Welcome to the Ramsden Village ‘ Local Flora & Gardening  Blog’.

Here you will find, information on flowers, shrubs, trees and local, wild flora and general gardening tips – all submitted by local residents over the last few years.

If you have a useful addition to make to this blog, please submit your thoughts or observations by clicking below.

Acers 12/13
We have a stunning acer, but can take no credit for it. It was here when we arrived. Generally, acers seem to like Ramsden. They also like acidic and well drained soil, so you can mulch them with rotted down pine or evergreen cuttings or rotted fern leaves, or both.

Agapanthus 04/14
Agapanthus do not thrive on neglect. They thrive on tomato food, so give them some and there will be flowers aplenty.

Alliums seem to do really well in our garden, both thriving and spreading, but the bulbs should be got into the ground between October and January.

Amaryllis survival guide 4/12

After flowering cut off the flower spike, but keep on feeding and watering the plant in bright light until the end of the summer. The leaves should then begin to turn. Stop watering, let them wither or cut them off and let the pot dry out so the bulb goes dormant. You can shake off the soil or compost if you want to but leave the bulb in its pot, so you know where it is, until temperatures become autumnal. Then pot up, bring in and start watering.



Bees are having a bad time of it. This is partly our fault. The more sophisticated the shape of the flowers we develop, the more layers of petals, the harder it is for the bees to get into them, so plant varieties with single layers of petals this year. If you are planting clover, remember that white clover has shorter flowers, so again it is easier for bees to reach the nectar.

Here is a link to the Oxfordshire Beekeepers Association which includes advice on what to do if you encounter a swarm.

Bees' floral likes and dislikes 6/12
Busy lizzies, petunias, geraniums and begonias hold little nourishment for bees. So, if this is what your pots contain, you can sit near them without being buzzed, but you won't be helping our wildlife.

Many cottage garden perennials, ideally suited to the Ramsden vernacular, are nectar-rich and bees love them: delphiniums, foxgloves, hollyhock, campanula, scabious, astrantia, lavender, achillea, mallow and daisies.

Similarly, there are favourite annuals and biennials: snapdragon, aquilegia, nicotiana, calendula, cosmos, wallflowers, evening primrose, and blue cerinthe.

Later in the summer the bees will be glad of phlox, salvia, monarda, rudbeckia, zinnia, penstemon, sedum and echinops,too.

Bees and pesticides 6/12
One thing that honey bees seem really to dislike are pesticides containing neonicotinoids. These are used on oilseed rape in particular, but of course may linger in the soil or be carried onto other plant species by the wind.

There is some sketchy scientific work suggesting that these get into the bees and slow their development and colony formation. However, given that bees do an enormous amount of pollination for farmers, absolutely free, market forces and logic would both dictate that if the evidence was sufficiently strong, farmers would abandon this kind of treatment.

Nevertheless, if you wish to be more safe than sorry, check out the contents of anything you intend to spray on the garden, as that is where most of the bumblebees are found and there is concern that the effect of neonicotinoids on these friendly creatures may be very similar.

Bindweed 4/14
Bindweed is a real stinker and will appear soon. Train the stuff to grow up little bamboo canes, and then treat it with a suitable weedkiller. Cunning!

Blackcurrants 9/12
My mother's approach to her vegetables became increasingly unpredictable with the passing years, but whatever she did or did not do, she always seemed to produce a fine currant harvest, both red and black. The weather does not seem to have deterred these rewarding plants this year, and bushes are as bountiful as ever, for relatively little work. This is the time to order the plants for autumn planting.

Black Spot 10/13
If, like me, you took too little care of your roses during the drought, they may well have got black spot, and have lost most of their leaves by now. Nevertheless, now is a good time to spray for black spot, before the winter pruning.

Broad BeansBroad beans are free standing, but they blow over pretty easily, especially in raised beds, because they become top heavy, so they need canes on both sides of each row, joined up by string.

Buddleia pruning 3/13

The snow doesn’t seem to have broken as many buddleia branches as I had expected. Bearing in mind the shape you want to achieve, and the fact that buddleias flower on new growth, cut branches back to two sets of buds from the base of the stem or branch. This is also a good time to cut out all the dead, as the new leaves are beginning to show and you can see what has to go.

Carrots (storage) 10/12


We moved to Ramsden in April. To my surprise, I found a box of sand in the barn containing perfectly good carrots. Clearly, this method of storage works!

Cut off the leaves of the carrot tops as near to the crown as possible without damaging them. Clean any soil off. Using slightly damp sand in boxes place the carrots in layers in a frost proof shed that is well ventilated.

