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The allotment in June – what’s growing on?!

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The weather has been amazing! I hope it’s been good with you too. As a result of this I’ve been busy in my greenhouse, garden and veggie patches and I’ve neglected blogging for some time. I’ve literally been getting home from work, gardening and sleeping for weeks now. Great work life balance, but not so great for the work blog life balance!

However, I’ve been given a bit of a kick start back into things via Michelle at Veg Plotting who’s inspired a load of bloggers to get involved in the The Bloggers’ Cut for the Chelsea Fringe 2013.

I’d never heard of the Chelsea Fringe before but it sounds cool! Definitely a people’s event with a focus on the environment, community and art and more importantly participation. So over on Veg Plotting you can see a number of bloggers’ links sharing their recent exploits in their gardens.

I actually started this post last week, so this is what my garden and allotment looked like back then. The only difference over the week is that my alliums are in full flower, the clematis and the aquilegias are out and everything is really coming on. The warm weather combined with a good dose of rain last week provided the perfect growing conditions.

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The tulips are still flowering at home and at the allotment and they’ve been outstanding this year. As well as some new bulbs we planted last Autumn the tulips I planted under my trees at least 5 years ago are still going strong and just get bigger and better with age.

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I planted them under my trees after a visit to Levens Hall in Cumbria where they had planted perfectly spaced big red tulips under the topiary. It reminded me of something out of Alice in Wonderland and I just loved the red/green combination. Mine aren’t perfectly spaced but then neither is anything in my garden, I just took the inspiration and made it my own.

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The bulbs have multiplied over the years and the tulip heads are literally huge! Many people replace tulips each year because they just don’t last but some are perennial and will actually naturalise, how long for I do not know. On my recent trip to Great Dixter, head gardener Fergus Garret was talking about some research they’re doing on tulips and trying to work out how to tell if they’re perennial or not. He suggested that the larger the bulb the more likely they are to keep coming back. Sounds about right since these were huge bulbs to begin with.

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Veggie wise I still have a lot of seedlings in the greenhouse but outside things are coming along nicely too. My potatoes are all through, onions are growing, broad beans have been flowering for a while but still seem shorter than usual and my peas are growing nicely, but not as good as Bill’s (my allotment neightbour)! The fruits are doing very well and I also have tons of broccoli, kale, squash, courgettes, pumpkins and beetroot.

In the greenhouse I have chillies, sweet peppers, cucumbers, spring onions, my pink onions are still in there, half my giant leeks (the other half are outside), tomatoes, celery and probably some other stuff that I’ve forgotten about! No crops as yet apart from some small broad beans, lettuce and spring onions.

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I also have tons of sweet peas and begonias ready for planting out. I’ve kept the sweet peas outside for a while now so they don’t go soft. I did a few sweet pea experiments this year and found that the seeds sown before winter that came up in the cold greenhouse around February are the strongest, biggest and best looking! I think they like a bit of a cold start perhaps?

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Back to the other theme of The Bloggers’ Cut, Michelle wants to know what our favourite kind of cake for gardening is. This weekend I enjoyed eating some jam and cream doughnuts but I’m very easy going when it comes to cake and will eat pretty much anything.

Something that sprung to mind, however, was a very special cake I made last year during the Queen’s Jubilee bank holiday – ‘Herman the German Friendship Cake‘. I was reminded of this because Adam started a bank holiday project last week but was still finishing up this weekend – our new shed! I’m so excited! Anyway, last year we had some of our dearest friends staying, the weather was gorgeous and Adam started his first bank holiday project, the appropriately named ‘Jubilee Bench’.

He finished the bench in time for us to share a lovely BBQ and to finish off Herman. Have you ever heard of this cake? I was given a yeasty cake mix and told to ‘feed it’ regularly then bake it. I have to say it was one of thee most amazing cakes I’ve ever had!!!! We all loved it. Here’s a photo from that awesome day (Adam on the left) where we celebrated the arrival of the Jubilee Bench. Sorry no photos of the cake, it all went down just far too quick.

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How are things getting on in your garden? Have you been enjoying some good weather? Have you started any new projects or perhaps you’ve baked a cake?

Meet the people – interview with Robin Parker of Gabriel Ash!

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You may have gathered that I adore my greenhouse, which Adam built a couple of years ago. The photo above was taken last year and the greenhouse is in there somewhere! Because I have such a ‘thing’ for greenhouses I recently decided to allow North West UK company Gabriel Ash, the only manufacturer to have its entire range endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society, to feature as a sponsor on my blog because it’s a company I genuinely believe in. I’m originally from the North West too so I was keen to find out more about Gabriel Ash and how they started their company. So, for the 2nd interview in my ‘meet the people’ series I interviewed their sales and marketing manager, Robin Parker…

