Greenfingers - February 2021

Greenfingers0321I mentioned growing flowers for cutting last month, and sweet peas are a favourite, providing a lovely scent from their delicate flowers. They grow readily from seed, and soaking the seeds overnight may improve the germination rate. As sweet peas have a deep root run, and to minimise root disturbance when planting out, it’s a good idea to plant the seed into a root trainer or a deep paper pot where the whole thing can be planted out in a sunny position. The bed should have some compost or manure dug in several weeks beforehand, and the plants will need some sort of support; canes, trellis or netting. I usually grow a row alongside the greenhouse up a net to provide some shade for the tomatoes in the summer. It’s important to remove flowers before they set seed, to feed with a high potassium liquid fertiliser such as a tomato feed to prolong the flowering season, and to water during dry spells. So refresh your vase every day, replacing older flowers with newly cut ones.

I was pleased to see several types of peat-free compost for sale at the garden centre last week. The use of peat in garden compost should be discouraged as it is possible to produce a very satisfactory mixture of compost from peat-free, sieved garden compost and a little sand or grit to ensure good drainage.

There are plenty of tasks to be on with in the garden this month: planting shallots, onion sets and early potatoes; prune bush and climbing roses; lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials; plant summer flowering bulbs; prepare seed beds and hoe to keep weeds under control; and try a garlic spray on tender new growth to deter slugs. Some seed may be planted outside, such as broad beans, and beds protected by a cloche can be sown for early salad crops.

The superior solar conjunction on March 26th marks the end of Venus's apparition in the morning sky and its transition to become an evening object over the next few weeks and months. It will pass very close to the Sun in the sky as its orbit carries it around the far side of the solar system from the Earth and will be too close to the Sun to be observable.

Pete Smith

Greenfingers - January 2021

Greenfingers0221With even more time to sit and think, or just sit and watch, our list of bird species which landed in the garden (that’s the crucial rule) during 2020 reached 31. The linnet and owl were somewhat unusual, and the willow warbler required a few sightings for identification, but it was frustrating to watch jays, green woodpeckers and dozens of jackdaws flying over. I can remember a few years ago, trying to entice a partridge into the garden with bird seed, but it wasn’t biting, at least not while I was watching. So far this year we’ve seen 20 species. Most notable has been the number of goldfinches - lovely little birds with gold flashes, bright red faces and good manners. If you get your magazine in time the great Garden Bird Watch is on the weekend of the 31st January (when traditionally all birds go into hiding!)

It’s time to check out the seed catalogues and decide what to grow. The Stroud potato and seed day is planned for Saturday 6th February at the Farmer’s market. We tend to grow items which are expensive to buy, such as French beans and mange tout, and this year the plan is to grow flowers and greenery for cutting as well. Last year the zinnias, grown from seed, were excellent. So these are on the list, plus the usual tomatoes, courgettes, butternut squash, and peppers. And then there’s the salad crops.

To increase the carpets of snowdrops, they can be lifted and divided once they’ve flowered, but with leaves. Old hellebore leaves should be removed to show the flowers to best effect, and clumps of herbaceous perennials may be split or reduced. Evergreen hedges and shrubs may be clipped and trimmed, and wisteria should be pruned.

The ESA satellite, SOHO, Solar Observatory in Heliospheric Orbit, has recently completed 25 years of operation, providing images of the sun and its environment from orbit around the earth-sun L1 Lagrange point, located 1.5 million kilometres from the earth in the direction of the sun. As well as providing data on 2 complete sun cycles, it has also discovered approximately 4,000 comets.

Pete Smith

Greenfingers - December 2020

We often hear a discussion about whether a plant is native to the British Isles, such as the varieties of shrubs and trees for hedging. Virtually all our plants have been introduced over a period of around 8,000 years since the last ice age. I think the point is usually whether the plant is invasive, with a tendency to dominate to the detriment of the range of species in an area.

Maggie Campbell-Culver’s book, The Origin of Plants, describes the handful of indigenous plants left in Britain after the ice melted, and the introduction of the remarkable range of plants since, whether accidental or deliberate, from all over the world.

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Greenfingers - November 2020

First of all, a big thankyou from the gardening club to the Minch Life team for including the summary of the Alternative Gardening Show on their website. And thanks to all the contributors.

