Monday, 29 April 2013

Cabin Fever!

Last week, I was chatting about garden sheds, which you can read more about by clicking here.  Bitten by the ‘outdoor building’ bug and also somewhat inspired by Kevin McCloud’s cabin in the woods in his ‘Man-Made Home’ programme, I’ve been taking a look at log cabins.

Log cabins have long conjured up images of rural retreats; calm buildings for getting away from it all.  However, you don’t need to escape into the woods to retreat into a beautiful wooden oasis.

With more and more people opting for a work-life balance, working from home or setting up your own business is becoming more prevalent; yet fitting an existing office space into your home can be difficult.  However, log cabins are being increasingly used for home offices! 

My friend works from home and the log cabin at the bottom of his garden is not only an office, but a quiet retreat from the hum and din of everyday life that carries on only a few metres away!  This Greenacre Home Office is a great example of the sort of log cabin that can be used as an office.

Conversely, log cabins can also be a place where work, and indeed, the stressed and strains of modern life, are left far behind.  I love the thought of this ‘zen log cabin’, which also provides a sheltered outdoor area – perfect to plant some pots of flowers or even train those vegetables!

If you’ve been considering making more use of your garden space and feel like something bigger and more homely than a shed, a log cabin can not only provide you with a space that’s unique, comforting and natural, but can also, in effect, add another room to your home.

Take a look at the full range of log cabins available from Waltons. 

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sprouting Seedlings: Something Special!

Whilst gardening as a pastime is its own reward – a timeless, peaceful and enjoyable communion with nature – there are many different 'thrills' that the modern gardener encounters throughout the year; and none as special as seeing seeds sprout for the first time.

Last weekend was very much about laying the groundwork for the summer ahead – literally.  Having cleared the garden and sorted out the shed, I spent a long afternoon in the shed potting up flowers and planting various vegetable seeds (you can read last weekend's post by clicking here).

However, this weekend I have experienced my first genuine 'agricultural thrill' of 2013, when I noticed that my cauliflower and cabbage seedlings had sprouted!  You may recall that in last weekend's post, I had noted that I had never previously attempted to grow these two vegetables before, so this sprouting was made all the more exciting.

In my five years of experience, I have found that, for the urban gardener, germinating seeds is often one of the most challenging of tasks.  Vegetable seedlings are often very delicate, and compost in small pots and trays is liable to dry out quickly: yet at the same time, it's also easy to over-water them.  So it is always a small victory to see young vegetable seeds pushing up through the compost and into the world; their green shoots contrasting with the black soil you have been staring at for days when watering your pots and trays.

Cabbage Vegetable Seedlings

I also feel that there is a genuine connection between gardener and plant.  Whilst I'm not adverse to buying in plants, flowers, shrubs and so forth, I feel very differently when it comes to vegetables and flowers that I have grown from seed.  There is such a personal connection with that plant; such a passion, borne out of diligence and care, right from the very beginning of that plant's life.  I have carefully potted up a flower pot or tray; I have carefully opened the seed packet and covered the seeds with a bed of compost.  I have placed those trays and pots in a warm, light place; watered them; checked on them.  It's a very personal thing.

 Cauliflower Vegetable Seedlings

So for me, this weekend's progress is a special moment, experienced once every year.  And this is a feeling that anyone can experience, regardless of space or experience.  I'm hoping to plant my vegetables out in the garden of my Peak District cottage this year; but will be growing plenty of these young vegetable plants in containers, pots and windowsills, to demonstrate that no matter who you are or where you live, YOU CAN GROW YOUR OWN! 

It's a wonderful feeling to see seeds that you have nurtured grow into thriving plants that bear wonderful vegetables from the garden: and I sincerely hope that my blog posts can help you to capture this feeling and inspire you to have a go!

Look out for Wednesday's post, in which I'll take you through my do's and don'ts for vegetable seedlings!  In the meantime, feel free to drop by and have a chat with me on Twitter, @londonveggarden.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

London Vegetable Garden Guide to Sheds

If an Englishman’s home is his castle, then what does that make his shed?  Although my cottage garden is a modest size, I love the fact that it has a lovely little shed tucked away at the bottom.  For many people, a shed is simply a place to park the mowing machine, store tins of paint and collect cobwebs – but a shed can actually be so much more!

In my shed, I have a table set up especially to use for various gardening jobs, from planting seeds to re-potting flowers and plants.  But sheds do not just have to be functional: they can also be an enjoyable place to relax and escape from it all!  I can often be found sat in my shed, with the door open onto the garden, enjoying a cup of tea and reading my gardening books.

