The Best Things in Life are Free





I have largely avoided being drawn into snowdrop mania this year. I have no snowdrops in my garden (which is a pity and ought to be rectified) and have had precious little opportunity to get out and admire others’. Even at the RHS Spring Plant Fair last week I bypassed snowdrops in order to reach plants more suited to my garden and my budget. But, as they say, the best things in life are free. On the way to the station at Tisbury in Wiltshire yesterday we traversed a deeply sunken lane between the villages of Semley and Newtown. Here, approaching a sturdy stone bridge, we discovered enough snowdrops to satisfy the most ardent snowdrop enthusiast.



Cascading down steep banks, the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, mingled with the double kind, Galanthus nivalis f. pleniflorus ‘Flore Pleno’. I have witnessed this spectacle before, but never on such a fine day, or when I’ve had an opportunity to stop and admire it. The car duly parked, I walked up the stretch of lane between the entrances to Hatch House and Pythouse, enjoying warm sunshine on my cold face. The snowdrops bounced and played in a stiff breeze, their tiny blooms just past their peak but still lovely to behold.



I was asked why snowdrops might have colonised these banks so prolifically. I can only imagine it’s because they’re undisturbed, watered by rain coming down from higher ground, yet still well-drained. Later in spring and summer the bulbs will be shaded by the canopies of surrounding oak trees, and passing wildlife will help to shake free the snowdrop seeds, enabling them to form large carpets relatively quickly. I shall return to this spot again in June, when I hope to visit Pythouse Kitchen Garden, which provides flowers and produce for a popular restaurant on the same site.



Here are there primroses had begun to flower and wild garlic leaves pushed up through leaf litter. These harbingers of spring are in for a shock next week as the Beast from the East progresses across the country. It’s arrived in Broadstairs already, ripping frozen, desiccated leaves from my poor, tender plants and racing through every nook and cranny on the east side of The Watch House. Even with the heating on full blast I need a couple of jumpers to stay warm whilst not moving about. On the west side of the house you would only feel the beast’s bite by straying outside unprotected.



I write this post surrounded by plants which would normally be safe enough in an unheated greenhouse. None will appreciate the conditions if the temperature falls to -4ºC as predicted, and snow falls. I’ve brought as many plants as I can into the relative warmth of the garden room. I’m reminded that aeoniums smell rather delicious when they are warm. Tomorrow will be for lighting a fire and reading books.

Wishing you all a splendid weekend. TFG.


Photographs taken using iPhone X



Hardscaping 101: Decomposed Granite

With a remodel and a garden design project underway, I’ve been researching how to simplify garden maintenance and cut back on water usage. And I keep hearing more and more about the advantages of decomposed granite. Why? It turns out that in many ways decomposed granite (or DG, as it’s commonly called) is the ideal hardscape material: natural, permeable, aesthetically versatile, and wonderfully inexpensive.

After I started looking into DG, I began to notice it everywhere: The pretty little path through the local recreation field that never gets muddy? Decomposed granite. The soft, natural-looking driveway, where the surface stays put? Also decomposed granite. The mulch at the base of trees that keeps the ground weed-free?  DG again.

Is DG the right material to choose for your hardscaping project? Read on:

What is decomposed granite?

A decomposed granite (DG) path runs the length of a back garden and fast-growing fern pines (Podocarpus gracilior) create a privacy screen inside the back fence. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.
Above: A decomposed granite (DG) path runs the length of a back garden and fast-growing fern pines (Podocarpus gracilior) create a privacy screen inside the back fence. Photograph by Mimi Giboin.

See more of this garden at Before & After: A 1940s-Suburban House Grows Up Gracefully in Mill Valley, CA.

Decomposed granite is like gravel, but finer and generally more stable.  It’s formed from the natural weathering and erosion of solid granite, a tough, hard, igneous rock. The DG sold as landscaping material is typically composed of fine 3/8-inch (or smaller) particles; some may be no bigger than a grain of sand. Colors vary, from buff to brown, and include various shades of gray, black, red, and green.

A stabilized decomposed granite path in a landscape designed by landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck. Photograph courtesy of 2014 American Society of Landscape Architects Awards.
Above: A stabilized decomposed granite path in a landscape designed by landscape architect Christine Ten Eyck. Photograph courtesy of 2014 American Society of Landscape Architects Awards.

