Gardens of Devon Worth A Visit

Devon is the only county in England to have two coastlines, an impressive fact in of itself, but take into account the warm weather that it receives, not to mention the overall fine quality of the air and earth, and it’s not hard to see why this county is also home to some of the most spectacular public gardens in the UK.

There are dozens upon dozens of gardens open to the public throughout the county, ranging from prim and proper formal affairs (often attached to National Trust properties) to impressive, unbridled wild gardens that have been let to run rampant in this idyllic land.

If you’re planning a trip to Devon and are keen to take in a few public gardens whilst you’re in the south, then take a look at this list and make sure to let us know where you’ve visited:

Coleton Fishacre Garden

This RHS accredited garden is steeped in both historical beauty and modern innovation. One of the few National Trust properties to have attained this accreditation, Coleton Fishacre is a safe haven for exotic and tender plants, protected from the worst of the elements by a coastal valley location. A mild climate and plenty of sheltering trees make this a perfect place to visit during the spring and summer; make sure not to miss spectacular bowling green!

RHS Garden Rosemoor

Blending the majesty of the most traditional formal gardens and the casual beauty of an impressionists painting, Rosemoor was originally owned by Lady Anne Palmer who was bequeathed the land in 1931 after the death of her Father, Robert Horace Walpole, the last Earl of Orford. Lady Anne herself, described the gardens as ‘dull and labour intensive, typically Victorian’, before helping to plan the grand garden that exists today.

Bicton Park Botanicals

Over 60 acres of gardens await you at Bicton Park, including some truly impressive botanical specimens which are only able to thrive thanks to the diligent care that is afforded to them by their gardeners. Make sure to visit the Palm House, famed for its architectural beauty as much as its tropical contents. The building dates back to 1845, just 20 years younger than the main Bicton building which is also worth looking at.

Castle Hill Gardens

Located in village of Filleigh near South Molton, finding the aptly named Castle Hill Garden may take some time, but the wait is bound to be worth it. Chief of all the features you’ll find here is Xa Tollemache’s striking Millennium Garden which comes complete with a fantastic water feature and some lovely herbaceous plants. The Woodland Garden is home to over 175 different flowers, visit in spring to see them at their finest.

Knightshayes Garden

The formal terraces found in Tiverton’s Knightshayes Gardens are amongst the finest that you’ll see in the country and pair wonderfully with the classic water lily pool and topiary, home to some rare tree specimens. Alongside an exquisite Victorian walled garden, you’ll also be able to explore some attractive woodland walks that take you all the way through the grounds and up to the 19th century county house.

Gardens of North Wales Worth A Visit

Public gardens hire full-time gardeners to plan, plant and care for the land; spending a day in one of these places is a great way of discovering new tricks for your own garden. Unless they’re especially busy, gardeners will usually find time to chat to visitors, so don’t feel shy about asking them questions about certain plants or growing techniques.

There are plenty of horticultural things in North Wales, but these take the biscuit for beauty, variety and style:

Bodnant Gardens

The grounds at Bodnant are some of the most picturesque in the country and are backed up by over a century of rich horticultural history. The McLaren family have been key in the development of these gardens since their inception in the 19th century. Each generation of the McLarens have contributed to the success of Bodnant, of particular note are the Italianate terraces constructed in the early 20th century.

Plas Cadnant

The ‘Hidden Gardens’, as they’re otherwise known, make for a lovely day out, especially if you’re keen on discovering what has been described as ‘one of North Wales’ best kept secrets’. This historic garden was all but abandoned in 1928, despite being maintained for well over a century beforehand. Today the garden exists in a state of constant renovation and restoration which you can enjoy at your leisure. Should you wish to stay longer, then you can stay at one of five self-catering lodges inside the grounds.

Plas Newydd Country House & Gardens

Plas Newydd is one of a handful of grand country homes that are scattered throughout North Wales that is steeped in national history and now under the protection of the National Trust. In addition to being able to poke around the cavernous surroundings of this historical home, visitors also have access to 40 acres of gardens, parkland and woodland. Sheltered gardens, protected behind massive stonewalls, exist in their own exotic micro-climate whilst atmospheric Australasian arboretum offers a chance to truly escape.

