware of what is going on around them.  So my advice is to ask family members, especially children, not to come near the hedge while the work is going on.  Bearing safety issues in mind, the gardener should wear adequate footwear so they do not slip.  Gloves and protective eyewear are also good ideas.  If I am going to be cutting a hedge from a raised surface, I ensure that it is firmly anchored to the ground.

Watering a hedge is another critical aspect of its care, and this is especially true of dry spells and at peak growing times.  The roots of a hedge tend to compete more heavily for water compared to other types of plants.  This is because hedging plants tend to be spaced in much closer proximity to each other.  I apply mulch around the roots of a hedge once a year as a means of stopping unnecessary water loss from the soil.

Feeding a hedge is essential also, and a general-purpose fertilizer should suffice.  To promote leaf growth, I would use a liquid fertilizer, high in nitrogen, and I would apply it whenever the foliage starts to look that bit dull.  After all, I want my hedges looking magnificent, just in case the neighbours start to think less of me.