Watering and feeding

By Lisa

Hello to those of you I didn’t send off to sleep in the last blog! For this blog and the next, I’m going to cover the basics of how to keep your garden ticking over and growing well as we head into Summer. This means watering, feeding and the eternal battle against weeds, pests and diseases.

Gardening is hard enough work when you’re at full health, so for those of us who struggle, even when we have good days and bad, it can seem like a total nightmare. Watering cans and bags of compost weigh a tonne, then you’re fighting with the hosepipe and you’ve no idea if you’ve got the right feed for your plants. With a bit of careful planning, though you can take the sting out of it. I’m going to go more into planning your garden to suit you and your current needs in my Winter blog, but please do get in touch if you need any help in the meantime.

The condition of your soil is the key to good strong plants, and how healthy your soil is depends on the amount of organic matter it contains. Compost, leaf mould and well rotted manure all act to retain moisture, provide key nutrients, and attract beneficial microflora and fauna. Even if you can’t dig the ground over, adding a mulch of organic matter in Spring (and Autumn if you can manage it) will help to condition your soil over time, and will help to solve any problems you may be having.

Sandy soil is the driest and most nutritionally poor. Adding organic matter will act like a sponge, retaining water and preventing vital nutrients washing away. More nutrients are released as all those fantastic microplants and beasties break it down.

Clay soil sets like a brick in Summer and is a bog in winter. It is also, however nutritionally rich. Again by adding a compost mulch, you will improve the soil structure thanks to the tunneling actions of earthworms and other burrowing creatures that feed on it. This improves your drainage and stops the clay from being one solid mass in the Summer.

Organic matter will get to work quicker if dug in, but again, even a surface mulch will bring benefits to any soil over time.

Watering Methods

I’m moving my veggie patch from the shady back garden into the baking sunshine of the front. Watering is going to be a big issue – the front is hot and the soil is drier and gravelly; there are no outdoor taps anywhere near, and it’s too big an area to heave my watering can up & down enough to water it properly. I also try to keep my time in the front to a minimum when I feel anti-social, or I just don’t get the time.


My idea, therefore is to run a seeper hose from the back garden right down into the front. I can water everywhere at once by connecting up my hose in the back, leave it on for half an hour, maybe an hour or so, and hey presto, happy veggies, happy Lisa!

As you can see here, I’ve dug down about 2 feet and enriched the top soil with compost before returning it. The seeper hose is just laid on the surface, and I’ll just cover it in a thin layer of soil. I made my seeper hose, but you can buy professional ones if you want to, and want less hassle. I’ve blocked the end off an old hose offcut, added a connector at the end by the tap, and poked quite large holes along the length. Getting an even flow was a matter of trial and error, but it’s been tested & seems to be working great.

If you are growing in containers, you can buy irrigation kits, or buy multi-connectors and run old hose offcuts into the pots to achieve the same easy watering system.

Where you can, I’d recommend having a water butt installed to run your seeper hose or to water from. It’s great for the environment, and, depending on where you live, the pH balance of tap water can be wrong for plants such as rhododendron, azalea and pieris, which need a higher pH level. You can also add nutrients to the butt, such as comfrey or nettles, so you’re giving your garden an extra boost every time you water. I couldn’t have a water butt in the front because the drainpipe is right next to the path.

If you grow in pots, you can poke holes in plastic drinks bottles and sink them in next to your plants, just topping them up as you need to, and you can also try soil additives when you are planting up.

Especially for containers and baskets, which dry out pretty quickly, soil additives can hold a large volume of water and slowly release it back into the soil. You can buy special water-retaining compost or a bag of pellets that you add into your own compost. You can also try using old soaked cardboard, newspaper or even a fully drenched (unused!) nappy at the bottom of the pot. Remember a layer of gravel or broken crocks at the very bottom though, to aid drainage and stop the drainage hole getting clogged.

To help keep in more of that precious moisture, a mulch is a must on the ground and in pots. You can add a layer of compost, bark, coir, gravel, ornamental glass chips etc that act as a blanket. It slows down how fast the soil dries, retains warmth in cold spells, hampers weeds from forming, discourages slug and snail activity.

