Notes From The Garden Shed: Updated weekly

This is the start of what is meant to become a communal blog – please chip in, by email to or by using the Comment link …



At the end of all this, there has got to be the mother of all gardening shows.

Here in The Shed, we normally dispense seed like a miser – every one a little investment, not to be wasted. This year we are using them like gambling chips. We were chucking them out in every corner and spare pot as soon as the sun came out, and so far the weather gods have given them a break.

Most of the messages we are getting are saying much the same. If you have a garden, it is now your salvation. If you have a shed in it, you are doubly blessed.

With the rest of the world changing shape every hour, we are all being sent back to the one step at a time progress of cultivation, improvisation and repair. Suddenly, the whole world has discovered The Repair Shop. And we’re all fixing something – and throwing things away.

Our throwaway theme at the moment is plastic. Plastic bags, plastic pots and jars, plastic record sleeves, disk wallets. All kept because it might come in handy but when do we ever cycle over to a friend with our record collection in a satchel nowadays. The stuff just fills every corner as if it was gold dust but it’s worth nothing to anybody.

A new ruthlessness about recycling comes with the new philosophical territory. The games we have been playing in the name of saving the environment suddenly look futile. If it’s a decent lump of plastic, easily grasped by a claw, okay send it for melting down, but don’t expect the binmen to separate your old biros and plastic bags from your bottles and your batteries. Most of ours now goes in the black bags, for burning. At least we get some electricity out of it that way.

One of the jobs of the week in this shed was finding the leftovers of bedroom paint for a patch repair on a wall. We do another run through the paint collection and decide to keep it all, although it’s bulky and messy to re-use. Here’s a thought for a charity event – get some big vats set up for a day and everybody comes and pours in their spares, with a paint expert guiding the mix and a skip on hand for the tins. You should be able to end up with a GP gloss and a GP emulsion in some shade of brown – the Horrabridge Emergency palette.




Devon Life, Feb 2020 lists the following new garden openings for this summer, listed under the National Gardens Scheme …

Littlefield, Exeter, EX5 1HY – eco-garden reclaimed from derelict land, opening Sat June 20 and Sun June 21, 12.30-5.

Pangkor House, Hatherleigh, EX20 3PL – “Quirky” – Sat July 4 & Sun July 5, 1.30-5.

The Old School House, Dawlish, EX7 0QB – Bananas and other exotica, and recycled materials – Sat Aug 1 and Sun Aug 2, 1-5 pm.

Torview, Newton Abbot – Created by semi-retired horticulturalists – May 2, 3, 4, 12-5 pm.

Bradford Tracey House, Witheridge, EX16 8QG – planted for productivity and sustainability – May 9 & 10, 1.30-5.30.

Houndspool, Dawlish, EX7 0QP – Developed by the founders of Whetman Pinks – various openings through summer – see

Silver Street Farm, Uffculme, EX15 3BA – “Secret garden” set in farmland – June 6 & 7, Sept 12 & 13, 1-5 pm.

Torquay Gardens, TQ1 1RS – “English country with tropical overtones” – June 27 & 28, 1-5 pm.

Barnstaple Gardens, EX31 3AF – Including Japanese garden and koi pond – Sun June 21, 1-5 pm.



Sunday Times list of winter gardens to visit, Jan 2020, says:

Endsleigh, in Devon, exhibits the genius of the 18th century landscaper Humphry Repton, with water charging under paths and down rock faces (£5 or free with lunch or tea:

Devon Life recommends …

Hillhouse Nursery & Gardens, between Newton Abbot and Ashburton: free entry, 7 days.

Stone Lane Gardens, Chagford – specialist in trees & sculpture.

and Devon Live, online news service, reports on the ongoing rescue of a “lost treasure” …

The Italian Gardens, near Ipplepen.



Latest entry in our blog on gardening round yer …

The garden waste collection is very handy but it’s an extravagant use of diesel, let’s face it, and here in The Shed, we try to ration our use of it a bit. One way is to follow a rough rule that we try not to lose good soil. When the hedge clippings on the road side are swept up with the gutter dust we stick em in a plastic bag with muddy roots pulled from the veg bed, a scoop of lawn cuttings, any half-made compost sitting in pots, etcetera, and a gallon of water. A few holes in the bag for worms and it sits in the bottom of the hedge or some other corner until we want it.

This New Year, preparing the vegetable plot, we were able to haul out five or six bags which had all been left for a year or two and had from them a very useable “green” mulch to give all the soil a dressing of a couple of inches. Even the holly was well rotted. Some bonfire ash, a sprinkling of blood and bone from a big plastic tub and it all looks ready for digging in.

