Powerplanter – reflections on using a new gadget to try and ease the hard work of planting bulbs

Each year we plant literally thousands of bulbs around the garden and if you suffer from any kind of wrist or hand problems it can be very difficult and somewhat painful. To date we have got on best using a standard sturdy trowel but it is hard work especially when planting into turf or uncultivated ground. Over the years we have also tried the stand-up bulb planters but found these very tedious. The plug of soil in the planter never comes out again as easily as it should to refill the hole.

When we saw the adverts for Powerplanter we were intrigued. It seemed like a simple and obvious solution. It is basically a large soil drill that fits into a cordless hand drill and digs you a hole for your bulbs, plug plants or larger plants grown in 9cm pots.

At the time of writing there are four types in the range (www.powerplanter.co.uk) in various sizes ranging from one for planting seeds through to a longer one for ‘stand-up’ digging. The one we chose was the mid-range planter, the 307 model (7 inches long x 3 inches wide). It describes itself as being suitable for ‘potted colour and bulbs’ and cost just under ¬£40.

We have used it for planting autumn bulbs over a number of weeks now and in a nutshell it works! Here are some of our observations:

  • If you are going to use if for any length of time you do need a good quality cordless drill. I found my old drill battery was just not up to the job so treated myself to a new DeWalt DCD776S2T-GB 18V 1.5Ah Li-Ion Cordless Combi Drill. This comes with 2 rechargeable battery packs and is certainly able to keep going longer than I can!
  • The planter works well in moist soil in the cultivated flower beds. It also made light work of creating planting holes in previously uncultivated turf that we had killed off over the summer and had never been dug over. It did begin to struggle cutting into hard dry soil under a large oak tree but I was having difficulty getting a garden fork into that anyway.
  • You do need to be quite organised to avoid your drill getting covered in mud or wet. At this time of year the grass can be damp with dew in the morning and you need somewhere to put your drill down as you move around. I just use an old dog towel which keeps everything dry and clean.
  • When planting the bulbs I have got into the habit of working with one gloved ‘dirty hand’ and one ‘dry clean hand’. The dry clean hand operates the drill whilst the gloved ‘dirty’ hand plants the bulbs and covers over the hole with the loose soil. You can work very fast this way.
  • I have found that the planter is quite accurate and you can easily plant bulbs between other plants without damaging them. For example we have been planting bulbs amongst wall flowers that were set out about 9 inches apart in September.
  • If you are using someone else’s drill you might like to get their permission first. You do have to be quite careful not to get mud into the chuck which certainly could be a pain if the drill is normally used for indoor jobs. The 7 inch planter is only just long enough for digging holes for tulip bulbs and in hind site the longer 12 inch planter might have been better.
  • Finally do read the safety instructions and wear appropriate eye protection. Running on a slow speed it does not throw much soil up towards your face but it could.

Finally for the action movie ūüėČ

For some reason my niece dissolved into fits of laughter seeing me drilling holes in the garden! The youngsters of today have no imagination!

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Shades of Autumn

Today has been one of those rather frustrating days in the garden.¬† One minute the sun is shining and you get all enthusiastic about planting a few more of those tulips you couldn’t resist only to find that as soon as you get out there the heavens open.

In those moments when the shine is shining however the autumn colours really sing.  Across the countryside here in Warwickshire the leaves seem to have remained on the trees this year and the colours are really lovely.

Here is a selection of the autumn colours we are enjoying in the garden at the moment.


One:¬† The walk up the ‘old’ rose garden contrasts the changing red shades of the purple leaved Cotinus coggygria, Prunus and Viburnum with the yellow of the hornbeam hedge and the distant yellow of the silver birch.

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Two:  This green leaved Smoke Bush at the top of the cutting garden provides a sumptuous autumn display of colour.

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Three:  In the woodland walk these small field maple trees provide a golden glow in the sunshine.

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Four:  Another purple leaved Cotinus this time in the patio bed contrasting with the still green Wisteria and grey leaved Santolina chamaecyparissus.

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Five:  Although a seriously spiky plant when cutting the grass this Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea offers excellent purple foliage all year and is well worth its place in the shrub bed.   At this time of year the foliage develop a range of orange hues.

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Six:  It is of course not just about the leaves at this time of year.  Many of the cotoneaster bushes, sorbus, roses and blackthorn are full of berries and hips. This tall Pyracantha is in its prime at the moment and providing a feast for the birds.

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Six birds in a bush on Saturday

The Pyracantha bush just behind the house is in its full glory, covered in bright scarlet berries and looking wonderful in the autumn sunshine.   At this time of year it attracts a wide range of birds, some come to feast on the berries each day, others like to simply sit and soak up the morning sunshine on a cold morning whilst for others it is a safe place to rest on route from A to B.

This week I have tried to capture some of the visitors to this one bush on camera.   Here are six:


One:  Redwing Рan autumn and winter visitor to the garden enjoying a meal after flying in from Scandinavia

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Redwing audio:

 

Audio credit: Patrik Aberg , Xeno-canto


Two:¬† Pied wagtail – although not an uncommon bird we don’t often get these in the garden so I was delighted to be able to catch this one on camera.

