Lead the Good Life Blog

Growing Potatoes by Adam Woolcott

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 How to grow potatoes

Growing potatoes is fun, easy and rewarding; there are only a few rules you need to follow in order to achieve a great yield.

When growing potatoes grow in a rich, organic soil or compost, in a sunny position and always keep them well watered.

 Protect foliage from frost, and earth-up!

When caring for your potatoes there’s two main things to remember, make sure the new foliage isn’t caught by frost, and always keep the developing young plants ‘earthed- up’.

This simply means that as the plants get taller you continuously raise the soil or compost level around the base of the plant in order to keep the developing potatoes under the soil or compost level. If they’re exposed to the light they will become green, hard and toxic! Always make sure that ultimately there’s about 8” to 12” of foliage above the soil as you don’t want to completely bury all the foliage.

Grow in any garden, regardless of size

Another great advantage of potatoes as a crop is that you don’t necessarily need a huge allotment as they perform very well in pots, containers or specialised potato growing pods. If you select a pot or a container, make sure it’s approximately one and a half times the width of a standard bucket and about twice the height. 

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Potato varieties

So you’ve selected a sunny, frost free spot, you’ve bought your container and you’ve chosen a fantastic compost such as ‘Tref’ to grow your potatoes in, now you just need to decide what type of potatoes to grow.

Again this is very simple, you can grow ‘early’ potatoes, ‘second early’ potatoes or ‘maincrop’ potatoes. 

  • Early potatoes are planted in late March and will be ready to harvest in June or July. 
  • Second early potatoes can be planted in early to mid- April and will be ready for harvesting in July to August 
  • Maincrop potatoes can be planted in mid to late April for harvesting in August.

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Pick your potato!

The choice of varieties is huge these days and many have high crop yields and good disease resistance. There’s a potato variety for every culinary use and their textures can vary from waxy, to powdery, to creamy.

A great early variety is ‘Rocket’ with its round, egg size shape and waxy flesh, great for salads or smothered in mint sauce.

 ‘Maris Peer’ is a well-established second early variety with great disease resistance and tubers that are brilliant for roasting, boiling or steaming.

If you want to grow a really different maincrop variety then try ‘Pink fir apple’ with its long pink or red potatoes that are great for steaming and boiling. It’s obviously got a lot going for it as it’s been in existence for over a hundred years!

 Chit them

Now you’ve selected and got your seed potatoes home, you’ll need to ‘chit’ them, this simply means selecting the ‘rose end’ of the potato, this is the end with all the tiny, knobbly eyes, and standing them in trays or old egg cartons in a bright, frost free place with the rose end pointing upwards.

After a few weeks have passed the eyes will have sprouted and produced small shoots, your potatoes are now ready for planting.

Remember you can purchase everything you need to grow potatoes on our online shop.

Choose your potatoe varieties here 

Purchase a container here

Order your compost here 

and purchase your potatoe gloves here 

Office product of the month – Bird Feeding Starter Kit

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Now we’re in chilly December it’s a good time to give thought to the birds in the garden who will be finding it more difficult to find bird food.

Having just moved into my new flat I felt it was the time to experiment with my latest purchase and see what feathered friends could be attracted into the limited outside space I had to play with.

I gingerly brought home the bird feeding starter kit a large part of me was quite pessimistic, the local sparrows would venture high to my top floor flat to feed.

I could hardly grumble at the quick assembly and easy to store box it kept everything protected from the rain, and out of reach of pesky mice looking for an uninvited meal. Hooking on to a nail already hanging in the wall I hoisted up the fat ball holder late one evening. 

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To my surprise the next morning I was awoken to a hive of activity as a flock of birds had decided to take advantage of the snacks on offer.

In the space of an hour we had a group of small sparrows, several inquisitive starlings and a lone dove who was quite fond of the suet cake which hung neatly over the balcony. 

Naturally they were a little camera shy so we haven’t yet been able to capture the  as we would have wanted, however given the lack of food remaining after one week they obviously enjoyed their visits.

