My jade plant adventure continues

A few months back I let you all share in my terrifying adventure where I learned I had been killing my jade plants with love. Basically after 10 years, my enormous and seriously full jade plant (the original of the two) had started dropping leaves, leaves had started to wither and dry up and it was looking a bit sad.

I was terrified that I had basically killed it and was going to loose the plant, so I began researching jade plant care and discovered I was doing the worst thing ever. Overwatering and not giving it enough light.

Well I have some updates for you.

I now have 3 very healthy and still quite large jade plants. There has been no leaf drop and no withered leaves since I repotted and pruned. Phew! (I also have 9 growing on from cuttings).

The reason I have 3 proper plants is because I discovered the smaller of the two plants was actual 2 plants in itself. So I separated them and they seem really happy that I’ve done this.

The smaller one at the back has been earmarked for Valerie who is a jade plant fan, I’m hoping a few years from now she will have encouraged it into being a lovely full plant, or maybe an interesting tree

So what have I learned

Well the two most obvious things are the ones I was doing wrong.


I was seriously overwatering. I now water my plants maybe once a month and only a splash of water.

The way you can tell if you need to water the plant is to gently squeeze a leaf. If it is rigid then you don’t need to water, if the leaf feels soft then the plant needs water.

I am also feeding them, again not a huge amount but I got some cactus feed and I’ve now fed them a couple of times since my last post. This seems to have have stopped the plants putting out roots searching for new soil.


Also, when I first repotted the bigger plant, I put it back into my study, and it continued to drop leaves. I was worried and I even thought about buying a grow light to try to help it but decided it just wasn’t practical so I have now removed the light filters form the window which has really made a huge difference. That was when the plant perked up. Unfortunately for me I now have no privacy and can’t control the light but hey ho, the things you do for your plants 🙂

I can’t emphasise enough just how much light jades need. The filters I had didn’t really block much light but they did diffuse it. That seemed to be enough of a change to upset the plant.

But also pruning…

For me, the scariest part of my adventure was pruning. I was terrified. I had this enormous plant and it just seemed completely counter intuitive to chop bits off, but I knew we just had nowhere to house it where it could get the light it needed so I had to prune to make it manageable. Also, once I could actually take a good look at the plant, I could see that because of the leaf drop, it was looking quite leggy.

I have to be honest, I’m still finding it hard, I still see the plant as looking quite bare but there is so much new growth so I am hopeful that this time next year it will start to fill out again.

How to prune

I am, however, now quite confident in pruning. I can see now what the results are so it’s way less scary to actually prune the plant. I’ve learned that I can encourage growth and how.

How to encourage growth

Basically, the plant stems are made up of sections broken up by double leaves. As the plant grows, the stems thicken and these areas develop a kind of ridged texture, smooth then a small ridge where the leaves are. I’m calling these nodes.

When you cut a stem it will dry out and eventually that section will fall off back to the last ridge. From there, two new stems will grow.

A healed cut with new growth from either side.

When thinking about which stems to remove, keep this in mind. The pruned stem will die back to the next node (where the leaves grow from). Also I know this seems mad, but once you’ve pruned, you are leaving an open, fresh wound on the cutting and the plant. Don’t be tempted to seal this. Leave it exposed to the air and after a couple of weeks it will dry up and heal. Only then should you put your cutting into soil. Trust me on this 🙂

So remembering this, I make decisions on where to prune to encourage the pant to grow and take shape. Also, where stems are leggy, nipping the buds at the end can encourage new growth further down the stem, helping it “bush” out.

I’ve accepted I’m on a much longer journey to get my plant looking full again, but it’s healthy now which is way more important. We’re in it for the long haul folks.

A greenhouse update: spring 2019

There was much excitement when we replaced that rickety old polycarbonate greenhouse with our shiny new glass one, but it was excitement about having a new toy rather than of what was to come, because at that point, we really didn’t know what to expect.

So since it’s spring and we are actually using the greenhouse now, I thought it might be time for a wee update on how we are getting on and what we think of our new toy.

First thoughts


Well the first thing I notice is that the glass greenhouse seems to take the heat a lot quicker. We are seeing the automatic windows opening way earlier in the season that we did previously and the greenhouse generally does feel warmer. Probably because it doesn’t have a howling gale going through it and rain seeping in. Yep you read that correctly. The old greenhouse was never quite water or wind tight. This one however, feels solid!

