Gardening Advice

  • An Introduction to planting Seeds


    A seed in an embryonic plant waiting to get out. It's the pleasurable task of the gardener to turn the seed from dormancy into a living thing by providing warmth, light, air and moisture.

    Seeds even have their own food supply to start them off, at least until they can put down roots and draw food and water from the soil.

    Some seeds are quite unfussy about the conditions that trigger them into growth and many weed seeds fall into that category. Others are so sensitive they require a carefully controlled environment to germinate.

    Fortunately, the great majority of flower and vegetable seeds will emerge from their big sleep quite readily, just make sure you follow our tips, and your seeds will be sprouting in no time.

  • How to turn your Raised Beds into Hot Beds

    Our friend Mark Abbott-Compton over at has put together this great tutorial on how to build your very own Hot Bed using a WoodBlocX Raised Bed. It's a technique that the Victorians popularised throughout the UK many years ago, but is just as effective today!

    Used since Roman times with a cold frame on top, Hot Beds were once quite common as they are an effective way to grow many tender crops. A Hot Bed is also quite ecological because instead of burning fuel or electricity it produces its own heat by fermentation. Victorian gardeners managed to raise almost every sort of exotic crop you can imagine, and continued to use them to grow conventional crops well out of season. A Hot Bed covered with a small glass cover (also called a hotbox) acts like a small version of a hothouse or heated greenhouse.

    A Hot Bed created from a WoodBlocX Raised Bed can revolutionise your own vegetable growing and you could be harvesting salads in March and potatoes in early April. By reviving and modernising this ancient vegetable-growing method with WoodBlocX, you will be able to produce healthy plants that crop at least two months earlier than conventionally grown vegetables.

  • Salads for all seasons from your raised beds


    Salad leaves are one of the crops that really do benefit from being home grown. No longer do you need to put up with supermarket salad bags that always seem to have a few soggy, smelly leaves in the bottom, you can pick fresh salad get it almost instantly onto the plate as and when you need it. With a few careful variety choices, and a bit of protection from the cold weather, you can be picking greenery all year round.

    For spring and summer salads you can choose from the wide variety of head lettuce and cut-and-come-again leaves. The former include the small ‘Little Gem’ types, up to butterhead and crispy iceberg varieties. The butterheads and oak leaf lettuces generally provide you a choice between green and red leaves. Good plant choices for home grown lettuce include ‘Red Oak Leaf’ and ‘Buttercrunch’. Sow either in modules for planting out as seedlings, or direct into your raised beds at the spacings specified on the seed packet.

    If you don’t have raised beds then consider installing one. WoodBlocX raised beds are easy to construct and require no heavy lifting or power tools to build. Made from sustainably-sourced wood, our raised garden beds are ideal for growing plants which are destined for the table.

    Cut-and-come-again salads do exactly as described – you cut them and they grow again for a second, sometimes even third and fourth harvest. These seeds should be sprinkled thinly along a shallow drill to give a long line of small leaves, and they should be harvested at this baby leaf stage or they will get overcrowded and run to seed. It’s best to sow them in succession rather than all your rows at once: make an initial sowing in early spring, then once they have germinated, sow a second row and repeat throughout the summer, replacing the earlier rows as they get tired. This ensures you won’t experience a glut. If you’ve got raised beds of around a metre’s width, that’s ideal as a row length.

    The added height of a WoodBlocX bed can also bring well-drained soil to a boggy garden and rooting space to stony ground or even space to grow where there is no soil at all. They can be filled (and easily re-filled) with fresh soil that is free from weed seeds and diseases, and rich in nutrients which is important if you are growing consumables.

    There are plenty of salad mixes available from the seed companies, offering both classic tastes and also those that include spicier, more peppery leaves such as rocket, mizuna and watercress.

    Lettuces (and vegetables and fruit in general) can be planted more intensively in a raised bed enabling the production of bigger harvests from a smaller space. Whatever you’ve sown, be careful to keep the soil around the plants moist at all times, as not only will this mean your lettuce is crisp and tasty (the plant is made of over 90% water after all), but also helps prevent it run to seed in hot weather. If your lettuce does run to seed it is best discarded, as the leaves will be bitter. Keep an eye out for slugs and snails as well – a night-time patrol or using beer traps is the best ways to keep their numbers down organically.

