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My Zygopetalum

A love of Orchids is all consuming, the flowers and scent from my Zygopetalum are one of the reasons why

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I’m a great lover of orchids, as some of you may know, I own about 20 now. The vast majority are Phalenopsis, given the nickname of the moth orchid, it could now be happily called the supermarket orchid. Most are rescues as I can’t bear seeing them thrown away simply because they have finished flowering. It pains me to see a good plant go unloved when I know it will go on to thrive once more with just a bit of tlc.

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For years though I have been hankering after 1 orchid in particular. I’ve never dared buy it for myself, terrified I might lose it! That is the zygopetalum.

Back in February an All horts visit to Kew gardens was organised by @gardenwarrior (twitter handle, his real name is Andrew) to see the Orchids there. These visits to various gardens & events are always great fun as not only do you meet wonderful, like minded, enthusiastic horts but in such inspiring places!

This visit for me was particularly special though as it coincided with my birthday woo-hoo!

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We happily trotted round the glasshouse oohing & aahing as appropriate at what is a truly impressive display of Orchids when the scent of one caught me unawares!

Sweet, so very sweet! And musky, you almost smell it in your throat…I’m not sure if that makes sense but honestly you do! It was a familiar scent and immediately I was looking for the zygopetalums!

Not all orchids are scented and as a rule of thumb the bigger & showier a flower is the less scent it needs but zygo’s break that rule!

Lime green with maroon spots they are about an inch across. To my mind they look like little happy faces with purple flecked beards, like punk gnomes.

My friend Justin (Twitter handle @allotment7b ) , who knows a lot more about orchids than me, had very generously said he would buy me one from the shop for my birthday! Imagine how excited I was! Any orchid I wanted!!

Now I did have several “favourite” orchids in mind, one of which is a purple Vanda, these are relatively tricky to look after successfully in a normal home but are absolutely luscious!

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Vanda

Another I had in mind was a Paphiopedilum or slipper orchid. As I think I already have one in my collection of rescues though it seemed wasteful to not get something different. Even when they do look this good!

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Paphiopedilum

I eventually settled my mind on a zygopetalum which after raiding the unpacked cages of orchids in the shop I found and the wonderful Justin bought for me.

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Look at the stupid look on my face! Such joy!

For weeks it flowered it’s head off, making my bedroom smell amazing & in fact the whole house! Eventually it finished and I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep it happy. I forced myself to NOT fuss over it. Most orchids die from being loved too much! I lost my first one this way. I’ve found they much prefer being ignored for the most part. I water them with rain water if I can get it, if not I’ve been known to fill up the sink & plunge them in for an hour or so. I keep a bottle of water to go stale as an alternative. I bought a mist to encourage them to flower which I use intermittently & I also have a feed which encourages leafy growth which I use every few months but I worry about overfeeding as the build up if salts from these in the growing media can kill them just as quick as abandoning them altogether!

The strong sun on my window sill scorched one of the leaves of my beloved zygo back in June, also caused one of my others to abort flower production. It was the week I was moving & my well meaning housemate closed the windows and cooked them all in my absence. I could’ve cried… but hey! They survived! In the next few weeks as we all settled in to Ulting wick I repotted a few of my beauties & in the process noticed flower buds forming on the zygo!!

SUCH EXCITEMENT!!

I tweeted Justin to let him know.

That’s the thing about giving someone a present of a plant it’s a joy that keeps going.

He had given me my hearts desire & now it’s  scent fills the little cottage. It’s smiley punk faces greet me every morning. I have no idea what I did to make it so happy but it obviously is!

Zygopetalums were first found in 1827 by a chap called Mackay from Brazil. He gave one to the esteemed orchid expert of the day sir William Hooker, who promptly created a new genus for it. They can be found growing in cloud forests of south America and are classed as both epiphyte & terrestrial giving them the ability to be flexible in their growing conditions. The growing media need to be free draining, I tend to go for some of the more difficult to get hold of stuff which I buy from the Orchid experts at shows. This is a mixture of perlite, charcoal, bark and a few other bits.

If you’ve never tried growing Orchids before don’t be put off giving them a go, the Phalenopsis are probably the most forgiving, here’s a tip to getting them to reflower, leave them on a window sill where the temp will drop overnight. This triggers the flowering response, I found out by mistake and all of mine proceeded to flower their heads off for the next 12 months!

Heres a few of the loveliest you may consider…

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A month in… Ulting wick

I’ve been at Ulting wick just over a month now & so much has been happening!
Here’s a quick catch up as Phil & I settle in…

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Phil catnaps on the patio, he’s fully settled in here now & very happy!

With a bit more time I’ve started planning this post early!

Yesterday I took some cuttings of the salvia blue merced I bought at Hampton court from William Dyson of Great comp gardens in Kent. Look at their loveliness! Hopefully all will take & they will look marvelous in the pots next year… fingers crossed

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I also had a surprise on surveying the dahlias this morning, in a clump of Bishop of Auckland I spied a gorgeous anomaly! As beautiful as this lady is she’s just not right and so will have to be removed!

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On Thursday myself & Phillipa tackled the mystery weed that clogs up the stream. Phillipa got stuck right in, almost literally at a few points, leaping into the stream itself and between us we hauled tons of the watery stuff out of the stream!

