Okay, I know it’s still summer, but winter will be here before you know it. I’m honestly hoping for a cold snap this year – the wet, grey winter of 2013 was horrendous; I don’t think we had even one frost in London. That’s BAD for plants – they need dormancy. And it’s BAD for gardeners – we need a rest, AND we need lots of those garden pests killing off. If there’s no snow or frost, all those little larvae and eggs hiding in the soil just hat...Read more
Okay, I know it’s still summer, but winter will be here before you know it. I’m honestly hoping for a cold snap this year – the wet, grey winter of 2013 was horrendous; I don’t think we had even one frost in London. That’s BAD for plants – they need dormancy. And it’s BAD for gardeners – we need a rest, AND we need lots of those garden pests killing off. If there’s no snow or frost, all those little larvae and eggs hiding in the soil just hatch and munch away with nothing to stop them!
Anyhow, I digress. If you’re thinking about seasonal planting for this winter, then I highly advise the use of Skimmia. These hardy evergreens are ideal for use in pots, and though they normally flower in the spring, you can normally pick up plants in the autumn which have been forced ahead of time, meaning you have both greenery and blooms to brighten up the dark winter days. In addition, if you manage to get hold of Skimmia ‘Fragrans’, you’ll also get a little scent too; anything to cheer up a cold day is a bonus, right?
I tend to use Skimmia in pots because I’ve found them to be rather slow growing, and in a herbaceous bed it means they’re lost pretty quickly when spring arrives and everything starts to go mad. Planted up alongside some winter bulbs or violas, and any of the small carex species, they make a welcome sight either side of the porch. Alternatively, pop them out on the patio to draw your eye to the garden even on those days when just the thought of going outside makes you shudder.
Thrives In: Full or partial shade, and in both exposed and sheltered positions; i.e. most places.
Yearly Care: Extremely low maintenance. You might want to clip off the old flowers to neaten up the plant. In sunny positions, the leaves may become chorotic (lose their colour and become pale or even white). In such cases, it’s best to move plants and remove the damaged foliage.
Growing Medium: Moist and well-drained soil is best, particularly if planted in a sunny aspect. In winter pots, ensure there’s moderate fertile soil to ensure good growth.
Quick Tip: Ideal for winter pots as its slow growing and makes the perfect contrast plant with overwintering violas or pansies.
Oh look, it’s Bank Holiday so of course, it’s pissing down. I managed to get away with a quick woodland walk before the heaven’s opened so now, other than a few trips down the garden, I’m indulging in a traditional day off; slumming it on the couch.
So, this week – in fact, yesterday – I had some REALLY good news. After a weekend away in Suffolk, where I was convinced that the best birthday pressies I could give my mum and sister (they’re both born in September) was some IOU’s in the garden, we arrived back in London to discover my husband’s visa had been approved! So, he has another 30 months in the UK. But, honestly, that’s not the exciting part – the best bit is that it means we can buy a new house = move = get a new garden for Geoffrey to play around in!
I’m ecstatic and have been surfing the housing porn of Rightmove. Of course, the first thing I lok at is the garden! I’ve known we were intending on moving out of London for some time, but now it’s really happening I’m extremely excited. It’s also come at a good time because the autumn’s is, by far, the best time to move plants. I’m sorry housebuyers, but there’ll be nothing left of my garden once I’m gone. I have a HELL of a lot of plants to start dividing, lifting and potting up…but for now, as the rain comes down, I’m enjoying what’s on offer.
As usual, the beautiful verbena’s are adding vibrant life to the surroundings. These really are a glorious plant, being structural, transparent and colourful. Luckily, they also sow themselves well so though I collect some seed at the end of each year in case of a severe frost, there’s normally new plants popping up all over the place. I also nabbed some Shasta Daisies last year from a client’s when I was splitting a clump (I did ask…). They should be placed in full sun really, but I’ve found that they do well enough in shade as long as the long stems are supported. However, I was a bad gardener and forgot to do this so they’ve all flopped, but are pretty nevertheless. Other than that, it’s mostly foliage. I also forget about this end of summer period and tend to lack any dramatic buds at this time of year….however, now a move is on the cards, it’ll be time to start creating a garden all over again; HURRAH!
