I think I must’ve first come across Thrift (Ameria) when I was a lad holidaying in Scotland. Our family didn’t head abroad, but jumped in the car and journeyed to the stunning landscapes of the Lake District, Scotland and Northumberland. I distinctly remember great swathes of thrift clinging to the wind battered cliffs of the Farne Island; whilst being pecked to death by over-zealous and territorial terns. Thrift, therefore, has always had a sense of nostalgia for me, and it’s ...Read more
I’m dreaming of a…..no, not a white Christmas, but a brand, spanking new home. Of a garden that’s a complete blank canvas. Actually, no….more like a wreck of garden that I can go mad pruning, cutting back and shaping back into a gorgeous oasis. Of French Doors or a large sliding glass wall that I can throw open in warm weather and let the outside in. Of shutters in all shapes and sizes, so that I can get rid of the curtains and have a blissful, clean and crisp look. Of course, all of this is, as I’ve already suggested, a dream. I’m not moving, at the earliest, until this winter, so there’s a whole gardening season ahead of me. However, with family members moving and friends taking the last few days of warmer weather to spruce up their gardens, it has got me thinking about plants.
For many of us, a trip down to the local nursery is a delight. All too often, we fill our trolleys with bright flowers and beautiful blooms with the excitement of getting home and planting. However, after a few months, those petals have withered and disappeared, there hasn’t been the time to deadhead properly, and the garden looks a mess – all over again. And it’s in shopping for plants that the mistake has been made….I’ve learned this the hard way. Instead of being attracted by the glitter and dazzle of flowers, if you want a relatively stress-free and easily maintained patch, it’s evergreens that you need.
I’m going to do a couple of posts about good evergreen plants, and in this first one, I’m concentrating on low growing border and pot plants that’ll look great all year around.
Heucheras (right) – Oh, be still my beating heart. I love these plants. What you see as a pile of leaves, I see as a beautifully patterned specime that will survive around the year, creating great mounds of lush vegetation. Heucheras come in many shapes and sizes, and various varieties thrive in sun or shade. That, in my opinion, makes them a perfect garden plant. They flower in early summer, so there’s a little maintenance chopping off the stalks after they’ve finished blooming. They’re slug and snail resistant too!
Phormiums – Some people love them, others hate them, but I generally regard phormiums as an ideal plant if you want an easy maintenance border or pot. Often called New Zealand flax, phormiums comes in a variety of colours, from pale and striped green leaves, to bright, pinkish red. The arrow-shaped foliage is the perfect contrast to other rounder-leaved garden evergreens, so you can clash both colour and shape. They’re miraculously easy to grow too. One downside is that slugs and snails like to hide away in the core – a place that’s pretty hard to get to. But if you’re ‘evergreening‘ your garden up, you probably won’t note a lot of mollusc damage anyway.
Grasses – Grasses have come in and out of fashion, but I love the fact that they’re available in such a vast array of varieties. Tiny dwarf and slow growing varieties are ideal for pots and the fronts of borders, whilst larger, shrub-sized plants can be used around the year as structural garden plants. To get the best from many varieties, you DO need to chop them right down in winter. However, that’s just once a year compared to lots of deadheading throughout the seasons – I see the benefits!
Ophiopogon (right) – Commonly called ‘Lily Turf’ or ‘Lily Grass’, this plant looks like a grass but, as its name suggests, is actually a lily. It has jet black leaves that last around the year. Grown against green or silver foliage it’s simply stunning. It also works well in pots where you can use pale gravel to really set it off. It’s very slow growing, so don’t expect it to cover a vast area very quickly, but it is a great talking point.
Hebes – If you’ve had to dig out your buddleia because it’s got monstrously leggy (I had to), then hebes are an ideal alternative. You’ll still get the benefit of nectar rich flowers for butterflies, but these treasures are more compact, often slow growing and make ideal evergreen specimens. Like many evergreen plants, they don’t always look their best in winter, but they WILL give a backdrop that’s better than bare and brown stems.
Whilst flowers look nice in the short term, there’s generally far more maintenance involved than if you’re growing shrubs and greenery. And, if you want a garden to look lush and vibrant around the year with very little effort, I’d definitely consider using evergreen plants that provide a constant backdrop of foliage.
Eh? MORE rain? I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but what with the past three days in London being dry and relatively sunny, I think I was lured into a false sense of security. Those three days were probably our summer. But, anyway, to business.
With rain having returned, it got me to thinking about what garden jobs I need to do in the off-chance that the sun comes out and gardening can recommence. I’m a bit of a multi-tasker and I hate down time, so when it’s pouring outside, it’s the perfect time to focus on other things (though, with the amount of rain we’ve done, you may have already completed most of these tasks).
