Monthly Archives: September 2020

August/September 2020 garden diary

Well, as I made clear in my last gardening diary, my focus for the last twelve months has been mainly on the back garden, and specifically on what eventually – after a long, hard, slog – became our vegetable patch.

But more of that later …

The show had to go on at front-of-house. And there are few flowers which can offer a quicker and more showy solution to the problem of adding lots of colour rapidly to a flower bed than the humble petunia.

We didn’t have much of a garden when I was a kid, but I had heard of petunias, on the radio. I had no idea what they looked like, and I wouldn’t have recognised one if I tripped over it. But a rather haunting (in more ways than one) song, played by Uncle Mac on a BBC children’s radio show, made me very familiar with the existence of the genus.

I sowed and raised about a hundred petunias in early Spring and planted them mostly around the front border. As you can see, they certainly weren’t lonely.

We’re planning to fill up the border with perennials next year, so most of the petunias won’t be around much longer. They’re generally regarded as annuals, I think, but they often seem to overwinter well. So we may retain some hardy specimens.

We’re very lucky to have inherited (along with the house) a fine collection of established shrub roses. Judicious pruning, frequent dead-heading and feeding seems to keep them looking pretty good.

We’re in two minds about Goldenrod (Solidago). It can be a bit of a thug, self-seeding everywhere and spreading into a drift where it’s not welcome. To that extent it can be very effective in a large bed; but here we have to work to keep it in check. Must admit, though, it certainly adds a splash.

We also have a number of established primroses of various shades. Amongst our collection are quite a few which didn’t flower. They clearly need splitting up and re-planting in fresh soil.

We chanced our arm with the purchase of 72 perennials of various kinds. Thomson & Morgan‘s offer was ridiculously cheap and to add to our satisfaction we found that many of the ‘plugs’ contained more than one plant. In fact, believe it or not, quite a few turned out to contain as many as five! When they arrived, they were extremely diminutive, of course …

… but once potted-on – four to a pot – they soon grew away and are currently looking almost ready to be planted out or potted-on again (we’re giving those options some thought).

There are Achilleas, Foxgloves, Aquilegias, Delphiniums, Echinacia, Gaillardias, Leucanthemums and more: so, all quite exciting. We’ve got far more than enough to crowd into the front border, so there’ll be plenty to help fill in gaps in borders at the back, including this new border which I’m in the process of “bringing online”.

In addition, we’ve divided one existing Foxglove to produce around five plants. It will be interesting to see how these get on.

The honeysuckle flowers mostly died away some time ago. But here’s one that’s just appeared. Lovely, I suggest.

The ‘wild’ rose that I mentioned in my last gardening piece continues to produce the odd bloom, like this one, currently in flower.

This is Cyclamen Hederifolium, in dry shade amongst the ivy leaves and a fallen twig from one of our birch trees. I love the way the flower stems unwind like tight clock springs. Notice that its leaves are indeed just like ivy (Hedera).

Our vegetable patch (below) was cleared and completed in the Spring – and it’s been quite productive in its first year. The idea all along was to turn the property into a more attractive package, ahead of putting it on the market next year.

I tried growing cucumbers up a spare piece of rigid plastic netting. The variety was Bella. I made the mistake of starting them off too early and they died back after successful germination. A second sowing in late April was successful, but the growing/fruiting period was somewhat curtailed, so we didn’t get many fruits. However, what we did get were crisp, firm and very tasty, so I’ll certainly grow them again.

I’ve grown cucumbers in the past, both indoors and outdoors. A few years ago, I grew one of the most popular varieties, Telegraph, on an outdoor potting bench. You’ll find my comments in my June/July 2017 gardening blog, but to save you the trouble, here’s what I wrote: ” … getting a fantastic crop, just grown in a growbag in a sunny spot on the potting table”. So growing outdoors can be a winning strategy.

However, back in August 2015, growing the variety Marketmore in my (then) greenhouse, I commented ” … all a bit puny”. The cucumbers were short, fat and rather prickly, and the taste wasn’t up to much either, as I recall. So, if growing cucumbers under glass, be careful to choose a good quality variety.

Right now, I’m waiting for the remaining tomatoes to turn red (in the case of Gardener’s Delight) and yellow (in the case of Golden Sunrise). As daylight hours shorten and the sun is lower in the sky, it’s wise to take off most of the leaves, so that exposure of the fruits to the sun is maximised.

Tomato production didn’t proceed evenly and there was a week where we needed to buy some from the supermarket. No idea what the variety was, but they were big and juicy. Lynn had the very bright idea of saving and drying some seeds from them, so we’ll try growing these next year, hoping that they’re fertile (which isn’t always the case with hybrid varieties).

Our spinach crop is doing particularly well. If there’s a shortage of fresh veg. next year because of the wonderful Brexit fiasco, our everlasting spinach, along with seven or eight other winter crops, should keep us well-supplied.

I’ve sown a follow-up batch of Swiss chard. In the past, I’ve tended to pull it up at the end of summer, but I read recently (news to me) that it can be winter-hardy, so I’ll be testing that theory.

