Saturday down the Walworth

Yesterday I attended a great “growing and using herbs” gardening course at the Walworth Garden Farm in SE17. The cost was an amazing zilch and I even took home a planter of Lemon Thyme, Chocolate and Apple Mint and Sorrel alongside lots of great tips and handy gardening hints. The teacher was excellent and catered for the beginner and intermediate gardener alike. It’s brill that there are courses like this around.

Lunchtime was spent down the Walworth Road (re-living the late 1980’s when I used to attend the London College of Printing) popping into Arif’s bakery for a potato & spinach pasty and an eccles cake, watching the aggressive queues at the cashpoints then followed by fighting with the older generation with their shopping trolley’s in Somerfield. Back at the farm in the afternoon, we spent learning about the uses of herbs and then choosing a selection to put into a planter.

If you are in London I would definitely have a look at the courses there (Gardening as well as Beekeeping) as I can’t praise this course highly enough! If you do live outside of the capital have a look around as there has got to be courses like this nationwide.

Thanks to Scarlett at The Walworth City Farm, keep up the good work!

More details at


You know the drill…

So where do I obtain those veg seeds to put into the garden when the weather perks up in the spring?

It’s a piece of cake growing vegetables from seed and it’s a simple as going to your local garden centre and choosing a suitable variety. Depending on the type of seeds, they’re not going to cost you more than £2.50 a pack which isn’t bad considering the value of the edibles you’ll harvest (which will taste a million times better than shop bought ones anyway).

As I’m forever watching the cash in my pocket, here’s some ideas for obtaining them at a reduced rate:

I’m getting a lot of my seeds off e-bay at the moment as they are a lot cheaper that the shops but we still should support our local garden centre in other ways or they’ll go bust! You get great variety, good seeds and notes off the seller saying “Happy gardening, love Bob”. Now thats service!

Seed swaps
You get far too many seeds in a packet, so sow very lightly and save some to sow a fortnight later for successive sowing (so the harvest will be staggered and won’t come all at once) and some to swap with your gardening mates. You can find out more about organised seed swaps through asking about at gardening clubs, allotments or have a look at

Special offers at the end of the growing season
DIY shops like Robert Dyas sell off packs of seeds cheap at the end of the growing season or when the packet’s sell-by date is fast approaching. Seeds can still germinate after the use-by date, the chances are a bit slimmer as the months go by, so sow them a little bit thicker than you normally would to compensate. I was told recently that seeds are still good to sow up to five years after the sell/use-by date.

Garden magazine freebies
Seeds, bulbs and plug-plants are usually given away free with gardening magazines to get readers in, so keep a  look out in the newspaper shop or those market stalls that sell recent back issues.

TV/Web promotions
The other year the BBC had their “Dig In” campaign where they gave away packets of vegetable seeds to encourage people to grow their own which is very commendable. The RHS have also also done similar promotions. Google “Free Veg Seeds” and check gardening forums on the web to find out what’s being given out and where.

Sunday paper offers
At certain times of the year Sunday papers do free bulbs, veg seeds and plug plants just for the cost of postage. Okay you are supposed to buy other stuff with it but I can never afford it. Most of the Daffs in my front garden are from The Observer or Saturday’s Guardian postage only specials!

Plant sales
Gardening clubs and allotments do plant and seed sales which are great for bargains and for rarer varieties, have a look in the local paper, on the internet or ask around at your local allotment. The Horniman Museum in South London does a very good one so I’m told.

Shops that don’t usually sell gardening stuff
There’s a shop nearby in Brockley called “Sounds Around”. This is a fantastic shop, described on the web as “Woolworths on steroids”, now that’s a recommendation! They sells pink plastic picnic plates, clothes pegs and porcelain teddy bears but also do a fantastic line in tomato plants. On holiday in Cornwall a couple of years ago the local Spar was doing some healthy Kale plants very cheaply. Keep a look out for plants for sale in odd places.

Getting seed off your own plants
Collecting seeds off your own plants, letting them dry out first then putting in a paper bag will save you some cash. I’ve had success with my own coriander, squash and melons seeds. With the latter two, the pulp must be removed from around the seeds before they are finally dried off, the same for tomatoes, courgettes and pumpkins.

