Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Appreciating your garden

August is always the time we most appreciate the garden. It is the time when we supposedly see the garden in full. The flowers are a riot of colour. The vegetable area is providing bounty. The birds are singing, the insects are buzzing. We are at peace.
Accordingly, I always go my to my gardening library – which is approaching somewhere in the region of 400 books on the subject - and research the plants I see in other peoples’ beautiful gardens. One thing I am always surprised by is the actual length of time these plants have been in our gardens. Our modern media would have us believe that plants are new and exciting, never before seen, but the reality is that much of what we see at flower shows and in the local nursery are the result of mere tinkering with the genetic inheritance. For example, those most beautiful of garden perennials, the peony were introduced to this country by the , Romans, but the Celts, the Saxons, Normans and countless other immigrants have added to the wonderful mix. For example, Acanthus, Iris, the Sweet Chestnut, the Walnut, Dianthus, Wall-Flower, Asparagus, Cabbage, Onions, Tanacetum, and many other plants we now regard as commonplace. There are of course many plants which are indigenous to the UK, but I think the really exciting thing is to realise just quite how long we as a species have been trying to improve the environment around our home. Imagine being the first man in Britain to have an exotic ‘Yellow Flag’ Iris growing in your courtyard. That is why we still find going to the local flower show or garden centre such fun. Finding a hidden gem I am sure is genetically intrinsic in our nature. But let me offer you some tips on buying.
Never buy a plant in full bloom – it will last less time than if you buy in bud.
Check for insect damage or indeed insects attached!
Try not to buy a plant that is either pot bound (you can tell by the roots pushing out through the bottom of the pot) or a plant that has a huge amount of moss on the top compost – this means it has sat around for long enough for something to grow on the soil and is therefore quite an old plant for the pot size and something may be wrong with it. Do not buy a plant in a pot that has dried out, this is a bad sign that the plants are not well looked after by the nursery. Try not to buy on impulse. Think of the space the plant is going to fit into. If it is going to get to ten feet tall it won’t fit on your patio.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The traditional time to cut evergreen hedges is after the Epsom Derby, so all your beautiful box hedging, parterres and topiary should now be well on the way to being reshaped.

You still just have a window to sow mange tout peas for an autumn crop of  and successional sowings of salads.

July is a traditional month of change, the last chance to cut the hay if it stays dry enough - in some counties it is the last month of summer before the beginning of the harvests in August. However, continue to water your plants as the rain may not be as substantial as you at first expect. Unless the rain is heavy and sustained, in this warmth, much will be evaporated before it reaches the deeper roots. Thus the best thing you can do for your precious plants is to water heavily in the evening twice a week. Remember, there is really no use watering a little amount as much will evaporate, so water well.

Whilst talking of watering, please remember visitors to your garden may need a thirst quenching drink. A water bowl will offer hedgehogs welcome respite, so too a bowl placed higher - out of reach of cats - may provide our avian friends with much needed liquid. Whilst you may curse the pigeons for stripping the cabbages, song thrushes are great at ridding the garden of snails and slugs.


Notwithstanding, I must admit here, I am no fan of the lawn sprinkler. We may live in a country that has rain as a `normal` weather occurrence, but the way we collect it for our use is pretty poor. Thus we should not look upon using such a vital resource as a throw away substance, indeed as utilities push their prices up, watering the lawn will be impractical and expensive in the near future. Only 0.02% of all water on the planet is available to drink so think on. Instead, try to save your grey water. Set up water buts next to your bath or shower down pipe. Buy a water butt or two for the drain pipes and if you are really savvy, install a soak away that feeds into an underground storage area or bog garden. (You may even get a reduction in your water bill as believe it or not, you are paying for waste water to be transported away from your house.) If you are still worrying about the lawn, don`t worry, it can happily go dormant for a number of months without a problem. Yellow isn’t that bad when it saves you money.     

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

If you are keen on growing veg and want to continue the harvest well into autumn and winter, now is your chance to sow.



You still have a window for Broad Beans and Peas, for a September/October harvest. If you plant potatoes in planters, pots or grow bags from now until August and keep them in a frost free area, you will have crops of new potatoes until Christmas.  You will also now have to think about the winter veg. Black Kale, Brussel Sprouts, Chard are all plants that you can harvest through autumn and winter – not forgetting the winter cabbage and winter salads. Perhaps you can turn your attention to Onions also, which can be planted in august for an early harvest next year. Not forgetting research those plants like Collard and Turnip-tops that fill the ‘hungry gap’ next March.

In the ornamental garden, your flower beds should now be looking spectacular, but I have no doubt there will be areas you are not happy with. Make a note in your gardening book of the things you need to do, ready for autumn. This year has been great for many plants, but it has also been great for fungus. The hot damp air giving them ideal conditions to grow. Check your roses, hollyhocks, and iris. These are all very susceptible to an attack of rusts, wilts and other horribles. If you see any sign of disease try to cut the area from the plant and burn it. If the plant is too far gone, make a note and remember to treat early next year or remove the plant entirely if seriously damaged.


An interesting garden fact? Until the discovery of the ‘Persian Yellow’ variety and the use of it in the breeders’ gene pool, roses never suffered from black spot fungus. So if your rose suffers from this problem, at least you know part of its fine lineage. In Autumn, pick up all the fallen leaves and burn them so the fungus does not sit dormant for an attack next year. An old wives tale states garlic planted amongst your roses prevents such attacks – making sure to stop it from flowering else your roses take on a smell of alliums…

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Be weather wise!


If we are lucky, we have warmth in the day, but the nights can still be cold. As our ancestors recognised, it is a month that can easily turn back into winter. If I look at the past few weeks, the day temps have been up in the high teens, but the nights have been down almost to zero on some occasions. If you recognise that this is quite a large margin of difference, then you will realise just how remarkable plants are. Then you have the rain, hail and frosts to contend with too.

