Friday 23rd March

 

We started the day with a great Plant I.D. from Julia who brought along some plants from her Dad’s garden and Sally who brought some things from her own patch:

Azara microphylla

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This is a large hardy evergreen shrub or tree which can grow up to 8m.  It has small glossy green leaves and tiny yellow vanilla-scented flowers in spring.  It can be grown as a shrub in a sheltered position or against a wall and can be propagated from semi-ripe cuttings in summer.

Chimonanthus praecox – wintersweet

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Meaning “winter flowering” in Greek, C. praecox is a deciduous (or sometimes semi-evergreen) shrub with a bushy habit growing up to 2.5m against a wall.  It has shiny dark lance-shaped leaves which appear after the flowers in spring.  The flowers grow during winter at the joints of the previous summer’s shoots and are highly fragrant.

Prunus incisa ‘Koto-no-mai’

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This miniature cherry is ideal for a small garden where it can easily be grown in a pot.  It grows up to 2.5m and has white/pale-pink flowers which appear in spring before the mid-green leaves.  It does require full sun but will be happy growing in any aspect.

Euphorbia myrsinites

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This evergreen perennial has trailing leafy stems which can stretch to 35cm in length.  Its fleshy foliage is a glaucous yellow and the plant is at its happiest in full sun.

Erodium pelargoniflorum

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Sally has this growing in her garden and despite the cold winter we have had, it is already flowering and looking surprisingly good.  (It will usually withstand temperatures of down to -5).  It looks very much like a hardy geranium with its five-petalled white flowers and soft mid-green leaves and is happiest in full sun.

This plant led to a discussion about the Geraniaceae family which is split into three groups:

Erodiums are sometime classed as Alpines, eg. Erodium x variabile ‘Roseum’ (storksbill ‘Roseum’) which is often grown in rockeries.

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Hardy geraniums – cranesbills, eg. Geranium ‘Rosanne’ which can withstand frost and low temperatures.

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Pelargoniums – cannot withstand frosts and need to be taken under cover during the winter, eg. Pelargonium ‘Caroline Schmidt’.

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Jobs this week:

  • Starting off dahlia tubers in trays and gladioli corms in 3L pots.
  • Sowing half hardy annuals.

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  • Planting white sweet peas along the willow tunnel, adding gravel around the base of the plants to deter slugs and snails (hopefully!!).

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  • Planting up cannas, bananas and ginger plants in the greenhouse.
  • Planting hardy annuals amongst the tulips, eg. Love-in-a-mist and Eschscholzias.
  • Weaving wigwams for annual climbers.

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  • Weaving willow tunnels to place over the veg bed.
  • Raking the veg bed level ready for sowing seeds.
  • Lastly, but by no means least – compost management!

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We’re going to miss the garden over the next few weeks as we break for the Easter holidays.  All will certainly be very different on our return.

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Friday 16th March

To mark International Women’s Day last week, we talked about influential women in horticulture, both past and present who have shaped the way we garden today:

Gertrude Jekyll – 1843-1932

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Gertrude Jeykll is well know for her collaborations with Sir Edwin Lutyens with whom she created 100 gardens or designs, many of which survive to this day, for example the walled garden at Lindisfarne Castle.  She created over 400 gardens in the UK and US and liked the effects of “drifts” of colours in vast herbaceous borders, planted in a very natural way.  She contributed over 400 articles to The Garden, Country Life and other publications.

Vita Sackville West – 1892-1962

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Vita Sackville West is probably most famous for her garden at Sissinghurst which she created with her husband Harold.  She was a poet, novelist and journalist as well as prolific diarist and letter-writer.  Her open marriage to Harold and consequent relationship with the novelist Virgina Woolf was portrayed sensitively in Vita and Harold’s son Nigel’s 1973 book Portrait of a Marriage.  Vita wrote a longstanding column in The Observer (1946-1961).

Beth Chatto 

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Famous for her gravel garden constructed from a car park at her garden in Essex, Beth Chatto is an inspiration for gardeners the world over.  Her mantra has always been ‘right plant, right place’ – in other words, instead of fighting against the conditions you have in your garden, go with them and choose plants which will thrive in those conditions, however difficult.