I thought it was time for a new little featurette on the blog and something, I hope, that we can all make use of. So, here’s the inaugural ‘Friday Finds’; the place to discover new plants, deals, offers and goodies from around the horticultural world.
If you’re already looking ahead to winter (which, I suppose, we all should be), then it’s time to think about some colour. I’m not a huge fan of bedding plants, be it summer or winter. However, these little violas – available for pre-order at Plant Me Now – are pretty gorgeous. They’re new, profusely flowering and ideal for hanging baskets or pots. £6.50 for five plants isn’t bad, and if you buy two, you get 10 for £12.
If we have a winter like last, then we’ll need something to cheer us all up. Wet, windy and grey was not exactly fun, was it? But I reckon this viola’s will stand against grey or white; whatever the winter decides to throw at us!
Eryngium’s (Sea Hollies) are pretty special plants and make a great statement piece in a garden. The bright blue of their sea head and leaves is hard to miss when you have a great swathe of them. This year, Suttons Seeds have got a new variety called Neptunes Gold – the iconic blue seed heads remain, but this time, there’s golden foliage to contrast. It’s a little expensive at £9.99 for one potted plant, so you might want to buy it as your month’s treat.
They’re shipping from mid-September, so if you get your order in soon, you won’t have to wait long.
This came to my attention thanks to Michael Perry’s FB page. The new variety of hardy perennial is/was available from Van Meuwen, and has golden leaves in spring which turn to citrus in the summer. The remarkable thing is that it’s leave as chlorophyll fluorescent, and it’s marketed as being able to ‘glow’ after dark. Unfortunately, though these were selling on Ideal Home, I’ve yet to find out outlet on line (Van Meuwen doesn’t have any on their site at the moment). However, I’ll keep investigating – let me know if you find them!
If you scour the web, there’s normally some good deals to be found on spring flowering bulbs. I often buy plants from J Parkers, and they’ve got a great offer available if you’re already in the mindset for spring 2015 – which you should be because all those bulbs need planting THIS autumn.
For every order, there’s a free pack of 50 assorted dwarf narcissus bulbs. I’m big fan of the dwarf varieties, particularly because in the post-flowering stage, you don’t have huge clumps of flopping green leaves that you can’t cut off for fear of damaging next year’s blooms. In addition, orders over £50 get a free bag of 25 mixed orange tulips. The autumn’s a great time to buy plants as you can get them in to overwinter so they start off in spring with vigour. If you’re thinking of spending a few quid, then cash in at J Parkers and get a load of free bulbs!
Lastly, though my street is decked out with an avenue of flowering cherries, the council planted a strange tree that I’d never seen before. It didn’t do much last year, though I did notice a small pink flower, but this year it exploded into colour. A little research, some tweeting and I discovered that it’s the Chitalpa tree; a deciduous species hybridised from the Arizona desert willow. It’s low maintenance, likes full sun and is drought-tolerant, so I suspect some eager green-fingered fellow in the council thought they’d pop one in and see how it does….well, extremely well, it seems.
Unfortunately, it seems extremely hard to come by in the UK, but I haven’t given up hope of getting one. They’re beautiful trees!
It’s a little bit baking, isn’t it? After that winter of constant rain and not a frost in sight (certainly for us Londoners, anyway), we’ve finally got a decent summer. However, that’s not without its own complications, and I’m currently watering like crazy – particularly the pots, which are very prone to drying out. I’m lucky to have a south-facing garden but boy, does the soil really dry out on these hot, muggy days.
One thing you’ve probably noticed this year is the gargantuan amount of critters about. You might’ve been thankful for the lack of snow during the winter, but we really could have done with some…even if just for a week. Those frosts, cold tendrils and blankets of snow creep into the ground and kill off pests. Without them, the bugs can survive and start breeding earlier. The result? An even tougher war between pests and gardeners.
