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28/01/2008 17:51 - Fond Farewell

The time has come for us to write our final blog. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable year blogging for the BBC and interacting with its readers and fellow bloggers. To be honest, before we started a year ago we weren't quite sure what blogging was, but are now as hip and with it as the next person. Things have been going a pace since our staff returned from their Christmas break and although we promised ourselves a few days off on their return these promises somehow seem to fade away into a distant memory, particularly once the seed packets start arriving. We now have the majority of our vegetable seeds through and sowing has started, although ground preparation has been put on hold until we can at least get onto the ground without sinking up to our waists in wet and boggy clay! One job that has been possible is the filling of the hot box in readiness for the first planting of new potatoes. It has become a tradition at Barnsdale that we harvest our first crop of new potatoes on Easter Sunday. To be honest we could have picked a date that didn't keep changing each year, affecting our crop terribly. Still these television presenters had some strange ideas! We have visited our local stable and relieved them of three lots of fresh horse manure, which has been put into our hot box - approximately 210cm long x 90cm wide and 120cm high. This manure has been capped with about 13cm of our own garden compost and a purpose-built cloche placed over the top. At the end of next week we will plant about 12 tubers of 'Swift' just below the compost surface and top up the compost as the plants grow. We will be harvesting these on Easter Sunday, come what may, in the knowledge that this year, due to a very early Easter, we will be eating potatoes the size of marbles. Mind you, last year when Easter was the third week of April our potatoes could have been substituted for the balls at the Rugby World Cup they were that big! The rest of our potatoes have been put out under the greenhouse benching to 'chit', although they won't be planted for a while yet. It is nice to see a bit of sun, although it should be accompanied by cold, crisp mornings at this time of year not temperatures into double figures. Still, whatever the weather we will still be out there gardening, just like the rest of you and most importantly of all enjoying it, come what may! Thanks for taking the time to read our ramblings and if we do not see you at Barnsdale this year maybe our paths will cross at one of the many flower shows.

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15/01/2008 18:04 - Spirits lifted

Apparently everyone is supposed to be feeling down in the dumps at the moment with the post Christmas blues. Well I can safely say that spirits at Barnsdale are definitely on the up - our first daffodil is officially in flower! There is one clump, funnily enough just behind the Winter Border, that flowers each and every January about three weeks before any of the others are out. It is never a spectacular display, as you can see, but in that dark bit under the tree it does show up well. With the Barnsdale daffodils now starting to bloom (well one) and the snowdrops around my father's bronze bust also coming into flower, combined with the lengthening days we are firmly looking forward to spring - fantastic! However, having said that, in between the showers today I have been walking around in only a shirt and sweatshirt because it has been so mild and not really January weather. I've got a talk to do tomorrow evening (4th one of the year so far) to a gardening group just outside Lincoln and I think I might be brave and announce that spring is only just around the corner. Well at worst it can only be two months, eight weeks or 56 days away, depending on which way you look at it and that's close enough for me!

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07/01/2008 17:24 - Out in sympathy

I have just been reading, with great sadness, the events that happened to one of Cleve's fellow allotment holders. I must say that it never ceases to amaze why a small amount of people think that they have the right to destroy years of somebody's hard work for short term, usually monetary, gain. The effect of their actions, as in this case are usually more profound than they realise, or care, but we must stand firm. However, the reason I have mentioned the poultry theft is because we also suffered the loss of our rooster - he's the one on the left in the picture. It was not perpetuated by some villainous person but a natural passing on to the great roost in the sky. A couple of weeks prior to Christmas Frank the rooster (yes we know it's a silly name for a chicken, but we liked it, OK) was not his chirpy self and even when surrounded by his five hens was a bit lethargic and not really bothered. Then on Christmas morning when I went out into the allotment area to let the chickens out there he was in the nesting box completely gone. He was a rescue bird, as all our chickens are, and had a good, free range life. The odd thing is that we had hell and all problems getting our hens to lay when Frank was alive, but since he died eggs have been appearing at a rate unheard of before! Isn't life strange.

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03/01/2008 18:41 - What happened to the snow?

On behalf of Nick and myself I would firstly like to wish you all a happy new year and hope Christmas went as planned. Today marked the return of our staff back to Barnsdale after their well deserved 10 day break. Saying that the gardens, nursery and coffee shop only closed on Christmas eve and Christmas day with Nick manning the nursery whilst I looked after the garden entrance and coffee shop. It was nice to have a good turnout over the festive period with one and all not only enjoying all the delights of Barnsdale in winter, but also my expertly prepared and delicious food and drink. My only downside was the lack of a white Christmas. The garden looks stunning and so different when it snows, as it did last year just after Christmas. Still my hopes were raised a couple of days ago with the announcement of snow for all today. Well where is it! I've been waiting all day and have only seen an apathetic handful of the minutest snow flakes you have ever seen in your life. Instead of the real thing I am now having to satisfy myself with looking at the photos from last year. We actually spent a lot of time over the Christmas period, in between visitors, planning the year. It's definitely going to be busy as Nick already has over 30 talks booked in and I will be exhibiting at about 10 flower shows this year, including Chelsea, The Gardeners' World Live Exhibition, Hampton Court, Tatton Park and both the Harrogate flower shows. On top of all the work planned in the gardens and nursery this year it looks like we'll be busy! Who wants to sit back and put their feet up anyway when there's work in the garden to be done?

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19/12/2007 20:51 - Better view

Whilst looking out across the nursery, through the shop window at Jon, our Head Gardener pruning back our cherry laurel hedge I was struck with a great idea. I have always said to Nick that it is a pity the laurel hedge ran through the centre of the nursery sales area as it obscured the view of half the sales area. Before you all start wondering why we planted an evergreen barrier through the centre of our sales area, it wasn't always this way. The hedge was planted as a physical barrier that separated the nursery visitors from the growing area where they were not allowed. Then I decided that the sales area was just not showing off our wide range of plants to their best capabilities and we needed a larger area so that we could space out the plants, showing them off in all their glory. The old walled garden that is part of the Exton Estate came up for rent and we jumped at the chance giving us most of our old growing area to expand the sales area into. The hedge actually separated out the 'plants for sun' from the 'plants for any position', so it served its purpose. The problem over the years has been that quite a few visitors did not realise that there were also plants for sale on the other side of the hedge through the rather large gap! So now to my idea - cut the hedge down by half. This would still leave a backdrop for the border planted in front of the hedge and give a clear view through to the plants on the other side. Jon put down his secateurs and fetched the chainsaw! Ably assisted by Oliver, Jon set about the hedge with what seemed to be somewhat over enthusiasm. I've told him, if he decides to go into hair dressing then don't expect me to sit for him - it all was a bit drastic and somewhat of a shock to see the hedge so low and the bare stems now visible at the top. Still as with any bad hair cut it won't be long before it grows at the top and all that disaster in the middle will be hidden from view and each autumn it can be trimmed again with a pair of secateurs to keep it low and compact. I must admit that, even though it was mine, it turned out to be a pretty good idea.

