Ahh another week returns and this plant of the week is surprisingly one of a group of plants that haven’t featured yet, so there’s no time like the present is there!
Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ is as its name suggests is a form that came from Siberia. Cornus alba itself does have a wide range, growing from Siberia into Russia and China. These forms of C.alba also grow in thickets up to 3m tall while ‘Sibirica’ is slightly smaller growing up to 2.4m tall, which is some of the reasons it makes it a good plant for the smaller gardens. This form Ruby was selected from a batch of seedlings for having the most brightest red stems. Sibirica was first introduced into the uk though Westonbirt arboretum in around 1838.
Cornus alba ‘Sibirica Ruby’ is mainly grown for its bright red stems that give us so much delight during the winter months. If left unpruned, it will make a shrub up to just over 2.4m in height that produces while flowers in May and June which are followed by white flushed with purple fruits. The dark green leaves turn a stunning dark red colour before falling off to expose the red stems.
Growing wise, it prefers a nice damp soil but will grow away quite happily in alkaline or acidic soils. It prefers a sunny or semi shady spot in your garden. When planting, it is best to add plenty of organic material. It can be left to form a medium sized shrub but if you do this, you lose The intense redness of the stems. To get the best stem colour, you have to prune hard back down to 150mm each spring around the end of March, you can prune the whole plant like this or if you would like flowers, thin out half the plant as per above and leave half, next winter it is these 2yr old stems you cut down and leave the 1yr stems alone. After pruning, I tend to mulch with garden compost and feed with Vitax Q4. It doesn’t suffer from too many pests and diseases. Propagation wise, it is pretty easy to grow from either layering a stem onto the ground or from hardwood cuttings taken in early November and left in a cold frame until the spring
Best place to see it, is indeed RHS Wisley where it can be found near the big pond. Buying wise this form can be a bit tricky! Last in the plant finder in 2015!
It’s the time of year we all start pruning the dormant summer and autumn flowering shrubs and trees and getting the pruning cuts can be crucial for some plants for so many reasons. First of all you have to remember that you are being a surgeon on the plant and you would hate to have someone cutting you up with a blunt tool so make sure the tool you are using is not only sharp (will be featuring a bit of sharpening soon) but clean as well, if in doubt, just spray it with so household cleaning product that kills 99.9% of all know germs dead! You know the one I mean.
Now one thing to remember is that all plants don’t heal themselves but work to reduce the damaged area to stop fungi and other diseases entering the plant. The plant first of chemical process that reduces the risk of the wound becoming infected and then it callus over in time using callus cell in the stems of the plant. This all depends on the type of shrub or tree you are pruning. Some plants can have very thin bark with a thinner layer of callus cells that can mean the cut takes much longer to heal, roses and beech trees are good examples of this. There is a difference on age of the wood too, the younger twiggy wood doesn’t heal at the wound but near the next available bud. Again that something worth remembering for in a bit.
For this next bit, I am focusing on using secateurs and loppers and will do a bit of using saws later.
First thing to look for is whether the buds are opposite each other or alternate (see pictures) this does change the angle of the cut. With plants that buds are opposite, its best to cut level just top of the buds so basically you don’t damage them. The plant will boast either one or both these buds into life in the spring. Now with alternate buds, you are looking at taking a sloping cut away just above the bud and angled so the bud is at the top of the slope. Some people think that you do that to allow the water to drain away but that’s not the main reason why, it’s done like that so the plant pushes the sap into that bud and allows that bud to break. The cut should be ideally no more than 10mm above the bud as any more above it can result in die back and the stem dying back past that next bud and down to the next, leaving more dead wood in the plant to attract in diseases. One thing to remember though, no one can get it right all the time, not even us professionals, the idea is to aim to get it right most times and try and achieve at least 80% good cuts. Hopefully the pictures below will explain a bit more.
A rose has alternative buds, as you can see there’s no bud opposite
While this Hydrangea has its buds opposite each other
When pruning plants with opposite buds, you aim for a level cut just above the top of the bud
This picture shows the dieback from poorly angled cuts for a rose that has alternate buds. notice the church window of doom and also the damage down into the next bud at times
The alternate bud cut at the right angle with the blue lines showing what is happening to the sap and how it pushes it towards the bud to encourage that one to break.
Well that’s the end of the first part, next time we shall look at using a pruning saw and how to make the bigger cuts with that.
