Search Icon
HomeAboutEventsVolunteeringNews, stories & blogs

 

 

Brentford Together Blog

 

 

Our current focus is a series of blog posts on gardening.These are being written by Auberon Bayley, General Manager with Cultivate London. 

 

Auberon began his life in horticulture in Cornwall in the early 2000’s. He moved from London to paint the landscape but became fascinated by the life within the Landscape. This led him to undertake a course at Duchy College in Global Horticulture and Sustainable Development. After this he gained a bursary to study and work at the Eden Project in the old clay pits of St Austell. Here he became aware of the importance of connecting people with plants and the part they play in the word’s ecosystem and human development.

 

Auberon tries to bring this together at Cultivate London making spaces that connect people with plants and the biodiversity they support.

 

Use the links below to go to a particular post, or scroll down to browse through all of them.

 

Testing Soil pH & Type

 

Auberon Bayley – Cultivate London manager

02/07/2020

 

As part of our gardening sessions, we are sharing weekly blog posts to give you tips for helping you in your garden. The blog posts support the Q&A sessions which you will be able to find more about on our events page.

Cultivate london: growing together

Testing soil pH

It is important to check a soils pH to ensure that you get the best out of your garden plants and crops. In the UK this ranges from 3.5 (strongly acidic) to 8.5 (strongly alkaline), with 7 being neutral. Most fruit and vegetables prefer a soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH. Soil pH can be tested at home using a soil testing kit, available at most garden centres. 

 

1. Choose a representative soil sample for testing, this can be done by avoiding areas that have recently had fertilisers, compost or other materials added to them, as this can affect the pH. Soil pH can vary in different parts of the garden, so it’s important to test several samples from several areas.

 

2. Remove any debris from your sample and place the required amount in a test tube (making sure not to squash the soil down). Add the chemical solution provided, shake the contents, and wait until the soil particles settle.

 

3. Once the liquid clears, compare the colour against the pH chart to see whether it is acidic/neutral/alkaline etc. Use the results of the test to choose which plants to grow in your garden.

a low angle shot of tulips with blue sky

Basic testing of soil type

 

Checking the soil type is another important test to make when deciding which plants to choose for your garden. This can be achieved by using a simple tactile test, you don’t need any kit, just your fingers! Soil can be comprised of a mix of materials, but generally they are classified as loamy, clayey or sandy, but can also be silty or peaty.

 

  • Sand is quick draining but has difficulty retaining moisture and nutrients.
  • Clay is nutrient rich but slow draining.
  • Loamy soil is considered to be the ideal soil as it is nutrient rich and retains moisture, without becoming too waterlogged.

 

Each of these have a different texture and produce a different soil consistency.

Squeeze Test

 

Collect a sample of moist (not wet) soil and squeeze it firmly in your hand. Then open your hand, and one of several things should happen.

 

1. It holds its shape and when you give it a light poke it crumbles. This means it is loamy.

2. It holds its shape, and when opening your hand does not crumble at all. This means you have clay soil.

3. It falls apart when you open your hand. This means you have sandy soil.

4. It doesn’t hold its shape and has a silky texture. It is silty soil.

5. It is too loose to mould and leaves your fingers very mucky (rich in organic matter). It is peaty.

 

Lifting and storing tulip and daffodil bulbs

Auberon Bayley – Cultivate London manager

01/07/2020

 

As part of our gardening sessions, we are sharing weekly blog posts to give you tips for helping you in your garden. The blog posts support the Q&A sessions which you will be able to find more about on our events page.

Cultivate london: growing together

Tulips

If left in the ground they are unlikely to flower again, therefore it is important to lift and dry tulip bulbs after they’ve flowered. 

