Stephanie Recommends

Buying Compost Direct

1 ton bag of compostAs someone who once asked her husband for a ton bag of manure for her birthday (inexplicably he didn’t oblige) I am a great convert to the usefulness and convenience of having compost delivered in bulk, as opposed to driving to the garden centre and lugging several small bags home in the boot of the car. It is more environmentally friendly – one delivery lorry going to multiple drop-offs instead of numerous individual car trips and no need to dispose of numerous empty plastic compost bags. And it’s not just compost blends that can be delivered in bulk, there are soil conditioners, bark mulches and topsoils too. Compost Direct is a nationwide service that supplies British products that are organic, peat-free and from sustainable sources. Their Veggie Gold, a blend of compost, well-rotted manure and top soil is ideal for anyone planning to install some raised beds for vegetable growing while their Jubilee Compost is a blend of soil improver made from composted organic matter with added grit to help open up heavy clay soils. Anyone got a birthday coming up?

The Life Aquatic

samll garden pond surrounded by hostasWith the welcome arrival of spring, it’s not just the beds and borders that are bursting with life – ponds and water features where nothing much seems to have happened for the past few months – are showing signs of returning plant and animal activity. Before everything grows to the point where interference would be harmful, it is a good time to do some watery housework. If leaves and debris are lurking, lift them out of the water as gently as possible (to avoid the primordial soup effect) and leave them near the pond margins to drain and also allow time for any creatures to make their way back to the pond. Tidy up marginal plants and, if they are overcrowded, now is a good time to divide them and replant the fresh young growth from the edge of the plant. Similarly, if waterlilies are taking over, they can be divided and repotted once they show signs of new growth, but be sure to use an aquatic compost to avoid making the water too nitrogen rich. Check pond pumps to make sure they still work after a winter’s rest, make sure the electrics all appear sound (water and dodgy electrical connections do not mix). If you need to upgrade your equipment, need advice, or are thinking of installing a pond, visit Swell UK  (they’re experts on all matters pond-related.) And don’t forget to clean the filters before starting the pump working.

Vine House Farm

Terracotta-bird-nestFor bird lovers, Valentine’s Day is about more than hearts and flowers – it also marks the start of National Nest Box Week. Providing a suitable home, regular food and fresh clean water for your garden birds is a two-way street.  Do these things and the birds will find your garden an attractive habitat and reward your efforts by keeping pests under control as well as filling the garden with birdsong as spring approaches. It’s amazing just how many different species of bird will turn up once they know (via Twitter?) that there is easily accessible food on offer. It is important to keep on feeding the birds, especially in winter when they use a great deal of energy flying to and fro from the feeder – if the feeder is empty when they get there they will have depleted their reserves and have to fly elsewhere to find food.  Similarly, a bird bath should be kept clean and filled with water  - and  not just for drinking – bathing is essential for birds health. If you are keen to do everything you can to increase and nurture the bird population in your own garden, Vine House Farm website is a good place to start.  They supply everything bird-related from home grown birdfeed, to feeders and nestboxes  and much more besides.screenshot of Vine House Farm website who specialise in birdseed

Wheelbarrow Booster

bag that increases the volume your wheelbarrow can holdThanks to the various leafblowers I’ve been testing, I now have several large heaps of leaves that need to be transported to the leaf heap. The thing about leaves is that they are very light but bulky and I find that if I fill it above the rim they tend to swirl out of the wheelbarrow as I move around the garden– which turns it into a tedious and timewasting process. There are solutions, like throwing a hessian sack over the barrow, but none are entirely satisfactory, which is why my eyes lit up when I spotted the Wheelbarrow Booster on the you garden website. Essentially a large bag which slots into your wheelbarrow (and stays open) it boosts the wheelbarrow’s capacity by as much as 300%. It can be used for any lightweight but bulky garden waste or lightweight mulches. No point in filling it with heavy materials – the barrow would be unmovable!

screengrab of yougarden website When you take a look at the you garden website you’ll find a range of helpful garden essentials as well as bulbs,flowers, a selection of fruit and veg plants, and of course the Wheelbarrow booster.

Blown Away

stihl battery powered leaf blowerLeafblowers are generally something I avoid – too noisy, too heavy and too powerful, resulting in plants being blown away along with the leaves. What’s wrong with a broom? And I really can’t be doing with petrol-driven equipment – the garden isn’t large so there is no need – and as I’m about as far as you can get from a petrol-head, I find them a bit of a palaver and all-too-often difficult to start.
So, after this extended moan, the good news is that I’ve found a leafblower that is easy to use, easy to control and much quieter than most. Quiet Mark the organisation that promotes the development of quiet equipment (indoors and outdoors) suggested that I trial some of their recommended leafblowers and the star of the trio (the other two were petrol-driven) was the Stihl cordless lithium powered BGA B5. The trigger operation means that you can vary the speed by increasing or decreasing the pressure which makes it far easier to control and stop. It is much quieter, especially at slow speeds and is reasonably light and comfortable to use. It happily deals with piles of soggy leaves and is easy to angle so that you can remove excess leaves from the border without stripping the insulating layer I like to leave in place over winter.
The downside is the price – the blower costs £229, the batteries start at £105 and the charger units start at £35. If you already have other Stihl cordless equipment with compatible batteries and chargers you won’t need to buy these and there is absolutely no doubt that Stihl make superb equipment, but I think you need a larger garden than mine to justify the cost. Ho hum – back to the broom.