In the old days, rural gardeners would always be brewing up a sheep’s head or something for a supplementary feed. From that we draw the lesson that pretty much any soup is useful and if we have leftover gravy, or duff soup, or dirty cooking oil, or wine lees, we pour it on a bed or in a pot. No lumps to attract mice or rats and it’s all soaked in before sundown. But what we really want is some pig shit, of course.


Discussions are on for a local seed swap day, unless there already is one? Meanwhile, we are recommended to this site for old strains of vegetables to suit small cultivation …



Recommended  …

Stone Lane Gardens near Chagford


A programme called Broadcasting House, on Radio 4 on a Sunday morning after 9, is collecting best advice on composting summed up in three words. For example so far …

Loose leaf tea

No tea bags

Turn it now

Pee on it

Brown on green


For Shed files … Times writer Carol Midgley took a look at the range of fruit the supermarkets sell as oranges and reported: “Satsumas are the superior citrus. Clementines – tarty-sweet or too bitter, and peevish to peel. Hardly ever see tangerines now. And those vague ‘easy-peelers’ are usually anything but, and so bland.”

What about tangerines then. What do we know?


Berries do well round here, don’t they? The Shed once had a local allotment plot where the best result came from blackcurrant bushes left behind some years before.

Farmer Nick Hewison thought there might be a living in growing blueberries Exeter way and has been trying it for the past 10 years , while blueberries have been fashionable. See for some produce still available.

In The Moorlander this week, he says he is left with a blueberry cider recipe that might still take off but otherwise he has more or less given up trying to turn his enthusiasm for the fruit into profit.

But the problem was world competition meaning hopeless prices. The blueberries did fine and he says he will always grow some for the pleasure of the crop.

He says his mother taught him that “cultivated blueberries grow as well on the edge of Dartmoor as wild bilberries”.


Devon Life this month, Nov 2019, has been window-shopping at a high-end Exeter nursery specialising in the rare and expensive –


Last time The Shed took on a little restoration project, we learnt the value of a good scraper and so we noticed when the DIY editor of Popular Mechanics recommended simple old-fashioned triangle blades from Stortz – toolmakers of Philadelphia since 1853 – “ruin you for any other scraper”.

and previously …


A corner of the sitting area in the garden got bees in an old birdbox this summer and we called up Dave Hannam, the village consultant, who stopped by and identified them at a glance as wild bumbles. If they were honey bees, the comb-making kind, somebody might have taken them away for us. As it was, best advice was to sit it out until the end of summer and queen and all would move on. But some might remember the good location next year.

All eventually went quiet in the box and we looked around for something which might knock out anything left behind. We could get killer sprays but otherwise it came down to doing beekeeper tricks with smoke. Eventually we just stuffed a rag in the entry hole quick, cut the box loose and tied it in a sack. Whew. But then what? Drive it to Buckland Monachorum, untie the sack and take out the stopper? Rather you than us.

Eventually we just burned the whole bundle, on the theory that anything left alive in there would be knocked out early anyway. No sound and all that was left was a bit of goo.

In the interests of a fast burn, we used a few plastic bags as firelighters, and wondered again why we are all trying so hard to avoid burning plastic. It is good fuel, because it is an oil product in the end. And we burn billions of barrels of oil all the time. Just saying


However, the mood is clearly turning against plastic and, ironically, when  you start looking at how much you are using, gardening is a major culprit.  This summer our Shed went looking for some weedkiller for a gravel path and tried to avoid buying it by the half-pint in a spray gun made of five kinds of plastic. Bought what looked like an old-fashioned tub of crystals. Turned out that within the plastic tub were six disposable plastic tubes, with six disposable plastic caps, each containing one dose of the chemicals, sufficient for about four feet of path, at about a pound a yard. And not very effective on a loose surface anyway, it turned out.

No doubt European health & safety has something to do with it and no wonder people want to go back to being able to buy a gallon of proper creosote when they need it,

Somebody remembered an old market gardener who used to say if you invented seawater, it would fall foul of an EU directive, because salt was such an effective indiscriminate herbicide. We tried a recipe involving a cup of table salt in a gallon of white vinegar, with some washing liquid to make it sticky. Seemed to work ok.

previously …


The Shed got some late-summer potatoes from a local garden centre, with an eye on a small Christmas crop from two big pots. Come the beginning of October, there were a few tiny spuds forming but the tops were ruined by what looked like black mould. Possibly we over-watered them, on the theory that a potato can always handle another drink. But Black Blight is almost certainly the name of a potato problem, surely. Potatoes always have a problem. We pulled off the worst of it and the stalks are still just about surviving but not recovering. Possibly  they were farmers’ potatoes, which are bred to crop well but only survive with constant spraying on the whole. What is a good hardy tasty potato recommendation for a home grower round this way?