 

1. Deadhead to prevent seed production, and wait until foliage turns yellow before lifting the bulbs with a forked trowel or garden fork (about six weeks after flowering)
2. If you need to lift earlier, place in trays until the leaves become yellow and straw-like
3. Clean the soil off the bulbs, and discard any that may be diseased or damaged
4. Allow the bulbs to dry thoroughly before storing
5. Store the bulbs in trays or net bags in a warm, dark, well-ventilated place at 18-20°C (65-68°F), before replanting in the autumn
6. As flowering is uncertain, it is often best to use old bulbs in the less important beds, borders and containers, and use new bulbs for conspicuous areas (RHS, Tulips)

a low angle shot of tulips with blue sky

Daffodils

 

Not all daffodil varieties need to be lifted, many flourish and flower again when left in the ground. However, if an area becomes too full, they may need to be lifted and divided.

 

1. Once the foliage has died back, lift them out of the soil carefully by using a forked trowel. Be careful not to damage the fleshy part of the bulb.
2. Clean the bulbs of excess soil and trim the roots back. You can also remove any flaky outer layers of the bulb.
3. It's best to only keep the healthiest looking bulbs. Discard any diseased or damaged ones.
4. Lay out the bulbs on some newspaper, or a tray, and leave them to dry for about 24 hours. This helps to prevent any fungal disease or rot developing whilst you store them.
5. Place the bulbs into paper bags (or nets) and store them in a cool, dry place.

Caring for your grapevine

Auberon Bayley – Cultivate London manager

25/06/2020

 

As part of our gardening sessions, we are sharing weekly blog posts to give you tips for helping you in your garden. The blog posts support the Q&A sessions which you will be able to find more about on our events page.

Cultivate london: growing together

Caring for your grapevine

The main pruning season for grapevines is winter, however thinning of fruits, and the training and trimming of new shoots can be carried out in spring and summer.

 

Always use clean, sharp secateurs.

 

In early summer, cut back new growth, except for developing stems that will create structure in the future. Trim side shoots that have small grapes on them.

 

In midsummer, cut back excess growth again, to make sure that the grapes get adequate air flow, to avoid fungal problems such as powdery mildew.

 

Tie in any new side branches to trellis or wire.

a close up picture of an aphid

Feeding & Watering

 

Although grapevines are fairly drought tolerant, if the roots are too dry and the top of the leaf is too moist, it can develop powdery mildew. Make sure to water the base of the vine thoroughly in dry conditions throughout spring and summer.

If growing dessert grapes, feed fortnightly with a high potassium fertiliser such as tomato feed. Start feeding 1 month after the growth starts in the spring, until the grapes start to ripen in late summer.

 

Aphids 

Auberon Bayley – Cultivate London manager

01/06/2020

 

As part of our gardening sessions, we are sharing weekly blog posts to give you tips for helping you in your garden. The blog posts support the Q&A sessions which you will be able to find more about on our events page.

Cultivate london: growing together

Welcome to the world of the Aphid

Aphids are one of the most common and widely encountered of garden pests, there are over 500 aphid species in the UK,although not all the species will be seen sucking on your prize plants ( for full species info see https://influentialpoints.com/Gallery/Aphid_genera.htm). They are however active for almost the whole growing season from Spring through to Autumn so it is worth having a few tactics to slow them down.

 

 The aphids that you will most probably encounter are greenfly, blackfly and woolly  aphids (not to my knowledge related to the Woolly mammoth). Typically, they have pear-shaped bodies and range in colour from black to pink, though most are green or brown. Because of the range of colours and textures this can cause gardeners to recognise them as different insects They all have similar behaviour traits but will often target specific plant groups, so there is a bean aphid, a cherry aphid etc.

a close up picture of an aphid

In spring, aphid eggs hatch into wingless females that do not mate but produce live young (a process known as parthenogenesis) – some of these young have wings and fly off to other host plants. Several generations of aphid are produced during the summer and aphid populations can increase rapidly.

 

In autumn, males and females are born. After mating, females lay eggs that hatch in spring.