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10/12/2007 21:10 - Christmas comes early

It never ceases to amaze me what people will come up with next in order to sell gardening products. Who would ever think that we would be wheeling a pink wheelbarrow around the gardens here at Barnsdale. I have to admit that it was a gift to the gardens and not actually bought by myself or Sue. Well what can you do when somebody gives you something, except to accept it graciously and look really pleased to accept it. To be fair, it did arrive with other garden tools and equipment, which I was genuinely really pleased to accept. The funny thing was that the second the van door opened and this wheelbarrow came into view, Betty, one of our longest serving gardeners, leapt upon it like a gazelle prancing across the African plain and grasped it firmly with both hands declaring that this was her barrow! The look she gave the rest of the gardeners who would dare to challenge that assumption told you instantly that this was definitely to be Betty's barrow. I really couldn't see why she was so keen, but since it arrived 3 weeks ago we have had so many visitors asking 'where had it come from' and 'was it available to the general public?' I must be getting old! Still, I must say that I am getting the last laugh as there is now nowhere in the garden from which this barrow is not visible so we now always know where Betty is!

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28/11/2007 18:31 - All dug in

Under pain of death I find myself having to show the proof of our staff's hard work. The above picture is of the same spot a day later, although this was not the only area to be forked and dug over. Susie was ably assisted by two of our volunteers, Roy and David, in the speedy turning over of the soil before the rain came - forecast for today and tomorrow but certainly not making an appearance in Rutland by the time it was too dark to dig. This area will now have a couple of rows of Broad Bean 'Aquadulce Claudia' directly sown into it, which will be covered with cloches for a bit of winter protection. I have also been asked to say that this little strip is not the only bit that will be dug this week as the same operation is forecast for tomorrow and Friday. I don't know, the things you have to do to keep your staff happy!!!!!

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27/11/2007 12:02 - Mucking about

I really can't believe that, after all that rain we had earlier in the year, it has now turned so dry. Still, mustn't complain as we are working furiously to make the most of it. With the heavy and poorly drained soil we have here at Barnsdale it is usually impossible to carry out much border work in the two months running up to Christmas and nigh on impossible to get any digging carried out on the vegetable areas. But this dry weather has meant that all the garden staff are literally working themselves into the ground trying to get as much done before the rains reappear. We are in a very fortunate position, in that my brother is a dairy farmer which means that we have a never ending supply of free cow manure. Nick likes to tell people that apart from my beauty and natural persona it was what tipped the scales and prompted him to ask me to marry him! At the moment we are just putting a thin layer of manure on what will be the pea and bean area next year, before just lightly forking it in. I think Susie, our vegetable area supervisor, is gradually working herself up to the double digging. On the nursery, apart from the seemingly never ending job of clearing fallen beech leaves from on and in between the pots for sale, we have been digging up and dividing perennials from both our lining out area and from the gardens themselves. This should give us a really good head-start and mean that the pressure is off in the spring and we won't have to worry so much about whether we will get them all done before they have grown too much to dig up. It's a bit of a poisoned chalice this dry weather, because although we are able to get on with jobs usually left until spring we are having to water in the nursery, with all the water used passing through a dreaded meter! Anyway, I can't sit here in front of the computer for too long as I have work to do!

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19/11/2007 17:41 - Magnificent Malus

Before I start this blog I have to congratulate the team on the success of winning 'Electronic Media Award 2007' at the Garden Writer's Guild Awards, held in London, on Thursday of last week. I was actually there and enjoyed the food, wine and, of course, the awards. The award was well deserved. Then on Friday I had a meeting with my publisher and their team, also in London and although I had a lovely day, including a very nice lunch at a swanky restaurant in Piccadilly (sometimes life can be so hard!), it was nice to be home in sunny Rutland by Friday evening. Mind you the sunny bit didn't last for long because Sunday was as miserable as they come, with constant rain right through the day. However, the sting in the tail was that, at last, winter has finally struck. With, not so sunny, Rutland having a reasonable amount of snow for the time of year. Sue alerted me to it starting to fall at about 5pm on Sunday night, although it had almost all gone by 10pm, but it was snow all the same! Today was not a lot better, although I was grateful for a distinct lack of rain this morning. I was walking and talking around the gardens for the 'Colour in a Winter Garden' session that we had booked in for this very morning. I must say that I was not looking forward to it much as the forecast for today was one of fairly constant heavy rain, which is not the best walking and talking weather. However, throughout this morning and for the past few days one tree has outshone everything in the garden and will continue to shine brightly for several weeks yet, and well into the new year. That tree is Malus 'Evereste'. The specimens we have in the garden are grafted onto a fairly dwarfing rootstock, so they only reach about 4m (12ft) in height. The orange-yellow fruits have been glowing, even on the dullest of days and when the weather is suitable the blackbirds are on the branches pinching the fruit. I love to see birds in the garden and the fantastic thing about this tree is that there are more than enough fruits to go round. In the spring the whole tree is a mass of flowers, so much that you can hardly see the branches. So when it gets to this time of year and those flowers have become fruits it is easy to see how there is enough to satisfy all and sundry. Given the choice of only one tree in my garden Malus 'Evereste' would be on the very shortest of short lists.

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01/11/2007 17:51 - Barnsdale's Eden

Earlier on this year we advertised for somebody to work a couple of days a week in order to carry out all those odd jobs that never seem to get done. We were not looking for a professional carpenter or anything like that, just somebody with good DIY skills. We were inundated with applications and had to whittle them down to about 6 for interview. I interviewed them all and, after consulting with Sue, decided on David Phillip-Smith a retired dentist. My father was never one to miss an opportunity and I saw the chance for free dental work as well as getting our tunnel doors fixed! Mind you even I draw the line at teeth extraction with a pair of pliers! Not only has he been a revelation on the odd job front, but he hasn't even been tempted to look into any of our visitor's mouths either. I have been brought up with a certain saying ringing in my ears -'If a job's worth doing then it's worth doing well' and although I would expect my own dentist to work to this principle it is so nice to find somebody that is of the same mind and will not cut corners. During the summer Sue decided that she needed a shade house as somewhere to put her mature shrubs that she uses at the various flower shows we attend. This was always one of the jobs destined for David. So, a couple of weeks ago, after the initial scribbling of plans on the back of a fag packet we all decided on what was to be erected. As you can see the structure is now complete and only in need of covering with a shade material. It is probably the closest we are ever going to get to having any Eden Project Bio-domes at Barnsdale, although it could well be in the running as the eighth wonder of the world! We all know that it won't be long before another structure is required for the ever expanding stock of show plants, so watch this space.