Tip from a tips column – to keep wasps off your garden picnic, burn a bit of ground coffee in a tin.



tip from The Times: Crush a bulb of garlic and boil it in a litre of water for 5 mins – strain and store in fridge – use a tablespoonful in a litre of water to spray vulnerable plants and surrounding soil.


on MUD

In 2004, Sunday Telegraph gardening writer Bunny Guinness reported on a course at an alt. building business called Cob In Cornwall.

Between them, they summed up the recipe for a West Country cob building.

Too much clay is a mistake, said the Telegraph report, 18/7/4. Too stiff and it will crack. Test your source soil by mixing it in a jar and letting it settle – about one eighth clay is about right.

To calculate tonnage needed, get the cubic capacity of the walls and multiply by 1.7. For the course project, they used 6.5 tonnes and got the mix about right with 12 bales of barley straw, using a big mixer where once you might have used men and livestock. Made windows round plywood.


From The Week magazine …

Peel ginger with a teaspoon.

Don’t peel potatoes – cut the skin round the middle and take it off when it’s cooked.

Peel an orange by cutting off top and bottom, making a slit down and peeling sideways.



When we moved back to Devon after four decades of city suburban, the surging power of the hedgerow was a bit worrying to start with. Left alone, it would clearly take over first the garden and then the house. At first, we were still thinking like townies – get the Black & Decker out, work out which of the many joins in the cahle has come apart, eventually cut a kind of box shape, with a flat front and squared top all round the premises.

In pursuit of this ideal, we acquired a range of tools. Last one was a long-reach electric trimmer, £50 immaculate with a good cable thrown in. The old fella our age who sold it said he found it a bit hard to use now and we soon found out what he meant.

The argument in The Shed was that electric made sense if you were cutting within range of your own power source. No fuel tank, less weight. Possibly true but most of the weight on the cutting arm is in the motor itself and this one is quite bulky. Is a petrol motor any more compact? This one is not easy to use for hard cutting from a ladder but it’ll do for the odd job. Meanwhile, we have finally found a kind of karma in relations with the hedge anyway.

The proper country attitude is to control the thing, not give it a manicure. Pick up a hand tool when you’re going that way and take off interlopers. Leave a patch which is promising to flower or fruit and see what you get. Intervene as required. When Gary Shirley left the village this summer, we coughed up £4 at his yard sale for a primitive lopper from his wife’s family’s shed – works a treat and reaches into most of the corners we bought the strimmer for. Three years ago, we stopped attacking a row of hazel and let it grow. This year, it delivered a shower of nuts at some point, although they all disappeared before we got there. And it’s ready to coppice out a bit, for new garden poles and sticks.

Our favourite way so far though of harvesting the hedge is to cut the brambles and briars in long lengths and trim them to make a kind of natural barbed wire. Pin it round the boundary of your veg bed with sticks and the odd proper tent peg and it least it’s a discouragement to slugs and mice. Push it down with a glove on one hand and a stick in the other, Repair and renew and improve for a few years and you end up with a kind of mini-hedge which actually looks like it might make a difference for an hour or two.


Microgreens, the chef’s version of vegetables, are easy to grow indoors, for results in a week or two, says The Guardian and these are worth a try …



This year’s rhubarb, every time we had a couple of pounds of fruit we boiled and mashed it and added two pounds of sugar in a gallon jar with yeast and water. First batch stopped too quickly but looked and tasted okay so we bottled it to see. Put the last pint in a decanter and left it for sampling one night. The night happened. Horrible. Immature and sour. But we think we know why. Second batch we brewed, we found a better way of squeezing out the pulp, using scrim cloth, and found a lot of good juice waiting to be had and it seems to have made a big difference to the fermentation. Watch out, however, for bursts in your squeezing cloth. It’s amazing how much white formica you can splatter with one shot of hot rhubarb paste.

The second and third rhubarbs bubbled away nicely. But some apple alongside it was reluctant. In the end, mixed the two and the rhubarb yeast took over and all went well until we drained it off the lees at the end of summer and it stuck again, despite baths of warm water and hours on the sunbed. It’s now in the airing cupboard but a modern boiler doesn’t waste enough heat to make much difference. Holding on for a week of stove days to see if there is anything left to revive. Possibly, But probably a kilo of fruit per gallon would have been more like it.

The Shed bought a couple of gallons of the Leaping Salmon’s apple juice, from their pressing day a few weeks ago. Cider is what apples really want to be and we stuck a ferment lock on the jars and left em. Just come back from a few days away, three weeks later, and found it still going good guns, but decided to rack it to take some murk out. Now it’s going well again and there are other batches on the go round here. Next decision here is whether and when to add extra sugar. We’re leaving it for now. Should be some sampling to do around Christmas of Horrabridge Hooch 2019.

allfornow … but please send your own thoughts.

About the editor 381 Articles
Editor of The Horrabridge Times.