I know, it’s not exactly glamorous. However, washing out your pots is an extremely good idea if you want to promote seed germination and reduce the risks of bacterial and viral diseases. For the worst, scrape off dirt with a stiff brush before leaving to soak in a bucket of nine parts hot water and one part bleach. Rinse off well when you’re done.
So, you can’t really do this whilst there’s a downpour, but it’s the ideal time to make a few landscaping repairs before things really get growing. Of course, you won’t get cement to set in this weather, but loose brick walls can be cobbled back together easily. With the soil soft, it’s an easy case of replacing fallen masonry and stones. The continuous rain also helps to settle soil again once you’re done.
Meanwhile, moss and algae that’s begun to grow on fencing, paving and ornaments can also be scrubbed off using a jet washer (or hose with a strong jet fixture) and a stiff broom, whilst it’s also the perfect time to replace fencing which isn’t readily accessible later in the year when climbers are in full growth.
I have a confession – I’m not terribly good at maintaining my garden gadgets. Okay, so I knock off excess soil on spades and forks, and I keep my glovers washed and clean (mostly). However, when it comes to the lawnmower, the blades need sharpening. The strimmer needs some new twine and a damn good wipe-down, and I really look carefully pick through the teeth of the electric saw to remove old bits of twig. If something’s old and a little worn out, it’s also a good idea to replace a few parts. In this consumer-crazy era, it’s easy just to go and buy something new. But places like Pat’s Small Engine Plus offer replacement parts for many major brands, so you can save yourself a few quid whilst also getting a better working tool.
You didn’t think you could get away without any growing, did you? It is warm enough to get a few plants going, especially if you have a heated propagator or a sunny, indoor windowsill. Spring onion sets and broad beans can be planted at this time of year, and I’d be tempted to start them off in pots as the soil’s a little warmer and you’ll get a decent headstart with germination. If you’re growing annuals and want some early seasonal flowers, get a few pots on the go now. This ensure that long before the rest of your plants are blooming, you have mature little plants to pop into borders nice and early.
I’ve already got some seeds on the go, and have my pot washing on the go, but there’s definitely some paving that needs a damn good scrub.
Spring has certainly come to London over the past few days. There really is nothing quite like a little bit of sunshine to lift the mood. I finally managed to get back out into the garden and discovered that what I thought was a slightly overgrown patch of ivy was actually a thriving mass of plant which had begun to attack my home. Spring bulbs, pulmonaria and hellebores are all bringing the borders to life. Meanwhile, the succulents for the wedding are growing quickly now that a few hours of extra sun are on them. As an aside, Columbia Road Flower Market is useless if you’re looking for succulents. So far, if you’re looking for healthy and affordable plants that you can split and propagate, Kew Gardens is, by far, the best option.
I have LOTS occurring this year, including a move. Whilst I’d love a tiny house on a huge plot of land, I’m not quite at that level of wealth yet, and so I’ll be moving from a postage stamp garden to a slightly larger suburban garden. With that in mind, I’ve been seeking inspiration. And for this, a new book by David Stevens and published by Jaqui Small (www.jacquismallpub.com | @JacquiSmallPub) has been ideal.
Let’s face it – most of us don’t have the vast gardens that so many garden books cater towards. Yes, these gardening bibles suggest to simply scale down the size of borders for smaller spaces, but that really doesn’t work because it’s not space efficient. That’s why I’ve really fallen for ‘backyard blueprints‘ in a big way; it’s a tome of fantastic ideas that can easily be put into the regular ol’ garden plot. You could copy an entire garden plan, or just pick out highlights to make your tiny garden not only seem bigger, but become a place you really want to explore and live in.
The other thing, as the name suggests, is that the book provides some interesting blueprints to work from. There are three distinct sections; those on design, furnishing and planting. Each has tips to work from and beautiful images which could prove inspirational. Say, perhaps, you have a garden plan in mind but want to incorporate lighting or a working space. Simply pop to the ‘Blueprints for Furnishing‘ section and, hey presto, here are some ideas. The same is true for advice on plant texture and colour, or choosing materials to best suit your needs.
I’ve really become quite enthralled with this book. Perhaps its the imagery, or perhaps that fact that I’ll be moving within a year to a new blank garden to fill. When I moved to my current suburban house, I built the garden from scratch. But that was 13 years ago; I didn’t know nearly as much about gardening as I do now. To get my hands on a new plot is extremely exciting and I know, that amongst my toolkit, I’ll be armed with this goodie of a book.
