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Sunday, 31 May 2009

What it a Garden?

An accumulation of plants you love, of smells and colours, objects and sounds, of water and wind. This may be why gardens are so difficult to design well, since all the best are the result of years of collecting and removing, planting and training, the sum total of hours of pottering and humming and gazing.

Strange then that the garden is also a place to be ruthless. If you don’t like something, get it out. Don’t let it hang around, dig it up, and plant something you do like!

Written By Tom O'Leary

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Designer Advice - Designer Don'ts

A path of blue slate chippings meandering through clumps of tastefully positioned bamboos. Looks fantastic in the magazine but wait until you have to pick the dead bamboo leaves out of the chippings. It’s a never-ending and virtually impossible job.

A Grecian style urn planted with a castor oil plant (Fatsia japonica). Striking contrast in form, very classy, but how are you going to get the plant out when it gets too big. Break that expensive urn, that’s how.

A fastigiate Italian cypress (the tall, narrow ones that grown like columns) a focal point to a border beneath a large tree. Looks very nice when planted but the cypress is going to grow towards the light and the straight column will soon look very bent.

Area of white gravel dotted with hostas and ferns. There are two problems here. The garden is very damp and shady and the owner has a cat. Soon the gravel area will turn into a mixture of green slime and you can guess what else.

Cotoneaster horizontalis as underplanting for a large deciduos tree. It’s a fairly tough shrub that will do OK in the dry shade. Its main features are the autumn colour and berries but the owner will probably never get to enjoy them because this plant is a leaf trap.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Power Flower

Love them or hate them, bedding geraniums have to come top of my list for their sheer staying power. But even with geraniums, it pays to be a little bit discriminating if you are after maximum performance for the minimum effort.

For ultra low maintenance, my advice is to stick to the zonal types, the ones with banded markings on the leaves. Named varieties are the safest bet as they tend to form compact, bushy plants. The ones sold simply as geraniums often grow rather leggy and uneven, not what you want for a container display. They are also less prone to geranium rust, a common fungal disease that disfigures the leaves late in season.

Don’t worry too much about actual name: ‘Aprika’, ‘Ringo’, there are hundreds to choose from but they are nearly all good, so go for the colour that takes your fancy. Think twice about white though because the flowers turn brown as they fade and they need constant deadheading to keep them looking good. In a wet summer, double flowers often collect the rain and the blooms can start to rot during prolonged grey spells.

Written By Alistair Ayres

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The Tea Bag Trick

In the days when tea came in packets rather than bags, it was common practice to empty the used leaves onto the garden. ‘Does wonder for the roses’ as my granny used to say. Unfortunately, a pile of soggy tea bags doesn’t’ quite have the same effect (the bag material doesn’t biodegrade), but the old wisdom is not entirely lost.

As you probably know, azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons need an acid soil and, especially those grown in pots, commonly start to look a bit sad and yellow over time. This is because they struggle to get enough iron as the compost turns more alkaline, an inevitable result of using our hard London water. But there’s no need to worry. Just put a used tea bag in a can full of water and stir gently. A weekly dose of this mix will soon have your plants looking green and healthy again. Magnolias, skimmias, and heathers will also thank you for a drop of tea.

Green tea, highly favoured by the Chinese and Japanese for its antioxidant properties, has an almost magical effect on plants. Just a tiny drop in the watering can each time you water results in healthier, bushier plants with more flowers. It works for both houseplants and outdoor containers. It may take a month or so but, once you see the results, I’m sure you’ll be convinced to join your plants in a regular cuppa.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Growing Annuals from Seed Part 2

You should see signs of life anywhere from a few days to a 2 weeks. As soon as you do, put the pot in the lightest place you have. Water only when the pot has nearly dried out. When the seedling is showing four or five leaves, pinch the stem out above the topmost leaf. This will stop the plant rushing upward and toppling over.

If it’s warm out, you can then start ‘hardening off’ – see my piece on Annuals – to get them used to being outside. This is terribly important. If you rush it, your plants will get a cold shock and sulk for weeks. When you are sure all risk of cold or frosty weather is past, usually late April – carefully plant out or pot on your seedling and water it, keeping it out of direct sunlight for a few days afterward. Make sure your new container is only slightly larger than the old one,
or your seedling will drown.

Written By Tom O'Leary

Friday, 15 May 2009

Borrowing from Bonsai

You don’t need to grow miniature plants to benefit from the wisdom of bonsai growers. Choose the scale you want and use the techniques to you’re your containers trees and shrubs healthy and in perfect proportions.

Trees and shrubs commonly start to look stressed once the roots fill the pot. The problem if you put them in a bigger pot, they’ll just grow bigger. What bonsai growers do is prune back the roots. For container gardeners wanting medium-sized plants, trimming back the roots by up to a third and putting the plant back in the same pot with fresh compost will work wonders.

The other useful technique is to regularly pinch out the leaf tips, which keeps plants bushy and compact, and to prune back the side shoots before they get too long. Done regularly over several seasons, even naturally vigorous trees and shrubs begin to learn the ideal size you would like them to grow and develop well in their new well-behaved habits.

5 Steps to Longer Lasting Flowers

Ok, I’m a man, but on the rare occasions that a woman buys me flowers I take it as a big compliment. I want them to last as long as possible. Here’s what to do.
1. Take off all but the top two or three leaves. Any leaves that remain under water will rot. If you get roses, take the thorn off too.
2. Submerse the stems in bowl and trim the bottom of the stems underwater. This prevents the pipes getting blocked by bubbles of air.
3. Even cut flowers like to eat as well as drink. A drop of lemonade in the vase supplies them with the sugary goodness they like. Adding half an aspirin helps to keep the water clear. If you get one of those little sachets with your bunch, use that instead. They contain both food and medicine. Don’t forget to top up the water occasionally and change it if it starts to smell.
4. Tulips and roses have a tendency to curl their heads over. It’s just an airlock in the plumbing. A simple pinprick just behind the flower head will fix the problem.
5. Put the vase in cooler part of the room, not over a radiator or on top of the TV.
A little bit of thought and effort, well yes, but isn’t that what true romance is all about!

Written By Alistair Ayres