Tag Archive: shrubs


Winter Jasmine looking good

Winter Jasmine looking good

I wish all my blog followers and casual readers a very Happy 2018!!

It’s been a year of ‘ticking over’ in Old School Garden, as a long trip to Australia to be at the birth of our grand daughter fell right in the middle of the growing season… and voluntary activity elsewhere meant my attention was not on the Ground Elder amongst other things on the home patch!

Still, various important projects are underway, most notably the restructuring and renovation of the Kitchen Garden, where I hope by the Spring to have built a new shed, and installed trellis, rose swags and other features….watch this space.

I’ve said before, you might think that January is a month when there’s not much to do in the garden; well there are some useful things you can get stuck into. So here are my top ten tips (with a ‘grow your own food’ angle and with thanks to various websites):

Chitting potatoes- probably only worth doing for first or second earlies. Place tubers with blunter ends upwards (the ones with most ‘eyes’) and place in trays in a cool but well- lit place towards the end of the month.

chitting pots

1. The answer is in the soil.

Remove all plant debris, to reduce the spread of disease and pests. If you need to, continue preparing ground and digging beds ready for next season, but only if the ground is still workable (don’t dig if the soils is wet or heavily frosted).

2. Don’t let the rot set in.

Check your stored fruit and vegetables carefully, for rot will pass easily one to another. Empty sacks of potatoes, checking them for rot and any slugs that might have been over-wintering unnoticed. Your nose is a good indicator, often you will smell rot even if it is not immediately apparent to the eye! Also check strung onions- rot usually starts from the underside of the onion.

 3. Enjoy your winter veg.

Continue harvesting Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbages, celeriac, celery, chard, endive, kale, leeks, parsnips, turnips, winter lettuce, winter spinach, turnips. As you harvest brassicas, dig up the stems and turn the ground over. Because the compost heap will be cold and slow at this time of year, you can always bury these in the bottom of a trench along with some kitchen waste to prepare for the runner beans later in the year.

Red cabbage- lovely sliced and steamed with apple and onion in a little water, wine vinegar and sugar…

Red cabbage- lovely sliced and steamed with apple and onion in a little water, wine vinegar and sugar...

 4. Get ahead of the game.

Continue to sow winter salad leaves indoors/ under glass/ cloches- make your stir fries and salads more interesting with easy-to-grow sprouting seeds. If not already done and the weather is mild, plant garlic, onion sets and sow broad beans (e.g. Aquadulce ‘Claudia’) for early crops. Order or buy seed potatoes and start chitting (sprout) seed potatoes. Herbs are easy to grow on your windowsill and provide fresh greens all year round.

5. Not mushroom?

It’s surprisingly easy to grow your own mushrooms – try growing a mushroom log in your garden or alternatively grow some indoors using mushroom kits.

Mushroom-Logs

Mushroom logs can make you a fun guy…! 

6. Rhubarb, Rhubarb.

Consider dividing well established plants, and at the first signs of growth, cover to exclude light if you want ‘forced’ rhubarb over the next couple of months (growing the variety ‘Timperley Early’ may mean you get rhubarb in February anyway).

 7. The hardest cut.

Continue pruning out dead or diseased shoots on apple and pear trees, prune newly planted cane fruit, vines and established bush fruit if not already done. Continue planting new fruit trees and bushes if the soil conditions allow. If the ground is too waterlogged or frozen, keep bare rooted plants in a frost free cool place ensuring the roots don’t dry out.

8. Clean up.

If not already done, make sure your greenhouse is thoroughly cleaned inside and out and that any seed trays and pots you plan to use are also cleaned and inspected for pests- e.g. slugs and snails.

9. Fail to plan and you plan to fail.

Plan out what you are going to grow in the coming season and order seed catalogues.

pback1_1380165c 10. Put your back into it.

If you must dig, look after your back- remember to warm up and limber up before you do anything strenuous and try to bend your knees to ensure your legs take the strain – and not your back!

Old School Gardener

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moving-shrubs-step5Deciduous shrubs should be moved while dormant, and evergreens in September/ October, or March/April. Dig a small trench around the shrub so that you can get your spade underneath, and lift out a good-sized root ball. To compensate for the damage to the roots, prune back the top growth of deciduous shrubs by 25 per cent to reduce trasnpiration from the leaves. Evergreens should not be cut back, but they will benefit from protection form cold, drying winds. Spray with an antitranspirant spray, sold as Christmas tree spray.