Carol Klein

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Well-known for presenting on BBC Gardeners World, Carol Klein has written many instructive and beautifully-photographed books on several aspects of gardening.  Her down-to-earth approach and enthusiasm has led her to become one of the most popular gardeners on our screens today.

Alys Fowler

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Alys Fowler has been a presenter on BBC Gardeners World and writes a regular column for the Saturday Guardian.  She is known for her promotion of eco-friendly and thrifty gardening and for creating a garden where vegetables grow happily amongst the flowers and fruit trees.

Even though the weather is still bitterly cold and snowy, our thoughts turned to weeds which we should be looking out for already.  Lots of weeds to follow – the less glamorous side of gardening….

Hairy bittercress – Cardamine hirsuta

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This plant spreads prolifically on bare soil, the surface of containers and pathways.  The seeds can be introduced unwittingly into gardens from plants bought at garden centres and nurseries, spread by an explosive mechanism up to 1m away and further if carried on the wind.  It has a short life cycle and will produce many generations in a season.

Common daisy – Bellis perennis

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This evergreen perennial forms rosettes of dark green spoon-shaped leaves and pink-tinged, yellow-centred white daisy flowers in late spring/early summer.  It is a particular problem if growing on prized lawns or bowling greens.  We agree that it’s actually quite pretty and not such a problem in our more ‘natural’-growing lawns!

Red deadnettle – Lamium purpureum

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This plant is in the mint family and has a long growing season from February sometimes through to November.  Bees love it and in Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire it was traditionally known as ‘bumblebee flower’.  The ‘dead-nettle’ alludes to its lack of sting.  Its aromatic leaves are heart-shaped, hairy and have toothed edges and sometimes the leaves may be tinged purple towards the top of the plant near the flowers.

Broadleaf plantain – Plantago major

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This medicinal plant is sometimes used to heal wounds and soothe insect bites.  They are unsightly weeds that appear in compacted and neglected lawns.  Their leaves are lance-shaped with thick stems and spiky clusters of tiny green flowers in late summer.  The best way of preventing their spread is by keeping the lawn well-aerated and healthy.

Speedwell – Veronica filiformis

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This attractive, long-stemmed blue-flowered perennial has the ability to root quickly and can soon take a hold on lawns and in borders allowed to go unchecked.  It is spread by lawn clippings on the compost heap and by stem sections cut by the lawn mower.

Ground elder – Aegopodium podagraria

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This fast-growing, very invasive weed will crowd out less vigorous plants in the border.  It is easily-spread from stem fragments brought in from other gardens in manure or compost or on the tread of boots.  Great diligence is required to stop its spread from other gardens by this last method – always clean your boots after gardening!  Acanthus plants have been known to smother it but it is very difficult to get rid of once it has taken hold.  Some gardeners put Mypex membrane down to smother it but this may take ages to take effect.

Petty spurge – Euphorbia peplus

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This garden native is an annual which is most prolific from April to May.  When damaged, the stems exude a milky sap which can be an irritant to skin.  The seeds spread explosively when ripe and the plants are thought to be poisonous to cattle and horses.

Cleaver/sticky willie – Galium aparine

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This hedgerow plant is usually spread to gardens on the fur of animals or the clothing of passers-by.  One plant can produce 300-400 seeds which are easily spread and can remain in the soil for up to six years.  Its sprawling stems have whorls of slender leaves and its green-white flowers are produced from May – August.  The stems, leaves and seeds have stiff hooked hairs.

Creeping buttercup – Ranunculus repens

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This grows very close to the ground and prefers damp soil where it will grow strongly and root deeply.  It will grow on lawns, bare soil patches and in borders and its presence often indicates the need to improve soil struture and improve drainage.  It has spreading runners and glossy yellow leaves.

Groundsel – Senecio vulgaris

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This annual weed is ephemeral and will produce many generations in a season.  The flowers are self-fertilised, the seeds germinating at once and then widely dispursing on the wind. The plant has a variable habit and leaf shape, depending on whether the land it is growing on is frequently disturbed – the more often the disturbance, the more variable the form.  It has diuretic properties and has been used as a medicinal plant in the past.