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Phillipa was kind enough to invite me to join her in the evening to RHS Hyde Hall’s opening of their new veg garden in the evening. Spectacular new glasshouse and raised beds, all beautifully planted up with some quite unusual specimens. I’ve not seen Ullaco or Oca like that for many moons! I’ll be popping over their this weekend coming to offer up some  Achocha seed. Far nicer than the shop bought stuff it has less spines on its fruit, I hope it will be a welcome addition. Mine came from HSL’s own stock available to members.

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one of the lovely melons developing in the glasshouse

Today was Friday & overcast so much box cutting ensued! I’ve finally finished the rather over fluffy sides in the farmyard, it’s taken longer than I expected as it missed it’s cut last year so bringing it back to straight has been a challenge! I’m hoping the tops & pyramids will prove quicker then I can move onto the spirals & balls.

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The farmyard looking increasingly tropical!

We’ve also had to start cutting back the mixed hedges at the front, they are young hedges & are putting on so much growth they’re starting to encroach on the road, not good on tight country lanes!

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salvia bullulata – pale flowered form, with a delicious coleus/plectranthus

Massive changes to the stream beds are now underway. Winnie the Pooh tree (a willow tree) finally gave in to gravity 2 weeks ago. The base of the tree was about 6ft across & 4ft high, swathed in Ivy. It had basically rotted through and it’s one new trunk had completely snagged up in nearby trees as it slowly & graciously fell over! It’s removal has opened up all sorts of exciting new planting possibilities!

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coleus have gone through so many name changes but are still some of the most beautiful leaf colours available, love them!

When moving here I was assured it had the lowest rainfall in England, after the last 2 weeks of almost daily rain I can only assume the rest of England has developed gills? The rain shows no sign of letting up but it has meant watering has been an infrequent task. In between showers though the heat can be quite intense so we seem to be in prime grass growing weather at a time you would normally be expecting to ease up.

We ended the month trying to get everything finished up before Phillipa went away. A constant stream of deadheading & pulling out of things that have finished ready for our visitors.

As I finish this up ready to publish our Dutch group have been & gone, all the feedback was very positive & I hope they will return again, a truly lovely group of people!

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Gloriosa superba rothschildiana

Hard to believe I’ve been here just over a month now, it’s gone so fast, equally it feels like I’ve always been here, in a nice way. I’m starting to settle in… I’ve also found a place I can get free Wi-Fi for 4 hrs!! Woo-hoo!

 

2 weeks in..Ulting wick

Wildlife, plants and shows. It’s all been happening here!

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A quick post to let you know I’m not dead!

Just busy!

I also have limited internet access, which is driving me a bit loopier than usual!

The last 2 weeks have flown by though, nervous new girl was greeted by Phillipa and Neil, who’s shoes are rather large to fill… size 11 to be exact! I had an information full 3 days which I can barely remember now, thank the gods I take notes!

Then on my 4th day I met my assistant and what a lovely, enthusiastic chap he is, which makes life just about perfect!

Those of you who have been following me on twitter will have seen my continual posting about the reams of wildlife here, on my first night I saw my first hare in over 35 years!! So incredibly exciting, swans made an appearance, coots too!

I’ve heard owls at night, muntjacs in the day & honestly it feels like paradise here… *happy sigh*

Last Monday I played hooky and snuck off to Hampton court for the press day, had a fabulous time and got to see Charlie & the teams work on colour box.

Hampton court – Team Colour Box

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Much fun & silliness ensued with the #gdnbloggers

So what else has happened?

I’ve started cutting the box hedges, borders have been cut down, veg garden planted, an absolute stash of huge bulbs were unearthed! Then promptly replanted… oh, and I went to Hampton court again! Volunteering for Perennial. They’re great people, big love!

So to make sure I don’t waffle any further here’s the pretty bit…

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Hope to  get back to my usual posting soon!

Hampton court – Team Colour Box

The anti designers, Designer! Charlie Bloom talked to me about Colour Box, her garden for this years RHS Hampton Court.

 

colourbox1088x621This year Hampton Court will be a busy one for me, I’m working on the Colour Box garden for Charlie Bloom & Simon Webster… well, I say working… When I asked Charlie what she would like me to do her answer was “enjoy the show!”. I will also be volunteering on Tom Massey’s garden for Perennial later in the week.

We got to talking via twitter a while back now, her irreverence & joie de vivre comes across on social media in spades, also she likes horses and anyone who likes horses is fine by me. That aside she loves plants! I mean really loves plants!

Just a glance at her twitter page will show you her work. She considers herself a gardener not a designer. In fact its fair to say she is a bit militant towards the designer culture that has grown up around show gardens in the last 10-20 years.

In the last few years though her view is starting to become one that seems to have a groundswell of support from ordinary folks who go to Chelsea, Hampton court and the myriad other shows across the UK. People want to see things they can imagine working in their own gardens, they feel alienated by the conceptual gardens. This can be plainly seen in the feedback surrounding this years Chelsea.

That’s not to say the gardens werent beautiful and exceedingly well executed but like the work of Dali when compared to say a Monet it can be a divisionist subject. Both brilliant artists but using their talents to speak different languages to the viewer. I hope for the future of our magnificent shows that the voices are listened to and room is made for both styles.