 

Aphids drink plant sap from flower buds, leaves and stems. Plants infested with aphids are often distorted with weak-looking leaves and shoots.  Aphids secrete honeydew, which ants find particularly attractive. This can lead to a symbiotic relationship occurring where the ants ‘farm’ the aphids but also protect them and aid the spread across the plant.

the underside of a leaf, covered in aphid eggs

Aphid control methods

 

The approach I promote is not an attempt to kill off the insects that inhabit our gardens. It is important to think about them as part of an ecosystem and value this. Ladybirds are attract to our gardens by the presence of insects such as aphids. We do however want to achieve a healthy balance that tilts in our favour.

 

Growing robust plants

 

 Insects such as aphids tend to have the biggest impact on plants when they are suffering from stress or deficiency. The best start to your defence against aphids is to ensure the plant has sufficient water and has access to the nutrients it requires. I would recommend applying a generous mulch of good compost in early spring. This will give the ground surrounding the plant better water retention during the season and as the compost breaks down it will provide nutrients. Topping up with nettle feed, seaweed, potash and bone meal over the season will help to build resilient stock.

aphids on the stalk of a plant

Companion planting

 

Depending on what kind of garden or growing space you have you may be able to use companion planting to help deter and divert aphids from the plants you wish to protect. Companion planting can refer to a deterrent such as a plant with a strong sent such as Sage, chives and garlic or a sacrificial deterrent such as Calendula. There will be a specific blog page dedicated to companion planting and it will be looked at in greater detail in that post.

 

Attract beneficial insects

 

In this instance the most beneficial insect to your battle with the aphids is the ladybird, in particular their larvae. By keeping some areas of your garden slightly wild you will be providing ladybirds with a range of their favourite plants. These include:

  • Dandelion
  • Tansy
  • Milkweed
  • Yarrow

You can purchase plants to attract ladybirds such as geraniums but an area of lawn left un attended will throw up many of the above.

 

Chemical control

 

The more natural insecticides available to gardeners over the counter or via the internet include Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) a soil microbe toxic to insects at the larvae stage, nicotine (not surprisingly an extract from Tabaco) and an extract from the daisy family Asteraceae known as pyrethium.

 

DIY mixtures

 

It is good know a few mixtures that help in controlling the spread of aphids when you notice they have started to pop up around your garden. These are good for home gardens or small plots.

(Where dealing with large areas of crops that need attention a more comprehensive programme of pest control would be required.)

 

Oil –spray

This simple mix aims to coat the adult aphids with an oily substance, suffocating them in the process. The aphids can then be wiped off easily.

  • 1 cup (250ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon mild soap
  • 1 pint water

Mix the oil and the soap together. Add two tablespoons of the concentrate to the pint of water. Cover and shake. Funnel into a recycled household cleaning spray container or a water spray purchased from a DIY supplier.

 

Chilli spray

After using the above oil spray you can up the ante a little on the remaining aphids by adding some fire to the mix.

  • Chilli powder 1 tablespoon
  • 2 drops of mild soap
  • 1 pint of water

Repeat the process as above substituting the chilli for the oil

 

Aim for the new growth and fresh shoots on your plants as this is where the aphids will target most. Conduct a check and spray every week (7days) and follow up with regular hosing or wiping off the insects throughout the week.

 

There are many, many homemade aphid tinctures. I have gone with my own version here but it is worth experimenting and also going with what you tend to buy when shopping. I like my food spicy so I have a lot of Chilli powder around the house. If you cook with garlic often then this can be used in place of Chilli. One thing to be aware of is the strength of any chemical you choose to apply as this can often impact adversely on the plant you are aiming to protect!

Taking softwood cuttings

Francis Thomas – Cultivate London horticulturist

26/05/2020

 

As part of our gardening sessions, we are sharing weekly blog posts to give you tips for helping you in your garden. The blog posts support the Q&A sessions which you will be able to find more about on our events page.

 

 

Cultivate london: growing together

Step 1: Preparation

 

You will need:

  • Scissors, secateurs, or a sharp knife.
  • Compost
  • Pots
  • Pencil
  • Labels
  • Optional: Rooting hormone

 

Step 2: Taking Cuttings

 

Cut off a stem free from disease, pests or damage.

