Wilkinson Sword Bypass Heavy Pruners


Just as a good pair of secateurs need to be a precision cutting tool so too do heavy pruners  and these   https://wilkinsonsword-tools.co.uk/products/ranges/cutting-range/loppers/general-purpose-geared-bypass-loppers  are precisely that. Just to clarify, my use of the name ‘heavy pruners’ sounds much more technical than ‘loppers’ which I have always thought sounds rather crude for a very precise horticultural task and I just dislike the word. That out of the way, I have been delighted with this tool which has cut all types of wood with any problems.

They have been tried on a range of materials from soft shoots up to tree branches, below the width that requires a saw, and not once have they failed to cut cleanly and with minimum of effort.



Even dead snags which are very often found at the base of rose bushes can easily be removed without the bypass blades parting,  often a problem, and I was quite surprised how easy it was to manoeuvre the blades into tight places.

It does not take long to decide whether a piece of equipment is going to suit you or not and I quickly found that these were very much to my liking. So with Christmas coming up, I am sure a pair of these ‘heavy pruners’ would be a delight to receive by any discerning gardener.

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A Practical Pair


These http://www.goldleaf-gloves.com/ gloves are extremely comfortable and after initially feeling rather tight when first worn, soon adjust to working conditions. One of the main problems with many heavy duty gloves is the fact that they dramatically reduce dexterity due to their thickness but the suppleness of goldleaf make both holding plant material and using tools so much easier. I very often forfeit the glove in which I hold my working tools but with these there is no problem. The  gauntlet is long enough to protect the arm adequately, especially when dealing with thorny plants, and although the material feels rather soft , no thorns managed to penetrate the material.

As a great deal of garden work is carried out during the cold days of winter, the fact that these gloves are waterproof mean that your hands stay warm while working which is a great benefit. With Christmas on the way these gloves would make an ideal present for any gardener.       WP_20170820_12_13_56_Pro

Secret Gardens of East Anglia

I delight in gardens that evolve from a basic initial, back of an envelope design, or around a particular local landscape that has been carefully included, and often enhanced, into the overall desired effect. I also find that the finest and most inspirational gardens have been created by gardeners who have learned all about plants that suit their place as they and their creating  have developed. This is why I find this book so delightful.

Some of the gardens I know well and provide adequate examples of my reasoning. Hunworth Hall, for instance, which I had the pleasure of visiting quite early in its development and which has evolved ‘piecemeal’ as Henry Crawley himself put it. East Ruston Old Vicarage where landmarks such as local churches and even the nearby Happisburgh lighthouse, have been brought right into the garden using hedge windows. Then there is Beth Chatto’s own garden where she herself says ” match plants to their own situation” and really where no other  garden shows off this simple piece of advice to better effect  than in her vastly diverse and challenging space.

Of course, we haven’t all got the size of plot that many of these gardens have been created over but even so most have individual features that can be incorporated into the smallest of areas. The Kitchen Garden of Tinkers Green Farm,Essex, the container collection at 38 Norfolk Terrace, Cambridge or even the stumpery in the rolling acres of Raveningham Hall, Norfolk, all small areas of inspiration in a much bigger picture.

The enduring beauty of all these gardens is the fact that they are individual and have been created by owners who may have had little experience of gardening prior to their starting off on each exciting adventure. Perhaps learning from mistakes made along the way yet with a passion, not necessarily knowing what the end results would be, to create a delightful vista here or a floral delight just there but most importantly, to their own liking.

Quality gardening like those we see in ‘Secret Gardens of East Anglia’ is an art form and very often to keen gardeners an improvement on nature itself. To be able to photograph and describe a good garden adequately is also an art and fortunately the mastery of the camera by Marcus Harpur and the delightful word skills of Barbara Segall are a combination that paints a perfect picture. Marcus has captured that special light of East Anglia which brought the likes of artists such as Crome, Cotman and Constable to this area while Barbara provides a detailed written tour taking in detailed history, owner methodology, striking plants and lots of other delightful features from each garden. Of course, this book could not have been written without the dedication of the gardeners themselves who created all of these gems in a very special area of the British Isles.

This book is an ideal reference for both the amateur and professional gardener alike and will undoubtedly provide those moments of inspiration when some part of ones own garden requires a lift. On the other hand, just to sit and browse through ‘Secret Gardens of East Anglia’ is, for me, a pleasure in itself.

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Wilkinson Sword Secateurs

As far as I am concerned, as someone who carries out a great deal of pruning, any pair of secateurs must be able to cut a range of plant material cleanly with the minimum of effort on behalf of the user and be robust enough to last the course.

