Grab your trusty hoe and prepare to do battle with weeds
Sunday 13 June 2010
I have just returned from Cornwall and the opening of Kestle Barton, an arts project my mum has been working on for the past four years. The gallery is currently hung with large photographs of a polluted former mining site near Redruth called Goon Gumpas. Beyond the parched and wrecked beauty of the post-industrial landscape on display, through double-doors, the project's new garden is visible. And I have to admit that, as much as I enjoyed the show, the most satisfying part of my weekend was sneaking off to hoe the new flowerbeds.
Hoeing is one of life's unsung pleasures. A just-hoed flowerbed has a fantastic neatness, as if it is gazing up at you in gratitude. Hoeing is essential in just-planted gardens and veg patches, because weeds around the base of newly placed specimens compete so heavily for water and nutrients, it makes your precious novelties much less likely to survive. It is so much less knackering and more gentle on the knees than hand-weeding, too.
And down at Kestle there was lots to hoe. Professional garden designers leave large patches of brown earth that the plants will need to expand into. Sadly, this is an open invitation for every weed seed the soil has ever contained to germinate.
The Kestle Barton garden has been laid out by the landscape designer James Alexander-Sinclair, who has a real flair for plant combinations. At Kestle, favourites such as bronze fennel and cardoons will jostle with less familiar perennials, such as persicarias and sanguisorbae. But for now, these beauties maintain a polite distance, like strangers at a party who haven't got drunk yet. And the areas of bare soil between the planting, as always, provide excellent openings for weeds. Plantains, ragwort and cleavers have all done their bit.
And so to hoe – though it does need to be done at the right moment. Wait a few weeks after cultivating topsoil for as many weed seeds as possible to germinate. But don't leave it too long, as weeds will get too big to remove, and your own purchases will begin to fill the soil with their root systems, risking damage to them as you work.
Above all, you need the right hoe. Hoeing should be a gentle pleasure for a hot day. My couple of hours at Kestle were made far more enjoyable by a Wolf tool, a yellow-handled weeder, which slides smoothly just under the soil's surface to slice off tender, uninvited seedlings. I conferred with Kestle Barton's head gardener Sam Davies, and confessed that I have fallen in love with this fantastic object. He says he has been unable ever to find the same tool again. So that's one last piece of advice: once you find the perfect hoe, hold on tight.
Rupture, the exhibition showing Patrick Shanahan's photography at Kestle Barton, runs until 17 July (kestlebarton.co.uk)
The hoedown lowdown
Finding the right hoe will make life a lot easier. Go to the biggest garden centre you can find to try out different types, paying attention to the length of the handle and the weight you feel comfy with. Wolf lets you buy tool and handle separately and does an aluminium one, 120cm long, £6.45 from worldofwolf. co.uk
Wolf's Dutch hoes are versatile tools. They should be used with the blade parallel to the soil, so they chop through the stems of little weeds. You don't need to clear the weeds off the soil; they can be left to mulch in. For double the hoeing action, scrub a push-pull weeder across the soil leaving it clear, £11 from Wolf Tools, as above
Some weeds should not be hoed If you hoe bindweed, you'll chop it into many tiny pieces, each of which can grow into a new plant. Instead, arm yourself with a glyphosphate weed killer in a bucket and wipe it on to the weed leaves with a J Cloth, avoiding spills. Westland Resolva, 200ml for £9.98 at B&Q
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