Avoid taking cuttings of flowering material

Do not take so much material from the original plant that it will cause stress.

If you’re looking for something relatively easy, mints root readily. Look for a square stem

When you’ve taken your cutting place it in water to stop it drying out.

Step 3: Preparing the Cutting

 

Pinch off the lower leaves and cut the stem just below a node (leaf joint) at the bottom and a little bit above a node at the top to encourage side shoots. Larger leaves should be cut down to stop water loss from the cutting until it has a chance to develop roots to take up it’s own water.

 

Optional: Dip the base of the cutting in hormone rooting powder or liquid

Step 4: Potting

 

Fill a pot with compost and tap it on a hard surface to ensure there are no large gaps. Gently press the compost down slightly. With a pencil or similar pointer create a hole for your cutting. Insert the cutting into the hole so the majority of the stem is covered with compost, then gently firm the cuttings in so good contact is made with the compost.

 

Make sure to add a label with the name of the plant (scientific names are preferred), the date, and your name if multiple people are taking cuttings.

Liquid plant food - Nettle tea

Samantha Lewis – Cultivate London manager

20/05/2020

 

As part of our gardening sessions, we are sharing weekly blog posts to give you tips for helping you in your garden. The blog posts support the Q&A sessions which you will be able to find more about on our events page.

 

 

Cultivate london: growing together

Common Nettle (Urtica dioca) : Liquid plant feed or ‘nettle tea’

 

Early spring is the ideal time to start preparing nettle plant feed before the comfrey (Symphytum) comes through for the next feed.
When finding nettles don't worry if you collect from a busy roadside as they are for the garden feed not for human consumption. When making nettle tea as a tonic for health never pick near polluted areas.

 

Ingredients:

  • Bucket with lid or suitable cover
    Water
    Gloves (nettles do sting!)

 

Pick enough nettles to fill a container, never pull up the root as you will be destroying your nettle source. Also nettles are also essential in local ecology with native Butterflies including the red admiral using nettles leaves to lay their eggs on.

 

Cover the nettles with enough water to cover the whole plants. Leave for 2 to 4 weeks until it looks like a brown tea. After around 2 weeks it will be ready to strain the liquid through a sieve (Don't use your kitchen sieve, keep a separate sieve for the garden liquids). Dilute one part nettle plant tea feed to 10 parts water ( imagine you are making strong squash in your watering can). Use to promote all leaves and vegetative growth within garden plants as this feed will be very rich in Nitrogen.

Nettle feed after one week already looking nice and gloopy!

What to Sow in May - Pot Marigold

Auberon Bayley – Cultivate London manager

20/05/2020

 

As part of our gardening sessions, we are sharing weekly blog posts to give you tips for helping you in your garden. The blog posts support the Q&A sessions which you will be able to find more about on our events page.

 

 

Cultivate london: growing together

Calendula Officianlis (Pot Marigold)

 

Sowing time: April-May

 

Daisy-like flowerheads in a vivid shade of orange, create a wonderful display when they appear in profusion above the softly hairy, aromatic leaves. This fast-growing annual, is ideal for the filling gaps in the border and the flowers last well after being cut. The petals are edible and have a peppery flavour, which can be used to enhance the flavour and add colour to soups, meat, egg and rice dishes as well as salads. Easy and quick to grow, it is a great choice for a children's garden.

Properties associated with Calendula as a medicinal herb include:

  • Anti-inflammatory
    Antibacterial
    Antifungal

 

 

 

Selecting a growing container:

 

  • Homemade container such as a folded cardboard (toilet roll) tube for single seeds
    9cm pot or similar for 3 seeds
    Choose a seed tray or module for larger quantities
    Use a larger tub to make up the seed mix

Growing medium:


A good free draining soil is best for seed sowing to avoid seeds sitting in water for too long and rotting. The medium shouldn’t be too rich either as this can burn the seeds before they get going.
Depending on what you have available a good seed sowing mix can be made up of slightly different ingredients.