I have been quite impressed with these  Wilkinson Sword Razorcut secateurs as they have coped just as well with the type of material that my regular pair normally have to tackle. Dead wood can often wedge between with scissor type action blades but these have not succumbed. Very young growth can be difficult to cut cleanly but again these secateurs have coped well.


When taking hardwood cuttings it is vital that the wood is cut cleanly to prevent any damage ( and frustration ) and I found that the cutting blade coped very easily despite it not being the appropriate time of the year for this type of propagation. So when using these Wilkinson secateurs, over the short time I have had them they have performed extremely well. If they last as long as the their old pair that I possess then I would be quite happy.


As for the feel and the workings of this piece of equipment, I would say that I could happily work with them continuously for a whole day without fatigue setting in but I have not been able prove this just yet. The metal handles I did think initially, would be slippery and perhaps therefore uncomfortable to use but I soon found the non-slip strip running the length of the handle grip kept them firmly placed.

The main blade is extremely sharp, as you would expect from any Wilkinson product, and it is good to see a sap grove which helps with the overall performance. The blade cleans very easily with a damp cloth.

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For the amateur gardener, these Wilkinson sword secateurs would  be a valuable asset to any tool shed. They will do a similar job to the professional types – but at a much lower of around £20. I myself can happily recommend them for all types of pruning and propagation work.

John. E. Stirland.


Fruiting Frustrations



“I had a wonderful show of flowers on my fruit trees this year so why haven’t I had much fruit to follow?” This must be one of the most common questions I am asked when carrying out evening talks and question times and without getting too technical it can be a very awkward one to answer.  The problem is that a number of reasons can relate to plants not fruiting even after carrying a good display of flowers. Indeed, when you look into the complex system of pollination you begin to wonder how plants manage to fruit at all.

Weather conditions can play an important part in the potential fruiting of plants and with many trees, including apples and pears, frost is the biggest problem particularly at flowering time.  We need to understand that pollen, once it lands on the stigma of a flower (that’s the female bit), must germinate and grow down a pollen tube, which tunnels through the flower to a tiny chamber containing the ovules. Only when these ovules are

do they become seeds. The fruit itself develops around these seeds as protection and will often attract animals, like us, to eat them and therefore spread the seeds near and far.

Back to pollination and if the weather conditions are not conducive to the pollen germination, for example frosty weather, then fertilisation will not take place and there will be no, or very little fruit to follow.  When you cut open an apple you will notice that there are a number of seeds or pips within the core and each of these needs to be fertilised by an individual pollen grain before fruit is produced.  If you have ever had an odd shaped strawberry or raspberry then the problem is usually caused through the same reason, poor or incomplete fertilisation of the ovules.

Other aspects can also affect pollination, as anyone who has grown tomatoes can verify and dry air conditions within a glasshouse will very often prevent pollen from doing its job.  Tomatoes will not set fruit in a dry atmosphere and the spraying of plants with water during hot dry conditions and regular damping down of paths with water is recommended in order to keep the atmosphere humid which in turn helps pollination.

Even when fruit has set other obstacles can prevent or cause abnormalities in development as the reproductive mechanism goes through a rapid phase of changes.  Most fleshy fruits, again like tomatoes and apples, have a high demand for water, usually at a time, (early summer) when it can be in short supply.  Calcium is particularly important at this time and as a constant supply is required for cell development and a shortage of water means a shortage of calcium resulting in the collapse of cells. In apples calcium deficiency shows as bitter pit which is brown spots within the white flesh, while in tomatoes the same deficiency shows up as black flesh around the flower area, known as blossom end rot.

All the time a fruit is developing the right nutrients must be available to the plant in order that various stages can be reached.  Potash is often mentioned for application around fruit as this element encourages ripening but too much of a good thing can also cause problems.  It is therefore important that the right amount of nutrients is used for the feeding of fruiting plants and fortunately as long as you stick to well-known fertiliser it is difficult, but not impossible, to overfeed.

Here it is perhaps worth mentioning that some plants will produce a fruit without the need for pollination, cucumbers being a prime example, in fact, pollination of a cucumber is a disaster as it sends the fruit bitter and therefore inedible.  To solve this problem of pollination we now have all female varieties of cucumber but it’s not fool proof. A cool spell of weather in summer will often promote male flower production, even on all female varieties, so do beware.

As we go through the summer other factors as well as the weather will have a go at making sure that our fruit never gets to the harvesting stage.  June drop in apples is a time when the tree decides if it can manage with the fruit it is carrying, if not it will shed a few or many as the case may be.  Pests and diseases will also be having a good go at wrecking the harvest plan.  They don’t even have to ruin the fruit, just making it inedible will prevent a harvest, but if the seeds survive the plant will be happy, even if we are not.

