HA. HA. Stickyback. The plant prank that never grows old. It’s got loads of common names (sticky willy, goose grass, robin run the hedge) but this rampant weed is actually called cleavers. It transfers its seeds by cleverly clagging on to animals, birds and your victim’s jacket. So you have to give it some credit, really. It was once used by farmers to filter animal hair out of milk. Which is pretty cool. But I’d rather do this with it.
Weird tip and creepy fact from a wise gardener: to get rid of greenfly and blackfly on fruit trees and roses, chuck ant powder at the bottom. Clever ants farm those pesky aphids and suck their blood (like machines draining Keanu Reeves in The Matrix). So you need to get shot of them. It’s worked on this cherry tree and a load of rose bushes down here in Essex.
Gardening course, you say? Oh, better wear my best heeled boots for that, then. What a (tired) idiot. Didn’t stop me getting stuck in and planting carrot seedlings in old tyres. We chucked one tyre on top of another and filled them both with compost but left a space at the top so they’re snug and will hopefully survive any more beastly weather. Boots currently in kitchen sink, covered in mud.
Kirkgate Market in Leeds is home to plants of much cheapness. I love this kind of place - a mish mash of Moroccan spices, hot tea in polystyrene cups, XXL nighties and fish heads. It was where the first Marks and Spencer’s was, too, and there’s a little stall selling M&S jam and coffee. I sense the market is in danger of turning all hipster since John Lewis moved in next door, mind. But the plants remain dangerously cheap for now. Handy, if you keep killing them.
My fury has been so focused on dandelions, I’ve failed to notice another enemy creeping up behind me. Well, all over my house. It was only when ivy started growing across my bedroom window and my six-year-old son declared, “the house looks like it should have monkeys living in it”, I realised action was needed.
Since leaving London, I finally have a house with a real, actual garden. And while I’d love to revel in the grown-upness of it all, I also have two children. Who would prefer I turn it into something farmed from a Mr Tumble daydream.
As I child, I gently cared for the rotting corpse of a hedgehog. I’d found this incredibly cool ball of prickles in the middle of a pavement and, thinking it an odd place to hibernate, brought it home and carefully placed it in a bush.
Today something incredible happened. For a WHOLE HOUR the sun shone while the baby slept. On my day off. As it’s National Gardening Week, it was my duty to ignore the Cheerios glued to the kitchen floor and 450 Messenger notifications and grab my spade.
One of the things I found most off-putting about gardening was the language. From Gardeners’ Question Time on Radio 4 to plant labels, it seemed like total mumbo jumbo. So I thought I’d weed out some common terms and help fellow bad gardeners with the dialect.
I didn’t have much luck with boys when I was at school. But on my gardening course it’s a whole new story. Two lessons in and the boy sitting next to me has already given me flowers. Granted, the flowers were actually seeds. And the boy was 40 years older than me. But, hey, why get bogged down with details?
So this week I have been hanging out with GOOD gardeners on a grow-your-own course. Learning stuff about weird plants, angry ants, booze and poos.
Hello and welcome to this tour of the world’s saddest plants – a tough bunch who manage to survive in an inhospitable place called My House.
I woke this morning to find a Page Three girl in my garden. She was surrounded by bushes blooming with bean cans, shiny wrapping paper and microwavable chip packets. Storm something-or-other had done her worst overnight and a Sun-reading neighbour’s bin had coughed up its dirty secrets all over the street.
Winter is a great equaliser in the garden. Things will die, lawns will go mushy and all your outdoorsy energy goes into scraping the ice from your car windscreen. When snow gets dumped on the ground, you wouldn’t be able to tell my garden from Monty Don’s. Possibly
Although this Bad Gardeners’ Club business was meant to kick me into action in the garden, I won’t complain if my parents turn up and do stuff. Like buy £1.50 pink geraniums from the market and pop them outside my office window. (And mow the lawns...hang pictures... feed me coffee/wine...) My mum is hooked on C4 show A New Life In The Sun, and apparently all the French window boxes in it are filled with geraniums. She says they ‘thrive on neglect’, too. So ideal.
All action in my kitchen. So now I know the first two leaves that come up from a seed are called cotyledons (which would be a good name for a Transformer, I reckon) and they feed the little veggie seedling. They are followed by ‘true leaves’ - one is popping up in the centre - which do the proper photosynthesis stuff. When I’ve got two true leaves on my courgette plants they should be strong enough for putting (‘transplanting’) outside. If it ever stops raining, that is
Never fall into the trap of buying snowdrops as bulbs... buy them like this “in the green”. If you plant them in a border, there is a distinct possibility you will dig them up when putting spring/summer bedding in the same place. My wise old mum puts them in pots by her front door as she only has a small garden. If you have lots of space, try planting them under trees where you won’t be putting other plants. They die back and return again next spring
When there’s not much colour outside, it’s all about shapes, structures and spiky bits. Teasels are real lookers, and are often chopped off and used in wintry floral displays. They are genuine little teases - they were once used to tease fabrics to make the fibres stand up. Goldfinches love the seeds but they’re no friend to bugs... water gathers in the saucer bit below the flower and drowns them. It means teasels are a bit carnivorous as they suck up all the goodies from the dead bug bodies. Their un-PC name is gypsy comb and apparently travellers would collect that gunky water and use it on the bags under their eyes. The amount of sleep I’ve been having, I might give it a go
How lucky am I? Gorgeous bee hotel, enamel mug, gluten-free treats AND a babysitting voucher from my Secret Santa ❤️ The bee hotel is a place for them to hang out and lay their eggs 🐝 I reckon they’d give this one a top Trip Advisor review.Keeping insects in your garden helps plants pollinate and keeps the number of aphids down. Can’t wait to hang this in my garden.
Nothing says KEEP OUT like a thick, prickly hedge. And a yappy dog. A lady up my street possesses both. It's one way to deter cold callers, thieves, the bogeyman and possibly even relatives. She's got a cotoneaster and holly mash-up going on and it looks superb right now - the cotoneaster's round little leaves are glowing red and the birds are loving the berries. It will keep out the wind too.