If your ground is always damp, there isn’t much else you can do outside of looking at land drainage. You could always try a reasonably high raised bed (making sure the base is treated against rot) or large terracotta pots (terracotta holds a lot of moisture). There are many, many beautiful plants that will thrive in this environment, however, so you could roll with the punches and try to suit your space instead of forcing it to suit you.

Composting and Feeding

I’ve gone on at great lengths about compost, but haven’t talked about sourcing it. The best way, if you have room, is to make your own. It costs nothing, it’s recycling at it’s best, it will feed your plants a panacea of nutrients (we’ll get to specifics later) and it will boost your quota of beetles, worms, spiders and all those other lovely little creepy crawlies that work their magic keeping your soil in good condition and preying on pests.

For composting, you’ll need a bin (I have an old wheelie bin with the bottom cut off so the worms can get in). Just throw hedge clippings, leaves, grass cuttings (add shredded newspaper with this) vegetable peelings (not onion), teabags, eggshells, banana skins in there. Once it’s full, it will need a year or two to fully rot down before you add it to your garden. It will also need turning a few times (emptying, mixing up & putting back), which is a heavy job. You can buy worm bins on a frame that you can spin by turning a wheel if that suits you better. It’s ready when it looks and feels like soil and carries a sweet smell. This is a long process, so if you have room, you can have more than one bin on the go for a more consistent supply.

If you have pesky cats like mine, it may be a good idea to leave out the larger vegetable matter as you’ll get small furry mouse presents delivered.

Leaf mould is another fantastic soil conditioner. Sweep up all those Autumn leaves, put them in a bin bag and forget about them until they’ve crumbled down. Then just use them like you would compost.

If you’re buying in compost, please buy peat-free. Peat is a carbon sink, and removing and drying it releases CO2 back into the atmosphere. There are many great alternatives available.

Bought compost has the advantage of a pretty universal nutritional level, whereas your own will depend on what it’s made from. Some plants need an extra boost with some fertilizer.


The three main nutrients plants need are Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K). I’ve included their elemental symbol because fertilisers have an N:P:K rating on them, to help you decide what you need to get the most out of your plants.

Nitrogen contributes to healthy growth of leaves, phosphorus contributes to root growth, and potassium encourages flowers and fruits. All fertilisers carry a number such as 5:5:8 – this is the NPK rating, and in this example, tells us that the K (Potassium) level is higher, so this will help boost flowering.

Compost carries a pretty level N:P:K rating, but you can tailor it with additives. I very often use Fish, Blood and Bone, just sprinkled around my plants, this is high in phosphates and helps boost their root growth. Tomato feed will be high in potassium to boost flower and fruit set, and this works for any flowering plant. Banana skins in the compost can give an extra potassium boost for free.

If you garden in containers, you must feed regularly, as the potting mix will have run low on nutrients after about 6 months. Ideally, you need to re-pot in fresh compost, but liquid feeds and slow release pellets are easier to use.

There is also an ancient technique called ‘Hugelkulture’ where you bury logs under your plants. They gently rot down and feed your plants. This could be handy if you have recently had any tree work and no way to dispose of the cuttings. I have some reservations about this encouraging fungal growth, but it’s been around a lot longer than I have!

Well watered, well fed plants will grow strong, and will be better able to fight off weeds, pests and diseases, but I’ll go into how best to deal with these next time.

I hope this has helped and been informative, as always, let me know if you need any advice, or have any feedback. Blessings and happy gardening!

National Gardening Week – Seed planting

It’s Spring, I have a brand new plot to clear and (hopefully) grow some veggies on, and I can’t think of a better place to start than with seed sowing. I apologise if you’re all experienced green fingers, but I’d like to start from scratch and get any newbies who are perhaps a little nervous to try and get growing. Maybe start by sowing some herbs in a window box, or get a wildflower meadow started.


I’ll write about seasonal jobs to start, and try to address any popular areas if you want me to. I will also try to make everything as inclusive as possible and give you alternatives to try if one method proves to be tricky. I would love to hear your ingenious ideas that help you to keep gardening, or any tools that you wouldn’t be without as well.


What you sow is entirely up to you. If you are new to gardening, try sowing some herbs or bedding plants in trays, and when the plants have grown a little, plant them in a window box or out in the garden. If you have a bare patch in your garden, try sowing a wildflower or annual mix straight onto the soil. I’ll show you how.