A particular problem area for me this year has been the pond. As readers of the blog will know, my pond is a simple affair; a large black plastic tub that’s more often used for planting young trees in, that’s sunk into the earth, filled with water and a few plants thrown in. It keeps a tiny frog population happy enough, acts as a mini-oasis for passing mammals and birds and, on the whole, adds the ambiance of the garden. Unfortunately, this year, that ambiance is the buzzing of mosquitoes as they hatch and exit the water. I’ve had various ways of dealing with this over the years, including changing out the water and getting a few fish to reduce the larvae numbers. Unfortunately, a noxious bonfire from my neighbour two doors up spouted vile black fumes across my garden which got into the water and killed the three fish. Yes – I called environmental health on their arse!
This year, as I’m soon moving, I don’t really want to start buying new fish, so I’ve decided to go for a pond pump. On the allotment I use a thin layer of vegetable oil on top of the water barrels to stop the females being able to lay their eggs into the water. In a pond setting, that’s not possible. Mosquitoes don’t like moving water; the stiller and more stagnant the better. Luckily, Swell UK have got some great pond pumps for sale (there’s also a free delivery offer on at the moment). I’ve used the company before when I was setting up my vivarium and I can attest to the good quality of the products. I’m hoping that by using a pump, the mozzies will stop laying and, as a result, I won’t look like a pin-cushion. Though, every time I walk the dog in the forest I’m attacked too so I doubt I’ll evade getting bitten entirely. Pond pumps are ideal for larger bodies of water too and in addition to providing filtration, can create a great water feature that not only looks good, but sounds great too.
So, if you’re having trouble with these blood-sucking bugs, there are various options. Get a few fish, start agitating the water, and keep a fly-swatter close by!
How is it mid-June already? This year seemed to take an age getting started, but now it’s rushing away, we’re already in summer and crops are ready to picking (yep, those main crop potatoes can start coming up soon). 2014 is a strange year for me as it’s probably the last year I’ll have in my current garden. I’ve had to roll back my plant spending, not only because there’s nowhere to put anything, but because it won’t have a chance to settle in before it’s lifted and moved on next year. I’ve already got an immense number of plants I’ll be taking with me, so I really don’t need to add more!
All the talk of new gardens, and the fact my sister’s just moved and got herself a new oasis, has once again started me on the track of garden design. I don’t think my sister will mind if I say that when it comes to gardening, she knows about as much as I do about knitting; and that’s nothing. So, faced with a longish garden with mature, wide borders on both sides and a trellised archway dissecting the lawn, she was about ready to rip it all out and roll out the grass. “NO“, I cried. “What about the gorgeous plants? What about the story this garden’s leading you on? You’ll end up with a barren brown tundra.” She didn’t really understand what I was talking about regarding the garden’s story, until I explained that with the dissecting trellis, there was a path, a journey, somewhere to explore because it was slightly hidden. Take that away and you’re just left with a green field that, knowing my sister, won’t get mowed properly and will end up becoming a wasteland.
The whole topic got me thinking about how important garden spaces and rooms are. Of course, you can just plonk a lawn down, cut a border either side and be done with it. But where’s the fun, where’s the adventure in that? By creating a space that’s just out of view, that’s not clearly seen, there’s a natural need to explore. The trellising in my sister’s garden isn’t even swathed in plants and you can see beyond, but there’s still the lure to wander and discover what lays beyond the arch. If you’re not very good at creating natural garden spaces, then you can opt for a garden room such as those offered by Frog Garden Rooms. Even if you don’t disguise the room in any way, it’s still a destination, it still provides somewhere to go to when you step outside. Alternately, using curved borders, arches, and meandering paths to offer a few surprises when people explore.
Luckily, I have managed to get my sister to realise the importance of leaving the trellising and archway up, even if she simply lawns the entire other side. The sense of adventure is so important in any outside space, helping to create that charming, interesting and sometimes surprising environment that we all love. Rip down all the structures and lay out a bowling green and I expect you’ll rarely venture out. But, create a series of rooms, of hideaways and little nooks with glorious flowers to discover, and I’m sure you’ll be drawn back to nature each and every day.
Every year I start off with the same gusto and determination to clear my alloment plot and have swathes of food growing in every nook and crevice. With food prices going up and my family also trying to eat a little healthier, I’m even keener this year; with a real priority placed upon growing things I actually use a lot off – potatoes and onions for starters. The problem is, as May arrives and warmer weather really gets the growing season going, social events also begin to clutter the calender, resulting in my dreams of a pristine allotment having never been realised.