I used two parts seed sowing compost with pearlite within the mix to one-part vermiculite. Pearlite aerates and ensures good drainage and the vermiculite will add a bit of a nutrient balance.

 

A homemade alternative would be a 2 thirds leaf mould a one third sand mix.

 

This marigold (Calendula) seedhead was saved at the end of last summer. It was dried and stored in a paper envelope so as to avoid moisture build up and rotting that can occur in a plastic bag that isn’t vacuum sealed.

 

Marigold seeds themselves are a lovely curled caterpillar type shape that is easily picked apart and spread out on a sheet of paper to enable you to see them!

Plant the seeds around 1.5cm deep, either poke small divets in individual pots or shallow drills in seed trays shown here. Drills should be about 5cm apart.

 

Once seedlings emerge they can be lifted and planted out into a sunny spot free draining soil at around 20 cm spacing.

 

I sometimes add a sprinkle of horticultural grit on top to keep pots from drying out.

 

When the plants are in bloom they will benefit from frequent dead heading to allow the flowering season to continue long into the summer.

What to Sow in May - veg

Auberon Bayley – Cultivate London manager

18/05/2020

 

As part of our gardening sessions, we are sharing weekly blog posts to give you tips for helping you in your garden. The blog posts support the Q&A sessions which you will be able to find more about on our events page.

 

 

Cultivate london: growing together

Sweetcorn (Zea Mays)

 

Timing and Aspect: Position where there is good sun but sheltered from the wind. Varieties offer a bit of a range but a general rule is to sow from mid- late may (can be sown earlier in some urban areas – check soil temperature is above 10degC)

 

Ground Prep: Mix in a manure or rich organic compost. Fertiliser can be added.

 

Sowing notes: Sow seeds in clusters of three around 4cm deep at intervals of 40cm. Plant in a grid pattern to aid pollination.

 

Aftercare: Water regularly and test for ripeness by squeezing a cornel. Creamy fluid is just right, watery too early and paste-like too late. Twist the cobs off when ready and use fairly quickly as flavour is lost rapidly.

Carrot (Daucus carota)

 

Timing and Aspect: Open sunny site. Sow outdoors from April to July

 

Ground Prep: Check ground is not compacted and heavy clay is broken up with organic matter. A free draining sandy loam is best.

 

Sowing notes: Sow thinly in very shallow drills of 1cm depth and around 20cm apart (this can be flexible)

 

Aftercare: Careful weeding is necessary as the carrots emerge as foliage is tender and can be confused with annual weeds. Watering levels will be dependent on variety but necessary mainly during hot spells. Thinning out will help produce stronger individuals

Ornamental grass seasonal maintenance

Auberon Bayley – Cultivate London manager

07/05/2020

 

As part of our gardening sessions, we are sharing weekly blog posts to give you tips for helping you in your garden. The blog posts support the Q&A sessions which you will be able to find more about on our events page.

 

 

Cultivate london: growing together

Miscanthus sinensis yakushima dwarf

 

This dwarf variety of miscanthus sinensis (Silvergrass) is used as a soft screen. Although it is a dwarf plant it still gets to around 1.5m at it’s full height in summer.

 

Due to the lockdown period it missed it late winter/ early Spring cut back so we are going to cut back now instead.

 

The flower spikes are still looking good at the moment but I fear by June they will have started to decay and collapse inhibiting the new flower spikes from reaching their potential in summer and giving strong winter structure.

Tools

 

Shears – the most important tool for this job. Sharp, well oiled with good handle grips.

 

Secateurs – for stubborn stems or branches from encroaching plants need snipping out.

 

Weed grubber- invariably weeds will have started growing around the base of the plant. Although not a major problem this is the time to dissuade them from taking up residence there.

 

Springbok rake – use this to rake out the cut stems and the thatch from around the base of the plants

Because the plants are being cut back later than they usually would be I am not going as short as I would otherwise.

 

I am cutting back the flower spikes and trimming the leaves rather than cutting the whole plant right back down.

Using the Springbok rake remove the material from the top of the grass and the thatch from around the base.