Caerau Uchaf Gardens

Caerau Gardens were started in 1994 by owners Toby and Stephanie Hickish. When they bought the land initially it offered a lot of potential but not much else. A derelict farm house and an overgrown hedge were the only features on the land. Undeterred, the Hickish couple began work on their gardens, using stone from the farmhouse to lay out their structure. Today it’s open to the public and a glorious example of how perseverance and patience can reward amateur gardeners.

Erddig

Besides having the second largest collection of items in the entire National Trust, Errdig is home to a delightful historical garden that has been completely restored to the specifications of how it once was in the 18th century. Plans for the formal gardens here were discovered by one of the gardeners who decided to climb to the top of the country home to look for ‘frost patterns’ left by previous owners. The gardens here are Grade I listed and offer a unique glimpse back into a long forgotten past.

Kale: How To Grow, Harvest & Cook Them

Sales of this fibrous brassica have been steadily increasing for years now as consumers have started to clock on to the veritable bounty of nutrients that it provides. One serving of kale contains 3g of protein, vitamins A, C and K, not to mention B vitamins and plenty of fibre too. The flavour of kale is not too dissimilar to spinach and can be boiled, dehydrated to create an Asian seaweed alternative or even blitzed into a smoothie.

Kale plants are easy to manage and generous in their yields whether you’re growing them in a pot, container or a raised bed – just make sure you take the necessary precautions of protecting them from potential pests…

Where are you going to grow your plants?

You have a few options when it comes to where to grow your kale. Considering that three or four plants can give you enough kale to feed a small family on a weekly basis, you won’t need to portion off much space for your new plant. If you’re looking to grow a handful of plants then you’ll only need a square metre spare in your allotment or garden to get the job done. Kale is just as happy growing in pots, so if you’re short on space or prefer to grow inside then you can do this instead.

When growing inside you’ll need to start with a seed tray (make sure you buy one with drainage holes) for the first month or so, before you move on to pots which should be around 12 inches deep and wide. Make sure to buy a bag of growing soil (potting soil does not drain quite as well so avoid using this) before you start and if you can’t find a spot in your home with enough sunlight you should think about purchasing grow lights.

Sowing

Whether you’re growing indoors or outdoors you’ll be starting off growing in seed trays. In March-June (if growing outdoors) sow your seeds thinly in the moistened compost-filled trays, 2-3 seeds per compartment works well. Cover over the seeds with compost and moisten once more if it looks dry, then you can pop the lid on or cover with a plastic bag to let it germinate. The seeds will need to stay consistently warm in order to germinate, so keep that in mind when storing them. Keep them moist over the next few weeks, after a month they should have sprouted into seedlings.

Once there are between 4-6 leaves on each of these seedlings you can move them into pots (or into your main bed). Prepare your bed or pot by filling with a mix of soil and compost (1:3) ensuring good drainage throughout. Dig a small hole with enough space in to accommodate your seedlings roots and then begin gently teasing out each seedling and inserting them into their new homes.

If growing outside make sure that your bed remains moist, you’ll need to be extra vigilant if you’re growing in pots. Kale can thrive in partial shade so don’t worry if they’re not receiving a full 8 hours of sunshine each day, 4 hours is good enough. If they’re not getting this then you can set up a grow light on a four-hour timer, just make sure to keep the plants at least 6 inches away from the bulbs.

Harvesting

Your kale plants will mature somewhere between 55 to 65 days, but you will need to prune your kale to prevent if from going to seed too early. Once your plants have have reached maturity you can start harvesting! You’ll be able to cut off new leaves every few days, cut the leaves at the base of the stem to prevent damaging the plant in the long term.

