The gardening year has a vast multitude of gardening shows to visit, and whether you’re visiting a local nursery with some show gardens or are enjoying the horticultural wonder that is Chelsea, you’re more than likely to get a few ideas. That is, until you get home and realise
‘Oh, this plant doesn’t really grow in the same soil as that one‘,
‘These two plants flower at completely different times of years. How come in the Chelsea garden they were both in bloom?‘
The thing is; when it comes to flower shows, much of what you see is a falsity. Plants have been pampered and preened, planted at the last minute and often grown in unnatural environments so that they’re in bloom at the right time.
Having said that, 2013 seems to be shaping up to be a home-grown flower show in our own gardens. My foxgloves are WAY behind schedule, as are my alliums, but my red and orange geums are plastering every area of garden with colour. I have wisteria and forsythia flowers out as the ajuga reptans and Welsh poppies throw up their buds. These perennial Welsh poppies are an absolute delight. They grow quickly so that even seeds that are scattered after the first flowers in May are capable of producing their own buds a few months later. They don’t die over the winter so you can actually plan out a bed with a degree of certainty as to where plants will be the following year. Though…this may be thrown into slight disarray by these poppies’ other benefit; their manic reproducing!
If you look at your own garden, you’ll probably realise that a lot of things are out of sync this year. Early flowering plants are dashing to catch up with themselves, causing them to burst into life at the same time as those plants more ordinarily in bloom at this time of year. It’s nice, for a change, to see that the British flower show façade is in our own backyards. Now, with summer almost certainly gone (there’s no need to sniff out the cynic in me), we can get on with the growing and slug squashing season….whilst drawing on this year’s shows for inspiration, of course!
Okay, so the meteorologists can never seem to make up their minds so we’re never quite sure what kind of summer we’ve had. The winter has been long, the spring has been late, but though the cold’s been rattling at my bones there’s one thing that’s been all too obvious, and that’s the lack of rain.
You might think, rain? but we’ve had LOADS! In fact, here in London, we really haven’t. I’ll agree…there’s been some very wet days where a lot of rain has fallen in a relatively short space of time. But, certainly in my garden, dig beneath the surface of the soil, and the moisture has quickly drained away. Three days of sun, and my plants are already starting to look rather parched and I’m expecting to put the hose system on tonight to give them some welcome relief to their thirst.
There’s no doubt, that a hot summer is on everyone’s wishlist and we’ll all be very happy sitting out on our porches, verandas and lounging around in garden log cabins (if you have one of the latter, I expect an invite). But what of our plants?
If you’re looking for inspiration, then my Four Ways to Protect Plants from Drought is worth having a quick read. Watering in the evening is the most economical way to water, whilst watering long, hard and infrequently encourages deep roots for prolonged plant health. Changing your plants, too, can help, and using silvery leaved varieties helps to create a drought resistant garden. Mulching heavily around plants can lock moisture into the ground so that you don’t have to water so frequently, whilst ensuring that seeds are planted in-situ, instead of being transplanted, can help with establishing young plants quickly and ensuring that less watering’s required.
Of course, we’re not yet into the summer, and who’s to say that we won’t have yet another complete washout? But, with the hot days of spring arriving, taking the time to ready your garden for drought now, will provide dividends in the coming months is blissful days arrive. And, by watering, mulching and protecting your garden now, all that awaits on hot summer days is a glass of Pimms and a lounge chair on the patio.
If the past winter has taught me anything, it’s that there’s an essential need for evergreen’s in the garden. I’m mostly a herbaceous plant man, but this has the distinct disadvantage in that during the winter, when everything’s died back, I’m left with little other than a brown and barren looking flowerbed. Conversely, in a few of my client’s gardens, there’s green throughout the year because they’ve chosen to avoid flowers and embrace foliage, allowing their little retreat to have signs of life no matter the weather.
Evergreen’s can be important for structure, in addition to providing year-round colour, so if you’re heading out to get a few new plants, here’s some ideas for great plants to get.