When I asked Charlie what she found to be the most stressful part of organising a show garden I got an answer I hadn’t expected. I had thought she would say the logistics of getting everything into the right place at the right time, sourcing the right plants or given the trials sent on the exhibitors at Chatsworth the other week, the weather, but no! Charlie said the part she found most stressful was the add ons to the budget, this includes feeding & watering the team behind the construction. Thinking about her concept this makes entire sense though. Charlies approach to the garden is to build a garden for the lowest possible cost, using the goodwill of people working in horticulture. It’s a team effort, she is massively behind the concept of a team, what we can achieve if we all pool resources. I love this idea!

This is Charlies fourth show garden, she exhibited twice at Gardeners World and once previously at Hampton Court so you could say she’s becoming an old hand at building gardens in this wonderfully fictitious environment that is show gardening. One thing that is important to her is making sure it’s an enjoyable experience for all involved. It can be such a stressful time especially if people’s focus is on the medals not the experience and I think that’s becoming more prevalent since I was involved in building gardens or maybe as I just wasn’t aware of it? I have a habit of swanning past drama, completely oblivious!

This year her garden, called Colour Box, is being built on an incredibly tight budget! There are some wonderful companies involved who have given their support totally free of charge which is so beautiful! It’s so good to see the different skills of horticulture pulling together to create something, warms the cockles of your heart. Some of the people involved are Burnham Landscapes, headed up by Ed Burnham and a lovely chap he is! Also London Stone, providing some their sleek materials for the hard landscaping. Last but by no means least Stark & Greensmith, you may have seen their etched panels on gardens at Chelsea recently? They are providing some of their amazing products and also helping to man the garden through the week.

The part that is actually costing the most is the actual plants but Charlie says she has already solved that conundrum by pre selling some on to her existing clients and there will also be of course the sell off on the last day, make sure you get in fast if you see something you fall in love with… im sure there will be! This will be a gardeners garden built by a team of people, Charlie is militant that the team gets the credit. After all as she quite rightly points out this is not about one person, everyone involved makes the magic happen!

Charlie also has people who she admires and happily recommended I take time out to see certain gardens whilst at the show. In absolutely no order of preference (as she was equally enthusiastic about all)

Frederic Whyte – Designing for The Centre for Mental Health, called On the Edge

Tom Massy – Designing for Perennial, called the Sanctuary Garden

Andrew Fischer Tomlin – with Dan Bowyer, Designing for Blind Veterans UK, called It’s all about Community

Will Williams – Designing for Streetscape, called Holding Back the Flood

I hope you enjoy your visit to Hampton Court this year and that the weather is kind! Let me know your thoughts

charlie b1

 

 

 

 

#mygardenrightnow

As part of the Chelsea fringe there’s a #mygardenrightnow. Get involved by posting pics of you & your garden on social media!

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I’ve had a rare lazy day in my own garden today which handily corresponded with the Twitter/instagram #mygardenrightnow. It’s not as finely tuned or designed as some of the gardens I work in but it’s mine & it makes me happy… although I find it difficult to do nothing!

I thought I’d share with you all some of my joys!IMAG5026IMAG5000IMAG4999IMG_-ang3deIMG_20170603_080551IMG_20170603_080512IMG_20170603_080451

If you’d like to get involved yourself just post using the # & if you’re feeling brave include yourself in the shot!

Where the wild things are!

Creating your own meadow or place for wildlife isnt as hard as it seems. Heres a few native wildflower species that will thrive whatever your conditions

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Meadow at Oxford Botanical gardens

There’s been a lot written about wildflower meadows in the last few years and whether the style is prairie or english meadow there can be no doubt they are absolute havens for wildlife.

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Green Hairstreak
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Newts need water but can often be found in leaf debris and thick grass
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Knapweed is an important source of nectar to butterflys

If you’re considering turning an area over to wildflowers there are a few things worth considering before splashing out huge amounts of money on seeds. For example what soil you have. A clay soil will support a totally different type of wildflower to a sandy soil. If you have the benefit of a stream nearby perhaps you would be better suited choosing moisture tolerant plants.

I’ve been lucky to have worked in some beautiful gardens with well thought out wildflower meadows, some even had native orchid species!

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Orchis mascula – early purple orchid

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Dactylorhiza fuchsii – common spotted orchids

If you’d like to know more about identifying native UK Orchids, of which there’s over 50, have a look at this handy guide

But Orchids are a plus, a wildflower area doesn’t always have the right conditions for them, often you won’t even be aware they are there until conditions become right for their germination. Orchid species should NEVER be removed from the wild, the soil in which they grow has very specialised conditions which cannot be replicated and by moving them you are pretty much giving them a death sentence no matter how hard you try.

What about what you have then?

Lets have a look at what you can grow!

Acid/Clay soils

Clay soils are prone to drying and cracking in dry periods and being cold and wet during the winter. They also have an ability to hold nutrients which for wildflowers who thrive in undernourished conditions can be a challenge! I’ve included the description of acidic as most clay soils tend to err towards slightly acid conditions but it’s always best to check your soils PH. Testing is a simple process, kits being available from most garden centres.