Mary and I (that’s my allotment co-owner) have taken a few steps to help ourselves this year. Firstly, gone are the grass walkways. They look nice, but why on earth I thought they would be a good idea, I don’t know. Trying to remove couch grass is made practically impossible when grassy paths intersect every bed. Now, the paths are covered in plastic and mulch. The bottom 10% is also covered underneath a thick and heavy tarpaulin until the autumn, when we intend to plant a large black current ‘orchard’. And, as you’ll see from the pictures below, the Farmer 3500 has been brought into action to rotivate. Many of the beds have been covered for the winter, so I stripped off the plastic and left it for a week to allow the multitudes of amphibians to find a new home. Then, on went the motor and away went the blades…cutting through the soil. We’ve put a hell of a lot of conditioning into the soil over the years, but even I was surprised to see such good quality!
To make life a little easier, the bed in the first image is one long strip along almost the entirety of the plot. ALL of the potatoes have gone here this year, so now it’s a mountain range of little soil pyramids awaiting the first green shoots to pop through. You may note there are still some odd clumps of grass; that WILL come out…..when I have a moment. The main thing to concentrate on this year is upkeep. Leave the allotment or veg patch along for a week or two and you’ll be dismayed to see just how much WEEDS have grown. In the worst scenario, it’s worth hopping online to find some local gardeners who might be able to help out….either with your allotment or your veg patch at home. Here’s a few things I do on my patch – they might be helpful!
1. Get at least an hour or two of allomenteering in each week. It only takes one weekend off and you’ve effectively left weeds to go mad for two weeks.
2. Cover under utilised spaces. Don’t rip all the plastic off at once, just uncover as and when you need. Otherwise, you’ll beautifully weed-free spaces will become colonised within the blink of an eye.
3. Concentrate on remove couch grass roots and bindweed. My yearly battle is against these two extremely intrusive plants. If you manage to remove a bit each week, and stop resurgences in places you’ve cleared, one day you MIGHT (pleaaaaaase) get a couch grass and bindweed-free patch!
4. Mound up your spuds. You know, mounding up the earth on potatoes has many benefits. The main reason for doing so is to optimise the harvest, but simply moving the soil around helps to stop weeds getting a foothold too.
5. Leave those ladybirds alone. I KNOW there’s a problem with invasive Harlequin ladybirds, but to be honest, if they’re eating aphids, I’m happy. If you’re lucky enough to have no pests on your plot, then feel free to squish Harlequins and let our native species thrive. Otherwise, I just stay well clear and let them all eat cake…and more.
I can’t believe it’s over a month since I posted – though, it has to be said, I’ve had other things on my mind. On Friday May 2nd, I got hitched! As a gardener (and also a complete control freak) I had to do the flowers and plants (and pretty much everything else) myself, so I thought I’d share a few pictures.
Firstly, Colombia Road WAS my saviour. We got married on the Friday, so I headed up to Colombia Road the Sunday before and managed to bag 160 roses for ONLY £40! That, in my mind, is an incredible price. Of course, then there was the situation of trying to keep them fresh for the wedding day.
As soon as I got home it was time to snip, cutting off the bottom of the stems at an angle, UNDER the water and placing them into two containers with warm water that had previously been scrubbed and bleached to get rid of germs. The warm water did mean the roses opened up quickly, but it also encourages the stems to suck up more moisture; vital if you want to prolong the flowers. The lower leaves were removed, and I used a solution of 1 tablespoon of vinegar, 1 teaspoon of sugar and three drops of bleach added to every 1 litre of water for nourishment. The bleach kills the germs, the sugar feeds the roses. The flowers were then stored in my garage; a place which has artificial light and is cool. After two days, I recut all the roses, removed any discoloured outer petals and leaves, and plunged back into fresh water with the doses of vinegar, bleach and sugar. AMAZINGLY, they last until the day when they were simply used in clear vases.
Meanwhile, all the succulents were stripped into singles, pairs or trios and placed into clear tumblers (£1 for 4 from Wilkinsons). They were then topped up with pea shingle to complete the look!
