Friday 16th July 2021

This week, we dished the dirt on compost. Keen to adopt the peat-free route, there are many options out there on the market. Which to opt for?

We brought samples from bags we are using at home and compared texture/formulation/success rates/cost. Some came from nurseries and garden centres, some from supermarkets, some from community compost schemes or home-made compost. And one was from home-produced well-rotted horse manure. Very literally, The Business.

But it’s no good just discussing the theory – we decided that a proper, practical experiment should be carried out. To be continued….

Plant ident.

Identification – not just of the plant concerned – but also its life-cycle. Thankfully, there are people in F/G who really know their Onions – and can tell their Ammis from their Alliums.

So, this bit was a breeze…

Ammi majus

Ammi = the genus; majus= the species name. Apiaceae family (the Carrot or Umbellifer family). Life cycle? A hardy annual. A plant which goes through its entire life cycle in one growing season. Can be sown in the autumn for planting out in March the following year (this gives stronger, more robust plants), Will successfully overwinter outside, unless floods and arctic conditions deem otherwise. Alternatively, sow in the spring of the same year. They may even self-seed if they feel like it.

Comos bipinnatus

Cosmos = the genus; bipinnatus = the species. Family? The Daisy family, Asteraceae. Life cycle? Half-hardy annual. This is one that you can’t leave out over the winter months. No, no, no. This type of plant needs a little coddling and cuddling. Heat to germinate, please. And, absolutely no frosts. The reward? Fab flowers forever and a day. Well, for quite a long time. Many different cultivars are available nowadays – from the sumptuous ‘Antiquity’ to the cool ‘Kiko’ and on to the sweet ‘Candystripe’ (above). Difficult to choose which to grow, but they are easy.

Allium sphaerocephalon

Called the Drumstick Allium, for obvious reasons. People bang on about how good it is. Genus = Allium; species name = sphaerocephalon. Life cycle? A bulbous herbaceous perennial – it returns every year. A favourite with garden designers as it is one of the last Alliums to flower, and brings new energy and interest to late summer borders as they begin to gasp and fade a little. Fantastic with grasses woven through borders, brilliant as cut flowers, cheap to buy. It’s a no-brainer: you need hundreds of these.

Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’

Geranium = the genus. The cultivar name is ‘Ann Folkard’, and this Cranesbill is a vigorous hybrid of Geranium procurrens and Geranium psilostemon, with a strong spreading habit and a wonderfully punchy magenta colour. Family: Geraniaceae. A very useful herbaceous perennial, which contrasts well with golden plants, evergreens, glaucous blues and even dark burgundies and blacks. Lasts for ages. When it goes leggy, just cut it back to near the base of the plant, feed and water, and it should regrow and maybe even flower again before heading back underground for a well-earned winter sleep.

Escallonia ‘Iveyi

Genus? (Insert your answer here……………) Species? (……………..). The Escallonia is a great plant for coastal locations. Lifecycle? An evergreen shrub, which means it keeps its leaves all the year round and is one of those plants which can be the backbone of a garden, providing structure and year-round interest. Very versatile, this can be used in a hedge, as a windbreak, on its own or as part of a border scheme. E. ‘Iveyi’ is particularly striking as it produces long panicles of scented, white flowers from June to September. Small, dark green leaves shine underneath the flower spikes. Deadheading will prolong the flowering period. This one likes full sun and a sheltered location. Frost hardy – but mulch well over the winter.

Plant of the Week

This week the focus is on Clematis. Plants which can provide year-round colour in the garden, if chosen with care. Not only are the flowers exquisite, the seed pods are ethereal.

They like to be planted deep, which helps to avoid the dreaded problem of ‘Clematis wilt’. Cool bottoms and hot tops is the ideal arrangement.

When it comes to Clematis, there are three different pruning groups. They are fiendishly named: Group 1, Group 2, Group 3. Roughly speaking, don’t prune your Clematis if it flowers before early summer; if it flowers from late June onwards, then prune in mid to late February.

Group 1 The early-bloomers

E.g. C. alpina and C. macropetala. These are the spring-flowering Clematis, which flower on shoots produced in the previous season. They require little in the way of pruning – perhaps a light trim after flowering once the risk of frost has past, and maybe a little thinning out in some years.

Group 2 The summer flowerers

These are the spectacular large-flowered types, which bloom from May to June, on shoots developed from the previous year’s growth. Some may flower once again in late summer. Cut dead flowers off after flowering, back to a large bud. In spring, remove any dead shoots. Otherwise, nothing drastic is required.

Group 3 The mid- to late-summer varieties

These flower on the last 60 cms of their current year’s growth. To prevent a tangled mass from developing and a lot of bare lower stems, these are the ones which need a firm hand. They should be cut back hard each February, right back to the lowest pair of healthy buds – at the same time as we normally prune Roses.

Here are three late-summer varieties of Clematis currently performing at Garden House. Gorgeousness in flower-form.

C. ‘Ernest Markham’

C. texensis ‘Princess Diana’

C. ‘Perle d’Azur’

Jobs for the Week

Check progress on the new Dry Bed

Sort out the compost bins

A mucky but essential job. Empty out the bins and turn the compost heaps. Applications only from strong-armed people. And we have exactly the right applicants…

Although, one of them seems to be using the bins as a platform for yoga practice. Still, good for the back.

Work on the vegetable beds

Use compost provided by the yogis to add to the beds, filling them to the top.

Create an obelisk for vegetarian climbers. Useful and designery.

Work on the herb beds

Cut back Mints, Salvias etc. to harvest the herbs and encourage fresh growth. Perennial herbs can be used fresh, dried or can even be frozen. Jekka McVicar is the doyenne of all things herbal and a wonderful source of advice.

Cut back the chives to about 2 cms from the ground. Make hundreds of cheese and chive sandwiches. Check over the Rhubarb and harvest any remaining stalks. Weed; water.

Jolly up Little Dixter

The theatre of pots in this area.

Weeding/dead-heading

All Health and Safety checks completed, natch.

Cut back and divide Irises

Creates new stock for free and tidies up the flowered stems.

Say a sad but very fond farewell to a wonderful colleague

We’ll miss her greatly

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