How to make a compost heap and why

by Jane on May 17, 2019

Now is the time to weed and tidy up in the garden, before the weeds get too big.  Composting is the easy way to get rid of the resulting piles of unwanted greenery.  If you haven’t done it before, here is the low-down.

Why compost?

  • You get a fabulous soil conditioner to help make your soil more healthy and to feed your plants
  • Save watering by using the compost as a mulch round your plants
  • Stop council tax increasing by sending less to their recycling
  • Reduce global warming by preventing the release of methane. This gas is released when organic matter in landfills reacts with other materials

Not bad for something so easy to do! And it’s very satisfying to see the result – a sweet-smelling earthy crumbly mixture.

How to compost

  • Find a container. Four pallets wired together or a roll of chicken wire will suffice. Many councils sell good plastic composters at half price
  • Let your bin allow worms in through the base (though even without it you’ll get compost eventually) – plastic ones usually have holes for this
  • Add materials in a rough ratio 2:1 or 3:2 ‘Browns’:’Greens’ (though there are many ‘recipes’). ‘Brown’ materials are dry brown things like straw, dry leaves, paper, cardboard, dried weeds and sawdust; they give carbon. ‘Greens’ are wet, fresh things like vegetable peelings, grass cuttings and fresh weeds; they give nitrogen. Soak dry materials and cut up things like cardboard.
  • If you have time, put in layers of greens and browns. If not, put in as you go and stir and turn the heap from time to time. It should be damp but not wringing wet.
  • Cover (use old quilt or carpet for lidless heaps) and leave 3-6 months or more.

The process

  • Aerobic and anaerobic organisms eat the waste. The first need air, the second do not. So a mixture of containment and aeration works – in any case, it’s a natural process that will happen anyway. You can speed it up, however, with the method above


  • Smell: Add ‘browns’
  • Flies: Turn and add ‘greens’
  • Damp: Add ‘browns’. Especially important with grass cuttings, and in winter

The result

  • Soil-like crumbly brown material which smells nice, made of decomposed plant and animal material

What next

  • Leave on top of the soil as a mulch and feed.  The worms will do the work of taking it into the soil for you
  • For more ideas, ‘Bob’s Basics: Composting’ by Bob Flowerdew, panellist on Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time, will give you more details and even a history of composting.  I read ‘Backyard Composting’ by John Roulac (£2.49) and ‘Organic Gardening’ (RHS encyclopaedias, Pears and Strickland).




Building A Bee-autiful Garden

by Jane on March 12, 2019

Photo by Vernon Raineil Cenzon on Unsplash

Here is a guest post from author and garden designer Karoline Gore, in time for the planting season.

Building your own garden is one of the most soothing and enjoyable activities you can do, but why not make it beneficial for wildlife too? Bees account for ?400 million of the U.K. economy through pollination alone. Bees are a staple of the ecosystem and necessary for dozens of fruits and vegetables, including strawberries and tomatoes, and are a wonderful addition to gardens for these reasons. So when you’re looking for new ideas for your garden, consider adding bees to the familiar ecosystem.

Why Bees?

Over 25 species of bees live in the U.K. alone, but that number can be misleading. Three species of bee have already gone extinct, two are critically endangered, and many more are rapidly declining in numbers. Yet, bees account for 80% of crop yields! It’s not all bad news, though. Honeybees, in general, are very passive and gentle as well, and many home gardeners are taking the initiative and building gardens that attract bees. Creating a haven in your own garden is only one of the ways to help protect the bee population. With everyone working together, we can build beautiful gardens and help a species in need at the same time

Bringing Bees To Your Garden

There are a variety of ways to bring bees into your garden. Keep in mind when planting that bees love the colours blue, purple, and yellow, and are attracted to beautiful plants like dandelions, lilacs, and gaillardia. Provide a fresh water source that doubles as decoration such as a birdbath or water feature. And of course, don’t use any pesticides or chemicals in your garden – you don’t want to harm them, and most of these are harmful to plants as well.

You’ll also want to hold off on tearing weeds out of your gardens. Weeds have natural beauty in themselves, but they’re also great food for honeybees.

Purple planting in Tom Stuart Smith's garden
Bee-friendly flower colours

That’s it! Making a bee friendly garden is as easy as adding a few colourful plants, giving them some water to sip, and giving them some weeds their young can munch on. You can successfully create a stunning and vibrant garden while also helping keep the bee population alive and well. At that point, your garden stops just being about you but becomes about helping the ecosystem at large. And we can all feel good about that.

PS from Jane: Here are some good pictures of the different bees in British gardens so you can identify them.


A winter scent corner

February 1, 2019

Many of the shrubs that flower in winter and early spring have strongly-scented flowers, so they can attract any lone bee that is out there this time of year. And their scent also draws me outside to appreciate these hardy plants. I’ve planted 3 winter-flowering shrubs together near the house, together with a seat, so […]

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A visit to Tom Stuart Smith’s garden

October 17, 2018

In the hot days of summer, I was lucky enough to be one of 35 garden designers spending the day with Tom Stuart Smith. As a garden designer Tom has Chelsea Gold medals and Best in Show for his designs. The event was organised by Gillian Goodson in aid of Horatio’s Garden, which creates and […]

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Vibrant Australian Garden

May 18, 2018
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For any faithful followers of my blog, sorry to be away so long – I have been busy working and travelling.  I’ve just visited a great botanic garden with a fresh modern design: the ‘Australian Garden’ of the Royal Victoria Botanic Gardens, near Melbourne, Australia.  The garden manages to display plants in meaningful groups – […]

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Shrubs for a low-maintenance family garden

January 9, 2018

People often consider shrubs as slightly dull background plants, but they can be a lot more exciting than this, and very useful too. They are generally easy to care for; they give structure and substance to a garden, and they provide colour through the year.  I’ve just completed a planting plan for a family garden, […]

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Yeo Valley gravel garden – a little-known gem

September 27, 2017
Thumbnail image for Yeo Valley gravel garden – a little-known gem

Yeo Valley, the company that produces organic dairy products, has a gravel garden and organic cafe in the countryside south of Bristol.  It’s a beautiful, open area near Blagdon Lake. It’s only open Thursdays and Fridays from 29th April to Sept 30th – but it’s worth diarising a visit.  It’s £5 entry.  A few plants […]

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Evergreen hedging review – how to evaluate plants on sale

July 26, 2017

How do you tell whether the plants you see on sale are any good? I have just been sent a generous sample box of evergreen hedging for review from Hopes Grove Nurseries. Looking on their website, they say they are the largest specialist hedging grower in the UK, only selling direct to the end user. […]

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Canons Ashby: a Baroque garden in open country

July 13, 2017

For my birthday in May, I spent the day at my nearest stately home and gardens – a small ‘stately home’ but one with an unspoilt feel, as it is not much altered since it was built in the 1550s.  Canons Ashby used to be a twelfth century priory, and the medieval priory church still […]

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Update on the meadow, and May blossom

May 25, 2017

The meadow has changed radically from April to May. In April the bluebells overpowered everything else. Unfortunately Spanish ones, hard to eradicate – I take care they don’t spread beyond the garden as there is a danger they cross-pollinate with our native bluebells, almost unique to Britain. In May, I am reaping the benefits of […]

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