Q. Hi Robin, I’m really intrigued to know more about when and how Gabriel Ash started its business?

Hi Anna. Gabriel Ash started a long time ago, and actually grew out of our then sister company who manufactured Aluminium greenhouses. We wanted to create a top of the range cedar greenhouse and joined with a Chester joinery company to start Gabriel Ash. We’ve got 70 years of experience manufacturing and engineering greenhouses (I’ve been doing this for 17 years now!) so we like to think we know what we’re doing, and our customers tend to agree, as do the various RHS gardens that house our greenhouses.

harlow_carr_new_greenhouse_insideInside the greenhouse at Harlow Carr during my visit before Christmas

Q. What does being endorsed by the RHS actually mean to you?

It means a great deal. The RHS is the pinnacle of gardening in this country (if not the world) and they are massively respected by everyone that knows anything about gardening. To have not only their approval but their endorsement is a huge bonus, not only for us, but for our clients who know that they are purchasing a greenhouse from the ONLY greenhouse company in the world to have their all their products endorsed by this world famous society.

Q. Have you installed your greenhouses at the RHS gardens?

Yes we have, we’ve got greenhouses at a couple of the RHS gardens; RHS Rosemoor in North Devon was the first of the RHS gardens to get a Gabriel Ash greenhouse back in 2004 (before they endorsed us) for their Kitchen Garden. It was one of the larger of our range (a Classic Planthouse) and has now faded to a lovely silvery grey.

The 2nd RHS garden to have a Gabriel Ash structure (well 2 in fact!) is RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate. In 2009 they asked us to design and install a teaching greenhouse for them as part of their new £3m Bramall learning centre at the gardens, and early in 2010 we installed a bespoke 12ft x 60ft greenhouse that is currently being used to teach the next generation of horticulturalists from all over the Yorkshire area. It makes us proud to know that to date over 35,000 schoolchildren have been weening their horticultural skills in one of our greenhouses. Lizzie Balmforth – the curator at RHS Harlow Carr liked our greenhouses so much that in 2012 they purchased another for their kitchen garden, and appropriately it was our Harlow Carr model!

harlow_carr_new_greenhouseThe Harlow Carr in situ photographed on my visit in January

Q. Do you create designs based on individual requirements, odd garden shapes etc..? What’s the most interesting/tricky greenhouse that Gabriel Ash have installed?

We do manufacture bespoke structures, and I get asked on an almost daily basis if we can replace existing structures exactly as they were in the Victorian era. The reality is that whilst we can manufacture a greenhouse to most sizes and shapes, even Gabriel Ash have their limitations! Sometimes we get a situation that is so tricky that we have to turn the customer down, but not before we’ve given them the benefit of our extensive experience and other options within their garden.

I think the most tricky design we’ve ever installed was a large 6m x 8m structure linking 2 buildings together. It was quite a simple structure, but because of the dimensions everything gets a little trickier as you need to take into account the weight of the structure (and the fact that we want it to still be there in 50 years time!)

Q. What’s your take on sustainability when it comes to using all that lovely wood?

We are quite passionate about sustainability here at Gabriel Ash. We are the only greenhouse manufacturer to have their own PEFC certificate, meaning that not only is the wood that we use PEFC certified but our whole chain of custody is certified to guarantee that any Gabriel Ash greenhouse bought has been made from cedar that is from a responsibly managed forest.

greenhouse_tomato_seedlingsQ. Do you think that greenhouses and cold frames are becoming more popular nowadays and why do you think that might be?

I think you’re right Anna, I think they are becoming more popular as people have more free time and are choosing to spend that time in the garden. Couple that with the increase in food costs and the social desire to be ecologically friendly and ‘grow your own’ and we are seeing that more and more people are buying greenhouses – of all shapes and sizes.

Q. What kind of external factors can affect your business, such as weather or the economic environment?

The weather definitely has an impact on our business. If there is snow on the ground for example then people just aren’t thinking about their garden, which is ironic because its exactly at that time of the year when having a greenhouse lets you go out and enjoy your garden.

The economic climate has effected every company is one way or the other. We realise that whilst we manufacture the highest quality Cedar greenhouses that you can buy, we don’t sell necessities (unless growing is a necessity!) so therefore when customers have their finances squeezed it is the discretional spend on items like greenhouses that will suffer.

Thankfully Gabriel Ash has a good following and because we are such high quality we have managed to weather the storm and we’re starting to see the green shoots of recovery now.

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Q. What is the best thing we can do to care for our own greenhouses?

Keep them clean and tidy. It may sound obvious, but clean windows let in more light than dirty ones. Wooden greenhouses need very little maintenance if they are made from Western red cedar (like Gabriel Ash’s) so just keeping them clean is the key, and normal soap and water – or even just water and a brush – will mean your greenhouse lasts longer.