Though I’m not a huge fan of the Mexican orange blossom, it’s hard not to see it’s advantages. Choisya’s come in a range of varieties, offering golden and dark green hues to the garden. Clusters of small white flowers can appear throughout the year depending on the variety you have, and if you’re not a fan of the blooms – like me – you can simply keep the shrubs pruned back.
This great little plant forms a carpet of brownish purplish foliage that’s perfect for growing towards the front of a border. Throughout most of the year, it’s the foliage that offers added interest and colour to the surroundings, and it’s ideal for covering large patches of barren ground during the winter. An added delight is the eruption of flower spikes in the spring, each of which is covered with vibrant blue flowers.
Euonymous comes in a vast array of varieties, both in leaf colour and growing structure. From dark green shrubby bushes, to variegated ground creepers, eunoymous can be great additions to the garden. Using variegated species can help bring light to shadier patches of your garden, whilst using shrub forms offers the chance to create a great backdrop for seasonal plants to grow against.
4. Aucuba japonica
If you’re looking for the perfect plant to grow up the side of your playhouse, then aucuba japonica is ideal. This beautiful variegated and evergreen shrub grows in a huge range of conditions, making it ideal for any garden. It’s extremely reliable for its colour, offers large shiny green leaves that are splattered with golden specks and will become covered in bright red seed pods for added interest.
I’m a huge fan of heucheras for so many reasons; they’re diversity for sun and shade, their beautiful flower spikes, their range of foliage colours, their versatility for pots and borders, and their ability to offer added colour throughout the winter months. Whilst they won’t look as vibrant as they do throughout the growing seasons, heacheras are fantastic in the winter for breaking up the ground, especially in a herbaceous border. They’ll grow around the year without very little maintenance, making them an ideal plant to provide ease and colour to the garden.
You know how it is; you go to the nursery, throw a few plants in the trolley, get to the till and somehow you’ve spent £100. I can never work out how a few plants and a bag of soil always manage to deepen the credit card debt, but somehow they do. Instant gardening – that’s having your garden look beautiful for not a lot of work – is always going to be expensive. But, if you’re a ‘proper‘ gardener, there are a few ways to keep it cheap-ish.
If you’ve ever actually looked in your shed, you’ll probably discover there’s a few rusty tools laying in one corner. As your green fingers develop there’s a growing urge to rush out and buy every horticultural tool possible. But, here’s a little secret, you really don’t need them.
I don’t drive, and people often ask me how I carry all my tools about if I’m a jobbing gardener. Well, the answer’s easy; in my backpack. Unless you’re doing major work in the garden, such as lopping down trees, you can get by with the bare essentials. Obviously, a mowers pretty essential if you’ve got a lawn, but as for big tools that promise to make even the hardest jobs easy? Naa, not so essential. I sharp pair of secateurs, a strong pruning saw, a hand trowel, and a sturdy spade and fork are really all you need. Y0u can bolster your tools with nifty little gadgets, such as electric pruners or telescope handled tree loppers, but if you ain’t got the money, then a few tools will go a long way.
I always find that if I buy a plant from a nursery, I shove it in somewhere and then it subsequently dies, I’m not too bothered. However, if something I’ve sown has a leaf which begins to discolour in the slightest, I’m all over it.
Nurturing plants from seeds is cool…you’re basically growing a new life, albeit it a green plant one. There’s something about seeing your seedlings grow and thrive which really humbles me and brings me back down to earth. Plus, being able to say to friends, ‘oh yes, that beautiful shrub that you’re just dying to have….I grew that myself from a teeny seed,’ give a swelling of pride. I grew these heucheras from seed and I LOVE them!
Avoid Bedding Plants
I’m a little biased here because I hate bedding plants, which means I’m always thinking up good reasons not to use them. One, is that they’re so expensive. Okay, the tray of begonia plugs is less than a fiver, but remember; they’ll only last a season and then you’ll have to buy more next year. Buying perennials is actually far cheaper in the long run because these plants mature and grow over the years, instead of dying at the sign of the first frost like so many bedding plants. In addition, once they’ve thriving, you can easily take cuttings or split plants = MORE plant and FREE plants.