There are a few things to consider for successful seed sowing: Firstly, it depends on the freshness of your seeds. To get the best start, your seeds should be in date, or collected in the previous year. While it’s lying dormant, the tiny seedling uses its food reserves to keep itself alive until it germinates, and the more of these reserves it uses, the less energy it will have to germinate strongly.


If you’re storing seeds, try to keep them in their original packets or wrap them in greaseproof paper, and keep them in a nice, clean, dry, airtight container. I save silica packets and throw them in there as well. The less moisture the seeds are exposed to, the more dormant they will remain.


If you do find an old packet stuffed in a drawer, though, there’s a quick and very general test you can do to see if there are any worth trying – drop the seeds into a cup of water, and plant those that sink. Any floating seeds have used up their reserves and are just full of air now. I did read a couple of years ago that a rare seed found in a shipwreck from the 19th century successfully germinated, so sometimes you never can tell.


When sowing indoors in trays, seeds are extremely susceptible to fungal diseases, and it’s sadly not unusual to have whole trays of healthy looking seed suddenly wilt and die. This is called ‘damping off‘. One of the the best ways to help prevent this is to practice good hygiene, and make sure your trays and tools are clean.


You don’t need to go out and buy propagators or special seed trays; as long as it’s clean, just recycle what you have.  I’ve discovered that clear plastic egg boxes with holes poked in the bottom make great modular seed trays. If you sow one larger seed in each section, you can watch for the roots growing, and just lift the plant out when you see them coming through strongly.


To prevent damping off, you can also use a good free-draining compost, and if you sit the trays in water until the surface glistens and then remove them, you won’t overwater. Mixing a standard, peat-free compost mixed at 2-1 with perlite, vermiculite or grit makes a nice, light, airy mixture. I’ve found coir-based compost is starting to become more widely available. It’s super-lightweight and expands about 3 times in volume when water is added, so you don’t have to lug heavy bags around.


Coir doesn’t have much nutritional value, but for seedlings, that doesn’t matter. Seedlings are lazy, you have to force them to grow strong roots and find their own food, and they’ll grow stronger later for it. If you suffer from any condition that affects your breathing, though, coir is very dusty, so it might be better to stick to a wood-based or home-made compost (I’ll cover compost making in the next blog).


That’s the theory behind seed sowing, next I’ll show you the best way to use your containers and how to prepare the soil if you’re sowing straight into the ground.


Sowing in containers


Containers are normally used to germinate seeds that need a little extra protection before planting out; tomatoes, squashes, sweetcorn for example.


 * Fill the container completely with compost, and using a circular motion, ‘massage’ the compost to even it out and get rid of big air pockets.


* Using an old book or a CD case (anything that fits the container), press
the compost to get a smooth surface.



* Immerse the container up to the brim in water and leave it until the surface glistens.


* To broadcast sow small seeds, tip some seeds into your palm, and gently tap your hand with your finger. This method gives you more control over their spread. Here I am using
salad leaf seeds.


* Poke holes in the compost for larger seeds, place them in and close the compost over them. Here I am using squash seeds.



* Cover the pot with a clear plastic bag & remove it once the seedlings appear. They germinate better in moist conditions, but damping off fungi and bacteria like those conditions too.


This, I know, seems like making work for yourself, but it gets the air & water distribution in the soil just right, and each seed has an equal chance at germinating. There is no harm in completely filling the container and then pressing it firmly, that will do just as well.


If you struggle to pick up smaller seeds, you can fold a piece of paper in half, and use it as a chute, it might give you a bit more control. 


If you think that you will struggle to transfer your tiny seedlings to their final location, try using the cells from an old cardboard egg box or toilet roll to plant into, these can just be planted out pot and all, and are a lot easier to handle than young seedlings (I’ll talk about ‘pricking out’ shortly).


Alternatively, plant the seeds where you want them once the weather has warmed.


Sowing into the ground


Ideally, you want to have some nice, loose textured bare soil to sow into. Some seeds are pretty tough and won’t mind if digging and raking are not for you. Try a wildflower mix, Calendula, California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica), Woodsorrel (Oxalis debilis) or some herb seeds if you aren’t going to prepare the soil. There are plenty of seeds that are tough as old boots, and can hold their own without a bit of extra cosseting.


Using a fork, turn over a lump of the soil and hit it with the back of the fork to break it up. Do this in rows so you know you’ve dug over the whole site. Try not to stand in soil you’ve dug over, or you’ll undo all your hard work!