Dandelion – Taraxacum officinalis

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This perennial is a persistant problem in lawns.  However, it does have medicinal properties and is an early source of pollen and nectar for insects.  It spreads prolifically by seed and regenerates from broken tap roots.  Over 200 microspecies have been identified in the British Isles with 28 different different species being found on the South Downs alone.

Chickweed – Stellaria media

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This common annual produces several sets of seeds throughout the season and can become a real probem if its spread is not checked.  Although it will tolerate many  different growing conditions, it does prefer rich soil and so may be an indicator of soil fertility.  It has bright green pointed oval leaves and tiny, white, star-shaped flowers which are most noticeable in spring and autumn.  The seeds can spread in compost and manure and also on muddy boots.  They have been known to be viable after 25 years and will soon germinate if brought to the surface by cultivation.

Hedge bindweed – Calystegia sepium

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This is a common sight winding its way around garden canes and stems, choking the plant in the process.  It has quite pretty white trumpet-shaped flowers and the main problem is its underground creeping rhizomes which are extremely difficult to remove – each broken rhizome will regenerate into a new plant.  The best way to eradicate this plant is by regular digging out and hoeing, taking care not to break the stems and roots as you go.  However, it will take a good few years to eliminate it entirely from your garden.

The main points to take away from this both in the garden here and in our own gardens are that we must be careful what we throw on the compost heap and also what we transport on our muddy boots….

Enough of weeds!

Jobs this week:

  • Removing the willow and birch supports from the bed underneath the hawthorn tree and then tidying up around it.
  • Cutting down the cornus stems on the Winter Bed so that they grow upright at the same rate for next winter.  It is hoped that this will produce more striking stems for our winter display.
  • Cutting off the rosehips on the rambler in the apple tree.
  • Pruning Rosa ‘Frances E. Lester’.

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  • Pruning the miscanthus and tidying around the loganberry by the greenhouse.

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  • Weaving additional tunnel supports for the edible peas.

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  • Finishing weaving the main tunnel for the sweet peas.
  • Digging over the veg bed, removing any leftover tulips (growing from last year) to the Winter Bed and improving the soil.

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  • Taking out the supports from Rosa ‘Charles de Mills’ and pruning it right down to the ground.
  • Planting out aquilegias, scabious and (potted) hyacinths (from the house).
  • Planting waterlilies and Butomus umbellatus (Flowering rush) by the pond and pruning the hydrangeas.

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Friday 9th March

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We started the day by reflecting on last week’s successful open afternoon, despite the weather.  We also discussed how the freezing temperatures had affected plants in the garden:  most things seem to have held up quite well, however the myrtle looks as if it may have suffered and also the climbing rose over the side path arch.  We’ll just have to wait and see how they fare over the next few weeks and hopefully they will perk up in time as the weather improves.

Now is the time to start planting our summer-flowering bulbs, including tubers and corms.  Many of these are not frost-hardy and shouldn’t be planted outside until the danger of frost has passed.  However, they can be planted in pots and kept in a greenhouse or cold frame in the meantime.

Firstly, Begonia ‘Cascade White’ – tuber

These lovely plants start off as ugly tubers, growing into the most beautiful plants, ideal for containers and hanging baskets. They should be planted in a pot “hollow side” up and placed in a shady place.  They will then go on to flower from June through to October.  Ann, who is our begonia expert, thinks that the bigger the pot, the bigger the plant and she had a few really large plants flourishing  on her north-facing balcony last summer.  Do note that they are tender and require overwintering indoors.

Gladiolus ‘Prins Claus’ – corm

Gladiolus are completely different in habit.  This variety is excellent for cut flowers and will look great in a sunny border.  They like free-draining soil and can grow to 1m.  Their showy flowers attract butterflies.

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ – tuber

These very ugly tubers can be planted in containers in a heated greenhouse now.  They are very tender and will not survive if the greenhouse is unheated at the moment.  Once planted outside after the danger of frost has passed, they will grow to around 1m in a sunny border.  D. ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ is one of the most striking and recognisable varieties with its red/black foliage and bright red/scarlet blooms.

