Tag Archive: grass


6934950_origOne more extract from a book I bought in a charity shop in the summer (apologies for the gender stereotyping)…..

The Basic law of Weedlock:

The best training for gardening is marriage.

corollaries;

1. Behind every successful gardener is an astonished woman.

2. About the only way to get a gardener nowadays is to marry one.

3. Gardening is a process by which a man finds out what sort of husband his wife thinks she ought to have married.

Every Wife’s Lament:

Gardening expands to exclude all more interesting possibilities.

Law of The Unwelcome Arrival of Spring:

There is nothing so harrowing to the soul of the average married man as the first growth of lawn grass.

lawn-mower-manFrom : ‘Mrs. Murphy’s Laws of Gardening’ – Faith Hines (Temple House books, 1992)

Old School Gardener

 

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fall-lawn1Here’s another extract from a book I bought in a charity shop in the summer…..

Besom’s Truism:

No matter how much dust you sweep under the carpet, you still can’t sweep leaves under the lawn.

Laws of Lawn Clearance:

1. Any lawn cleared thoroughly of course grass and moss will reveal an area of mud supporting deep-rooted plantains.

2. Mud patches never need mowing.

3. The cleared lawn reveals that there was no cultivated grass in the first place.

Digital Law:

Flymos like toes.

 lawn cut fun

From : ‘Mrs. Murphy’s Laws of Gardening’ – Faith Hines (Temple House books, 1992)

Old School Gardener

 

alliums and grass

I love this planting scheme- simple combination of Alliums and Pony Tail grass (Stipa tenuissima)

Old School Gardener

Herbaceous borders at Peckover House, Wisbech
Herbaceous borders at Peckover House, Wisbech

Now’s the time to set about creating new borders in your garden and I’m grateful to Hyde N. Seik from Plymouth who asks:

‘I’ve seen some wonderful borders at a National Trust property near me. I enquired about these and was told that they are ‘herbaceous borders’. Can you tell me what this means and how to go about creating one, please?’

Hyde, there’s perhaps nothing as quintessentially English as an Herbaceous border (it became especially popular in the late 19th and early 20th century garden), and many of those associated with our great historic houses are some of the best examples around. This is usually a rectangular border (or twin borders with a lawn or other path running between them), traditionally at least 3 metres wide and about 12 metres long, usually backed by an evergreen hedge. The lengths and widths do vary, but the usual dimensions maintain a ratio of 4:1 (length to depth). The border is planted entirely with herbaceous perennials (plants that grow for more than one year and die back above ground after flowering). The border is designed to be of interest when viewed from the front or along its length and looks its best from late spring to late summer.

These days the amount of work needed to maintain such borders – staking of taller plants to provide support, pruning back dead stems and foliage, feeding and dividing the plants every few years- might be too much for many gardeners and so herbaceous borders can be rather smaller and more irregular in shape, or alternatively have a mixture of planting (including evergreen shrubs, grasses, and annuals) to reduce the workload and provide more structural interest during the winter.

Herbaceous borders are usually planted with clusters of each type of plant, in odd numbered groups of 3, 5 or 7 plants- the tallest are usually at the back of the border and the shortest at the front. However, in recent times this approach has been challenged as borders can look more interesting if some taller plants are placed nearer the front of the border; especially if they add height but are not too dominant, such as Verbena bonariensis and many grasses.

The airy stems of Verbena bonariensis
The airy stems of Verbena bonariensis

As your plants are likely to be in the same place for some time, it pays to prepare the soil thoroughly. Remove all weeds, especially the perennial types with deep roots, by digging, hoeing (or you could use a suitable weedkiller such as Glyphosate in the growing season). Then fork the soil to a depth of at least 150mm adding organic matter such as compost or manure, rotted bark, or other manures such as those from hops or mushroom growing. Lime might also be needed if the soil is very acid (peaty) or in generally very poor condition.

This should be applied in autumn or spring, one month before planting or adding organic material, and at least 2-3 months before adding manure (lime and manure should never be applied at the same time). Incidentally, nearly all herbaceous perennials grow well in most soil types, provided they are neither very acidic or alkaline- by manuring and liming regularly, the soil can be kept at a fairly neutral pH, and regular mulching with organic matter will keep the soil nutrient levels up, avoiding the need for artificial fertilisers or feeds.