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31/10/2007 13:40 - Spectacular autumn

Well, what a spectacular autumn it's turning out to be. Early, coldish nights and a lack of wind has meant that the leaves at Barnsdale turned quite early and have managed to hang on in there for several weeks. Often late October/early November can be quite windy which means the leaves get blown off the trees quicker than we would like, but not this year. It has been nice because, just for a change from recent autumn's, the late flowering perennials such as asters and Schizostylis are also still doing their thing. We haven't seen such a blaze of autumnal colour in the garden for several years - long may it continue! I have to confess to having a very wicked autumnal thought just the other day. Whilst walking through the Country Garden I spotted an Acer palmatum dissectum 'Ornatum' in its full autumn glory in the corner of the garden and, after Nick's visitor problems of last week, I was going to tell him that somebody had set fire to a tree in the garden! Well it may have been a wicked thought, but it is almost true as that is the staggering effect of the leaves right now, particularly when the morning sun hits it.

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25/10/2007 12:01 - I thought I'd seen everything!

It pains me to have to report this, although a day late as it has taken me that long to get over the disbelief. On Tuesday morning I was catching up on a bit of computer work at home when Sue phoned me from Barnsdale to ask if I could pick up our dog's pooper scooper on my way out of the door and into work. I thought that a badger or fox had left us a present, as they often do, that needed clearing up. To my utter amazement when I arrived at Barnsdale I discovered that a member of staff had spotted a visitor relieving himself in the garden!!!! The member of staff in question is very polite and very nice and far too embarrassed with what he had just witnessed to confront the offending visitor or even tell either myself or Sue. Instead the following morning he mentioned it to another member of staff who informed Sue immediately. They do say in life that people never cease to amaze and bewilder and even when you think that you could have possibly seen it all, good or bad, something always seems to happen to dispel that belief. For me the thing that made it twice as bad was that it happened in the corner of the Memorial area! Thankfully 99.9% of visitors we have to the gardens are lovely people, as most gardeners are, and I am determined to concentrate on and enjoy them instead of worrying about the minute percentage that try to shatter your belief in people.

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21/10/2007 12:50 - Bumper crop

For the second successive year it has been another bumper crop of tree fruit at Barnsdale. We have had so many apples and pears that again we have been forced into selling them to visitors to ensure that the early varieties don't go to waste. The later types that store well will be bagged and put into our fruit store until they are required. Even our containerised young, lollipop apple tree has joined the party and produced fruit. It was much more impressive before I asked for it to be moved into a nicer place for the purposes of taking a picture for this blog. During its brief journey half of the apples fell off! The variety is 'Howgate Wonder' and we acquired it on the dwarfing M27 rootstock, as this could then be grown in a large pot. We picked a tree that had the best arrangement of shoots for training around our framework in order to achieve that lollipop shaped head. We have lots of bits of 25mm blue alkathene water pipe, as we use it for lots of different things in the productive areas at Barnsdale, but primarily as hoops for cloches. Two circles were made at the size we wanted the head to be and these were put into place and the shoots tied onto them. Each of the four shoots will be treated as an individual cordon for the purposes of pruning. As we have lots of apple and crab apple trees there is no need to worry about a pollinator for this tree. Our mature version is in the Ornamental Kitchen Garden and was planted for the series, first broadcast in 1990, and 17 years later it is still only 2.1 m (7 ft) tall, but produces an excellent crop of apples each year. Once our container grown tree has its head trained the very obtrusive blue framework can be removed to leave not only a small, very productive apple tree that will fit into any garden, but also an excellent talking point to amaze and astound anybody's friends.

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05/10/2007 18:11 - Giant Parsnip

This week we decided that the time had finally come to remove the giant parsnip we had been cultivating in a long, vertical drainage pipe. The pipe had been filled with a mixture of soil, sharp sand and a bit of coir compost. Susie, who looks after all our vegetable areas at Barnsdale also managed to sneak a bit of pelleted chicken manure into the mix. The first ominous sign of what was lurking below the soil level was the fantastically green and large top that was more like a triffid than what was to be expected sprouting from the crown of a parsnip root. Susie dug out as much soil as was possible from the pipe before flooding it with water and gently teasing the root out. The top looked fantastic and the root just seemed to keep on coming until she realised her arms were just not long enough. A short ladder was called for and the removal operation continued. Only once it was completely removed was the full horror revealed. We had more legs on our parsnip than any millipede we had seen! It could have passed as an extra from Dr Who. Still, the good news is that all of the garden staff and half of the nursery staff were each able to take a leg home, with one leg feeding each of their families. I think next year we will have to eliminate the small handful of pelleted chicken manure, which was probably the culprit of this dastardly deed.

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23/09/2007 13:41 - Not quite the truth

Unaccustomed as I am to telling 'Porky Pies' the last blog entry was somewhat removed from the truth. No sooner had the blog been whizzed along the information super-highway when the telephone began to ring. On the other end of the phone was the organiser of the Royal Horticultural Society Great Autumn Show, held at their halls in Westminster. Somebody had dropped out and we were the perfect nursery to fill the spot. I'm sure she was buttering me up to make sure that we accepted the offer of a display stand at this show. Well it worked. However, this is definitely the last show of the year!

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18/09/2007 13:03 - Home at last!

Well that's the end of our show season for 2007. Last week Nick and I went down to London, in a hired 7.5 tonne lorry, on Sunday morning to set up our display for the Royal Horticultural Society's Late Summer Flower Show, in their hall just around the corner from Victoria train station. We left at some ungodly hour of the morning so that we had as much of the day as possible to get the display staged as I had to dash off at lunchtime on Monday. Things went really well and when I left Nick only had a small amount of tidying up to do before the final 'tarting up' of the plants ready for judging on Tuesday morning. Monday seemed a very long day as we're not used to the constant noise of traffic, emergency sirens and everything else that seems to go on in London through the night, which meant not much sleep for either of us. On Tuesday morning I loaded our van with the display plants for the Harrogate Autumn Show and, accompanied by Annette our Nursery Supervisor, off we set up the A1 to Yorkshire. The plan was to unload the van on arrival and build the display on Wednesday, finishing the final tidying of plants prior to judging at 3pm on Thursday afternoon. It amazingly also went like clockwork and the display was finished on Wednesday evening. The Harrogate is a longer show than the Westminster ones which last for two days, this one started on the Friday and finished at 5.30pm on Sunday. We were busy selling plants at both flower shows and were also obtained Silver-Gilt awards for both displays. Not a bad finish to an excellent show year. The forms have already been sent in for all the Royal Horticultural Society flower shows for 2008 and we should hopefully hear whether we are in at the Chelsea Flower Show within four weeks, although I have already started preparing for it, just in case!