The next step is to install a bird camera and hook it up to the television, but for now I’ll be taking advantage of the selection of bird food on Lead the Good Life and restocking for our new found feathered friends.

If you would like to see what birds you can attract to your garden – why not purchase your own starter kit today and see what good you can do for the local wildlife.

Purchase your Bird Feeding Starter Kit here 

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Magnolia Sunrise

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One of my fondest memories is of playing in my Grandma’s garden in the shade of her magnificent magnolia tree. This nostalgia has kept me wishing for my own magnolia tree to remind me of those memories. 

Unfortunately I don’t have enough space in my little garden for such a wonderful tree, at least not the same variety that she had.

Fortunately I have come across the perfect solution!

The Magnolia ‘Sunrise’

This is a delightful compact tree has all the character and charisma of a normal Magnolia but does not grow to the same vast height. Plus it can be planted in a large container, so if I move, I can take it to a new house with me.

It sports the same wonderful fragrance that all magnolias have, but the flowers; instead of the typical plain creamy white have a streak of pinky-red from the stem adding some beautiful colour.

Remember when planting that your tree will be left in position for many years to come, so give it plenty of nutrients.

Plant them up in moist, well-drained acidic to neutral soil with plenty of organic matter. Although it doesn’t necessarily need acidic soil, it is a good idea to incorporate in plenty of ericaceous compost.

Plant the tree at the same depth as if it was in the nursery soil – up to the soil line on the trunk – and give it a good water.

With the coming of spring’s warm weather it will burst back into life!

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How To Plant Winter Containers with Adam Woolcott

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How to Plant in winter containers

Planting in winter containers is a fun and easy way to add character and colour to your garden.

With containers differing in material, size, colour, shape, and weight; the choice of plants you can grow is enormous!

 All these options mean that picking out a winter container – as well as its inhabitant – is a simple way to stamp your style on your garden. 

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Before you plant your container there are some basic rules you’ll need to follow:

- Make sure the container has proper drainage- use: broken pots, gravel, stones or crushed up polystyrene plant trays in the bottom of the container to aid drainage. Stand the container on pot feet or raised-up on bricks to allow excess water to flow away

- Select the right compost for the right plants; if for example you’re planting rhododendrons, heathers or azaleas you’ll need ericaceous compost, but for non-lime hating plants a compost such as ‘Tref’ will be ideal.

- Generally with winter containers it’s best to select a very sunny, sheltered position to give the plants the maximum chance to thrive during the harshest time of year. You can of course have winter containers in the shade but you’ll need to select shade and cold tolerant plants such as hardy ferns, Japanese laurel and euonymus.

- Make sure the containers aren’t too small and top heavy as they’ll blow over in the wind. The material the container is made of is again a personal choice, but linear metal containers look best in a modern contemporary situation whereas round terracotta pots look best in a natural, cottage garden.

 

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The container itself can be anything from an unloved wellington boot, to an old fruit box right up to an expensive granite planter! 

Plants

Look out for evergreen shrubs such as pieris, skimmia, choisya, holly, laurel, and photinia to name but a few. Remember you can enjoy these shrubs in your container for the winter and then either keep them trimmed or transplant to the garden before they outgrow the container.

  • Ivy, euonymus and vinca are great for trailing over the sides.
  • Grasses add structure.

 

Ultimately though it’s your garden so choose the container that’s right for you, your garden, and your plant!

 

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December Gardening Tips with Adam Woolcott

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Over the years I’ve written many articles about how to care for your garden throughout the seasons. In the past, I could have quite easily recycled the same article year after year, but things have changed. Over the last few years, the British climate has become so varied that what you can do in December one year may be completely different to the next year.

For instance, December 2012 was bitterly cold with snow and penetrating frosts, whilst December 2013 was incredibly wet with widespread flooding and destructive gales. This December looks as if it will start mild and wet; as you can see, there are no consistent rules for winter care.

Outdoor Care

Obvious jobs that need doing in December include the removal of leaves from lawns, paths, patios and decking. Cutting down dead perennials and removing dead and rotting vegetation is also important.