Backyard Blueprints is available in March 2014, for £20 in hardback. However, you can also order for just £16 including P&P. To do this, simply ring 01903 828503 or email email@example.com and quote the offer code APG91.
Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to:
Littlehampton Book Services Mail Order Department
Littlehampton Book Services
PO Box 4264,
Worthing, West Sussex
Please quote the offer code APG91 and include your name and address details.
*UK ONLY – Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.
So, as some of you may have read in my December post, I’m getting married in May and am using succulents as one of the flower varieties. Thus, every windowsill in my house is currently covered in these plants – when the cats aren’t knocking them off, of course!
Using a heated propagator to keep the soil levels up, I’ve attempted propagating a few species, despite it being the middle of the winter. The sempervivum’s were ridiculously easy and I simply removed the small ‘chick‘ plants, popped the root into soil, covered with gravel and left them. I’ve been watering every two weeks with a succulent and cacti feed and they’re doing quite well. The aloe, on the other hand, was a complete disaster. Not only did I lose all of the removed leaves, but I lost the mother plant as well. Unfortunately rot set in and a ghastly, air-filling smell began to float out of the yellowing stems. I’m not sure whether I should’ve allowed the removed plants to sit around for several days before planting; perhaps this would have helped seal the wound and prevented rot from setting in. Either way, dismal failure and, as you can see from the picture, they quickly wilted and rotted away.
However, it hasn’t all been doom and gloom, for the echeveria leaves have worked. Not every one began to develop roots, but I’ve got half a dozen or so new plants quickly putting out life into the soil. A couple have already begun to bud new leaves too, so growing in a heated propagator seems to work when the weather’s too cold outside. I had thought the minimal sunlight would affect growing; seems not!
I still have quite a few more plants to buy before the big day, so it’s wholesalers and Columbia Road Flower Market hear I come. But, for now, I’m happy with the success so far!
It’s the New Year, can you believe it? I think part of my difficulty comprehending that spring’s on the way is because we really haven’t had much of a winter. To start of 2014, I have a great great post from Oaktree Garden Design. They’re a Hertfordshire company serving London and the home counties, specialising in producing stylish and practical gardens. And, if you want to spruce up your space and make it more usable this year, then Oaktree Garden Design have some great tips.
Garden rooms are a fabulous way of adding square-footage to your home. While it may seem counter-intuitive to take up valued garden space, especially in gardens that are already quite small, there is the huge advantage of being able to enjoy your lovely garden while working, studying, or exercising.
The issue when choosing a garden room to complement your home and much-cared for garden is that there is a danger of the room looking like a glorified shed. Although there is merit in really going for the rustic shed theme on the outside while having a hi-tech and modern interior, there are so many stylish and contemporary garden rooms available that there is no excuse for not having something that is a wow-factor and that has genuine potential to add value to your home.
Modern garden rooms are sleek, light, and can be made to measure to suit your exact needs, taking into account the space available. I particularly like these garden pods from Green Studios, which include windows in just the right place to make use of the natural light, and huge glass doors to really bring the outside to the inside.
Large folding glass doors are a brilliant way of integrating the inside of the room into your garden. This will not only maximise the light available during the day, but means they can be folded back in the warmer months giving an outdoor feel.
As modern garden rooms can be finished internally, you can integrate the new room by decorating the interior as you would a room in your home. Use floral décor, and shades of green to really push the garden theme. Custom-made canvas prints of your treasured flora and fauna hung in just the right place can compensate (a little) for the reduction in planting space outside. Even better, you can use pots to bring the garden right inside the garden room!
One amazing feature I have seen recently is to continue the external finish into the interior. For example, by having a decked area outside which you can match on the inside with wooden cladding. This makes the room appear like one long flowing building, which looks even better when paired with glass doors, whether they are open or not. This works particularly well with garden rooms which are not square – no-one said garden rooms have to be boxy! It’s well worth consulting a specialist designer who can use their experience to help you get your new room just right for you and your property. They will have lots of knowledge of what is possible, and will come up with ideas that you didn’t even think of.
Garden rooms can be a genuinely good way of adding value, space, and flow to your home. When you need that bit of extra space, whether it is for a home-office, or an art studio, then it really is something you should consider. If you have written off the idea of a garden room for fear of it being a cold, unwelcoming eyesore, then take a look at something more stylish and modern and see what is possible.
These days I don’t have nearly enough time to spend in my own garden. It manages to tick along fairly well without too much help though, meaning that I only have to do major clean-ups once or twice a year. As much as I’d like to get out there, life seems to get in the way. If you want to spend less time working in your garden, and more time enjoying it, here are my top tips for 2014.