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03/09/2007 18:02 - Propagating Penstemon

It was a bad propagation year for me last year, as I did not get as many varieties propagated as I would have liked. This has impacted this year on the amount of the more unusual varieties we have had for sale in the nursery. It wasn't that we did not have the time to start taking cuttings from our stocks of penstemon, usually in July as softwood cuttings, but due to the early sunny weather and therefore the high light levels, most of my plants decided to send up flower spikes. I decided to leave them and come back later when there was a good second flush of shoots. Always a fatal move as other things came up and I completely forgot to get back onto the penstemon, until it was almost too late and there were not many softwood cuttings to take. Over the years we have tried different ways of taking Penstemon cuttings and had settled on the most successful, which was soft tip cuttings of about 8cm (3 ins) long with the growing tip removed. I had found that during the sunnier, hotter weather, even in a shaded greenhouse the tips of a lot of cuttings wilted and more than I would hope for did not recover. I have been using this method very successfully for the past three years and then spoke to mine and Sue's good friends, Clive and Kathy Gandley, who have only recently given up their National Collection status for penstemon. The topic of conversation invariably comes round to penstemon at some point and we got onto the topic of propagating. They had been trying a method whereby cuttings were taken from the slightly firmer, or semi-ripe part of the stem, about 8cm (3 ins) below the growing tip, and had great success. This spring I was determined to get onto my penstemon and propagate like mad from the off. Due to the wet weather, I have indeed been propagating like mad. I started with a combination of mine and Clive and Kathy's version at a ratio of a third their way and two thirds mine, as I had experience of my method and knew how successful it was. Their method also proved just as successful, so I decided to experiment and see how far I could push the boundaries of penstemon propagation. I was taking cuttings right down a stem into the much older wood so that I was getting a cutting with two leaves at the top and then cutting under the next set of leaves which were removed. What a success! It worked really well, even for the harder to propagate and more unusual varieties, such as 'Agnes Laing'. It is getting a bit late now but next year the plan is to have a go at internodal cuttings which I have a sneaking suspicion may be just as successful.

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30/08/2007 09:11 - Giant cabbage

Each year on the vegetable areas I like to have a special project, and after visiting the Malvern Autumn Show last year and viewing the enormous veg in the produce marquee I decided that this was to be the year of the giant veg at Barnsdale. However, when we planted our well raised and very healthy looking Robinson's Champion Cabbage the ground was so wet that every time they were firmed in they moved to another spot. In the end it was decided to lightly firm them and to come back and give them a really good firming in when the weather eased and the ground dried. Some chance of that this year. Also having a particularly bad memory didn't help, but they carried on growing and looked really good. I was already discussing with Sue whether or not we had a big enough saucepan for each when they became ready for harvesting and cooking. By the beginning of June, disaster struck and they began to look oval and on the verge of bolting. The last of our autumn champion cabbage was cut at the end of July. Just one of the many weather induced disasters on the productive areas this year. Last weekend was one of our Barnsdale vegetable weekends we hold twice a year and it was comforting for us to hear most visitors happy that we had also suffered potato blight, mildew on our marrows and courgettes, onion mildew and that they were also having to make new friends in order to distribute the tonnes of runner beans being produced by everyone this year. Gardening is a funny thing because any failure is always balanced by success. Yesterday we cut our first cabbage 'Kilaton' that was 25cm (10 ins) in diameter and weighed 6 Kg (13 lbs) and this year for the first time ever we have an abundance of carrots with only one root and not three or four!

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12/08/2007 17:50 - Moth Trapping

A few months ago we were approached by our local moth man - not a man dressed as a moth but one interested in the subject of moths, to see if we would put out one of his traps every now and again so that he could record the results. It all sounds a bit gruesome, but it's quite humane. The moths are attracted by the light and fly into the box, via an aperture around the bulb, where they nestle under a layer of egg trays. The following morning, Vic Arnold, our moth man, appears at Barnsdale to record the captured moths before releasing them so that they can continue with their happy, uncomplicated lives. Over the last few weeks moth numbers have been reduced due to the colder nights, although we have still been satisfying Vic with several varieties he has never seen, in the flesh, before. We place the trap in a secluded part of the garden, just next to the Yew hedge surrounding the Plantsman's garden and in front of the Woodland walk, where there should be plenty of moth activity. This weekend was a bit special, however, as Saturday was National Moth Night. Just like hundreds of other enthusiasts we put out the trap on Saturday evening and Vic recorded the findings bright and early on Sunday morning. There was a good catch, but we won't get to discover the results for a few days whilst Vic identifies and assimilates the results of our evening's work. If this year, so far, is anything to go by we should have good results as we have already seen the Common Interesting moth, Marbled Brown, Chocolate-tip, Orange Footman and the Whitemarked moth, as well as unusual sounding species like the Uncertain moth, Riband Wave, Double Square Spot, Ruby Tiger, Dingy Footman and the Fanfoot moth. It's one of those strange things in life that the moths most commonly seen are the least interesting, whilst some of the specimens Vic finds in his box can be quite spectacular and very unexpected. So far this year Vic has recorded a staggering 142 different varieties from this one spot in our garden, yet all we ever get to see in the evenings are the bats flying around, although they are probably munching their way through a vast menu of moths!

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08/08/2007 15:41 - Hog roast and Jazz night

Well that has to be the end of moaning about the weather for this year, as we could not have asked for a better evening than the one we had on Saturday. The garden was filled with about 150 guests all enjoying the jazz and the splendid food. As a break from jazz there was a young local singer who went down a storm, as the weather certainly wasn't going to, and we have already been asked if she will be performing in the garden again. The temperature was a balmy 15 degrees and there wasn't a cloud in the sky, with the gardens looking beautiful in the hazy evening light. The only down side was that neither myself, Sue or Sue's mother, Margaret, managed to win the bottle of Champagne on the tombola stall. In all, the evening raised £600, which is to be split between Perennial and Geoff Hamilton's New Gardeners' Foundation. Due to popular demand on the night plans are already afoot to stage another event for Perennial next summer.

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02/08/2007 17:51 - Charity Do

We are always keen to help charities whenever we can, particularly when they are associated with gardens and gardeners. Unfortunately, we are not always able to help financially, but try in many other ways, so when approached by Perennial, the gardener's charity, we were only too keen to help. We have donated the use of our garden this Saturday for a hog roast, with accompanying jazz music, performed by a local band, as well as a session from a very talented local singer. The final preparations are being put into place, with the marquee being erected today and the all important wine arriving tomorrow. The fine and sunny weather has been booked, all the tickets have been sold and we are looking forward to a very enjoyable, entertaining and above all profitable evening for Perennial. We will report back early next week.