I feel sorry for October, it’s an odd month I find, its neither summer or autumn, it’s main purpose is to be the change month. That doesn’t mean it’s dull month, indeed it’s far from it, giving us delights of both summer with plants like Salvias and Asters flowering at their best and still at the same time, early autumn colour starts to appear, things like Rosa rugosa with their beautiful hips, Euonymus with its jewel like multicoloured seeds and seed cases to the early foliage performers turning, liquidambers slowly going from green to a deep red, Euonymus alatus turning its burning red. There is indeed no other month like it! By the time November appears, Jack Frost is about finishing off the last remaining Salvias and Asters, some of the scented flowering shrubs start appearing, by the end of the month, all but the last stubborn oak and beech tree would of dropped their leaves and we will be left with the clear up and the fun of kicking the leaves, smelling the last of the sugars in the crisp cold morning.
October was a busy month for me once more, carried on my current project in Botley, Hampshire. The new foundations of the garden are almost in place, the new fence line is, the steps and pathway from the main part of the house to the orangery area is now done and we are hoping to start on the river fence and decking this week, should be fun, using cleft sweet chestnut and chestnut palling. Have also started sorting out the beds on another site, we have 3 large beds to redo with one being reduced in size a little and the plants being spread into the other two. All this while carrying on my normal regular garden works. Been around a bit too, with 6 talks at different gardening and plant groups from Buckinghamshire to Dorset. I love traveling the country and meeting many other gardeners who all share a love of plants with me. Only managed one garden visit around Harold Hillier Gardens towards the end of the month, ended up being a little wet but still fun and enjoyable walking around, looking at the wonders from the world. It’s also the month I started my Master of Horticulture through the RHS, a day spent at Wisley, trying to get my head around it and straight into the first assessment and somehow I managed to get it done and a day earlier, just waiting for the marking now, quite nervous about the whole thing, never done anything like it but it’s given me a drive to learn even more about this wonderful trade we call horticulture. Next ones now started, 100 words is a start, isn’t?
Next month will be spent clearing up the leaves and start cutting back the herbaceous Plants, well not all of them, I like to leave the leaves on the beds for as long as I can, I feel the leaves are nature’s own food, the plants drop them off near by to allow the goodness that they hold back into the soil and re fertilise the soil. All the micro organisms in the soil will help to break down the leaves and release the goodness back into the soil and really help to keep it healthy. I also like to leave the sturdier stems on the herbaceous Plants to give a bit of interest during the winter, I love the effect the frost, sow and even a heavy dew has on them, turning them into something else, with all the fine detail being shown up with the help of the weather. The compost heaps will also be growing quite well during this time of year and if you have the space, a bonfires will soon be lit, I do love a good bonfire, I think it’s the cave man in me, just something about the flames, the heat and the smoke that I think takes me back to childhood days. One thing I try and do is stack up the material to burn to one side of the fire area and then move it onto the fire, this is partly to do with having a more controlled blaze but also so any animal like a hedgehog, who fancies my big piles to hibernate into, won’t be burned alive. I forget how many times I have started to move stuff and there’s a rustling sound soon after as a hedgehog disappears the other way. Bulb planting is another job that’s underway this month, I don’t have too many to plant but there’s enough to do, my ones at home are nearly done but I still have a few at clients houses to do. It’s something to look forward to next spring, when the fruits of you labour start to appear and delight you with their colours
Well that’s it from my monthly review, I hope you enjoyed it and see you around!
I have always had a love of propagation and to be honest it’s the biggest thing I miss during my current role. It was always a joy to take a cutting and see it as like magic, this little bit of growth turns into a new plant. But I do have a new project waiting to start in my garden at home, it’s a new playhouse for the children, finished off with a green roof of alpines! Sounds good but after working out the amount required, I felt I had to propagate some of the ones I already grow at home and the Chicken and Hen plant or houseleek, Sempervivum, would be an ideal one to start! I love the different colours, shapes and forms of this rather simple but beautiful succulent plant
So here’s how I propagated them, as you can see it’s pretty easy, so why not give it ago and see how you get one
And that’s it a nice easy bit of propagation and money saved, every Sempervivum costs about £2 in most shops so for about a £5 in materials I have saved £67, ideal to spent on other plants!