If the root ball is heavy, place it onto an old compost sack or other heavy-duty sheet in order to drag the shrub to its new planting site. Alternatively a sack trolley might do the job.

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens- Reader’s Digest 1999

All-green leaves are starting to poke through the variegated ones ('Reversion')

All-green leaves are starting to poke through the variegated ones (‘Reversion’)

Don’t let Green shoots dominate variegated trees or shrubs

Variegated trees and shrubs – those whose leaves are attractively streaked, striped, edged or splashed with another colour, such as white or yellow-  usually originate as a variegated shoot on a normal green plant. They have to be propagated from cuttings to keep the variegation.

Variegated plants are not always stable, and some shoots can revert to the original green. This often occurs, for instance, with the popular evergreen shrub Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald ‘n’ Gold’ and with variegated box elders (Acer negundo). the green reverting shoots contain more green colouring (chlorophyll) and produce more food for growth. this makes them more vigourous than variegated ones, so green shoots will eventually overtake variegated growth in size and vigour if they are not removed.

Remove reverting shoots as soon as they arr seen by cutting them back to wood with the variegated foliage. This often means removing entire shoots.

Occasionally shoots will change to entirely cream or yellow leaves, but because of the lack of green colouring they often grow weakly and so are less of a problem.

Source: ‘RHS Wisley Experts Gardeners’ Advice’- Dorling Kindersley 2004

Old School Gardener

an101s1bWhen setting out new shrubs, it is wise to label them, particularly if you have selected a specific variety and want to remember its name.

For an unobtrusive but permanent marker, use a copper tag and tie, which weather to a greenish colour that blends in with the stems and foliage.

Just write on the tag with a a ballpoint pen and the name becomes indented. Attach it carefully to the chosen plant, making sure to leave plenty of slack for the shoot to thicken with age.

Source: ‘Good ideas for your Garden’- Reader’s Digest

Old School Gardener

perennial borderPlanting-

Grow trouble-free and long lived shrubs and perennials instead of annual spring and summer bedding that needs replacing every year. All new plants must be planted carefully into well- prepared soil, so that they establish quickly and are able to resist attacks from pests and diseases.

Further information:

Top 10 all weather perennial plants

Tips for designing perennial beds and borders

Source: ‘Short Cuts to Great Gardens’ (Reader’s Digest 1999)

Old School Gardener

 

Large-trees-HD-picture-5-44992A few more clippings from a book I bought in a charity shop last summer ….

Celsius Curse:

Anything that survives the coldest, wettest summer since records began will perish during the mildest winter on record.

First Law of Arboriculture:

The magnificent mature tree you spotted in the National Trust garden and a similar sapling bought later at your local nursery at great expense take a hundred years to mature. no one told you this. Even if you did live to see it, the full-grown tree wouldn’t look the same in your garden.

Au Soleil:

The carefully selected, ideal situation chosen for the specimen, shade-loving shrub in November will get the full force of the sun all summer.

Law of Planters Can’t Be Choosers:

A gardener who is hunting for shrubs or trees looks first at the specimens suitable for his land, then at the substitutes on his list, and finally buys the one he can afford.

Incredible-Flowering-Shrubs-Design-ideas-for-pretty-Landscape-Traditional-design-ideas-with-columns-flowers-grass-hosta-landscape-design-Porch-shade-garden-shrubs-turf-vineFrom : ‘Mrs. Murphy’s Laws of Gardening’ – Faith Hines (Temple House books, 1992)

Old School Gardener

 

Flower of the yellow Tree Peony - can be a long time coming, but worth the wait!

Flower of the yellow Tree Peony – can be a long time coming, but worth the wait!

Nick (from Cheshire), and an old friend of mine, contacted me recently with a sad tale:

‘Found my lovely tree peony snapped off at the base. It had taken about 3 or 4 years to flower and this year produced a massive single bloom, so I was hoping for more next year. We think the window cleaner might be to blame. I’ve planted up a few cuttings and it had produced 4 massive seed pods. Do you think there’s any chance of rearing the cuttings or germinating the seeds?’

Oh dear, I know how long it can take to get a flowering tree peony, having had one (Paeonia delavayi f. lutea), for at least 10 years, and only now getting some blooms. I think you’ve got three approaches to try and resurrect this wonderful deciduous shrub, Nick, but all will probably take a further few years to result in any notable blooms, I’m afraid:

1. You might be lucky and get some re-growth from the base of the plant, so don’t dig it up. Check if the break occurred above or below any graft point(most commercially grown Tree Peonies are grown on the roots of their more vibrant herbaceous cousins). If it’s above, you’ll possibly get another tree peony growing, if below it might turn into an herbaceous variety! You might give it a feed of Blood, Fish and Bone or another ‘balanced’ fertiliser to give it a kick-start (or rather re start) in the current growing season.

