P and A Gardening diary

New Year

01-08-2016
The weather forecast for next week is finally suggesting a significant drop in temperature – this winter has certainly been very mild, especially here in North West France. But although January can at its’ worst be cold, wet and generally uninspiring there are plenty of things for us gardeners to crack on with in our greenhouses, polytunnels and in the garden itself, when the weather allows.
January is a great time to plan of course but nothing beats (in our opinion) getting outside, whether it is to get on with jobs such as cleaning the polytunnel or greenhouse, cleaning the garden tools to make them pristine for more regular use during the springtime, sowing the first early seeds of the season or even taking the lawnmower apart…. for those of you who enjoy servicing your garden machinery and getting your hands dirty!
Keeping both your garden tools and your work area clean is extremely important. By doing so, you will be reducing the risk of pests and diseases spreading which could decimate your crop later in the year, so spending some time now on these tasks could pay considerable dividends later. In most cases there’s no substitute for using a good solid brush, water and some arm muscle… but in many cases there will be situations where you will need products (which you may of seen us mention previously) such as Algon. If you have a pressure washer, this is also a great tool for cleaning quickly and efficiently inside any hard flooring areas. For garden tools, we find that using an old scourer for removing any signs of rust on the metal of garden shears and other handy implements can also be ideal.
Enough of cleaning… there are plenty of other tasks to do... Although it’s only January, it is not too early to start chitting your seed potatoes. Top tip, they do need to be protected from frosts (which could happen any day now) and kept (egg boxes are perfect) in a place which is light, free from damp and cool. There are still several weeks before potato planting begins but it will do no harm to get started now.
For those of our clients who love to grow their own flowers from seed, again January is a good time to start sowing those plants which need a decent period to come to fruition. We’re thinking of here flowers such as dianthus and lobelias (we just love lobelia in hanging baskets…). Make sure however that your seeds are sowed in a heated propagator as the weather at this time of year will be too cold for these to survive.
We hope you’ve found these New Year tips useful.
Have a great 2016.
The P&A team. 

Winter is almost upon us...

12-02-2015
DECEMBER is now with us and as we busy ourselves with preparations for Christmas writing out our lists for sending Christmas cards and presents, it is a good time to reflect on the gardening year that has passed – and start to think about our plans and ideas for 2016.
Of course the joy of gardening is very much in the doing, as they say; digging, weeding, planting, sowing and come harvest time, collecting and storing the fruits of our labours. But it is also necessary to occasionally step back and review, so we can plan and design the garden for the new season.
This year seems to have been a good one for our customers in terms of the vegetables that have been grown and the flowers and shrubs that have blossomed in their gardens; maybe we have had the right balance of sunshine and rain here in Brittany? In our garden, the roses have been particularly successful and with the continuing mild weather of late, have continued to bloom with their orange and red hues creating some early winter colour. The soft fruits have had an amazing year, never before have we seen so many blackcurrants, redcurrants and raspberries… In the potager, the courgettes have also had an amazingly productive summer lasting until the early autumn and, after a poor performance due to blight in 2014, the rich and varied array of tomato plants have left us with a bountiful legacy of delicious and tangy chutney.
This time of year when the garden needs less attention is perfect for sitting down with a pad of paper and a cup of coffee and considering which seeds you will need and how you plan to organise the garden.  For example, if you have raised beds you could sketch out which plants you are going to grow and where, keeping a record for the next year to allow for crop rotation. On clear, sunny and bright December and January days it can also be a good opportunity to spend time cleaning the shed and the greenhouse, tidying up the trays and putting the last remnants of the year’s decaying foliage and vegetation onto the compost.
If you are thinking of adding a polytunnel to your Christmas gift list, then now is a good time to do so. A polytunnel will help you to significantly extend the length of your growing season and will enable you to grow lots of different flowers and vegetable plants even during the colder days. We are always happy to talk through your requirements and advise what is likely to be the best option for you; ordering and supplying to your home couldn’t be simpler… and who knows, at this time of year you may even be fortunate to receive a delivery courtesy of Santa’s sleigh and Rudolph the Reindeer … although that is the only thing we cannot guarantee this of course….!
Have a great December and a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas.
The P&A Team

November...

