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My Garden Journal 2020 – March

This is already the third visit to my Garden Journal 2020 and this month is officially the start of spring. On the first day for March I wrote, “March, the month when we are informed by the Met Office, marks the start of spring, from the first day in fact. This seems so inappropriate as the only true signs of new seasons are the changes in the weather and in plants. We are having a few bright days early in March but we still wake to hard frosts sometimes. In the garden we are beginning to see signs of spring, opening leaf buds that give brightest greens or deep reds and purples.”


On the next page I wrote, “They say of March, ‘In like a lion, out like a lamb’, an old-wives’ tale. The end of February was all ‘lion-like’ and so we spent the first week of March helping our house and garden recover from the damage wreaked by  three violent storms.”

“Two specimen trees were flattened as were climber-covered trellises. Fence panels were destroyed and our back gate escaped from its hinges”

“Hard work every day for a week soon had us looking reasonably ‘ship-shape’. The fences and trellis were replaced with stronger versions and some trees were upright once again.”

Over the page we get colourful as we feature spring bedding primulas. “March gives us plenty of colour from short-growing flowering primulas and shrubs. Our native Primroses are our true favourite but this year we have added a few bedding primulas for extra colour. The other single flowers are self-seeded crosses relating to our original primroses plus other herbaceous hardy primulas.”

Next I looked at garden tasks we had to get done in March. “Tasks in the garden in March included planting a new long thin border at the bottom of our drive. The border is part in our garden and part in our neighbours. We planted a variety of thymes, low-growing sedum, plus small carex grasses and other succulents.

“Our Cercis siliquastrum is back upright once again! Ian our garden helper giave the lawn its first cut, while Jude treated our trellises with organic algae remover.”


“A new pot of foliage plants is planted up with small foliage shrubs with a carex for added texture.”

Over onto the next double page spread I looked at coloured stems and bark. I wrote, “Probably the star of our garden in winter and early spring is Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire” which we grow as pollards. So we get the brightest of stems possible in shades of yellow, coral, oranges and reds. At the end of the month we will cut it back to its knobbly heads.”

I included a print of an i-Pad sketch of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ and a photo taken last April showing the same shrub after pollarding.

On the opposite page I continued, “Stem and bark plants of the month for March are acers. We grow a few dozen different acers in our garden, both shrubs and trees. When we buy a new one we look jointly at leaf colour and shape as well as bark interest be it colour pattern or texture.”

The four photos of the acers are from left to right in top row, we have

Acer ‘George Forrest’, Acer palmatum.

The bottom row from left to right shows another Acer palmatum and Acer pectinatum.

The page included my set of 3 crayon sketches of Acer sango kaku.

The final double page spread for March looks at our “Foliage plant of the month” and the “Flowering plant of the month”.

The final page for March features my ‘flowering plant of the month, which is pulmonaria. I wrote, “These little gems of late winter into early spring give us flowers of pink, white and blue, with some flowers showing off by displaying pinks and blues on the same flower heads. There are many more still to flower and develop their distinctive foliage too.”

I then shared nine photos illustrating just a few of our pulmonarias.


The final page for this month features a few more garden tasks we have completed, “The last week or so of March gave us a real treat, bright blue skies and warmth, so we took the opportunity to get a few more tasks completed.”

“We planted up our water garden in a bowl, which Ian our helper, prepared back in February. We had to get it level first though – quite a challenge! We planted it up with 5 plants – Iris ‘Black Gamecock’, Isolepsis cernua, Nymphaea ‘Snow Princess’, the oxygenator Ceratophyllum demersum and a tiny bullrush Typha minima.”

“We cleared areas of grass so that we could sow a wildflower seed mix to create little areas of meadow and we potted on the perennials on our nursery shelves.”


So that is my garden journal entries for March – we shall open its pages again for April.

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Pembrokeshire coast and gardens – part 4 – Cardigan Castle

As promised I am now sharing with you my photos taken at Cardigan Castle. As you will soon see it is a very varied place featuring all sorts from a celebration chair to a sword and from an allotment to a pillbox!

Enjoy this selection of my photos!

I hope you enjoyed my photographic tour which is somewhat of a mystery tour!


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A family holiday to Scotland – Part 3- Little Sparta

For a long time we have wanted to visit the garden at Little Sparta near Glasgow, so when holidaying nearby we just had to pay it a visit. Often places you have waited for with high expectations turn out to be less than you hope for but Little Sparta proved to be more than expected. Jude and I visited with our son and daughter-in-law, Jamie and Sam and our granddaughter Arabella, a twenty-month old garden and nature lover.