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Pied wagtail audio:

 

Audio credit: Tomas Belka , Xeno-canto


Three:  Blackbird Рa very common bird in many gardens but lovely to have them nesting here and singing their hearts out all the same.

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Blackbird audio:

 

Audio credit: Niels Krabbe , Xeno-canto


Four:  A family of sparrows just sitting and enjoying the sun and chatting amongst themselves (now a very much rarer sight than they used to be)

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House sparrow audio:

 

Audio credit: Jarek Matusiak , Xeno-canto


Five:  Greenfinch Рthe numbers of greenfinchs have declined in recent years partly because of Trichomonosis, the name given to a disease caused by the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae. It is nice to have them as an increasingly regular visitor to the garden now.

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Greenfinch audio:

 

Audio credit: Sander Bot , Xeno-canto


Six:  Bullfinch Рthis stunning male bullfinch has been a regular visitor this week and has been joined towards the end of the week by two female bullfinches as well.

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Bullfinch audio:

 

Audio credit: Niels Krabbe , Xeno-canto

To complete the record I have also seen Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins on this Pyracantha during the week but have not managed to capture them on camera.


The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Quince cider – a new experiment for 2018

This year has been our best ever for Quinces in the orchard.  Much as we love Quince Crumble Tarts there is a limit to just how many of these you can eat.

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Photo Credit:  BBC Good Food

Rather than simply leave the fruit to rot on the compost heap we thought we would explore another method of preserving them and enjoying them over the coming months.¬† Although we make cider from our apples every year we have not tried quince ‘cider’ before so this is very much an experiment.¬† I have used the term ‘cider’ as I am not trying to make a quince wine.¬† I am looking for something that is thirst quenching, fresh and sparking and not as alcoholic as a wine would be.

The fruits have such a fragrant bouquet that they should make a very enjoyable drink in theory but I can imagine that if you use too many the flavour could be over-powering.¬† Having read various recipes this is the approach we decided to adopt to make our first gallon of trial quince ‘cider’.

I decided to use eight large quince fruits per gallon.  Some recipes suggest 20 per gallon but I think this would result in a flavour that might be too strong.  As the fruits are so rock solid even when ripe they could not be crushed and pressed in the same way as apples.   The quinces were washed, cored and grated (skin on).

The pulp was then added to 4 pints of water in a large pan and brought to the boil.  It was boiled for 15 minutes and then the liquid was strained from the pulp.  Other recipes have suggested that boiling for longer than 15 minutes makes it difficult to clear after fermentation.  The resulting liquor certainly had a very pleasant flavour.

To increase the sugar levels for fermentation I dissolved 1kg of granulated sugar in 2 pints of water and then added this to the quince juice.  This resulted in a specific gravity measurement of SG1080 which is perhaps higher than I might have wished for.  If it ferments out then this would be in excess of 9% alcohol which is pretty potent for a cider.  Time will tell whether the result will be on the sweet side with a lower alcohol content or drier with a higher alcohol level.

A further 2 pints of cold water was added to the must to make up the 8 pints (1 gallon) and this was allowed to cool to tepid before adding a cider yeast.  I also added 2 teaspoons of pectolase to help the cider clear.

All that is left to do now is stand back, admire and wait for the result.  Usually my apple cider is ready to rack in mid-November and it will be interesting to see if the quince cider performs in the same way.

I will let you know how it goes!

October 28th and maybe the last flowers of the summer

This weekend saw the first forecast frosts of the winter months and so we took the opportunity to pick a selection of the remaining summer flowers to arrange and enjoy in the house.

Included in the top arrangement are a selection of apricot and burgundy dahlias, white Chincherinchee ((Ornithogalum thyrsoides), achillea and the delightfully transparent seed heads of honesty.

In the vase arrangement below are pink, white and apricot dahlias, the deep red rose ‘Ingrid Bergman’ and the fragrant rose ‘Boscabel’, purple Verbena bonariensis, Chincherinchee and blue grey eucalyptus foliage.

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The final table centre piece for this evening’s Sunday dinner with family contains rose ‘Ingrid Berman’, white and pink waterlily type dahlias, honesty seed heads, the blue of Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’, pink Schizostylis, blue-grey eucalyptus and Cotoneaster foliage.

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The clocks may have changed and the nights are drawing in but we will still be able to enjoy the colour and fragrance of summer for a few days yet!

Beyond the autumn equinox

As we move beyond the autumn equinox the hours of darkness now exceed the day light hours.¬† However, there still seems to be plenty of sunshine on offer and it has been very pleasant this week outside in the fresh air.¬† We still haven’t had our first frost of the winter and there is a remarkable amount of colour around the garden.

Here are my six for this weekend.


One:  Saxifraga fortunei

Earlier in the year we wrote about the patio at the back of the house to demonstrate the wide range of foliage and textures that make this area such an attractive shady location.  The fleshy leaves of Saxifraga fortunei with their dark green top surface and reddish bronze under surface look good all year.  However, it is only in September and October that they start to flower producing a haze of tiny white flowers which shine out as the evenings close in.