2. Your taking of cuttings is a good policy, but again these will be slow to produce much growth, let alone flowers. Hopefully you’ve taken ‘semi ripe’ cuttings of fresh growth, and planted these in the usual way, but I’m afraid the ‘strike rate’ may be low. Another form of vegetative propagation for Tree Peonies is layering but this requires a healthy shoot attached to the plant, an option you probably don’t have, and one which has mixed success too!

3. Yes, it’s worth having a go with seed. Make sure it’s ripe before you sow it (put the seed heads in a paper bag and wait for the seeds to dry a bit and fall out of the head naturally). Then sow these around now (late summer, early autumn) about 1″ deep in a soil-based seed compost, cover lightly with grit and put the pots outside. Make sure that the compost does not dry out and protect the pots from rodents. Tree peony seeds require two periods of cold – known as  ‘double dormancy’- with a warm period in between. After the first cold period the roots will develop, but you’ll see little if any top growth. The second season you should see some top growth and you can pot up the seedlings as they outgrow their pots- unfortunately it will probably be 5 years before they are of flowering size!

The RHS say about flowering problems with established Tree Peonies:

‘Tree peonies can take up to four years to settle in and flower, even though the plant may have been bought in bloom.

However, the lack of flowers can be also caused by shallow planting. If the plant did not produce flowers for several years after planting, try lifting it in the autumn and replanting it deeper.

Though established plants are drought tolerant, prolonged periods of drought may affect the flowering the following season. Mulch around the base and water during prolonged periods of dry weather.

Tree peonies planted in shady position tend to flower less profusely. Cut overhanging branches to allow more light to reach the plant. If this is not possible consider moving it.’

I wonder if you can get some free window cleaning on the back of this accident, Nick?!

Further information:

RHS- Tree Peonies

Plantax 9: Paeonia – physician of the gods

Old School Gardener

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WP_20140827_006

Having been over to Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum today to do some gardening, I couldn’t resist snapping the front border, which was my first design and create project there a few years ago. The combination of grasses, shrubs and annuals was looking great in the sun, so here’s a sample. Sorry to show off!

Old School Gardener

The English Walnut- creating a planting poser...

The English Walnut- creating a planting poser…

Whilst on holiday in Suffolk, recently, one of my friends, Richard (who lives in Bristol), posed an interesting question:

‘I have a Walnut Tree in the garden and have been trying to grow some plants in a raised area underneath it, against a wall. This area only gets early morning sun during the middle of the year. I believe that Walnuts deposit some sort of poison in the ground which affects the plants? Over 20 years I’ve managed to establish a small selection of plants through trial and error (mainly the latter); geraniums give some cover and with a ‘Chelsea Chop’ may give a second flowering, but only towards the lighter edge of the bed; Ivy seems to do well; I can squeeze out some summer colour by planting some annual begonias but these need a lot of watering. I’ve also tried several different ferns, but none have been a success to date. Any thoughts about planting the area, especially towards the back, would be welcome.’

Not having come across this issue before I did a bit of research and also sought some advice from the RHS Member’s Advice Service. There are two main species of Walnut tree; Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) – most common in North America (and native to eastern areas), and the English Walnut (Juglans regia), the type most often found in the U.K. Walnuts -especially Juglans nigra– contain a chemical called “juglone” which can be poisonous (or allelopathic) to other plants. Juglone appears to act as a respiration inhibitor which deprives sensitive plants of needed energy for metabolic activity.  For gardeners this means that many plants growing in the vicinity of a black walnut tree will either be killed or will struggle to live, with yellowing, wilting leaves.

Leaves and nuts on the Black Walnut

Leaves and nuts on the Black Walnut

Juglone is found in all parts of the black walnut tree, but it is most concentrated in the flower buds, nut hulls and roots. Unfortunately the roots of a black walnut can extend 3-4 times the diameter of the tree’s canopy, so the area affected is quite wide. Toxicity is further dependent on the soil’s texture and drainage. All walnuts – including the English Walnut- produce some juglone, as do the walnut relatives bitternut hickory, hickory, pecan and shagbark. However the amount of juglone produced is insignificant, compared to the black walnut, and the effect on other plants is minimal, if any.