  • Autumn Hawkbit( Leontodon Autumnalis)

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  • Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus Corniculatus)
  • Common Cat’s Ear (Hypochaeris radicata)
  • Corn Poppy (papaver Rhoeas)
  • Cowslip ( Primula Veris)

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  • Yarrow, (Achillea Millefolium)
  • Yellow Rattle (Rhinanathus Minor) – This is one of the most important ingredients in a wildflower meadow
  • Betony (Stachys Officnalis)
  • Goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis)
  • Lesser Knapweed (Centaurea Nigra)

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  • Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)
  • Ragged Robin (Lychnis Flos Cuculi)
  • Common Sorrel (Rumex Acetosa)

Going back to Yellow rattle, the reason this is so important in a wildflower meadow is its fascinating means of extracting nutrients, it’s a parasitic plant! It attaches itself to the roots of surrounding grasses and stunts their growth thereby allowing the other less dominant species to flourish. Getting it established is the most important factor when starting your wildflower meadow and this is best done in the autumn using fresh seed. Of course once its in and in subsequent years this can be done purely by the process of cutting your meadow down.

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Meadow at the Queen Elizabeth Park, London

What if you’re on a chalk grassland though? Chalk will support a whole different range of species, its alkaline, low in fertility naturally. Sandy soils also are well-drained so ive included these two together. You’ll notice that some of the plants are included on both lists, this is because they are “bombproof” so let’s have a look at what you can grow!

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Chalk meadow at Ayot st Lawrence, Herts

Chalk & Sandy soils

  • Agrimony (Agromonia Eupatoria)
  • Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus Corniculatus)
  • Common Vetch ( Vicia sativa)
  • Meadow Cranesbill ( Geranium Pratense)
  • Corn Poppy (Papaver Rhoeas)
  • Cowslip (Primula Veris)
  • Dark Mullein (Verbascum Nigrum)
  •  Dropwort (Filipendula vulgaris)
  • Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria)
  • Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium Verum)
  • Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus Acris)
  • Meadow Cranesbill ( Geranium pratense)
  • Musk Mallow (Malva Moschata)
  • Ox Eye Daisy (Leucanthemum Vulgare)
  • Rough Hawkbit
  • Ribwort Plantain (Planatago Lanceolata)
  • Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba Minor)
  • Self Heal (Prunella Vulgaris)
  • Common Sorrel (Rumex Acetosa)
  • White Campion (Silene Alba)
  • Small Scabious (Scabiosa Columbaria)
  • Wild Carrot ( Daucus carota)
  • Yarrow (Achillia Millefolium)
  • Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus Minor)
  • Wild Marjoram (Origanum Vulgare)
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Meadows in the Orchard at Waterperry, Oxford

Come September its time to cut your meadow down. In the past ive used a brushcutter to cut meadows down, this is a great method for seed dispersal and if im honest it’s a job I love! Some people use a topper, which doesn’t always get low enough for the low growing species, others swear by using a scythe which is a very exhausting way & takes a great deal of skill to do properly. Plan to do it when you have at least a week of dry weather ahead.

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Posing for a Brushcutter selfie!

Later the cut grass and wildflowers can be collected either manually by raking or if you have a large area and the equipment you can “box” it up & remove it. This is incredibly important as the removal of cuttings firstly helps spread the seeds and also lowers the fertility of the soil which wildflowers prefer.

What if you have a stream bank or water meadow? What plants love to grow there?

These suggestions are best sown 1-2 metres within the streams edge as these plants do better with damp feet, again you’ll notice some that are included in the 2 previous mixes.

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Stream/pond edges

  • Gypsy Wort (Lycopus Europus)
  • Greater Birdsfoot Trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus)
  • Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus Acris)
  • Meadowsweet (Filipendula Ulmaria)
  • Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum Salicaria)
  • Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi)
  • Red Campion (Silene Dioica)
  • Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris)
  • Teasel (Dispsacus Fullonum)
  • Tufted Vetch
  • Water Avens (Geum Rivale)
  • Yellow Flag Iris (Iris Pseudocorus)

Of course there are many more native species which could be included, one that you don’t often see is this lovely chap. Stellaria holostea – Greater Stitchwort, most often found in hedgerows rather than meadows, its beautiful delicate flowers are a pleasant surprise peeking out from under hawthorns.

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Which leads us nicely to woodland wildflowers! If you havent got an open area to turn into your own personal nature reserve or if your garden is shaded by lots of mature trees this could be your answer. Of course there are Bluebells and wild Garlic but there’s lots more that can thrive in the shade of your leafy canopy!

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The Bluebell Woodland at Hole Park

Woodland Wildflowers

A traditional english woodland when properly managed can be awash with colour and nectar. It’s only an unkempt area full of brambles & nettles if left neglected. Traditionally pigs would be allowed to rootle around in the undergrowth keeping some of the thugs at bay but these days that’s relatively rare. As is the tradition of coppicing, stands of hazel to a gardener are such a boon, it’s a shame we don’t all have access to it. I digress!