    But salad is not just for summer – it can be for Christmas too! Sown in late summer and autumn, there are whole lettuces such as ‘Marvel of Four Seasons’ and ‘Winter Density’ as well as other leaves (miner’s lettuce is a good one) that will survive the winter. It is best to grow these under the protection of a cloche or tunnel to keep the worst of the cold off and again, keep an eye out for the slugs who like to hide in the folds of tunnel plastic during the day.

    Finally, slugs aside, raised beds can keep plants out of reach of all kinds of household pets, and most importantly as we’re talking lettuce here – rabbits.

  • Top Tips for Gardening with Children at School


    If you’ve ever despaired at your children’s lack of interest in eating fruit and vegetables, why not try growing some with them? Following the whole process from sowing the seed to harvesting the crop, and then cooking it together, can really make children invest in their labours – they’ll want to taste what they’ve spent all that time growing. WoodBlocX raised beds make the whole project so easy for children to enjoy and the chances are they’ll suddenly discover that they do like carrots after all!

    For those with a short attention span, crops that show a quick return are best. Micro-leaves offer the fastest harvest time, as they are just seedlings and can be grown like cress; (remember the cress ‘hair’ in the eggshell heads you probably made when you were a child?) All sorts of salad crops can be grown this way, or even on a piece of damp kitchen towel, such as lettuce leaves, beetroot and radishes.

    Full grown radishes also offer a fast turnaround from sowing to harvest, and baby versions of mainstream crops such as carrots and parsnips are harvested sooner, and are often naturally sweeter too. Then it’s time to think about the crops that can be eaten straight from the plant; fruit such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and various tree fruits like apples, plums and cherries are all great choices. Peas can be eaten straight from the pod – or eat the whole pod with mangetout (literally ‘eat-all’). When a vegetable is freshly harvested its natural sugars are at their highest level, and peas can be munched like sweets. New potatoes also offer excitement and learning opportunities – planting one potato results in many more, and digging for the harvest is like digging for buried treasure.

    Giving children ownership of their own growing space also means they are more likely to be invested in the outcome. A WoodBlocX raised bed can be a great way to do this – a small contained space, separate from your own flower bed /vegetable beds so there is no chance of precious plants being trodden on. Being raised off the ground also makes it easier for children to reach. If blueberries are a particular favourite, a raised bed is also a great way to introduce the right soil – acidic – for these plants in a neutral or alkaline soil garden.

    In a 90cm by 90cm square bed, such as those available from WoodBlocX, there would be space for the following

    A strawberry plant in each corner - a central sunflower (for use as a support for a climbing bean plant) - a row of baby carrots - a row of peas - a row of first early (new) potatoes that once out, could be replaced with a pumpkin plant for Halloween (though this will probably trail out of the bed a bit as well).

    Alternatively, by going for a slightly deeper bed – 45cm as a minimum, such as the hexagonal 1.55m x 0.925m bed from WoodBlocX – you could go for the lower maintenance option of a fruit tree surrounded by herbs and flowers. Children love to try the different scents on the leaves; mints are great for this, coming in flavours such as strawberry and chocolate. Pineapple sage is another good option, and nasturtiums are a brilliant seed to sow with children as their seeds are large and easy to handle and germinate relatively quickly and reliably.

  • Wildlife gardens: getting close to the action

    We all know that our country’s wildlife is getting increasingly put-upon by growing urbanisation and commercial agriculture. So what can we do to help? Well, there are a number of very simple and easy steps to take that will not only lend a hand to the wildlife, but also bring some excitement to our gardens as well.

    Bees are increasingly under pressure, so why not plant some good plants for nectar? Often bees get stranded when out looking for food, so providing a little staging post will allow them to recharge their batteries and make it home to the hive. This is especially important in early spring and autumn when the weather is a bit cooler (affecting their energy levels) – so include plants such as primroses, lungwort, asters and sedums, as well as summer flowers such as cosmos and Echinacea.

    These are of course just a few suggestions – there are many more flowers suitable for bees. When choosing your plants, keep the bees in mind by going for open flowers. Many of the modern hybrids have double flowers with so many petals that it’s impossible for the bees to get to the nectar in the centre. Daisy types are especially useful, but there’s a list supplied by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) that details good plants by type and season ( and look for the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ symbol on plant labels.

    When planting for butterflies, think ‘landing pad’ – they prefer flower types that have a large, flat top like yarrow and sedums, which give them space to land and drink the nectar. Again, refer to the RHS list for appropriate choices. Finally, if you include some plants that not only provide nectar in the summer, but also seed heads in the winter, you’ll get some bird visitors as well.