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26/07/2007 19:52 - Floods?

It has been hard enough over the last few very wet weeks to keep a business such as ours above water - pardon the pun. But the constant use of the phrase "the Midlands are flooded" on both national television and radio has added to the nightmare. All the weather and news people must know that little old Rutland is nowhere near Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire or Worcestershire and, although I have the deepest sympathy with all those affected, we are not one of them. Our telephone has been inundated with callers checking to see if we are flooded out or not, which makes us wonder how many potential visitors have not called but just presumed? These are the times when a business that is completely weather dependant really feels the pinch and already we are looking to the winter and wondering as to whether this summer's income will be enough to see us through to spring. The garden itself has stood up to the weather brilliantly and instead of the foliage of many plants starting to look a bit tired and frazzled as we reach the end of July, it is all fresh and green as if it were still early summer. The visitors who have braved the weather have found it a very rewarding experience, with just the odd puddle. But enough is enough and although we would like some sun, just a few weeks of dry weather would be fantastic!

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26/07/2007 11:23 - New Mail Order Co-ordinator

It has been a bit of a struggle but at last things have fallen into place. We decided last year to start supplying plants by mail order, after nine years of not doing so. We stopped our mail order service after we opened the main television garden as we couldn't cope with that on top of everything else we had to do in order to get the garden round to being suitable for visitors. As well as our catalogue, there was a lot of interest in an online service so we finally got one up and running in April this year. It was left to Nick to input all the information and pictures required and he's been struggling to juggle the mail order site and everything else. So when I suggested that a Mail Order Co-ordinator was the answer. Nick eagerly agreed! As with everything else it seems we fitted in the interviews for this post between Gardeners' World Live and the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, with one candidate standing out above all the others. Noel started on Monday and is currently in the process of manually stocktaking before inputting all the required information onto our website. We have been astounded as to how popular the site has been in its first three months, and it has taken a real weight from both our shoulders. It's enabled me to get back to the day to day stuff and looking after my show plants, whilst Nick has disappeared into the greenhouse and has been madly propagating penstemon all week! As for Noel, he has already mentioned that he didn't realise that we grew so many different things and how long was it before they all needed to be up on the site?

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14/07/2007 20:40 - Disappearing hedges

Well it has finally happened. Disaster has struck! Over the last five years we have been battling box blight in the garden, as it has gradually crept its way around the many box hedges we used to have, but now it has finally reached the maze. It all started in the small knot garden we had by the penstemon bed and as soon as we spotted it, the whole knot area was cleared and the box hedging burnt in situ and the area redeveloped as another raised penstemon bed. We thought this minor outbreak had been contained, but then it appeared in the Gentleman's Cottage Garden before spreading to the Country Garden and onto one of the Courtyard Gardens. Its gradual march through the garden had seen this dreaded disease miss the box maze in the Cottage Garden completely, so we thought it was safe. We didn't get cocky about it, just pleasantly pleased! However in the last three weeks it has succumbed in a big way and looks like it will have to go in the same way as all the other hedges have gone. It is a pity as it was planted to replace the original herb maze that was planted in the garden when it was used as the main feature garden for the very first Gardeners' World Live Exhibition in 1993. The herbs in the maze hedge really didn't like our heavy clay soil and the confined space they were planted in, so we replaced them with good old reliable box. Still, no point in getting depressed about it. We have looked on this as an opportunity to show our many visitors even more types of plants that can be used to create a low hedge. It seems as if we had come to rely on box as hedging too much, as it grew so well in our soil, but now we are branching out into lots of different plants. As a last ditch effort we are feeding the hedge with pelleted chicken manure to see if it will grow out of the infection but don't hold out much hope, so it's likely to be replaced by a green leaved Lonicera nitidahedge. Well at least the brick path is safe!

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28/06/2007 21:41 - Cottage Garden Society AGM

It has been a while since the last entry. Not because we have nothing to say, but more a case of not enough hours in the day in order to get to the computer and write. We were very pleased with our success at Gardeners' World Live, gaining a Silver-Gilt medal in the RHS Floral Marquee, and having an exceptionally busy show selling our plants. We were really pleased to also be part of the Silver-Gilt winning team that designed, built and supplied the plants and know how for the Gardeners' World Presenter's Garden. Having taken about a week to recover from the shows - getting up at 4.45am to deliver plants every morning to the show, spending the whole day there, returning to Barnsdale to refill the lorry with plants and finally finishing at about 10-10.30pm is a punishing week and really makes you wonder whether you're not just getting too old for it! It was really nice on Saturday to travel down to Gloucestershire as the two specially invited guests of the Cottage Garden Society. I'd been asked to give a talk on the History of Barnsdale at their 25th Anniversary AGM. This was very fitting as my father was the president of the Cottage Garden Society when he died, a role I have been asked to take on. The hotel they booked us into was very posh, even having a spa bath, a luxury we are definitely not used to! The whole evening, talk included, went very well and we both agreed what a lovely bunch of people cottage gardeners were, although this just really reconfirmed what we already knew about gardeners generally. It was unfortunate that we had to dash off early on Sunday morning, in order to get back to Barnsdale to lead a guided tour for a group at 1.30pm, as we would have liked to partake in the garden visits the Cottage Garden Society group were undertaking that morning. Still, the guided tour went very smoothly, with everybody enjoying all the very personal insights they got into Barnsdale past and present. Back to work this week should have consisted of both of us preparing for the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, but I have been interviewing every day this week, all day; I had an evening talk on Tuesday just north of Boston - Lincolnshire, not USA - and another guided tour for a group of WI ladies today. I've seen Sue this evening and apparently preparations for Hampton Court are going well!

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04/06/2007 22:03 - Swift Inspiration

We had a visit on Friday from the Gardeners' World film crew and Joe Swift. As you probably saw on last Friday night's programme, Joe was coming to see us for inspiration. Well the little devil had already been that afternoon! Nick had a walk around parts of the garden with him, whilst he got the feel of Barnsdale, having never been before, and a reminder of Geoff's planting style. He and Nick then came over to the nursery to see me and the plants I have been growing for the Presenter's Garden at the Gardeners' World Live Exhibition. I couldn't believe it, not content with the gorgeous specimens I had grown for him, Joe spent most of the morning trying to kidnap the plants destined for my display in the RHS Floral Marquee at the show. Anyway, he was no match for me and I managed to fight him off and keep what I need for myself. Still he left with a present of 3 small Erigeron "Profusion", a plant he admired in large pots in one of my show tunnels and one, that I must admit, he persuaded me to let him have a few for his Presenter's Garden. It was nice to see the crew at Barnsdale again, as most of them had been in various teams that had visited Barnsdale over the years when Geoff was presenting. What they filmed will be broadcast this Friday. As for Nick and I, we will pick up our rented 7.5 tonne lorry on Saturday morning, load it that afternoon and then off to the NEC at 7am on Sunday morning. Well that's the plan, because this weekend just gone, was meant to be put aside for preparing plants for my display, but, due to staff shortages and an exceptionally busy weekend we both found ourselves manning the dishwasher, at different times, in the kitchen of the coffee shop, taking money at the garden entrance, serving in the nursery and gift shop and other things that happened. It was one of our biannual vegetable weekends, where all the vegetable areas not usually open to the public are opened for viewing and Susie, our vegetable gardener, was inundated with questions, although she still found the time for some impromptu demonstrations. Monday has been a day of catching up on all the important things not possible over the weekend, such as the all important banking, watering, stocking up the sales area and gift shop, as well as squeezing in a meeting about a bookazine we are writing. It will be nice to get to Birmingham for a rest!