I hope you enjoyed my blog and let me know how you get on if you have a go
Well it's the time of the year when all you can hear is the roar of petrol hedgecutters or the buzz buzz of the electric hedge cutters echoing around the neighbourhood. Indeed now is an ideal time to tidy up your hedges, most of the birds would of finished nesting (apart from pigeons!) and the plants themselves have finished their main growth spurt for the year and if trimmed now, will delightfully hold their shape and form until they start growing away next spring, giving our gardens both shape and structure during the shortened days of winter, after all the herbecous plants have died down and the deciduous shrubs have lost their leaves
Now this isn't a step by step guide but just a few little things that I do and have found, that makes the job a little easier and safer
Check the hedge out first.
We all walk by the hedges at all times don't we and the chances are you have cut the hedge before. But a lot of things can happen in a year, just have a look though the hedge checking for bottles, cans, odd bits of metal thrown in, footballs etc anything that could damage the blades of the cutters. Also see if there's any new holes or dips appeared in the ground near the hedge, may save a twisted ankle once the dip is covered up in clippings and you find it again! Lastly get a big stick (take handle will do) and smack it along the hedge, this isn't an old fashioned gardners tradition to produce a good crop next year but a way to check there are no birds nesting or even worse no wasp nests in there! Nothing worse that being surrounded by pesky 'flies' up a stepladder and finding out there are wasps!
Sharpen the blades.
No matter what hedge cutter you use, whether it's electric, battery or petrol, it will always cut much better and easier with sharp blades and leave a much cleaner finish to the hedge. If you don't want to do it yourself, most garden machinery dealers will do it for you, for a small cost. Otherwise you can easily do it for yourself using a diamond file like the ones sold by Niwaki. Once your blades are nice and sharp, do the fine hedges like Yew, Box first before moving on the rougher stuff like hawthorn, beech, holly etc. The finer stuff do need sharper blades and done first they will avoid the dulling that happens with time and when doing the rougher hedges
Where to start?
First of work out the way you like to work, my natural working way is left to right, so I will start on the left hand side. I then cut from bottom to top, this helps to allow foliage to fall down once it's been cut unheeded and not pulling any other bits out with its weight. If there's rather a lot of foliage to get though, will do a rough cut first to remove the bulk before doing a finer one to finish. Once the side is done, I then start of the top, on the right hand side or just where I have finished doing the side. Then I cut the closest bit to me, working my way across, sweeping the clippings off the edge as I go.
When cutting an old established hedge, one that I have trimmed before or one cut last year, I always try and cut as close to the last years cut as possible, ideally to within a couple of mm of those last cuts, yes it may leave the hedge looking a little barer than a lighter trim but it will help to keep the hedge tighter and more compact within the space, think about it, leaving 10mm new growth on each side every year for the new ten years will make the hedge 200mm wider, 50mm would be 1000m or a metre! 2mm would just 40mm. Big big differences.
large leaved shrubsThese are shrubs like Bay, cherry Laurel, tradionally are done by hand using secatuers as the use of hedge cutters tend to tear the leaves, cutting by hand is pretty time comsuing and lets be honest, we dont all have the time to do it by hand. using the hedge cutters will leave the leafs ragged but the new ones will soon come though ok. only word of warning when using a hedge cutter on cherry laurel, the leaves do contain amount of cyanide, which on a hot day can cause a bad headache or feeling sick, indeed there have been cases of gardeners being sacked from being drunk, when indeed it was cyanide poisoning from the fumes from the laurel leaves when being cut on a very hot day.
Use the right access equipment. It so much easy to get hold of access equipment now, either though hiring or buying. I am lucky, being a professional gardener, I own a couple sets of tripod ladders, a 20ft access tower and a stepping stool, all of which cover any height needs I have. It's not worth the risk of leaning a ladder into the hedge or grabbing the patio chair and doing a little balancing dance whilst standing on it. Hedge cutters are pretty horrid things to fall on and they do hurt! Just try and find the right bit of gear to suit your garden and either make a long term investment or hire in. One other thing is getting your cutters up to your working height, when working on step ladders, platforms etc, you ideally need 3 points of contact from your body to the equipment, again makes carrying anything up the equipment a little iffy. I have a couple of lengths of rope with a couple of karabiners tied to each end, I attach one to the tool and hold the other one whilst climbing up and then attach it to the ladder, platform when I get to the working height and just pull up the tool, un hitch, use and lower back down when finished .
Clean off my tools.
End of each day, I will brush off any loose leaves, give the blades an oil, that will help to soften any sap build up on the blades, then remove the build up using the crean block or a wooden scraper, spray with Dettol to kill off 99.5% of all know germs or indeed fungus like box blight and plant virus and then spray once more with WD-40. I then know the equipment is as clean and disease free as I can make it.
its always worth taking a step backwards to make sure the hedge is pretty level and the sides are pretty level, theres no bit missed and its all looking good. its also a damn fine time to admire your handy work!
