January treat – Niwaki Japanese Tripod Ladder

I know we are not yet far into 2019 but this has to be my purchase of the year so far.  It is excellent and has made the pruning of the large established orchard so much easier this year.

The Niwaki Japanese Tripod Ladder (available from www.niwaki.com) is a light weight, free standing, aluminium ladder.  They come in a range of sizes but the one that I plumped for is the 8 foot ladder which I have found perfect for the winter pruning of the orchard this year.

In previous years I have had to climb up inside the big apple trees to get to the very top and it has always been a difficult and rather precarious activity reaching large, high branches on the edge of the canopy of the larger trees.

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I treated myself to this ladder after Christmas and it has been a revelation.  I have found it to be a very stable ladder and the tripod leg allows you to work very comfortably in positions around the canopy where there is nothing to lean a normal ladder onto.

The tripod leg itself is easily adjustable and so even if you are working on a slight slope you can maintain the 75 degree angle required for safe working.

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The safe working height of the ladder is three rungs from the top and this gives you a lot of support on the front of your body when you are working two-handed with loppers.  On my 8 foot ladder your feet are three rungs from the top at around 5 feet.  With your own body height (in my case 5ft 6inches) you are working very comfortably with secateurs or pruning saw at 9-10 feet and able to reach up to 12 feet with extended loppers.

If you are working on ladders for long periods of time, many traditional aluminium ladders only have a single narrow rung and this can be very tiring on the feet after a few hours.  The Niwaki ladder has a double bar which gives much more support.

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I would highly recommend these ladders.  They are stable, light to move around and allow you to work safely and in comfort for many hours.  I am very pleased with my purchase.  The website is very informative about the height options available and safe working practices and well worth a look.

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The garden in late January

The garden here at Honey Pot Flowers may appear cold and quiet but the new year is coming upon us quickly and there is plenty to do and much to see.

Despite the low temperatures here in Warwickshire, bulbs and flowers are beginning to emerge.  The snowdrops are now in full swing complemented by the pinks and purples of the cyclamen and hellebores.  The first of the primroses and yellow crocuses are beginning to flower and the air is filled with the scent of Daphne odora and Sarcococca.  And, what is more, the sun has started to shine!

Galanthus elwessii
Galanthus elwessii
Cyclamen coum
Cyclamen coum

The garden birds are extremely busy foraging for food across the garden.  Great Tits, Blue Tits, Coal Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatchs, Chaffinchs, Dunnocks, Blackbirds and Great Spotted Woodpeckers are all regular visitors to the garden now with Buzzards mewing and flying overhead trying to catch any weak thermals that might come their way.

Crocus
Crocus
Primroses
Primroses

With time marching on we are also trying to get all our pruning jobs completed before we get into seed sowing in earnest.  A few days bright and dry weather has allowed us to start pruning back the bush and climbing roses.  Ideally the climbing roses should have been done in November but better late than never!  With the climbers we are untying all last years growth, cutting out some of the old stems to shoot afresh this year, cutting off the side shoots to a couple of buds and then tying in three or four strong new stems to flower this year.  In March we will give them a good feed to set them on their way.

Helleborus orientalis
Helleborus orientalis

In the orchard we are also starting to prune the apple and pear trees.  There are three main tasks to perform here on each spur fruiting tree:

  • remove any dead or diseased branches
  • improve and open up the structure of the tree by removing crossing or unwanted branches (this also increases air flow and helps minimise issues with disease)
  • prune back any of the new leaf shoots from last year to three or four buds leaving the flower buds on the spurs to develop.

With partial tip bearing trees, such as the Bramley, remember that some of the flower buds are on the end of the stem and removing these when pruning will obviously reduce your crop.  The wood, or growth buds are much smaller than the flower buds that will eventually provide you with your fruit.

Winter pruning underway in the orchard
Winter pruning underway in the orchard

One thing to remember when pruning fruit trees is that if you prune hard the tree will grow back vigorously producing a rash of long ‘water’ shoots.  This will make pruning next year much more difficult.  Ideally you need to achieve a balance, just enough pruning to improve the health and structure of the tree and encourage the tree to put effort into fruiting and not too much that the tree produces excessive vegetative growth.

It really is such a pleasure to be out in the garden again at the start of a new gardening year.  There is much to do and seed sowing is just around the corner.

 

Pruning time for the outdoor grape vines

We have always been rather surprised at how successful we have been at growing grapes outdoors in the garden here at Honey Pot Flowers.  Anna Pavord in her Independent article suggests that it is difficult to grow them north of a line between Gloucester and The Wash so here in Warwick we must be pushing our luck a little.