11-04-2015
HASN’T this Autumn been absolutely gorgeous so far? The beginning of November here in Brittany has been full of sunny days, blue skies and dry weather – perfect conditions for a tidy-up in the garden. Normally at this time of year it can be wet and cold, requiring us to wear a thick woolly jumper for the first time since the early Spring as we try to keep warm by drinking plenty of hot tea… over the past few days however shorts, a t-shirt and maybe a cold beer would have been sufficient!
Whatever the weather over the next few weeks, November is a great time to get on with a few jobs in preparation for the Winter in the garden, polytunnel or greenhouse.
One of the joys of Spring is seeing the first crocuses push through the earth, presenting a beautiful array of purple, yellow and white flowers. A sure sign that the winter will soon be over… perhaps. If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good time to plant out your bulbs, crocuses, tulips and daffodils (or les jonquilles as they call them in France) to give your garden even more colour next year.
This month is one of the best also for planting new fruit trees such as blackcurrant, redcurrant and gooseberry bushes. Most days should be fine for planting although we recommend you avoid doing so if the ground is water logged or frozen. Ensure that the soil is well-prepared with ample quantities of organic matter (e.g. compost, well-rotted manure, composted bark or tree-planting compost). Be sure to check that any fruit trees are staked and secured with some ties. Once you have planted, give the soil around the trees and bushes a good mulch with more organic matter…this will assist in keeping the weeds at bay and retain the moisture.
If you are fortunate to have a polytunnel, then there are some tasks which will help keep your polytunnel clean and tip-top for the next few months. Our friends at Premier Polytunnels recommend an organic chemical called Algon which is used to clean any outdoor surface, helping to restore the surface’s natural colour - cleaning the polythene and letting more light into the tunnel during the Winter months. It can also be used for many other purposes, too.
We mentioned fruit trees earlier in the blog and the Autumn is similarly good for planting soft fruit such as peaches and nectarines in your polytunnel. Polytunnels are a superb way of extending your growing season so you can enjoy gardening all year round. We particularly love the smell and taste of a fabulously sweet and juicy nectarine or peach on a warm Summer’s day…  don’t you? Now there’s an incentive to keep gardening on even the darkest Winter mornings.
Happy Gardening.

October...Autumn has arrived...

10-02-2015
HANDS UP! Which of you has started using their log burner or have put the central heating on for the first time since the Spring?  Well, with the colder nights now here we guess there are quite a few of you… but despite the change in temperature (although during the day there have been plenty of warm, sunny days of late) there is plenty to celebrate about October and the Autumn season for gardeners.
In the orchards around Normandy, farmers are reporting a great crop of apples this year, aided perhaps by lots of sunshine and rainfall during the Spring and Summer. In our mind, there’s nothing that beats the taste of a ripe, crunchy apple that has just fallen from the tree … or if you are prepared to wait a few months, enjoying the flavour of a cool glass of cider or even a drop of Calvados….
But even if you don’t have an apple tree, there is much to look forward to this month. If you have a polytunnel in your garden there are plenty of things to sow and to plant, including peas to guarantee a Spring crop, broad beans for similarly an early crop or perhaps some tasty spinach or Swiss chard to add colour and flavour to your dinner plate next year. If you need helpful tips and advice on plants to grow in your polytunnel throughout the year, our friends at Premier Polytunnels have come up with this handy guide which you can find via our link here.
This being France of course, no vegetable and herb garden is complete without some garlic bulbs… Garlic does need a certain degree of colder weather to establish itself, which is why October is generally a good month to plant out. We love the purple varieties of garlic but there are other kinds including black and smoked garlic.   
This time of year is also perfect for planning how to safeguard those perennials that will need some frost protection over the winter. Generally the month should not see too many hard frosts occur overnight, but it is a good idea to buy what you need now and identify which plants will require covering over the next few months.
If you do have a polytunnel, a polythene cloche is ideal for ‘double glazing’ your polytunnel. This will give your plants additional protection should the winter be particularly cold (and even in many parts of France it can be as we know…), helping to keep the frost off your crops and also saving on heating costs.
Have a great October...