I hope you have found the above tips useful and happy hedge cutting
For many of us, Hardy Geraniums, are the reliable source of colour within our borders, some types like ‘Rozanne’, ‘Nimbus’, ‘Mavis Simpson’ flowering almost non stop from May to the first frosty touches of winter hit us. Indeed there’s not a week goes by without one in flower within my small borders at home. No matter how well they flower, at sometime during the summer months, they will either get too big or the flowers will get smaller, the plant its self will start to look tatty and really not look nice, indeed it’s almost like someone’s put a big donut on top of the plant, with lush new growth appearing in the middle of the plant.
This is the time to get heavy handed and take a risk! First of all I would like to say not all geraniums will respond to the method below, ones with a woody centre like sanginium, wallichainium and more clump forming ones like renardi, macrophyllum, canabridgense etc can’t be treated in this way. The plants idea for this method include oxanium, riverleaianum, magnificum, pratense, phaeum, etc ones that really start looking like someone has plonked a donut on top.
First of all it’s important to have the right weather to carry out the work, overcast days when the soil is damp is an idea time to carry out this task. We don’t always get weather like this, so as long as you water afterwards, it still should be ok
I tend to give them a feed of Vitax Q4 or blood,fish and bonemeal afterwards and keep them well watered afterwards. You can also lift and divide the plant after cutting back if you so require (for method, please see here). The hand scythe was supplied from Niwaki and really makes the job so much easier and less painful on the wrists. It’s what the Japanese use to harvest rice.
I must admit I have surprised myself this year, few weeks in and I still haven’t had a Gallica as rose of the week and it’s about time I put that criminal act right so this week I have chosen the beautiful Duchesse de Buccleugh. This lovely once flowering rose delights us with her highly scented flowers for 3-4 weeks of the year from early June to late June. The Gallicas as a whole are one of the oldest cultivated plants in our gardens, thought to be grown since roman times and were the first group of roses to really catch the gardeners and rose breeders eyes. Many of thousands of hybrids have been bred over the centuries, many been lost to the ravages of time but we are left with some beautiful plants, both gallicas and also some many other hybrids have some gallica in their blood.
The Duchesse de Buccleugh breeding is something that is greatly debated in the the rose world some experts think it was bred by one of the worlds leading rose breeder in the 19th century, vibert in 1837 and others including the great Graham Thomas felt was bred by Robert in 1846. Who is right, we may never know, the work of tracing the rose back to the breeder is a hard one, lists lost in both time and the many wars that that raged in France over the centuries. Descriptions in French, no photos just 3-4lines in 170yr old catalogues. I almost feel that the history of who the plant was named after may hold the answer to who bred it, but will leave that up to you to decide
Thankfully there’s lots of information on the Duchesse de Buccleugh, born Lady Charlotte Anne Thynne at the Thynne family seat of Longleat in Wiltshire on 10 April 1811, home to lord Bath and it is still in the family today, On 13 March 1829, she married Walter Montagu-Douglas-Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuchat St George’s, Hanover Square, London and became Duchess of Buccleuch. In 1841, she became mistress of the robes to Queen Victoria and though that role became good friends with her. Victoria also became god mother to her eldest daughter. The Duchesse was indeed a great gardener and worked hard on the garden at her family home, Drumlanrig Castle, Scotland. She stayed there until her husband sadly pasted away in 1884, after which she moved to Dinton park, slough, England, developing the garden until she sadly passed away in 1895.
This beautiful rose is at home in growing in most soils but unlike a lot of other roses will grow quite happy in tough, thin, poor soil, indeed the gallicas can be found wild in the south of France. They will cope with those tough conditions but look better in richer soils. These tough roses are also pretty disease free for roses and you can get away with spraying them. She is best grown on a rootstock as if they are grown on their own roots, they have a habit of being very friendly and spreading all over the garden. Can be made into a beautiful hedge
The rise can be found growing at Mottisfont Abbey gardens and can be found at the folllowing nurseries Peter Beatles roses, David Austin roses and Trevor white roses
Box blight is now one of two major problems for one of the most important hedging and topairy plants we have in the garden, the other being the box moth, that is causing a lot a problems in London at the moment. To the rest of us, blight is the biggest concern in the garden if we have box hedging or topiary, is that browning of the leave tips the start or just leaf scorch?
So what is box blight?