If possible, leave the freshly dug soil for a couple of months to allow it to settle, then rake over the surface to produce a reasonably fine, crumbly surface.

Whilst you’re waiting for the soil to be readied it’s worth planning the border planting in some detail. Using a sheet of graph paper, draw on it (to scale) the shape of the border (you could of course have begun with an outline plan on paper for this and then scaled this up to create the new border). Then select your plants from a catalogue, book or online information resource which not only describes the plants but gives their height and ultimate spread/width. Think about the different flower shapes, leaf textures as well as colours in composing your border planting plan and also when the plants flower or have other interest (e.g. leaf colour, berries or other fruit) – to ensure a balanced spread of flowering or other interest throughout the seasons.

Allow for the plants to be grouped in clumps of 3’s or 5’s (odd numbers tend to create informal looking groups whereas even numbers tend to lead to a more formal, regimented layout). These groups can be drawn on your plan with a circle guide or compasses and then a line enclosing the group drawn around them. If you use a set of colour pencils or crayons to draw these groups according to their flower/leaf colour it will help give you an idea of the colour scheme you are creating. Other information – height, flowering time etc.- can be written on your plan and help to check the overall design and ensure that there is no period in the year without interest of some sort (this can extend to winter interest created from strong shapes such as evergreens and grasses as well as some herbaceous plants that hold on to their dead flower heads or foliage).

The best time to plant your herbaceous border is in the autumn or spring, although plants grown in containers can be planted at any time, provided they are kept well watered and the ground is not frozen or flooded. If you buy by mail order, the nursery will send you plants at the right time for planting, although the roots will probably have little or no soil on them (‘bare rooted’). If you can’t get them planted on arrival, store them in a cool place in damp, sandy soil or put them in a trench in the garden (so called ‘heeling in’). However, do try to plant them out as quickly as possible provided the ground is workable.

If the plants seem dry on arrival, soak the roots in water for 24 hours; if any are damaged in transit, let the nursery know as soon as possible, so that they can be replaced.

Herbaceous border at Copped Hall, Essex
Herbaceous border at Copped Hall, Essex

Planting is best done with a trowel. Set the plants out in the planting positions on the soil surface and then move them around to make sure they are in line with your plan which should suit their final growing widths. Dig holes under each plants big enough to accommodate the roots of the plant without cramping them. Work from the back of the border (or centre if it is an island bed). Always plant to the same depth as the soil mark on the stems of the plants.

Hoe carefully to remove footmarks, and water in the plants with a thorough but gentle sprinkling. Don’t forget to label each group of plants, as once they die down you may forget where they were – though your reference plan should help with this. Most herbaceous perennials will spread outwards, gradually dying off from the original centre, so every few years these plants will need dividing, repositioning and mulching. And some of the taller ones will need staking to support them, at least in the early years before those around them provide some mutual support.

Old School Gardener

Uncinia rubra 'Firedance'

Uncinia rubra ‘Firedance’

Uncinia is a showy addition to any border or garden with its shiny red-bronze foliage.

Uncinia is a genus of about 35-45 species of tufted,evergreen perennials, known as hook-sedges (or hook grasses or bastard grasses in New Zealand. The plants develop hooks, which are used to attach it’s fruit to passing animals, especially birds. The name derives from the latin word uncinus, which means a hook or barb. Uncinia is a “satellite genus” of the very large genus Carex.  Most species are found in Australia, New Zealand and South America.

Uncinia flower
Uncinia flower

Some species are rhizomatous and most are native to damp, tussocky grassland, moist woodland or swamps. Grown for their colourful leaves, Uncinia are suitable for the front of borders, or gravel plantings. Though they are frost hardy to about -10 degrees C for short periods, longer term exposure to frost is best avoided for some species and so these should be grown in cool greenhouses. They prefer moderately fertile, humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil in full sun or light dappled shade. They are not troubled by any pests or diseases.

The most common Uncinia used in gardens are U. rubra (around 30 cms high, with greenish red to rich reddish brown stems and foliage and with dark brown to black flowers) and U. uncinata (25cms tall and with pale brown to red-brown leaves and dark brown flowers). Both bear flowers in mid to late summer. Foliage colour is best in late spring.