For more garden design ideas, see Low-Cost Luxury: 9 Ways to Use Decomposed Granite in a Landscape.

What are the types of decomposed granite?

Although there are at least 30 colors and varying degrees of particle sizes, decomposed granite basically comes in three forms: natural, stabilized, and resin-coated:

Swansons’ Staff Favorites: Gardening Tools

Swansons’ Early Spring Sale lasts through March 11, 2018, offering great savings on trees, shrubs, and perennials. As you continue reading, think about adding to your tool belt while you shop through our best selection of fruit trees and berries of the year. 


We’re on the forefront of our planting season and we’re eager to get our hands back into the soil. Before we can get our gardens going, we’re pulling out our favorite tools. Our tools are our back-saving prized possessions, and we want to tell you about our favorite ones!

The first two tools we list are the most popular among Swansons’ staff. Everyone loves them! However, with many different gardening tasks, come many different favorite tools. After our top two choices, we share many of our other go-to tools that make gardening easier! Our thoughts on tools are generally ordered by use for smaller projects to larger ones.

Remember, whatever tools you use, it’s essential they’re kept clean and dry between uses to avoid spreading any diseases. 


#1 Most Popular: Hori Hori Knife

The Hori Hori Knife is by far the most popular gardening tool we reach for. The question is not what it can do, but what can’t it do?

Hori hori knife (4).jpg

What we have to say about the Hori Hori knife…

“The Hori Hori is a multi-purpose tool. You can dig holes for small plants, measure depth for bulbs, cut and excavate roots, some have bottle openers. It has a great design, being one piece of steel with a wooden handle.” – Bram O.

“The Hori Hori!!! It does almost everything – digs holes for bulbs or plants, saws through roots, and digs up weeds!” – Deb Q. 

“The Hori knife truly is all purpose – good for digging in the dirt, root pruning, rough sawing, even a decent soil scoop. Also great for stabbing holes in the side of a bale of compost so you can rip the plastic off like a child on Christmas.” – Brent K. 

“The best! This is a Japanese-made tool, and is great quality. The Hori Hori can be used for many tasks: weeding, digging a planting hole for small perennials and annuals, and opening bags of compost and soil.” – Theresa V. 

“Great tool for easy digging-in to root balls and small plants that need to be pulled out. It slides and stabs with it’s serrated edges and point – better than a trowel!” – Karin

“The Hori Hori does everything including whacking slugs! I have both the carbon and stainless steel versions and I prefer the stainless for ease of care and sharpness” – Kathy C.

“I do lots of container gardening, and it makes it easy to transfer items, remove plants from pots, and plus – you feel like a ninja with a big knife.” – Liane S. 

“Great for weeding, cutting small roots, breaking up rootballs when planting, and cutting small branches.” – Alex L. 

“As far as a multi-use tool goes, the Hori Hori truly delivers the all-around needs of basic gardening. You can measure bulb depth, saw roots, dig small holes, and use it as a garden knife.” – Travis M. 

“The Hori Hori is definitely my favorite tool for all general weeding and small tasks. It does nearly everything! I use it to dig holes, plant bulbs, plant containers, break up root balls, and do root pruning.” – Kathy B. 


#2 Most Popular: Felco Pruners

The nursery professional’s tool of choice! The Felco pruners are pruners of excellent quality, that stand out due to their replaceable parts, sharp blades, and comfortable use. 

Felco pruners (3).jpg

What we have to say about Felco Pruners…

“This is a lifetime tool! Felco pruners have the best (Swiss!) quality. Each part can be replaced, including blades that can be sharpened and replaced. I have owned one pair for over 15 years and they still look like new!” – Theresa V. 

“I don’t go to the garden without them. I missed them horribly when they were getting sharpened last year. They are easy to take apart for cleaning and oiling, and pretty easy to get back together again. You can buy spare parts, including the blade! I use them for large and small tasks, they are incredibly versatile.” -Denise R.

“The Felco 2 is my other favorite tool. Great for pruning trees, shrubs, and small woody perennials.” – Alex L. 

“Felco pruners! These make clean cups, are easy to sharpen, and have replacement parts!” – Deb Q. 

“Felco pruners really are the choice tool for the nursery professional. The Felco 6 pruners are my favorite since they are made to be more comfortable in a smaller hand. I’ve had my own personal Felco 6 pruners for 30 years because I can replace the blades myself, I love them!” – Kathy B. 