Well it is a fungus that causes problems to the stem and leaves of members of the Buxus family. It doesn’t effect the roots of the plants thankfully. There are two blights that effect the Buxus, first one is the main blight, Cylindrocladium buxicola and the second one is called Volutella blight, this one is a little less serous. The signs that your hedge maybe infected with Box Blight (Cylindrocladium) are first of all, small patches of dieback appearing on the hedge.
These little patches will soon spread and the dead woody growth waill have black streaks visible though the spilting bark. This can spread over the whole plant quickly. The tiny spores form under the leaves during wet mild spells, these are white. Volutella blight differs from not losing as much leaves, lack the black streaking and also have pink spores under the leaves instead of white. Box blight tend to spread by water splashes due to rain or over head watering, this can be wind blown as well. Like a lot of other foliage fungi, the younger leaves are much easier for the fungus to gain a foot hold and infect the plant. While Volutella blight, tends to be also spread on the open wounds after cutting. With Box blight, the spores can be viable on old dead leaves for up to 6years! One other warning is that Box blight isn’t just on Buxus but can effect other members of the Buxuacaea including Sarcococca,
So that’s the problem, so what about the effects on them, well it can be pretty bad with Box blight, whole sections of the hedging can die back, slowly spreading but again depends the weather and where the garden is based in the country, mild and damp really help the spread of the fungus, which does make it more at home in the damper areas areas of the uk. Volutella blight tends to cause smaller areas of dieback that can be cut out easily
However good the treatments can be, it’s far better and easier to prevent it in the first place. Some good methods can be used to both prevent it coming into the garden in the first place and also reducing the spread of it around the garden.
First thing is selecting healthy disease free stock in the first place, try buying one or two plants to start with and place them away from other plants in quarantine for a couple of months to see if they develop the blight, many of the commercial sources of Box, do spray regularly as a preventive measure, so will be ok until this wears off.
If you are looking at adding or replacing bits of existing Box hedging, topiary or indeed plants and your current stock is blight free, well worth propagating your own plants via hardwood cuttings to stop the disease coming in.
If you are starting a new parterre, hedge or topiary, it’s well worth using Buxus microphylla hybrids like Faulkner, have been found to be less susceptible to both fungi compared to Buxus semperverens.
Also try not to plant too close, increase the planting distance will help to reduce the density of the hedge.
Once planted, box is a hungry and thirsty plant, something that we tend to forget, good feeding and ground level watering will help to keep plants stress free and growing them in a healthy soil again will keep them in better condition, a strong healthy plant is more able to fight pest and diseases it just also be careful not to overfeed as this can encourage the plant to put on lots of soft growth that’s also more susceptible to the fungus.
Think about adding a soft mulch under the hedge, something like Progrow, compost and mushroom compost rather than bark mulch or stones, the soft mulches will reduce the height of water drop splash back onto the plant.
Avoid watering the box using overhead watering systems, something like leaky pipe or drip irrigation is better and avoids water splashes.
Good husbandry by clearing out all the dead leaves at the base of the hedge and also not blowing the leftover trimmings back under the hedge! While on the subject of using blowers, try to avoid the use of them when the hedge is wet from rain or heavy dew.
Trimming is another job that’s pretty crucial in reducing both the risk of introducing and spreading the fungus, not only just from the trimming and the open cuts it’s produces but also from the fact that you encourage new softer growth, which being so soft, allows an easy way for the fungus to gain a hold.
And also regular trimming encourages a very dense front to the plant, that is pretty difficult for sprays to penetrate. Traditionally the time to trim your box is late May but trimming at this time of the year tends to produce 2 lots of soft growth per year, one just before trimming and one after, changing the time to late summer/early autumn will only produce one lot of growth in the following year and therefore reducing the risk, yes it will look not as sharp in mid summer but if it cuts down the risk, it must be worth it.
Also try and cut it on a dry day, once any early morning dew and rain has dried off from the foliage.
Another big tip on cutting box, must be to ensure the equipment is clean, both sap being cleaned off the blades regularly with something like Niwaki’s cleam block to avoid build up.
Also worth sterilising the blades using either something like white spirt on a cloth and wiping over the blade or my favourite method of using bleach, either in 5% solution in a bucket so you can dip the hand tools into the mixture every few minutes or every time you move on to another plant or section of hedge. Powered equipment can be easily treated using bleach in a spray bottle and sprayed on the blades as per hand tool use. This is well worth asking and making sure your contractor does this if you are using one!