Gardening is always a bit of a challenge because just as we are trying to produce fruits on some plants so we are trying to prevent them on others.  Once a plant flowers and fruits, or to be more precise produces viable seed then its main task is over and it can either die as is the case with annuals, or shut down and stop growing as with most perennials.  This is why with these ornamentals we are always removing old flowers so as to keep the floral display going for as long as possible.  It must be remembered that no plant is performing for us humans, it’s a case of survival of the species and that’s it. End of story


John. E. Stirland.


















Sowing the Seeds of Summer




February is well upon us – the start of the seed sowing season, and always an exciting time as we look forward to a summer garden full of magnificent flowers and tasty home grown vegetables.  There is always a satisfying feeling when the garden plants have been home grown and it is not too difficult to achieve if a few basic rules are considered. So, before the first tray of seeds is sown let’s look at a few crucial considerations.


All seeds which are seen in catalogues as being half hardy annuals are started off indoors eventually to be planted outside as the weather conditions improve.  Many vegetable seeds can also be sown in the protection of a glasshouse but for the best results from any seed sowing it is important that basic rules are adhered to where hygiene and actual growing conditions are concerned.


-Seed must be of top quality and as long as it bought fresh, in modern packets, from a reputable seed houses then there should be no problems with poor viability and quality.  Remember that many vegetable and flowers seed varieties comes as F1 hybrids and are therefore more expensive.  Do remember that in many ways they are far superior to old varieties, particularly in uniformity, vigour and maturity but these traits make not always what the amateur is looking for.  Read all packet instructions thoroughly.


-Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ is the old saying and nowhere is this more so than with seed sowing.  Always use fresh, new compost for the job and containers must be washed, especially if they have been used before, to avoid the possibility of disease attack especially from `damping off’.  Use water from the tap rather than from water butts, for irrigating seeds, again because of contamination and it should always be at room temperature.


-Correct techniques is all important and although there are many ways to sow seed in containers germination is reliant on there being sufficient moisture, warmth and air in the compost.  When preparing for sowing, fill the container to the surface, evenly, and only firm the compost lightly and consistently throughout.  Heavy firming will cause waterlogging and the seed will fail to germinate or seedlings will rot off. Where fine seed is being sown water the compost first and then sow.  Although many seeds are covered after sowing some require light to germinate so do refer to the packet for instructions.


-Although some seeds will germinate quite happily at low temperatures most prefer values of approximately 21°c (70°f).  Consistency is the all-important factor and the even temperature found within a propagating frame will encourage seeds to germinate within a few days or even hours.  The more the conditions fluctuate the more erratic will be the results.  Humidity is often vital for germination and so individual trays of seeds can be covered with glass, cling film or placed in a plastic bag. Always protect seed and seedlings from the direct sun as too high a temperature can be as damaging as being too cold.




-Regular checks must be made on seed trays and as soon as seedlings come through the covering must be loosened to allow the introduction of fresh air and after two or three days removed altogether.  At this stage light is most important so seedlings can be moved to a light but sun free bench and with a slightly reduced temperature 13°-16°c (55°-61°f) will be ideal. Do note that seedlings will become drawn if sown too early and without light values to match the heat. Most plants prefer sixteen hours’ daylight to keep them growing well, in February we are lucky if we get nine hours of good light.




-Once seedlings are large enough to handle by their cotyledon leaves they must be potted on or pricked out into individual containers or trays in order that they can grow on to a suitable size for planting out.  Again, make sure that the compost is consistent and not over firmed, and where seedlings are to share a container make sure that they are spaced evenly in order they can all achieve the same amount of root growth.  Use a good quality compost for this purpose and either mix in a little slow release fertiliser or be prepared to liquid feed at the slightest sign of nutrient deficiency which will show up as yellowing leaves.


Correct sowing techniques will help guaranteed that you obtain value for money from your packets of seed and hopefully reap a rewarding harvest, either visually in flower, or gathered in fruit and vegetable


John. E. Stirland.

The Pilgrim Fathers – Apple


Twenty twenty sees the 400 anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower  from Plymouth, Devon carrying the Pilgrim Fathers to a new life across the Atlantic Ocean. Many people know that they did indeed sail from Devon on that mammoth  journey but so many less folk know that their original roots were in Nottinghamshire, chiefly at the villages of Babworth and Scrooby. With three years to go before the actual anniversary preparations to mark the event have been going on in both counties and also between counties. This will hopefully, make it a major event both locally and nationally.

As part of the celebrations Devon decided to have an apple named ‘Mayflower’ after the ship the Pilgim Fathers sailed in and its development is now in progress. Obviously here in Nottinghamshire I thought it a good idea to name an apple either ‘Pilgrim or ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ so that both trees could stand together somewhere prominent in both counties.