Swansons’ Favorite Tools for Small-Space Gardening

Needle-Nose Pruners & Dandelion Weeder “I love my small clippers for all kinds of trimming and harvesting in my vegetable and cutting gardens. They make it easier to snip in small spaces without accidentally cutting more than I would like! These are great for deadheading flowers as well. My second favorite tool is the dandelion weeder. This long, thin weeder makes quick work of dandelion taproots but I also love it for weeding small spaces in the rockery.” – Aimée D. 

Fiskars Micro Tip Pruning Snips

Fiskars Micro Tip Pruning Snips

Needle-Nose Pruners “The narrow blades, both of which cut like scissors, are perfect for anything small or finely textured – perennials, lavender, blueberries, Japanese maples. My favorite brand is the ARS.” – Dan G. 

Fiskars Micro Snip “I particularly love the snips for clean up of spent orchid blossoms and precise cuts to dead/dying leaves so the orchids continue to look their best. Also great for spent pitchers and small leaves on carnivorous plants.” – Matt B. 

Floral Scissors “These are perfect for all y indoor plant maintenance needs. Whether I want to trim the ends of a Dracaena or deadhead, these work wonderfully for making all my houseplants look perfect. Plus, put them next to some trendy garden décor, and it doubles as fine home décor.” – Mollie T. 

Hand Claw

Hand Claw

Three-Tine Hand Claw “The simple three-tine hand claw is ideal for surface weeding, digging in loose soil, fitting into small spaces, and it’s great for root raking while planting or bonsai.” – Bram O. 

Five-Tine Hand Claw “Great for container gardening! It is so useful for raking roots, top-level weeding, and spreading mulch.” – Travis M. 

EZ Digger

EZ Digger

EZ-Digger “These are great for lots of small projects because of the versatile shape. I use these for planting bulbs, pulling up grass, and planting seeds with the tapered side.” – Erich N.

EZ-Digger “The name says it all. Makes it super easy to claw through roots and dig out stones, good for scooping soil out of a hole while you work. With a little practice you can make nice neat trenches for row planting. Also it looks terrifying, which I appreciate. I like to have one in my hand (appropriately caked with mud and chopped-up bits of vegetation) when people start walking toward my front door with clipboards.” – Brent K. 

Nejiri Gama Hoe

Nejiri Gama Hoe

Nejiri Gama Hoe “This is a Japanese hoe with a long handle and narrow blade that is longer on one side than on the other. It is so handy for weeding especially!” – Claudia T.

Bachi Gata Japanese Hand Hoe “Excellent, ergonomic hand tool for digging (especially in hard, rocky soil), weeding, and chopping roots where necessary. Much easier on hands than trowel or most weeders.” -Dan G. 

Sod Sickle/Saw

Sod Sickle/Saw

Japanese Sod Sickle/Saw “Very sharp! The bone sizes are so useful for container gardening, root pruning new plants before planting, as well as cutting into planted containers to remove root-bound plants.” – Charlo W. 


Swansons’ Favorite Gardening Tools for Lawn & All-Purpose

Dramm 9-Pattern Revolver in Berry “A classic never dies. I enjoy this tool due to nine different spray options. Like ‘mist’ for carrot seeds and ‘soak’ for tomato starts. The bright color of the revolver keeps me from losing it if it is left attached to the hose laying in the yard (lazy gardener am I).” – Matt B. 

Kneeler/Bench “My favorite ‘tool’ is my kneeler/bench because without it, I would be found on my knees in the garden hours after I went out there to kneel down and weed! LOL! I am an ‘all fours’ weeder and planter, and am not able to get up without the use of that kneeler. It’s also a handy bench for low-to-the-ground work.” – Claudia T. 

Foam Kneeler

Foam Kneeler

Tool Pouch & Foam Kneeler “Like many gardeners, it’s easy to set pruners or tools on the ground, only never to find the tools again. I’ve lost many pruners that way. My favorite tool is the Corona tool pouch. The pouch slips onto my belt and can hold pruners, foldable hand saws, and tool sharpeners. My tools stay within reach and don’t get lost! After a long day of kneeling in dirt, my knees and jeans have seen better days so I often use a foam kneeler. The foam kneeler keeps my jeans clean and my knees happy through hours of weeding and planting bulbs.” – Jackie W.