We have two vines, one of red dessert grapes and one of white dessert grapes.  They have been in place for about 12 years now but unfortunately the variety names have become detached along the way.  Year in, year out they produce a good crop of sweet and tasty grapes and it feels rather special when it comes to harvest time.

In November/December we prune the vines ready for next year.  Writers indicate that if you leave this until the spring when the sap is beginning to rise there is a tendency for the cut ends to weep.

Next year’s grapes are produced on the laterals formed in the current year.  The plants grow very vigorously in the spring and can produce a huge number of floating laterals with many spectacular large fresh green vines leaves.  The aim of the pruning is to not allow the plant to produce too many laterals and encourage the plant to put its efforts into a smaller number of larger bunches of grapes.

Having said this we nearly always have to prune out some laterals next year as well as thin out the number of bunches of grapes on the plant as a whole.  In this way we get larger, juicy grapes.

Grape vines are very attractive climbing plants and we grow our vines up the same trellis supports as our climbing roses.  The main leader is trained in a spiral up one of the main uprights and allowed to clamber across the top so that the grapes hang down and can be picked as you walk through the arch.  A lovely thing to do when you are taking a gentle evening meander around the garden to appreciate your days work.

At this time of year (December) we cut back the leader by about a third and shorten last year’s fruiting laterals back to 2 or 3 buds.  These buds will create next year’s fruiting laterals.  Any unwanted, broken or crossing laterals are also removed to create a nice tight structure that is firmly tied into the supports.   It is very important to take time to tie in carefully and robustly so there is minimal chance of damage from the winter winds over the next few months.

Dormant grape vine before winter pruning
Dormant grape vine before winter pruning
After pruning
After pruning – the climbing leader shortened by one-third, the laterals cut back to 2 or 3 buds and the main stem tied in firmly for the winter

All of this work now will pay dividends next year.  In September/October next year the grapes will begin to ripen and be ready for picking.  Surprisingly we get very little bird damage and without netting we get a good crop for ourselves and also enough to share.  Despite being outside they are sweet enough to eat fresh but one of our preferred methods is to make juice (there is not usually enough to make any sensible amount of wine).

Making the juice is a very simple process.  Pick and rinse the grapes and give them a very quick pulse in the food processor.  This should be just enough to break up the grapes and release the juice but leave the pips intact.  Strain the resulting pulp through a course plastic sieve into a jug and store in the fridge until you need it.  Avoid using a metal sieve as this may impart a metallic taint to the juice.  No sugar needs to be added and the juice will keep at least 2 or 3 days by which time the family have guzzled the lot.

Drinking your own freshly pressed grape juice from your own grape vines is such a pleasure and a real taste of summer.

 

Further reading:  “Pruning” by Christopher Brickell (RHS) (ISBN:  1-85732-902-3)

Madame Alfred Carrière – our damsel in distress

Our large Madame Alfred Carrière rose is at least 15 years old and may be approaching 20.  It is a truly beautiful rose with large white flowers with a blush of pink and a sweet delicious fragrance.  It is a repeat flowering rose starting in June with a tremendous flush of flowers and continuing throughout the summer until October if the weather is kind.

Popular since Victorian times, Madame Alfred Carrière is a rose from the Noisette group which have virtually thornless stems and fragrant double flowers.  It seems to be very healthy and copes very well with its exposed location with virtually no protection from south-westerly winds.

Originally we planted this rose to climb up a pink cherry tree and provide a continuity of flowers after the spring cherry blossom had faded.  The cherry tree is alas long gone having died and rotted away.  We so love the Madame Alfred Carrière that we really wanted to find a way of allowing it to continue even though its support had gone.

The rose now grows up within a metal frame and its long arching branches cascade from the top.  However, this climber certainly grows strongly each year and the metal tubular frame is really not man enough for the job.  To help provide greater strength we have placed a large chestnut stake in the centre to give it greater strength and depth into the soil.

When in full leaf the structure has to carry a huge weight and the winds in late October have taken their toll.

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Left to its own devices I think it would not have lasted the winter in this exposed part of the garden.  Drastic action therefore had to be taken to release the weight of the top foliage and straighten up the metal frame.

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It doesn’t look pretty I admit but this severe pruning is really the only way to give it a chance over winter.  From experience it is a really tough plant and has bounced back in previous years.  Next spring new fresh shoots will emerge and in no time it will be growing strongly again with bright green, clean foliage.

Madame Alfred Carrière is a wonderful garden rose and a much admired treasure in the here at Waverley.  We don’t find it a useful cut flower because it drops its petals too quickly and has flimsy stems but it would make good petal confetti.