On My Oasis – Greece’s Sunny Shores

Okay, this may make some of your green with envy, but my oasis this week was Greece. I finally went on my honeymoon (we split it from the wedding so we’d having something to look forward to). Whilst I sat on the beautiful pebble beach, it was hard to worry about whether my pots were getting blown around by Hurricane Gonzalez. The news seemed to think it was a big deal, but when I got back, every plastic pot was still in place. Did it affect you?

Anyhow, as I was away, not alot’s actually happened at home so I thought I’d post a few pics of the beautiful views, shores and plants of Paxos. This little island is off the coast of Corfu and is STUNNING. Unknowingly, we arrived at the end of the season when most tourists had left, and on our fourth day there everything shut (other than one old man’s grill and the supermarkets). However, it did mean we got beaches, vistas and mountain walks to ourselves. In addition, an EPIC 13 hour thunderstorm whipped the sea into such a frenzy that we couldn’t get back to the mainland and missed out flight. Okay, we had to shell out more money for new ones but we got an extra day in this beautiful place. I highly recommend it!

On My Oasis – Verbena, Shasta Daisies and Visas

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.

A swathe of verbena shines vividly against variegated wigelia

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.

A flopped daisy collects rain droplets

A flopped daisy collects rain droplets

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!

A Summer Nuisance – Dealing with Mosquitoes

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.


My pond has a tiny frog population.

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!

The Importance of Garden Rooms

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!

A sweeping path draws you round.

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 gates, even they lead nowhere, create a sense of adventure.

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.

Cutting gardens provide the perfect home-grown bouquet

I truly believe that to have a healthy mind, you have to invite the outdoors inside. This is relatively easy in the summer, when you can throw open the windows and doors and let fresh air bring life into your home. I don’t even mind if curious hen peeks her head in, or a bee gets slightly disorientated and takes a lap around the kitchen. Bringing flowers inside, or utilising houseplants on windowsills makes that passage between inside and out more subtle. But you don’t always have to head to the florist as some of our favourite blooms can be grown at home.

Cutting gardens were once extremely common, and remained the only way of really getting hold of flowers for colourful inside displays. Of course, as soon as modern technology arose, florists flourished, and they still thrive to this day with millions of people buying bouquets on a regular basis. Now, as people recognise the importance of bringing life into cities, towns and homes, awareness about the positive effects plants have on us is growing. Companies, such as Benholm – Floristry, now provide far more than a vase of vivid roses or scented lilies, but can create living walls, still life displays and colourful indoor planting landscapes. Okay – so great swathes of green on your walls might not be everyone’s ideal situation for their living roombut using the principles of living amongst plants is something everyone can do.

Beautiful lilies can be easily grown at home

Beautiful lilies can be easily grown at home

During the growing season, there are plenty of plants with stunning blooms that be grown at home, not only saving you the expense of a florist, but giving you the opportunity to go into the garden, snip some flowerstems and create your own displays. Lilies are one flower photo (32)that cost the earth yet are ridiculously easy to grow. Coming as a simply bulb, they’re best grown in pots if you want to use them for cutting. Simply place them in a sunny position and then snip the stems when they’re ready to bring inside. Gerberas can also be grown at home readily. Alternately, you could substitute these blooms with flowers from rudbekia or similar species. Meanwhile, if you want to bring some greenery into the home, it’s best to stick with specific houseplants. One common mistake with Bonsai is that they’re kept inside. They’re still trees and are best grown on a bench or table outside where they can thrive. You can bring them in on occasion, but should ensure that they spend at least some of their life in the great outdoors.

We’re always going to need florists if we want fresh flowers throughout the winter months (though you can make some stunning displays with winter seasonal bloomers). But if you want to bring a bit of nature into your home, then starting a cutting garden, even if it’s a few containers of lilies and daisies, is an extremely rewarding experience.

Three tips for watering during summer hot spells

99_ice_creamHeat. Cor Blimey, it’s hot. Let’s be honest, at this time of year none of us really want to do a lot of gardening. Lounging around in the garden? Yes. Getting amongst the plants and getting a sweat on? Not so much. I can tell you, after being tied up this afternoon digging out a dead ceanothus and then laying some patio slabs, I’d have FAR preferred to be slurping a Callipo with my feet in a bucket of cold water.

Whilst you might give the garden the green light to do its own thing for a few weeks, one thing you mustn’t miss out on watering. Whether you’re environmentally friendly or just don’t want to see the water metre whizzing by, there’s a few things you can do to ensure that your plants get the water they need without wastage.

Water in the evenings

If I had a penny for the number of times I’ve seen people with sprinklers on in the middle of a summer’s day, I’d be pretty rich. But it’s SO uneconomical. Tonnes of that water evaporates before it even gets a chance to soak in, and what little moisture that does penetrate the hard soil won’t do a lot of help to plants unless you leave the hose going for hours. By far, the best time to water is in the evenings after you’re home from a hot day at work. If you’re using a sprinkler, take care to place it correctly so you get maximum spread of water and quench your plants thirst with a long drench. It’s better to water heavily once or twice a week, than for just a few minutes every night.

Eradicate or reduce your lawn

I did mention that it’s hot and sticky, so you might not want to actually do this now, but reducing or getting rid of your lawn completely, is a good option. ‘Oh no‘, I hear you cry as you think of rolling green suburbia. But look out your window. Is your patch a lush green bowling green, or has it turned to a brown mess with rampant weeds that takes too much maintenance? Lawns really are dead garden spaces if you love plants, and whilst they offer structure to the garden, the tiresome task of looking after them is often too large.

Instead, think about reducing your lawn size by cutting additional flowerbeds or a veggie patch in. Install a beautiful pergola or archway to grow climbers up and create a sense of intrigue, or build a small patio that catches the evening sun and deck it out with garden furniture from Hayes Garden World. Smaller lawn, less work, less watering. Then you can relax on your patio furniture to your hearts content. Sounds good to me.

Mulched strawberryGo on a mulching frenzy

A lot of people seem to get confused by what mulch actually is. All it means is that any exposed soil has been covered over to deter weeds and hold in moisture. You can use bark chips, shingle and wood clippings in ornamental gardens, and if you’re on the veggie patch and don’t mind things a little messier, grass and straw also work well. Combined with evening watering, this will lock a lot more water into the ground, allowing plants to thrive despite the blazing sun. It will also do harvests like strawberries a lot of good as it helps protects soft fruits from rot and pesky bugs.

So, if you’re looking ahead to the weekend and trying to put off those gardening tasks, opt for a simpler water based chore instead. By making a few changes to your garden and routine, you can relax on that balmy summer’s night without worrying that your plants are fading away.

Welcome to The Guide to Gay Gardening's new look!

Living in the grey smog of London utopia, I forge my little existence in a slightly loopy, hermity, hippy manner, sharing my life with the hens, cats and other menagerie that have somehow taken over my life.

If I'm not enjoying the great outdoors with my netbook in hand, I'll be snipping, pruning, planting, cutting, propagating, shovelling, or just plain admiring. You can even catch the occasional glimpse of me on the TV now and then!

Take the weight off for a while. Sit back, relax, read, send me feedback, but mostly just take a moment and look around you.....mother nature is beautiful.

Geoff Wakeling

Mail Me: geoffwakeling(at) theguidetogaygardening(dot)com


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