Damaged roots are subject to soft rot, which attacks through the wounds and causes a slimy decay, spreading out from the centre of the carrot. If carrots are stored in very damp conditions they are likely to get Sclerotinia rot – a fluffy fungus that causes them to become black and hard.

Cat Deterrent 4/14

What Works

No single method for deterring cats is 100% effective and many are simply too expensive when scaled to the size of a large vegetable garden. However, there are some good principles to follow when deciding on a course of action:

  1. Clear Up and Replace Scent with Strong Smells: Cats are creatures of habit that use smell to locate their toileting areas. If you already have a problem then the first step is to remove the existing poo, water the surrounding earth to wash the smell away and then spread scented deterrents in the area (citrus, coffee grinds etc)
  2. Use Ground Coverings Where Possible: Keeping the soil covered for as much of the year as possible is good gardening practice anyway so make good use of manure and mulch. Apparently cats don’t like marigolds or anything citrus smelling, like lemon balm or lemon thyme, or artemisia.
  3. Make Cats Feel Unsure: Cats don’t like surfaces that feel tangly or wobbly. Stretching netting over beds, running string between posts at the top of fences and using light mulches that a cat’s feet will sink into will all make a cat feel that it’s not on solid ground, encouraging it to go elsewhere.
  4. Don't be Seen: The classic mistake is to chase cats from your garden. The problem is that they then associate you with the danger and it seems they like the challenge of outwitting you! Instead, cat psychology says that we should look for ways to have the cat associate the garden with danger, rather than the human, so a jet of water apparently coming from nowhere will be more likely to succeed than an angry gardener.

Compost, manure and planting 12/13

Never add compost or manure to a planting hole if you can avoid it as it affects stability, so spread it round the plant and work into the surface or leave to leach in. Remember that generally, feeds, including chicken manure, promote growth over flowering.

Courgettes are really thirsty, so plant them in a dip and make sure you keep it scooped out. Water into the dip (gently!) to maximise the water available to the plant.

Chitting potatoes 3/12
You should be chitting your potatoes now. Many people use egg boxes as a good way to hold the tubers in position. Put them in a cool airy place, in the light. You need dark and stocky shoots and you will get weedy pale ones if they shoot in the dark. You should limit the shots to four or five per tuber, ideally about an inch long, and plant the "earlies" out a foot apart, in rows two feet apart.

Cut flower food 4/14
My mother used to add an aspirin to the vase as cut flowers began to age and swore this extended their life, but there is apparently no scientific reason for this.

When we buy cut flowers these days, they come with sachets of stuff. Here’s how to make your own:

To one litre of warmish water add: 1 tablespoon of vinegar, 1 teaspoon of sugar, 3-5 drops of household bleach. Stir thoroughly.



There's not a lot you can do if deer have decided they like to browse in your garden. Creosote, various traces of human presence and lion dung are reported as being ineffective as often as people report that they work. Deer are very adaptable, and get used to dogs, scarers, and flashing lights quite quickly. Muntjac can readily clear anything less than 1.5m in height.

The best course of action may be either to plant things you don't like, but which deer do, so they eat them preferentially, which you don't mind, or to plant things they don't like, in the hope that they go somewhere else.

Here are some suggestions from the British Deer Society

Vulnerable plants
Fuchsia (hybrid)
Sweet William

Deer-resistant plants

In our garden they seem to browse hemerocallis and bluebells for choice, so I am sacrificing those while protecting delphiniums, lupins and aquilegia with everything available.

Dividing: Hemerocallis Hosta Phlox Sedum and others 3/13
This is the month to divide the overgrown clumps of summer flowering perennials, which have proved slug and muntjac resistant, especially bearing in mind its Gardens Open year! Split the clumps with two forks back-to-back and get the clumps back into the grounds quickly, softening and loosening their soil with a bit of manure and general fertiliser to make them feel welcome.

Shading paint is amazingly effective!

Drought: Pots
Small pots dry out faster than big pots, so if you are pot-planting, use bigger pots. Water retaining granules work very well. Mix them in the compost before planting. Mulch the surface of your pots with bits of slate or other barrier material which slows evaporation.

Drought: Watering
Water in the morning or evening, not in the heat of the day, and water long and seldom, rather than little and often. Long and seldom encourages roots down to look for water. A light watering encourages roots to stay near the surface where they are less efficient and more vulnerable, especially when you go on holiday.