Seriously, if you’re looking for less work, ditch the herbaceous and annual plants and opt for flowering shrubs. Not only do these require little pruning – particularly the slower growing specimens – but if you utilise evergreen plants, you’ll have a green oasis around the year. Shrubs can be shaped, come in a variety of sizes and have a plethora of varieties so you can get something perfect no matter what your colour scheme may be.
You’re probably reading this thinking ‘pots, less work? Yikes!‘ but hear me out; it depends what you put in them. It’s true that pots sometimes need a lot of watering and care, but not if you plant them up with drought tolerant species such as thrift and succulents. Alternatively, a little work in the autumn or summer to plant pots up with bulbs or winter pansies respectively also results in fairly easy-maintenance displays. If you have gaps in your flowerbeds which you’d normally shove a new plant into and thus have to water every day, you can just shove a pot in. They’re easy to move around the garden as you please, and as long as you top up the upper inch with new soil every year, your pots can keep going for many years.
If you want to stop weeding, mulch EVERYTHING! In pots I tend to use cobbles or pea shingle, whilst in flower beds I’ll use bark chippings. If there’s a spare spot of soil, something will try and go. Swathe it in plants if you can, and if you can’t, use mulch (it helps maintain moisture in hot summers too). If you’re using gravel or stones in your flower beds, be sure to put down some form of membrane first, otherwise you’ll find cobbles sinking away into the ground over time.
Ditch the lawn
If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you’ll know how I hate lawns. They are EXTREMELY hard work and tend to look scruffy unless you put in A LOT of time. You can use artificial grass from 1Grass which gives the benefit of space and the fact that you can vacuum and slosh it down with water to keep it clean. Also, if you have a female dog, it’s practically the only way to avoid burnt patches of grass. Alternatively, ditch a green space completely and divide gardens into rooms using hard-landscaping such as walkways, pergolas and seating areas.
Use foliage, not flowers
Whilst flowers look pretty, the more you have, the larger amount of upkeep needed. From spraying emerging buds, to deadheading and pruning, you’ll have a lot of work ahead. By replacing flowers with contrasting foliage, you can get the same vibrant clashes of colour without having to constantly be in the garden snipping. Heucheras are ideal for green and purple foliage, whilst eucalpytus and lambs ears are fantastic silvers. Grasses, meanwhile, work extremely well for offering interesting alternative leaves shapes and also come in a variety of hues.
So, if you want to enjoy your garden a little more next year whilst reducing the effort you put in, there are several things you can do. There’s no need to have a bare and barren garden even you want a maintenance free zone; just use the right plants and structure to let nature get on with it.
I think I must’ve first come across Thrift (Ameria) when I was a lad holidaying in Scotland. Our family didn’t head abroad, but jumped in the car and journeyed to the stunning landscapes of the Lake District, Scotland and Northumberland. I distinctly remember great swathes of thrift clinging to the wind battered cliffs of the Farne Island; whilst being pecked to death by over-zealous and territorial terns. Thrift, therefore, has always had a sense of nostalgia for me, and it’s great for use in gardens.
One of the things I love about Armeria, in fact, many of the my favourite specimens, is the degree of ease it is to keep. Bung a plant in a well draining pot or flower bed, and you’ll be rewarded with a carpet of colour the following spring. All you need do is to snip off the dying flowerheads to encourage yet more blooms, and thrift will be extremely happy. It’s also an evergreen, so it’s extremely welcome in my garden.
Another huge benefit is that because they’re native to the UK, they’re also excellent for wildlife gardens. We tend to think of wildlife-friendly patches as great wildflower meadows left to naturalise. In fact, a rockery can also be an ideal home to many creatures, with its nooks and crannies offering paces for animals to live. Add a beautiful collection of flowering alpines, and you’ve got wildflowers and an insect hotel in one! Thrift also makes an ideal specimen for pots, and will grow over the side to create a carpet of green. It’s cheap, easy to grow and beautiful; is there anything better?
Name: Thrift (Armeria)
Thrives In: Full sun. I have kept some pots in partial shade, and though they grow, they don’t bloom as prolifically.
Yearly Care: No pruning required; yeehah! I would advise snipping off the dying flowers to encourage new buds and keep specimens looking tidy. If you’re growing in pots, foliage will also creep over the sides as it grows. It’s worthwhile potting up every few years so you don’t get dieback in the middle.
Growing Medium: Well drained soil that has grit mixed in. I often place grit on the surface too so that as the carpet forms, it doesn’t rot from beneath if the environment becomes too wet.
Quick Tip: For best use, utilise thrift in pots, either on its own or with other alpine species. Left to grow into a carpet and cover the entire surface of a pot, it’ll create a stunning display in flower. Two pots could be placed either-side of a doorway for a lovely entrance statement.