Q. Thanks Robin! Can you give us some more top tips for our greenhouses and cold frames over the next few weeks?

Well thankfully the weather seems to have picked up and whilst we’ll still be getting some frosts the greenhouse should be getting nice and full now. Remember in the summer plants are like people, they need lots of water on hot days, and make sure you open the windows when it gets really hot – unless you’re lucky enough to have a Gabriel Ash greenhouse, in which case the autovents should work just fine.

~~~

Well, I certainly found the snoop into Gabriel Ash and the world of greenhouses really very interesting. As for the top tips and care advice I always wash my greenhouse with soapy water and air it before I put my spring seedlings in there. I’m also really enjoying opening the greenhouse in the morning, really makes me feel like summer is on the way!

I can’t wait to do my ‘what’s growing on update’ because there’s lots happening in my greenhouse but I need to find some time to do it! I’ve not stopped sowing and pottering and planting out since the weather got milder and with a new dog to take care of too, writing is somewhat suffering! Reading blogs is my favourite pastime though and I’m missing getting round to reading and commenting on all my favourite blogs so hopefully I can make time for that soon. If only I could get an internet connection in my greenhouse…hmm…now there’s an idea!

How do you make time for blogging and gardening? What’s your best greenhouse top tip?

Why I love my greenhouse – or any greenhouse for that matter!

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A couple of weeks back on Gardeners’ World, Monty Don introduced his new greenhouse and it was just awesome! A really high roofed greenhouse built on a brick foundation and he seemed completely over the moon with it. That’s exactly how I felt when Adam built ours.

When I first met Adam I had no idea just how good he was at wood working but he did enjoy spending time at the allotment doing the odd bit here and there.

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His first major creation was our ‘Turkish bed’ that he made after holidays in Turkey, Thailand and Borneo where we just loved these big lounging seats. It went down very well with the other folk at the allotments who loved it too and they soon started to refer to my allotment as Adam’s!!! Hang on, hang on, I plant all the veg?!!?!!

It seems that wooden structures are admired by many and when Adam built our greenhouse in spring 2011 it was adored by everyone and it seems the plants we grow inside it love it too.

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I’ve always had a ‘thing’ for greenhouses since my parents bought a beauty when I was about 8 and I love to snap photos of them whenever I can. My latest obsession is the new one at Harlow Carr and of course the alpine house is just out of this world.

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I also love this quirky number below that I snooped on at my parents’ allotment site. My fellow allotmenteer Michaela has a gorgeous greenhouse too. Another corker is this new one at mytinyplot.com.

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So, where’s this going? Okay, I’ll come clean. You may have noticed a new banner on my website for Gabriel Ash who sell amazing greenhouses that are endorsed by my beloved RHS. They even have a range named after the RHS gardens. As you can imagine I fell in love with them and I’ve put a banner on my site for free. I get nothing for that being there. Not a bean.

I’m toying with the idea of having a few tasteful adverts on my site in the future and Gabriel Ash are just the kind of advert I’m happy to have, unlike the adverts my WordPress hosted site used to run, which to my horror some of my visitors clicked on. I decided to go self-hosted so that adverts for products that I definitely do not love would no longer appear and I could instead promote the products and companies that I genuinely admire. So this first step is a way of trialing banners/sponsors without getting too involved. I’m also hoping that as part of my ‘Meet the people‘ series that I can get some expert tips from them about greenhouses. So, it’s a partnership of sorts and maybe it will lead somewhere, maybe it wont. I do think their range is just fab though.

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Our greenhouse is really starting to fill up with seedlings now and although I’m fleecing them over at night, last weekend I noticed the temperature in the daytime had reached 30 degrees! Good job I got there in time to let some air in. I’ll attempt to describe just how Adam built our greenhouse at some point, it involves beer and blood! He’s going to build a replacement shed this year too and I can’t wait!

Do you have a greenhouse? Do you love it? Do you want a greenhouse? Do you have a strange obsession with garden ‘structures’ of any kind?!

Quick DIY for the garden – the net box

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If you’re a bit of a handy man, handy girl or you’re living with one then I highly recommend having a go at making something Adam made for me a couple of years ago. The net box! It’s got so many uses all year round. I’ve got a couple of these in different sizes for different plants.

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I often throw netting over my crops and stake it in place with canes but I find having ready made boxes really useful, for example, covering pots of bulbs that aren’t through yet to protect them from pesky squirrels. They’re also brilliant  for warming up sections of soil ready for planting and for protecting any newly planted crops. Later in the year I’ll use them to protect crops from birds and to provide toasty micro climates. I also find it puts cats off from using freshly raked beds and beds with small seedlings, as litter trays.

Garden centres do sell a range of netting, fleece and plastic cloches which are also useful around the garden and now is good time of year to get these things in place, warming up the soil for spring. I have a couple of those too but don’t find them quite as handy as these boxes. A colleague was telling me about his neighbour who’s made a massive version that covers a much bigger area (around the size of two of my biggest raised beds) and it’s head height so he can get inside! Now that’s some serious veggie protection!

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Adam made the boxes by screwing together 12 lengths of 2×1 batons and he stapled on the netting with a staple gun. Other allotment folk make some brilliant curved ones by using plumbing piping. One important tip, don’t double the netting up and create any gaps, bees can easily get trapped in between so it’s best to just use one layer. Adam used scaffolding netting which is available in 2m wide lengths, most garden centres sell something similar.

Do you have any net-boxes or cloches? What kind of things do you make for your garden?

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