Friday 8th February 2019

No snow this week, but biting cold wind and grey drippy skies.

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Our plant ident. this Friday was done by Liz (thank you, Liz), who presented us with a series of grasses, rushes and sedges.  Useful in the garden in so many ways: giving structure and interest throughout the year; good in borders and pots; providers of sensational sensory encounters (sound, movement, light, texture); attractive to wildlife; stabilising; giving continuity and unification to planting schemes. Why not give them a try?

Phragmites australis

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The common reed belongs to the Poaceae family.  Not really suitable for most gardens, unless you live on An Estate as opposed to an estate.  They are often seen in areas of wetland across the U.K., where extensive golden-brown reed beds are a haven for wildlife, particularly birds.  Growing from 2 – 4 metres tall, the reeds have hollow stems which grow from a system of spreading rhizomes, and produce long, feathery, purple plumes.  They are still harvested for thatching – especially in the Norfolk Broads – and scientists are also interested in the possibility of using reed beds as water filters.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’

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A compact, deciduous, perennial grass with long, narrow, green blades finely edged in creamy white.  It grows to a height of about 1.2 metres and its elegant form adds height, movement and interest to borders.  In the autumn it produces reddish pink panicles of flowers which gradually bleach through the winter.  Cut back to ground level in February.

Stipa gigantea

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Also known as giant feather grass or golden oats, this evergreen perennial is one of Bridge’s favourite grasses.  Reaching 2.5 metres, it has a powerful presence in the garden, producing oat-like flower heads on arching stems in the summer months which persist into the winter.  Plant in a sunny position in well-drained soil and it will shimmer; it looks particularly effective when back-lit by the evening sun. It has a transparency which enables one to see through it, so it can be planted towards the front of a border – either singly or perhaps in groups of three.  Easy to grow and requires little maintenance, other than to cut back in early spring.

Panicum elegans ‘Frosted Explosion’

A half-hardy annual which is easy to grow from seed.  Much sought after by florists and flower arrangers for its airy, textural appearance, it has been described as looking like a fibre optic lamp!  Poaceae family.

Plant ident. (practical)

Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus’

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A semi- evergreen perennial which can actually be grown anywhere, including wet or very moist soils.  It grows to around 0.3 metres from rhizomes and has creamy yellow/ green variegated leaves.  Good as ground cover, but it spreads slowly so you may need to invest in a few to make an impact.  Propagate by division.

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Festuca glauca

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Poaceae family.  A decorative fescue grass which forms a compact tuft with blue needle-like foliage.  There are several named forms, such as ‘Elijah Blue’ and ‘Blaufuchs’ which are hardier and bluer than the original Festuca glauca.  Good in containers, gravel and rock gardens – but also borders, where they look better planted in a group.  Odd numbers, please.  About 0.6 wide x 0.3 metres tall.

Cortaderia selloana ‘Pumila’

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A dwarf form of evergreen pampas grass which is very hardy and wind resistant.  Grows in any sunny situation in well-drained soil.  Narrow rough-edged leaves accompany stiff stems which, in the summer, carry creamy-white flower panicles up to 1.2 metres tall.  Cut back to the ground in early spring – or you could always do what Sussex Prairies do with their grasses and set fire to it!  (N.B. Not advised!)  

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Phyllostachys nigra

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The black-stemmed bamboo can grow to 8 – 9 metres tall.  Needs light, nitrogen, plenty of water, and not much in the way of competition from other plants.  It’s a spreader, so beware!  Keep it in a pot or ensure it is contained in some way when planted.  Chop off runners before it takes over the garden – and the house.

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Cyperus alternifolius

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The umbrella plant.  Cyperaceae family.  It’s a sedge with an edge. Growing by the pond at Garden House, as it simply loves a watery location. Think Moses in his papyrus basket.  The stems are round, smooth and a beautiful green.  A local Sussex garden owner reports that his dwarf papyrus grows just fine away from any water margins, but that it needs plenty of light to grow well.  Good in a large pot.  An evergreen perennial, it forms a clump of stems which reach a height of about 0.6 metres ending in palm-like green bracts.  Can be grown indoors.

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A seedy discussion

Vicky then did a presentation on seeds, bringing in a wide range for us to examine and marvel at.  All so different and all so miraculous.

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From the top and going clockwise, these are seeds from the sycamore, marigold, French bean, clematis and pumpkin.  In the centre is a pine cone, which opens to release its seeds when they have ripened.

And then, these:

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From left to right, the seeds of sweet pea, black scabious, Japanese anemone, Erigeron karvinskianus (Mexican daisy).

All seeds grow in much the same way, given light, warmth, food and water.  They grow roots first, to take hold, then a small plant begins to emerge.  This process is known as germination.  The roots take nutrients from the soil and then light gives the plant energy to begin photosynthesis.

In her own garden, Vicky uses seed compost when sowing seeds – although it is perfectly possible to get good germination using a good multi-purpose compost.  Smaller seeds can be fiddly and tricky to sow as it is difficult to see them.  Many gardeners add a little silver sand to the seeds before sprinkling them over the surface of the compost, making it easy to see where they have fallen.

Some seeds need a period of cold to help them germinate (vernalisation), whilst others  require soaking in water.  Some need to be sown immediately, when fresh, whilst others will remain viable for years.  Variety is the spice of life.

Containers for seed-sowing.

You can, of course, make your own.  Cheap, environmentally-friendly and the pack also comes with a free halo.

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Three taps of the magic wand….

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Et voilà!

There is also the option of using peat free compost discs

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Add water and stand back…..

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Quite quite magical.

Some seeds are best sown in root trainer modules – like sweet peas.

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Others do better in small modules

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Or larger ones

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Or sprinkled sparingly in a tray

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Fill the container with compost.  Strike off the soil on top to create a flat surface.  Tamp down lightly.  Use a finger or a dibber to make a hole, if the seed is big enough to need one, and cover lightly.   Best not to water from above as smaller seeds can get washed about – stand in water until damp.  You can apply a thin layer of vermiculite on top of the compost, as it lets light through.  Place in a warm, light environment.  A heated mat in a greenhouse is perfect.

Seed potatoes

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Nowadays, specially bred disease-resistant seed potatoes are available.  Early, second early and maincrop – the choice is yours – along with a huge range of varieties.  Seed potatoes need to be “chitted” (allowed to sprout) before planting.  Somewhere cool and airy, like a garden shed, is ideal.  Dig a shallow trench in a sunny place in the vegetable garden and mix the soil with lots of good garden compost / well-rotted manure. Add an organic slow- release fertiliser, like pelleted chicken manure.  Plant the chitted potatoes (not chipped potatoes) about 0.3 metres apart, with the shoots facing upwards.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell which way is “up”, and Vicky suggests that you try to find the “eyebrow” where the bud is and ensure that this is underneath the bud as you plant. (See photo above.)

Whilst your potatoes are growing, you merely have to keep earthing them up and conducting extensive research on exactly how you are going to cook them.

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Mmmmm, potatoes……