September...

09-01-2015
SEPTEMBER in France is particularly well known as the month of “La Rentrée”, when children return to school after the holidays, employees are back to work and local clubs and sports associations re-commence their activities after the long Summer break.  
For gardeners, September is also a good time to take stock and plan for the months ahead. This is the ideal time to harvest the remaining vegetables and fruit from the garden, to tidy the raised beds and to take cuttings for next year’s Spring plants. The excessively wet last few weeks of August has now been replaced with hopefully a more settled outlook, but with the sunnier, more temperate weather you do need to be on your guard as the weeds will continue to thrive during the month…..   as always, regular weeding is the best solution to keep your garden looking tip-top.
Talking of the weather, September is typically warm and sunny so there is plenty of opportunity to spend time amongst the flower borders and in yourpotager.  By now, many annuals and perennials are well past their peak flowering, depriving the gardens of the rich, alluring colours that make June, July and early August so attractive. Fortunately this has been a great year for roses, which remain vibrant in many gardens with a plentiful supply of new buds, helped perhaps by the recent rainfall; the Zinnias too have been amazing, slow to start but now flowering with great majesty – hopefully well into October. And if you’re lucky your greenhouse or polytunnel will have an abundance of red tomatoes, peppers of various colours as well as a profusion of other vegetable and flower plants.
Early September is similarly the perfect time for spending an hour or so foraging amongst the bushes and hedgerows for blackberries, and fortunately the birds have still left plenty for us humans to eat…. Throughout the countryside you should be able to find a bountiful supply guaranteeing copious amounts of fresh produce for jam making and desserts.
Keeping a record of what has worked particularly well in your garden – and which plants have struggled – is a final, further useful tip whilst it is clearly in your mind. This will help plan the layout and location of specific plants next year. This is especially useful for planning next year’s vegetable garden, enabling the rotation of individual crops.
Enjoy the start of Autumn….  And we hope that you have a great month.
Happy Gardening!

August

08-02-2015
FOR MANY GARDENERS, August is arguably the best month of the year: certainly for those who have tended their vegetable plots, potagers and allotments faithfully over the Spring and early Summer. Why? The weather is warm, the days are still relatively long and for those of us who live in the countryside, the golden bales of hay glisten in the sunlight as the farmers go to work. In the hedgerows, there are plenty of blackberries ripening, promising lots of healthy fruit for foraging during the month…
In the vegetable garden we can clearly see the fruit of our labours, as tomatoes turn gradually from green to red, the deep purple aubergines grow in size each day, the vibrant orange tips of the carrots can be seen reaching out from the sandy soil and the glossy leaves of the beetroots promise a good crop.  Let’s also not forget the lettuce… August is a great time to grow this staple salad favourite, the luscious leaves are perfect for many summer meals in the garden.
August is also a busy month for harvesting your produce and therefore it’s always an especially active period for stocking up the freezer and larder with frozen foods, jams, preserves, pickles as well as dried fruit and herbs. The blackcurrant bushes were particularly prolific this Summer so there will be no shortage of delicious Blackcurrant Jam this Autumn and Winter in our household…
But it’s not just the vegetables that look stunning during August: if you have been fortunate to have had rain during the Summer months (yes… fortunate!), the garden borders and flower beds should be continuing to delight. This year we’ve grown Zinnias for the first time which are displaying their varied and colourful flowers, providing great cover for one of the beds – hopefully right through into September and early October.
One final thought. We all love the Summer, but the start of August is also a sign that Autumn is on its’ way… and consequently it is a good opportunity to think ahead and plan your garden for the year ahead. Once the growing season is complete, why not think about installing a polytunnel during the early Autumn or Winter? This will expand your growing season and allow you to continue to enjoy gardening even on relatively cold or damp days. We’re always happy to have a chat and talk through with you your ideas.
Have a great August. 