Kneeler “You don’t usually think of the kneeler as an essential tool when you are shopping, but it is essential. Gardening can be so hard on your body, that these are great. I’d recommend a bright color so its never lose in the lawn!” – Marina B. 

Manual Water Timers & Quick Disconnect Fittings for Garden Hoses “These are my favorites because they make watering much easier for me, and that makes it much more likely that I will do it! Lack of water is the #1 reason for plant deaths during their first year. The manual timer is spring driven, so it does not need batteries. One simply cranks it to the amount of time you want water to come out of the hose and once the time is up, the flow stops. I use it for my drip systems, soaker hoses, and individual sprinklers. The quick disconnects make it really easy for me to move my main garden hose to each of my different watering zone systems. The two pieces push and lock together and are able to be released by simply pulling back on a ring on the female fitting. I don’t know how I functioned before the tiny investment into quick disconnects. Looking back I see my like in two halves. There is the before quick disconnect age, BQDC, and the after quick disconnect age AQDC. I’m much happier now.” – Gabriel M. 

Rotating Grass Shears “Rotating grass shears are great for trimming the top and sides of my Vinca when it grows too tall and falls over the path.” – Gwen P. 

Spading Fork “My very favorite tool is my trusty spading fork. I use it for weeding, planting, turning the soil, digging holes to insert posts or supports, and many other uses. I prefer the shorter handle because it’s easier to handle and lighter weight. The brand doesn’t seem to matter so long as it’s sturdy.” – Denise R. 

Convertible Pruner + Lopper

Convertible Pruner + Lopper

Convertible Pruner + Lopper “This is my new favorite tool because these are so versatile for pruning. They would work for smaller stems, but whereas most other pruners cut up to 1″ diameter branches, these cut up to 1.25″. What is unique about these is that the handles fold down to transform your pruners into loppers.” – Cecil M. 

Folding Pruning Saw “These are incredibly useful, and my favorite tool! The folding pruning saw is very convenient for pruning my apple tree and Laurel. The blade locks into place, it’s lightweight, and great for cutting firewood when I’m hiking.” – Aaron V. 

Long-Handled (Wood) Round Point Shovel & Square Point Shovel“When you work with plants, you work with dirt. For many of us, our yards are works-in-progress. My favorite aspect of this is in how nothing is permanent. If I plant a shrub and a year later decide I don’t quite like it, I move it. If the shape of a bed or slope of an area feels off, I dig or move dirt around until I like it. The round point shovel seems to be involved in nearly every project I do in my yard and would be the first gardening tool I would recommend for any new gardener. Square point shovels are not as versatile as spades in that they are not good for digging into the ground. It does however, shine when it comes to moving material (holds more per scoop), clearing loose material, scooping (dog bombs), and spreading mulches/soils/gravels. In a way, it is a great overall homeowner tool. If you add a wheelbarrow to your two shovel mix, you can do a ton of things yourself and get plenty of real ‘natural’ exercise.” -Brian D. 

D-Handle Trenching Shovel “The longer, narrower blade than a standard shovel is easier to use in tight spaces.” – Kathy C. 

Straight Rake & Shovel “My favorite tools are the straight rake and the shovel. These are seemingly simple tools, yet so amazingly useful in such a universal way. The straight rake to me is really the answer to spills, leveling areas, and some hoeing techniques for the garden. The shovel is great for leveraging rocks, creating hedges, as well as digging holes and the like. Love getting down in the dirt with proper tools!” – Geoffery S. 

Hula Hoe“The Hula-hoe is also known as a stirrup or loop hoe. You likely have a regular hoe in your garden shed to help with spreading and smoothing, but this tool is one to add as it’s a time and back saver for pulling up small weeds in their infancy between your bed rows. Instead of crouching around on all fours, you can stand and use this tool of genius while scraping up those pesky weeds. The sharp edge of the loop skims off the top of weeds in a sweeping motion, leaving it’s insufficient root system to die off. It’s fun name doesn’t hurt it’s appeal, either.” – Shelby T.


Alexandra Campbell on YouTube Gardening in England by Garden Rant

Award-winning English writer Alexandra Campbell, recently described what she calls YouTube Gardening in this post  on her blog The Middlesized Garden. Like me, she complains about there not being enough good gardening videos for her readers – even there in a lively gardening culture like England’s!

