Gardening Gardening 2011


It is very difficult not to bang on about the weather and I am not going to resist temptation. Whilst the March sunshine was encouraging the cool nights meant that temperatures in the tunnels fluctuated form 25 deg C to 5 degs. Poor little plants must wonder what an earth is happening! Or do they? Germination has been good with night time protection and although a lot of plants in the garden are late, they will still arrive in due course.

My plant of the month has to be Garrya ellyptica’James Roof’. Once again it has catkins on it up to 10” long. I remarked that they look like Victorian earrings but Stuart thought they were reminiscent of curtain tassels. However you would describe them they are really quite stunning and have lasted for weeks because of the weather.

I was in St Mawes at the beginning of March and the gardener, Richard, that I was disturbing with my idle chatter, was cutting the hardy fuchsias hard back. It concerned me because I got caught out last year trimming them too early and exposing them to frost, but as he said, you get to a point where they just have to be done. Richard has worked in Cornish gardens all his life and is professionally trained and highly experienced. Although not a moon gardener, he watches the cycles of the moon and accurately forecast the late frosts last May. I shall watch his predictions with interest and trepidation particularly as the Met office is no longer giving us the longer range forecasts, which have proved inaccurate.

Now the garden that he was in is one close to my heart. For four years I was the gardener there. The owners are very knowledgeable themselves and, therefore, are passionate about the planting and development of the garden.

A couple of years ago the owner (although she prefers to be known as the ‘guardian’ of the garden) decided she would have a look at the practice of moon gardening and I of course was dragged along with its theories. I spent a considerable length of time researching principles and found that dependent upon which piece of research you read the principles of the dynamics were different. To an extent it was whether you believed the Babylonian, the Egyptian or the Anglo Saxon version. Whichever of those you leant towards you ended up getting mixed up with zodiacal signs, religious festivals and pagan rituals. It was enough to make you want to revert to DDT!

That is when I rather belatedly, compared with many of you I am sure, discovered RJ Harris, the Head Gardener at Tresillian Walled Garden near Newquay who had returned to Moon Gardening after the decades of the 50s and early 60s when he had become disillusioned with all the chemical practices and returned to the age old organic gardening of his family line.

Within his books are really down to earth practices, simply written although firmly based on the moon and its phases. He says, ‘Father would never do anything unless the moon was right’. Now either his father was correct or like me he hung on his every word and his practices worked and so wherever or however they were based was immaterial.

In Tresillian’s garden he would not consider any plant or practice that was less than 100 years old. He had sweet peas dating back to 1690. I am tempted to say that actually his principles had less to do with the moon than good organic principles but he says that by working with the moon he had the planting times and cultivation so sorted out that by 2003 they had needed no artificial watering or chemicals in the previous 16 years. ‘That’s the real act of conservation’

It seems to him (and he has the healthy living proof) that we know the moon has a gravitational pull affecting water levels, hence the tides that rise and fall according to the moon’s phases. So he pruned in the last quarter of the month when sap levels are low so there is no sap bleeding and he didn’t apply his organic fertiliser at new moon when it would stay close to the surface and possibly burn the plant. I strongly recommend at least reading ‘R. J. Harris’s Moon Gardening’ and it is up to you to decide if its moonshine. I suggest his results say not, although it may just be truly excellent organic practices. If you cannot be bothered to read it but there is still a little bit of you that is drawn to the principles of organic gardening, bearing in mind that we now know that the inclusion of peat in garden ‘composts’ is finally to be phased out by 2020 and that the government, Defra, the Horticultural Trades Association et al are now agreed on that ( a subject for a whole article soon I think), then consider carefully the simplicity of the basic rules of Mr Harris’s principles:-

Look in a good diary and you will see the moon’s quarters marked each month for you. New Moon, First Quarter, Full Moon, Last Quarter. Carry out your normal tasks for that month but using his recommendations on timing within that month. Mr Harris recommends:

Start of the first quarter
Sow seeds of below ground crops such as carrots and potatoes.

Start of the second quarter
Plant out seedlings and other plants.
Sow seeds of above ground crops such as cabbages.
Harvest below ground crops such as carrots and potatoes for immediate

Start of the fourth quarter
Add manure and fertilisers to the soil on the first day of the quarter
Harvest below ground crops for storage, for example potatoes and carrots.
Begin digging

During the fourth quarter
Prune now, there is less risk of sap loss.

Following his principles as closely as possible and being as organic as possible should increase yields and quality quite substantially. As Mr Harris says, ’Gardening by the dark planet is the oldest thing under the sun…’Lunacy? I think not.

(My wife, Susanne Hatwood of The Blue Carrot, is also a fan! Ed.)

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