It’s not yet at the point in the year where the temperature is unpleasant in there, but there is a marked difference between outdoors and inside the greenhouse. Can’t wait to see how this changes as the weather changes.


Also it seems to stay clean which is a crazy thing to say because obviously I didn’t get a free shift of elves with the greenhouse sale who come in during the night and clean up. Or did I?

Check out youtube to see the naughty elf in the greenhouse.

But it does, it seems to stay clean. The glass is still clean. The old polycarbonate greenhouse got taken apart and cleaned every year because green sludge built up everywhere, also the polycarbonate discoloured badly.


I also feel like I’ve got way more space, even though it’s exactly the same size. I don’t know if this is because I have more headroom in this one, but it definitely feels bigger.

There is also one thing which makes a huge difference but it’s not exactly the greenhouse. The new staging. I used to use cheap and nasty wire shelves which to be honest weren’t really much use for anything other than storing things but the new staging is really solid and practical so I can actually use it for potting on etc. It just makes the whole space feel more useable.

I am really happy pootling away in there and I feel like I can pootle and do so much.


One of the things that’s new and a bit exciting is that I can now hang baskets inside the greenhouse. Before I had to do a kind of magic balancing thing with an upside down stool but the new greenhouse, apart from being really solid, has rails for hanging stuff. Means I can have the baskets in there while the plants mature a bit and grow.

Only downside though, I keep forgetting! They are hanging just a t my head height.

Spring in the garden: growing salad in the chilligrow

There are always jobs that need doing, even small ones so we were up early (as normal) planting stuff. I still hadn’t quite got everything planted up that I had wanted to, so was getting that sorted today which gives me the chance to share some wee tricks you may find useful.

Trick 1: using your chilligrow to grow salad

The quadgrows and chilligrows are great and I use them for all sorts of stuff, I don’t always follow the rules though 🙂

We have two chilligrows and over the years we’ve realised we really don’t need 6 chilli plants. Usually what happens is we dry loads

or freeze bags of them and Kate usually takes 2 or 3 kgs into work for Andrew who is a chilli head. Either way, we grow way more than we need. So this year we are only going to grow a couple of plants and use the other chilligrow for… SALAD!

Now I can hear you all shouting, but Eli, surely you can just grow one plant in each pot! How will this work. Well let me show you our trick.

Trick 1: growing salad in the chilligrow

First thing I do, is I cut the wick that draws the water into the pot. I usually cut it into two maybe three.

This then lets me spread the wick around the pot a bit more, maximising the water dispersal. A bit like my bit quadgrow plus does with my herbs. I add soil as normal, making sure to remember and spread the wick about and give it a really good soak.

Then sow my salad seeds on top of the soil like normal.

Lastly, spread another layer of compost over the top to keep them safe and happy.

I’ll keep watering from the top until I think my little salad lovelies are strong and then switch to filling the chilligrow reservoir as we would normally. I did this last year and it worked great so it’s become part of my normal routine now.

Trick 2: drainage for your pots

You may recall the conversation we had a few months back about making sure to add little feet under your pots to allow water to get out and stop things from drowning? If not it’s below, but I also have another spring tip for you (well anytime of year to be honest) about using these little feet for drainage inside the pots.

I have to plant up some of our impatiens this morning. They are some of Kate’s favourite plants and we always have pots of them on the steps.

The little plants in the greenhouse were ready to move on now but oh no… I’d used the pots they normally live in so I had to find some new pots and the ones we have didn’t have any drainage holes. Uh oh!

Not to fear though, a few little feet inside the pot (I went two little feet high) which lets a plastic plant pot sit snug inside, off the bottom allowing space for water to drain. Hurrah!

They’ll stay in the greenhouse a little while longer until he weather heats up a bit more and the plants are a bit bigger, but looking lovely.

In the raised beds

I was also adding my beetroot to the raised beds this morning as I still hadn’t planted it, this year, I’m testing out something new, seed tape. We’ve never used this before and wondered if it would be useful. It means your seeds are all perfectly spaced apart when you plant them and given our beetroot somehow always ends up all over the place, we thought we’d give it a go.