July

07-03-2015
JULY IS a month which I guess it is tempting for us gardeners to take things easier. For those with children, the summer holidays are almost here and many working people are planning their annual holiday away with family or friends, or simply deciding to spend time at home in the garden. The weather has also been hot although the recent thunderstorm did bring some temporary but welcome relief, refreshing the gardens and filling the water butts….  I came across a poem recently by the Russian poet Pasternak which described the month as “July, with summer air and thunder- He is our temporary guest”, which I thought was very appropriate. The sun has returned.
But there is still much that you can do in the greenhouse, polytunnel or garden. The days are still long and it is the ideal time to sow fast-growing crops, particularly salads. Don’t forget also to keep watering and feeding, especially those plants in pots and containers and make sure you have a look out for those pesky pests and weeds….
One of the enjoyable things about the vegetable garden during July is seeing plants such as courgettes and squash begin to establish themselves, with their bright yellow flowers creating a rich colour against the brown earth. Their flowers may also be used in cooking, so why not give them a try? One recipe that I found on-line was for stuffed courgette flowers with herbs and cheese which taste delicious… must try sometime.
July is a time of year when the fruit such as gooseberries and blackcurrants may be ready to give you a bountiful supply of produce. This year the blackcurrants have done especially well and we are looking forward to tasting the jam later. The verges in the countryside are also flowering with blackberries galore, so all in all we should be in for a bumper Summer.
Herbs are also a great plant to have in the garden in the Summer. Nothing beats fresh mint with new potatoes, or maybe you’d prefer the mint taken in a glass of Pimms… Thyme is another herb that thrives in July. It is colourful with the flowers attractive to bees and you can use the leaves in all kinds of different dishes. Great in the garden and on the dining table…
Enjoy the month and we hope that you get plenty of time to relax in the warm sunshine.

June, Summer is upon us...

06-12-2015
RECENTLY I came across a poem about June, which began "In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day…” After all the hard work that we gardeners have expended preparing, sowing and planting during the Spring months of March, April and May, June is the time when we really see the fruits of our labours. The vegetable gardens are becoming increasingly bountiful, creating great expectation for the late Summer and early Autumn, the fruit trees are starting to blossom strongly and the bedding plants are slowly but surely establishing themselves for the Summer.
After some indifferent temperatures during May, the sun has shone quite brightly in June (let’s forget about all of the wind!) and it’s getting a tad hotter. So even in the early morning, it’s possible to don the shirtsleeves and shorts – not forgetting the suntan lotion – and tend to the garden.
During the Summer, water is particularly precious and it’s important to collect and retain as much rainwater as you possibly can. There are a huge range of water butts on the market and we are able to supply you with products whether you are looking for a 250L tank or a smaller variety such as 100L. In France, these type of butts are called récupérateurs d'eau which strikes me as a nicer word to use than butt...  If you have a large garden, and a budget to match, think about locating water butts in different areas (obviously you will need a shed or outbuilding to provide the roof covering and guttering to collect the water). These will save you time as well as money in the long run.
Generally speaking, the more established fruit crops (the blackcurrants are beginning to look especially good this year) will not need watering unless we do experience a long, hot and prolonged dry spell; but the crops that you are growing in your raised beds, polytunnel or greenhouse will need attention from time-to-time depending on the type of plant. For example, tomato plants will need regular watering as well as the occasional feed. With vegetables, the rule is try to keep the soil evenly moist and if you can achieve that, you won’t go far wrong.
Enjoy the rest of the month.

