Friday 18th SEPTEMBER 2020

We started our session this week by thinking about plants we love, together with a wish list of things we’d like to learn. Featured were: old Roses and Pelargoniums, zingy yellow Rudbeckias and purple Asters, Grasses of all sorts, Geraniums, Cottage Garden plants. Also: propagating, pruning, planning and design, continuous development and learning, extending the season, gardening in pots, plantings for dry gardens, annual tasks, perennial plants…

Garden House is always looking ahead to the next Big Thing. Spring bulbs are currently high on the list. Hence the digital display board showing ideas for future planting schemes –

Perhaps not a digital display board

Two new Japanese gold standard additions were introduced:

We really dig them

Plant Ident.

This week it was all about weeds. What is a weed? Now, here we could go all philosophical and say it’s a wild and lovely plant, not in quite the right place. But, basically, they are plants that we humans don’t like or want in our gardens. Out they must go. They may be highly invasive, poisonous, stingy, pernicious, prickly, or – heaven forfend – inferior to cultivated varieties.

Where do they come from? Perhaps from next door; dropped by birds or other wildlife; in plants you have bought or been given; blown in on the wind; brought in on boots and shoes; carried on dirty tools. The message is clear: be vigilant at all times. Body searches may be necessary. But there may be court cases.

So, what to look for? Here are a few for starters:

Euphorbia peplus

This annual weed is from the Spurge family, and is also known as Common or Petty Spurge. Euphorbias are generally highly desirable garden plants, but this isn’t one of them! Will seed itself around unless controlled, but can be removed fairly easily if pulled gently. Like all Euphorbias, it has a toxic, milky-white sap which is a skin irritant, so wear gloves. Make sure you get all the root out.

Calystegia sepium

Hedge bindweed. Lovely! Such a pretty flower. White and innocent. Don’t be fooled. It’s a perennial weed and devious in the extreme. This stuff is horrific once you get it in your border. It will make itself quite at home there and grow ten times better than anything else. Can climb with ease (see picture below) and does so vigorously, entirely without the aid of a safety net. Climbs anti-clockwise – check it out! Pull long skeins of it out by the roots – fast. Will re-grow from any smidgeon of root left behind.

Good luck

Oxalis corniculata

What a pretty name – and its common name is even more charming: ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Also known as Creeping Woodsorrel. The clue is in the ‘Creeping’ part of the name. Tenacious, persistent, annoying, stubborn. Like many a teenager, in fact. It’s a perennial pest, growing from miniature bulbils and also spread further by its tiny seeds. An utter joy for the weary gardener, it’s virtually impossible to shift. Worse still if you are of the organic persuasion. Dig out by hand, ensuring you remove every morsel of root/bulbil/stem. Or resort to the flame-thrower. Or explosives. Cake can be useful as a sedative.

Senecio vulgaris

Groundsel is an ephemeral weed with branching stems holding clusters of yellow flowers which turn into white, fluffy seed heads. Catch those seed heads before they drift off in a romantic fashion. Better still, pull out groundsel before it flowers. Make sure you are not pulling out a rare specimen of something else in the Asteraceae family which you’ve been trying to grow for the last five years. Just saying. By the way, ephemeral weeds are even better than annual weeds in that they germinate, grow, flower and set seed several times in one growing season. Just think, millions of seeds per year. Marvellous.

Veronica chamaedrys

Germander Speedwell is really quite inoffensive as far as weeds go. Easy to remove, it has small, pretty blue flowers. Perennial and a member of the plantain family.

Anchusa officinalis

Alkanet or Common Bugloss is an upright perennial weed with lance-shaped hairy leaves. Related to Borage, Myosotis and Pulmonaria, a perennial weed with attractive blue flowers and a tap root which is heading for the centre of the earth. Try to get the whole of it out, or it will re-grow. Tough stuff this weed business.

Jobs for the week

Another new piece of kit. Very exciting. What could it be?

A paddling pool?

Certainly not! It’s a holding pool for plants recently dug up and divided and awaiting their new home in the garden.

Tasks this week involved removing/dividing geraniums from the border adjacent to the lawn and taking cuttings of tender perennials.

Dig up and divide geraniums

Try to dig up a large clump. Cut the foliage hard back before placing the plant in the holding pool. Green waste can go into green trugs for the compost heap.

Attention to detail is everything

Everyone’s bent on doing a good job

Take cuttings of tender perennials

A tender perennial (usually herbaceous) is one which will generally not survive the cold winter months unless given protection. Left outside, it will likely die. Taking cuttings of plants which fall into this category both insures against loss and increases stock for the following year. Plants on today’s propagation list: Salvia ‘Nachtvlinder’, Salvia confertiflora, Salvia ‘Amistad’, Linaria ‘Peachy’, Plectranthus argentatus and Plectranthus ciliatus.