Drought: A Water Table 4/12
Anything you plant will need proper watering in to start with. Some vegetables and fruits need much less watering than others, so if you need to focus, here's a handy table:

Needing Less Water
Brussels sprouts
Purple sprouting
Winter Squash

Keep the Watering Can Handy
Runner beans

Euphorbia 11/12
Euphorbia can be trimmed now, if you didn't go after them in the summer and next year's flowering growth will look the better for it. If your plants were new this year, leave them alone for a season so you know what size and bulk they may achieve over a full year.

February Pruning 2/13

Roses You can’t kill a rose by pruning hard. Saw out old shoots at ground level; 
Buddleia: buddleia flowers late, so you can prune in February; 
Hypericum you need to check what you’ve got. The late flowering hypericum can be pruned now, but some is in good bud at the end of May (as schnapps makers will know).

Feeding the birds 10/12
Birds love insects, insects love nectar. Below is a table of plants which provide nectar and pollen early in the season:

Flowering currant
Dead nettle
Grape hyacinth
Snake’s head fritillary
Sweet William

Ferns 05/13
Now that the new fronds are starting to uncurl and there is a little warmth in the ground, you can cut off the last of last year's growth. Remember that there may be something delicate underneath which you have forgotten about! Slugs and snails don't eat ferns, but snails in particular like to hide and grow in them, so check what's dropping to the ground as you cut.

More Ferns 09/14
Planting Ferns prefer a shady location but that does not mean they will do well in deep shade. Of course, the more sunlight a fern gets, the more moisture it will need. Plant ferns deep, but do not get soil in the centre of the crown as this will lead to rotting. Ensure that the soil is close around the root ball, but tease the roots out a little. After planting, water once or twice a week through the first growing season but stop in autumn to avoid waterlogging in the winter. Ferns do not require a lot of aftercare, though they will appreciate a little mulch. After mulching, check that the birds are not throwing soil or compost into the crown. Do not cut off the die back too early. Let the new growth show clearly first.

Gardening Columns in Print 05/13
From monthly magazines to daily papers, many of the gardening columns seem out of step with the current status of plants and shrubs in the garden. Before buying, planting cutting back or dividing, follow your instinct, phone a friend or ask at one of the local garden centres.

Greenhouse 3/12
Now is the time to empty out the greenhouse and chuck away everything redundant. Spray all the interior surfaces with a mist of Jeyes Fluid

Ground elder - There is no quick fix 12/13
In mid to late autumn, as you cut back, divide and move things, there is an opportunity to set dormant clumps of plant to one side for a couple of hours, and really dig over the soil in which ground elder is having such fun.

In spring, ground elder can show before your perennials and this is a good time to dig it or paint with glyphosate.

Of course if you are making new beds or completely changing things, black plastic sheeting pegged over the soil for a few weeks or months will kill everything. This is for the long-term planner.

Plant your seeds in potting compost in a bit of old guttering. When the time comes to move the young plants on, just push the compost from one end, and slice the compost plant by plant. A good way of keeping plant and rootball together.

Hedges 2/13
Nesting season: Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 it is a criminal offence to take, damage or destroy the nest of any bird while it is in use or while it is being built. Generally it is accepted that hedge and tree trimming should be avoided between March 1 and July 31, though some birds can nest late, so keep a careful watch.

Hellebores 1/14
You can cut off all the old leaves now (December/January) as the peak season, Jan-March is beginning. Hellebores need a lot of air and light and if they don’t get this, the leaves go brown and blotchy. Plus, the leaves may well be lying over bulbs or other smaller plants which you’ve forgotten about, and will be otherwise hindered from developing as they should when Spring comes along.

Hollyhocks 5/12
If the wind has not knocked even the shortest hollyhock down the big leaves with spotty orange rust have got to go!

Honeysuckle 7/12
There's no finer scent, to my mind, but there will be none if your honeysuckles don't flower! We all want our plants to be "just right". The temptation with honeysuckles is to give them food they don't need, so they shoot, and to prune when they are too young. Because they are bigger when we get them than most of the plants we buy, there's a tendency to go to work too soon. Don't even train them for the first two or three years. Prune when flowering is over, as they flower on last year's shoots.

Hostas 04/12
This is a good time to divide hostas. They are more robust than they look, so, using a serrated blade, you can cut them into as many pieces as you think you can get away with.


Hostas 05/13
The British Deer Society says that muntjac don't like hostas, but evidence here is to the contrary. However, they only seem to touch the young tips, so we should be safe now. Slugs, however, are quite a different matter. It does seem,though, that the paler leaved or variegated varieties are much more vulnerable than the blue-green or more waxy leaved.