Bridge reminded us about the process of “pricking out” seedlings.  Once the seedlings have germinated, they need space to establish a healthy root system.  This should be done once the first “true” leaves have appeared, ie. usually the second set of leaves to appear after the seed leaves (cotyledons).  To replant the seedlings, FP7s should be filled to the top and then the soil levelled off and firmed in well.  The seedlings should be lifted by their leaves, not the stems  and planted in the centre of each pot so that they all grow evenly.  (Using a dibber (or pencil) will help with the process).  After firming in gently, water lightly with a fine watering rose and label each row/set of seedlings with the plant name and date.

Our Plant I.D. this week showed some of the beautiful spring bulbs we have flowering in the garden at the moment – well worth all that back-breaking bulb planting we did last autumn…

Narcissus Paperwhite (in pots under the shelter)

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Chionodoxa fobesii ‘Pink Giant’

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These delicate, pink star-shaped flowers are ideal for naturalising in lawns, particularly under trees where they will flower in full sun until the tree canopy grows over.  For best results, avoid cutting  back the foliage until it has died down, enabling the plant to re-seed.

Iris reticulata ‘Alida’

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Leucojum vernum – spring snowflake.

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These are like tall snowdrops and prefer growing in damp soil.  There are many growing at Nymans in the boggy, grassy areas.

Crocus thomasianus

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There are lots of these growing at Wakehurst, which is well worth a visit at the moment as the winter beds are looking particularly good.

Muscari armeniacum – grape hyacinth

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Although these are pretty flowers, most of us agreed that the tall foliage can be a nuisance once the flowers have died down.  It is best therefore to choose a variety with short leaves such as ‘Valerie Finnis’.

Jobs this week:

  • Sorting out the succulents.
  • Planting a honeysuckle and cornus near the shed.

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  • Potting on the auriculars and checking for vine weevils.
  • Pruning the fig tree and planting a winter-flowering vibernum next to it.

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  • Preparing the ground and moving stipas from the veg plot to Lil’s Bed.
  • Sorting out the cold frames – identifying the plants and moving things out to make way for the sweet peas.

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  • Pricking out and sowing seeds in modules.
  • Working on the veg plot – tidying up and planting out lettuces.
  • Working on the Alpine sinks.

 

 

 

Friday 2nd March

Today we opened for the NGS (National Garden Scheme) for the first time during the winter.  This time last year we were sitting outside drinking our mid-morning coffee.  The early bulbs were blooming and we thought it would be a great day to open for visitors to look at our late winter garden.  But how different it is this year…As if on cue, the snow came down at lunchtime but this didn’t deter our hardy visitors who were able to enjoy the beauty of the snow-covered garden followed by hot soup, mulled cider and plenty of delicious tea and cakes.  Thank you to everyone who helped with the afternoon and to our visitors.  Thanks to everyone’s support, we were able to raise a considerable sum for charities nominated by the NGS.

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Before preparing for the opening, we had time to do a quick plant ident. in the morning and a couple of jobs outside.

Bridge also showed us some Nicotiana ‘Whisper Mixed’ plug plants that she had picked up cheaply at the garden centre.  Although these are far too tender to plant outside yet or even in an unheated greenhouse, they can be split and planted in FP7’s and kept in a heated place.  (The reason for splitting them is to ensure strong, sturdy plants). They should be watered lightly and planted outside from the middle of May, once the threat of frost has passed.

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Plant I.D.

This week our ident. concentrated on Alpines – appropriately!  Alpines are plants that grow above the tree line in an Alpine climate and can withstand very low temperatures.  Thay do not like the wet and prefer good drainage so that the snow can drain away when it melts.  They are usually low-growing and have small leaves.

Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’

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This a semi-evergreen perennial with lance-shaped small flowers and deep blue flowers which are produced over a long period during spring and summer.

Saxifraga Alpino Early Lime

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This variety is very free-flowering and has beautifully delicate lime-green flowers.

Dianthus ‘Mendlesham Minx’

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This cushion-forming perennial has grey-green evergreen leaves and maroon flowers with white edges which appear during late spring/early summer.

These must all be cut back once they have finished flowering.

Jobs this week.

Only a couple of tasks to get done before the opening.

  • Putting protective “jackets” on the salvias as the fleeces from last week had blown away…
  • Pricking out in the greenhouse.

