A Day With Some Volunteers

A month ago I wrote about how excited I was that I was going to be working with 6 volunteers. Unfortunately, due to illness, they had to cancel. They re-booked to come today. Like last time the weather was fabulous, so we were able to get on with painting the planters that I had hoped to do last time. And what a difference the “Red Cossack” paint has made.

Dan, Paul and Barry

Dan, Paul and Barry after painting the planters

We also had time to paint the Chines Bridge that was kindly donated to the Hospice by The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. The bridge has made a real difference to the gardens by adding a focal point around the ponds.

Painting Chinese Bridge

Painting the Chinese Bridge

I want to thank Dan, Paul and Barry, who work for The Dept for Works and Pensions, for their help today and for their company. They seemed to enjoy themselves, getting away from their computers and helping others (especially me!). CHEERS!

I’ve had some lovely times at work recently, although it was rather wet earlier this week. The rain was much needed though by the plants and it has saved me doing any more watering. The downside of the rain is that the weeds have gone a bit mental. Why is it that they seem to grow twice as fast as the plants you want to be growing? This could become a blog all about weeds, but don’t worry –¬† it won’t! However, weeding does take up a lot of my time. This week I have been tackling cleavers and bittercress, as well as the ongoing battle with the horsetail. Both cleavers and bittercress have interesting methods of dispersal. Cleavers, or as I prefer to call it – “Sticky Willy”, is every child’s favourite weed. It’s the one which sticks to anything and everything, so the challenge is to stick it to your friends without them noticing. By being so sticky, the seeds get moved around. Bittercress on the other hand is much more conspicuous, but seems to get everywhere. Luckily it is easy to pull up. But as you do so, any seed heads that have formed, explode sending seeds in all directions. So as a gardener, the aim is to remove the weeds before they go to seed.

There have been some lovely flowers in the garden this week. Interestingly many of them are pink or purple. Here are a few that have taken my eye this week.

Cornflower and Bee

Mountain Cornflower and Bee


Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata ‘Black Barlow’

Candelabra Primula

Primula Pulverulenta

I am very excited about next week. I have been given a ticket to attend Chelsea Flower Show on Tuesday. I can’t wait. I’ll let you know next week how I get on. Until then, God Bless.

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.