More Hostas 09/14
Planting: Bowdens recommend that hostas be planted in a hole both twice as wide and twice as deep as the hostas being planted. Make a little mound in the bottom of the hole, tease the roots apart and spread them over the mound. Then fill with a mixture of garden soil, grit and compost. Do not tamp down too hard, as air pockets will promote growth. After planting, if it is dry, water with a fine spray for the first two weeks.

Hydrangeas 01/14
These should be pruned in the Spring, once buds are forming. If you prune them any earlier, new growth develops too soon and will just die back.

Imperial Fritillary 04/14
They look like Toyah Wilcox and smell like a cross between fox and tomcat, but I love them. Sadly, so do the Lily beetles, so watch out. These are the only plant in Britain to be pollinated by birds. Blue tits love to stick their heads into the flowers to sip the nectar, so let’s hope for warm days to make the flowers good and big. Don’t pull up blind stems. They take a few years to flower. Also, I wait until the whole stem is dry before removing, rather than cutting them back.

Irises 07/12
Even in a rubbishy summer like this, our irises have bloomed and will soon be over. Making them ready for next year right away was a lesson my mother-in-law taught me early.

Every year you need to cut back the leaves to about six inches, enough plant for them to be able to get the nutrient they need, but not so tall that the wind will rock them about.

Every three or four years you need to lift and separate, to get the best results next time. Dig up the clumps, cut the straggly bits off the roots, trim the rhizomes as though whittling them, and rest them back on the surface, in no more than a shallow groove, if at all. Do not dig them in. The rhizomes are not roots. You can tell which is the growing end and so point them in the direction you wish. They do not mind bad soil, but they do like sunlight and water.

Ivy (thanks to Mary Foxwood) 08/12
There has been much talk of a wave of new diseases coming from abroad to destroy our native tree population, and how little there is to be done about this. Meanwhile, the biggest, most curable tree problem of our time is all around us, and for the most part, we do nothing about it: Ivy. Ivy is not a parasite, but clambers up almost anything which grows, competing for water and light, weakening and mis-shaping as it goes. Top heavy trees, burdened with this evergreen stuff, collapse in the face of winter winds.

There are ivy control groups in many countries, but not yet here.

If you want to control ivy, the best thing to do is to pull as much as you can, and cut the rest. Paint both cut ends with either Max. strength Round-Up, or other Glyphosate, or Garlon or equivalent (if you can still get it). The active ingredient is Triclopyr.

Do this over the autumn when you are least likely to disturb nesting birds, but still to have some effect.

Lawnfeeding 4/12
In dry conditions like these, it is better to use an autumn than a spring feed. This is because autumn feeds promote root growth, and at the moment, what you want your grassroots to do is to grow downwards, looking for moisture.

Leaching 11/12
With all the rain, there is a risk of nutrient leaching, especially from raised veg beds and muck heaps. It makes sense to cover these over the winter with plastic or tarpaulin, to keep the goodness in until next Spring and this applies particularly to raised beds into which manure has already been dug, to lighten the soil.

Leaves and leafmould 11/12

Leaves only rot down very slowly, so you should not add them to grass piles or manure, or everything will get out of step. If you want to make leaf mould, collect wet leaves and put in a plastic bag. Tie the bag up and stab it with your rake a few times. Put the leaves in a dark corner – you will need to leave them for a couple of years. Leaves do, of course, provide valuable habitats, including for wandering newts, but if you leave them covering the grass all winter, what is underneath will be damaged.

..addition 12/13

There are an awful lot of leaves around still, and plenty to rake up and use on the beds. Hornbeam, oak, hawthorn beech and field maple make the best leaf mould and will do so within a year. Sycamore chestnut and walnut are slower. Everything breaks down more quickly if it is shredded with the mower first, which is a less back breaking way of collecting anyway. Our horse manure is ready after six months, so we keep manure and leaves apart.


This (2013) has been a bad year for leeks, unless you have been growing them from seed. Young plants were hard, if not impossible, to come by. This is apparently due to an invasion of the tiny allium leaf miner, which has devastated crops. It is invisible to the naked eye.The whole of the allium family, onions, shallots, chives garlic and ornamental alliums themselves suffer, but leeks suffer the worst.

04/14: Avid followers will recall a letter from Derek Howe, asking if he should trim leek roots. It appears from research in Belgium that there is no evidence that this gives a larger head to what remains.