So there you go, a few ideas to save your sheckles. If you’ve any free or cheap seed top tips, do let me know as I love a freebie!

This post was delayed due to a baby mouse (2cm long) running amuck in our hallway last night. This 50 year old writer was flapping about with a dustpan and brush, screaming every time the mouse moved while his 13 year old daughter caught it with calm. The writer will not win this year’s “London hardman of the year” award I’m afraid.

Never mind the mowers…

Before another gardening tip, here’s another council story.

One lunchtime in 1986 while working at St Stephen’s Gardens W11, I was enjoying a cheese and onion sarnie in the park’s hut reading the NME when I heard what I thought was the foreman’s lorry pull up outside. Thinking I’d fallen asleep and lost track of time, I brushed off the crumbs, flung the music paper into the corner and jumped out of the shed ready for an afternoon’s work.

Outside, I realised there was no foreman’s van but saw the back of a large car zoom off into the distance. I then noticed a very familiar figure in a coach-driver’s blazer wearing a pink beret with orange hair sticking out at the sides and realised it was John Lydon. As a one time Sex Pistols fan, I was well excited, the last time I had met him was when I was fifteen, after their gig in Coventry where he said to me “hello, hello, hello, hello” in that funny voice of his. What should I say now, something corny like “your band changed my life” to which Lydon would reply sarcastically “to what, a council gardener?” No I don’t think so.

With some quick thinking, I said “excuse us mate, got any idea of the time?” which he initially ignored, so I said it again a bit louder and pointed to an imaginary watch on my arm. He looked at me with that mad stare of his and replied in classic Johnny Rotten style “ten to one”, before walking off into an old man’s pub for a pint. Excellent, I had just met Johnny Rotten! When the foreman did turn up (he was of similar musical taste) he was well chuffed but we had to go to an estate to pull out a large Pyracantha or he’d have popped into the pub to see him. Work always seems to get in the way.

That’s one pistol, here’s another. Later that year, one of my jobs was maintaining the flower beds outside Maida Vale library where I’d sometimes see the original pistol’s bassist Glen Matlock wandering past. At a gig at ULU by Boys Wonder (who were trying to mould themselves on the early pistols at the time) I was introduced to him and he seemed a down to earth guy.

A few months later, I bumped into Matlock again, having recently read an interview with him about the early days for some article about “10 years of Punk”.  Being at the time, one who took things a little too serious, I though celebrating “10 years of Punk” was a load of old rubbish, as wasn’t Punk originally supposed to be against nostalgia?

I was walking down Shirland Road with my petrol mower on my way back to the shed for a cup of char at 3pm when I saw him. He didn’t initially recognise me from the ULU gig in my council gear but soon got talking. After a while I mentioned the 10 years of Punk article and got a bit steamed up (What do I know, in 1976 I was 14, wore patch-pocket baggies, had on spoon shoes and rode a racer with drop handlebars, not that punk eh?).

The situation must have looked ridiculous from where he was standing, a council worker in a donkey jacket with green twine around the waist holding it together (as the buttons had fallen off earlier that year) following him down the road pushing a lawn mower ranting about Punk. He made a swift exit into a nearby pub leaving me outside unable to follow him in with my mower and the pub’s “no overalls or work boots” rule. I do feel a prat now and I bet you he probably felt a bit shaky whenever he saw a council worker for a few months after. Not good…

Grants for gardening!

I’ve just received this off our good friend Bridget Virden who tells us about Capital Growth who are funding food growing in London (there’s got to be others schemes for around the UK).

Capital Growth Funding
Grants round launched to support community food-growing projects in London.

If you are planning to start a community food-growing space or want to expand an existing space and you are looking for money to buy soil, seeds, tools and other materials necessary, this is your opportunity to apply for some financial support!

For more information, including the application criteria, and to complete an application form please visit

Grants are available from £150 up to £750.
Grants round deadline: 5pm, 7th November 2011

(No) Panic in the streets of Nunhead

Thanks very much to Sharon Bassey from the London Beekeepers Association (LBKA) for this excellent photo of a bee swarm taken in Nunhead, South London and for the additional info.