Rake the soil level, breaking up any lumps, rake out stones, and you’re ready to sow.


You can broadcast sow, or if you want to make weeding easier, trace out shallow rows that are at least a hoe’s width apart and sow sparingly into those. You can give the space in between a quick lick over with the hoe when you need to, and once the plants have grown, they won’t look regimented.


Lastly, give the site a good water if the weather is dry.


The last thing for you to try is ‘pricking out’. This is where you use a dibber (this is just a stick, I use an old chopstick or a pencil) to pop out seedlings shortly after they sprout, and then re-plant them in bigger pots right down to the leaves. This seems pretty fiddly, and isn’t essential if it’s too much trouble.


Alternatively, if you plant the seeds in a shallower layer of compost, once they’ve sprouted, you can use a fine riddle (sieve) to cover the seedlings very gently in another light layer of compost. They should find their way out to the light again. This way is a bit hit and miss, so I’d use it with caution, and only on a crop you don’t mind losing a few of.


The reason for pricking out is that the stem of a young seedling has the potential to sprout roots, so if you plant it right down to the leaves, you get more strongly rooted and stable plants.


If you have chosen to broadcast sow, you can help your plants along by simply removing the weaker seedlings and giving them more space.


There is a tried and tested technique to pricking out – Hold a seedling leaf (never the stem; it’s too fragile) with one hand, and push the dibber into the soil under the seedling. Using the dibber like a lever, pop the seedling out & keep hold of it by the leaf while you use the dibber to make a hole in the new pot. Sink the seedling as deep as you can, leaving the leaves above the surface, and firm the soil back around it. Water the pot, and you’re good to go!


If you’re planning on planting your new plants outside, leave it until the end of May to make sure any threat of frost has passed – ‘don’t cast a clout until May is out’. If they’re tender plants like tomatoes, ease them into outdoor life gently by putting them into a cold frame or greenhouse if you have one, or pop them out for a few days and bring them back in at night if you don’t.
I’ll write again soon and cover feeding and watering, maybe a bit of lawn care & cover some Summer jobs. I should have some pictures of my veg garden by then as well. I’ve sown courgettes, tomatoes, pumpkins and sweetcorn ready to plant out. I hope this has at least been interesting for you, and has given you some confidence to try some seeds out for yourself.


Please share what you’re up to too!


Don’t forget that you can ask lisa and batty nan your gardening questions using the contact form on this website or emailing your questions to dpvp@paganfederation.co.uk


Some of the text in this blog has been made to stand out to make Lisa’s best tips easier to find.

Spoons And Shovels! Introducing Lisa – Our new Gardening Blogger!


The PF Disabilities Team is very excited to announce that we will be having a (hopefully) regular blog series about gardening with disabilities! Spoons and Shovels will be brought to you by Lisa and here she is to introduce herself!