So how do you find a suitable tree. Well, I put out a request on BBC Radio Nottingham for anyone who had a seedling apple in their garden, of any worth, to let me know. Fortunately one couple, who live in Southwell, did come forward with an offer and this apple has turned out to be so good that it is being put forward to be named after those remarkable religious pioneers.

Most notable is the fact that Southwell is a little known minster town with a great local tradition in fruit growing and the home of the original ‘Bramley Seedling’, now the country’s most famous cooking apple. What a coincidence if our new apple acquires as much fame as Mr Kipling’s favourite. There must be something special in the soil around the town when you think that only two or tree seedlings in every 100 turn out to be worth keeping.

For those who are interested, the new apple is a duel purpose type with a lovely sweet taste  to the flesh under a slightly tough skin, when mature. For cooking. and unlike the ‘Bramley,’ it stays in pieces in a pie or crumble so offering a crunchy sweet feel and super taste.

We found our new apple last autumn and I have had twelve trees grafted by a local nurseryman so we now have one year old whips and tree years in order to get them to a reasonable size. One, at least, will go to Devon to grow along side ‘Mayflower’ perhaps on Plymouth Hoe the site of so much of the country’s maritime history.

East Midland Flower Show

Well, we have just experienced our first East Midlands Flower Show in the magnificent grounds of Newstead Abbey and from the feedback received it seems that everyone enjoyed the event. The weather is a vital element to the success of any event, and luckily there were only a couple of showers on the Saturday.  Sunday being  perfect show weather  produced a continual stream of visitors. Warm but not too hot with plenty of sunshine and most importantly, dry, is just right.

I had a fun time meeting listeners to Radio Nottingham and also viewers to Notts TV. Gardening really does bring out the best in people and most of those I met had only praise for what we were trying to achieve. As I mentioned in the show leaflet, the East Midlands has a vast number of enthusiastic gardeners who deserve the opportunity of a garden event in their area and now we have one. It was only on a small scale this year but you have to test the water before you jump in with both feet. Well, we have tested the water and it is almost certain that this will be the first of many more flower shows.

Of course we relied on a number of our local, independent garden centres and landscape companies to provide the backbone of the show and they duly obliged. These along with the Newstead gardens themselves provided visitors with a real gardening experience. We had four show gardens which attracted plenty of positive comment and the local garden centres and plant nurseries provided the opportunity for people to buy plants for their own gardens. I also thought the show had a good blend of related attractions including conservation, crafts and food. Also, as an East Midlands show we had some of the regions gardening and food gurus to offer advice and provide demonstrations and talks.

Newstead is the perfect venue for a flower show and I am sure the Webb family who created many of the garden features here, within the grounds, would have been delighted to see so many people enjoying themselves over the weekend. So we look forwards to next years East Midlands Flower Show to which I myself am so look forward.




Home grown cucumbers have an aroma and taste that leave supermarket specimens standing and despite many gardeners suggesting they require a glasshouse all to themselves, I myself  grow them, very successfully, in the same house as tomatoes.

Cucumbers like humidity but the plants must be kept dry; they also wilt quickly under direct sun so the plants require shading throughout the season. Tomatoes also enjoy humidity but can be sprayed over their foliage with water in order to help pollination of the flowers. Tomatoes are also happy in a unshaded glasshouse where the sun and warm air can aid ripening. So when growing the two crops in the same glasshouse it is best to plant cucumbers at one end which can be shaded without it affecting the tomatoes.

Cucumbers are also gross feeders and must never dry out at the roots. To this end it is best to grow them on specially prepared beds which will stay moist and hold high amounts of nutrients. We used to grow them on straw bales which were rotted down by adding fertiliser, copious amounts of water with the plants being planted on the top, in compost, once the bales had cooled down. Amateur beds can be made by laying down layers of well rotted manure, garden compost or straw based horse manure, a layer of compost between each and a handful of fish, blood and bone or pelleted chicken manure sprinkled onto each layer. Water regularly and leave for a couple of weeks.

On top of this and once the cucumbers are planted, they will require extra feeding when cropping starts. This can be done using ‘dried blood’ which is an excellent nitrogen feed and which can be sprinkled onto the beds and watered in.

Cucumbers will soon let you know if they are hungry as they can regulate the number of fruits produced to the amount of nutrients that they are receiving precisely. If you are stingy then they will abort young cucumbers, as simple as that.

The other point to remember with this crop is that during a cool spell in summer, all female varieties have a tendency to produce male flowers. This means disaster if a bee get near them but a likely event with tomato flowers being produced next door. Pollinated cucumbers have a bitter taste.

Despite the expense and possible problems, there is nothing finer than cutting a fresh  cucumber from your own glasshouse How many you cut – well that’s now up to you.


cucumbers .