Unless kale is already a staple in your diet you might find that you’re a little overwhelmed with the amount of yield you’re harvesting. Kale grows more bitter the longer you leave it, so unless you plan on eating it everyday you can freeze it for a later date in bags or blitz it in processor and freeze it in a muffin tray to create handy kale purée blocks! Jamie has some fantastic recipe ideas over on his site right here.

Potatoes: How To Grow, Harvest & Cook Them

Originally domesticated in South America some 10,000 years ago, the potato in all its forms is now cultivated and eaten across the world. Its versatility and adaptable flavour has allowed it slot into food cultures all over the world, resulting in a number of wildly delicious dishes ranging from the fried potato chip to the wonderfully filling jacket potato.

Those willing to look past its starchy reputation, and grow a batch of potatoes themselves, will be rewarded with a crop that is relatively hardy, quick to grow and long lasting.

Do you have the space?

Although potatoes are enthusiastic growers they do need space to do their thing. Ideally you’ll have a decent-sized allotment at your disposal so that you can ‘earth’ them up once their shoots start to appear. As you’ll be sowing your tubers at a depth of 10cm, you’ll need to have an available depth of at least a half metre in order to have enough soil to play with.

If you don’t have the luxury of an allotment then you can use a few savvy tricks to make the most of your space. Traditional planters can be used, chicken wire can also be moulded into a bin padded with newspaper, or you could get handy and re-purpose wooden packing crates into boxes. However you choose to grow your potatoes, you’ll need to make sure that they have plenty of sunlight and a healthy 50/50 mix of soil and compost.

Sowing

Potatoes will grow from the end of February right through to the end of September which makes them a great staple to have on your allotment. They do, however, require a bit of prepping and TLC to take them from humble tuber to might ‘tato. Before you go about prepping your seeds you’ll need make sure your ground is thoroughly dug and well fertilised with compost, this is best done in November or December. Remove any big stones and weeds to give your potatoes the best chance of prospering.

Your potato ‘seeds’ will look a lot like potatoes, but before you pop them in the ground you’ll need to ‘chit’ them. This step encourages the seed potatoes to grow strong roots and provide you with a greater yield. Starting in late January, set out your seed potatoes in empty egg boxes or seed trays in a cool, bright place to let them sprouts. Let these chits grow up to around 25mm in length before planting them.

You can start planting your first potatoes, known as ‘earlies’, from the end of February. Dig out a 10cm deep trench and plant your seed potatoes 30cm apart from each other in rows around 60cm distant from each other. Cover up your seeds with soil and top with fertiliser if your soil is not quite rich enough. You’ll be able to four more crops over the season, with each requiring slightly different sowing conditions – check this site for more info.

Young potato plants can be susceptible to frosts during the winter so make sure to keep an eye on them. As soon as they sprout cover them up with soil. Once those shoots break through and grow at around 23cm you should cover them up once more to stop the tops of ‘tatos going green. During this phase it’s imperative that your plants also get plenty of watering.

Harvesting

Harvest your early potatoes after 10 weeks or when the plants being to flower. Later crops of potatoes will take a little longer to grow (check the aforementioned site for more info) and will often need to be left in the grown to harden. Once you’ve got your potatoes out the ground it’s dinner time!

If you store your potatoes in a dark cool place then you can expect them to keep for up to three months, expose them to light and they will start chitting all over again. Their flavour does not change markedly over this time, although (as with all veg) it’s best to eat them sooner rather than later. Crush and roast your new potatoes to make a delicious side dish, bake your larger varieties for a carby dinner or check out these other potato recipes for more ideas.

Runner Beans: How To Grow, Harvest & Cook Them

You’ll be hard-pushed not to spot their recognisable pods creeping up trellises and poles in any allotment complex and that’s because they are one of the most generous veggies in terms of crop production. It’s little surprise then that gardeners are inundated every year with huge quantities of beans, hardly a bad thing when you consider the copious health benefits that come with incorporating them into your diet.

There are over 130 varieties of beans known to man, but for simplicity’s sake we’re just going to be looking at the one type today: runner. Runner beans are rich sources of vitamins A, C and K, in addition to being loaded with folic acid and fibre. They’re fantastic as a snack, side or even main component and can neatly slotted into all kinds of cuisine. In short, if you’re considering about growing your own vegetables the humble runner should certainly be on your shopping list.