I’m Lisa, and I live in Wirral with my husband and two young children. I’m a professional gardener, who specialises in helping people with disabilities. I either help to adapt their gardens to suit them better, help to keep them gardening, or take care of their gardens exactly how they want them kept.
It feels a lot like I was steered into this path from when I first started gardening. I’ve had an interest in the therapeutic benefits of horticulture for a long time, since it has really helped me with my OCD and anxiety.  I struggled to leave the house alone except for going to work, and I found being in the garden gave me something to focus on while I was outside, but I was not far from ‘safety’ if it got too much.  I had to be responsible for the garden and it forced me out, maybe when I didn’t want to, and challenged me to take on my fears in a gentle way.  I started to build a connection with nature; noticing the birds that came to visit, finding new bulbs starting to sprout, watching what I had planted grow and flourish. It gave me confidence and I felt less and less threatened and alone outdoors, and it widened my world from our four walls.  I hope it has also given me an understanding of how important this connection is, and how devastating it can be to lose it, which is why I am so happy to have been given this opportunity to produce a blog for you all, and I hope you find it useful.
I got into professional gardening as a pretty big career change about 14 years ago.  I was having health problems working as a typist, so I decided to retrain and do something that would keep me mobile and that I actually enjoyed, and after being inspired by a visit to the Eden Project, it became obvious to me that this was what I wanted to do. I completed the RHS Level II and Advanced Certificates as home study courses, and I started volunteering in community gardens to get some invaluable experience, and the tutors at Ness Gardens even let me come in and practice for my practical exams as much as I wanted.
Since then I’ve worked in Birkenhead Park, garden centres and most recently, I worked at Mears providing specialist gardening help for elderly and disabled customers. I absolutely loved my job. I felt like I had made a real difference to people’s lives by improving their access and sense of security, and getting their environment working right for them.  I was sad to leave when I had our first baby, and now I will be setting up my own business providing these services when my youngest is old enough.
While I was studying, I was lucky enough to visit Chelsea. Thrive were exhibiting there, and I got chatting to the designer. The garden and the ideas they had to make it accessible really stuck with me, and I jumped at the chance to provide this kind of service for Mears. I stayed in touch with Thrive, and am currently taking courses in Horticultural Therapy with them now they provide online tuition.  I will be sure to pass on any new tips, tools and techniques I come across in my learning.
When I’m not gardening, I bake, so no doubt the odd recipe will be popping up as well for all those gluts of herbs, fruit and vegetables we’re going to have (the snails are not getting them this year!) I’m moving my veg garden since it’s too shady where it is, so I’ll show you from scratch what I get up to and how I get on. I am under orders from my family to grow pumpkins for Samhain (I do a mean pumpkin pie), and other than that, I’m going to maximise my tiny space by growing a Native American 3 Sisters bed. This is a plot of sweetcorn, with beans growing up them for support, and pumpkins trailing in the shade beneath. The plants each benefit one another, I like that kind of co-operation. I’m also going to attempt to build some kind of greenhouse for some tomatoes too.
I’ve been a Pagan for about 20 years, my husband introduced me to it and everything about Paganism just made sense. I love the tolerance, gentleness and understanding behind it.  We follow and celebrate the changing seasons, and being outdoors so much, you become so much more grounded and aware of the changing subtleties all around you.
Of all the seasons, it has to be Autumn that is my favourite. It’s a busy and very beautiful time for us. My back garden is really shady, so I studied Japanese Tea Gardens which make the best of these conditions.  I love ferns and Acers, lots of foliage and texture, and those blazing colours make you warm on a cold day. We use the garden to eat and play for as much of the year as we can, but I really love Samhain with the kids.  We’re metal, horror and dreadful old B-movie fans, so we go way over the top and have a mix of Halloween fun and Samhain reflection, and have a torchlight treasure hunt. We have a fire pit and barbeque night around bonfire night too. I light tealights in the trees and it’s really magical. We camp out in my she-shed, stuff our faces and watch the stars and the fireworks. It seems like the best send off to our time outside and prepares us for being cosy indoors over Winter. I’ve never been a part of Pagan group before, so sharing this with you all is an amazing experience for me.
I try to tread as lightly as I can and show respect for all living things, which to me means adapting and using what I have, not forcing things that aren’t going to work and recycling as much as possible. I am a closet Heath Robinson & love to create something out of what I have lying around. Having kids also means we don’t have a lot of money, but I still want a great garden, so I will do things as economically as possible and push myself all the time.
I don’t use pesticides or herbicides, I have sneaky tricks and home-made concoctions that I use that I’ll share with you. I’ll start with the absolute basics, and I will teach you the best way to do everything, which is what the RHS taught me, but there are many different methods to get decent results and we’ll look at what works best for you. I’ll try and cover the most important seasonal jobs in this year, so seed sowing for my first blog; then maybe fertilisers, composting, and weed, pest and disease control in the Summer; pruning and bulb planting in the Autumn; and garden planning and accessibility in the Winter. If there’s anything you need me to cover, please let me know and I’ll try to cover it in the future.  All I want is for you to be inspired to give gardening a try, even if it’s window box gardening, and hopefully get you out in the fresh air and feeling more a part of the life happening all around you. If you can’t garden on your own, I can’t recommend Thrive enough, they might be able to help get you involved in a community therapeutic garden in your area.
I think I’ve waffled enough for now, please be gentle, it’s the first time I’ve written anything like this and I really hope you like it and find it helpful.


Lisa is currently working with Batty Nan & Kitty to answer your gardening questions. To ask Nan & Kitty a question about gardening, accessibility or any other disability or Pagan related issues simply email dpvp@paganfederation.co.uk and start with Dear Nan (or similar)…