Tomatoes seem to be the most sensitive to growing under black walnuts. However juglone sensitivity is also dependent on other growing conditions and what will or won’t grow under one black walnut tree may be fine under another. However, here is a compiled list of flowers and vegetables that are considered extremely sensitive to juglone.

Turning back to Richard’s question, Guy Barter, Chief Horticultural Adviser at the RHS, says:

‘In theory English walnuts secret Juglone and we would advise that it is not underplanted – in any case they cast such a heavy shade that few plants will thrive underneath a walnut. Of course roots spread out beyond the canopy but interestingly we seldom encounter difficulties in the UK. All the same it may be well to avoid apples and tomatoes near a walnut tree, or at least make some experimental plantings in the first instance. In the USA the light levels are very much higher and underplanting options greater and it is not surprising that problems arise.’

Not very encouraging, eh, Richard? You seem to have had some success with plants nearer the lighter edge of his planting area, and if you want to persist with trying to plant up this and the darker inner area, you might want to start by improving the growing conditions; maybe you can prune the tree a little to raise the crown and let in more light? Having a raised bed underneath is good because you can deepen the soil above the tree roots; and maybe you can also try to replace the topsoil which could over time become affected by juglone? It might also be a good idea to add organic matter each year and at the same time remove all the walnut tree leaves and litter and dispose of these – it’s probably best to avoid composting it.

As to planting, for the inner area (assuming that you can find planting pockets large enough around any tree roots), I’d try out a few small to medium – sized shrubs and other plants that tolerate heavy shade and dryish soil – in effect trying to create an ‘understorey’ with plants of varying heights and in a combination to provide something of interest all-year round. If you go down this route then try to get healthy, well-established plants (2-3 years old and/or in 3 litre pots). As Guy suggests, you’ll have to ‘trial’ these to see if they’re up to the task! My recommended ‘planting scheme’ would include, for the darkest area (and maybe including some Ivy as ground cover):

  • Lonicera pileata– spreading evergreen shrub with small creamy flowers in spring followed by purple berries; height 60cm (2ft), spread 2.5m (8ft)
  • Hypericum calycinum (‘Rose of Sharon’) – spreading shrubs with yellow flowers from mid summer. Height 60cm (2ft), spread indefinite
  • Vinca minor (lesser periwinkle) – mat-forming shrub with trailing shoots and violet-blue flowers from mid-spring to autumn. Height 10-20cm (4-8in), spread indefinite
Lonicera pileata

Lonicera pileata

If you’d like to increase the variety of your planting around the edge (and lighter) area, you could try in addition to your geraniums:

  • Cotoneatser simonsii– deciduous or semi-evergreen with good autumn leaf colour; small pink flowers in summer followed by bright orange-red fruit. Height 2.5m (8ft), spread 2m (6½ft)
  • Mahonia aquifolium– evergreen with yellow blooms in spring. Height 90cm (3ft); spread indefinite.
  • Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis (Christmas box)- evergreen with scented flowers in winter. Height 60cm (2ft); spread 1.2m (4ft)

…and a couple of herbaceous perennials:

  • Bergenia– evergreen leaves may colour in winter; white, pink or red flowers in spring. Height 20-45cm (8-18in), spread 45-63cm (18-25in)
  • Tellima grandiflora – semi-evergreen, with greenish white flowers from spring to mid-summer. Self-seeds freely. Height 40cm (16in), spread 25cm (10in)

Tellima grandiflora

Tellima grandiflora

…and maybe one or two patches of bulbs/tubers?

  • Anemone nemorosa– white flowers from spring to early summer. Height 7.5-15cm (3-6in), spread more than 30cm (1ft)
  • Cyclamen hederifolium– attractively marked foliage and pink to maroon flowers in autumn, seeds freely. Height 10-13cm (4-5in), spread 15cm (6in)
  • Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop) – white flowers in late winter. Height and spread 10cm (4in)
  • Iris foetidissima (stinking iris) – blue flowers in late spring and orange berries in autumn/winter. Height and spread 40cm (16in)

If this all seems rather too much hassle, then you could always cover the bed with a landscape fabric and then put a layer of aggregate or other mulch- wood bark, slate chippings etc. This covering could be punctured at intervals for clumps of bulbs (see above) to give you some (simpler) interest throughout the year- and maybe end the years of heart ache trying to get things to work that just don’t stand much of a chance!

Sources and further information:

Black walnuts at About.com

RHS guide to planting under trees

Old School Gardener

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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

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