Not sure if it will be a keeper as I usually plant a couple of seeds for each plant and take out the weaker one. That means I don’t have the risk of plants not germinating but we’ll give this a try and report back as always. I suppose I can always backfill seeds if needed.

So anyways, it’s spring time, shut down the computer and get out in the garden. There are lots of jobs to be doing this weekend :). I’m off to prune the hydrangeas.

Have fun folks!


We have lots of tomato seedlings, lots of carrot seedlings but still no peppers – boo!

Spring has sprung, means there’s jobs need doing.

With the excitement of spring, of seedlings and garden time, we sometimes forget also comes hard work. Yesterday was a day of hard work. It did however start with the excitement of spring.

I’ve been watching the weather religiously over the last few weeks as I really wanted to get started on looking after the grass. Over winter it looks awful as it yellows and dies back a bit ( I mentioned in previous posts of how shallow the soil is for our front lawn and the problems it causes) and spring is when I get to revive it and bring it back to it’s green glory. The first job was to get it cut and Kate was out on Friday with the mower and gave the lawns their first cut of the year, not anything too harsh, it’s more about getting things tidy (for us) and encouraging the grass to wake up. So yesterday morning I was out with the rake to scarify, which basically means lifting any dead grass, moss etc that has accumulated over winter and letting air and light in around the individual little plants.

Video from September when we explained how to scarify

It is looking a sorry sight, but today I will get the fertiliser down and hopefully in a couple of weeks we should really start to see the lawn health improve.

Although not a huge or particularly heavy job (we only have small lawns), scarifying the lawn is always the first blisters of the year, and this year did not disappoint. BOO!

This does mean the hotcompost bin is happy thought, it loves grass clippings.

by yesterday afternoon the temperature was climbing.

However as I mentioned, woo hoo seedlings! Our first to come up this year are carrots, in the little root planters which are double propagatored ( is that even a word?) and we also have one lonely little jalapeno. Just as exciting, there is a whole loads of colour happening in the garden at the minute too.

The back breaker

The big job yesterday though was the raised beds. When we moved into Ar Bruidair and started our first garden we weren’t sure it would be something we’d take too, so we started out with a lot of “temporary” ideas and bits and pieces. Seven years on we are started to replace these as we’re pretty sure we like gardening now and can risk it. Of course there is also the fact that those temporary things weren’t designed to last and really need replacing.

The first to be replaced was the greenhouse a few months back.

Yesterday’s job was the raised beds. Well one of them to start with.

The beds were very cheap, very thin and we knew they wouldn’t last. We’d always dreamed of big heavy raised beds made with railway sleepers but at the time, with little gardening know how and risk aversion we were with cheap and cheerful. However after replacing the greenhouse we have some railway sleepers which will make a fantastic raised bed or two. So we got to work.

We started by cutting the sleepers down to size, which was hard going but Kate managed admirably. Her arms and shoulders hated her last night though. This let us lay the new bed out on the patio to get an idea of depth etc and to test out our net covers would fit.

So that done, we needed to empty the current bed, dismantle it and get it out of the way. That was the easy part. What came next was definitely the hard part. We now regret the lack of effort we put into the raised beds way back when we started. We knew then that the ground was not level, not even close, but we thought well this is a test so it doesn’t really matter.

As you can imaging, after sawing all those sleepers, we were knackered, and we then spent the next 4 hours digging, digging in clay soil to level the ground so that this time our raised beds, which are most definitely not temporary would be level. We had to dig down as the beds are currently on a part of the garden which slopes quite dramatically.

I think in the end we had to dig out about 8 inches of soil from one corner down to maybe 3 in another to get things level. Once we have replaced all the beds things should look great but it does look weird just now as one bed is sunken compared to the others, but it’s level. No more water run off!

What started as a worryingly tall sleeper bed is now the same height as the other, although technically it is deeper.

This one will definitely last. The sleepers are big and heavy and it’s all held together with carriage bolts. Today we’ll finish painting it and admire it. I think physically that’s about all we are capable off. Lots of ow! Last night and my back is not happy with me this morning.

One bed done, two more to go.

Using propagators to start your seedlings off & how to move them from propagator to greenhouse to outdoors

We have had a few questions in comments and on twitter recently about our set up in the greenhouse and how we use the propagators so I thought it would an excellent opportunity to talk to you a bit more about the process from start to finish.

