my best Advice about what I find the most practical of gardening methods

Plant supports and training

At this time of year our soft fruits are swelling to their ripe fullness, the top fruits are starting the same process and soon the toms and melons will do likewise. All the weight of these crops can be a considerable strain on their parent plants and on their supports. An item that often gets overlooked in the rush of summer, make sure all is well before the crops reach maximum weight. Indeed it is well worth checking then you can be sure you have no case where the tree is supporting the post instead of as it should be.

Structures and siting

Rudyard Kipling's poem The Glory of the Garden reflected on "the potting sheds and planks, the dung pits and the tanks that are the heart of all". In gardening books from his time the recommendation was to chose the site for your garden carefully. On the right soil, slope and aspect. Fat chance now; we take what we can get! More modern books have at least dropped such pointless platitudes. And although some suggest readers put various main components of the garden in the best places few go further.

Cheap but not nasty; deep straw mulches save me work

I live in what is reputedly the driest village in Great Britain. East Anglia supposedly gets 24 inches of rain a year, mostly falling during winter and Bank holidays, in my garden I've measured a scanty 16-20 inches most years. Although I make every effort to save and store my rain and have a shallow ground-water well I never have enough water. Irrigating my greenhouse and polytunnel crops and watering plants in containers obviously takes priority, so a recurring problem has been summer water shortages which have restricted the yields of open ground crops.

More successful sowing

This month is when we begin sowing most crops in the open garden. So although we have been doing so for years it may pay to consider what we need to do to ensure success, and what we ought to have learned to avoid. Certainly I have had reports from many of poorer emergence, especially of root vegetables, in recent springs; perhaps the weather, or our own errors are to blame.

Self saved seeds

Saving our own seed for sowing over the following years is probably done by most of us for economy, convenience or security. I guess most of us save seed for the latter, for security; of favourite varieties, in case we may not be able to replace them otherwise. If you have heirloom, expensive or rare varieties then saving seed is a real necessity. It is obviously little effort to save back a portion of seeds of those crops grown for their seeds, such as peas, especially if these are large heavy seeds expensive to buy.

Pruning simplified

One of the things that may discourage gardeners from growing some sorts of fruit is the apparently elaborate pruning methods that seem to be involved. Whole books are devoted to this esoteric art and offer many different methods, especially for grapes and pears which seem to have attracted more different and diverse pruning regimes than all other fruits put together. In these complex instructions, that pruning, which is the truly necessary minimum, has become overtly complicated - mostly because of the desire to train fruit trees into constricted forms.

Pollination concerns

Almost every fruit we grow needs pollinating and in many cases if we want the best crops we cannot rely on nature to do the job for us. Unfortunately vicissitudes of the weather makes outdoor pollination hit and miss some years and the recent scarcity of honey bees has made things worse. Under cover the conditions may be better but in there there are few natural pollinating agents and effectively no wind.

In pot or border?

When I first started gardening I rarely had much of a garden, or one for very long. I grew many different plants in pots, mainly because I was moving frequently and wanted to keep them with me. I grew a great many herbs, quite a few vegetables and some odd house plants. (I've always sown seeds of strange fruits to see what I can grow). When I went travelling abroad they needed watering but at least they were portable so could stay with friends for the duration.


Other than water I find mulches to be my greatest aid to getting more crops for less work. Using a mulch helps me with weed control, water retention and even pest control. However different mulches are less useful in some circumstances and are a substantial cost if large areas are involved. Thus it helps to appreciate the different mulches available to us and the best way to use each in practice.


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