Lemon Trees 04/14

Our sorry specimen does not like being indoors in the winter, or outdoors in the summer. It is not very pretty, and we have never seen a flower to judge whether it is sweet or not, let alone a fruit, impossible to eat. Still, we persevere and can now feed it nitrogen once a week. We will prune in mid-April. Lemon trees can get sticky with scale insect. Treat the leaves like the washing up: warm water and Fairy liquid.


There are many more varieties of lettuce available to the grower than can be found in the supermarket. We grew loose-leaf, that is, salad bowl lettuces, all last year. These are the varieties which don't form a heart, so you don't have to wait for them to do so, and they don't have a season. You can pick them leaf by leaf, and mix the colours, or cut them right down and they will come again. Very rewarding.

If heart-forming lettuces get too dry, the outer leaves will rot. Slugs don't seem to think much of red-leaved lettuce.

Lily beetles

With fritillaries starting to poke through the topsoil, thoughts turn to the lily beetle, the little orange nasty which plagues these as much as it does the lilies themselves.


The eggs are laid in a brown sludge on the underside of leaves, and when you find these, you must pull off the leaves and destroy them. The beetles themselves are best hunted in the early morning. They don't seem keen to fly away, and I always cup and hand underneath the leaf they are on before trying to pinch them between thumb and forefinger as they often fall to the ground before I get them.


This is an unending chore, which often needs doing twice a day.

Lupins 08/15


We “debate” whether or not to cut off the main flowers, once they have started going over, to encourage the smaller ones to grow larger. In my experience, dead-heading hollow-stemmed plants just leads to the plant dying back sooner than it might, and the smaller side-flowers do not get any bigger. They were always destined to be small. The cut-back plants are also more distressed and thus prone to mildew.

If you really find the dead heads unsightly, cut off the whole stem at the base.

Manure 4/12

If you have any spare manure, now is a good time to spread it. The roses will still welcome a mulch anyway, but otherwise, just leave it on top of the beds and it will help keep the soil moist and cool.


Marigolds planted around or near tomato plants, either in the open or in the greenhouse, really do keep greenfly away.

Moles 3/12

Everyone has their own theory about moles. Hiring a professional molecatcher worked for us when first we came to the village. Last year someone told me that moles regard our gardens as playgrounds (too much Duncton Wood?) and always come and go the same way, so, if we could identify and set a trap in the "gateway", we stood the greatest chance of solving the problem. We were lucky. This worked first time, and we have been mole free ever since.

Mildew 7/12

The acanthus buds are starting to show. This has previously meant that mildew will not be far behind, so be ready spray with fungicide soon, and keep an eye out on the roses as well. 

Mildew tends to follow hot dry, rather than wet weather, so we may be lucky, but at the first sign, pull off all the affected leaves and get rid of them.

Mint 2/13

If your mint has been in the same pot for a couple of years the roots are running out of space and the plant is becoming potbound. Pull it out, split in two and repot.

Moss 3/12

Has there ever seemed so much? Specific mosskiller can be used now, but hold back triple action until the end of the month.

Moss 3/13

Over this wet, and initially mildwinter, moss has outfought our autumnal attempts to control it. Parts of the lawn are a thick spongy bed with more moss than grass. Hilliers suggest that you get hold of some ferrous sulphate (sulphate of iron), the active ingredient in most mosskillers, and apply 5 litres containing 30gms to each square metre of affected lawn. Rake out the dead after a week or so and then apply a lawnsand containing mosskiller, weedkiller and lawn fertiliser.

Tip! You can’t buy ferrous sulphate easily as a mosskiller (it’s not as profitable as mixtures, I suppose) but Sulphate of Iron plant food tonic for ericaceous plants is exactly the same thing, and you can buy this at Hilltop.


If you want to protect anything with netting, remember to put empty plastic bottles on the end of the supporting canes

Nettle Feed 1/14

If you made nettle feed during the year, check you’ve taken the nettles out. When the time comes to use this as plant food is the Spring, on pelargoniums or lavender, don’t forget to make it really dilute. After early feeding, switch to seaweed.

Nasturtiums 4/12

Relatively happy in drought conditions, and make a cheerful addition to salads too

Getting onions started 3/12

Birds can play havoc with onions as they first poke through the surface. They think they are worms. So, start your onions in plastic cups in the greenhouse or indoors. Once the shoots are upright and showing green, you can plant them out and the birds will leave them alone.