Uncinia ucinata 'Red'
Uncinia uncinata ‘Red’

The plants gradually form dense clumps of short, arching, grassy, evergreen foliage.  Slow growing, Uncinia look at their best in groups as leafy ground cover at the front of a sunny border. They can be combined with other perennial grasses that enjoy similar conditions; e.g.

  • Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’

  • Phormium ‘Alison Blackman’

  • Ophiopogon planiscapus.

It will do well in soggy areas and around water features and ponds. U. rubra ‘Firedance’ will add a highlight to the rock garden as well as the mixed border, and it also looks great in containers. It’s advisable to avoid planting them next to vigorous plants that would smother them, as they need lots of sun to do well. Comb or rake off any old, tired or dead leaves and flowers in spring. If necessary they can be cut back (by up to half) at almost any time from April to July, but should not be cut back in autumn or winter.

Uncinia uncinata
Uncinia uncinata

You can raise Uncinia seeds in a cold frame for protection and hardiness. Seeds can be started in the late winter or early spring and should be sown in good quality, well-draining seed compost, pressing the seeds into the soil. Lower temperatures of less than 41°F are very effective. Constant moisture must be maintained and trays should not be left in direct sunlight. Once seedlings are large enough to handle, move them into a pot to grow on. Transplanting can be done in spring or summer after all frost danger has passed.

Old School Gardener

Pest or Pal?

Pest or Pal?

This week’s question is on an issue that I’m in two minds about. Lorne Bowles from Teddington asks:

‘On damp days in Autumn (and Spring) my grass becomes covered with earthworm casts. I’d like to get rid of them somehow. What do you recommend?’

There are many species of earth worms but only 3 of them make casts. Worm casts are a sign that you have a fairly active soil with good aeration and humus content. Earth worms are useful for mixing and aerating soil, but those which cast can create a muddy and uneven surface on grass and can also encourage weeds, as their casts make excellent seed beds!

Charles Darwin spent a lifetime studying worms, and estimated that up to 40 tons of worm casts per acre can be added to the soil (representing between 45 and 170 worms per square metre!). These casts are invariably richer, finer and less acidic than the surrounding soil, and contain around 50 per cent more calcium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and bacteria.

Earthworm activity is encouraged if cuttings are left on the turf. Worms also pull fallen leaves and plant debris into their burrows and, in doing so, they add organic material to the soil, improving its structure as well as its fertility. For borders and beds, if you are short of compost, a mulch of leaves, preferably chopped up, will not only add structure to the soil, but will also dramatically increase the worm population and therefore the health and fertility of your soil. The use of alkaline or organic fertilisers and dressings can also encourage Worms in lawns. Monty Don tells an amusing anecdote about a grass tennis court which demonstrates worms’ love of alkaline soil:

‘A grass tennis court had been laid on acidic soil and marked out with chalk. Over the years, the calcium in the chalk neutralised the acid soil beneath it, making extremely narrow strips that attracted earthworms. Long after the chalk had been washed away, ‘runways’ made by moles attracted by their favourite food – earthworms – followed the line of them, without realising that they were mirroring exactly the original chalk lines of the court!’

This raises the topic of moles in lawns. A real issue for me here at Old School Garden, despite me trying to persuade the ‘little burrowers’ to take themselves next door. If you have moles, as the tennis court story indicates, this is a sure sign that you have worms in your lawn.

worm casts on lawn

Worm casts on a lawn

So what can you do?

Well one approach (but not one I’d recommend myself) is to try to deter the worms from casting using a fungicide. The law does not permit long life residual chemical build up in the soil, so gone are the days when formulations like Chlordane could be used to wipe out the worms (and possibly some gardeners too). However, Carbendazim is a chemical which is primarily used to deal with fungal diseases such as Fusarium but which also appears to interrupt the feeding of worms near the surface, by making the organic matter in which they feed unpalatable. Deeper feeding, non casting worms are apparently unaffected and continue to benefit the soil structure as normal.

Applying the chemical, which has a non hazardous classification, is said to be most beneficial in Spring and Autumn and must be carried out when the soil is already wet as it needs help in dispersing through the soil. However, be aware that whilst Carbendazim is approved for use in the UK and some other countries, some organisations argue that it is a dangerous substance.  Other options exist such as adding sulphur to the lawn, so reducing its alkalinity, and therefore reducing the attractiveness of it to worms. Manufacturer’s of this type of solution claim that this does not harm the worms or the soil.

However, I’d be a little wary of this, and other chemically – based solutions and try a more organic approach.