If you do have a shady area under trees though you can make it come alive with just a few choice natives

  • Bluebell Seed (Hyancith non Scripta)
  • Common Agrimony (Agrimonia Eupotar)
  • Hedge Bedstraw (Galium Mollugo)
  • Wild Garlic ( Alliaria Petiolata)
  • Hedge Woundwort (Stachys Sylvatica)
  • Herb Bennet (Geum Urbanum)
  • Nettle Leaved Bell Flower (Campanula Trachnium )
  • Ragged Robin (Lychnis Flos Cuculi)
  • Red Campion (Silene Dioica)
  • Self Heal ( Prunella Vulgaris)
  • Square St Johns Wort (Hypericum tetrapterum)
  • Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis Odorta)
  • Upright Hedge Parsley (Torilis Japonica)
  • Welsh Poppy (Meconopsis Cambria)
  • Wild Angelica (Angelica Sylvestri)
  • Wild Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea)
  • Wood Sage (Teucrium Scorodonia)

Some of these listed are absolute nightmares in a garden setting such as Geum urbanum and Meconopsis cambria but in a woodland setting are perfect. It’s a matter of choosing the right plants for the right place and remember we are looking at this as a “Wild Garden” rather than a cultured bed full of choice specimens. Hopefully this will give you the confidence to go out and select some seed and sow your own little patch of wilderness.

“Let the wild rumpus start!”

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Heritage seeds – tomatoes of the future

Here’s a piece I wrote about Heritage seed toms for the lovely Beryl

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I have had a short break from writing – partly because all I would be saying is, ooh look, another patch of brown earth that I have dug and some small brown seeds I have sown…Not that thrilling.

Fortunately Lou Nicholls, who blogs at loujnicholls.wordpress.com, has written a guest post for me. It’s the first ever guest post I’ve had and there will be a few more from other bloggers over the year. I’d love to know what you think.

Lou’s a marvellous gardener, with substantial experience from roles at both Garden Organic and Sissinghurst Castle. She also has a fantastic laugh, loves cake and drinks coffee like a chain-smoker. I’m lucky that she now lives just down the road from me and she’s agreed to tell me (gently) where I am going wrong with my fruit tree pruning. (Clue: everywhere!)

It’s not too late to sow tomatoes, either…

View original post 1,425 more words

How do you solve a problem like Lilac suckers?

Lilacs are a great tree for a small garden but does yours leave you fighting a thicket of suckers? Is your trees graft failing or thriving?

My head insisted on singing this to the tune of “How do you solve a problem like Maria” as I, once again, tackled the forest of shoots that are in a clients garden around her Lilac tree. I know Lilacs aren’t the only tree that have a habit of doing this but it did get me to thinking about the reasons why trees do this and what, if any, are permanent solutions to stopping them from doing so?

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Lilacs are a lovely tree to have in the garden, relatively small, some are highly scented and with judicious pruning can produce a wealth of blooms. Brought from Turkey in the 15th century we now think of them as part of the quintessential English garden. Since the 1700’s they have been forced for the florists market to provide early flowers for the market but in recent years they seem to have disappeared somewhat off the gardening radar.

A couple of lovely varieties to grow are Syringa vulgaris ‘sensation’ an unusual bicoloured bloom of pink edged with white. ‘Congo’ is an old (1890’s) variety but reliable and highly scented, with distinctive flowers the colour of a good Merlot. ‘Madame Lemoine’ is a pure white and another reliable old variety. Bred by the Lemoine nursery in France it has stood the test of time.

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Syringa vulgaris ‘Sensation’

Lilacs are also a good tree for chalky, well-drained soil. Once established they can withstand a summer drought which in these days of climate change is never a predictable thing!

I’ve always been told with suckers the best method of dealing with them is to rip them from the tree, this damages the growing point and prevents them from regrowing. If you cut them off neatly with secateurs it leaves the dormant buds intact and in a short while you’ll have 2 where there was only 1 previously. Like a many headed hydra this can quickly become an out of control beast! If caught early enough you can even just rub the buds out but what happens when the suckers come from the roots?

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Some plants like Lilacs, Wisteria, cherries, roses & witch hazels are grown on root stocks. Whilst this has the advantage of controlling the plants vigour & health it can come with the down side of suckers. Once the rootstock has established shoots it will no longer aid the graft instead preferring to give its energy to its own leaf production, eventually leading to the demise of the scion.

This raises several questions

  1. Why graft in the first place?
  2. Once started how can it be stopped?
  3. What is the cause & how can it be prevented?

1 is for the ease of the nursery producing (in the case of lilacs) it means they can produce plants at a time when the nursery would be quiet and far quicker than by other means of propagation.

2, simply put it can’t really, only controlled, which leads us neatly to…

3, this last question is probably the most pertinent as prevention is always better than cure!

So lets look at a bit of science as to why this happens….

The first and most obvious reason for a sucker is stress. Lets assume, in the case of lilacs & cherries in particular, the suckers are coming from the roots. This is a type of vegetative propagation, the tree is cloning itself through basal shoots from adventitious buds on the roots. Plants are so clever in this respect! If we cut off an arm we couldn’t possibly expect to grow a new us from it but plants can send out new versions of themselves from practically any body part. Each part of a plant, including the roots has the capability to clone itself.

Plants do this in a response to a few things that cause stress, over enthusiastic pruning is one cause or injury to the root system can be another.

In the case of over enthusiastic pruning the plant has developed a root system directly in proportion to the canopy, usually 3 times the canopy’s size. When the canopy is reduced dramatically the plant thinks it’s under attack and will do its utmost to propagate itself.

The more tricky one to deal with in a garden situation is root damage, this can be caused by digging near a tree in a border or even by mowing the grass. For trees that have a shallow root system their roots can often be damaged by close mowing and once this stress response is triggered it can often be almost impossible to prevent a reccurrence of shoots. Better to prevent it than cure it. This of course doesn’t help us once it’s already happened though.