Little Sparta is the garden created by artist Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006).  It was started 50 years ago, created from the natural landscape and is described in the leaflet given to garden visitors as “a beautiful and shaded place, with trees, flower beds, running streams, bridges, ponds and paths, which lead you past more than 200 artworks many of them carved with inscriptions that will take you into the world of classical Greece and Rome, poetry and philosophy, but also the French Revolution, naval ships, armed conflict and weapons of war.”

So we arrived with expectations of surprises and originality.

We parked in the tiny carpark and followed a rough gravel track for almost half a mile up the slope to the garden entrance. We can’t remember visiting many gardens without vehicle access at least reasonably close. The walk up took us through beautiful Scottish farmland complete with sheep and cattle.


The gateway presented a warm welcome but was somewhat of a trick as it was not the actual entrance to the garden which was a short distance along the stone wall.


With every turn of a path new and very varied vistas presented themselves, close tight places and larger open landscapes.


Surprises in the form of stone sculptures and stone calligraphy add to the delight of this garden and help us understand its designer.


A real surprise was a fruit and veg patch which had the feel of a true old-fashioned allotment.




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A Vintage Tea Party – Bowbrook Allotment Community

The second post about nostalgia is all about a day back in the summer.

We decided to try something new for our 2016 summer celebrations at our allotment site, Bowbrook Allotment Community – a vintage tea party. Jude and Liz worked hard planning and preparing for the event, ensuring we had plenty to eat and drink, the children had activities and making sure everyone knew what was going on.

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So our members donated lots of fancy home-made cakes especially little buns and fairy cakes which looked so colourful and of course tasty when our tea ladies, the Tea Bags, set them out ready for all to enjoy.

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We always cut flowers from around the site’s communal gardens to use to create table centre decorations and they always add so much to any event.


We asked members to come dressed in vintage clothes and they rose to the challenge, which added greatly to the atmosphere. Even the Tea Bags dressed in vintage styled pinafores.

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We bought traditional lawn games for the children to enjoy. Many of these games were new to them but they were all enjoyed. It was good to hear so much children’s laughter as they skipped away, wooden blocks tumbled down as they played Tenga and quoits were thrown over targets.

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Once we launched into the tea party lots of our allotment community gardeners came along with friends and family, enjoying the chance to get together, catch up and chat in an informal atmosphere. A great time was had by all! Music from the 40’s added to the atmosphere with Glen Miller being a favourite.

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We had a few other surprises in store too, an old grey Massey Fergusson tractor, an oil engine, and my collection of vintage garden tools.

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The Vintage Tea Party proved to be a very popular event and we have had lots of requests to make it an annual event at our allotments, Bowbrook Allotment Community. For more information about our allotment community visit our website, uk .

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My Garden Journal in October

Here is the 10th visit to my Garden Journal 2016 as we look at what our patch has got up to in October.

Peppers feature strongly and cover the first 4 pages of this month’s entries which begins with the words, “October arrived and temperatures started falling especially in the evenings and overnight. We seem to be verging on the arrival of our first frost. In my very first journal I wrote, “October arrives and brings Autumn. The first ground frost and the final crop of sweet and hot chillies. Best harvest ever!” This year we still have lots of peppers to harvest and enjoy and as yet no frosts.”


I took photos of the different sorts of peppers to show the varieties we are growing and then took out my water colour paints to attempt to capture their individual charms.

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Soon after enjoying painting our lovely colourful peppers we harvested the chillies and prepared them for drying and freezing.

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Turning over the page reveals the left page showing off a few of our Persicaria amplexicaulis collection and the right a page of juicy sweet fruits. Persicaria amlexicaulis is one of my favourite herbaceous perennials and we have a dozen or so different ones planted throughout the garden. In my journal I describe it as “A true performer”.

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P. amplexicaulis Pink Elephant.  P. amplexicaulis “Blackfield”

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Persicaria amplexicaulis “September Spires”

Looking at the page of fresh, sweet juicy fruits I wrote “The fruits and berries of Autumn, some for us and some for migrant and native thrushes.” I took a few of pics of just 6 of our fruit bearing plants.

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Moving on from my fruit page I turn my thoughts towards two unusual plants sporting the tiniest of flowers. both of these plants draw a lot of attention when we open our gardens when visitors are totally fascinated by them and want to know what they are. The first is a Fuschia, one of only three we grow as we do not like the large flowered, over-developed cultivars most commonly grown. I wrote, “We grow very few Fuschias in our Avocet garden and those we grow are the species in preference to the more usual blousy over-blown hybrids. We both find them far too fussy for our gentle garden.”


