Tag Archives: herbs

Jobs for February

Well I can’t believe it is February already and we have been blessed with another sunny weekend which meant lots of gardening jobs got done. Mostly weeding and tidying but I’m feeling quite smug now! The garden is starting to transform – check out my other blog at http://www.ayearinmygarden2013.com for a weekly photographic record.

I’ve been reading up on what gardeners should be doing in February and here are the main jobs:

  • Prepare soil for summer bedding by forking in compost.
  • Suppress weeds with mulch – well rotted manure or bark chips.
  • dead head winter bedding.
  • Start sowing summer bedding and greenhouse vegetable seeds if you have somewhere warm to do this.
  • Wash the greenhouse glass and ventilate on sunny days.
  • Start collecting toilet roll tubes and egg boxes for starting off sweet peas and beans and chitting potatoes.
  • Tidy up strawberry plants.
  • Chit early new potatoes.
  • Add potash around the base of fruit canes, bushes and trees – Mr Mac sprinkles the ash from the wood burner.
  • Warm soil by placing a cloche, polythene or carpet over it.
  • Tidy up herbs.
  • Check seeds from previous years to make sure they are still worth sowing. Try the germination test – put 20 seeds on moist kitchen paper and put somewhere warm for seven days. If the germination rate is less than 50% then chuck them out and buy new ones!
  • Clean out water butts.
  • Turn compost heap.
  • Sow peas inside for an early crop. I did this last year and it was a great success.

I still have not done January’s job of sorting out my seeds, seeing what I need to order and make a plan for the garden for this year but it is too early for me anyway. I don’t want to make the same mistake I made last year by sowing tomato and flower seeds in mid-February and then losing them all to frost in April. That set me back 7 weeks but everything caught up in the end.

I have done lots of weeding, mulching and dead-heading so don’t feel too bad and the garlic was planted last weekend.

Having researched what type of garlic to buy I decided hardneck types would be better for the Scottish climate. They are more hardy than their softneck cousins and thrive in the UK, especially in northern areas. The only down side is they do not store as well – not an issue in our house as we eat it all the time.

However, when I went to the garden centre the packaging gave no indication of whether the variety was hardneck or softneck so we opted for Solent Wight which is produced in the UK and Arno, a French variety.

Garden Blog 2013 024

We split up the bulbs and planted each clove of the Solent Wight in individual pots so it can be planted outside later in the spring. As Arno is used to the French climate we opted to grow that in one of the beds inside the greenhouse.

Garden Blog 2013 032It is the first time we have tried growing garlic so fingers crossed!


Best of friends – a quick guide to companion planting

My seedlings are all coming along nicely…they just need a bit more sunshine!

As well as my usual veg I have also planted loads of French marigold and sweet basil seeds to act as “companion plants”. I can’t remember where I first came across companion planting, but when I sat down to write this blog I checked my gardening books to see if I could pick up any interesting information or tips and was amazed at how little is actually written about this subject.

The internet is different, with everyone and their dog having an opinion about what is best. At the end of the day it all boils down to what you grow and where you live.

Companion planting is when you grow two or more types of plant closely together for mutual benefit.  There is a lot of talk about it being an organic method of pest control. I am not trying to be organic and would use chemicals as a last resort but as I am growing most of the “companions” anyway, why not just plant them where they will benefit another plant?

Most companion plants are strongly scented and confuse pests looking for their host plant. Others attract beneficial insects, such as ladybirds and lacewings, which prey on aphids. Some attract pollinators, like bees.

As I mentioned above, I grow marigolds and basil – these are my top 2 companion plants. I must admit I am not that keen on marigolds or their smell. I have flashbacks to the 1970s and tidy gardens edged with marigolds – the height of sophistication at the time! However, if you look at any list of suitable companions, marigolds appear the most.

Marigolds ready for action!

I keep loads in the greenhouse and also plant them among my veg. The smell repels many insects. They also attract aphid eating hoverflies and keep whitefly away from tomatoes.

As for the basil I plant this between all my tomato plants as it is supposed to keep whitefly away. It is also perfect for picking at the same time as tomatoes for that classic combination! I have also learned that the shade provided by the tomato plants helps to stop the basil going to seed.

Basil coming along nicely!