The second reason can be from a failing graft union. This can occur for many reasons

  1. Anatomical mismatch – a failure to line up the rootstock and scion in the initial graft. This usually becomes apparent very quickly.
  2. Damage to the graft union – this can occur when hoeing around the base of the tree or in the case of grass land strimming too close to the base and “ringbarking” (removing the bark from around the base of the tree causing the flow of sap to the scion to be interrupted)
  3. Fungal/bacterial infection – the graft is a weak spot and is always susceptible to infection.

How can you give your tree the best start in life to avoid these things?

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Selecting a plant that looks healthy, vigorous and has a clean healthy graft union is obviously a good start, if you can buy from a reputable nursery they will be happy to explain what to look for. That’s the great thing about buying from nurseries that produce their own stock. The staff actually understand plants and are enthusiastic to share their knowledge with you.

The next step is planting, in the case of lilacs their rootstock graft (if they have one) is often privet ligustrum ovalifolium. Now the RHS will tell you to plant with the graft joint above soil level. This will prevent suckering of the lilac itself but it can also have the disadvantage of preventing the scion to from forming its own roots and if the graft fails, which it likely will over time, the plant is lost. However advice on lilacs from the Arnoldia arboretum and from Chris Lane(owner of the Witch Hazel nursery in Kent who has a wealth of knowledge and who’s opinion I greatly respect) differs, they suggest that the scion be allowed to develop its own rootstock by initially planting level or slightly deeper and then mulching for the first year. Their observations on lilac grafted on various rootstocks go as far as to suggest that the graft is doomed to failure after 4 – 5 years and encouraging the scion to develop its own roots is necessary. If you’d like to find out more have a look at this paper. I’m inclined to  go with their advice myself despite the risk of developing suckers in later years but as with all cases of differing advice the choice is yours of course which you listen to.

Back to the problem of suckers though!

Lets assume you’ve given the plant the best start in life you can but despite your best efforts it’s started developing suckers or that you’ve inherited a plant that is already creating a mini forest of clones around its base. What then?

Dont ever be tempted to spray these suckers with weedkiller! Their “blood supply” is the same one that nourishes your beloved tree and will kill that too… you’d be surprised how many times people have done this and then wondered why the tree has died!

The best way as already mentioned is to tear/rip the sucker off as close to the root or stem as possible. If this just isn’t possible I find a sharp spade does the trick. The key is always persistence, once a plant starts to sucker it will continue. Your job is to make sure the plant stays as happy and healthy as possible. In autumn feed with well-rotted manure mulched around the base. In dry periods, like we’ve been experiencing in the last month or so even established trees will appreciate a bit of water on their roots and continue to remove the suckers as and when they appear and your lilac trees will continue to have happy healthy lives!

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Great Dixter – Spring plant fair

Great Dixter is a fine garden to visit especially when theres a plant fair on! Often you can find that rare plant from an independent nursery youd find no where else!

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For six years I lived on the doorstep of Great Dixter and like a lot of gardens in the area it has a theme of high hedges and garden rooms so synonymous of Lutyans arts & crafts style work. Great Dixter though has an added twist of having had Christopher Lloyd own it and put his stamp on it.

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Many finer writers than myself though have beaten this subject to death so I don’t need to gush and enthuse on the subject of Dixter and its design, suffice to say its worth a visit and has changed subtly since the death of Christopher. Which isn’t a negative thing rather a natural thing as gardens are living creations and to try to keep them static is an odd concept.

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One thing that always strikes me though when I visit Dixter is its size, I’m always shocked by how small it feels. When you think of famous gardens you often think of rolling acres, at least I do, but Dixter is an oddity in so many ways. The gardens never seem to take long to see in their entirety, although there are areas where you can linger quite happily.  The house itself, despite its appearance of having stood on that spot forever was actually only placed there last century. I say placed, not built as Lutyens and Nathaniel Lloyd (Christopher’s father) actually took the main part of the house from a village called Benenden nearby and reconstructed it. Melding it into the original structure that was already there known simply as Dixter. As a visitor you would never know this though as it was done so successfully it has the appearance of a house that has grown organically for centuries.

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The gardens are being added to continually in the way Christopher did when he was alive. Fergus’s commitment to Dixter and its ethos of teaching being something special to witness.

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The plant fairs though, especially the Spring one are a great opportunity to get out and see small independent nurseries offering beautiful plants at very reasonable prices. I admit its become something of a spring time pilgrimage for me. Even if it now takes me a couple of hours to get to it instead of a couple of minutes! They also do a great thing throughout the weekend where Nurseries give talks throughout the day. Often entertaining, enthusiastic speakers with a wealth of knowledge on their chosen subjects, which if you’re a plant nut like me is well worthwhile!

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For me there were 2 that particularly stood out the first being Barnhaven, a fabulous nursery dedicated to one of my greatest loves Primulas.

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I wrote quite extensively about auriculas on my old blog so if you’re interested have a quick look here…

Forget me not – Auriculas part1

Forget me not – Auriculas part2

Forget me not – Auriculas part3

Barnhaven has recently supplied Sissinghursts garden with a large amount of old variety primulas in their efforts to repopulate the garden with varieties which were there in Vita’s time. Gardens often lose specific plants, sometimes even their own bred varieties. This I’ll mention again in a moment.