I then turned to my box of watercolour paints and my fine fibre-tipped pens to create my impressions of this little beauty. The Fuschia is called Fuschia minimiflora, more commonly known as F. microphlla.

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After my paintings I wrote, “I shall look at 2 other of our Fuschias in my November entries as we take them in for the winter.”

The second of my featured tiny-flowered plants is very rarely sold or grown and it is known as Polygonum scoparium. Turning to the same media I studied a tiny individual flower and a section of the stem.

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Of this unusual little plant, I wrote, “Polygonum scoparium is the plant with the smallest flowers imaginable. The plant shows its tiny flowers for months during the summer and well into the autumn. Each flower is no more than a few millimetres across, borne every few inches up the whole length of its deep green wiry stems, and the blooms are scented. We were surprised after 4 years of growing and enjoying this unusual and very special little plant, about 2 feet tall, to discover that it is classified as a shrub. It appears to have no leaves but early in the year tiny leaves a few millimetres long appear up the stem. These disappear during early summer to be replaced by a deep brown band fading to yellow above. What a special plant! We love it! Close up these minute little flowers reveal such beauty with bright centres and pale green on each petal.”

Next I returned to Sedum after looking at them in September and promising a return. I wrote, “I celebrated the Sedum family in September and looked at the many variations in the shades of pink and red found in the heads of tiny flowers. So for this month I want to look at them again and see how the colours have deepened and become more dramatic.”

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So turning to the next double page spread in my journal I continued by looking at a yellow flower called Leontodon rigens and some white flowers with yellow centres.


About this wonderful rare yellow flowered perennial I commented, “Leontodon rigens is a most ugly, unfortunate name for such a beautiful plant. It was previously known as Microseris ringens which is just as ugly a name. It is a herbaceous alpine which flowers throughout the summer, but this year in our garden it is in flower again now. The yellow of the petals is so intense and when the autumn sunshine catches them in its front of border position hints of orange and even a little pink appear. Its foliage is in the form of a rosette and the leaves are hairy with toothed edges.”

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My next page is titled “Hearts of Gold” and is all about white flowers with golden centres, about which I noted, “Have you noticed how insignificant white flowers become in the misty autumn dawn? Give them a hint of gold though and they zing!”

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In contrast to yellows and whites I next turned to the deep richness of the foliage of our exotic Ricinus plants and their eccentric seed pods.


I wrote, “Ricinus is a beautifully statuesque exotic plant with interesting foliage, stem colours and crazy seed capsules like spiky pink golf balls. Sadly few gardeners give it space in their plots because of its links  to poisons. We grow several varieties each year from seed and they vary greatly in leaf, stem and flower colour. We grow Ricinus “Blue Giant”, R. “New Zealand Purple”, R. carmentcita and more.” 

Under the third photo I wrote the caption, “Orange glow beneath this leaf matches leaf rib colours.” 

For the fourth photo I put the caption, “The orange of this Crocosmia contrast with the metallic purple leaves.”

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On the opposite page I noted that “Seed pods vary as much as the flower and leaf colour.”ric1-1 ric-4  ric-1 ric2-1 ric-2

Moving on through my October journal entries I take another look at our Agapanthus collection which I had considered the flowers of in my September journal. This month I decided to see how that were developing from flowers towards seed pods.


I wrote, “I want now to return to our Agapanthus collection grown in our gravel garden, the Beth Chatto Border. Last month I looked at their flowers but now a month later we can observe the magical transformation from flowers to seeds.”

Across the double page spread I shared nine of my photos.

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Turning over in search of the next double page and colour is the theme, the colours of Autumn, but not the usual autumnal colours.


I wrote, “The flame colours of Autumn usually refer to the changing colours of tree and shrub foliage but, red, orange and yellow add depth to the flower borders too, and even the colourful grass leaves.”

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Every gardener loves checking on the weather and talking about it too! It controls what we do if it gets too wet or too cold for us to get outside and enjoy pottering. So for the final two pages I turn to the skies!


“We have wonderfully colourful skies over our garden in October. Rainbows add delight and bright hues.” 

The first pair of photos show “A rainbow finds its twin.”

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“The rainbow follows the curve of the Violet Willow.”


The last page of the October entries for my October garden journal shows five pages of the sun and light changing over the fields beyond our garden fence. I added the caption, “Light changes over our borrowed landscape as the sun lowers and a storm approaches.”

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So October was a very busy month here in our patch at our home, Avocet. Next time we consider my garden journal it will be the penultimate visit to it.




