‘Nothing better than pulling on the thickest of jumpers and getting outside to look over the devastation wrought by the longest and hardest of winters and seeing the buds and shoots of spring finally showing themselves amid the brittle stalks and stems of last years growth. If you haven’t already now is the time to tidy away all that is dried and dead, giving new shoots room to grow. It is also the time to really get on top of those weeds, do it now and you will save so much heartache later on.’
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31st March 2010
‘April, one of my favourite months of the year, is full of promise, with the whole growing season ahead. It is often one of the finest weather-wise too. Acid greens, fresh new shoots and colourful spring bulbs hint at the glories of summer to come. The yellows of primroses, forsythia and daffodils bring a cheery smile to the garden whilst the multiple red shoots of acers and roses signal the rising sap.
Of particular interest this month are the rapidly-emerging hostas, with their distinctive, alienesque, tubular, unfurling leaves and begonia corms in the first stages of awakening with their delicate, psychedelic purple/green leaves. Grasses are beginning to put on growth too, as well as stalwart herbaceous perennials such as sedums, crane’s bill, aquilegia, astilbe and peonies. Other noteworthy displays are courtesy of magnolia, viburnum tinus, clematis montana and the cherry blossom which in London is in full, magnificent bloom. As ever, the euphorbias are resplendently showing off their vibrant greens and yellows of their esoteric, miniature flowers. These remain among my favourite plants of all time. Complimentary to the euphorbias are the numerous different euonymus cultivars, whose whites and yellows take on a vivid freshness at this time of year.
TIPS FOR APRIL
It’s time to sow tomato and courgette seeds but remember to harden them off or put them in a greenhouse or cold-frame to begin with, rather than planting straight out. Time too to propagate dahlia tubers and begonia corms if you haven’t already.
The warm weather does bring its own problems too – pests are beginning to multiply, so keep an eye on snail and slug populations, as well as aphids, mealy bugs and blackfly/whitefly and try to nip them in the bud before they become problematic.
It’s never a bad idea to give your pots a good spring feed and/or your borders a good mulch of manure, bark chippings or crushed shells to lock in moisture and nutrients.
Otherwise, sit back and enjoy this most exciting time in the garden where you can see daily progress in the form of a mass of emerging colours, textures and structures as everything bursts into life around you.’
16th April 2010
‘May is upon us. Unsurprisingly the weather has turned back the clocks to March, bringing us frontal, cool weather on northerly, volcanic ash-laden winds. I have been busying myself with re-potting the myriad pots and containers that adorn my garden. Container-gardening is high-maintenance as plants and shrubs quickly outgrow their pots , and yet it is the most effective way of creating an ever changing seasonal display, with a simple switch of pot positions. It is advisable to replace the compost at least every two years to avoid stagnation and nutrient imbalances in the soil. This year, to avoid having to splash out a small fortune on smart, lead-effect or terracotta planters to replace my tatty old plastic window boxes, I decided instead to install some tumbling ivy geraniums Mex(P)"Happy Face", an enchanting deep pink/red flecked with white. They will soon cascade over the edges of the offending planters, hiding them and creating a tumbling mound of attractive foliage and colourful flowers. I was visiting my parents in the Cotswolds this weekend. and having helped out with their garden over the years I am always a keen observer of progress, lending a helping hand here and there and offering advice. Not that, I hasten to add, they need advice. Anyway, I was helping to fell a dead viburnum tinus and came across some suckers coming from one of two beautiful sumac trees in the garden. So, without really thinking it’d work, I dug up a couple of the healthiest looking specimens, trimmed the roots back to about 4 inches and stuck them into compost in deep, 6-inch pots. To my delight they have continued to shoot and produce foliage. There is always an element of luck but I have found that the most unexpected experiments have often been the most successful when it comes to taking cuttings. Food for thought and a cost-free, rewarding way to swell your garden’s plant-stock.
TIPS FOR MAY
May is a good time for a shed spring-clean. A tidy and well-organised shed will save you hours of time and frustration, as well as money. I have lost count of how many times I’ve thought I need a certain type of feed or product, gone to the shops and bought them, only to find that I already have several containers worth hidden behind a stack of pots in my bombsite of a shed.
Beware the evil weevil. It would be remiss, not to touch on the evils of vine weevils – one of the gardener’s arch nemeses. Vine weevils have gradually become more and more of a problem in the UK due to a growing trend for container gardening. The first signs of weevil-presence are rounded notches eaten into the leaves of plants such as camellias, euonymus, rhododendrons, sedum, primulas and impatiens. A preventative treatment of nematodes as soon as the soil is warm enough (min 15C) will, if properly applied, protect your plants for the whole of the coming season. If there are yellowing leaves and signs of leaf drop it may be too late to rescue a plant but it’s worth a try by washing away all the old compost, eggs and larvae and re-planting in fresh growing medium. I lost an old friend this spring – my cordyline. It put up a good fight for a few weeks but has finally given up hope and seems now to be sadly beyond salvation.
