Photograph: Katharine Davies

Photograph: Katharine Davies


Mike Burks, Managing Director, The Gardens Group     

When January rolls round, it can feel a bit like there isn’t much gardening to be done, and although this might be true, it’s the perfect time for making plans and resolutions - for the garden at least. So here are mine, or more precisely, here are the proposals that I’ll be taking forward to the next meeting with the stakeholders of the garden I share!

Firstly, although I’ve really enjoyed how the wildflower lawn has developed over the past few years, I feel that I’d now like to accelerate its progress. To do this I plan to sow seeds in the next few weeks, and once germination has taken place, I’ll prick the seedlings out into cell trays to grow them on as plug plants. They’ll be ready in early spring and I’ll plant them in clusters through the lawn, that way I can note how successfully or otherwise they begin to spread through the whole lawn. On my seed list are Wild Pansy, Fox and Cubs, Foxgloves and Oxeye Daisies.

I’ve recently been speaking to garden clubs about companion planting. This is a technique where different plants are grown together because one benefits the other or sometimes they provide each other with a mutual benefit, an example would be the use of Tagetes or Marigolds among tomato plants to ward off attack from whitely.

Included in the talk are not so friendly neighbours known as allelopaths, which will actively attack their neighbours, these include some really tough weeds, such as Couch Grass, which exudes its own hormone weed killer from its roots. Some allelopaths can be useful and these include Pot Marigold or Calendula, which will battle against Mares Tail – a particularly pernicious weed. I’ve evidence that it works well in this regard, but I’ve also read that Calendula can be used to control Ground Elder. As I have no reliable evidence of this, I’m going to trial it this summer and I’ll let you know the results.

Although our garden is an oasis away from the bustle of the garden centre and our daily grind, it’s got to a stage where a bit of hard pruning is required on some Dogwoods, Buddleia and a trellis fence clothed in Honeysuckle, Rambling Roses and a Vine. This sort of work should have been carried out in stages, however I’ve now left it too long and so drastic action is required. Luckily the work required already has been approved and should soon go ahead, and because my suggestions in the December article must have been listened to, I am the proud owner of a brand new Felco Pruning Saw! Armed with this and the support of Elliott Cuff, a former member of our team at Castle Gardens who now runs his own gardening business, results will soon be seen.

One of the down sides of such pruning is that there will be a huge amount of root left in the soil, which will try to replace the growth we’ve taken away, so to combat this raid regrowth, some gentle summer pruning may also be required.

I also plan on extending the range of vegetables grown in pots as I really enjoyed growing round carrots, Cape Gooseberry and a “cut and come again” salad mixture while taking part in various projects with schools last year. This year, I’m going expand the range of salad leaves and will position them so that it’s really easy to pop into the garden and snip off a handful at lunchtime – you can’t get fresher than that!

Finally, last autumn I discovered an incredible crop of gourds growing in the garden centre compost heap which were by complete accident. It must have been thrown out at the end of the spring but obviously thrived as it grew more than 290 beautiful fruit. These are edible; however I prefer them as ornamentals. The compost heap is obviously a great spot for them but it’s also a fairly risky place too, so I’ll have to make everyone aware not to cover over the plants with debris through the summer. It is likely that with me paying attention to the correctly planted specimen that it won’t perform anywhere nearly as well as its pioneering predecessor, but that’s the fun of gardening for you.