Onions 4/12


Recent experience shows that whatever is going for the little onion sets doesn't really like red onions. If you're having trouble, don't give up as its not too late to plant. You might do better with these than with white, and they're nicer in salads and quiches too.


Onions (storage) 10/12

If, like me, you have no idea how to plait onion stalks, here's a handy alternative: find an old pair of tights (pantyhose for our overseas readers) or stockings. Drop onions down each leg, tying a knot after each onion so it gets its own compartment.. Hang wherever dry and convenient. When you want an onion, simply cut into the relevant compartment and remove!

Peas 3/12

Peas will rot if planted into ground which is too wet or too cold. If they are soaked in very dilute Jeyes Fluid before planting, this will keep the mice away. Hazel make the best supports; you can weave bamboo through chicken wire, but once the plants grow and hide the wire, you are bound to stab yourself. Especially if you are growing in raised beds, remember not to buy too tall a variety.

Pelargoniums 4/14

Take cuttings now and you’ll have flowers in August. Cut the plants back by two-thirds to a lateral or potential bud-forming lateral. Select the best stem tips, trim to four inches or so and remove all but the top pair of leaves. Plant an inch deep and keep the compost moist.

Peonies 6/12

It seems to be one of the Rules of Life that the moment peonies flower, we get intense downpours, which break the stems or rot the buds, or both. This year, the grey cool weather in April has made many flower stems longer and thinner than is ideal. Most of us have fewer plant supports and frames than we need at this time of year, but if you value your peonies, find a way to support their buds soon!

Planting under glass 3/12

Plant leeks, sprouts, peppers, tomatoes and aubergines under glass now or just go and buy plants from the Garden Centre over next month.

Planting out 7/12

The cosmos and cleomes are now in the ground. We have left the cosmos in the greenhouse at least an extra week, and pinched out the heads to bush them out. With a bit of luck, they'll survive the muntjac.

Slugs and snails can strip a young cleome overnight, so again we've let these get bigger than usual, and overplanted, hoping to be left with a good show. These pests like to come out at night, so go on patrol before bedtime and pick them off. Chuck them on the drive (they don't like gravel, where the thrushes can spot them more easily.

Poinsettia survival guide 3/13


Like amaryllis, you can keep poinsettia going from year to year and save yourself quite a few bob. Keep the plant warm and well watered and cut the stwem down to about four inches in height after the leaves have fallen off. Put it in a mild shady spot and keep it dry till May, then re-pot it and keep it as warm and humid as you can. At the end of September begin to keep it in total darkness for fourteen hours a day, basically as long as you are up, for eight weeks. Then bring into the light

Potatoes 5/12

If you haven't got the second early's or main crops in the ground, it's time to get on with it!

Pruning 3/12

March can be a foul month, so despite the weather it's too early to prune, except for the late autumn and winter flowering shrubs you haven't finished yet. However, this is a good time to prune hydrangeas: remove the dried out flowers from last season, unless the wind has done it for you and cut each healthy shoot down to the lowest pair of green buds. This sounds tough, but it promotes vigour and show later in the season. If you are going to give your roses another going over, this is the time to do it, and to give them some manure by way of encouragement.

Pruning shrubs in January 1/14

Philadelphus and sambucus can get a bit out of hand over time, especially if they have been being attacked by pigeons and so you have taken pity on them and left them alone. This is a good time to cut them down to size. Remove any dead, deranged or diseased shoots altogether, to ground level if necessary. Remember, the ancient brits treated elder brutally, safe in the knowledge that it would come back, year after year.


Cut back all the old shoots by about half, cutting cleanly to outward facing buds where possible (as with all pruning, really). To compensate for the shock, mulch generously around the base and watch carefully during the year. You may lose a season’s flowers ( and with this loss, discourage the pigeons), but in the end it will be worth it.

Pruning 7/12

The pigeons have made the branches of our Philadelphus look like stick insects, they have stripped them so vigorously. Nevertheless, this is the time for pruning spring-flowering shrubs such as these, and rubus, to maximise the flowering next year. Prune mature (and ones you should have done last year, but didn't) shrubs hard; cut back the weaker growth on younger shrubs. Otherwise, you are pruning for shape.

Red thread 9/12


If you have small patches of unexplained dead-looking grass in the lawn, check to see if it contains what look like red stalks. If so, this is probably red thread, a fungus which appears in particularly wet conditions, especially where there is a shortage of nitrogen. It may self-resolve over time, but better to make sure you have a regular programme of fertilising.