Remove a few non-flowering stems from the plant in question and place immediately into a damp plastic bag. The stems should be soft and ‘flippy-floppy’ (technical term), not woody. Fill a 3 cm pot with potting compost, then strike off any excess. Cut beneath a leaf joint with clean, sharp snips or a knife, making a cutting of about 4 cms. Remove any large leaves to reduce transpiration and all lower leaves to prevent rotting.

Plectranthus argentatus cutting

Cover with vermiculite or horticultural grit and water lightly. Label. Place in a warm spot (a greenhouse or window sill) until they have rooted as in the photo below

Then they can be potted on into 7 cm pots.

All work will be scrutinised

That cat will never find out who we are now that we’re wearing masks.

Over winter, the rooted cuttings can be kept in a cold frame or cold greenhouse to keep them frost free and out of the rain and wind. Like us, they are averse to freezing conditions.

Sow seeds in Jiffy 7s

These are little compressed pellets of compost which swell when submerged in water. So, they went for a swim in the not-a-paddling-pool. Nicely plumped, they were then ready for seeds to be planted.

The propagation adventure continues

More next week!

Friday 11th September 2020

It’s September. We’re back! Sharpened pencils at the ready; new pencil cases; pristine notebooks; clean fingernails. All ready to set off on a new horticultural year at Garden House. Happy days.

Some changes, due to the Challenging Times we’re living in. We meet in smaller, socially-distanced groups. We are experts in Health and Safety and can discuss the pros and cons of any number of hand sanitisers with you. Mask fashionistas too: it’s a veritable Venetian Carnival here. Plus, our briefcases are choc full of tools, gloves, snips, secateurs, shears, hair clippers… (oh, wrong tool) and cake. Everything needs to be clearly labelled. Like so…

There are plans afoot to create a dry garden area in view of the current need to conserve water. This will mean researching drought tolerant plants and how to further improve soil to aid water retention. Other items on the menu for this year’s curriculum will be lawn care, pruning, plant identification, ideas for planting combinations, taking cuttings. A heated propagator would be a good addition to one’s home gardening kit, for obvious reasons.

Plant ident .

This week the topic was grasses, which belong to the Poaceae family. A fabulous addition to any planting, there are grasses for all shapes and sizes of garden, providing interest for much of the year. Colour, movement, structure – they have it all – as well as being extremely tactile. And as for susurration? My dear, they’re a must. Being wind-pollinated, they don’t need flowers to attract pollinators.

Pennisetum macrourum

African Feather Grass grows to around 1.5 m and looks great in a dry, sunny position, providing a strong vertical statement in the border. Hardy, but not evergreen, it carries long, compact, soft cream flower heads over clumps of grass-like leaves from late summer to autumn. A.G.M.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’

The slender, narrow leaves of this ornamental grass hold spectacular dark red plumes aloft from summer to late autumn. The leaves themselves also colour to copper and red. Deciduous, but maintains interest through the winter months. Cut back hard in February/March as the new growth starts to appear. Grows to around 1.8 m and is best in a sunny, open position with plenty of space to display its magnificence. A.G.M.

Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’

A much smaller grass, but equally eye-catching, with vivid bright yellow/green striped leaves. Grows to about 35 cms. Deciduous and fully hardy. Has a modern minimalist vibe, and looks great in planters as well as at the front of the border or as an under-planting. Best in sun or part shade in moist, well-drained soil. A.G.M.

Anemanthele lessoniana

Try saying that with a mouthful of cake. A wonderfully ornamental wind grass, providing interest throughout the year. Initially emerging green, the foliage later colours with streaks of red, orange and yellow. Likes full sun/partial shade and moist but well-drained soil. Evergreen. Comb its hair through in the spring (we should all be experts in this by now) to remove dead grass. Divisions can be made in spring/early summer. Grows to about 1 m. A.G.M.

Stipa tenuissima ‘Wind Whispers’

Taller than the general species, growing to around 90 cms, the fine hairy leaves of this Stipa waft gently in the breeze. Best grown in quantity to reveal its graceful elegance. Hardy and poetic.

Stipa gigantea

It’s a big ‘un. And an all-time Garden House favourite. The spectacular Oat Grass can grow to 2.5 m. Not so much a statement, more an exclamation. Arching stems of golden oat-like flower heads shimmer in the sunlight, floating above slender grey-green foliage. Majestic. Grow one as a specimen plant – or several if you have the space. A.G.M.

Jobs for the week

Easing us in gently, the main task this week was weeding. Just to make sure we could remember the difference between plants to go and plants to keep. Green trugs for compostable refuse. Black trugs for bad thugs.

Others were set to cutting back shrubs. And they set-to with vigour.

A second summer

It’s hot stuff

It’s good to be back