This does mean, however, that you’ll need to adopt a more relaxed attitude to worm casts (and mole hills, though it pains me to say so…). Worm activity, on the whole, is extremely beneficial to your lawn, so the best way to deal with the casts is to wait for them to dry and then brush them into the surface, spreading evenly with a Besom or similar broom. In doing so, you are adding to your lawn some fine compost and helping to improve its future appearance. There are also a few other things you can try to reduce the problem of casts:

  • Avoid leaving leaves on the lawn surface during the autumn and winter because this warm blanket of organic matter is an ideal ‘restaurant’ for the worms.

  • Do not allow a build up of thatch as again this decaying matter is digested by the worm which leads to casting deposits – so scarify your grass in the autumn and possibly also the spring.

  • Keep the grass at a reasonable height.

  • Avoid unnecessary watering as this attracts more worms. In dry weather the worms will move deeper, and by aerating regularly and ensuring good drainage, you will discourage activity.

If, like me you have a mole problem, I think the only safe, direct (but from experience, not necessarily successful) solution is to trap them, which might involve the services of a mole catcher unless you fancy a go yourself! I’ve found that other ‘solutions’ like noise/ vibration emitting devices seem only to have a temporary effect, if that!

Mole hills on the Old School Garden lawn

Mole hills on the Old School Garden lawn

More generally, lawns are not attacked by pests, though you may at some point see the effects of the ‘Leather Jacket’ (the larva of the Crane Fly or ‘Daddy Long Legs’) and Chafer grub.

These can cause damage to the roots and stems of grass resulting in poor, stunted growth and bare patches. When a pest problem like this is suspected, the turf should be examined thoroughly to find the culprit. Pests are often found first in stressed areas, such as the edges of lawns or in shady or wet areas. They are not usually distributed evenly so it is advisable to look for spots that have discoloured, stunted or distorted turf. Insects tend to proceed outward from a central point; therefore they are generally most active on the outside edge. In both cases a lawn insecticide could be applied to kill the grubs/larvae….

Chafer Grub damage to grass

Chafer Grub damage to grass

However, an alternative, organic solution is to wait for heavy rain (or thoroughly watering any yellow patches in the lawn yourself). Then cover the affected areas with black plastic sacks and leave overnight. The Leather Jackets and grubs will come to the surface and can be collected in the morning and disposed of – or left to natural predators such as spiders and garden birds (especially Starlings). You could also use the biological control Steinernema feltiae, which should be applied while the ground is still moist and warm in late Autumn.

Old School Gardener

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PicPost: Lawnedered

Thanks Dad

'Ted' Boldero (and friend)

‘Ted’ Boldero (and friend) – my dad pictured in the 1950’s

I’m a dad. I love my children and thank them for their cards, gifts and good wishes on Father’s Day. Today, I’m also reminded that I am a son too. Though my own father died nearly 50 years ago, I think it’s to him that I owe my love of gardening.

My memories of him in our smallish terraced – house garden in London, are of a formal ‘summer bedding ‘ type of gardener and old photos confirm that he kept his patch neat and tidy if not overflowing with colour or variety. I don’t recall ‘helping’ him in the garden apart from trying to push an old manual ‘Qualcast’ mower (I have a picture of me just reaching the lower brace on the handle rather than the handles proper).

More memorable, and I think more significant in terms of its influence on my own gardening bug, was his role at the local Green Bowls club, West Essex in Leyton. He was not only a good player (he represented Essex County), but was also the voluntary green warden – basically the guy in charge of the grass and all the other bits and pieces of green areas. And there were rather a lot of these, I recall, overflowing with Dahlias and summer perennials like Phlox, Marguerite Daisies, Stocks, Hellenium and Rudbeckia.

I definitely do remember helping my dad in this, larger scale, ‘garden’. Not only did this include using a petrol motor mower (“elf ‘n’ safety” would have kittens if a ten year old did this today) and using edging shears to get a neat cut to the bowls square, but rolling it, scarifying, aerating and top-dressing too.  I guess this is why I still find a good lawn (ideally with stripes) so attractive – even though in my heart of hearts I know that lawns can be environmentally unsound. And there was lots of hedge cutting (mainly Privet) with shears and planting up rows of annual flowers.