Runner beans

We always dig deep and fill the bottom of the trench with organic matter because runners like so much water. and we water from a can every day, sometimes twice, and harvest when the beans are no more than six inches long. The books often say 12inches, but this makes for a stringy harvest.

Sedum 08/15

Sedum grows very happily in Ramsden, but has an irritating habit of flopping down and out over the grass at the edge of the lawn, killing what lies beneath. There are two ways of stopping this.

The first is the Chelsea chop and is appropriate where space is limited: use shears to give a light pruning in May, making the plant go back to square one. With a shorter growing season, the new shoots will not get as long.

If space is less of a problem, but you want to keep the plant upright, peg some chicken- or other small-holed wire a couple of inches above the young plant, so it is less likely to fall over, and if it does, will bend higher up.

Seedlings 4/12

In hot Spring weather, if you have a greenhouse, remember to leave the door open in the daytime or germinating seedlings may overheat. Frosts are common for the first few nights of April. After that you can plant out sweet pea seedlings and herb and salad plants.

Shaping small trees and shrubs

I recently came across a number of small trees, from the branches of which smooth stones, the size of baked potatoes, were hanging on bits of string. Ribbon was tied round the stones, and the string was attached to these. When I asked why, the answer came: “because the branches are too upright”! Well, I never thought of that.


Most attempts to control the dietary habits of slugs centre on trying to kill them: beer, salt, halves of citrus fruit, as well as copper, iron phosphate and nematodes. Total destruction of the entire population seems unlikely, so here is a repellent recipe:

Crush 2 whole bulbs of garlic and cover with 2 pints of boiling water. Boil rapidly for 4 - 5 minutes and then allow to cool. Strain, top up with 2 pints of water and bottle and leave for a couple of weeks.

Add 1 tablespoon of garlic wash to 1 gallon of water and water/spray over plants once a week.

More slugs 10/12

The two types of giant slug now rejoicing in our damp gardens both devour achillea, pinks and sage, which do not tempt their smaller cousins, so beware.

The following plants, however, seem of little interest to slugs or snails of any size or variety:

Geranium Johnson's Blue
Lamb's lugs
Libertia (New Zealand Iris)
Ornamental grasses

Snails and Lambswool 7/12

My Welsh friends tell me that neither snails nor slugs will cross lambswool. So, they make little rings of the stuff round the bottom of pots, and put strips between pots and any walls against which they may be leaning.

Snowdrops 4/12


While single flowered snowdrops spread by seed and offset (bulblet), the double flowered ones only spread by offset, with a much slower are less widespread result. You can lift and divide the clumps, replanting with bonemeal and feeding with seaweed, but you may do more harm than good and end up with fewer than you started with.

Sowing 5/12

The ground is warm enough for you to plant beetroot, carrot, salad leaves and chard outside now, but courgettes, cucumbers and squash should be started indoors, in small pots. Indeed, these should not go outside until the beginning of June. Remember to put the big oval seeds in vertically, as they are more likely to rot if laid flat. They should germinate in 10 days to two weeks and can then be put outside in the daytime.

Squirrel deterrents 11/12

There seem to be a lot of squirrels around this year. If you intend to plant bulbs and want to protect them, then after planting, put chicken wire just below the soil surface.

Sweet peas 5/12 & 10/13 & 4/14

Sweet peas are really rewarding, they go on and on. You can start their season early by planting seeds in two lots, now (October) and April. The seeds need a long root run, and loo roll tubes seem ideal, as they can later be planted out in these, which biodegrade. Fill the tubes with damp seed compost in the bottom and dry sat the top, with the seeds planted and inch deep and covered in wet newspaper, so they do not need watering, which could disturb them.

Plant out the little plants from April/ May and tie them gently to their frames or canes to get them pointing in the right direction. Remember to pinch out side shoots or they get too bushy and get muddled up and fall over.

Dig a good deep hole and put horse manure in the bottom, back filling with soil. If you make your own sweet pea frames, it is a good idea to stick in one circle of sticks, then plant the seedlings and then stick in another ring around the seedlings. This combines relative ease of weeding with limiting access to pigeons.

Tomatoes 3/13

It is tomato seed sowing in the next fortnight, so make your decisions and get your seeds soon. Tomatoes always look more interesting if there is more than one variety in the bowl or on the plate; consider also staggering your planting, as you don’t want them all to ripen at once, especially if you’re going to be on holiday.

For those who prefer to grow from plants, a good range will be available at Worton from early May. Some people thing the “greenest” way to control aphids is to spray with soapy water or washing up liquid solution, but others think this harms the taste, and possibly the taster.