Check that climbers and ramblers are securely fastened to walls, trellises and pergolas so that they won’t be ripped down by wind. Similarly, check standard roses, newly planted trees and other staked plants to make sure they are securely tied to prevent the plants from coming loose in the ground. Check that ties aren’t too tight to prevent rubbing and damage to the bark.

Continue to plant bare root, root-balled and potted trees and shrubs, transplanting any that are in the wrong place.

If your lawn is now wet, then avoid walking on it as much as possible to prevent damage. Use an electric or petrol blower to remove leaves quickly and easily.

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Planting

If you have a rough area of ground you want to plant in next year, dig it over now leaving large clumps of earth. Over winter, the frost, rain and worms will break it down ready for cultivation in the spring.

Now is also a good time to add well-rotted manure, compost or other organic material to your beds, borders and vegetable garden. Over the winter the elements will push it down into the ground and release its goodness. Make sure not to pile it over the top of any plants or up and around stems and trunks as this may cause plants to rot.

Use a pressure washer to clean all hard surfaces, removing slippery moss, algae and fungal growth.

Pond Care

If you have a pond, ensure you cover it with a net or alternatively remove as many fallen leaves from the water as possible. Trim away any dying foliage off pond plants such as Flag Irises and Purple Loosestrife.

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Indoor Plants

With regards to house plants, reduce watering, stop feeding and make sure they have as much natural light as possible. Move them away from radiators and heaters and check for pests such as red spiders and mealy bugs.

Christmas

Christmas is fast approaching and I love to decorate my house with natural greenery from the garden. Think about collecting Holly and colourful Dogwood stems, Ivy, and items such as Pine cones and dried Teasel or Hydrangea heads that can be sprayed and used in colourful dried plant displays.

Cut long stems off Forsythia, Pussy Willow and Witch-hazel, which, if placed in water in a warm environment could potentially break into bloom ready for Christmas.

Finally, enjoy looking on plant websites and plant catalogs; I know I will, those brightly coloured pictures always lift my soul and give me inspiration for the new gardening year.

Have a Merry Christmas and best wishes for the New Year.

How To Grow Onions & Garlic by Adam Woolcott

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Worldwide culinary staples

In my life I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of the world and taste a lot of it too.

Wherever I end up, two popular ingredients always seem to turn up: garlic and onions. It seems that the flavoursome garlic and onion are culinary staples all over the world.

Tasty and healthy!

Onions and particularly garlic are very good for you, as they can help you to fight and prevent infections such as the common cold and bronchitis, and even diseases such as cancer and heart disease!

The one downside of eating these two wonder veg’ is the odour and effect it can have on the breath, especially with garlic. Top tip- chewing parsley is meant to eliminate the odour!

Onions and garlic are members of the allium family, the same family as the stunning alliums we plant in our gardens for those amazing displays in May and June, and just like alliums they thrive in the same growing conditions.

Onions and garlic enjoy rich, well-drained soil in an open, sunny position. They hate weed competition so keep them weed free.

There are three different methods for growing these plants as listed below:

Method 1

In extremely well drained soil in an open, sunny position plant garlic cloves and onion sets in autumn to early winter.

Push them gently into the soil 6” apart with just the top of the set or clove out of the soil in rows 12” apart. This method will give you an earlier crop next year.

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Method 2

If you have very wet soil then follow Method 1 except plant later in March or April otherwise they may rot in the ground.

 

Method 3

Allows you to plant onions and garlic in the autumn or early winter and still achieve an early crop even if you have really heavy soil!

This can be done by planting the sets or cloves in module trays; these are plastic trays with planting pockets, looking something like large, black ice cube trays.

Fill the trays with good quality compost such as Tref and again just push the sets or cloves in with their tips just above the compost and water them with a fine spray.

Place the trays in a cold greenhouse, cold frame or just under a sheet of glass or Perspex somewhere bright and sunny.

No need to water them anymore, as they’ll happily grow away without the threat of rotting and can be transplanted to their final growing position in the spring.