One other tip to do 7-10 days before trimming the box, is to spray with a fungicide (see later on for recommend ones) and then repeat 7-10 days after, this again will help on reducing the spread of the fungus and checking the establishment on newly cut areas. Just one more reminder not to blow the trimmings under the hedge after you have finished! Indeed, never be afraid to tell you contractor that as well!
One last tip on prevention, think about maybe starting up a regular foliage feed spraying of the box to feed the leaves and make them stronger, again stronger healthy leaves are much better at fighting dieseases, products like Uncle Toms Plant Tonic, that helps to encourage tougher new growth, liquid seasweed, that adds lots of trace minerals as well as a general feed, Topbuxus is also a great produce to spray every 2-6 weeks (depending on product) during the season.
Management if you already have it
Well with most fungi problems, you would have the cure of the disease here, but there is no cure for Box blight just management of the fungus. If it’s already in the garden, most the information above will help to slow down the movement but the diseased plants need a bit of treatment, this varies depending on how bad it is.
Beginning of an infection can be treated by removing diseased material and burning it, then clearing away old dead leaves, then start regularly foliage spraying as per prevention and also using some of the fungicides that are now on the market for domestic use including Bayer Fungus Fighter that can be sprayed 6 times a year. Professionals will have access to chemicals like Signum, Bravo 500, Switch and Amistar
A severe infection needs a little bit more work, all dead branches need to be removed, indeed it maybe worth renovating the section, cutting main branches back to the stem on half the plant, encouraging new healthy growth to come though and allow better access to both remove old dead foliage, adding mulch to the plant and allow the chemical/liquid feed to penetrate all areas of the plant easy. Once it started to regrow nicely, then that’s the time to cut back the other half. It is then a case of carrying out the preventive advice above on the box for the life of the hedge
Yes admittly it’s a lot of work to keep a plant in the garden, but if you are keen and want the best from what’s growing in the garden. There are always a few alternatives to plant instead of buxus, plants like Taxus can make a good choice if another tight sharp looking hedge is required, but to be honest, there’s nothing that looks as good as a box parterre or edging. If you want that look, it’s just worth taking the time to either keeping your ones safe or managing the problem. The days of planting and forgetting are now sadly gone but maybe we shouldn’t of done the ‘plant and forget it’ in the first place, we dont tend to do this for all the other plants in our gardens do we? so why our hedges and topiary, the important framework of our borders.
This plant of the week isn’t one full of flowers but is indeed one of a stately manor, adding a touch of class to any waterside. Indeed this British and European native, is better know as the Royal fern and so rightly deserved. In my mind, it’s the spring time when the ferns start to show their beauty off, the fonds, slowly uncurling their beautiful fronds, in a light green with light brown hair covering them. Once opened, they go a slightly darker colour before going a beautiful buttery yellow and a tinge of brown.
Osmunda is an ancient plant, dating back to the time when dinosaurs roamed the world dating back to 260 million years ago indeed many fossils have been found around the world including parts of the uk. It differs from other ferns by the fact the have fronds that are there to photosynthesise only and fronds that only are there to produce spores, these sporagia, are brown in colour and indeed look like the fern is flowering.
The name Osmunda is thought to of come from the Saxon god of war, Osmunder! Regalis is from the stately royal look of the fern. It loves growing in damp places including woodland, grasslands and of course, near water courses, it will also survive on limestone outcrops. It is indeed a native of the uk as well as the rest of Europe and into parts of Africa and Asia. In the uk, it is making a come back after years of collecting both For the plant and for the it’s roots. Why it’s root? Well it made into Osmunda fibre which was used as a potting fibre for tropical orchids. But that’s not its only uses. It can be eaten in its young state and has a taste of asparagus but it’s the sporagia that has the most interesting use, for many centuries in Slavic traditions , the sporagia or Peruns flower was thought to have magical powers from unlocking demons to understanding trees. These had to be collected on Kupala night (thought to be 24/25of June), the collector, had to draw a circle around themselves and the plant, protecting themselves from the taught of demons! Kupala night was changed to Easter eve after Christianity.