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Sometimes a gardener will endeavour to reverse the changes time makes to a garden and small independent nurseries are critical to retaining the genetic stock. Barnhaven is not only responsible for maintaining collections of amazing old varieties and making them available to the public, such as “jack in the green” a very old variety with a charming corolla of leaves which cup the flowers to breeding new introductions and bringing back styles such as the stripey and double Auriculas.

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The second was a talk from Steven Edney, Head Gardener at Salutations, another gorgeous Lutyens garden. The gardens are a tribute to his hardworking team and unceasing enthusiasm. Having suffered a massive flood in 2013, only 5 years after the gardens were officially reopened after years of neglect, they are once more in beautiful condition and this year is their 10th Anniversary!

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Steven touched on the subject of “lost plants” having fortuitously been offered a cutting after the floods of Hebe “Salutation” originally bred at the garden in the 1970’s. His nursery on site has propagated it and it is now available to the general public, another example of how important some plants can be in context!

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He is full of little gems of information too, he told us about plectranthus fruticosus an important plant to Edwardian gardeners as it would be used as a reliable indicator plant for frost. When nighttime temperatures drop below 5 degrees it develops a bronzy colour to the leaves and this would be a sign to the gardeners to lift their tender plants like Dahlias into the glasshouses.

I had to take a second look at this amazing Asphodeline liburnica and was tempted by some of the seeds he had for sale, grown & collected in the gardens!

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Another fabulous nursery is Pineview plants run by the lovely Colin and Cindy Moat who always have time to help you out choosing the right plant for the right place. I fell totally in love with his Epimediums and after going away and coming back THREE times finally settled for this gorgeous one called aptly “Ruby beauty”

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Whilst there I mentioned my mystery Epimedium I’d been given which hadn’t as yet flowered… which of course by the time I got home that evening had… So here it is and I’ll be asking Colin if he can help me identify it!

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There of course are many fine other independent nurseries at the plant fair which are well worth your time and if you’re not aware of one’s in your local area here’s a list that although not comprehensive is getting close and is constantly updated

Independent Plant Nursery guide

Of course there were many others (over 20!) there all with gorgeous specimens so here’s a selection of a few that caught my eye!

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and of course those that came home with me… I’m thinking the garden may have a purple theme… again!

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I didn’t leave Dixter till pretty much kicking out time, after all it was a beautiful day with fine company…. Look forward to seeing you all there again this time next year!

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My little car abandoned and lonely in a now empty field!

Chelsea Flower Show

Chelsea flower show, show gardens are designers dreams, style and fantasy, plants and pimms!
I revisit my Chelsea experiences, horticulture at its finest!

I have had the pleasure of visiting Chelsea a couple of times over the years, sometimes as a visitor, sometimes in a working capacity. Like all shows I’ll admit I have a distinct preference for the actual build process. This to me is a time of magic, from the arrival on site of so many people determined to create structures that give the appearance of having stood forever, the laughing and sharing of biscuits, tea and sometimes plants. The camaraderie that seems to be something special and unique to building show gardens. After all this is an incredibly stressful time for all involved. Months, sometimes years of planning have gone into a single weeks worth of showmanship!

One of my first times building at Chelsea also involved growing the plants for a garden, I’d had experiences at other show builds which fully prepared me for the hiccups and tripfalls to expect but as each garden is different so too are the demands on contractors. I had been asked to help with growing plants for 3 gardens. Firstly for Garden Organics stand in the Floral marquee, secondly for Harrod Horticulture. Their stand was on the outside of the marquee and thirdly for Alitex Glasshouses.

This was to be my special project when it came to the build and I’d prepared thoroughly wrapping each parsley plant individually in newspaper (which I knew I would reuse, stuffed between pots in the actual build, waste not want not!). Transporting the plants is one of the most stressful points as damage done cannot be undone. The memory of a distraught gentleman handing me a Mimosa flower at Hampton court a few years previously, lamenting that this had been its only flower and now everything was ruined always sits at the forefront of my mind.

Myself and a wonderful lady called Helen, who’s tireless cheerfulness was incredibly welcome, set about putting the plants into a half built garden. Sand, dust and noise of machines, drills and builders catcalling each other on a blinding sunshiny day. This is what Chelsea to me is about!

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Sadly most of my pictures of this day are lost, it was in the days of pre-digital cameras & limited to just 24 pictures anyway! Alitex were very kind to send me some of their own promotional pics from opening day, these I will always cherish but the serenity they exude doesn’t give you the blood, sweat & tears it takes to build a garden.

My favourite memory of this day was Helen’s panicked realisation that the sweet peas, grown in tubs, would have the pots visible. I had taken this into account and smugly, quietly packed a drill and jigsaw which I then proceeded to happily wield. Cutting through the hard plastic. As you can see from the pics it worked quite well! For this preparation I can only thank a wonderful man called John, whose second name I sadly can’t remember, who had taught me all I needed to know about Show gardens whilst at Photosynthesis. He was ace!

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My second favourite memory was of the drive home, at about 2 o clock in the morning. Illuminated by the headlights of a car behind I could see what appeared to be the shadow of a ginormous spider! I nervously asked Helen if she could just check how close it was to me and how big, not realising her phobia was far, FAR worse than mine. She screamed, I screamed, we both sat screaming at 60MPH on the M40!