Across the world, it’s Christmas season for many and, indeed, it is here too. However, with a wedding looming next year and the determination to provide a lot of our own flowers, it’s also now succulent season in my house! In May 2014, this hermit is finally getting hitched and our wedding colours are silver and green; making succulents an ideal plant. After visiting Christmas at Kew this weekend, I was extremely pleased to find some very good value succulents for sale and snapped a few up to start the wedding collection.
Of course, winter isn’t exactly the best time to be growing on and splitting succulents, but the race is now on nevertheless. I’ve got a little heated propagator which I’m putting the newly planted ‘chicks‘ into until they root, at which time they’ll be moved to the windowsills to allow more room so I can split yet more plants. The nice thing about succulents is that they’re very easy to grow and propagate; the only concern is whether we’ll have enough in time for the big day. We’re trying to keep costs down, so sourcing cheap plants in various locations is a major mission at present. And we’ll need hundreds!
The process of splitting succulents is very easy. For the many specimens which develop little side sets, you can simply snap them off and they’ll come away with a few attached roots. Plant these into a well draining compost, put a little pea shingle around the top to prevent rotting on the bottom leaves, and you’re done. For others, you can simply remove the a few leaves and put them in a warm sunny location. In the height of summer, they’d develop roots at their base after a few weeks. In mid-winter, despite being inside a propagator, it might take a little longer. All my plants are being kept inside to avoid too must moisture and encourage a little out-of-season growth.
You might as why I’m having succulents at my wedding. Firstly, I love them; they’re masculine and combine with other plants extremely well. We’ll be using white roses and silver foliage, such as eucalyptus, alongside to create some bright displays. Secondly, we’re on a budget so these are relatively cheap and I can grow them at home. Thirdly, for the most part we’ll be using the entire succulents in glass jars and bedding them in gravel, thus not destroying the roots. We’ll be providing favours for the guests, but the succulents are a little additional gift people can take away if they’d like. If not, I’m going to be overflowing for some time!
So, we’ll see how this mid-winter succulent season goes. I’ll report back on my success and where I manage to find some more great priced plants.
I grew up with aquilegia’s in the garden, and remember being around these plants from when I was tiny. As such, I don’t really think of them as all that exciting. Many species, particularly the wilder varieties, can be fairly bland and though the dainty flowers offer a welcome treat spring, the blooms can be dull lavender and white. However, there are an extraordinary number of cultivars that come in a fantastic range of colours. As soon as you start looking beyond the common garden specimens, you’ll discover an entirely new world of obsession.
One of the things I love about aquilegia’s, also known as the columbine flower or columbine plant, is that they’re exceedingly good at self propagation. They’re also herbaceous perennials. After a few years you’ll have so many plants you can start giving them away. Of course, one of the problems with self-seeding is that you won’t have control over the cultivar-crosses, though you may find a few surprises when these lovely plants begin to flower.
Another benefit of aquilegia’s is that whilst I always think of them as low growing plants, when they’re in flower they can actually reach a metre tall. This is fantastic when you need to bring a bit of height to spring beds. Their foliage is also very attractive, so that even after the spent flowers are cut, you have mounds of lovely leaves to continue acting as ground cover.
If all these advantages weren’t enough, aquilega’s are also great in partial shade. In fact, I hardly ever plant them in full sun as they’re too many other plants crammed into my tiny garden. Instead, I intersperse them with heucheras and begenia in my shady borders where they bring a welcome flash of colour.
As with most of my plant picks, pulmonaria are extremely easy to care for and will quickly provide a great carpet of ground cover for shaded areas of your garden. You can pinch off the flower stems after the blooms die, but if you’re too busy, then this isn’t really necessary. Other than removing old, ripped and dying leaves, care is extremely easy.
Name: Aquilegia (Columbine Flower)
Thrives In: Grow in full sun or partial shade, but I find they’re particularly good in the latter. They form clumps and can tolerate low temperatures and a moist soil too, making them easy to overwinter.
Yearly Care: When the flowers fade, remove stalks unless you want self-seeding to occur. Aquilegia form a single long tap root so they’re not readily propagated by division. Collect seeds instead. Cut back older leaves in the winter to allow fresh growth to thrive. This can also be done post-flowering, when new shoots will unfurl.
Growing Medium: Aquilegia’s prefer a moist but well drained spot. They’re long tap roots mean they can survive in sunny spots as long as they’re mature.
Quick Tip: Use in shady borders to bring height and colour in the spring and summer months. The foliage is attractive, so pair alongside contrasting plants and then enjoy the extra display of flower stalks mid-year.