Other top companions to try:

  • Garlic chive – when planted alongside carrots, its strong scent confuses and deters the carrot root fly, which can normally smell carrots from up to a mile away.
  • Lavender – attracts a range of pollinators, including bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Its strong scent can also deter aphids. Plant with carrots and leeks to confuse pests.
  • Sage – is strongly scented and will confuse pests of brassicas if planted alongside them. Its blue flowers attract bees and hoverflies, which also pollinate crops.
  • Thyme – makes a good companion plant for roses, as its strong scent deters blackfly. A tea made from soaking thyme leaves and sprayed on cabbages can prevent whitefly.
  • Nasturtiums – when planted with French and runner beans, the nasturtium acts as a sacrificial crop, luring aphids away from the beans. Its attractive flowers help attract beneficial insects, which prey on aphids.
  • Fennel – if left to flower it produces attractive yellow blooms that attract hoverflies, which prey on aphids.
  • Mint – the strongly scented leaves of mint confuse pests of carrots, tomatoes, alliums and brassicas, and deter flea beetles.

The combinations are endless and it depends what you are growing and what works for you. Last year my friend simply planted garlic beside everything she grew. This year, as well as the marigolds and basil, I am going to plant lavender among my leeks and sage between my brassicas.  It may all be an old wives tale but what is the worst that can happen?

Chives and mint

Fingers crossed for a pest-free season!

A little bit about herbs

Herb trough looking sorry for itself

Last year Mr Mac made me a herb trough from some old scaffolding boards he acquired. I painted it with some fence paint and planted lemon and golden thyme, marjoram, rosemary, parsley and chives.

I have just cleaned out the old leaves and twigs and given all the plants a tidy. I seem to have lost the marjoram though – it’s gone. The rest look quite woody and straggly but there is definitely new growth so hopefully they will all come back.

Then I remembered it’s Dougal’s Discount Wednesday at my local garden centre so I popped down and bought these new herbs – curry plant, lemon balm, roman chamomile, mint pineapple, chocolate peppermint and marjoram to replace the one I lost. Six plants for £9 plus Dougal’s 10% discount – a bargain!

I also grow ordinary mint but keep this in its own pot as it is very invasive. I have planted sweet basil and lemon basil seeds which I use for both cooking and as companion plants for the tomatoes and I might try growing coriander from seed – I am still thinking about it.

A funny story about coriander

A friend of Mr Mac’s brought us some chilli plants and herbs last year, one of which was coriander. Neither Mr Mac or myself are big fans of coriander (due to an incident in Goa in 1994!) but it was a gift and it seemed to grow quite happily in the greenhouse. Eventually I felt compelled to do something with it and as I had loads of carrots ready I decided on the old standard, carrot and coriander soup.

The soup was made and I tasted it and tasted it but no hint of coriander. I kept chopping it up and throwing in more and more but still not a hint of coriander.

At the time we had a heating engineer working on the stove in the kitchen and he fancied himself as a bit of a chef.  I asked him what he thought and where I was going wrong. He had a taste of the coriander and promptly killed himself laughing.The reason I could not taste the coriander was because it was flat-leaf parsley! The soup was still lovely, although very well garnished.


Last year I tried growing  lavender from seed. The lavender was successful and it even flowered at the end of the summer. I had plans for a lavender hedge beside the deck where we sit on sunny evenings but I was so precious about planting it out and losing it over the winter that I left it in the greenhouse. Mr Mac covered it all in straw to protect it and it seems to have survived.

Fortunately, this week’s issue of Amateur Gardening magazine has a section on pruning shrubs. Apparently the lavender should have been pruned after it flowered last summer. This allows time to develop new shoots which will carry buds for this year’s flowers.

It does say that any old, dead flowering stems should be cut out but not to cut into old wood. This is where I get confused and I do not know what that means. Some of my plants look as if they are dead. Others are partly dead but with lots of new leaves and a couple are full of new growth. I can’t work out what is “old wood” and “new wood” though.

So this is what I have done. I cut off all the old dead bits right down to the base. Where there was a dead stem but with new leaves at the end, I cut off about a third of the new growth. Where the whole stem was new growth, I cut off about a third. I hope I have not damaged or killed them. I will wait a few weeks and if they look alright I will plant them out. I have sown some more seeds this year, just in case.

Here is what they looked like before and after!

Before pruning

After pruning