Tree Felling

Anyone proposing to cut down or carry out works to a tree in the Ramsden Conservation Area is required to give the Local Planning Authority (LPA) six weeks prior notice. It is an offence not to do so.

This gives the LPA an opportunity to consider the works you intend to carry out in relation to the contribution the tree makes to the Conservation Area and if it is considered necessary, whether a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) should be made in respect of the tree.

This does not apply to:

Work on a tree with a diameter not exceeding 75mm (or 100mm if cutting down trees to improve the growth of other trees i.e. thinning operations). The diameter as measured at 1.5m above ground level. In case of multi-stemmed trees, the exemption only applies if the diameters of all the stems are less than 75mm or 100mm, as the case may be
Cutting down trees in accordance with a felling licence granted by the Forestry Commission
Garden hedges (unless there are specific planning conditions relating to your property)
Garden shrubs

Giving Notice. Notice must be given in writing and must describe the work proposed and include sufficient particulars to identify the tree(s). It may be useful to use the 'Notice of Intention Application Form' available on the WODC website. This will ensure that you provide the correct information necessary to enable your notice to be dealt with as quickly as possible. There is no charge

Tree planting 4/12

We are right at the end of the tree-planting season even without the drought. Don't attempt to plant anything bare rooted now. Wait till autumn. If you have the urge, although containered trees tend not to do so well in the long term, you can still plant these. Remember how big the tree (and its roots) will get before you start to dig. Make the hole twice as deep and three times as wide as the container. Feed the plant and water the hole in advance, tease out the roots and give lots of compost. It is hard to give too much tlc at this stage. Stake some chicken wire around the tree, to keep the muntjac at a distance!


Tulips 11/12


This is the right time to plant tulip bulbs. If your soil is heavy, give them a little sand or leaf mould for company. If you are going to dig the bulbs up again, you need plant them no more than 2-3 inches down. Six to eight inches if they are to be a permanent feature.

Verbena Baroniensis 9/12


The clusters of small purple flowers on top of thin fluted woody stems look great at the back of a border, particularly against a wall. In its favour, this verbena is a good self-seeder. Working against it is that it is late to show and so can easily be weeded in error, early in the season unless you have established clumps.

Washing up liquid 5/12

It is apparently illegal to use diluted washing up liquid to spray for green and whitefly, although in my experience it works. It needs to be very dilute, though, or you may kill both plant and pest, so many "experts" recommend you stick to commercial pest killers containing fatty acids.


If your gardening is now being interrupted by the need to swish wildly around you to drive wasps away, here are a couple of ideas. The less brutal is to cut the neck off a plastic bottle, dip the mouth of the bottle in something sweet and invert it back into the bottle's body. Put some liquid, water will do, in the bottom of the bottle. The wasps will crawl in and drown.

If you are feeling more vengeful, mix a bit of Neosorexa or other rodent poison with some jam and drop this into the bottom of a wine bottle. You need a narrow necked bottle so that only small things can get into it, not birds.Suspend the bottle from a beam somewhere outside, where pets can't reach it. The wasps will come and eat the jam and with a bit of luck, carry the poison back to their nests.

Waterlogging 1/14

“Global warming” promises have encouraged us to bring a more Mediterranean approach to our planting in recent years. Mediterranean plants can generally tolerate cold better than you might expect, but they don’t like perpetually wet feet. To help them, it is important to dig as much organic matter (basically, anything which is, or has been alive) into your garden as you can. This will help with both macro and micronutrients and make plants healthier, meaning that they in turn take up more water. We make matters worse for our plants by covering everything with tarmac and slabs, off which water runs, adding to our problems.

Weeds 5/12

Hoeing is a really bad idea for weeds unless it is very hot and dry and there is no immediate prospect of rain. Ease with a handfork and remove the flowering weeds with the other hand.

Chickweed and Hairy Bittercress love Ramsden. Round Up these while they are growing, but pull them as well! They are really persistent. Put them in the green waste to make sure all the seeds go off with the bin men.




Hairy Bittercress

Unfortunately, many garden birds love the seeds, so you pays your money and takes your choice.

Weed Composting 10/12

There is willow herb and fat hen going to seed all over the garden now, so get it out quick! If you are nervous about composting weeds, dunk them in water for a while first, to get the rotting process started.

Wood-burning Stoves 04/14

If you are planting onion sets or leeks, ash from the wood burning stove will do them good, but do not put coal ash on anything in the garden. It is probably full of sulphur and heavy metals.