She wrote that “the YouTube gardening scene currently seems dominated by the US, Australia, Canada and India/Pakistan. They’re interesting and often useful channels, except when the weather is too different.”

Which is exactly my complaint – in reverse – because searching on YouTube produces a preponderance of videos from British television, usually with Alan Titchmarsh.

So to learn more about what videos pop up for YouTube searchers from England, and more about this interesting woman, I suggested to Alexandra that we Skype, and she was all-in.

English Gardening YouTubers

From left, Katie at Lavender and Leeks; Tanya at Lovely Greens; and Sean James Cameron

According to her, what the English do find on their YouTube searches are lots of allotment (community garden) videos because allotments are a big deal there, and “cool.” (There are TV shows about allotments and even allotment competitions!) One allotment YouTube channel she likes is  Lavender and Leeks. I checked it out and noticing that some are 30 minutes long, I imagine that Brits have longer attention spans than we do.

For videos about ornamental home gardening she likes Tanya at Lovely Greens: Gardening, Beauty and Bee-keeping, a channel that’s “picking up new subscribers by the thousands.” Tanya won a week’s training at a YouTube Creator Camp designed to encourage successful new YouTubers. (Tanya recounts the experience here.)

Alexandra also recommends Sean James Cameron, a “top YouTube gardening influencer.”

She also likes videos by Charles Dowding, who’s famous for his no-dig gardening technique that’s based on his own research. And of course BBC’s Gardener’s World is great, though it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere for us deprived Americans – even on BBC America.

Finally, she recommends the Royal Horticultural Society YouTube Channel, which is so exhaustive, it posted 14 hours of coverage for last year’s Chelsea Flower Show. (More proof of the superior attention span of the English?)

Moving on to the not-so-great on YouTube, I heartily agree with Alexandra here:

There are lots of videos which are essentially slide shows with music, often called something like ’20 Small Backyard Garden Ideas.’ There are also channels where people peer fuzzily at the lens and lose track of what they’re saying. They wave the camera about so much that it’s like viewing a garden from a small boat being tossed in a storm. All very like some of my own videos admittedly…

But I don’t believe that last self-deprecating bit because I’ve seen her own year-old YouTube channel, and her videos are delightful. They include a Middle-Sized Garden of the Month, and monthly tours of her own garden, somewhere in England that’s equivalent to our Zone 8. Looks damn good for February 1!

She records the videos on her phone, with one external mic and another to use indoors for voice-over, and edits in Adobe Premiere Pro. About her videos she told me “I lost my nerve for about six months” but “rediscovered my mojo” thanks to encouragement from no less than Monty Don himself! (She was able to chat with him at an event for his newest book.)

Alexandra is very multi-media, with her 9 novels and 10 nonfiction books, her garden blog, freelance writing, plus coaching others in writing/blogging. Video came next for her because it’s “an important part of building a brand.” She’s also a fan of blogs because unlike Facebook, etc, blogs are something the creator actually owns.

Alexandra Campbell on YouTube Gardening in England originally appeared on Garden Rant on February 23, 2018.

Texas Road Trip: Exploring the Green Spaces of the Magnolia Silos

On a cold February morning, alongside my mother and sisters, I found myself at The Magnolia Silos, created and made famous by the much-loved hosts of HGTV’s ‘Fixer Upper’ program. 

We were on a girls road trip through Texas, and as fans of the show, The Silos in Waco were a must-see destination. 

The day we arrived was brisk, and we headed straight to the bakery, which is well-known for its delicious cupcakes and pastries. So, while my travel companions saved me a place in line, I headed straight for the decorative window boxes along the front and side of the bakery.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to see much in the way of greenery or gardens in winter, and so I was pleasantly surprised to see the lovely plantings underneath the windows.

Edible plants were mixed with ornamental plants, creating a blending of soft, complimentary shades, which suited the cloudy day.

The rosemary pruned into little topiaries created the perfect backdrop for the white, ornamental kale.

There is almost always a line around the bakery, but we were fortunate only to have to wait for 10 minutes before entering. In the meantime, we were handed a bakery menu where we could select what we wanted ahead of time.

I picked the ‘Shiplap’ cupcake – because, where else was I ever going to have the opportunity to get one anywhere else? It was delicious!

This sign within the bakery echoed the sentiments of all who entered and came out with a box of much-coveted cupcakes.

Once outside of the bakery, we headed for the main store where four magnolia trees were espaliered to the left of the entrance.