So, on Fathers’ Day, its nice to reflect on what my dad meant to me all those years ago – guidance, knowledge, encouragement and praise that shaped me as a gardener (as well as in other important ways) so many years down the track.

Thanks Dad!

Old School Gardener

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Spring-lawnA grass -free ‘Floral Lawn’ has been opened today in Avondale Park, West London. It’s plants, which include daisies, red-flowering clover, thyme, chamomile, pennyroyal and Corsican mint, create a “pollinator-friendly patchwork” – with 25% more insect life than that found in “traditionally managed grass lawns”.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea commissioned the biodiverse floral lawn from Lionel Smith, a Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) sponsored PhD student, and RBKC’s gardening team. It is the first time that a public park has featured this new form of lawn.

Planting a public space with specially selected and researched plants will give Lionel a valuable insight into how the public will react to this non-traditional lawn. Previously all his research has been on experimental plots at Reading University. The idea has prompted questions about ‘just what makes a lawn a lawn’. Lionel says:

“Lawns are normally associated with closely trimmed grass but mine are, I believe, entitled to be called that too. They are not only beautiful and easy to maintain but also environmentally friendly. It will be interesting to see how visitors to Avondale Park, where this public trial sward is to be being planted, will react. I hope to get some feedback as part of my research.”

Traditional grass lawns, if regularly mown,  might look good, but have you thought about:

  • how they provide a pretty sterile living environment for insects and other critters?
  • how demanding they can be in terms of water, fertiliser, weedkiller, and energy use?

What do you think about this? Have you got a traditional grass lawn in your garden or have you turned it (or some of it) over to wild flowers or other uses? Should we turn over more areas of traditional grass lawn in public parks and spaces into grass- free or more diverse habitats? I’d love to hear your views!

Further information:

BBC News report and video

‘Rethinking the traditional grass lawn’ -blog article by Lionel Smith

Old School Gardener

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The sun looked as though it might break through the low cloud, so we (that’s my wife Deborah and me), put the top down on the car and hoped (we’ve come not to expect any particular weather here in Norfolk, UK). Alas, the temperature hovered around 7 C all day, but it didn’t spoil our outing to Cambridgeshire and north Essex. Just over an hour’s drive away lies Anglesey Abbey, former home of Lord Fairhaven and now a National Trust – run house and garden.

I’ve featured the garden already on this blog under a ‘Picpost’ but didn’t really do it justice. So you can see a few more pics of it in the gallery below. We had a pleasant stroll along the Winter Garden walk with its fiery colours and varied textures, though it was noticeable how many evergreens showed evidence of ‘leaf scorch’ by the recent cold easterly winds – the Garrya elliptica was looking especially sorry for itself. At the end of this walk sits the old Lode Water Mill, where flour is still ground and sold to visitors – fortunately we arrived and ascended the steep wooden staircases just before a coach load of german youngsters (several of the boys must have been 6’6″ plus).

Winding our way along the old mill stream we found the House (as the name suggests some of the older parts were once an Abbey) and donning our paper over – shoes to protect floors and carpets, we meandered around this house full of eclectic decor and collections of this and that – including many things ‘rescued’ from other ancestral homes by Lord Fairhaven during the early 20th century. He certainly had a love of Windsor Castle as there is one and a bit large gallery rooms full of different paintings of the place from a number of centurires and angles. I was particularly impressed with the display of some of Lord Fairhaven’s clothes and especially his shoes which looked as new (and some would probably be back in fashion today). He had so many pairs, for different occasions, that they were hardly ever worn – so much for the idea that it’s just women who hoard footwear!

To be honest, this probably wasn’t the best time to visit Anglesey Abbey for the gardens – the display of Snowdrops is famous but was well over, and the late spring has resulted in only a few bulbs being out, most notably the wonderful purply- blue of Scylla in the woodland end of the Winter Walk as well as some Daffodils. The Dahlia beds of course were looking bare and the Roses will not be out for a good couple of months yet (assuming they catch up). Still, there is a lot of interest here, including the more formal landscape garden with its evergreen hedges and statuary and some lovely areas of woodland. We concluded part one of our day with a wholesome lunch of jacket potatoes and salad in the well-appointed restaurant on site. The sun had not broken through, but we didn’t mind – Saffron Walden and the promise of afternoon tea (and Saffron cakes?) beckoned…. return to read part 2 of our special day tomorrow!

Old School Gardener

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