So, without further ado, here’s a few pics from the day:
I love quick tips and easy ways of creating a beautiful space. Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Ricky Peterson….I’ll let him take over;
Hi there, my name is Ricky. I love writing about gardening and I love being outdoors. I work at Swallow Aquatics, who sell various garden supplies and when I am not working you will probably find me in the garden (weather permitting!) Thanks for reading, and enjoy your garden this summer!
No matter how big or small your garden may be, there is plenty you can do to make it look more beautiful and a nicer place to be – and if you can you should! Having a nice home is one thing, but having a nice garden will allow you to enjoy the summer months more fully and spending time outside is good for you.
So whether you want to add value to your home, or you want to live the outdoor lifestyle more often, we have some tips to help you make the most of your space:
Looking After Your Plants
The first step to a beautiful garden is of course getting the right plants and looking after them correctly. The best plants for you will depend on your tastes and how much time you want to spend tending to them.
A rose in a garden, looking pretty
If you like a low hassle garden then go for a range of different coloured (flowers) shrubs and maybe some dwarf conifers to as to add interest but without blocking your natural light. If in doubt, here is a good guide to choosing the right plants.
Alternatively, if you don’t mind the maintenance, then you can pick based on what colours you like and which plants you like the most. Ideally you should try to add some plants which flower at different times of year. Be aware of maintenance needs though:
- Roses will need pruning every year and feeding often
- Bedding plants will need to be watered regularly in summer
- Some perennials need cutting at the end of each season
The Right Garden Furniture
Although this might feel like more of an afterthought, your furniture is what will allow you to sit and enjoy your garden, so think carefully. Light weight furniture may not look great by the end of winter, so unless you have somewhere to store it safely, it may be worth investing in some hard wooden or even stone furniture.
Wooden furniture will need treating each year and probably need a good clean each spring if you want it to look its best, whereas stone furniture will be the lowest maintenance, but is not to everyone’s tastes.
Additionally, if you are leaving wooden furniture on grass over the winter the legs will start to rot sooner than if you place your furniture on stone or some other hard patio surface.
Add Some Aquatics
Building a garden pond isn’t as hard as you might think and it can add a real dash of interest to your garden – especially if you decide to keep fish in it.
Your pond doesn’t have to be this big of course
Ponds can also be low maintenance and if you add a water feature such as a small fountain they make a great focal point.
Things to consider:
- For a low maintenance pond, don’t put it directly under trees (leaves = mess)
- A decent water pump will prevent stagnation and keep the water healthy
- Add layers of different depths to maximise the bio diversity
- Include a shallow area to allow animals to drink & in case hedgehogs fall in
- There is a full guide on planning your pond here
Heating & Lighting
Finally, think of those long summer evenings when you could be enjoying your garden. The two essential ingredients for an extended summer evening are light and warmth. Fortunately neither are difficult to find.
Outdoor lighting can look pretty amazing
A patio heater is one option, or you could also consider a chimenea in which you can burn garden waste whilst keeping warm.
And so can patio heaters!
In addition, some strategically placed solar powered lights around the garden can instantly make a dark outdoor space feel magical and modern lighting options are generally very low maintenance. Just try to place your lighting in areas which won’t quickly become overgrown.
Invite In Some Nature
And what’s the finishing touch you ask? Simple, share your garden with the local wildlife. You don’t have to give up your modern comforts, but a few simple touches such as:
- A bird feeder
- Some bird seed or fat balls
- A bird bath
- Lots of bright flowers
Will all attract lots of nature and will help to make your garden feel alive!
I’ve always been hugely into nature, from caterpillars in jam jars and escaped stick insects being allowed to eat my mum’s house plants, to digging out my own little pond and watching the waterworld develop. At this time of year, even if you had a good clear of your pond last autumn, it’s a good idea to give it a once over before spring really gets on its way.
Unfortunately, being middle of terrace in the middle of a long street, in the middle of a large suburb, I don’t get a lot of aquatic life. That being said, a solo frog has managed to find its way into my garden and has taken up residence in my pond several years running. So far it hasn’t appeared this year, so I’m waiting with baited breath and hoping it’ll reappear (though, if it’s lucky, it’s moved on and found some other froggy friends). After the last of my fish died in 2013, I gave the entire pond a complete washout (if you read regularly, my ‘pond’ is just a huge plastic container sunk into the ground), cut back the weeds and left well alone since. However, now spring’s here and things are starting to grow, there’s a few important tasks that need doing.