One final piece of advice is to cover your cloves or sets with mesh or fleece until they start to grow as they’re very attractive to birds!

If you are interested in growing your own onion or garlic you can purchase everything required in our online shop.

Purchase Onions here

Purchase Garlic here

Purchase Horticultural fleece here

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Winter Wildlife by Adam Woolcott

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One of the many privileges of being a self-employed gardener over the last 27 years has been discovering the amount wildlife that exists in peoples’ gardens. Over the years I have seen, deer, foxes, weasels, rabbits, hares, squirrels, stoats, hedgehogs, mice, adders, grass snakes, slow-worms, frogs, toads, newts, countless types of birds and even one of the big black cats! And of course all sorts of insects and creepy-crawlies.

When working in so many different gardens and aspects you tend to get a feel for what type of wildlife you’re likely to discover and therefore the conditions in needs to thrive. One thing I’ve really noticed over the years is that nature and wildlife will take advantage of the smallest opportunity in your garden and that you don’t need to go to great lengths in order to attract it.

In fact on occasions I’ve even seen wildlife take advantage of areas that we’d rather not even see such as compost heaps, old sheds and piles of dumped rubbish. Of course nobody really wants piles of old tyres and a broken washing machine in their back garden, but there are other very simple things you can do to bring wildlife into your garden.

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A few years ago I bought a very old earthenware sink that didn’t even have a plughole, it was only small, about the size of a footrest and only 6” deep. The idea was to fill it with water and just have some ornamental aquatic plants, but to my surprise within weeks three frogs and a newt took up residence and then dragonflies began to hover over the feature. So you can see that even the simplest of water features can attract wildlife.

Just leaving a hidden area of your garden untouched can help wildlife enormously, this allows wild flowers and grasses to grow, creating a habitat that will provide, food, shelter and a place for butterflies for example to lay their eggs.

Log piles are probably the most amazing habitat for wildlife benefiting everything from soil bacteria all the way up to foxes and badgers who will feed on juicy worms, slugs and snails attracted to the area. These also make amazing homes for hedgehogs to hibernate and species of mice to name but a few.

Bird baths and bird tables are guaranteed to bring many species of birds into your garden and the use of fat balls and fresh unfrozen water in the winter will be a huge benefit for them.In a nutshell introducing simple features into your garden and leaving small areas untouched will automatically bring wildlife in, where it can feed, breed and feel safe.

Make sure you look after the wildlife in your garden this winter with our expansive range of wildlife products on Lead the Good life.

Office plant of the month – Blueberry ‘Pinkberry’

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November’s office favourite is the Blueberry ‘Pinkberry’; a plant that fruits with pink blueberries that taste even sweeter than normal blueberries.

The bark of the pink berry is intricately patterned – a rough feel – on such a delicate stem. Lime coloured branches shoot off with leaves of rich green.

My pinkberry was first housed on the left of my computer screen but lack of natural light and being potted in a coffee cup didn’t do too much for its health.

The leaves paled and fell sadly on to my desk, and the poor thing just looked limp and lifeless.

I reminded myself that: “a pink berry’s for life not just for one week on an office desk”, and made the decision to take the pink berry home and give it as much TLC and ericaceous plant food as possible.

So I did a little research, wrote a shopping list, and headed off to my local DIY store. The list I took is pictured below:

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At the local DIY shop I found a 30 cm diameter pot and a bag of ericaceous compost.

Next up the broken tiles; these are used in the bottom of containers to help retain moisture.

With all the equipment needed I set to the task at hand. I began by throwing the tile pieces at the conservatory step to break them up in to smaller pieces. I then layered the bottom of the pot with the pieces before scooping up compost with my hands and planting the pink berry.

Now it stands proud and perky (well a lot perkier) in a pot in the garden, will it survive the winter and fruit in the summer – watch this space!