For many of us, a shed is a dream; an escape from the noise of the world and a place where we can go and be closer to the garden and the outside world.  However, you may also need a shed just as a place to store a bike and some gardening tools.  Luckily there are a wide variety of sheds available and even better, they’re not as expensive as you may think!

Apex Shed

The ‘classic’ shed, an apex shed offers room for shelves, maybe a potting table and also place to store your tools and equipment.  This particular design is less than £200 from Shed Supermarket and offers gardeners the classic shed to start off with.

Pent Shed

Pent sheds are tall and narrow – ideal for the side of a house and for storing things like cycles and tools, creating a space to keep things safely. 

Dutch Barn Shed

This Dutchbarn shed is an absolute dream!  Packed full of space for all sorts of things, this is more like a secret cave to hide away in – perhaps you could even fit a couple of chairs in, next to a pile of well-read gardening books.

So if you’ve been thinking of getting a shed for your garden, why not take a look at Shed Supermarket?  There are sheds of all shapes and sizes at competitive prices.  Happy shed hunting!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Windowsills and the Greenhouse Effect

When growing vegetables from seed, many seed packets and plant instructions inform the gardener to plant their vegetable seeds in a greenhouse, or under a propagator.  While this is a natural luxury afforded to those with a large greenhouse or lots of money to spend on expensive propagation kits, what is the 'normal', everyday and amateur gardener to use?

Well, look around you: if you live in a house, or flat – indeed, any building with a glass window – you're in luck!

In the five years I've been writing the London Vegetable Garden blog, I've always championed the fact that people can look around themselves and make use of any space that they have and for a 'greenhouse', it's no different! 

This year, I am starting off my vegetable seeds in the attic space: the skylight offers a natural space to lay my seed trays and plant pots, since it is directly under an angled window, which, being in the roof, catches a great deal of sunlight! 

However, if you do not have an attic or skylight, a normal windowsill is just as good.  Pick a windowsill that receives plenty of sunlight and gets warm.  If your existing windowsill is not wide enough to accommodate plant pots or trays, a makeshift table next to the windowsill really is just as good!

Finally, you can give pots and trays of vegetable seeds a helping hand by creating your own 'propagator'-style covering, using pieces of glass, clear plastic or even cling-film: when I started the London Vegetable Garden on my Hackney balcony in 2009, I used the balcony door-ledge as a shelf and used cling-film to help keep warmth and moisture in the plant pots:

So, if you're starting to plant your vegetable seeds this year and don't have access to a greenhouse, remember that for starting seeds off in a cold spring, windowsills, skylights and glass doorways offer a perfect alternative, helping to germinate your seeds and keep young plants warm before they are ready to be planted outdoors in a few weeks' time.

Have you had success with DIY propagation?  Where do you leave you vegetable seeds to germinate?  Come and join in the discussion on the official London Vegetable Garden Facebook page!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Let’s prepare a salad directly from the window sill

You know what it’s like when you’re ordering a salad in a restaurant and the waiter is getting incredibly late and all you can do with the hunger in your stomach is joke with your friends and say “I guess the chef is actually planting the vegetables right now and is waiting for them to grow, that is why it’s taking so long”. You wish! Really, you should wish for that because there is nothing tastier and healthier than eating a salad made of freshly harvested vegetables. This is possible without such great effort, not to mention the satisfaction of watching your produce grow.

No matter what your garden space, it’s possible to make your own fresh salads from your very own green fingers. If you’re lucky enough to live in a house with a conservatory attached and you invest in a heating system for that, you could start with some early seeds for these plants even in January. But don’t get discouraged even if you live in a flat, you can easily utilise free space on your window sills, still being able to grow the main elements of your salad.


According to most farmers’ statements, it seems that this is the easiest vegetable that you can grow for a salad. It has no problem with the cool UK weather, although it would be safer to grow lettuce indoors and start the seeding in January or February. In 2-3 months you can already start harvesting well-grown lettuce. You’ll need a lot of lettuce in your salad, so don’t forget to put in some more seeds every week afterwards, in order to have salad all the time during spring, summer or autumn.


They really hate the cold UK winters, as they are not frost hardy. So ideally, keep them in a greenhouse, conservatory or inside on window sills, and cover up the pot in order to keep the seeds warm. If you are growing cucumbers in conservatories, start seeding in February. If you are trying this experiment in an outside environment, make sure the weather is getting warmer and the frost is over. Did you know that cucumbers contain 96% water? In order to obtain this truly amazing vegetable, you should water it frequently. And another amazing fact is that cucumbers grow from seeds to sometimes enormous plants in just days. Efficient and refreshing!