The first thing I want to point out is that Kate and I don’t have a heated greenhouse, or use heated propagators. The process of sowing, growing and hardening off however, is pretty simple and is the same for all of us, heated or not.

Sowing and growing

We have learned over the past few years that we need to be very aware of the temperatures around us and the weather in our part of the country. We love watching gardening shows on tv and reading about other gardeners and what’s happening with them, but it’s equally important to remember that what works for Monty Don may not be what works for me here in Scotland. We have different weather and temperatures at different times. So I keep a journal where I can record the dates when I sow, what the temperature was etc so that over the years I can learn about what works best for me.

Hence why we don’t start sowing, even in the greenhouse until March when twitter and instagram make it look like everyone else is sowing in February.

I did used to sow my seeds in the house and keep them on a sunny window sill to start off. This worked a bit like a heated propagator I suppose and got things going quickly, but I found that the seedlings were usually leggy as they tried desperately to reach for the light coming in the window, so have taken to just waiting a couple of weeks and sowing in the greenhouse when it’s warmer. This way I have stronger seedlings.

Very leggy seedlings

Over coming the cold

We don’t have a heated greenhouse and we don’t use heated propagators. To be honest, I could imagine that having this option would probably speed things up, but I don’t find it is absolutely necessary either.

We put all our sowing in standard, non heated propagators. Make sure the vents are open and leave them in the greenhouse where they get light and a bit of protection from the cold, but the greenhouse is just warm enough to let things get started. We keep things in the propagators until the seedlings have at least their second leaves.

There have been some plants where I know from my records, there are issues getting them to germinate, for instance I have had problems with jalapenos, in this case, I have a mix of propagator sizes so I put the seedlings into a smaller unit and then pop that into the bigger propagator. Double bag it if you will, to help build more heat.

Just one of the things I have found works.

I have seedlings how do I safely move them out of propagators?

So you have your lovely seedlings and you think thy are ready for a move to the big girl playground… This is a biggie in the comments and on twitter just now. Whether you are using heat or not, before moving plants out of your propagator, you do need to “harden them off”. This just means acclimatising them to life outside of your propagator. You want them to get used to things gradually and for them to develop so they can survive either in the greenhouse or outside. You do this gradually to prevent your plants from going into shock.

So I do this once my seedlings have at least their second leaves, but also I am aware of what the temperatures are. Last year for instance we got a sudden blast of icy weather. You want the greenhouse to be at a reliable, steady temperature during the day before you start.

Step 1 – So, I start by opening the propagators during the day and then putting the lids back on for the night. I do this for a week or so. It means the plants get used to the slightly lower temperature of the greenhouse during they day where they don’t have the extra build up of warmth from the propagator but they are still protected from the cold over night.

the more delicate seedlings getting their first draft of non propagator are.

Step 2 – After a week or so, when I feel the plants are looking healthy and can cope, I then leave the lid off the propagators completely, all day and all night. I keep an eye on the seedlings though and watch for any sign they are not happy. Again I usually do this for at least a week.

If you used a heated propagator, I would say maybe add a step to this. Begin by switching the heat off in the propagator and let the plants get used to have no additional heat. Then after a week of this, move to the next step, take the lid off during the day.

Again there is no hard and fast rule for everyone, you just need to keep an eye on your plants and go a bit by your gut.

Leaving the greenhouse

Once your plants are happy in the greenhouse without the protection of the propagator, it’s time to consider when would be suitable to let them experience the outdoors. Ideally you want to be sure there will not be another frosty spell, so I usually wait until the night time temperatures are a stable 5 or 6 degrees C. This way I can be pretty much sure there wouldn’t be a sudden frosty night. BUT I keep an eye on the weather and if it looks like we might get a frost, I bring them back into the greenhouse.

Step 3- So, I do this much as I do in the greenhouse. I start off by putting the plants out side, in their pots, during the day and bring them back into the greenhouse at night.

It’s scary to leave them outside for the first time.

It’s good to remember that there will be more than just heat for the plant to content with now. Think about sunlight, shade, garden pests, so do keep an eye on things.

Step 4 – After a week or so, if the plants are looking happy I move to leaving them out over night, still in their pots. Again, keep an eye and watch how the plants settles. There is no rush, it is more important that you have healthy strong plants than you rush things and end up with no plants. That would be sad.