Beg, Borrow and Steal
Well, not so much of the stealing, but you know….you don’t even have to buy plants if you have no money. The pretty amazing thing about plants is that you can propagate them. Cut off a human arm and it’s just a gory and bloody stump of flesh. Cut off a plant’s stem, leaf or root and it’ll grow a new plant! Awesome! Some plants are easier than others, but if you don’t try, you won’t know. If you’re at a friends house, just ask to take a little cutting or two and hey presto, you can populate your own garden for free!
You don’t need those £5.99 plant markers just because they come with a free weather-proof pen. You really don’t. You can use lollipop sticks, painted stones or anything else found laying around the garden. The word here is; RECYCLE. There’s a lot you can do with old products. Carpet makes an ideal compost bin lid and can be used beneath mulch as a weed suppressant. An old tyre sunk into the earth and lined with plastic makes the ideal base shape for a little pond, and will be cheaper than buying a new mould. Old bricks are ideal for creating paths and all manner of various objects make interesting planting containers. Being unique and customise, and you’ll ensure that you have a garden like no one else!
You know how, on January 18th, I wrote that post welcoming snow? Well, I’m totally over it. Snow can be a good thing for the garden, and it puts plants into a proper hibernation so that they can burst into thriving life when warm weather appears. The problem is….we haven’t had any warm weather. It’s almost the end of March, the sun has disappeared from the sky and the Arctic seems to have extended her claws downwards and has Britain firmly in her grasp. Are we in an Ice Age? Has Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’ movie become true?
My broad beans, egged-on by their warm windowsill temperature, have become leggy and can’t be put out until some of this bitter cold has disappeared, and as such, will probably be a dead loss. I several pots of seeds which, luckily, have done nothing, but I’m hoping that the cold hasn’t actually killed them. It’s around this time that I begin wishing I had a beautiful log cabin with roaring fire to ensconce myself in and forget about the woes of winter whilst dreaming of the spring sunshine and pottering around amongst the seed beds.
So, what can we do if sowing is not an option?
I know that the last place you probably want to be is outside in the freezing cold, but if you want to work up a sweat, doing some soil preparation in this weather is a good idea. Adding manure to the soil in frozen temperatures can be extremely helpful as the frosts will break down the organic material and help it seep into the soil. Uncovering covered areas of garden that you want to plant later in the year can also be a good idea. I pulled the huge articulated lorry tarp off my long row of allotment beds a couple of weeks ago and dug the soil over. Not only can the cold get in and help break down the material, but any weed seeds and pests that may have been hiding will helpfully be killed off by plummeting temperatures. You may find that friendly critters, such as frogs and toads, have taken up residence under these covered areas, so be sure to move them somewhere else frost free.
If you forgot to split plants or transfer shrubs last autumn, this long spell of cold has given you a little bit of extra time. Most things haven’t yet started growing, and even if new foliage has been produced, it’ll only be a tiny amount.
If you really need to move that shrub or split those perennials before the spring gets going, do so quickly. Plants won’t have an extended time to settle as they would in the autumn, so water consistently to ensure they get a good start this year. I have a couple of huge clumps of sedums that need splitting, so I’ll be doing so over the next few days and getting them in place before we get some warmth.
There’s a few things I didn’t get around to cutting back last autumn – especially the beautiful ‘shrub’ rose that’s outside my back door. I say shrub in inverted commas because it’s 7 foot tall and growing out the back of an escallonia. The spring shoots have grown a couple of inches already, but there’s still time to have a chop back. The berries on my callicarpa (right) are also long gone, so as spring growth hasn’t yet started, now is the ideal time for a quick prune.
At this time of year, birds are often already nesting, so it’s not the ideal time to snip. But, with the extended winter period, it’s the ideal time to do a little bit of garden tidying before the warm weather allows plants to take off.