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The insect hotels in our garden

We recently made a new insect hotel and revamped one of the older ones, so I thought I would share them with you. This post is particularly for the follower who asked about insect hotels and adding green roofs to them. Apologies for not getting back to you sooner and more personally – no excuse except a bad memory.

This is the first one we built in our garden and it has proved very successful with plenty of minibeast visitors but it also gave us some surprises! Last year a Dunnock nested on one of the layers and at the end of the year we discovered that a Goldcrest had nested in one of the holes in a brick.


We then built a second hotel for our garden critters in our Spring Border and this one was created from an old wooden vegetable box. This one had a surprise for us too as at the end of last summer we found an old nest of a Dunnock.


We next made a smaller insect hotel from a wine box and placed it in the Crescent Garden. So far no bird has nested in it but there are lots of “minibeasts” especially Ladybirds living in it and hibernating there through the colder months. Sitting on top of it though is one of our pieces of sculpture, a thoughtful young girl.

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And then this spring we added yet another insect hotel, this time we constructed it in our Freda Garden and placed two small log piles on each side of it to attract Violet Ground Beetles who we hope will eat the slug eggs in the ground.

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On our allotment we made an insect home with a green roof to add further interest and another habitat. We grow succulents, Sedums and Sempervivums on top of our insect hotel as they have tiny flowers loved by insects especially bees. The secret is to make a tray which sits on top and supported by 4 posts banged into the ground at each corner of the hotel. This means the posts support the green roof rather than putting weight on the insect hotel itself.

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Each spring on warm, calm days we enjoy seeing the Ladybirds emerging and resting on the driftwood pieces to absorb the warmth of the sun.


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Spring Bulbs at Bowbrook Allotment Society.

We spent a day on our plot at our allotments, Bowbrook Allotment Society, on the first day of March. It was cold and the wind strong and added extra coldness. But the sight of cheerful bulbs growing close to our plot helped cheer us up.

I hope you enjoy the photos I took with my smartphone. They are growing in the meadows under the trees in one of our orchards.

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Arboreta in Autumn – part 1- Bluebell Arboretum

The highlight of every autumn season has to be visiting various arboreta of which there are many within a day’s drive. Our first visit this year was to Bluebell Arboretum and Nursery situated in Derbyshire near the town with the wonderful rather eccentric name of  Ashby-de-la-Zouch. The nursery specialises in rare and unusual shrubs and trees and every plant they sell is of excellent quality.

Within the first 5 minutes of our wander around the arboretum we had discovered a lovely variety of trees, shrubs and perennials. Betulas, Acers, Clethras, Euonymus and Hydrangeas.

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But of course you can find little clumps of the brightest of colours, orange as in these Kniphofias.

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We enjoyed close up views of fruits and flowers in between having to step backwards to appreciate the full beauty of specimen trees.

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In close proximity to trees we always take a close look at textures on their bark.

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Of course being autumn time we were here largely to view the colours of the season. The leaves of this Cotinus were turning red slowly beginning with splashes of colour between the veins, giving a great contrast of reds and greens. Liquidamber turn deep shades of red through the autumn and hold onto their coloured foliage until the early spring. The first leaves to turn can provide almost black shades amongst the greens.

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This oak displayed foliage in the deepest orange and had the interesting name “Quercus x Warii “Chimney Sweep”.

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Where autumnal colours are concerned none could be brighter than this deciduous Euonymus.

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Luckily for us the nurseryman were well into a trial of new strains of Physocarpus opulifolius, those shrubs that afford us the glossy almost black foliage. At home we grow the well established “Diablo” but we were pleased to be able to study newer varieties with differeing tints of colour working amongst the black, such as “Diablo D’or” . In the next few years we will be seeing some interesting improved variations on “Diablo”.

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I shall finish the first part of our visit to the Bluebell Arboretum and Nursery with a look at a few specimens of my favourite trees the Birches, grown as usual for their incredible coloured and textured trunks. These three photos show how the trunks can vary from white to black with colours in between.

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We shall continue our tour of this great little and relatively young arboretum in part 2.

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Trug, trug, trug and trug!

It is strange how the word trug has come to mean slightly different things over the last decade or so. Until then the word trug referred to the wooden, hand-made garden carriers first made in Sussex and thus called the Sussex Trug.

This post is specially for one of my followers – she will know who she is – but I hope everyone likes it too.

The Sussex Trugs are still made from chestnut and willow, the  sweet chestnut being used for the frame and willow for the body. The willow is a by-product of the cricket bat industry and the chestnut comes from coppiced wood.