This went on for a while.

It turned out the spider was tiny

I guess its one way of waking yourself up after a long day!

Anyway, the next time I was to visit Chelsea was as a visitor, albeit a working visitor. I’d just started a job working in a private garden and had been invited by my new employers to accompany them to Chelsea’s opening day. Honestly, I was terrified. I felt totally out of my depth which doesn’t happen to me often! I remember this as being my most stressful Chelsea as I realised my every move would be seen by my new employers and we were going to be introduced to the great and good which if done on my own terms would’ve been fine but rightly or wrongly this felt awkward.

Nevertheless, I dressed up in my best “Head Gardener” togs which involved corduroy, of course, and hopped on a train. The rest of the day became something of a blur but a stand out moment, purely for its weirdness factor, was standing on the “Best in show” garden & being introduced to Ulf Nordfjell. He likely doesn’t remember this given how momentous a day it was for him but for me it was overwhelming.

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I stood there in this amazingly glossy garden, its slick, clean lines & amazing construction. Trying to drink in all the details when I realised I felt a bit like a fish in a goldfish bowl! There were hundreds of people all around the edge of the garden, all with cameras and in my own head all going “who the hell is she?”

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So I did the only thing which made me feel comfortable! I hid behind my camera and took pictures of them, perfect!

In reality probably no one even blinked an eye at me & its only years later that I realise this. My life experience at that point in time made this so far out of my comfort zone it wasn’t even on my radar. Its only nearly 10 years later I can look back on this experience and realise it for what it was. I was given an amazing opportunity which was a turning point in my life. Its odd though, often when you’re in these iconic moments you don’t realise it and focus on the parts you can understand and deal with… anyway I digress!

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The rest of the show was a blur, I wish I’d felt in a position to enjoy more of it in a relaxed manner but then this is Chelsea. Relaxed isn’t really how I’d describe it at any point! After being ferried around and introduced to more people than I could ever hope to remember I was allowed to wander by myself. It was at this point I really started to enjoy myself!

These are a few of my best bits of 2009!

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A few years passed, life happened, circumstances changed. I didn’t go to Chelsea, I had a break but continued to watch it on TV. It seemed busier, even more frantic than I remembered?

Then in 2015 I got the opportunity to go again, so of course I did. This time I think I finally got the hang of being a visitor! We arrived as the gates were opening and proceeded to methodically quarter every spare inch of the grounds. From the show gardens to the Marquee not a single millimetre was left unchecked!

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So what had changed?

It was just as crowded as I ever remembered it but this time I was able to take some lovely pictures which feel very calm…

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M & G Garden – Caroline Davy Studio

It wasnt just the fact I had a swanky new camera, although lets face it that does help! I think something about me and how I viewed Chelsea had changed. I still had a slightly awed, inspired love of the gardens but this time I was able to take a moment to draw back and observe the palettes the designers had used. Pick out the colours that spoke to me, think of how they could be transferred into a real situation.

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…and more than that, I now had the confidence I had lacked previously. I was brash & cocky, I probably still am, but now I had the confidence to gently insert myself through the crowds and find the best spot for me to view the garden. Yes, I did get tutted at but that’s ok, I smiled said excuse me but would not be deterred. I saw this as part of my job, it was research.

To that end there were some gardens I had particularly wanted to see, these weren’t the massive show gardens but instead some of the courtyard and artisan gardens. Above all else I wanted to see the Japanese Garden: Edo no Niwa by Ishihara Kazuyuki. So different from anything normally seen in Chelsea.

Apparently so did everyone else!

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One look at that heaving crowd and I very nearly turned tail to run but determined I slowly pushed gently through….

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I was pleased I weathered the storm of bodies, crouching down I managed a few good shots despite receiving a Kath Kidson bag to the back of the head!

Then on to the floral marquee for a smorgasbord of delights!

One of which was of course is Primulas but when presented with so many gorgeous floral displays I realise I have no clear favourites in the botanical world. Each and every plant has something to commend it and the skill of the growers to bring each of them to the pinnacle of perfection is astounding. So I’ll finish up with a few of the best!

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Last year I missed Chelsea entirely! Didnt even watch it on the telly *shocked intake of breath!* I know! How could I! Call myself a gardener!

In my defence I had a very good reason!

I was halfway up a mountain in Peru!

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With these amazing ladies. Between us we raised around £50,000 for Marie Curie by climbing 3 mountains in 3 days, it was an incredible experience!

This year I’ve just received word I’ll be doing my bit for charity AT Chelsea which I’m hugely excited about! I’ve chosen this year to devote my time to help raising funds for Perennial these guys are awesome, check them out!

So far I’ve sold raffle tickets for them at their ball, I’ve raised a bit of cash for them on the Apple pruning course I ran a while back and now I’ll be part of the Chelsea sell off team! This is going to be SO intense!!

The garden they’re involved in is the Mindtrap Garden designed by Ian Price it has a moving story behind it, please do click on the link to find out more.

This wonderful concept also supports Inspire who support those with mental health challenges, based in Northern Ireland they do some amazing work.

There’s going to be lots of Horti faces there too so if you’re going to buy anything on sell off day at Chelsea make sure it’s from Perennial and help a Horti out!

Look forward to seeing you all there…

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