I have a tiny confession to make, and one that might shock many gardeners; I kinda like slugs and snails. They’re pretty cool! I remember my mother not being too keen on my idea to make a snail habitat when I was younger. Surprisingly very few snails every appeared…I’m sure she was squashing them when I wasn’t looking. These critters have cool tentacle eyes that can just collapse and disappear. They protect themselves from harm with a slimy coating. Snails – even cooler – they carry their homes around with them. That’s pretty amazing! And, even if you’re not a lover of the common garden snail, then you have to love those banded snails. C’,mon, admit it, they’re pretty!
The problem is, as my gardening passion has thrived, my love for these garden molluscs has had to waver. To start with I just tried to live alongside them. That didn’t last too long as my hostas disappeared and my seedlings became slimy eaten stalks. Now I turn a blind eye when I crush them, collect them in bottles to throw out, or – grossness – cut them in half (this has a way of attracting more slugs; cannibalistic freaks!).
2012 was an AWFUL year for gardening. There was too much rain, if you can believe it, and if you thought the snail problem was bad last year, then you just wait. All those well fed critters from last summer will have laid dozens of eggs, meaning that this year is going to be a nightmare. So, to cut a long story short, in 2013 I’m going to be battling like never before.
I’m not one for slug pellets. Most garden sheds around the UK probably have several bottles of this stuff, but whilst it’s a sure way to end a slimy slug, it’s also a good way to kill birds, amphibians or even your cat. So, no, don’t use them if possible. Instead, I’m going to dig out those old sauces and plastic bottles that have been stashed away, and I’m going in with a multi-pronged approach;
- The Slug Stomp
This, by far, is the best method of getting rid of slugs and snails but, like that pesky thing called exercise, you’ve gotta do it regularly. Every night, when the sun goes down and the molluscs come out, it’s time to stomp. I generally crush snails and slugs and then put them in a bottle (fabric conditioner containers are quite good). You’ll pick up loads to start with, and fewer over time, but don’t stop completely because if there’s one thing a neighbouring snail likes, it’s a garden full of healthy plants and no other competitors.
- The Slug Pub
It’s a G&T for me, and a nice bowl of beer for the slugs. Yep, they like booze as much as we do. You can’t be out in the garden every night doing the slug stomp, and you’re bound to miss some critters. By placing a shallow bowl of beer in your garden, particularly near highly vulnerable plants, you can simply pick up the slugs and snails in the morning as they’re dying of a hangover.
- The Slug Juice Bar
For those slugs and snails who prefer to be teetotal, going down the citrus fruit route is perfect. Simply cut some oranges or grapefruit in half, leave them amongst the borders as you do with your sluggy pubs, and you can collect up the health-kick molluscs in the morning.
- The Slug Snip
Okay, the slug snip is a bit gross. It basically means you just cut a whopping great slug or snail in half with a pair of secateurs and leave it where it dies. The slightly vile thing about slugs and snails is that they can’t help but eat their fallen kin, so if the idea of giving your snaily friends a night of joy with slug pubs or juice bars isn’t your thing, go to the other end of the scale and create carnage instead.
In my opinion, if you arm yourself with these four methods, then you’re onto a good thing. Copper rings, plastic bottles, coffee granule mulch and other variants, are actually pretty useless. Snails climb, halfway up the house if they need to, so put rings around the stems of plants is pretty useless. Even if pests don’t attack from below, they’ll simply crawl over from touching leaves. It’s the same thing with mulches…eventually there’s enough plant cover to allow slugs and snails to squirm their way from one slimy plant to the next.
It’s a shame that I have to kill these beasts, because they are pretty cool when you look at them on a biological level. But, alas, 2013 is the year of the mollusc war.
How do you protect your plants from slugs and snails? Any tips….feel free to share them in the comments.
You might think I’m a bit batty, but this year I’ve decided to try and grow some of my own peanuts. I don’t really know what’s entailed and I’m not sure whether it’ll work as well as I hope, but hey – if you don’t try, you won’t know.