Should you wish to stunt the growth of container planted trees and shrubs , you can remove them from their pot, take a sharp spade and slice off the bottom third of the rootball. Whilst this may seem harsh, it will prevent the plant from becoming pot-bound and restrict its growth to suit your space-limitations. Give them a good feed and some fresh, well-rotted manure or compost to help minimise shock.’
May is the purple (or indigo) month. Notable purple performers: ceanothus, forget-me-nots, bluebells, wisteria, irises, campanula, aubretia, aquilegia and syringa (lilac) Pictured Ceanothus Arboreus Trewithen Blue
13th May 2010
16th June 2010
It is hard to believe that we are half way through the year already. June is the gateway from Spring to Summer and by now gardens are peaking, both in terms of colour and plant growth-rates. It's time to cut back shrubs that have flowered and need shaping, such as weigela, syringa and ceanothus and time to trim and shape box topiary.
Predictably for June we have a mixed bag of weather. The recent damp and murky conditions are not ideal for roses, so watch for powdery mildew and black- spot if the wet weather continues. Give them a good feed as they prepare to burst into colour with their first flush of the summer.
Hardy and half-hardy annuals such as verneba, lobelia, pelargoniums and helichrysum are now competing with stalwart perennials such as loose strife, eternal wall flowers, geraniums, acquilegia and campanula as gardens explode into full blooded, exuberant and extravagant shades of purple, pink, blue and yellow. Be sure to keep on top of dead heading, now being the perfect time to prolong the flowering cycle of perennials and annuals alike. Pull out the now down-trodden and dog-eared looking forget-me-nots. The beauty of these country-garden favourites is that they readily re-seed and are easy to pull out without disturbing the roots of other plants. You should in fact be able to spot myriad seddlings already, so leave these if you want an even more colourful display next spring
Keep an eye on blue hydrangeas and feed with a colourant or ericacious soil to ensure a strong blue colour. Many hybrids on today's market are all too eager to revert to pink given the chance.
Other than that, it's maybe time to bring out those dusty sun loungers, that mexican hammock you bought on your travels, fresh from the factory, and enjoy whatever good weather the elements throw at us. The rest will be enjoyed by the garden.
Plant of the month: if you can find a young Cercidiphyllum Japonicum, a.k.a "the bunrt sugar tree" it will reward you with its stunning, heart-shaped foliage in spring/summer, followed by a fiery, explosive display of autumn colour.
22nd July 2010
This month I am dedicating my blog page to a fascinating day spent with John Little, Dusty Gedge and Blanche Cameron at their Small Scale Green Roof Construction course, in conjunction with Renewable Energy, Shelter & Environment Training Ltd (RESET) in Essex last weekend.
Nestled in the foothills of the Langdon Hills, not far from Grays, John Little's eco-house and wild-flower meadow-garden, built by himself in 1995, was the idyllic setting on a hot July Saturday for an intensive but engaging day learning about living roofs. The day consisted of several theory-based presentations, a practical workshop where we actually built our own little green roof corner cross-sections to take home with us and several site-visits of living roofs in the area. Dusty and John are clearly experts in their field with thirty years or so of experience between them, and my impression as to what defines them from perhaps more commercial green roof companies is the fact that they are driven by a genuine desire to promote bio-diversity, create habitats for flora and fauna and achieve eco-friendly roofs that allow nature to dictate what succeeds and what doesn't. Rather than planting the obvious favourites (sedum-carpets, grasses and perfromance or showy plants), they prefer to create a varied topography and range of micro-climates and envirmonments, thus letting the sun, rain (or lack of it!) and wind play their roles and define the final result. They have worked extensively in the community in schools as well as for private clients and have transformed bike sheds, old containers, garages and even an electricity power plant into eco-friendly, interesting spaces, all the while helping provide an early source of nectar for the endangered bee and other invertebrates that may find themselves cold and hungry in early spring.
John and Dusty were energetic, amusing, anecdotal and inspiring and made no pretensions about what a green roof is and how it should be perceived. Most green roofs are now, in this extended, hot, dry period of drought seen by most people as "brown roofs" as the sun has dried them to a cinder. "Brown roof" is a term coined by Dusty, but is also one he aims to eradicate. Akin to Darwin's theory of evolution and the survival of the fittest, this extreme dryness can in fact be a positive contributor to bio-diversity by killing off a few of the invasive and dominant grass species and paving the way for more interesting plants when the rain does eventually come and revive the substrate.
At £80 for the day, this course is highly recommended and came complete with a lovely family welcome (four generations of the Little family welcomed us into their stunning home and kept us fed and watered all day, even ferrying us to and from the station).
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