    With all this going on in the garden, it’s a shame to miss it. Watching wildlife going about its daily business is a great way to relax and forget about the worries of the human world, and so planting in raised beds allows you to get that much closer to the action, without getting muddy or grassy knees!

    Alternatively, for a front-row seat, why not add a raised bed with integral seating or a bench with planters at either end? WoodBlocX have a number of kits for both of these options, or you could use their free design service to create a bespoke bed or seat to turn your garden into a wildlife theatre!

    WoodBlocX uses only sustainably-sourced timber, and other components are created from recycled materials, so its environmental credentials are already very high making the application of WoodblocX products a safe and superior choice for your garden.

  • Right Plant Right Place: what does it mean?

    You may have heard gardeners talking about the ‘right plant right place’ principle, but what does it actually mean?

    In essence, it refers to working with Mother Nature rather than against her. By looking to a plant’s origins – where in the world it is from, the kind of environment it has evolved to grow in – we can ensure that we give it that same environment in our garden and maximise its chances of success.

    For example, if a rosemary plant, which has adapted to free-draining soil and the hot, dry weather of the Mediterranean, was planted in a boggy, cold spot in the garden, it would quickly wither and die. Similarly, if a hosta, whose large, thin leaves are adapted to maximise sunlight absorption in the dappled shade of damp forests was to be planted in a hot, sunny spot, its leaves would scorch and the plant would die. Raised beds are a brilliant way to create the perfect environment for plants that we might not otherwise be able to grow.

    The right soil is a crucial component for creating a specific environment, and by using a raised bed, it’s possible to mix together the exact type of soil different plant groups need. Here are some ideas of plants you could grow:

    • Acidic soils. Blueberries, cranberries, rhododendrons and camellias all need a soil with an acidic pH. If your garden has neutral or alkaline soil, but you’d like to grow these fruits and flowers, why not grow them in a raised bed? Alternatively, a specimen camellia would look great in a wooden planter, which gives the roots more space than a pot.
    • Plants from dry areas and hot countries – such as alpines and succulents – will prefer a shallow raised bed, and mix some gravel in with the topsoil as you fill it. 
    • If you’ve got a shady part of the garden that would be perfect for woodland plants such as primroses and bluebells, but that has no actual soil – perhaps by a door or in a passageway – why not put in a small or narrow raised bed to grow these plants and bring some life to the area? WoodBlocX can design beds to your specific needs, and have a large number of kits in a variety of shapes and sizes.

    Finally, don’t forget that raised beds can also offer several different soil environments in one bed: by segmenting the bed into different areas, and even different heights, the bed can accommodate separate plant groups in one area, which would never be possible in the open ground. WoodBlocX offer corner bedsrectangular beds and octagonal raised beds in a range of height and size combinations. For example, to create a herb bed to grow the full range of culinary herbs, use the shallowest part for the rosemary, sage and thymes, a deeper area for chives, lovage and lemon balm, which prefer a richer, moister soil, and a separate area for mints, which tend to rampage over other plants and are best contained within their own area.

  • Watering: get the basics right

    Watering is gardening’s most basic task, in every sense of the word. It’s always needed at some point, no matter what the garden. Watering is really a very simple task, however so often it is under-watering or over-watering that can cause our plants to suffer and even die.

    All plants need water, even the drought tolerant ones, but the volume and frequency of that watering varies hugely from plant to plant. The first thing to consider is where the plant is originally from (and I don’t mean the garden centre – but where around the world do its ancestors live)? If you know what kind of environment your plants descend from, replicating that as closely as possible when you care for it will bring the most success.

    If you’re not sure about your plants’ origins, the leaves will give a good indication of what it needs. Narrow, silvery/white or fleshy leaves show it is adapted to minimise water loss or store water for long periods, so it is from a hot area with little rainfall. Wide or large, green, thin leaves indicate it is not used to being without water for very long, so it will need more watering in dry periods.

    Raised beds such as those supplied by WoodBlocX can make watering plants much easier. The soil you put in them can be adapted to the planting; for example, gravel can be mixed in to mimic the free-draining soils most Mediterranean herbs such as lavender and thyme are used to. The watering itself is easier because the soil level is lifted off the ground, meaning less stooping with a heavy watering can and it’s much easier to get the water directly to the soil (see below). Alternatively, raised beds lend themselves very well to the installation of automatic irrigation systems – from the high tech to the simple leaky hose attached to a water butt.