Whilst I’m a good gardener, I’m an awful cook and my diet at home is very limited. I’m a tuna, chicken, brown rice kinda guy. I also eat a hell of a lot of peanut butter because a) it’s a simple snack and b) it’s divine! I was thinking about self sufficiency and realised that I can’t keep enough hens to keep up with demand and I sure as hell can’t go and catch a tuna fish. But, one thing I could have a go at is making my own peanut butter from my own peanuts.
I just bought some bog standard Sainsbury’s monkey nuts ready for roasting. There’s normally two per seed pod, so unless you’re trying to sow an entire field, you’ll have enough. I’ve been waiting for the weather to warm up before I planted my peanuts, but having looked online, the growing time can be rather long, so I’ve decided to get going now and germinate the first seeds. I can plant some more at a later date if needed.
Using a standard potting compost, I’ve sown three seeds per pot and once the seedlings appear, I’ll thin them down to the strongest plant. Each peanut is supposed to provide between 20 and 50 peanuts, so if I have four or five plants, I reckon that’ll be enough to make a jar of homemade peanut butter!
It’s pretty darn cold out at the moment (yes – I had to brave the cold to get my moaning cats some food), so it’s not really a good idea to leave pots on windowsills. This is fine later in the year when temperatures aren’t fluctuating so much, but for now, I’ve placed my peanuts on a side cabinet so that they don’t note sudden drops in heat. I’ve also placed them inside resealable bags which will help keep the warmth and moisture in, aiding germination and initial seed growth.
I’m excited to see if this works. If I’m honest, I don’t really have a clue, but it’ll be an interesting experiment. What strange harvests are you considering this year?
As many of you know, I’ve had an allotment for many years and grow a variety of scrummy veggies to harvest for the kitchen table. But all too often I don’t get down to the allotment because it’s raining, because I can’t be bothered to mooch the 20 minute walk through the forest or because I only have a few minutes to spare. It’s hard with an allotment; you need to set aside some real time to go and work. There’s no pottering here. So, this year, in addition to growing larger harvests, such as potatoes and onions, down on the plot, I’m going to be growing some veggies at home amongst the ornamentals.
Due to the allotment, I don’t have a specified veggie path at home. Nor do I want one, because my garden is so tiny that there really isn’t room. I love flowers too much to be digging in a veggie patch, but there are some areas that can be utilised for easy harvests.
One of the crops I’m definitely going to be home harvesting this year are beans. My broad beans are already sown, and I have a spot amongst the sedums ideal for a lovely little bean patch. I also have a large expanse of empty fence and trellis panels which will be ideal for runner beans. The panels in question are right by the house in a south facing spot so, in addition to the clematis, this year they’re going to become home to a swathe of perfumed sweet peas and, hopefully, the heavy stems of prosperous beans. Runner beans are incredibly delicious when picked right off the stem, so having them within backdoor leaning distance will be rather indulgent.
But these two harvests will not be alone, and the yearly salad growing continues with containers of cut-and-come-again greens on the windowsill. There’s no point putting these amongst ornamental borders, unless you’re trying to save your hosta’s from being munched, in which case, throw in some lettuces and watch the slugs devour them. Meanwhile, I’m intending on growing a couple of gourds next to the reading bench, intertwining some French beans on the flowering blackcurrant and planting a few beetroot and carrots at the front of some of my ornamental borders.
There’s no reason not to enjoy your ornamental garden and grow a few home veggies too. And, in many circumstances, being able to pick both edibles and flowers from the same patch will be an additional joy.
Can you believe it’s February? January seems to have rushed by, yet Christmas seems as if it were a year ago already. With so much snow on the ground, followed by drenching rain, there hasn’t exactly been a huge amount of time to get out into the garden. However, the past couple of days have been positively balmy, and the warmer weather’s got me in the mood for sowing.