Don’t let the relatively empty facade fool you – it was filled with shoppers inside. 

A grouping of lavender greeted us as we climbed the steps into the store.


Hanging tight to my wallet while trying to figure out how much I had budgeted for shopping, I entered the store.

It was immediately evident that Joanna has a deep love for gardening and plants although all those inside the store were artificial greenery and flowers.

Back outdoors, my sister and I posed for a picture before we headed over to the garden area.

The garden is surrounded with beds filled with roses that had recently been cut back and tulips just beginning to emerge.

The Magnolia Seed & Supply shop is filled with garden decor along with seeds available for purchase. 

Raised beds are filled with leafy greens. I like the wooden branches used to support the frost cloth.

To the side of the store was a little greenhouse with a planter full of gorgeous kale. 

I must admit that I’ve never thought of kale as ‘gorgeous’ before, but it was in this case.

On our way out, we took a photo of the silos surrounded by families and kids playing on a large expanse of artificial turf using old-fashioned lawn games provided for their use.

A quick stop for a photo.

I hope you enjoyed exploring the green spaces of The Magnolia Silos with me. I certainly did!



The post Texas Road Trip: Exploring the Green Spaces of the Magnolia Silos appeared first on Ramblings from a Desert Garden.

Potato-growing jargon-buster

This article explains some of the terminology concerned with growing potatoes – such as “First Early”, “Second Early”, etc and provides advice on when to plant as well as sowing-to-harvesting times.

Potatoes “chitting” – See below…

Potato types
Most types of potato fall into one of three main categories related to their harvesting times. No prizes for guessing that a “First Early” type is normally harvested before a “Second Early” type! The term “Maincrop” also gives us a clue that this type is the one with the biggest expected yields.


First Early potatoes are the classic “New Potato” types. They are the first to be planted and mature very quickly (typically 10 weeks). Gardeners often vie with one another to produce them as early as possible in the year. This type is often harvested when the tubers are very small, at which stage their flesh will be light and insubstantial and their skins so thin that they can be rubbed off with the fingers. The expected yields are small – maybe 500g per seed-tuber. Examples include “Sharpe’s Express”, “Rocket” and “Belle de Fontenay”.

“Lady Christl” – 1st Early

Second Early potatoes are often (though not necessarily) planted at the same time as the First Earlies, but take longer to mature (typically 13 – 14 weeks). The tubers they produce are usually a bit bigger and firmer than the First Early types, but still tender. A typical yield would be 700 – 800g per seed-tuber. Examples include “Charlotte”, “Kestrel” and “Nadine”.

“Charlotte” – 2nd Early

Maincrops (sometimes sub-divided into “Early Maincrop” and “Late Maincrop” types) are usually planted later than the early varieties and take longer to grow (typically 20 weeks or more), which means they are harvested in late Summer or early Autumn. Their big advantages are that they produce much heavier and bulkier yields, and the tubers will normally remain in good condition for many months if stored properly. The flesh of Maincrop potatoes is often a lot more substantial and more filling than the other types. Grown in a container, a typical yield would be approx. 1.5 – 2kgs per seed-tuber. Examples include “King Edward”, “Desiree” and “Sarpo Mira”.

“Maxine” – Early Maincrop

Flesh types
The flesh type of potatoes can differ markedly from variety to variety – some are “waxy” (with close-textured, smooth flesh), and some are “floury” (with flesh that goes soft, crumbles or breaks up when cooked).

When choosing which varieties to grow you should think about how you like potatoes cooked: floury potatoes are good for mashing and for baking to make beautiful fluffy Jacket Potatoes, but they often disintegrate when boiled. A firmer, waxier, variety is best for boiling or for making chips / French fries. When buying your seed potatoes always enquire about this – a reputable supplier should be able to tell you what you need to know.

Once you get past the novice stage, you will probably also want to think about the size, shape and colour of the potatoes you grow. Will they be large, medium or small? Will they be round, or oval or long? Will they be white, yellow, creamy – or even red, black or multi-coloured? Coloured potatoes are quite trendy, but personally I’m not a great fan of them. I find that the colour usually fades on cooking and ends up a dirty, unappetising grey! (There are exceptions of course, such as “Blue Danube”, which retains its colour well).