Before the snow came…

Friday 23rd February

Another beautiful but very cold day in the garden.  Despite the weather, everything is looking wonderful and we’re hoping that the garden will be looking as good next Friday for our NGS open afternoon.  Things to look out for: the pretty Iris reticulata growing underneath the witch hazel by the summer house; the waterfall on the pond has been fixed at last – much better; the amelanchier is looking particularly lovely at the moment; and the bulbs are really getting going now.  This year will be the first time we have opened during the winter and so it will be interesting to see what our visitors think.

This week the Plant I.D. was by courtesy of Nanette.  She brought along some things from her own garden which she is sometimes tempted to cut down/pull out before they really get going (Nanette takes no prisoners in her garden!). This provoked an interesting discussion as it is often not possible to tell whether what is poking up at the moment is a weed or not or indeed worth keeping.

Tulip foliage is quite fleshy and  easy to recognise.

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If planted the previous autumn, the bulbs and foliage should be left to do their thing later in the spring.  However, if the bulbs are left over from previous years, they may not put on such a good display and they can be pulled out to make way for other things.  Many of us in the group agreed that amongst others, Tulipa “Queen of the Night” is a reliable repeat flowerer but others are less consistent.

Having flowered, the foliage should be left alone to return nutrients back to the bulb ready for next year.  It is alright to cut the stem off at the base but the foliage should be left to wilt and die back.  (It is not a good idea to fold the leaves either as this will impede the regeneration of the bulbs).  To hide unsightly foliage, it is a good idea to plant perennials around the bulbs which will hide the spent tulips as the plants grow up around them;  Vicky has paeonias growing amongst hers.

Another way to deal with ugly tulip leaves is to plant the bulbs in pots which you can sink into the ground during flowering.  Once they have bloomed, the pots can be taken away and replaced by new plants.  However, this can be a problem on chalky soils which many of us have here.

Narcissi have more slender leaves although these can be equally as difficult to deal with having flowered. Again they should be left for at least six weeks before cutting down in order to let the nutrients regenerate the bulb.  Any bulbs which fail to bloom, can be split and replanted; mark where they are located and after the foliage has died down, dig the bulbs up and split them into small handfuls.  These can be replanted into fresh ground with a good dose of bonemeal – early August is an ideal time to do this.

By the way, Daffodil is the generic name for all plants in the Narcissus genus.  However, the term “daffodil” is more often used for the large trumpet-shaped flowers of Narcissus pseudonarcissus.

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Crocosmia produce tall, erect sword-like leaves.

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Again, these should be left alone to die down naturally after flowering.

Bluebells – Hyacinthoides non-sripta (English bluebells)

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and Hyacinthoides hispanica (Spanish bluebells).

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Most of the bluebells which grow in our gardens today are Spanish bluebells which were introduced during the 17th Century.  Their leaves are wider and more strappy than their native cousins; their stems are more upright and they are able to withstand full sun, unlike English bluebells which prefer dappled shade and are more often found in our native woodlands.

Bluebells are essentially wild flowers.  If you have the English variety growing in your garden, they should be nurtured and encouraged to spread as they are thought to be under threat from the Spanish variety which are often difficult to get rid of once established.

Jobs this week:

More work today in preparation for our opening next week.

  • Topping up the mint and other containers with more grit; also topping up the troughs in the side passage and planting primulas and Narcissus Tete a Tete in the front garden pots.

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  • Protecting the salvias with horticultural fleece.  Hopefully this will shield them from the worst of the weather forecast over the next few days.
  • Pruning the willow arch (keeping the stems for weaving).
  • Trimming the foliage from the Epimediums to leave the delicate flower stems and fresh young leaves growing below.  These were than fed well.

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  • Removing the lonicera from the Garden Room border and replacing with a sarcococca and hellebores.
  • Planting white pulmonarias on the terraces behind the grit bins and tidying up around them.
  • Pricking out in the greenhouse.

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The N. “Paperwhites” were also moved from under the shelter to the greenhouse for added protection from the weather.

  • Tidying up Little Dixter, planting red primulas and little loniceras in pots.

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  • Working on the Yellow Bed, cutting back the Euphorbia (wearing gloves for protection from the sap).
  • General tidying up of borders.