We use our Sussex Trug in the garden when we harvest fruit from our trees, to hold bulbs ready to be planted and we find them convenient for lots of small jobs. We have been using Sussex Trugs for 20 years or so and we are only on our second one – they last for ages!

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We also have a trug which we use for collecting cut flowers from the garden. This one is made from willow wands. This one has a flat bottom rather than the boat shape of its Sussex cousins so is great for holding our cut flowers as we cut them from the garden. The photo shows it being used to hold Nerine bulbs ready for planting.

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The latest garden carrier to be given the name trug is made from recycled plastic and has proven itself to be one of the most useful pieces of garden equipment to hit the garden centres for years. These are available in lots of colours, sizes and dimensions so have a wide variety of uses around the garden.

We use ours when we are harvesting, pruning in the borders, watering and spreading compost as a mulch on our soil. On our allotment we even used a shallow but wide one to create a small wildlife pond. Every gardener has their own range of uses for the plastic trug.

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Trugs originated in Sussex, where they have been made for two centuries, because there was plenty of coppiced woods with Sweet Chestnut trees and plenty of willows found in marshy areas of the county. The word trug originated from the Anglo-Saxon word trog meaning a wooden vessel or boat-shaped article. They were used as measures or scoops for grain.

So just one more trug to show, the new veg trug. These big wooden raised beds for growing vegetables in are sold by several companies now but they are all virtually the same. The veg trug provides a growing space which is raised to a comfortable working height and allows anyone with the smallest space, even a patio, to grow vegetables and herbs. On our allotment site we have three which we use for our young gardeners to use. The first one we had was planted up by them as a pollinators garden. The other two are recent acquisitions so have yet to be planted by the youngsters of Bowbrook Allotment Community.

We spent a sunny spring day planting up the trug. The children worked with their parents, grandparents and committee members planting up herbaceous perennials and watering them in.

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The children have been looking after their pollinator garden ever since. They particularly enjoyed the watering!

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Jude and friend Sherlie made up the two new trugs which arrived flat packed. In the spring the children will plant them up and will then have a trio of trugs to look after.

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And here are our two new trugs built by Sherlie and Jude now filled with compost and planted with lots of different bulbs of every possible colour shape and size. Can’t wait until Spring wakes them up!

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New Toys for our Allotment Site

It is always exciting to get new equipment for our community allotments, Bowbrook Allotment Community (BAC), but when we get three close together, two of which are real boys’ (and girls’) toys then it really is extra exciting. You will notice as this post moves forward that the girls mix it with the boys at BAC however tough the tasks.

Our first new toy, or should I say piece of equipment, was an attachment for our Ryobi strimmers which allows us to prune thick branches, a bit like a mini-chainsaw. The second was a mighty petrol-driven chipper/shredder, and the third a pair of wooden raised vegetable trugs. Jude and I give talks to garden groups and together with other committee members provide “Walk and Talk” sessions for groups at the allotment. With the fees we charge we manage to buy extras for the site. Using some of this money together with a generous grant from our local town councillor we were able to acquire these helpful machines.

We were so excited when the huge box arrived with our big red toy inside. Michael soon got to work breaking the box open.

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We quickly set about deciphering the instructions and putting all the extra bits and pieces together.

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Once all put together and filled with fuel we wheeled the red chipper all the way up the big grass path to the mature trees around our picnic area, where a mighty big pile of prunings awaited chipping. We had produced the pile of prunings when we used our other toy, the Ryobi pruning attachment.

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We have a policy at Bowbrook Allotment Community of following the 3-Rs, reuse, reduce and recycle. A key element of this is keeping as much green waste as possible on site where we can use it again. Thus all the cut branches from tree work and shrub pruning are now going into our new shredder.

Jude the Undergardener piled the shreddings into a wheelbarrow and wheeled them off to the Winter Garden where they gave us a fresh soft pathway.

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Our 3-Rs policy also meant that we recycled the cardboard from the box that the big red chipper arrived in. Sherlie tore it all up into pieces and mixed it with grass cuttings and this will produce quality compost for using as a mulch on our communal borders.

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Earlier on while Mike, Pete and I were unpacking and putting the new chipper together Jude and Sherlie got out the tools and put together our two new wooden raised trugs.

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Quite soon after the big red chipper was rolled out again as we began our hedge cutting season.We chose an extremely wet and windy day but everyone had lots of fun fortified throughout by soup and cake provided by the committee and served up by our tea committee, “The Tea Bags”.

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To discover more about BAC please check out our website