We are all aiming for happy, healthy plants.

Hopefully that will help allay any worries about your lovely new seedlings 🙂

It feels good to be back! Spring planting underway. 2019

Boy oh boy does it feels good to be back in the garden and getting things growing. We’re experiencing that sudden spring burst just now, which I love so much. Suddenly, it almost feels like it was overnight, there is colour in the garden again.

The sun is splitting the sky just now, although it is still cold., photos can be deceiving, but there was a day last week when the greenhouse was basking in 22C!!!!! I have to say, I am noticing a huge difference in having a proper, glass greenhouse, it builds and holds the heat so much better than my old polycarbonate one.

Speaking about the greenhouse, we have seeds planted, it’s great to see the greenhouse come alive, and I even rejoiced in the fact that it is now dirty!

So what do we have going, well… the usual. I’ve got my tomatoes planted. Going with Indigo Blue Cherry (my favourites), Sweet Millions (cause they give me sooooo many), San Marzano for flavour and Marmande because Kate has a soft spot for them. They are BIG, ugly beasts but taste fantastic on sandwiches and burgers etc.

We’ve also got our peppers and chillies. This year we are just going with two types of sweet peppers, California Wonder and Romano ( a longer, thinner style). I will still have the four plants going in the quadgrow though. Chillies, we are just doing Jalapeno this year. We’ve found that having more than a couple of chilli plants going is just too much and we are actually still eating frozen chillies form last year, even after we gave 4kg away. So just one plant this year.

Feel free to catch up on our adventures from previous years…

Lessons learned… I find carrots and beetroot take an age to get going for me, so this year I have sown them in root trainers in the greenhouse and I won’t actually put them out until they are a decent, strong looking seedling.

This also means I can do my secession planting this way, hopefully meaning I will get a better crop, but never fear we are sticking with our tried and trusted purple haze carrots. These have time and again been the best croppers for us.

Lastly, after the success of buying courgette plants last year and not growing from seed (they take up loads of space), we are doing this again, so come May, we should get some nice courgette plants in tthe mail and they can go in the beds. Hooray!!! Another wee change, last year was my first year with the enormous quadgrow plus and I struggled to find a use for it last year, so this year it will be my new herb planter 🙂 There are four large pots and a big salad bay, so can’t wait to get that planted up.

What’s that you say, you haven’t heard the story of the ENORMOUS box and the tiny gardener? Oh well let me up date you and you can have a good chuckle at me trying to do an unboxing of something which is bigger than me…

So all in all I am just a big ball of excitement just now, it feels so good to be back!

So now that I’ve given you all an update and even included some of the blogs and videos from the last few years to catch all our new readers up, I’ll eave you now to go out and get started on your own 2019 garden adventure with one last picture and one last thought…

I threw out a hole trug of seeds that were past their date. I know it is very tempting to buy loads, just in case… I have done this so I cannot judge, but just be aware of the wastage and cost. I threw away about £40 worth of seeds, most of which were unopened. A complete waste because I bought too much, so be sensible, buy as much as you think you will need and remember you can always buy more.

Compost, how to use it and when to sieve it

If you haven’t been following our adventure with composting over the past few years you won’t know that we started off with the big, standard type compost pile at the back of the garden (build from odds and ends of wood) and are now using a swanky hotbin composter.

Our old home made compost bin

But fear not, you can catch up on the adventure with the post below and come back for the latest chapter if you like:

The hotbin composter

We are very lucky that we have the fancy hotbin composter that produces compost very quickly, unlucky however that I sometimes find I have compost ready for use but I don’t actually need it. This happened over the winter when I had to empty the compost bin as it was full and I obviously still needed a way to manage our waste. So I emptied the bin and stored everything in black rubble sacks ready for when I would need it.

My custom built filtering sieve and bags of compost ready to go

Now here is a useful thing to know for any new composter types out there. Fresh garden compost can be quite rough and bulky, don’t panic though, just cause it doesn’t look like the super fine stuff you are used to buying from the store. The reason the stuff you buy is super fine is because it has been sieved.