Sowing

Despite runner beans being incredibly productive plants, like any other plant they still need to be nurtured and looked after in the early stages of their lives. When growing from seed you should aim to sow from mid-April onwards, if you’re gardening in the North of UK this is particularly pertinent as you’ll want to make the most of your Summer whilst it lasts. Keep your seedlings protected in a green house or inside (a temperature of 12°C is required for them to germinate at first) before taking them outside in mid-May when temperatures have warmed up a little bit more.

Your seeds should be individually potted in moist multi-purpose compost at a depth of 5cm. Once your seedlings have flourished it’s time to transport them to their new home. You’ll need to construct a bean trench for your plants with an attached support for them to latch on to once they start ‘running’, this might sound like a hassle, but once it’s done you’ll be able to re-use it for years.

In order for your beans to grow good and strong you’ll need to dig your trench 3ft wide and 2ft deep, make sure the soil at the base is nice and loose by giving it a thorough forking. Scatter manure or home-made compost into your trench and the mix in with the soil before returning to the trench. Throw some poultry pellets into the trench and then leave to settle for at least two weeks before planting.

In this time you can build your supports, which can be as simple as bamboo canes tied together into A-Frames. Pea netting can also be used for a bit of extra support. For each seedling that you plant you’ll need a cane in the ground for it climb up, so before you get to this stage (around late May-early June) you’ll need to make sure that you have the necessary amount of supports for them to crawl up.

Care & Harvesting

Once your beans get going they can grow very quickly, so you’ll need to keep a close eye one them and make sure to pinch them out when they’ve reached the top of their supports to prevent them from becoming too top-heavy. Your plants will also need a lot of water throughout the summer, around 5-9 litres per square metre every 3-4 days.

Regularly harvesting your runner beans is crucial to continuing healthy yields, as if you allow beans to go to seed they will soon stop producing. Pick your beans when pods are just shorter than full length (6-8 inches) and still pale in colour, this should happen every 2-3 days. Problems that you may encounter could include pods not setting, fungal diseases and common pests such as the black bean aphid and red spider mite.

There are loads of ways to eat runner beans. You can crunch into them raw, toss them in an Asian salad, fry them up, or serve them as a side to a traditional roast dinner. Take a look at few more inventive runner bean recipes right here.

Gardening in Raised Beds

If you’re short on space in your garden, or are having particular troubles maintaining a large vegetable patch then building a raised bed could be the answer to your problems. By using a raised bed you can grow more plants in a smaller space, save your back a bit of work and economise your gardening processes.

You’ll have a greater amount of control over the soil that you grow in, so you’ll be able to fine-tune your pH level and quality of compost without interference from the earth you already have. As your vegetables will be at a raised level, isolated from the earth, you’ll also spend less time worrying about knotweed control and pests, saving you time and expenses on prevention and treatment.

Building your own raised bed is a simpler job than you might think, however you’ll need a day to gather the necessary materials and get it built. The RHS recommend building beds that are wider than 1.5m so that you’ll be able to reach into the bed from each side without crushing your produce. If you’re building multiple beds then they also recommend leaving a width of between 30-45cm between each bed. Longer vegetable raised beds should also run from north to south to grant even sunlight levels to all of your plants.

What materials you choose to build your raised bed with will depend on your budget, manpower and space. Stone is an expensive material that also requires skilled labour to use, but it’s attractive and very long lasting. Brick is similarly strong but will also require a skilled hand employ. Timber is by far the most commonly used material, it’s relatively cheap also very versatile.

Unfortunately, unless you purchase high-quality wood, you may find that your bed is compromised within a few years. Railway sleepers and paving slabs can also be used to build your bed, these will certainly stand the test of time but are also very heavy. If you’re unsure as to whether a raised bed is the right choice for you then you can purchase a DIY raised bed kit from many good garden manufacturer – you can pick one up for around £30 and many have a structural guarantee of around 3 years.