I’ve just been raking leaves from the grass and edges of the borders before they are blown into the newly cleared pond. In fact it’s so clear that I can see that one of the water lily pots is on its side. I also noticed a surprisingly large number of green leaves on the ground from the mistletoe which grows on the crab apple. There are about 4 separate growths of mistletoe, but only one female, which produces berries. My return to the kitchen was greeted with the smell of simmering chutney, from a blend of apples, tomatoes, onions, chilli peppers, and spices.

The few grapes that survived the cold night last May have been eaten by a local blackbird, and I’ve noticed a few migrant blackbirds in the garden recently, distinguished by a black bill.

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Greenfingers - October 2020

There are plenty of tasks still to do in the garden before the winter, and top of my list is to clear the pond and reduce the quantity of water lilies. They are still flowering as I write this, so October will be about the right time, as they die back and the water isn’t too cold. It’s easy to be diverted by the creatures that appear from the depths – newts, leeches and dragonfly larvae. I’d like to add some water fleas, with the aim of reducing the blanket weed that grows in the springtime, and feeding the tadpoles and other critters. This year, the tadpoles failed to mature, mainly due to the attentions of newts and birds.

The grape harvest is much reduced compared with last year, probably due to the cold night we had in mid-May, but apples and other fruit are good. However, I’m putting the poor showing of squashes, courgettes and sweet peas down to the dry spring. The cosmos have also been disappointing, with lots of growth, but few flowers.

The cyclamen in the churchyard are looking splendid, with several large patches and many smaller clumps sprouting up.Greenfingers1020

As a result of spending more time than usual in the garden this year, the flowering season in the borders and beds has been extended through steady maintenance and dead-heading. Some plants will need to be thinned over the next few weeks, or they will take over next year, but it has generally been satisfactory.

I’m sure I’m not alone in missing the gardening show. Fingers crossed for an exceptional event next year.

There will be several meteor showers during the month, but look out for the Draconids, which peak on the 8th and the Orionids which peak on 21st. The moon will be full twice during the month, on 1st and 31st, an event that happens on average every 2.7 years as the full moon occurs at 29.53 day intervals.

Pete Smith

Greenfingers - September 2020

Harvest time, so fruit and vegetables can be picked and eaten or stored. Most of our tomatoes are roasted and blended with a little basil before being placed into containers in the freezer for future use. Chilli peppers also keep well when frozen whole.

It’s interesting that the first sowing of salad crops always tends to produce the best quality. Subsequent sowings during the summer seem to lack the vigour of that first crop.

Following on from the note about bumblebees taking the easy route to the nectar in some flowers, I noticed that virtually all the flowers on a salvia ‘hot lips’ have a small hole in the side, and always on the same side. I think the garden bumblebee was probably responsible, though it could have been a buff-tail. In checking the identification on the BB conservation trust website, it notes about caste that: ‘males also generally have longer, more straggly hair, so if your bee has hairy legs, a moustache, and looks slightly unkempt it’s probably a male.’ Perhaps they don’t have access to a comb.

The Gardening Club Annual Show has been cancelled this year, but details of the Minchinhampton Alternative Gardening Show are on the Minchinhampton Life website, so thanks to Minch Life.

I hope you took the opportunity to view the comet Neowise that passed by in July. If not, it is a long wait for its return, in the year 8,786, but there are plenty of photos on-line. There are several planetary conjunctions during September, starting with a lunar occultation of Mars on 6th, though not visible from the UK, an early morning close approach of the 26 day old moon and Venus on 14th, and a conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn and the moon on 25th.

Pete Smith


In the well known Chapter 13 of St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, which is often read at weddings and funerals, St Paul urges us to abide by “faith, hope and charity”. The word charity is in the King James’ version of the Bible but it is substituted by “love” in subsequent translations. Throughout my life, from pulpit and elsewhere, I have heard much about faith and charity/love but very little about hope and, being a glass half full person, I am disappointed by this. As one listens to the nightly news when disasters, gloom and weaknesses are emphasised while achievements, successes and optimism is highly qualified or ignored, my mind turns to wondering about hope. With the success of the films 1917 and The Darkest Hour, together with the anniversaries of VE Day and Dunkirk, we have heard much about war recently and, particularly, Churchill. These times are memorable for me and others,who were born in 1941, because our parents decided to have us when the outlook for the UK, Europe and civilisation was at its most bleak. Neither the US nor Russia had joined the war and not only had our troops been driven out of continental Europe but also, as events soon confirmed, were in a precarious position in the Far East. And yet my parents, together with the parents of my contemporaries, had sufficient optimism and hope to plan a family. Driven by this, they faced down the uncertain world, and, as far as I am concerned, thank heavens they did.