Here’s the skinny… you know when Jim on Beechgrove Garden or Monty on Gardener’s World tells us to add organic matter to the soil to make it better? Well this is what they mean, the rough and ready compost. It adds bulk and texture and air etc to the soil. Stops the soil being too fine and getting compacted and if you have sandy or clay soil helps to change the composition. The bigger bits keep on breaking down providing nutrition too. All in all this is awesome. You will also have heard Jim and Monty talk about mulch? Yeah well this compost is exactly that, mulch, so you can even spread it over the soil around plants to feed the soil and suppress weeds. Money saver!

Now what if you are potting up plants or little seedlings? Well then this compost is a bit rough for this, so you would sieve or filter it to get rid of any larger bits and pieces and leave you with the finer stuff. This will be much more recognisable as the stuff you would buy (which you’ll probably see as labelled multi purpose).

Fine soil after sieving

So, how does this all work?

To do this though, you need the compost to be relatively dry otherwise it’s a bit on the sticky side and it clogs up the sieve.

Here was our problem, the compost I had been storing was still quite damp. I had hoped for a few sunny days where I could spread it out on a tarp in the garden and let it dry in the sun, but alas, we’ve had rain for months. So it never happened. This weekend though we finally got a chance, so hurrah.

This also provided Kate with a chance to put her DIY skills to the test yet again to make my life easier. You see, I have a standard, bucket sized, garden sieve, which works great, but…. would take forever to sieve a few rubble bags worth of compost. Also it’s very fine, suitable for making potting compost but it takes a very long time to sieve out from brand new chunky stuff.

I need something which a much bigger mesh size, an in betweener if you like. Also bigger would be great given the amount of compost I have to get through.

Kate did a fantastic job and built me my very own extra large garden sieve just for my compost. Just some leftover bits of wood and some fine chicken wire.

between my little bucket sieve and my fabulous big DIY one.

We didn’t record the making of this as it’s dead easy but if you want some instructions fear not, someone else has done an excellent job of this.

So speaking about fresh compost being a bit lumpy, you can see from the pic here what I mean. You sometimes get bits of twig or whatever left over that haven’t quite finished breaking down. It’s no biggie, you just throw those back in and they finish their job. Having a big filtering system does make this easier though. The action of the compost lumpy bits running across the sieve help break down lumps which are just stuck together and separate this from actual large pieces which are not ready.

Fresh compost straight from the bin

So how does the whole sieve thing work? Well, to be honest, it’s all very scientific and complicated, I’m not sure you’d understand. You need to add your fresh compost to the sieve and ………


I usually do this over a great big tarp, then shovel it from there to wherever it needs to be but I can also put the sieve straight onto the frame of my raised beds if I want some finer soil for in there.

using a tarp and sieve on top of the raised bed to filter compost.

And there you have it, lots of lovely mulch, compost for the raised beds, potting on etc. The world is your compost of choice.

Decoding garden seed packets & catalogues

Part 2 of information on your seed packets.

Right now it’s early morning, so it’s still dark outside. The wind is wiping hard enough around the garden that I can hear it quite clearly indoors. It’s cold and there are next to no leaves on the trees I can just about make out in the dark through the window. This time of year can be a bit miserable for a gardener like me who doesn’t actively grow over winter. I am really looking forward to spring. REALLY!

January, however, is seed catalogue month, so I have some glorious time to spend all cosy indoors with a mug of tea, and my gardening porn (see yesterday’s conversation about seed catalogues). Yesterday we spoke about hardiness zones, about knowing how to find out what seeds and plants would grow in your area. Today we are going to decode the information on your seed packets and catalogues so we can work out exactly what seeds and plants we might want to buy.

So let’s dive in and have a look at some of my seeds and discuss a few of the terms. Some are very specific and have standards or legislation behind them (like organic or GM) and others are more open to interpretation like heirloom.

F1 or hybrid varieties

I see F1 hybrid written on quite a lot of the seeds I have bought over the years, especially on my courgettes but exactly what does that mean and is there an F2? Would F2 be better?

The easiest way to understand an F1 hybrid is to think of it like this. Imagine a plant breeder sees something really desirable in a plant, but also something they don’t like, perhaps it grows really vigorously but the flowers aren’t a great colour. In one of their other plants it doesn’t grow as vigorously but the flowers are fantastic. They could take the best plant from each, and self-pollinate (in isolation from other plants) each year and, then each year, the seed is re-sown. Eventually, every time the seed is sown the same identical plants will appear. When they do, this is known as a ‘pure line’.