In our gardens, it’s best planted near its favourite waterways, around ponds, lakes and streams, where we can enjoy both looking at the plant head on and from the reflection in the water. They just need a dampsite with a good amount of humus present, doesn’t need much looking after either, just the old fronds removed In late winter. No real pests and diseases either. Some great forms are also available including a couple listed below, purpurascens, that starts of with purple stems and fronds, with the foliage turning green, leaving the stems a shade of purple, love this form! Cristata is a form with more divided leaves
They can be seen widespread in different gardens, two of my favourite places to see them are Savil gardens near Windsor and Lockstock water gardens, near Stockbridge, Hampshire, also most good garden centres or nurseries will sell them. Www.fibrex.co.uk is also a brilliant place to buy
My plant of the week this time is one of a personal favourite. I have loved the mourning widow geranium for nearly 30 years, not sure what it is about the plant I like so much, whether it’s the foliage or small but perfectly formed flowers, but whatever it is, I think it’s a special little plant.
It’s one of those plants that are indeed overall pretty easy to grow. It’s native environment is the wooodlands and low mountainsides of Europe, mainly though the Baltic countries but can be found naturalised in some parts of the uk. It will growin pretty dry soils to dampish, alkaline or acidic again from light sunny spot to one of full shade. It’s one of those plants that is so flexible within the garden. The small flowers are borne in may-June on 2-3ft stems and come in a such a wide range of colours from white to black and many forms of red and blue as well.
It’s pretty easy to look after as well. It suffers very few pests and diseases, the worse has to be mildew in a dry summer, cure is easy, you cut the infected foliage back and you are awarded with new fresh foliage a while later, worse is the vine weevil, that will eat the roots just below the surface and kill the plant off. Looking after is pretty easy, I cut them hard back after they have finished flowering, lifting and dividing the plant if required at this time. I tend to feed the beds they are growing in rather than the plant itself. Doesn’t need any staking. Maybe a little bit of water after I have divided them.
The name geranium comes from the Greek word meaning crane and the seed head looks like a cranes bill while phaeum comes from the Latin for brown after the colour of the flower.
There are so many forms (over40!) I will only go though a few below
Samabor. (left)This form was discovered by Elizabeth Strangeman near the village of Samabor, Croatia. It is indeed the most commonly grown form, mainly down to the striking black sponge print on its leaves. The dark flowers really make it a great culitivar
Alex’s Pink. (right)One of the best pink forms with some mottling on the leaves
Lilly lovell, (left) named by Trevor Bath after his mother.a beautiful form with more of a yellow green foliage, with purple flowers borne above.
Joan baker, (right)another famous form would in Bill Bakers garden and named after his wife, the leaves a plain green.
Rose Madder (left), a distinct form, some feel isn’t a phaeum more of a hybrid, leaves are more shiny and the flowers slightly more swept back
Margret Wilson(right). One with striking varagition in the foliage, needs to be kept out of full sun. Can be trying to grow!
Connie Broe.(left) One with yellow veins and a marble like foliage
Well that was a almost typical March wasn’t, in like and lion and out like a slow cooked lamb! But was it ever a busy one! Roses had to be pruned and trained into beautiful shapes, ones that not only coat the features whether it’s a old wall or wooden feature, in beautiful twists and turns but also into shapes to encourage the highlights of midsummer, the delicate tissue like flowers, sometimes so highly scented delights that to me make summer. One thing to me that’s almost as nice as pruning roses, is planting them, indeed the last few planted over the weekend in my own little patch, saw my numbers planted reaching over 100. Some modern hybrids, others grown in our gardens for many thousands of years, seen so many changes in the world, yet remain still as unchanged during this time. Of course March just wasn’t about pruning roses and planting them, many other jobs have been finished or nearing completetion, Jobs like mulching borders, feeding plants, dividing plants, all jobs to make the garden ready for the summer of delight.
Talking about delights, how brilliant were the magnolias this year? Certainly one of the best displays I can ever remember, left untouched by Jack Frosts icicles of death, with little wind, they flowered their little hearts out, one trip to Savil gardens, left me dashing between one bit of eye candy, photographing them to the next, it was like being in a horticultural sweet shop that was on a try as many as you can freebee day! I love the big open flowers, some with slight fragrance, others so strongly sweetly scented filling the air with their perfume. Their ancient flowers, so primitively they are designed to be pollinated by beetles and pre-dates the time of the bees, will slowly finish allowing other plants to come to the forefront of our flowering minds, things like Rhododendron, Camelias, wisterias, cherries, apple and pears will soon fill our gardens this month, with their turn in the beautiful flowering catwalk.
