winter gardening

Regular readers of my monthly gardening tips newsletter will know what to do, when and how; there’s no down-time in a garden, so it can be difficult to prioritise.  Now is the perfect time to be prepping your garden for the Spring.  For those of you with established allotments and kitchen gardens, garlic and shallots, spring greens, purple sprouting broccoli and broad beans can all go in the ground now for early harvest next year.

If you’re just starting out and would appreciate some basic tips, read on…

preparing the ground

There’s some basic groundwork to complete before you can indulge in seed cultivation and transplanting.  If you follow these simple tips, it need not be too arduous!  Dig over to a spade’s depth, getting rid of the weeds as you go and burn them afterwards.  If the required ground needs significant clearing, treating with a glyphosate-based weed killer will bring it into a more workable condition, but avoid rotavators, as they tend to slice up and then in-bed the weeds, which is exactly what you are trying to avoid!

soil testing

Ensure the underlying subsoil is not too hard and test for drainage; simply fill a small pit, say a yard square, with water.  If water remains in the morning, drainage may be a problem, so look at raised beds instead.

Plants need nutrients to grow, especially nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and magnesium.  For the serious growers amongst you, a simple lab test may be useful to ascertain whether your soil is acidic or alkaline and what nutrients it contains and in what quantities.  This will allow you to choose a suitable fertiliser regime to address any issues.   Purchase a pH test kit, available from your local garden centre or DIY Store and just follow the instructions.

green manure

‘Green Manure’ will do wonders for the health of your soil and subsequent growth of your plants and can save you a fortune on compost.  All you require is a packet of seeds, a rake and a spade and then let the ground do the rest! contains a very sexy article on sowing green manure, but perhaps that depends on one’s outlook!

planning and positioning

A little planning will go a long way to reducing down the amount of time you need to spend weeding.  For instance, weeds can quickly cover the likes of carrots, peas and onions as they cast little shade.  To avoid this, grow your onions through a black membrane and carrots in beds with paths alongside, to allow easy access for repeated weeding.  Whereas pumpkins, squash, courgettes and potatoes will smother weeds, so they can be planted in the ‘weediest’ areas.  Perennial crops such as asparagus and fruit should be planted in clear areas.

Invest in a couple of different hoes and you’ll be fully equipped to deal with any weed problems!

raised beds

Established Raised BedsAs identified above, raised beds can be very useful for areas with poor drainage and heavy soil, such as we experience in Berkhamsted.  A variety of materials and methods can be used for construction and positioning is really subject to preference and what accessibility you require.  If in doubt, give me a call on tel: 07708 643313 or drop me an email to  This picture is of a raised bed that my good friend Dorrie and I built in her garden last year.

The width of a raised bed can sensibly be up to 1000mm subject to access and reach.  Height based on your requirements, and length subject to your available space.  Otherwise, bear in mind that the bed must be capable of carrying the required weight of soil.

Old paving slabs can offer interesting colour and texture, softwood is cheap and can be stained to compliment other areas of your garden but the wood will have a limited lifespan.  Palisades, or timber posts, offer maximum variety in terms of height and shape and will last longer than softwood.  Railway sleepers continue to be a popular choice and are easy to obtain.  Beds made of brick and stone can look lovely but do consider your building experience prior to attempting one, or you might end up with more Heath Robinson than Alan Titchmarsh!

The soil in any bed will take some time to settle and will therefore need topping up over a period of time.  Start with annuals and vegetables and leave permanent planting until you’re confident that the bed has settled satisfactorily.

In addition to my landscape and garden maintenance services, I also run my ‘Acanthus Academy’ which offers tuition within your own garden.  To find out more, take a look around my website and sign-up to my newsletter whilst you’re at it!