A few of my favourite gardening things…

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: May 28th, 2017 In: Shop

‘Gardening things’ may sound a bit vague, but I wanted to tell you about a few of the best things that I’ve tried recently.

I’ve bought or been given some items, and others have been sent for review. I’ll make it clear which applies where.

There are also some affiliate links (ie to Amazon), which means you can click through to buy. If you do, I may get a small fee.

The best garden hose…

There’s no such thing as the perfect hose, but I was sent a Flo-Pro garden hose and cart for review. It has transformed our watering.

Before getting the Flo-pro, I used a big brand name hose which constantly kinked. In particular, I dreaded rolling it back up, because of all the to-ing and fro-ing to unkink it. So I tended to leave it lying snaked across the garden, to the irritation of Mr Middlesize.

The Flo-Pro, on the other hand, rolls up and unrolls easily, with maybe just one kink (or two if I’ve really run it  round corners).

Good gardening things I've tried

The Flo-pro hose and Kent & Stowe’s Garden Life lighter spade.

It’s also got a great nozzle, with a varying spray, which you can close off completely. We are metered. I have occasionally left a hose on in the garden (ie when the phone goes). Being able to stop the flow at the nozzle means much less chance of being distracted and forgetting to switch off at the tap. It also means you can stop watering, if you spot another urgent chore, then start again immediately.

Best cow compost…

I don’t really know how to tell whether one compost is better than another. But when I went to Vasterival in France to learn about French  ‘transparent pruning‘,  expert Dominique Cousin told us that cow compost is better than horse manure for shrubs and plants.

Cow compost - better for shrubs?

Cows on Oare Marshes – I see them every day on my dog walk, but rarely see cow compost for sale.

Since then, I’ve kept a lookout for a source of cow compost. It seems odd that it’s so difficult to find, as there are certainly more cows than horses in Britain. But I rarely see it. One of our local nurseries usually has a notice saying ‘no cow compost until further notice.’

So when Earthcycle sent me some Organic Peat-Free Cow compost for review, I was delighted. It is lovely and crumbly, and I’ve used it on the veg beds. I think it’ll be difficult to tell the difference in terms of veg growing performance as there are so many other factors in play, but at least we now know where to get cow compost from. They deliver and will also supply wholesale.

Best lightweight spade…

Lightweight tools are the big new story in garden tools. A number of companies have brought in light, strong new tools. Kent & Stowe sent me their Garden Life lightweight digging spade and fork to try.

I have often got twinges in my back from even the shortest digging experience, but I have really found this spade very light and easy to use. And there have been no twinges at all afterwards. I now reach into the toolshed without wincing in advance.

Best inert mulch

I wasn’t quite sure what to think when Westland sent me their Gro-Sure Smart Ground Cover. I had vaguely thought that the point of mulching was to add texture and nutrition to your soil. So why a completely inert mulch?

Six months after using it under a newly planted stretch of hedge, I could see what it does. There were virtually no weeds where I had used the Gro-Sure Smart Ground Cover. The area without the Gro-Sure was thickly covered in weeds.

Gro-Sure Smart Ground Cover

I put Gro-Sure Smart Ground Cover along the front of this bed but not along the back. There are thick weeds along the back and just a few in the front (after 6 months with no weeding.)

All mulches help suppress weeds because they cover up the weed seeds, but an inert mulch is also very inhospitable to any seeds that are blown through the air.

The fibres in Gro-Sure Smart Cover have tiny hooks in them that cling together (like Velcro) to create a stable layer of mulch. That helps soil retain moisture, too.

Other inert mulches include gravel, slate chippings etc, but the Gro-Sure looks exactly like garden soil. So if you want the look of a freshly-dug bed without the weeds, it makes a good choice.

All mulches break down eventually, but the Gro-Sure has lasted eight months now in my garden without a top-up.

Best photography workshop…

Mr Middlesize bought a day workshop with Clive Nichols for my Christmas present. (I had forwarded him the link, as it’s wise to be clear about these things!)

It took place at Pettifers in Oxfordshire, a delightful (and indeed middle-sized) garden. Pettifers is known as a garden which manages year-round interest, and it also has beautiful views.

Clive Nichols photography workshops

A border at Pettifers, taken under Clive’s eagle eye. I wish I could take photos like this all the time.

There were around 10 of us. We ranged from garden-lovers who wanted to learn more about photography to camera-lovers who wanted to know more about photographing gardens.

Clive started with a presentation, showing a range of his garden photos, talking about how he’d taken them. It was followed by a delicious lunch and some practical work in the garden.

Clive Nichols photography workshops

Clive demonstrating photography techniques at Pettifers.

At one point he suggested I move my focal point by a tiny amount. The difference to the picture was astonishing.

It then started to pour with rain so we continued indoors, where I learned that you don’t have to find the lightest place in the house to take a photo. You just need a source of ‘soft light’.

Clive set up a chair by a window that seemed to let in relatively little light. He then used a light reflector to bounce the light back where he wanted it.

Photography tips

We took this still life indoors by a window in a corner – certainly not a very bright window. The result is a lovely soft light.

I really do recommend Clive’s workshops highly. It is such a treat to hear about garden photography from a photographer at the top of his game.

Best camera…

I don’t know anything about cameras, but I’m very pleased with the Canon Powershot G1X Mk II I bought last year. I’m not a naturally techie person, and it’s taken me a long time to understand F-stops and exposure triangles. This has been a good camera to learn on.

I asked a photographer friend, John Lawrence-Jones what he would recommend. I wanted something that was better than a phone camera, but I didn’t want anything too complicated.

John recommended the Canon Powershot, and also suggested that I ask Wex Photographic for their advice. They, too, recommended the Canon Powershot (without knowing that he had suggested it).

Canon Powershot Mk 2 macro photos

Macro photograph from Clive’s workshop. Macro means having a sharp focal point with a blurred background, and this is as ‘macro’ as the Canon Powershot Mk 2 gets. But that’s good enough for me, although you can see the blurred image of someone’s trousers top left. Clive warned us…

One of the people on Clive’s photography workshop was a camera expert. He looked at my camera and agreed. ‘I always say that you need to decide your budget and then buy a Canon.’ It seems to be a good choice for people who want a good – but not too complicated – camera.

You can’t change lenses on the Canon Powershot, so you’re limited on its zoom and wide-angle lens capacity. But you can fix a macro lens onto it if you want (for taking close-up flower pictures).

So far, I’ve found that it does everything I want it to. I probably still have quite a bit more to learn from it before I have to trade up.

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My favourite garden hose, a lighter spade, where to find compost and more

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