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This week we were fortunate to be able to attend the RHS lecture by Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers at Pershore College.¬† As always at these events there is a nice selection of things to spend your money on and we could not resist this pink flowered Saxifraga fortunei ‘Sibyll Trelawney JP’.¬† It sits beautifully along side the white ones and I am sure will give us a lot of pleasure for years to come.

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Two:  Nerine

A couple of years ago we bought a number of Nerine bulbs which we originally grew on in pots to look after them and then planted out into a hot sunny, well drained border at the front of the house.  Although they have produced leaves each year they seem to have taken a very long time to settle in.  This year for the first time they have flowered but are not yet the spectacular display I have been hoping for.  Perhaps they are now beginning to take off!

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Three: Rudbeckia

Every year without fail the annual and perennial Rudbeckia perform for us.¬† This year is no exception and they will carry on flowering until the first frosts.¬† Because they are such successful garden plants they perhaps do not get celebrated as much as they should and so here they are.¬† This variety is ‘Autumn Forest’.

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Four:  Rosemary

One of our more unlikely flowering plants for this week is the prostrate Rosemary.  Although growing to less than 12 inches in height it is currently in full bloom amongst the gravel herb borders at the side of the house.

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Five:  Schizostylis (Kaffir Lily)

Performing at their best at this time of year are the various Schizostylis clumps that we have around the garden.  Ranging from delicate pink to full on scarlet they provide a welcome shot of new colour at this time of year.

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A new purchase of the variety ‘Princess Pink’ (below) has survived its first year and is showing real promise.

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Six:  Michaelmas daisies

Last but not least this week are the Michaelmas daisies.  Ranging from tall 5 feet plants to small neat clumps these plants really do bring the garden to life at this time of year (and the butterflies love them).

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More information at Michaelmas daisies in the autumn sunshine


 

The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Mid-October in the flower garden

Autumn is very much with us.  We have been busy harvesting the excess apples in the orchard and having fun making cider to last us most of the year, cutting and chopping the quinces and making quince crumble tarts for the freezer and the neighbours have been busy sawing and chopping wood for the winter fires.

Despite the trees turning we have not yet had a real frost here in Warwickshire and there is still plenty of colour in the garden.  In fact some things that have struggled with the heat and lack of water during the summer have burst into flower.  The roses have a new flush of fresh flowers and many of the perennials are showing a second flush of bloom.

Here are six things for this week that have particularly caught my eye:


One:¬† Begonia ‘Angelique’

As soon as we get any sign of frost I am sure that these tuberous begonias will curl up and die back but as we come to the end of the season I think they are worth celebrating.  Planted out in large patio tubs in the spring they often seem slow to get going but by early August they are in full bloom.  These have been blooming consistently ever since and are very low maintenance Рthey even dead head themselves.  I always try and lift the tubers and keep them alive if possible.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail but I will certainly look to keep this variety going and plant them again next year.

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Two:  Cobaea scandens (cup-and-saucer vine)

Cobaea is not something we have grown before but we wanted something to quickly cover the new rose trellis in this first year whilst the new climbing roses get established.   It is certainly one of the fastest growing annuals that I have seen.  It has interesting but not spectacular bell shaped flowers and certainly did the job of covering the new bare trellis.

One added benefit at this time of year is that it produces these charming fairy lights hanging from a curvy, kinked stem once the flowers have dropped.  You almost feel that you should collect them, dry them and spray them silver for winter decorations.

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Three:  Hardy Fushia

One of the shrubs that come into their own at this time of year are the hardy fushias.  They are so easy to grow and also to propagate.  Many of ours have been grown from cuttings that we have been given by friends or relatives.

The first of these is a very delicate white/pink fushia with tiny ballerina flowers.  We have moved it around the garden because it did not thrive initially.  It is now in the part of the garden we describe as the woodland walk and is in part shade and on a woodland edge.  It seems to love it here and produces masses of these tiny white flowers that shine out in the darker semi-shade.

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Another hardy fushia taken from a cutting a couple of years ago and grown on in a terracotta pot, was planted out last autumn.  It is now establishing well with a couple of Eupatorium plants (also taken from cuttings from a garden in Cornwall Рthank you Auntie Wendy!).

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Four:  Autumn Crocus

I think of spring as the time for crocus around the garden but I am always pleasantly surprised to see the autumn crocus emerge (although we must have planted them at some point).  Planted at the foot of some of our mature trees they avoid the mower and emerge as the leaves fall.

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Five:  Roses

The warmer, moister weather in September and early October has really brought on the repeat flowering roses.¬† Many of these are now flowering profusely.¬† ¬†Two that are looking particularly good are the apricot variety ‘Simply the Best’ and pink/orange ‘Fragrant Delight’.¬† As the name describes ‘Fragrant Delight’ has a wonderful and powerful perfume that hangs in the evening air at this time of year.

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Rose ‘Simply the Best’
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Rose ‘Fragrant Delight’

Six: Astrantia (Granny’s pincushion)

Perhaps rather surprisingly the rose/lilac tinted Astrantia is flowering again.  This is something we often use in our flower arrangements earlier in the season.  It has strong stems and holds very well if conditioned correctly.

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.