Once you have constructed the frame of your raised bed you will need to decide how you are planning on filling it. If you are happy with the quality of the soil in your garden, in terms of drainage and pH level then you can simply load your raised bed with the compost/soil mix of your choice. If you’ve been saddled with heavy clay or are worried that the pH level of your garden will interfere with your raised bed then you’ll need to line your bed.

If you struggle with drainage issues then you should pour an 8cm layer of drainage material (such as coarse gravel or stones) into your bed first, followed by a layer of geotextile membrane that should provide your bed with enough drainage. If your bed is deeper than 50cm then the RHS recommends removing the topsoil and replacing it with rubble or subsoil. The topsoil can then be mixed with compost or manure in layers in order to provide a natural setting for your vegetables. Once you’ve filled your raised bed you should allow the soil to settle for at least 2 weeks before planting.

When your bed is ready for plants the fun can begin! You’ll get the most out of your new raised bed by efficiently planning before you set about planting anything. Some things to consider are:

  • Using a cold frame or tunnel system in order to prolong your growing season.
  • ‘Intercropping’ plants close to make the most of space and conserve moisture.
  • Intercrop plants that work well together such as heavy feeders (cabbage) with light feeders (carrots).
  • Growing vertically to maximise your bed’s potential, plants like cucumbers, tomatoes and even melons can flourish this way but may need extra care.

Of course, there are a few drawbacks to growing vegetables in a raised garden bed. Moisture is likely to drain a lot quicker (the bed is essentially one large pot which doesn’t have access to the earth’s moisture) and will require you to water it much more frequently. Finally, although the chance of infestation from pests, weeds and diseases is lower when planting in a raised bed, if your bed does get infected you might find that your entire crop is effected – something worth considering before initiating this plan.

Carrots: How To Grow, Harvest & Cook Them

Thanks to their delicate flavour these handy root vegetables can be slotted into any meal of the day and also make for a stellar healthy snack.

If you fancy a crack at growing your own carrots then you’re in luck as these veggies are amongst some of the easiest to grow, whether you’re choosing to use pots inside or a patch outside.

Inside or Outside

Whether you choose to grow your carrots indoors or outdoors will doubtless depend on the land that you have to spare.

If you’ve got plenty of space (like an allotment or back garden) then you should consider setting out a good 2m² to allow yourself space to grow around 15 or so crops. Should you wish to grow regular healthy sized carrots you’ll need to have a depth of at least 30cm, make sure the soil is well-drained and fertile – if the soil is stony or heavy with clay you might find that your carrots in struggle.

Carrots will grow fine in containers (provided they are deep enough) so if you don’t have enough quality land to accommodate your new seedlings you can choose to grab some planters and use them instead. If you’re really stuck for space then you can grow carrots inside, although you will have to rely on plant feed to guarantee good results – this is something worth considering if you had dreamt of showing off your ‘totally’ organic carrots to your friends.

Sowing & Harvesting

Most carrots are best grown between April and early July, however there are some early cultivars that should be grown earlier – always check on the back of your seed packed or with the seller before purchasing. Sow your seeds thinly (rows of 15-30cm are ideal) and at a depth of 1cm to produce plants that are at least 5cm apart from each other. Once they have grown to become seedlings you can decide if you need to thin them.

After 12-16 weeks your carrots should be ready to be harvest. There’s no need to wait for the longest roots, in fact if you do that might impair the flavour of your crop. Gently pull your carrots from the soil (use a fork if the soil is particularly heavy) and then you’re ready to cook!

Eating Your Carrots

You’ll soon discover that your carrots taste best when they’re freshly picked. Although they will keep for up to 5 weeks, eating them within the first week will provide you with the best taste. How you choose to eat your carrots depends on how creative you’re feeling! You could throw them in your juicer and enjoy them as part of your breakfast routine, or you could throw them in your next roast. Click through here for some more ideas on how to prepare your freshly grown carrots.