We also said good bye to so many of our winter visitors in March, gone are the hoards of Waxwings (which I still failed to see!) red wings and field fares, but the summer visitors are slowly on their way, with sightings of sand martins, swallows and even the odd swift, now been sited all over the uk. The frogs and toads had a busy month laying their eggs in our ponds and lakes and even the butterflies have now started to emerge from their slumber, with brimstones starting the ball rolling at the being of March and red admirals, small tortoiseshell, battered peacocks and newly hatched orange tips joining the spring party. Many of our spring flowers, like cowslips, bluebells, wood anemone are filling our wildness with their joy.
April is once more a hectic time for me in the garden, with little veg and cutflowers to do in the gardens I look after, with all the fruit trees and roses now pruned, My thoughts now turn to pruning the winter flowering or fruit bearing evergreens and deciduous like osmanthus, cotoneasters, winter flowering jasmine. The sunny showers are also prefect for carrying out a little more planting of the now containisered herbecous plants and shrubs although I would avoid planting out any recently potted up roses that have yet to settle into their new pots, planting now will damage the new fine roots they are puttting out. Also the same should be said for the summer bedding, for me I don’t like putting these out until May is apon us. April can fool us in thinking Jack Frost has disappeared but he’s still lurking around waiting to pounce just as you plant out the tender plants, making you spend more money to replace them. other jobs can include starting to put in plant supports for herbecous plants and start the fortnighly spraying of roses and box hedges to help cut down the spread of fungus on the plants
Well that’s it from me this month, have fun in your garden this month!
It’s one of the nicest and most rewarding jobs you can do in gardening, turning a weedy mess into one that is a delight to look at and that will reward you with a summer of less weeding and more enjoyment from the plants. I like to try and make a difference between the types of mulching, decorative mulching for me is using either an nonorganic material like stone, slate etc or something like bark and wood chip mulch that does rot down but it takes a lot more time to releases the nutrients into the soil but they may have other advantages like provide an ideal environment for friendly fungus to use. For my job of the week, I am looking at what I call a feeding mulch. A feeding mulch is a mulch that provides the soil with good well rotted organic matter that will be taken into the ground both with a our help and also worms and other micro organisms that feed on dead plant matter. This type of mulching really helps to provide a really healthy soil and a healthy soil can mean a healthy plant. It can help Break down heavy clay soils or add a bit of bulk to sandy, gravelly poor soils. Feed mulching is really good with hungry plants, ones that put on a lot of growth each year, plants that get pruned hard back, plants like roses, herbaceous plants, coppiced plants like dog woods etc. it will provide a lot of the nutrients they need to get them growing strongly again. Like all mulches, it still helps to cut down evaporation and keep water in the soil, helps to cut down annual weeds but also helps with some perenial weeds like couch grass, ground elder, greater bindwind, they love to grow between the mulch and the soil, making it easier to dig out and remove. Not all plants will like the extra food so avoid using it too much around Mediterranean plants like lavenders, sage etc as it will cause them a little damage.
Now what to use? Well for most areas, if you have some home produced compost of leaf mould, that’s idea, if not something like composted green waste is just as good, well rotted manure works so well on very vigorous or repeat flowering plants like hybrid tea roses, I prefer to us sterilised bagged manure rather than loose material. Another great one is mushroom compost, which is basically sterilised manure with lime added, works well on clay but avoid on alkaline soils and acid loving plants.
Right that’s enough about the theory behind it, I like to first weed though the beds removing all the weeds, edge up any lawn edges with a half moon to produce a nice deep edge between the lawn and the bed, Add a base ferlizer to the whole bed not around the base of the plants but the whole bed, using something like Vitax Q4 ferlizer and then add a minimum of 50mm but nearer 75mm of mulch and spread it over the whole bed so it looks very smart and clean. It’s ok to cover over most of herbaceous plants but be careful not cover up the base of any shrubs or trees. And that’s it nice and simple, well worth repeating every 1-2 years or as required. For me it’s an important clog in the wheel of providing healthy strong plants for my clients to enjoy and I find it even more important when growing plants like roses, it is a small but important part of providing healthy looking roses for them to enjoy. It also looks very nice on the beds and the colour of the product used also brings out the best in the young foliage coming out and gives you a feel good factor, knowing it looks good and you have done the best you can for the health of the beds and plants.
My old Blogs
Shoot talkJanuary 18, 2018 at 6:00 pm – 7:00 pmChapel manor college, Regent’s Park
Talk on plant names and their meaningsJanuary 31, 2018 at 7:00 pm – 8:00 pmWargrave RG108EU
Talk on Hardy geraniums, Harpenden gardening societyFebruary 13, 2018 at 7:00 pm – 8:00 pmHarpenden