If the breeder now takes the pure line of each of the two plants he originally selected and cross-pollinates the two by hand the result is known as an F1 hybrid. Plants are grown from seed produced and the result of this cross-pollination should be vigorous and have awesome flowers.

Genetically Modified (GM)

These are seeds which have been created by manipulating the genes of the plants in laboratories. GM seeds aren’t licensed for sale to amateur gardeners in the EU.

Organic seed

This means the seeds have been grown from plants by certified organic means without pesticides, fertilisers or herbicides and must also be packaged without being treated with fungicides.

Annual, Biennial or Perennial

Annual plants grow, set seed, and die in a single season. Biennials take two seasons to set seed. Perennials, however, live year after year.

Determinate and Indeterminate

This is something I see a lot as I grow tomatoes and this relates specifically to them.

Determinate tomatoes (which you may also see labelled as patio or bush tomatoes) reach a certain height and then stop growing. The have multiple stems, hence being called bush, and can give high yeilds. I grow Sweet Million tomatoes which are this variety.

Indeterminate tomatoes keep growing and can get very tall, it’s not uncommon for these plants to reach over 10 feet in height, so they require sturdy support or regular pruning to tame the vines. You will also hear these refered to as cordon tomatoes.

Heirloom and open pollinated

An heirloom variety is just an open pollinated variety which has a lineage that can be reliably traced back for a number of generations; it is a case of historical record rather than any difference in the genetics.

Open Pollinated or F1?
Theoretically, open-pollinated varieties are more genetically diverse so will thrive in a wider range of growing conditions and will, over the years, become more suited to growing in your garden. Flavour in open-pollinated varieties can also be better because F1 varieties tend to be grown for commercial growers where traits like uniform ripening and long shelf life may be chosen over taste. Not always but it’s something to consider.

F1 seeds, however, may be a better choice for disease resistance. For me, the conditions in Scotland are damp and cold so I see mildews and mosaic. F1 varieties allow me to choose plants which are resistant to this.

Sow and Grow

You will also find some useful info on the back of your seed packets about when to sow your seeds and if they should be started off indoors before planting out. This is a rough guide, it’s good to think about this in terms of the weather in your area. For example, living in Scotland, I know we tend to be a bout a month behind other areas of the UK before I can get seeds germinating outdoors.

OK so you are now armed with some information on the various things you’ll read, time to get the kettle on and go look at some seed catalogues.

Hardiness zones, what can I grow?

January is the perfect time for sitting with a mug of tea, a couple of biscuits (ok, ok a plate) and a pile of seed catalogues (or as Kate calls them, garden porn). Just browsing those wonderful blasts of colour and potential beauty is enough to keep me going all through the beginning of the year, but… I remember the first time I picked up the seed catalogues and I remember feeling lost in the jargon and abbreviations. So let’s make this part 1 about all the different pieces of information you’ll find in your seed catalogues, seed packets and in garden centres. Let’s start with hardiness zones.

When it’s time to decide what you’ll be ordering this year

Seed catalogues are full of options, wonderful varieties of plants you’ve never heard of with pictures that almost make you drool thinking of them in your garden. The thing is, not everything is going to grow well in your garden and working out what will and what types you want to buy is a bit of a labyrinth for any new gardener.

Hardiness zones

If you are a new gardener then hardiness zones might be a new term for you, but it’s something that’s really useful to know. It essentially gives you a rough way of looking at plants and knowing if they will thrive in your area, for example, there really isn’t much chance of tropical plants growing outdoors here in Scotland. It’s a wet and cold climate but would a palm tree? Well, let’s look at the hardiness zones and information that the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) publish. This gives us the USDA Zones and some info about the temperatures in them but more importantly, the RHS hardiness rating which you are likely to see in catalogues and garden centres in the UK.