All this proves that the soil is still not very warm - hence the old custom of putting your bare elbow or perhaps your bare bottom on the soil, to see if it is ready for some of the more delicate plants. Some plants like Cymbidium orchids need a few cold days to help them flower, but a frost is definitely a no-no.

I am quite often frustrated by the weather news on the TV or internet as it is massively generalized to cover several hundred square miles - although I must admit they have got better in recent years. Once, in the middle of the last decade, whilst living in Norfolk, the weather girl reported it was going to be a lovely dry night, yet outside my window some 20 miles from her studio, the rain was hammering down. Did I see a hint of embarrassment on the poor girls face? In those days, my obsessive temperament noted they had only got it accurate on 15 days in the entire year. Which is better than a soothsayer I suppose.

But of course for you at home, there are ways of telling if the air and soil is warm enough and what the weather may bring for yourself. Buy a weather station. With a glance you can tell if the air has been chilled to uncomfortable levels overnight whilst you were tucked up in bed with Gardeners World. You can also have an inkling of what the weather is threatening to do with a barometer as your guide. If you are like me and become lost in the green world, a clock will help you realise supper was 2 hrs ago and perhaps the kids need feeding at some point.


In truth the UK has a fantastic array of weather and micro-climates from the abhorrently wet, to the surprisingly dry. Do yourself and your plants a favour and get a bit scientific.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Blackthorn Winter

 
Well, we are at the end of the blackthorn winter. If you are not sure what the blackthorn winter is, I shall endeavour to educate. In old country lore, there is a plant called the blackthorn, or if you prefer scientifically it is the Prunus spinosa. Anyway, it is said, when in flower, there is always a second winter. If you are unsure of what you are looking for, it is the bush with the horrendous thorns, the beautiful white cherry-like blossom and the incredibly tart fruit known as a sloe.  So now you know.

I must say, before the cold weather set in, I was enjoying the display of Magnolia flower. Many of you may be interested to know it is the very first example of an insect attracting flower, so thus it is the oldest flower design discovered in the fossil record.

In the garden, you may just about get away with still planting bare-rooted shrubs such as roses and raspberries, provided you give them a copious amount of food and a healthy watering.

Now is the time to prune some of the winter flowering plants such as Jasminum nudiflorum, Viburnum x bodnantense, Viburnum farreri and Viburnum Fragrans which should be at the end of their flowering. This early clip will allow them to grow new shoots for next year’s display, without the plant growing beyond the size you want.  This is quite an important tip for all those gardeners who want to know proper husbandry. Don’t just prune in summer or autumn randomly – try to prune the right plant at the right time, to improve the life of the plant and to improve flowering.

Another key plant that is in flower now is the Camellia.  All that flowering is going to leave it a little short on food, so now is the time to give it a good boost with azalea food. This will not only help it for this year, but also next. Remember, prune a Camellia just after it has flowered to give it a chance to grow next year’s buds.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

TOWN & COUNTRY WELLIES RATED ALONGSIDE HUNTER AND LE CHAMEAU

Sales of wellies have soared in the last few months and if, like many, you are bewildered by the choice and the price tags on display - ranging from £10 for a basic boot to upwards of £300 for a designer brand, we have some good news for you.  You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a decent quality, good looking pair that will see you through the wet weather. 

In a recent tried and tested review undertaken by the Daily Mail, Town & Country’s Premium Wellington – at just £45.99 – were rated on a par with Hunter (£95) and Le Chameau (£340) – with all three scoring an impressive 7/10. 

Town & Country’s high quality, British designed boots are hand crafted from natural rubber and designed with style and comfort in mind.  They have a contoured leg and side-fastening buckle to give an extra snug fit, and a soft lining which makes for the ultimate in comfort.  A high grip tread pattern will ensure feet remain firmly on the ground.  They are available in three colours - dark green in sizes 4-11(37-45); navy in sizes 3-12 (36-46) and raspberry in sizes 3-8 (36-42).  The full range of Town & Country footwear can be seen at www.townandco.com

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Can I speak honestly?

With all this wet weather we have had I have never been so glad to have a sturdy and trustworthy pair of wellies. If you are after the very basic but practical or like to have a little more comfort, Town and Country have yet to let me down. I can’t remember another winter where I have virtually stayed in my boots and they have certainly come in handy!



A major chore this year has been to clean out all the drainage gullies on the large gardens and estates I look after so my feet were in contact with water for most of December and January. Thankfully, I remained warm and dry throughout.

To be honest and I am sure you know by now, there isn’t anywhere left for the rainwater to go, as the rivers are full and the ground is full (and hopefully the reservoirs too.) So what to do in the garden?

The best course of action now is to stay clear of the lawn altogether. If it was spiked in January as suggested, all you can do now is watch and wait. There is nothing else for it.

As for other jobs, we are in an interesting position. Apple trees need pruning in order to stop becoming biennial with fruiting. However, the level of stress they are under at the moment, I hesitate to do anything which may add disease to the mix as fungus loves this kind of weather.  A fork amongst the roots with some dry compost and sand may help aerate and alleviate issues. The same can be done with all your shrubs.


I would suggest a little known law is quite important to remember now. Any large tree or shrubs that are within ten feet of public access or your garden boundary is now, more than ever in need of inspection as it is your responsibility to make sure it is safe. The wind and rain will have seriously weakened root systems. Given that you are responsible for the safety of others near your tree, this I would suggest is of utmost importance as you may not like the surprise of a hefty insurance bill if something were to happen. A general walk-by inspection is required every year to look for any damage or danger, but once every five years it is suggested  a professional undertakes a survey.