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25/05/2007 22:32 - It's a steal

We thought our luck had finally turned, at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show, as the mail orders started to come in and Sue was starting to worry as to whether the 5,000 specially printed leaflets would be enough to last until Saturday. Then, on Friday morning, Sue arrived at the show to find a gaping hole in our display. I can see why whoever took it wanted one of the Iris setosa hybrid plants because, as you can see, it is beautiful, but how dare they take it and why could they not order it from our website like everybody else? The months of work that Sue has put into preparing the plants for this show, the sleepless nights and the 20 odd hours spent putting it all together for one ignoramus to go and spoil it all. Perhaps it was someone only there for the champagne and canapes, as a gardener would certainly have never done this. As you can probably tell, it really makes my blood boil! Anyway the show is nearly over now for another year and hopefully we will get home before 1am on Sunday morning. Then, maybe a bit later than usual, into work on Sunday morning to start preparing plants for our display Gardeners' World Live, as well as the plants and veg for dad's section in the BBC Presenter's Garden. We should be finalising the list with the BBC team on Monday (I didn't think the BBC worked on a Bank Holiday!). And who said a life in gardening was nothing if not varied?

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24/05/2007 22:12 - What a week!

I've just been trying to understand what Sue was saying to me over the phone, this evening. The trouble was that she has become so hoarse from talking to so many show vistors that I would have understood just as much if she had spoken to me in Russian! I think that I understood correctly that virtually everybody has asked if they can take Maurice home, with one person desperately trying to persuade Sue to sell it to them. The plants that seem to have caught the imagination of visitors to our stand are the Iris sibirica 'Snow Prince' (picture on the last blog), Heuchera 'villosa 'Brownies' ( a lovely, large, brown-purple leaved plant), good old Persicaria bistorta 'Superba' (pink, bottle brush-like flowers) and Argyranthemum 'Bon Bon' (a new variety with the dark pink flowers having a semi-double centre). I think Sue has been somewhat overwhelmed by the positive and lovely comments she has been receiving this week, about her floral display, my father and the gardens at Barnsdale. Before I left on Monday I did get a chance to have a quick race round the show garden and I must say that the plants are back! What a joy to see hard landscaping shrinking back to the point where it compliments the plants and does not overwhelm them. Also congratulations on our good friend Adam Frost on his excellent, and well deserved gold medal in the City Gardens section.

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23/05/2007 11:03 - It's a silver

Sue was very disappointed and upset with the Chelsea Flower Show judge's award of a silver medal, as she felt the display was better than last year's display. Apparently they could not decide whether they liked Maurice or not? You probably saw Sue on the telly last night - she was the one in tears being hugged by a man. Typical really, as soon as I leave the show she's hugging all and sundry! However, by the end of Tuesday she was feeling great, after so many lovely comments about how beautifully put together the display was, not only from the visiting public, but also from fellow exhibitors. In the end we are happy that the award was no lower and are now even more determined not only to get into next year's Chelsea Flower Show, but to put on a display that can only be given a gold!

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21/05/2007 23:34 - Fingers crossed!

We finally made it to the Chelsea Flower Show and after about 20 hours of building the display we finished late on Sunday, about 10pm to be precise. Many thanks to Sue Shaw, who commented on our van problems, with a very true fact that it is better for things to go wrong before than on the day. Little were we to know that, heartened by this comment, fate had not yet dealt its final blows. We left the Chelsea showground on Saturday evening, at about 8pm, after unloading the van and starting to put the display together - in all about 5 hours work. After staggering with our bags the half mile to our hotel we were met with devastating news. Our hotel had lost the room bookings we had made and were fully booked for the night. I knew that I shouldn't have joked about camping in Battersea Park! That was eventually all sorted out and, although we did not sleep in that particular hotel, we weren't thrown out on the street either. Then on Sunday night when I went to collect the van from its parking spot in Battersea Park, so that we could load up our spare plants, the blooming brakes had seized again! Still, Sue Shaw was right, because when we arrived on Monday morning to view our finished display it wasn't half bad. As usual, Sue had put together a truly delightful work of art, mixing rare and unusual plants with well known and well used varieties to create a stunning cottage garden display, overseen by the statuesque figure of Maurice. Just to put the icing on the cake in my panic to get out the van of the parking area before my pass ran out I forgot to grab the camera with the display pictures on it, so they will have to wait for the next update when the medal is revealed!

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18/05/2007 12:06 - Maurice is packed and ready to go

Panic over! The mechanics managed to pull out all the stops and the van is now back, fully fixed. Mind you Nick did mention something about the £770 cost and having to sleep in Battersea Park! Anyway, disregarding that comment completely, I've now moved Maurice out of the Reclaimed Garden and he is packed and ready for his week's holiday. All that is left to do is to tie up all the plants, to stop them breaking or getting damaged and load the van ready for the off, at about noon on Saturday. The plan is to unload and build a bit on Saturday afternoon/evening, then arrive at the showground early on Sunday, build all day and evening in an attempt to finish. Monday should, hopefully, only be down to titivating, before judging starts at 3pm. Nick will leave at noon on Monday to spend the week back at the nursery. He has told me that it is a week of book and magazine writing, one of which needs to be finished and the other started. I think it will probably be a week of solid partying whilst I'm huddled in a tent in the middle of Battersea Park! That will leave me at Chelsea with our nursery supervisor Annette, for the week, before Nick returns on Saturday ready for packing up and going home. I have already started crossing everything in the hope of a gold medal!

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14/05/2007 20:21 - Will we have to carry the plants?