The zones

RHS Rating Temperature Hardiness USDA Zones Notes
H1a >15C Tropical 13 To be grown under glass or as a house plant
H1b 10C to 15C Subtropical 12 Can be grown outdoors in summer in warm, sunny and sheltered locations, but will generally perform indoors
H1c 5C to 10C Warm temperate 11 Can be grown outdoors in summer throughout most of the UK.
H2 1C to 5C Tender cool 10 Tolerant of low temperatures, but will not survive being frozen.
H3 -5C to 1C Half-hardy 9 Hardy in coastal/mild areas, except in hard winters. Likely to be damaged or killed in cold winters, particularly with no snow cover or if potted.
H4 -10C to -5C Hardy 8,9 Hardy through most of the UK apart from inland valleys, at altitude and central/northerly locations.
H5 -15C to -10C Hardy 7,8 Hardy in most places throughout the UK even in severe winters.
H6 -20C to -15C Hardy 6,7 Hardy across the UK and northern Europe.

So looking at the table we can see a few important pieces of info, let’s take USDA zone 9 as an example. This is the zone I live in. The table shows that it has an RHS rating of H3, so if we see that in the garden centre we know that means us. The winter temperatures are on average between -5C to 1C and it’s considered half-hardy. We can also see a bit of advice. “Hardy in coastal/mild areas, except in hard winters. Likely to be damaged or killed in cold winters, particularly with no snow cover or if potted.” So something that usually survives winter might not survive a harsh winter, especially in a pot.

Useful to know. Means I may want the ability to move a plant into the greenhouse or indoors during a bad winter.

Zones in the UK

So the first thing I want to point out is that Scotland isn’t just one zone. You can see the west coast is marked as zone 9, whereas if you head inland towards the Cairngorms National Park it’s a hardiness zone of 6. This is because in different areas you can expect lower temperatures over winter, different levels of frost and snow. Knowing which zone you are in can really help you decide which plants will do well in your garden. However, don’t take this as absolute fact, keep your garden journal up to date and get to know your garden. I know that even though I am in zone 9, there is a bit of a local microclimate around my area which these charts can’t predict.

So that palm tree… well maybe, most palm trees are tropical meaning no they wouldn’t grow here, but you can look for palms which are labelled as hardy. These could be grown in pots so that you could bring them indoors over winter or wrap the stems to prevent damage from our cold winters.

Take a look at the RHS plant search site and have a look at the plants recommended for your hardiness rating.

2018 – reflection on the year past

It has been such a busy year at Ar Bruidair this year, it almost seems to have passed in a flash so I though it might be a good thing to pause and reflect on things before getting stuck head on into 2019.

Every year has ups and downs, and it’s important to remember this, rather than fixate on the things which didn’t go to plan or went wrong. That’s not a healthy way to live your live. I spoke at work recently about how blogging is a good tool for mindfulness and reflection so let’s reflect. Yes there was snow but there was so much more.

2019 was a year of extremes, the so-called ‘beast from the east’ brought with it ridiculous wind and snow meaning most of the UK suffered in spring. Then summer was a roaster with heat waves and droughts. Too cold for plants one minute and too hot the next.


The fear and emotional turmoil after an accident, some time to sit and reflect and the positivity that cycling can bring as a new charity venture was born near us.


From mental health to physical health, new greenhouse gadgets and making the greenhouse taller.


Learning to love the birds who visit the garden, jazzing up the raised beds and a warming bowl of barley risotto.


April saw us dealing with a deluge of compost, a deluge of youtube viewers and the final retreat of the deluge of snow.


We accepted our limitation and the power of the UK weather and learned about buying plug plants when growing from seed doesn’t work. New skills, new knowledge and new opportunities.


The new greenhouse gadget is working a treat meaning we had more basil than we knew what to do with, so we learned to make pesto, oh and we perfected our honey, roasted seeds. It was a tasty month.


July gave us sunshine, peanut butter and focaccia. What a wonderful month. Lots of time outdoors.


Sunshine and warmth brought abundance to the greenhouse. indigo Rose tomatoes were a new addition we wouldn’t have tried had it not been for the awful spring weather. Plugs plants gave us new things to try.


I get insanely excited by new cookware. Enough said.


The garden winds down and the kitchen winds up. Spiced muffin treats, a hug from some spicy butternut squash soup and using up the last of the tomatoes to make passata. We are feeling the autumn richness.


When the cold sets in, you enjoy being indoors. Hygge or còsagach? Cast iron or non stick? And a shiny new greenhouse.


December is always such a busy month, so much food, so many crafts and so much fun. Mince pies, advent calendars and eggnog.

2018 was a wonderful year full of new things, new adventures and lessons learned. We can’t wait for 2019, bring it on.