My Week in the Gardens

I finished my weekly 18 hours of work at the hospice this morning. As I reflected on the week I realised that I hadn’t actually done a huge amount of gardening. That doesn’t mean that I have been lazing around, enjoying the sun (and boy has the weather been beautiful up here in the NW). Instead, I’ve been doing various other jobs around the hospice grounds. These have included sweeping the car park, painting some faded trellis and scraping weeds from the cracks in a block paved footpath. Not the most thrilling of jobs, in fact very tedious, but rewarding all the same. After completing each task, I was able to see the difference that I had made, and it was good.

This got me thinking… I seem to be a very visual person. What things look like matter to me. I generally like order, although don’t tell my wife or she’ll complain about the state of the house and get me tidying up more. In the garden, I like things to be neat and tidy. And I notice details. I love to look at the beauty of flowers and the array of colours surrounding me.

Spring is a fab time as a gardener, apart from those pesky weeds (and yes, the horsetail has returned, only to be removed again). Flowers abound. This week I have especially enjoyed the tulips at the front of the hospice. They put a smile on people’s faces as they arrive and really cheer them up.

Tulips at front of HospicePink tulip

Pink and yellow tulip

They’re not the only plants that have caught my attention this week. We have some hostas that are growing quickly and yet to be eaten by the slugs. Their green colour is gorgeous and the way their leaves curl around I find enticing.


So despite not doing a huge amount of “gardening” this week, I have managed to appreciate a lot around me. And for that I’m grateful!

Let The Battle Begin!

I’m back! After an enthusiatic start, I ran out of steam after only 2 posts. After a long days gardening I don’t always feel like sitting down to write. But I am going to try to persevere.

Some days gardening is a joy to behold. Other days it is a battle. Today was in this second category. It was a battle… literally.

In the pink corner (hospice colours) we have Jim the Gardener (BIG CHEER). In the green corner we have “Horsetail” (BOO HISS). Let the battle commence!


Horsetail, or Equisetum Arvense to give it it’s full name, is a gardeners nightmare. But it is actually a very interesting plant. It is the sole survivor of a line of plants that go back 300 million years to the Carboniferous period – it is sometimes known as a living fossil. It’s descendants grew as tall as 30m high and gave rise to many of our coalfields – a fitting fact considering Wigan’s mining past and that the Hospice is built on an old coal mine.

Apparently it has many medicinal properties, from being a diuretic and used for the treatment of incontinence, to being used to stop bleeding. The high levels of silica in it are used to improve the absorption of calcium, which in turn strengthens connective tissues and bones. It has been used in the treatment of osteoporosis. The Chinese sometimes use it to treat hemorrhoids. For me personally, I find that rather than treating the pain, horsetail is actually the cause of pain in the backside!

It loves wet, clay soils, which abound in Wigan. The stems grow from deep, fast growing  rhizomes. There are 2 types of stem. Firstly, as seen above, are the green, sterile stems, which generally grow in summer (although they seem to be growing pretty well at the hospice). Secondly, are the brown spore bearing stems which appear in spring.

Horsetail - spore

Horsetail is spread by these spores, but also by growth of the underground rhizomes. Unfortunately, these rhizomes can be 7ft deep, making them very difficult to remove. When weeding, if any of the rhizome is left, it will quickly start growing again, hence it being a problem for gardeners.

Today, I was battling a fairly small flowerbed at the front of the hospice. In the past it hadn’t been looked after and had become very overgrown. Last autumn I spent a couple of days weeding it and removing the dreaded weed suppressing matting (now I know why it was there!). When I inspected the bed this morning I was greeted with a mass of horsetail. So I set to work. The battle between me and the horsetail took nearly 4 hours. I slowly and meticulously removed as much of he roots as possible. Using a fork I slowly teased them out. By the time I had finished, the bed was weed free. Round 1 to me in the pink corner!

Front bed weeded

But I am under no illusion. After 300 million years of hard training, I am sure that the horsetail will be back for more. Let’s just hope that I will be up for the challenge.