    Always check the moisture level in the soil before beginning to water, because a dry dusty surface may actually be moist further down, or vice versa. Sticking your finger in the soil is the only way to find out! However and how often you are watering, it’s important to water in the morning or evening. Watering in the middle of the day is a waste of time – most of the water you apply will evaporate before it even gets to the roots, and on really hot days, before it even hits the ground! The cool of the morning and evening means the water has a chance to penetrate the soil.

    That said, in very dry and hot weather, it may be necessary to water plants that are drying out too fast in order to save them, but always check the soil first. Some plants will flag in the midday sun, looking as if they are wilting and dying, but in fact they have enough water in the soil – it’s just a temporary mechanism to prevent too much water loss.

    Always give your plants a really good soak when you water them, rather than just a sprinkle over the top. Not only does this mean you have to water less often, it will also encourage the roots to grow down into the soil, rather than up to the surface where they will then dry out faster anyway. Make sure the water is going on to the soil rather than the foliage as much as possible as well – this will ensure it gets to the roots where it is needed, and not create a humid atmosphere around the plant which can encourage disease. Follow these simple steps and your plants will thank you for it.

  • Organic growing – the whys and wherefores

    Growing in your own garden means you have total control over what goes into your plants, and many gardeners are opting to have an organic garden, at least for their edible plants. Organic gardening means to grow without the use of chemicals but can be interpreted in different ways depending on how strict you want to be.

    The first consideration is where – or in what – are you growing your plants? If you are growing in the ground, you have less control over what is in the soil, and what has been added to it by those who previously tended it, but by growing in raised beds and planters you can start afresh with topsoil and compost that is certified organic.

    However, don’t forget that the raised beds themselves may contain chemicals which can leach into the soil and then get taken up by the plants. This is especially true of old railway sleepers, the older ones of which will be impregnated with creosote. WoodBlocX wood is not only treated in such a way that the wood will not leach any chemicals like traditional railway sleepers.

    Artificial fertilisers are out if you are growing organically, but there are some organic multipurpose feeds available, including liquid seaweed extract. Alternatively, make your own by steeping fresh nettles or comfrey in a bucket of water for 24 hours and then straining the liquid to water the plants.

    Most of the organic-or-not considerations relate to pest and disease control. Government and EU regulations have removed a lot of pesticides and other sprays from the market anyway, so it makes sense to stay organic. Raised beds makes keeping the pests away from your plants easier – many WoodBlocX beds are the same width as protective tunnels and cloches, so they will look neat and keep out the birds and bugs that want to eat the plants, and slugs and snails will not like to crawl up the wooden sides to get to them either.

    The best way to keep your plants healthy and performing well is to look after them! Keep the areas around them clean, use clean tools, and keep an eye out for breakouts of pests and disease all the time: removing the affected parts promptly can often save the whole plant. All of this is again easier in raised beds, as the plants are that much closer to eye level, and it’s easier to see under the leaves where a lot of pests and diseases first take hold.

    Gardening organically means working with nature, rather than trying to control it, for we inevitably lose that battle. Employ some natural predators by planting flowers such as marigolds (Tagetes and Calendula species), borage, dill, cosmos and herbs such as Mint, Fennel and Lavender to attract them to your garden. Feed the birds over winter too – in the summer they will feast instead on the aphids in your garden (blue tits are especially good for this, so put peanuts, their favourite, in the feeder).

  • Getting started with fruit and veg growing

    Growing your own vegetables, herbs and fruit is becoming increasingly popular, and it’s easy to get in on the action. In a few short months – weeks even – you can be picking your first harvests straight from the garden.

    The first thing to decide is what you want to grow – there is no point growing fruit or veg you don’t like to eat! It’s also worth starting in a relatively small way: grow the crops that it’s really worth having fresh, such as sweetcorn and salad leaves, or that really benefit from being able to ripen fully on the plant, like tomatoes and strawberries (many fruits and vegetables sold in the supermarkets are picked when still unripe to make them easier to transport).

    Once you’ve got the bug, then it’s time to move onto the bigger crops such as potatoes, cabbages and onions. These are relatively inexpensive in the shops, so you’re unlikely to save a lot of money by growing your own, but the range of varieties available to the home grower is much better than the supermarkets, so you can trial and test your favourites. New potatoes especially benefit from going straight from the soil to the pan – ‘International Kidney’ is the closest the home grower can get to a Jersey Royal.

    Fruit is a more expensive initial investment than most veg, as you generally have to buy plants, bushes or trees rather than seeds, but after that they need very little attention and can soon provide you with kilos and kilos of fruit every year. Again, it’s also possible to grow fruit not widely available in the shops, such as greengages (try ‘Cambridge Gage’) and unusual hybrids such as white strawberries.