I’ve been lacking on my garden duties, and I spent several hours over the past few days clearing, tidying and cutting back a lot of the foliage that should’ve been chopped last autumn. Much of this didn’t need to be pruned anyway as the sedum heads looks gorgeous in the frost, and the Japaneses anemone’s offered seeds for the birds.
In my discoveries I’ve discovered that many plants are already beginning to burst into life. The pulmonaria, a fantastic plant for early appearing bees, already has buds and some open flowers. Meanwhile, shoots on all manner of plants are starting to appear, bright and luminous green fronds searching for the sun on warm days. Crocus leaves are appearing, and even some of the daffs are already developing the buds, ready to burst into vivid life.
With my green fingers itching to get growing, I couldn’t help but do a little sowing yesterday. I always start too early; pop in hundreds of seeds and then end up with vast quantities of seedlings which can’t go out until they’ve been hardened off. I do the same with my finches too; get a warm day and desperately want to put all the nesting boxes up in the aviary - MUST HOLD OFF. However, there are a few things to plant, so I popped in some sweet peas and broad beans (aquadulce claudia, of course. Would I have it any other way?)
I’ve also got some VERY old seeds from a few years ago. I don’t expect much to come from these astrantia, hosta, eryngium and allium seeds, but I stuck them in anyway. They’re sporadic germinators at best, so a few years wait has probably been enough to kill them. Still, I threw them all in a pot so we’ll see what happens in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, let’s up the snow’s receded for good. The blackbird’s are piping in the air, the sun’s warming the soil. Folks, it’s almost time for spring!!
You might think that snow is a gardener’s worst nightmare, and yes, if it arrives in April when you’ve got thousands of small seedlings on the go, then it’s pretty much devastation wherever you look. However, get it in winter, when it’s actually expected, and snow can be pretty good for the garden.
I love snow. I love awaking and realising that the light streaming through the curtains is different, that is must have snowed overnight. I love looking out the window and seeing the little bird feet and cat paw prints in the fine white power that’s coating every surface. Taking the dog for a walk is a delight, and there’s nothing like curling up with a seed catalogue when there’s snow on the ground to become inspired.
Benefits for the garden
For gardeners there are other benefits too, aside from the real excuse to enjoy vast quantities of hot tea and warm freshly made bread buns. Firstly, a cold spell sends plants into a real dormant phase. You’ll often discover that many plants, including wisteria, lilacs and even roses will produce a really show-stopping cascade of flowers in the spring when winter weather’s been particularly harsh. Rather than attempting some lacklustre growth through the colder parts of the years, plants are sent into real dormancy and shut down. At the first sign of warmer climes they burst into life with vibrancy.
Snow on the ground is also great help when it comes to pests. Harsh winters will result in fewer pests having survived, enabling plants to thrive with even more ferocity. It takes a while for those aphid and mollusc armies to build their numbers after a harsh winter, and it allows us gardeners to get a head start on protecting our plants. 2012 was a horrendous year for growing, and vast amounts of rain have sent the slug and snail populations soaring. You might think you’ve collected and killed all those critters in your garden, but think of all the eggs waiting to hatch. With any luck, frosts and snow will kill some of these off, giving us a slightly better gardening start to 2013.
Invasion of the weeds
But heavy snowfall also offers the chance to take action on those weeds too. Like the gorgeous plants we want to have in our gardens, weeds become stunted by the snowfall and unable to grow. You might not be able to dig out those pesky invaders whilst the ground’s frozen, but as thawing comes, it’s the ideal time to rid the garden of those frozen weeds. A major weed problem that’s currently streaming across the UK is the invasion of Japanese knotweed. This has to be dealt with as soon as it appears because it will soon start to invade your garden, and even your home, if not dealt with. With snow on the ground and a slight lull in the horticulturists season, it’s the perfect time to look up TP Knotweed and prepare for the war against invasion.
It’s true that many plants have to be protected from frost and snow damage, and you should take adequate care to ensure fragile plants survive. But, snow can be a good thing, and it can push your garden to be even more spectacular in the coming year.