 

At this point you can make a decision as to whether the sides should be given another clip with the shears. This is more of question of how you want it to look until the plant grows back.

At this stage I decided to put some Dahlia tubers in along the front of the Miscanthus to give some summer interest if the flower spikes were delayed. These are planted with crown of the tuber sitting just at the soil level or protruding a little.

Because the canopy has been reduced and thatch (plant debris) has been removed there is space and light available for weeds to take hold and the moisture will evaporate easier.

 

I have for a coverage of a couple of inches of smart ground cover mulch to help keep the weeds down and the moisture in. I find this the most effective ground cover when I know I won’t be back for a while.

 

https://www.therange.co.uk/garden/seeds-bulbs-and-propagation/composting/gro-sure-smart-cover/

The border is now ready for the summer.

Gardening on a budget

Auberon Bayley – Cultivate London manager

04/05/2020

 

As part of our gardening sessions, we are sharing weekly blog posts to give you tips for helping you in your garden. The blog posts support the Q&A sessions which you will be able to find more about on our events page.

 

 

Cultivate london: growing together

In this series we're going to look at choosing plants that help when you're on a budget, including self seeding plants, creeping/spreading plants and plants to split and divide. 

Self Seeding plants to enhance your garden: 

 

1. Verbena Bonariensis

 

This was the ‘it’ plant around a decade ago within garden design. Although it may be seen as a bit of a cliché in the garden fashion world it ticks so many boxes when it comes to value for money impact within the garden.
It sits well within a minimal Mediterranean gravel scheme and it’s tall, airy elegant stems mean that it can form part of a mixed border without overshadowing other plants around it.

 

Over summer the flowers create a metropolis of pollinators and the stems can be left up over winter so the skeletons can form silhouettes against winter sun and catch the frost in the morning.

 

Plant in Spring and by Autumn the seed heads will be ready to release seed across the garden which, if the plant takes a liking to the garden, will form a healthy vibrant clump of Verbena next summer.

 

Quality plant nurseries still operating during the lockdown:

 

Preparing a plan for your garden

Auberon Bayley – Cultivate London manager

24/04/2020

 

As part of our gardening sessions, we are sharing weekly blog posts to give you tips for helping you in your garden. The blog posts support the Q&A sessions which you will be able to find more about on our events page.

 

 

Cultivate london: growing together

The starting point is to take a look at how things are now. I think of all spaces that are used for growing plants, whether that be an area of your kitchen or a formal landscaped area, as a garden and will refer to it as such. Make a record of a day in the life of that space. This can be done through making sketches or taking photographs of the garden in the early morning, middle and end of the day. Notes about the conditions of the space including the light, ground conditions and plants that are present should be included. The aim of this is to make an assessment that gives a foundation for us to plan the future of the garden. This is when things get exciting!


While observing your garden have a think about:

  • What is growing well? (Even the types of weeds present will give you an idea of what types of plants your garden supports)
  • What do I want to do in my garden? Grow things to eat/ Bring birds to the garden/ Enjoy colour…
  • How long do I plan to be with this garden?

 

The following is a guide for how to breakdown and label parts within your garden.

 

Take 3 photographs of your garden, choosing an angle that you will be frequently viewing and appreciating your garden over the year. Take one in the morning, mid-day and late afternoon/ early evening. These will be used to assess the light conditions in your garden over the day.

 

Use the images to list the different areas and plant types within your garden. (Use the example below as a guide) When doing this make a first assessment of the condition these are in.

 

This will be used to refer to throughout the season as we focus on different areas.

 

Example garden areas

 

A. Lawn
B. Ornamental grasses
C. Herbaceous Perennials
D. Evergreen shrubs
E. Hedging
F. Wildlife areas
G. Plants that need specific soil type

a picture of someone

To get you started, we've also put together our first guides and activity sheets which you can download here:

 

 

Brentford Together logo
Global Action Plan
Cultivate london - growing together
Friends of Cathja logo
Hen Corner London