    Think about what space – and time – you have to be growing your crops. Most fruit trees and bushes can be trained into, for example, cordons or fans that are perfect against a wall or fence, and can even be grown in raised beds of a minimum depth of 45cm. Alternatively, grow them as a ‘normal’ tree shape in a large pot or planter. WoodBlocX planters are a great choice here as they will not crack in a frost and give the tree’s roots plenty of space and protection.

    Raised beds are often used by gardeners for fruit and veg growing, and with good reason. With raised beds the soil is never compacted, so it remains really healthy year on year, and is easily topped up with fresh compost full of nutrients to grow big, flavoursome crops. Take care that the beds are not made of materials that will leach chemicals into the soil that will be then taken up by the plants – using something like WoodBlocX (all pressure treated without nasty chemicals) means you don’t have to worry about that at all.

    Finally, think about the design of your growing area. Do you want to have square or rectangular beds with straight rows (attractive in their own right), or a more informal circular area, perhaps with a central fruit tree? Consider what crops you will be growing: it might be worth having a segmented raised bed – either all on the same level or at different heights – to divide into areas for annual vegetables, herbs, and perennial fruit bushes and trees that need a bit more root space than the veg and herbs. Corner beds work well in this regard, but WoodBlocX can be created in almost any configuration to fit your needs and space.

    If inspiration is what you need, you’ll find lots of pictures of our easy to assemble kits on the WoodBlocX website. To get daily updates on all things WoodBlocX, be sure to follow us on social media; visit our TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube pages.

  • Growing Winter Veg in Your WoodBlocX Raised Beds

    Yes, your WoodBlocX raised beds can indeed still be productive, even though British summer time is well and truly over and growing is now at a slower pace. As we reach the darker days of winter, it is still possible to enjoy an array of vegetables, such as salads with some planning and a little care!

    The beauty of having a WoodblocX raised bed is that it should not require lots of maintenance and they can be sited within a polytunnel, making the maintenance of your area that much easier and ideal for growing a few fast salads that are ready in weeks.

    DIY Polytunnel/Coldframes

    Why not cover your WoodBlocX raised bed in polythene to make your own mini-poly tunnel? Simply use sticks or canes and some Figo Universal Frame Connectors to turn your WoodBlocX raised bed into a mini-cold frame. Then spinach, kale, and some varieties of lettuce will live through the winter inside.

    Certain kinds of onion work well from a late autumn sowing as well and you’ll get a much earlier crop than if you’d waited till spring. Other possibilities are cabbage, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, and most root crops. Leeks, beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, radishes, and rutabagas can be sown for winter harvest. The flavour improves if they’re left in the ground until a hard freeze as the cold turns their starches into sugar.

    As it is still early November, you still have time to sow some Broad Beans and plant Rhubarb.

    Broad beans should not be planted before November in southern England or they get too soft and lush making them liable to be killed by frosts and susceptible to botrytis and other fungal diseases. Good varieties include Super Aquadulce, and Aquadulec Claudia (This is a broad bean that is recognised as the best variety for an autumn sowing and comes with an RHS Award of Garden Merit.) It establishes itself quickly, is very hardy and produces very early crops. ‘Claudia’ produces very long glossy pods up to 9in, with tender light coloured beans. Or why not try Sutton Dwarf and Supersimonia.

    Hardy peas can also be started this month: good varieties include;- Avola, Douce Provence, Feltham First and Meteor.

    With Rhubarb why not try Stockbridge Arrow – A superb modern variety that has become recognised as the quality rhubarb. Tender, fine tasting and stringless when forced. Or Timperly Early – The earliest outdoor variety. Succulent pink stems with a delicious tart flavour.

    You can buy special terracotta pots to stick over the top of the cluster, which can look very attractive on your WoodBlocX bed, but it’s just as easy to put a bucket over them.
    You can also Plant out Cauliflower if done within next few days, such as early Mayflower, which you will be cutting from mid May to early June.
    If you are not going to plant anything, once your other Beans and Peas have been harvested, turn the ground within the raised bed and leave it for the winter. Legumes root nodes store Nitrogen and winter frosts will break up the soil allowing the nitrogen to be absorbed into the surrounding ground.

    By now you should also have lifted any remaining root vegetables, and store them for later use. Thin Onions and Turnips if required.
    Then sit back inside with a nice hot beverage and start looking at those seed supplier catalogues to plan your spring sowing campaign!

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