Cherry tomatoes

Especially if you have a pot on your window sill, it is recommended that you buy seeds for baby vegetables. So cherry tomatoes would be ideal. Growing conditions don’t generally differ among the varieties of tomatoes. Although it may be successful in growing some lettuce and cucumbers outside in cold and windy London, tomatoes are more delicate vegetable. In order to offer them a pleasant growing period, you should provide warm temperatures ranging between 20-30°C (68-86°F). The truth is that a greenhouse or heated conservatory would be ideal for container-grown tomatoes. You can start the seeding in late winter or during spring and you’ll probably have some crops in 3 months.

Something special

If you are the lucky owner of an orangery, take a lemon or even an orange if you have more special tastes, and squeeze it over the salad. If you buy a 2-3 years old little orange tree, fill its pot with some slightly acidic soil. Then position your baby tree in the southern part of the orangery in order for it to get the most sunlight possible. Give it water every day and, fingers crossed, in 1 year you won’t have to buy oranges from the market anymore!

Related articles:

Pots & Planters: A Vegetable Gardeners Best Friend!

Quite simply, I love pots and planters.  

When I started the London Vegetable Garden on my Hackney balcony, it was imperative to make good use of containers: gardening in the air, on concrete, necessitated it!  However, even though I now have the luxury of a garden in my Peak District cottage, I’m still a huge advocate of containers and pots, for the simple reason that they offer the gardener a great deal of flexibility.


On the rare occasions that sunshine actually does fall on the British Isles, it’s essential to make the most of it!  Planting vegetables in wooden garden planters such as those available at UK Water Features allows gardeners to move plants around as required to make maximum use of the weather.  Planting in wooden garden planters allows you to freely move your vegetables around without disturbing the roots – which is vital to ensure the plants remain happy and healthy!


Whilst plastic flowerpots are cheap and readily available, they are not the most picturesque of garden sights!  Using wooden garden planters in the garden is far more aesthetically-pleasing, whilst the variety of colours available ensure that gardeners can apply a personal touch, as well as ensuring that their pots and planters fit in around the garden!

Soil-less areas

And of course, wooden planters can allow budding gardeners to create planting areas when space may be limited or actual earth is not available!  Patios, driveways, paved areas: planters and pots allow you to create an environment for planting all kinds of vegetables and plants.  When I started the London Vegetable Garden blog on my balcony, I would have been lost without pots and planters!


My friends at UK Water Features have a huge range of wooden pots and planters, demonstrating the impressive range of products on the market today.  Whether you’re looking for a convenient pot or planter to grow tomatoes in, a raised planter for serious vegetable gardening, or an elegant design to place some ornamental plants in, there really is something for everyone!

To see the full range of wooden garden planters, please visit the UK Water Features website today!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Sundays, Sheds and Sowing!

With drizzle falling from the skies, I donned some old gardening clothes, made a fresh mug of tea and ventured into the garden with a steely determination: it's that time of year when every gardener has to tackle the shed!

Sometime back in October, I packed up all of the old flowerpots, put the barbecue away and shut the shed up over what has been a very long and cold winter.  However, spring has arrived in many parts of England and although the Peak District (current home of the 'London' Vegetable Garden) remains under grey skies and odd showers, it has started to get warmer in the garden.

This weekend provided the perfect opportunity to get out there, have a good sort out and turn the shed from a 'storage' building back into the living, working potting shed of the London Vegetable Garden!  The garden also took a lot of sweeping, having collected a lot of leaves and organic debris over the winter months:


As we prepare for a summer of vegetable growing in the garden, here's two photographs showing the garden space that I have to work with:

As you can see, the decking area at the foreground of the picture allows for plenty of pots and containers, as does the paved area at the bottom of the garden.  The bed of soil on the left of the pictures is cleared for vegetable growing, however I found last year that this patch was quite shaded and often very damp: I am currently researching the best vegetables and plants to grow in this shaded, damp vegetable patch.

Following the clear-out of the shed and the tidying up of the garden, I set about planting various vegetable seeds in trays.  These included proven staples such as tomatoes, cucumbers and runner beans, whilst sweet peppers, cauliflower and cabbages are all a first for the London Vegetable Garden!


In addition to the vegetable seeds, I also potted up some trailing lobelia, which my wife and I had purchased earlier in the morning from B&Q.  We bought 24 plants for £5, which I have potted into various different flower pots and containers at both the front and the back of our cottage.  I can't wait until they start to bloom and bring great swathes of colour to our windowsills and patio!

So that was a very eventful Sunday in the garden, but one that ultimately indicates that the vegetable garden is very much up and running for summer 2013 – let's hope it's a productive one!