Friday 9th February

First of all, a few more photos of our morning at West Dean a couple of weeks ago.  The gardens certainly brought out the creative photographers amongst us.

Back to this week.  Despite being so cold, it really felt like spring was on its way in the garden today with the first Iris reticulata popping up and buds appearing on some of the trees and shrubs.

We started the day with an exercise to see whether we could determine from the size and appearance of seeds whether they are hardy or half-hardy annuals and whether they require heat to germinate.

To recap, the seeds of hardy annuals (HA) can be sown in situ during the autumn or spring and can usually withstand frosts and low temperatures.  However, sometimes it may be necessary to cover them with a cloche or horticultural fleece if particularly freezing temperatures are forecast.  (It is thought that it is better to sow hardy annuals in the autumn as you end up with bigger and stronger plants which are more disease-resistant).

Examples of hardy annuals are:

Calendula officianalis – pot marigold

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Nigella damascena – love-in-a-mist

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Cosmos bipinnatus

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Half hardy annuals (HHA) meanwhile, need to be sown and grown under glass and may only be planted outside when the risk of frost has passed – usually mid-May in the south of the country but later perhaps further north.  Some HHA benefit from being sown in a heated greenhouse and covered with a thin layer of vermiculite.  As a rule, the smaller the seeds, the more likely they are to need heat to germinate.

Exampls of half hardy annuals are:

Nicotiana sylvestris – flowering tobacco

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Tagetes – French marigold

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Cobaea scandens – cup and saucer vine

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Our Plant I.D. this week was based on trees.  It is often difficult to identify them at this time of year when the branches are bare and so it was useful to take a look at a few common species found in our gardens, parks and countryside:

Fagus sylvatica – common beech

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This large deciduous tree has a broad, spreading crown.  It’s leaves are yellow-green in spring and turn to a rich-russet brown in the autumn.  It isn’t ideal for a small town garden as it can reach up to 12m high and 8m across.

Sambucus nigra – common elder

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This large bushy shrub or small tree (up to 6m high) produces small fragrant cream flowers in early summer, followed by small black berries which are a good source of food for birds.

Betula pendula – silver birch

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This medium sized deciduous tree has attractive drooping twigs and striking white bark which becomes blackened at the base.  It produces catkins in spring and its leaves turn yellow in autumn.  It is possible to maintain the pale colour of the bark by washing it with warm water and a soft brush or cloth.

Alnus glutinosa – common alder

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This attractive decidous tree is not one for the small garden as it can reach 25m in height.  It has a conical shape in its early years and produces purple-grey buds and catkins which can be easily spotted in winter.

Aesculus hippocastanum – horse chestnut

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This broadleaf deciduous tree is a common site in our parks.  When the leaf stalks fall from the twigs in autumn, they leave a scar shaped like an inverted horse shoe with nail holes.  The tree’s conkers used to be gound up and given to horses to cure them of coughs and this association may explain their name.

This week’s jobs:

  • Moving the crab apple tree from the Winter Bed to the new Vinca Bed and generally tidying up around it.
  • Sorting out Little Dixter and planting new hebes and polyanthus for the display.

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  • Potting on echinaceas.

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  • Tidying up the Winter Bed.
  • Checking which containers in the garden need top-dressing and rearranging.  Also giving them a general tidy-up.
  • Sorting out the seeds in the potting shed, dividing them into categories of HA, HHA, salads, veg, etc.

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  • Tidying the Top Garden.
  • Pruning the willow tree.
  • Tidying up the green house and doing some potting on.

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Lots of tidying today……..

And lastly, it was Bridge’s birthday this week and so we all raised a glass and ate cake to celebrate!

Friday 2nd February

No Friday Group as such this week as we were on our annual winter away day to West Dean Gardens.  It was a beautiful day – cold but crisp and bright, just right for a walk around the beautiful gardens.  Wonderful Downland scenery; winter planting; fantastic greenhouses and the most amazing walled rose garden.  We’re planning a summer return to see how the garden has evolved throught the seasons.  Well worth a visit!

 

 

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A weekly account of the activities of the Friday Gardening Group at the Garden House in Brighton