Well, Sue's prayers were finally answered and the sun has stopped shining, but now the rain has started, I don't think it knows how to stop. We almost had to nail the plants to the tunnel floors on Sunday to stop them floating away! Still, that is the least of our worries. Our workhorse, the green van, has decided to break, just a week before Chelsea - typical. It spends most days travelling the 1/2 mile from the old Victorian walled garden where we grow our plants, up to the nursery sales area, bringing the plants that are ready for sale. Everything was going swimmingly until Friday afternoon when there was an almighty bang and the van refused to move. I gave it a good look over on Saturday morning before telephoning our local garage. It was booked in for its MOT on Monday and I hoped that they may be able to sort out this other problem while it was there. In the meantime I had managed to get it moving and parked it in the car park back at Barnsdale, but the brakes and general running did not seem very good to me, although I cannot profess to being a mechanic. Unfortunately, the garage was far too busy to look at the van on Monday, saying they might be able to give it a quick look on Wednesday, but if not Wednesday then definitely Friday. It's all a bit too close for comfort for me because we are supposed to be travelling to Chelsea on Saturday morning with this van chock a block with show plants for our display. My concern is that they might have to order a part which will obviously not be there until Monday. I could hire a van, just in case, but this one has been fitted out with two layers of shelves to sit the plants on, so at the moment we might be trolleying our plants down the A1 and up the King's Road!

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04/05/2007 15:20 - Too much sun!

Why is it that you can spend a week on a real high, only to be brought crashing back down to earth by Mother Nature, with an almighty bump. I spent last week at the flower show in Harrogate and it was really nice to get back on the show circuit, with this being our first show of the year. In fact, it was the first time we have exhibited at Harrogate, coming away with a Premier Award (one better than a gold!) and a good 4 days of plant selling. For the display, because of the unusually warm weather, I had used a lot of the plants that had been earmarked for the Chelsea Flower Show, as they had come on far too much and the flowers would have been over by the third week of May, so they went up North instead. My plan was to counter the loss of these plants by scouring the nursery, moving plants that were looking like they would be at their peak for Chelsea, into one of my show tunnels. I was also going to pinch a few from the Gardeners' World Live batch that were racing into flower. In principle this was a fantastic plan, but too much sun in Rutland whilst I was away has sent all this careful planning awry. We are now being told that we have to cover up in order to protect ourselves from the sun, but I didn't think this applied to my plants as well! I have come back from Harrogate to find that most of my Chelsea-bound plants have all been worshipping the sun, unprotected, and must have put on at least 30cm (12 ins) of growth in the last week. So rather than having a couple of days recovery time, I have been frantically moving plants into shadier areas around the nursery in an attempt to hold them back. I am fortunate in a way that this is possible, because in the garden we just have to take whatever Mother Nature throws at us and cope with it the best we can. As far as Chelsea is concerned, I have resigned myself to taking whatever is looking perfect and modifying my plan accordingly. So when you come and visit me on the stand, my plants will be perfect but I might be a bit frazzled around the edges, so be gentle!

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22/04/2007 18:33 - 10 anniversary

Thursday 19 April saw the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Barnsdale television garden. Looking back both of us are quite staggered at the amount of work that had gone into the garden in those ten years, and how the garden has moved on since my father and Gardeners' World filming every week. We think that he would be enormously proud of how the garden looks today, as we are, and be bursting with gratification at how the parts of the garden he developed have matured into something really special. We have had our input and feel that we have got to the stage now where the garden is Geoff's, Nick's and Sue's. We felt the best way to celebrate was to invite a very good friend of ours, broadcaster and writer, Martin Fish to plant a commemorative tree in one of the borders of "Versailles", the first part of the garden to be developed back in 1983. We had a tree that came down in strong winds during 2005, so there was an appropriate gap. The only place locally that we could find an unusual tree was just the other side of Ashby-de-la-Zouch. After acquiring a Tetradium daniellii that fulfilled the remit of unusual, of medium size and, above all, plenty of seasonal interest, we came home. We invited Friends of Barnsdale (our garden season ticket holders) to come and celebrate with us. Martin duly planted the tree and, as all gardeners would, also forked over half the border for us, no mean feat when you realise that it is 20 metres long! We now look forward and wonder what the next ten years will bring? No time to dwell as it's the Harrogate Flower Show this week (first time exhibiting) and then on to Chelsea!

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17/04/2007 21:50 - New show home

Sue here. What an Easter! In the last week I have seen and spoken to so many people it has been a nice warm up for my first flower show. I know the weather over the Easter fortnight was unseasonably warm, which meant that both myself and Nick have been very busy at Barnsdale, whilst also trying to fit in other jobs. In our position, and in gardening generally, it really pays to be a Jack of all trades. As well as all the horticultural tasks we carry out, there is essential paper and computer work which has to be balanced with cleaning toilets (can't seem to get a cleaner!), refitting and redecorating the tea rooms (woodworking is Nick's department). my speciality, inputting all the plant information and pictures for our new online mail order site, as well as travelling the country giving talks to gardening and other groups. In the last week Nick has been to Malvern, Cardiff, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire to give talks, with slides, mainly on the history of Barnsdale. It worked out quite well really because it has given me the opportunity to paint like mad in the tea rooms after everyone has gone home. It has been really hard because I have desperately wanted to get into my new, 10-year-old caravan and get it sorted ready for the Harrogate Spring Show. I'm so pleased with it because we bought it for a very reasonable price and it seems like The Ritz compared to our previous show home. A couple of years ago we were talking to a couple, who were also exhibitors, at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, and we got onto the subject of staying at the shows and how good caravans are for this purpose. My biggest problem is that Nick feels my six weeks away from home, exhibiting at flower shows, constitutes having a holiday, all because I'm staying in the caravan! This week sees the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Barnsdale television gardens and we will be marking the occasion by planting a tree in one of the Versailles borders. Our good friend Martin Fish has accepted our offer of planting it on this very special occasion, so we hope for the good weather to continue for just that bit longer. Mind you we could do with the rain. We have been watering the plants in the nursery every day during April, something we have not had to do before. Are we going to be in for water bans in the Midlands this summer?

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30/03/2007 15:03 - Teaching teachers

This week has been really hectic, with good attendance on our Introduction to Organic Vegetable Growing and All Year Round Vegetables courses, as well as the spring guided walk, but the most important day was spent with a group of 20 teachers. This is the second School Grounds Development day we have hosted at Barnsdale, with this week's consisting of the first 20 teachers on the waiting list from the first day in October last year. This group included teachers from Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Warwickshire, with the event being organised and run by the independent charity FACE (Farming and Countryside Education). Their aim is to educate and encourage teachers to develop school grounds for fruit and vegetable production, as well as wildlife and wildflower conservation and to involve their pupils as much as possible. The morning was taken up with talks and demonstrations by the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, before they settled down to a hearty lunch, after which we took them out into the gardens for a walk and talk that included organic gardening, growing in containers, using greenhouses and polythene tunnels, wildlife and the organic gardener and composting. Needless to say they went home more tired than they would after a normal day teaching primary school children. We are keen to get as many children involved in garden activities as possible and offer our facilities, as well as our time for free, as do the two ladies from the Wildlife Trust. It is clear that, due to the keenness teachers show to come on these days, children are definitely interested in the garden and we have already been booked for another day in October. We don't know if this is the case, but we think that due to our modern lifestyle a lot of children are missing out on early gardening experiences, something traditionally experienced with grandparents. We are happy to contribute to any activity that involves youngsters discovering that the garden can be fun and it would be interesting to know if our theory is right, and whether there may be other activities we could get involved in that would end with the same result.

