Radio 4

My John Innes epiphany

I haven’t yet told my ‘normal’ friends about this blog, and I’ll continue to delay its ‘launch’ (!) while this post is headlining. Because this is the geeky post I knew I had to write when a big gardening mystery was solved for me by a recent BBC Radio 4 Gardeners’ Question Time.

The mystery in question was who on earth is John Innes, and what’s his compost system all about? It was only this year that I realised the basic premise of the numbers (1-3) corresponding to the size/age of the plant. E.g. John Innes #1 is for young seedlings, John Innes #2 for potting-on and #3 for mature potting.

This, in itself, was a revelation. Then I listened to a recent download of GQT from Norwich while walking the dog, and heard all about the history and development of the John Innes system – as well as about the man himself.

[Radio 4 regularly cures my ignorance in unexpected topics with absolutely no effort on my part – perfect for a lazy person like me.]

As it turns out, John Innes had absolutely nothing to do with horticulture or compost. He was a property developer who [it’s thought] was fed up with employing rubbish gardeners. So he left money in his estate (in 1904) to set up a facility to train local boys in horticulture, in what became the John Innes Centre.

It was a gardener there, having trouble growing primulas in the 1930s, who mixed together various organic and mineral components and developed sterilisation techniques to create a reliable seed compost and the various other grades.

The ‘John Innes’ recipes were publicised widely during WWII to help the nation ‘dig for victory’. It’s not patented so any manufacturer can use the John Innes name, but there’s a code of practice to try and sustain the quality and consistency of the products.

GQT has provided a great factsheet all about John Innes if you’re keen for more of this clarity on compost!

Do all you non-UK gardeners use John Innes composts too?

NB. A more recent GQT suggested you could grow bulbs on just about any moist substrate. They don’t need nutrition because it’s all stored in the bulb. As such I’ve stuck my final few daffodil bulbs on some moist kitchen roll in a nice little jar on the kitchen windowsill. I’ll be dead chuffed if they grow and flower for me to enjoy while I wash the dishes!

Daffodil bulbs in a jar

Having a go at growing a few daffs to brighten up my kitchen before spring.


First frost

This morning’s dog-walk was glorious, with frosted grass making the fields twinkle in the sunlight. It’s not crispy yet; the ground is still squishy and slippery under the dusting of icing. But the wintry signs are appearing, and there are three jobs I need to get on with this week.

Frosty fields

Frosty view over the fields

This summer I decided penstemons would feature in my 2015 garden, so I bought a dozen seedlings from Hayloft and stuck them in the ground. I’ve read that they can be a bit tender, and our garden is quite exposed, so I need to take steps to protect them.

Leaving this year’s foliage on until spring is supposed to help protect the important crowns. But my plants haven’t had time to bulk up yet, so I’m going to mulch them with a pile of bark chips too.

I’ll do the same with some of my dahlias at the allotment – Bishop’s Children – which have unexpectedly developed great big tubers after growing them from seed this year. Our soil is very free-draining, so [I’ve read] they might be OK with a good layer of protection on top.

However, I’m also going to try lifting and storing a few as recommended – in a shallow box in compost in a frost-free place. Both approaches are an experiment for me, I’ve never grown dahlias before and didn’t expect this variety to be perennial – but their colour is so intense, great for cutting, and the bees like their open blooms, so they’re worth the effort.

Bishop's Children dahlias in vase

Bishop’s Children blooms alongside Cosmos Purity, making my summer cider all the better.

Finally, I’ve accumulated various young plants grown from collected seeds (Sweet Williams from my Mum, Aquilegia from seedheads in a hedgerow) or purchased from Hayloft Plants and I’m sure these will need protection. The Fella knocked up a coldframe in the summer, so I’ll cosy them up in there for winter.

DIY coldframe

Mr MBaF building a coldframe from reclaimed decking boards and windows


My growing nursery

Mega allotment weeding

Dreams and schemes

First post, first confession. My little back-garden borders have had two growing seasons, but already at least three planting schemes. My inexperience, indecisiveness, over-excitement, whims, fads and impulse-buying at the garden centre have not been the best recipe for a gorgeous garden so far.

So I’m going to bite the bullet and commit to screen my ambitions for my soil-filled spaces in 2015. I’m hoping this will strengthen my resolve to stick to my guns, let the poor plants have time to do their thing, and maybe even save me some money.

I want the back garden to be a flower-filled oasis of soul-restoring loveliness. Full stop.

…errrm by which I mean, a long flowering season with blocks of colour from spring to late summer. I’ll post more about the planting scheme in the months to come, but briefly I’ve tried to move from lots of different plants packed in, to fewer types given more space and light to thrive. The key planting groups are primrose, daffs, lychnis, hardy geraniums and penstamons.

In the allotment, I’m really hoping the back-breaking hours I put in clearing couch grass this summer will pay off with a wonderful softfruit harvest. Raspberries, strawberries and blackberries will be great fun to pick with my daughter, and enjoyed by us all. And they cost a bomb in the shops.

Featured image

Just one of the couch grass mountains produced from my weeding efforts this summer!

Inspired by Rachel de Thame I’m going to donate some veg-growing space to cut flowers. It’s such a treat having flowers in the house, and giving them to loved ones, but I just don’t have the space to grow for cutting at home. I think it’s the maincrop spuds that’ll get the boot.

Finally, I’m going to have one last attempt at growing sweetcorn. Year 1: barely any germination. Year 2: poor germination, a second sowing, and only two cobs worth picking! This year I’ll do a bit of reading and start early.

That’s it. Those are my main objectives, let’s see how we get on.