Look out for my next blog post on Wednesday, when I'll be discussing how to maximise your window areas to create DIY greenhouses for your vegetable seeds!  Until then, come and say hello on Twitter, @londonveggarden, or come and join the community of like-minded urban gardeners on Facebook!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

WIN!!! 'RHS Chelsea Flower Show: A Centenary Celebration'

This weekend, I reviewed the wonderful 'RHS Chelsea Flower Show: A Centenary Celebration', by Dr Brent Elliott, a delightful book celebrating 100 years of this iconic gardening event.

In addition to the exclusive discount offer for readers of the London Vegetable Garden (see the post here for details), the lovely folk at Frances Lincoln Limited publishers have a brand new copy to give away to one lucky reader of the London Vegetable Garden!

To enter, simply click on this link to be taken to the book photograph on the London Vegetable Garden Facebook page.  To win, write a short comment explaining what gardening means to you!

The best comment will receive a brand new copy of 'RHS Chelsea Flower Show: A Centenary Celebration', delivered free to their home.

Good luck – and remember to 'like' us on Facebook!

BOOK REVIEW / EXCLUSIVE READER OFFER: RHS Chelsea Flower Show: A Centenary Celebration

One of the things that I love most about gardening, plants and flowers, is the very timelessness of it all.  In a world of high-speed technology and global industrialisation, it's reassuring to spend some quiet time in the garden, nurturing and cultivating plants with knowledge that has been passed down through generations.

And this sense of gardening through time is explored marvellously in the new book from the Royal Horticultural Society, which celebrates the centenary of the Chelsea Flower Show.

Written by Dr Brent Elliott, librarian and archivist to the Royal Horticultural Society and author of numerous articles and books, 'RHS Chelsea Flower Show: A Centenary Celebration' is a veritable 'joie de vivre' of gardening literature.

Packed full of rare archive photos, content and interviews, this wonderful book explores the history of the Chelsea Flower Show, charting its progress from humble beginnings to the war years; populism in the 1960s through to the media glare of the 1990s and the ascendancy of style in today's culture.

On page 80, we see some truly stunning photographs of vegetable exhibitions, which will no doubt appeal to readers of the London Vegetable Garden.  Of particular fascination throughout the book is also the many vintage posters and signs, which demonstrate our collective attitude towards gardening from a societal perspective; from the austerity of post-war gardening, to the flamboyance of competition and modern-day artistic creations.

Published by Frances Lincoln Limited, 'RHS Chelsea Flower Show: A Centenary Celebration' is available now in all good book shops, priced at £25.


To order 'RHS Chelsea Flower Show: A Centenary Celebration' (9780711234512) at the special London Vegetable Garden offer price of £20.00 (inclusive of UK P&P) please call Bookpoint on 01235 400400 and quote the code 46CFS.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Too Cold? Maximise the Longer Sunlight with Greenhouses and Cold-Frames!

The clocks have gone forward and it’s official now British Summer Time!  However, the continued cold snap (and snow in more northern parts of the country!) have left many of us still waiting for spring, let alone summer!

Nevertheless, it’s time to start thinking about planting seeds and getting ready for the summer – it will come eventually!  But how do gardeners protect seeds, young plants and seedlings in this continued cold weather?  Many of you have been emailing me, or contacting me on Facebook or Twitter, asking what to do in this protracted cold weather.  Well, greenhouses and cold-frames provide a perfect helping hand.

At Gabriel Ash, there is a truly magnificent range of greenhouses, in all shapes and styles, perfect to suit any garden.  Whether you’re looking for a freestanding greenhouse, a lean-to, or even a magnificent vine house, Gabriel Ash has something for you.

I’m a huge fan of the Royal Horticultural Society, and Gabriel Ash has a dedicated range that has been endorsed by the RHS: follow this link to see the range.  Glasshouses and shed / greenhouse combinations complete the extensive range of greenhouses on offer.

However, cold-frames are also vitally important to the gardener in this cold British weather.  Cold-frames are commonly used as a stopgap between greenhouse and planting outside, ‘hardening off’ young plants and vegetables and getting them used to life outside of the greenhouse.  However, for those working with a smaller garden space, then can still be just as effective as a greenhouse.

At Gabriel Ash, there is a wonderful range of coldframes to suit any garden, including the Baby Grand, the Grand Coldframe and the Upright Coldframe.  For those of you with less space (I started out gardening on a balcony, remember!), the Grand Upright could be a useful design, making maximum use of limited space.

So although it’s still cold outside, gardeners can really make use of the longer sunlight hours, using the warmth and protection of cold-frames and a greenhouse to get started growing plants and vegetables despite the weather: take a look at the full range today.


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