My leeks are doing okay. As a Welshman, my main objective is to have at least one available for St David’s Day, next March 1st!

Sprouting Broccoli is one of my favourite garden vegetables. Unfortunately, my taste is shared by the Cabbage White butterfly, which has mounted daylight raids on all my young plants on a fairly continuous basis, leaving their tiny little white eggs on the undersides of almost every leaf. These seem to turn into ravenous green caterpillars in no time at all, so I’ve had a constant battle just to keep my plants from becoming skeletons. I think I’ve just about managed it – even so, they do look a bit the worse for wear. But previous experience tells me that once they get to this size, they tend to be able to grow on and survive. I’m looking forward to snapping off the first shoots around next April. Well worth the wait.

Don’t pull (= pick) rhubarb in its first year, say all the gardening books and TV experts. What nonsense!

Overall, we seem to have got the balance just about right in terms of numbers of plants. Here’s a pic. of a typical morning’s pickings …

This hawkmoth caterpillar was a spectacular visitor. They dwell in ash trees, apparently. So said the book, but when I placed it on a branch of our ash tree at the front, it fell off. So I concluded that, as is often the case with Mother Nature, I’d have done far better just to leave it alone …

Finally, I’d just like to recommend the nation’s gardeners to invest in a windsock. (Actually it started off as a bird scarer, but the birds didn’t take a blind bit of notice!). It’s fascinating to watch the vagaries of the wind’s strength and direction, with all the variations from complete calm to howling gale. We’ve been using a white bin liner and only had to replace it once.

So what does the future hold for gardening over the next twelve months? I don’t know for sure, but I think I can see which way the wind’s blowing …



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Is over-emphasis on high temperature creating a headache for Covid testing labs?

As we all know, a high temperature is one of the most important indicators that someone is infected with Coronavirus. Except that it isn’t.

We all think it is, because it’s been widely publicised through government press conferences, ministerial interviews and advertising. It’s also the first symptom mentioned on the page of symptoms listed on the NHS website about Covid-19 symptoms.

We often see news reports featuring temperature measuring devices being used at work places, public events, educational establishments and airports. So it’s hardly surprising that many people who develop a high temperature will immediately think “Must get tested”. But, as the NHS also points out on its website, “A fever is your body’s natural response to many common illnesses”. The corollary to this is that it’s unsurprising that the test analysis system has been overwhelmed recently. I suggest that this is caused not by inconsiderate people in a panic but by over-simplistic, ill-targeted messaging …

A massive piece of ongoing research by health science company ZOE, endorsed by the Welsh Government, NHS Wales, the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland, suggests that fever or high temperature – on its own – is actually a quite unreliable early indicator that someone has the virus. Fever is a symptom that can be an important indicator in combination with others; but even then there are other symptom combinations which are much more reliable.

The COVID-19 Symptom Study is an app-based survey which, according to the company, is “the largest public science project of its kind anywhere in the world”. The app has been downloaded by over 4.2 million participants, who use it to report regularly on their health, with data being analysed in collaboration with researchers from King’s College London. The app is available from the App Store and Google Play.

Fever, when it occurs, is certainly one of the more important factors to look out for amongst under 18s and over 65s. But for the huge 18 to 65 year old demographic, representing about 40% of the population, it’s quite a long way down the list of priorities.

As we know, this disease is complex and its victims experience a wide range of effects, from no symptoms at all to death; it can clear up after ten days or leave people with a varied list of long-term after-effects (‘Long Covid’); and now it’s clear that it affects different age groups in different ways. Even then, it’s inconsistent: its effects on individuals may not be typical for their age group.

The simple messages being issued by the government are well-meaning. As someone who planned major advertising campaigns for over forty years until I retired recently, I’m only too aware of the importance of that well-used marketing mnemonic K.I.S.S. – “Keep It Simple, Stupid”. (I worked on a number of sometimes complex and multi-targeted international ad. campaigns aimed at recruiting volunteers for clinical trials – see this article I wrote on LinkedIn about this).

But I do believe that more people should be told about this kind of research. There are many who don’t have the inclination to dig deeper into what we do know about the virus. For them, the simplistic mottoes put out by the government have worked. But it’s essential that these messages are expanded to build more knowledge about the latest findings. It’s true that hospitals have not been overwhelmed – good communications achieved that objective. It’s now time to come to the aid of the testing labs.

People understand the rules of football; they can navigate the web and make online purchases; they can plan holidays abroad. It’s now time for them to learn more about the finer points of Covid-19. A more detailed and carefully thought-through communication programme is urgently required, targeted at the different demographics. Greater awareness and understanding is key to changing attitudes and actions. Generalising and over-simplification can be counter-productive.

So in my view, we should be moving swiftly into a much more targeted Phase II of messaging, in the same way that we are refining our targeting of restrictions in terms of movement, household meetings and lockdown.



I have cut and pasted unaltered extracts from the COVID-19 Symptom Study to fit into my blog format. The website for the report can be found here, and as mentioned the app can be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play.

Picture credit: BodyPlus Infrarot-Thermometer – TrotecHealthCare / CC BY-SA (

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