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22/03/2007 21:31 - The milk of human kindness

It never ceases to amaze me how kind and generous people are, and gardeners especially. Ever since Geoff died, both myself, Nick and the rest of our family are reminded by at least one person every day how revered he was by everyone. Yesterday afternoon, amongst others, we had a retired couple visit the gardens and as I passed through the nursery shop they stopped me just to say how much they had enjoyed the gardens and we got chatting. We spoke about many things, all related to the gardens, after which bade them farewell. Then this morning the gentleman turned up to see myself and Nick. It turns out that he and his wife, who are holidaying in the area, returned to their hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening brainstorming to come up with ideas that could help us and our business. Their input was greatly appreciated and we will certainly be implementing ideas that have been left with us. It bought a lump to our throats to think that a couple who had never met us, until yesterday, could be so kind.

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16/03/2007 15:02 - Whatever the weather

The good thing about being a gardener, living in Britain, is that you are never short of something to talk about. It's the weather that is the hot topic of every day and this week is no exception. Everything at Barnsdale is about four weeks ahead with the March crocuses starting to go over, pulmonarias are in full bloom and we've even started to dead-head our daffs! On the vegetable plot we are full steam ahead, with our giant cabbages, cauliflowers and onions, as well as broad beans, peas, garlic and lettuce already planted out under cloches and the greenhouse full to bursting point, with the seedlings enjoying the bright spring sunshine and high March temperatures. Then last night the BBC weather man, who will remain nameless, announced that the weather is going into a speedy reverse, with next week being more like January than mid March! It's time to dust off the horticultural fleece so that our crops don't suffer any set back in their growth. Our new vegetable supervisor, Susie Watson, who only started at Barnsdale in January, is already stamping her mark on the allotment, Elizabethan vegetable garden, parterre and productive greenhouse. Although young, she has plenty of organic vegetable growing experience, but not of peat-free growing, so she is learning rapidly how to get the best from vegetables and herbs when using a coir-based compost. It is a strange fact of life that even with masses of beautiful spring flowers on show all over the gardens, most men always get excited at the first sight of vegetables. We held a 'Barnsdale familiarisation day' on Wednesday, so that our local bed and breakfasts, hotels and other tourist attractions could come along and see what we are doing this year. On their brief garden tour, the ladies of the group, of which there were many, gasped continually at the spring colour. As soon as we reached the allotment the ladies all went quiet and two men started gasping uncontrollably! We calmed them down eventually. It is a surprise that we are both aware of what time of year it is, as just when the weather starts to turn into what would be expected during January, we are thinking of BBC Gardeners' World Live Exhibition at the NEC in June. Yesterday we had a visit from one of the BBC Two Gardeners' World team to discuss the Geoff Hamilton element of the garden they are building at the flower show. We are exhibiting in the RHS Floral Marquee anyway, but by the sounds of it we may have most of Barnsdale adorning the BBC Gardeners' World garden in Birmingham from June 13 to 17.

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12/03/2007 08:32 - Interviews and frog-spawn

After a long two weeks of interviews I have a lady starting work in the nursery today. The funny thing is that after paying an extortionate amount for an advert in the local paper I found Amanda amongst our troop of garden volunteers. This takes my nursery staff to four full-time and one part-time, all ladies and all very committed to producing the best quality plants for sale in the nursery. I was left to interview on my own as, after Nick read Cleve's blog on frogspawn, he disappeared into the gardens with digital camera in hand determined to find frogs. We do usually have plenty of frogs and frogspawn, and this year is no exception, which does not bode well for our population of slugs! Surprisingly, the frogspawn was found in the stream of the pond and stream and the wildlife ponds we have dotted around the garden, but none in the pond and bog garden. Usually this garden is like pea soup with frogspawn at this time of year, but Nick said he could not spot any spawn and certainly no frogs, so we don't know what has happened there. I think we might move some from the Pond and Stream to even out our frog population around the gardens.

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08/03/2007 22:41 - Show tunnel update

Today was perfect, well this morning anyway. At 8.30am it was still and the sun was trying to break through, a typical British spring day. A day I was definitely ready for. Suddenly it was all hands to the pumps so that this perfect tunnel covering weather was not missed. With such a big sheet to pull over any wind could spell disaster and the bonus of sunshine meant that the polythene would warm and stretch much better over the tunnel framework. Although one fairly big, and very unexpected gust of wind almost sent Sue and our Head Gardener Jon flying over Rutland Water attached to either end of the polythene cover, I can now report that I have got it covered! I should think that by the end of this weekend it will be filled with the show plants destined for the Chelsea Flower Show.

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06/03/2007 18:01 - Enough water, thanks!

We are so pleased to see the sun today, instead of the horrendous rain the weather forecasters had been speaking of. Gardening on heavy clay is no fun when the soil is so wet. Several times over the last few days we have nearly had to row out and rescue visitors stranded in parts of the garden that have never been flooded before. The knock on effect of all this is that we can't get onto the jobs in our borders or vegetable areas either. It means that on such a lovely sunny day the gardeners are inside engraving plant labels, cleaning and treating garden furniture or rubbing down and painting our Victorian cloches. It seems a bit of a waste of a gorgeous spring day, but to get onto the garden would only do the soil more harm than good.

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02/03/2007 14:43 - The new show tunnel

Why is it that gardeners never seem to get the weather they want? After a year of great success at the major flower shows, Sue decided that the only way to keep up the high standards set was to double the amount of show plants and to give them more space. In my wisdom, I decided not to pay the tunnel company £1000 to come and erect it for us. It surely couldn't be that difficult, or take that long, and as I had erected many tunnels in my time I decided to put it up myself. After four long and frustrating weeks of sweating in abnormally high February weather I was almost finished. The time had come when all that was left to do was to attach the polythene cover. With Sue chomping at the bit and her plants starting into growth and desperate for space, the hot and still weather disappeared, to be replaced by almost gale force winds and driving rain. So now it's a case of watching every night's weather forecast in the hope that we might get at least a still morning so that I can get this tunnel covered and tick it off my ever extending list of jobs to do.

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