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Let us know if you choose to join me on the quest to grow these fairy tale fruits

Happy growing – Steve

Buy your very own Blueberry Pinkberry Plant here

 

Discussing Japanese Acers with Adam Woolcott

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Japanese maples or acers are exquisite garden shrubs or small trees that add elegance, colour, structure and a sense of the exotic to the garden.They’re probably most famously known for the range of mind blowing autumn colours they display. Fiery reds, golden yellows, amazing oranges and other colours in-between.

Many acers not only finish the year changing leaf colour but begin the year doing the same. Many varieties have leaves that emerge in the spring brightly coloured red, orange, pink or yellow before mellowing to softer shades as the leaves mature. Japanese maples also flower in late spring with tiny red or orange flowers that then develop into winged seed pods.

Some varieties have incredibly attractive bark while others have bark that peels off in thin, brown tissue paper like layers.Many varieties of Japanese maple are upright and branched but others weep and hang like bonsai willow trees and look amazing planted near ponds or streams.The array of leaf shapes is quite staggering, most are palmate or hand shaped going from smooth edged leaves to the most incredibly intricate shaped leaves.Even in the winter when the leaves have fallen their elegant branch structure looks fascinating covered in frost or a light fall of snow.

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They form an essential part of a Japanese style garden but also fit in very well with a tropical or jungle like planting scheme. They’re as happy in pots as they are in the ground.Japanese maples are very easy to grow subject to a few demands. They generally prefer dappled, cool shade, a moist, organic rich soil and despise exposed, windy positions or parts of the garden prone to late spring frosts that can damage the newly emerging foliage.

Plant them very slightly higher or exactly the same level as they were in the pot. Japanese maples have very thin bark and if planted too deep can rot at the base and gradually perish. Following these simple rules you’ll find Japanese maples incredibly easy to grow and they can live for hundreds of years eventually growing into small trees.

In pots they can look glorious under-planted with grasses, ferns or heathers for example and in the garden they associate brilliantly with foxgloves, hostas, black snake grass and liriope, to name but a few.

Every garden, balcony or patio will be enhanced by one of these magnificent plants and if loved and cared for will give you many years of pleasure.

Growing Holly by Adam Woolcott

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Holly is an amazing plant, incredibly hardy, drought tolerant, shade tolerant, and easy to grow in almost any situation.Holly has amazing attributes, it’s evergreen, it flowers, has berries which can be red, yellow or even black on some species and has glossy foliage that can be plain green, or variegated with gold or silver coloured leaves. The leaves can be smooth edged, serrated, prickly or even rounded in shape.

Ilex aquifolium or English / common holly grows wild in the Britain and so varieties of it are extremely happy and adaptable when it comes to growing in our gardens.

Holly can also be clipped into fancy topiary shapes, cones, balls or even animals! It makes a fantastic hedge that will remain green all year, have attractive berries and with its prickly foliage deter unwanted intruders!

Holly is known as a “dioecious’ plant meaning that male and female flowers grow on separate plants. This isn’t a problem for pollination in general, as there’s so many holly trees around that cross pollination for berries is pretty much assured. If you are in an isolated spot grow a male and female variety in close proximity to ensure pollination and therefore berries.

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One strange paradox in the world of holly varieties is that there are two strangely named varieties, ‘Golden king’ is a female variety and ‘Silver queen’ is a male variety, so always read the labels when buying holly plants.

Holly looks so elegant and attractive in the garden as it’s great to use in a formal foliage colour scheme, to grow in pots, to hide ugly structures such as old sheds or for creating interest in the depths of winter.

Use holly topiary in the form of cones or balls for example to create features in the garden and to give beds and borders shape, interest and definition. Standard hollies are particularly elegant with their slender, straight stems and rounded heads of glossy leaves and blood red berries. Plant them in an attractive pot and in the winter plant winter flowering violas or pansies around the base with ivies trailing over the side. In the summer use red geraniums and blue lobelia for trailing.

Hollies provide an air of elegance and romance in the garden and standard hollies look good either side of a front door or at the base or top of steps. If you’re looking for a shrub that ticks all the boxes then holly is certainly at the top of the list, plant it, love it and enjoy it.