- Fish out any extra fallen leaves that might have collected over the winter.
- Cut back dead or dying plant material that could sour the water.
- Buy new, or cut back, oxygenating weeds, depending on its voraciousness. Particularity in small tubs, it’s a good idea to have oxygenating weed to maintain a healthy eco-system. This might need topping up with fresh plant material, or cutting back depending on last year’s growth.
- Top up water levels if required. In large ponds its not normally possible to fill with distilled water. However, with smaller tubs, fill a few buckets of water and let them sit outside for 24/36 hours. This will not only allow them to match the ambient temperature, but additions, such as chlorine, can be allowed to escape.
- Check pond filters and pumping solutions. In my tub I have a little solar-powered fountain, and the filter often needs a quick clear out, whilst the solar panel needs a wipe down. You might think that using pumps for a water feature is a hassle, but there are lots of companies who can install and help maintain equipment, allowing you to get on with the gardening and enjoy the sound of water in your oasis.
- Ensure steep-sided ponds have escape routes for wildlife. One of my clients has an old bathtub sunk into her garden as a pond. The steep sides make it perilous for nature, and despite my efforts to grow plants around the edges to act as a bridge, there’s been a couple of drowned creatures. To avoid this, provide banks of stones or wood at the edges, and use water planting (both in and out of the pond) to give extra escape routes.
I adore ponds and water features in a garden. They make such a vast difference to the entire ambiance of an outside space. And, whether you’ve got a huge reservoir or a tiny tub pond, a quick spruce-up this weekend will ensure you have nothing to do later in the year other than enjoy the buzz of dragonflies and the babble of water.
If you are a keen gardener in the UK, you will likely be familiar with some of the invasive species that are damaging the habitats of our native ones. This is something that receives a fair bit of attention in the press, as well as on programmes such as Countryfile. One such rogue plant is the Japanese Knotweed, which is now said to occupy a site in every 10km of England and Wales, and is also present in Scotland .
This invasive species is causing problems to homeowners and businesses throughout the United Kingdom, especially in regards to structures such as concrete, tarmac, brick walls and foundations. The issue with Japanese Knotweed is the rate that it has spread, and the destruction to well cultivated gardens and even buildings.
Here are some of the specific problems caused by Japanese Knotweed :
Damage to paving and tarmac areas
Damage to retaining wall structures
Damage to building foundations
Damage to flood defence structures
Damage to archaeological sites
Reduction in land values
Reduction in biodiversity through out-shading native vegetation
Many insects / wildlife that are dependent on our native plants are lost or in danger
Some of these will be more relevant to you as a gardener, such as damage to paving, aesthetic issues and reduction in biodiversity. In rare cases, some would-be homebuyers have been refused a mortgage for properties when this plant is present, so it is something to watch out for in the future too.
It can be highly irritating to have a mature garden with native species affected by this invader, so you will want to find a solution of how to eradicate Japanese Knotweed effectively.
What to do if you suspect you have a problem with Japanese Knotweed
Due to the spread of Japanese Knotweed, it is now classed as “controlled waste” under the Environment Protection Act 1990. This means that it requires disposal at licensed landfill sites. In short, it should never be included in normal household waste as you could be committing an offence by causing or allowing the plant to spread in the wild (listed under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981).
If you want to verify that you have a problem, you can use online resources to compare the stems and leaves of your plant with a photo of the real thing. Of course, you may want to hire a team of experts to do this for you, as it is probably better to be safe than sorry.
When it comes to actually getting rid of the plant, there are a number of ways it can be tackled. Experts may use chemicals, excavation, biological, composting or incineration tactics depending on the scale of the problem and the location. Professionals will be able to get get of the Japanese Knotweed in a safe and effective manner, and should offer you an insurance backed guarantee as well.
Sources:  http://www.jksl.com/why-is-japanese-knotweek-a-problem.htm