May, well into Spring...

06-12-2015
MAY is the month which for gardeners will see the hard work that has been undertaken during the early Spring rewarded with plenty of healthy green and growing vegetable plants and flowers, replacing the brown soil of winter.  By this stage, many of you will have your greenhouses and polytunnels full of all sorts of different plants; so it may be more of a case as to where can you find the space to grow other types of produce for your garden in the coming months? Therefore, May is a great time of year to step back and reflect on what you’ve achieved to date, and think about other vegetables and flowers that can be sown for the Summer.
One of the most difficult decisions for any gardener is deciding if the weather is warm enough to plant outdoors. There is an old English expression, dating back to at least the 18th century which goes along the lines of “Ne'er cast a clout till May be out” which probably has different meanings – but one interpretation could be is to not forget that this month can still be cold, with even a possible risk of frost. So our advice is to make sure you plan out the next few weeks carefully in terms of what to sow outdoors and what should be planted indoors.
With a number of vegetable plants that you may have planted earlier in the year becoming established (such as tomatoes, potatoes, carrots etc.) why not think about sowing French and runner beans (a particular favourite), squash or even pumpkin seeds? These can probably be sowed outside now, but equally would benefit (especially perhaps in this part of North West France!) of being planted indoors in your greenhouse or polytunnel. Young plants may then be planted out once there is settled warm weather and after they have been hardened off for, say, 10-14 days.
Aside from the vegetables, a flower that can be grown from seed at this time of the year – and will bring colour to your garden (whether they are of the deep yellow variety, a sumptuous orange or have a rich red tone) is the Marigold. This plant will flower from July until October, so it’s an excellent choice for many beds and borders. The Marigold is a beautiful flower which is quite hardy when fully grown, but equally it is loved by snails and slugs so it will need some protection when still a tender young seedling and plant. They take some time to get going, but once they do, they will spread and add vitality on a long Summer’s day.
Happy Gardening.

Spring is here...

03-29-2015
APRIL is of course just around the corner and it is now the ideal time to choose your fruiting vegetables, such as tomatoes, aubergines and peppers. These vegetables are sensitive to the cold and therefore they will grow much better in a polytunnel or greenhouse...

You will find that some types of fruiting vegetables may be sown directly outside in late Spring (courgettes are a good example) but otherwise you can start the process by sowing indoors in small pots but make sure you provide them with some heat! It will help the plant and ensure a good crop later in the Summer

When growing outdoors in your polytunnel it's important to remember that this time of year can sometimes be a bit unpredictable so it's possible that the nights can still be very cold for young plants, or even quite warm, especially as the month progresses. You therefore need to be prepared...think about protecting tender plants with cloches or fleece, or even newspaper. Glass jars or cut down lemonade bottles may also be useful

However, as we have seen in recent years April can be very warm and of course the days are longer and often brighter. If this is the case you need to ventilate your polytunnel by opening doors and ventilation screens

Fruiting vegetables generally grow well in containters such as grow bags or pots (about 25cm) filled with compost. Make sure you feed and water regularly, if the compost dries out it can lead to problems later in the season

Last year tomato blight was a major problem for many growers resulting in crops being lost or reduced. However, these types of plants are still fun to grow and are an essential element in many cooking recipes and salads so are well worth a go! There are varieties being developed which are considered to be blight resistant (eg Fandango and Lizzano) which can be bought directly from the suppliers

If you do grow from seed, when the roots of the tomato seedlings reach the outside of the pot it's time to give them some more space so move them into larger containers and watch them grow!

Finally, every gardener knows that they share their garden with a plethora of insects and other wildlife but watch out for greenfly and other pests on your plants. It's even worthwhile tipping out your potted plants to check for grubs that may have settled amongst the roots

Ask us for help if you'd like to find out more about growing plants in polytunnels