Well, I mentioned last week about planting sweet peas, and the first photo is of those peas – with some bottom heat from a warming mat – just starting to sprout. Once you have 2 sets of leaves on those sweet peas, they no longer need bottom heat, and you can put them in an unheated greenhouse, a cold frame, under a sheltered porch/overhang, or a cold conservatory/shelf. No need for any heat. So these have sprouted in 6 days, and can go into a cold frame in about 3 weeks. This is important, as February is a good month for planting many flower and vegetable seeds, so we need to free up space on the tables in greenhouses and windowsills before then.

The second photo is of the sweet peas in my cold greenhouse, that I planted last October. I have already ‘pinched them out’ once (ie cut them off with secateurs, scissors or fingernails, leaving just 2 pairs of leaves), and will do so again. This will make them more bushy, with more flowers. Finally, I will plant sweet peas direct into the ground in April, a total of 3 sowings. This will mean I will have constant flowers from May until October, with a lovely scent. And you don’t need a garden to grow sweet peas – a patio, conservatory or even a windowsill are fine, so have a go. And if you haven’t got anywhere to train the sweet peas up with, there are now many types of dwarf sweet peas, that work fine just in pots. The only other seed I have planted are the chillies, as they need about 6 months to grow/produce ripe fruit. All other seeds can wait until February.

The third and fourth photo are of wisteria. As all the leaves have dropped, it is now easy to see what is happening. The third photo shows a correctly pruned cluster, with lots of knobbly bits. Each of those knobbly bits will turn into a gorgeous pendant cluster of flowers, so it looks good for flowers this spring. The fourth photo shows a spot I had previously missed, with a couple of ‘long stringy growth’ branches. That growth is the plants store of excess nitrogen, which it uses to fund more growth (it uses phosphates, potash and potassium for the flowers), and if we didn’t cut those long spindly branches off, the wisteria would have a lot of extra growth (it can grow 12ft in a season!), and a lot less flowers. So I will prune off that excess growth. And ignore anything you read in gardening magazines, with the much warmer temperatures down here in the south, you should prune wisteria a) in Sep or Oct – just chop off any excess growth (usually over 6ft in a mature plant) b) in Jan or Feb – down to a couple of shoots beyond last years growth (ie brown wood). Don’t cut off any ‘knobbles’, and don’t prune in the first couple of years until established.

The last photo is of one of my apple trees, and January is about the very last time you can prune apples and pears in the winter. As you can see, it has already been pruned, so lots of those ‘knobbly bits’ means we will get lots of blossom. Fingers crossed we don’t have a cold snap whilst the blossom is out, so that we will have a bumper apple and pear crop, like last year. The only thing left to do for the apple and pear trees, is to smear tree grease around the bark, to trap the codling moth and other pests. Don’t prune plums, peaches or apricots in the winter.

Finally I have grown many of my apple, pear, cherry and plum trees in (large) pots, which can easily go on a small sunny patio, so you don’t even need a big garden to have your own fruit tree.

Happy gardening, don’t forget to feed the wild birds (Big Garden Birdwatch is 29-31Jan), and keep safe.


GARDENING DIARY 10th January 2021

GARDENING DIARY 10th January 2021

Hi there everyone, I’ll be writing a weekly U3A brief on ‘things to do in the garden now’, to help while away a few hours during this awful lockdown.

There is a misconception that a) there is nothing to do in the garden in January b) you can’t garden if you only have a small patio or balcony. Nothing could be further from the truth, so how about trying some of the following:

1) chit some potatoes (best in eggboxes, but any tray will do), in sunlight, frostfree and indoors (or a greenhouse) somewhere. As the south is so much warmer than the rest of the country, these can be planted out as early as March. You don’t need to put them into the ground, you can use a potato bag, or any form of container, even on a patio or balcony. So get chitting!!

2) Sow some sweet pea seeds, around 8 in a small 2 inch pot, so you can then plant them direct where you want them to grow. Plant around 1 inch deep in compost, and keep somewhere warm until they have germinated. Thereafter in a frostfree but not heated location (a bathroom shelf?).

3) It is still not too late to prune roses, and indeed any late flowering perennial plants. But don’t prune anything early flowering, or with a bud, like camellia, peiris, azalea, rhododendron etc. And you really can’t overprune any well established perennial plant, so prune fractionally above a bud, and watch the flower profusion later on in the year.

4) if you have somewhere frostfree, you can plant up some of the summer flowering corms/bulbs, like gladioli, begonia, dahlia, acidanthera, lily, liatris spicata etc. Make sure they have more than the depth of the bulb, in compost above the bulb.

5) It is too early to plant seeds yet, except for sweet peas and chillies, which both need bottom heat for germination. Later in the year, chillies, dwarf tomatoes and cucumbers, peppers, lettuce/radish/spring onions, can all be happily grown on a warm sunny location in your house.

6) Many plants are still bulking up their bulbs/corms under the (frozen) earth – agapanthus is a good example – so try and feed it with either a liquid feed (tomato feed, comfrey, seaweed etc), or horse compost/garden compost.

We are having a competition amongst the U3A Greenfingers group, to get one chitted Anya potato (which I will provide), put into a 12-14inch pot or similar, grown on, then we will weigh the potatoes produced on a given date in June, to see who has the heaviest crop. If you would like to get involved with this competition, or if you have any general gardening queries, email me on

Finally, gardening is great for our mental and physical health, good for the environment, and gives us hope for the future in such awful times. So get out there and garden, even if you only have a patio or balcony, and get out there today!!

Kevin Steele



This is a real treat. John Drew’s niece is Head of a Special Needs Infant School in Plymouth. She has allowed us to share  this charming Nativity Production by some of her pupils.

John is sure you will love it and enjoy the seeing the “Little Darlings”

To View Click on the link



A big thank you to everyone who participated yesterday and to all who have made a donation. Thanks to your generosity a total of £550 has been raised, which with gift aid amounts to £617.50. The Just Giving page remains open if anyone else wishes to make a donation. The cup cake competition was won by Margaret Holden, with Jo Brearley a very close second.  Well done everyone!

Thanks again.




We just managed to squeeze in our socially distance “live” session before Lockdown. It was a fun couple of days and  a lovely change from meeting on zoom. Everyone was determined to make as many items as they could. Below is a selection of the results