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Greenfingers - July 2020

A bed of bearded iris in the garden has not flowered for the second year, so they will be dug up and divided before re-planting in a new bed, which hopefully will re-invigorate them. They’ve been baked in the sun, but are probably struggling with overcrowding.

Two well-established holly trees in the hedge are also looking stressed, dropping many spikey leaves onto the beds and grass, presumably as a result of the lack of rain. The moral here is not to garden bare-footed.

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My name is Luke and I am 8 years old. I live in Minchinhampton and I go to Minchinhampton School. I live with my brother Conor who is 4 and my mum and LukeAllen0620dad. I am writing this to give you a little taste of what it is like in lockdown for an 8 year-old.

I have been taught at home, because the school has shut, but not all day so I have been learning through play. The things I like playing with most are my Play Mobil Romans and Lego. I have learned to play Cribbage and now I am very good the highest level on the computer. I have also learned Roman Numerals.

Early one morning we heard lots of crow noises in the garden on the patio. We looked out of the window and we saw a buzzard with a crow in its claws. Lots of other crows were trying to help. The buzzard swooped off with the crow. I think the crow was dead.

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The National Health Service is our army to defend the sick, and we rely on it today more than ever before. Everybody knows that it came into existence as a result of the political ideals of Aneurin Bevan and the post Second World War Labour government. Most probably do not know, however, how those ideals became a practicality – how the political will was turned into a working National Health Service. The family history and motivation of the leading medic at the time, Hugh Lett, is one which is particularly relevant in the midst of our present COVID-19 crisis, and may bring comfort and hope to us in these desperate times.

Hugh Lett was born in 1876, served as a surgeon in the military hospitals on the Western Front in World War 1, and was appointed President of the Royal College of Surgeons just before the outbreak of World War 2. In 1946, he was appointed President of the British Medical Association, and thus was in office when the extensive work took place to turn Bevan’s ideal into an effective Health Service – not an easy task, but one which he and the team that supported him achieved with great success. When Sir Hugh Lett, Bt [as he then was] died in 1964, his obituary included the following: “his wise statesmanship proved invaluable to the profession and the nation in preparing for the start of the National Health Service.”

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Greenfingers - May 2020

I was impressed by the lovely display of spring flowers outside Vestry Cottage in mid-March. The many clusters of miniature daffodils worked really well with the multi-coloured polyanthus, thank you Anne, Colin and Sally.

A week of dry and at times, warm weather towards the end of March has allowed some outside gardening, as opposed to greenhouse and kitchen gardening. And with GreenfingersA0520some time on our hands, the beds have never looked tidier at this time of year. I’ve been a bit too enthusiastic with some seed planting, as plants are now germinating which can’t go out for several weeks. The aim now will be to keep them light, cool and frost-free. The seeds sown so far are tomato, 3 types of lettuce, spring onion, courgette, chilli pepper, sweet peas, broad beans, mange tout, and butternut squash.

The perennials are showing, and one or two will be lifted and split in the next few days. The osmanthus, a slow growing evergreen shrub with a fragrant white flower in spring looked well this year. It’s at the top left of the photo. I’ve been out for a couple of walks along Besbury Bank looking for bumblebees as part of a survey being done by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and although I’ve seen plenty in the garden, none have been seen on the bee walks. We do try to grow plants which offer nectar and pollen all year round, so having taken out a choisya this year, the replacement may well be a mahonia, and the variety ‘soft caress’ looks interesting, as with no spines on the leaves, it will be easy to work around. The pulmonaria is loved by the bees in spring.

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The Beginning and the End

The day war broke out – the Second World War – I was three years old. I can’t claim to remember those dreadful words, ‘This country is at war with Germany’, but I can recall the atmosphere in the room as they were said. My grandfather was sitting smoking his pipe in his big reclining chair with its tweedy brown cushions. In fact, he always seemed to be brown and tweedy himself, except on Sundays when he wore a grey suit with a rose in his buttonhole. I suppose it couldn’t always have been a rose but there was certainly always a flower from the garden. He had a cunning silver device with a thimbleful of water in it, which clipped behind the buttonhole and was lovingly prepared by my grandmother.

On the shelf beside him stood the radio, an impressive wooden box with its circle of mesh and its array of large knobs, and beside that stood his pipe stand and all the paraphernalia necessary to the 1930’s smoker.

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