Planting times
The decision on when to plant potatoes depends a lot on your local weather. Potato foliage is very susceptible to frost damage, and because of this it is inadvisable to plant too early unless you can provide some suitable protection. My suburban garden in Fleet, Hampshire, is about 30 miles south of London, and the climate here is relatively mild, but even so our last frost of the year is usually in mid-May.

Each year I plant my potatoes in late March or early April, but with protection as described below. In a city, the temperatures are often higher than out in the suburbs or countryside and you will therefore be able to plant earlier. I’m lucky enough to have some small plastic greenhouses which are each just the right size to accommodate four of the pots in which I grow my potatoes.

If you don’t have anything like that, another option is to cover your plants with a couple of layers of horticultural fleece when frost is forecast. In an emergency you can also achieve (for a short space of time) much the same effect with some pages of newspaper, weighed-down with bricks or something similar.


Storage considerations
Neither the First Earlies or Second Earlies keep very well, and are seldom stored for later use. They are too delicious anyway – definitely best eaten within days (preferably hours) of harvest. Maincrops, on the other hand, will keep for months if properly stored. If you plan to store potatoes for a long time, here are a few tips:

  • Dry the potatoes in the open air (preferably in sunshine) for a few hours, until you are able to rub off most of the soil / compost. Drying also fixes (hardens) the skin which helps with avoiding moisture loss.
  • Remove any damaged tubers – eat them or discard them, because they will soon rot
  • Put the good tubers into breathable containers, such as paper or hessian/burlap sacks. Plastic will cause the tubers to sweat and therefore potentially to rot
  • Store the potatoes in lightproof containers, preferably in a dark place. If light reaches them they will turn green and become toxic
  • Store the sacks / containers in a cool but frost-free location, such as a garage or well-insulated shed. If they get too warm, the potatoes will quickly begin to sprout
  • Check the stored tubers frequently (maybe once a month?) to see that they are OK.
  • Discard any that show signs of rotting.
  • Do what you can to protect your potatoes from rodent damage 

Potatoes being stored in a hessian bag

Other potato-related terminology

  • Haulm – an old-fashioned English word meaning the foliage of the potato plant.
  • Chit – a young shoot or sprout on a seed potato, from which the leaves will in due course grow. Sometimes used as a verb – “To chit” means to allow the seed tubers to produce shoots.
  • Tuber – the part of the plant that you eat. The part that people call “the potato”. It grows underground, on the roots of the plant.
  • Seed tuber – a tuber that has been saved after harvesting, and which when planted will produce another plant – so the equivalent of a seed.
  • Earthing-up also Hilling (USA) – progressively covering with soil the emerging shoots of a potato plant as it grows, causing the underground tuber-bearing part of the plant to be taller. Also prevents light reaching the developing tubers and making them turn green (and therefore poisonous).
  • Salad potato – normally a First or Second Early type, often with waxy flesh, grown for using cooked and cooled, in a salad.
  • Blight – normally refers to Late Blight – a disease of solanaceous plants (such as the potato and tomato) that is caused by a fungus (Phytophthora infestans) and is characterized by decay of stems, leaves, and in the potato also of tubers. The most common and most deadly disease affecting potatoes. There is no known cure, and once the disease strikes it is best to cut off and burn the plant’s foliage. The underground tubers will probably be OK if you act promptly! Some potato varieties have a certain resistance to Blight, especially those developed by the Sarvari trust, whose potatoes are mostly given names including the word “Sarpo” – e.g. “Sarpo Mira”, “Sarpo Axona” etc.
  • Scab – a common disease of potatoes, leaving the tubers covered in unsightly but harmless brown lesions or scabs. The incidence of Scab can be decreased by including plentiful organic matter in the growing-medium.

Succulent pots set out for spring, but too early?

A balmy breeze smelling of spring convinced me to move my cold-tender potted succulents back out into the garden over the weekend. It’s so nice to see them gracing a plant table on the deck again, after several months in which they sat packed in a wagon that I could roll into the garage at a moment’s notice. But yesterday it was cold and rainy again, and I wondered if I’d unpacked them too soon.

At least I know my little Moby Juniors (look at how much they’ve grown!) will be fine with chilly weather, although I’ll still bring them indoors if it freezes, since they’re babies.

While I’m out on the deck, let’s say hello to Bathilda, a batty gift from my mom.

I seem to have a thing for rusty metal animals, eh? This crow has collected a pottery-shard necklace for his treasure trove.

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