“When bees swarm, they fill their stomachs with honey so they are more lethargic, and their sting is tucked up into their stomachs so are less likely to sting, unless they have been out in the elements for some time.”

A list of major bee foraging plants (there’s loads of minor ones) throughout the year.

Plum & Damson, Cherry, Pear and Oil Seed Rape.
Apple, Dandelion. Hawthorn, Sycamore and OSR.
Blackberry, Field Bean, Raspberry. Sainfoin, OSR and Borage.
Bell Heather, Blackberry, Lime, White Clover, Willowherb, OSR and Borage
Bell Heather, Blackberry, Ling (Heather), Mustard, Red Clover and Willowherb.
Ling and Mustard.

For more info about the LBKA go to

What do you listen to in the garden?

The other day I got an email from the TurnTableTerrorist (aka Terry C.) from the excellent show “Echo Beach” on WLUW-FM Chicago. He told me both him and his wife enjoy doing a bit of gardening and crank up some heavy dub while out there. What do you listen to while chilling in the garden or forking over the beds?

Also what’s the earliest you or your neighbours have been outside working the soil. The old gentleman next door to us was pruning Roses one Saturday morning last summer at the ungodly hour of 5.45am. That must be a record!

Give Echo Beach a listen!

What you gonna grow now?

Chris Beardshaw from Gardeners Question Time was once asked by a listener what she should plant in her newly acquired allotment. He replied  “grow something you’d like to eat yourself”. Too right!

Why waste time and effort on something that will end up on the compost heap or go to seed because you won’t use it. Think about what you’d fancy next to your cheese and potato pie or roast chicken on a Sunday.

People say ‘why should you grow crops like onions or potatoes when they are cheap in the shops when in season’. Have you ever tasted home-grown boiled spuds picked a few minutes before being put in the pot with a sprig of mint? You could choose something that is expensive to buy fresh like asparagus or those “exotic” salad leaves that come in a plastic bag ready washed for £3 odd. A plastic mini greenhouse, which would cost £30 new or cheaper secondhand could have you growing salad leaves nearly all the year round for the cost of seeds, feed and compost. It’s easy!

A few things to think about when deciding…

  • Will they get enough sun? Vegetables and herbs (especially tomatoes and peppers) need about six hours of sunlight a day, though root veg and lettuce and kale can tolerate some shade. If you use pots, can they be moved about to get the sun most of the day?
  • Are they the right size for your plot? Tall and climbing varieties of veg are unsuitable for growing in tubs and containers so choose compact type plants if growing on a balcony. Deep rooting veg would be no good for shallow pots/containers either.
  • How much maintenance will the plant need? The plot/pots will need to be watered daily in the summer (usually first thing in the morning or in the evening but not in full sunlight) and will also need to be fed weekly.
  • What’s the soil in your plot like? Got much in the line of builders rubble and mummified underpants like we had? We’ll cover testing and improving soil in a later post, but plants thrive when they have the nutrients and soil conditions they need. If it’s really bad, how about building raised beds out of wooden planks that can be filled with two thirds potting compost and one third garden soil (which will give the beds a bit more body.)

The best ones to begin with are: beetroot, courgettes, carrot, dwarf french beans, garlic, lettuce, cut and come again salad leaves, onions, parsnip, radish, spring onion, potato, basil, coriander and tomatoes. Choose varieties that suit your space and conditions.

Add to your space using large pots and tubs. These have the advantage of being moved to catch more sunlight and to dodge the frost. How about growing some potatoes in those special sacks or in a plastic bin so you can free up some space for something else, the same with tomatoes in growbags. Fast growing crops can be put in next to slow growing crops to utilize the space also.

The trick is to keep it simple and don’t be too adventurous or you’ll be wanting to pack the hobby in after the first month. If you’ve been lucky to find yourself a big plot only use a small part of it the first season.

You’re nearly there, you’ve got the plot and know what you want, but do you know how to get it?