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Living Willow Structure by Bonnie Gale

Living willow structure by Bonnie Gale

ilex aquifoliumIlex, or the holly genus, is a genus of 400 to 600 species of flowering plants in the family Aquifoliaceae, and the only living genus in that family. The species are evergreen and deciduous trees, shrubs, and climbers from tropics to temperate zones worldwide. In Europe the genus is represented by a single species, the classically named holly, Ilex aquifolium.

ilex aquifolium botanicalCommon name: ‘Holly’  or ‘Common Holly’- the name “holly” in common speech refers to Ilex aquifolium, specifically stems with berries used in Christmas decoration. By extension, “holly” is also applied to the whole genus. The origin of the word “holly” is considered a reduced form of Old English hole(ġ)n, Middle English Holin, later Hollen.

Native areas: Ilex aquifolium is native to western and southern Europe, northwest Africa, and southwest Asia.

Historical notes: Ilex in Latin means the holm-oak or evergreen oak (Quercus ilex). Despite the Linnaean classification of Ilex as holly, as late as the 19th century in Britain, the term Ilex was still being applied to the oak as well as the holly – possibly due to the superficial similarity of the leaves.

Ilex aquifolium

Ilex aquifolium

Features: Holly is an evergreen, conical tree growing to 5-10 metres tall. The leaves are 5–12 cm long and 2–6 cm broad; they are evergreen, lasting about five years, and are dark green on the upper surface and lighter on the underside, oval, leathery, shiny, and about 5 to 9 cm long. In the young and in the lower limbs of mature trees, the leaves have three to five sharp spines on each side, pointing alternately upward and downward, while leaves of the upper branches in mature trees lack spines.

The flowers are white, four-lobed, and pollinated by bees. Holly is dioecious, meaning that there are male plants and female plants. The sex cannot be determined until the plants begin flowering, usually between 4 and 12 years of age. In male specimens, the flowers are yellowish and appear in axillary groups. In the female, flowers are isolated or in groups of three and are small and white or slightly pink, and consist of four petals and four sepals partially fused at the base. The ‘berry’ fruit is a red drupe, about 6–10 mm in diameter, a bright red or bright yellow, which matures around October or November.

Several varieties and clones are available with different features such as variegated foliage with creamy or pink tinged edges and different leaf shapes. Some of these are:

Ilex aquifolium ‘Alaska’– dark green foliage and bright red berries, can be grown as a standard/ specimen or screening.

Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea Marginata’– with an Award of Garden Merit, this variety has spiny leaves edged with white and plenty of berries, young leaves tinged with pink.

Ilex aquifolium ‘J.C. Van Tol’– a self pollinating holly and possibly the best green-leaved holly available. Dark green almost sineless leaves witha good show of autumn berries. Also awarded an AGM, it is tolerant of shade.

Ilex aquifolium ‘Pyramidalis’– fast growing, self pollinating. Another AGM winner, it retains its pyramidal shape if pruned to retain it’s leader.

Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’– this is a dense small evergreen tree or shrub with purple young shoots and pink-tinged young leaves. Mature leaves spiny, dark green with a broad cream margin. Flowers small, white – this variety is, despite it’s name, a male!

Other Ilex varieties that are not part of the aquifolium species include:

Ilex castaneifolia– the ‘sweet chestnut leaved’ holly this is a fast grower, AGM awarded and produces a large tree of conical habit and has red berries in abundance.

Ilex x ‘Dragon Lady’– one of the Meserve Hybrid hollies this one has vivid green leaves and attractive spines that contrast well with the large red berries in the autumn.

Ilex x ‘Nellie Stevens’– this hybrid (of Ilex aquifolium and Ilex cornata) has smooth glossy leaves which contrast well with the orange-red berries.

Ilex x altaclarensis ‘Golden King’ – one of the best variegated hollies, this AGM winner is tolerant of coastal conditions, and is slow-growing. The opposite to the variety ‘Silver Queen’, this time, despite its name it is a female!

Uses:  One of the most evocative and best-loved of all trees; the Common holly is beautiful in its simplicity and brings cheer at the darkest time of the year. It provides year-round interest, but is particularly attractive in autumn and winter. great for gardens, it only retains its spiky leaves within the first ten – fifteen feet of height in the tree, as after this it suffers no predation so has no need of a thorny defence system! use as an under storey or edge fo woodland tree  (as here at Old School Garden), as a specimen (especially those with interesting foliage), for hedging/ screening or as a structural element in mixed borders to provide all-year round interest. Can also be topiarised to provide simple but effective shapes in formal settings.

 Growing conditions: Holly is very tolerant of shade and prefers well-drained soils.

Clipped hollies at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

Clipped hollies at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire

Further information:

Wikipedia- Ilex

Wikipedia- Ilex aquifolium

RHS- Ilex aquifolium

RHS- Ilex aquifolium ‘Silver Queen’

Barcham trees directory- Ilex genus

7 plants for Winter Wonder

Old School Gardener

Bright_green_tree_-_WaikatoAs trees tend to be the largest and longest lived plants in the garden, they should be one of, if not THE first item to consider when designing or redesigning your garden.They rank alongside some of the hard landscaping elements (seats, arches, pergolas, arbours etc.) in helping to provide the ‘bones’ or structural framework of a garden i.e. the structure by which we navigate ourselves around the plot both visually and in terms of guiding our movement. Shrubs (especially evergreens), provide a similar service and should be thought about in conjunction with whether, where and what sorts of trees to include in a design or redesign.

Trees also offer a range of other potential sources of interest in a garden apart from their overall shape or form; leaf size shape and colour (which may vary from season to season), bark (colour, texture or special effects such as peeling or patterned), flowers and fruit (catkins, conkers, apples and so on).

In visual terms the planting of a tree or trees can have a dramatic effect on the layout (or form) and perspectives around the garden. They can be used as a focal point to draw the eye. This includes those planted as a ‘specimen’. Those planted in the foreground or middle distance help to increase the sense of depth or perspective in a garden, while those planted further away help to give a sense of scale to the overall space. So, in a small garden a large tree in the foreground and a small tree at the end will make the garden seem longer.

Leaf size and texture is another important consideration. If you want a strong shape to provide a key structural element all year round in the garden, then go for small leaved, evergreen varieties with distinctive shapes or which can be pruned (topiarised) into these- e.g. Box.

Horse Chestnut flower about to burst
Horse Chestnut flower about to burst

Why not take a look at your garden and ask if you have one or more trees that aren’t in the right place- are they are too tall, too broad, drying out the soil or causing shade where you don’t want it? Perhaps removal or pruning is the answer. Could you introduce a tree or two and help to strengthen what your garden has to offer- providing food or a home for birds, for example or adding a brilliant show of flowers or autumn leaf colour?

Traditionally we seem to have used trees in gardens as stand alone ‘specimens’, often in an island in the middle of a lawn for example. Today, with the wide range of trees available and with characteristics that suit almost any situation, its possible to be a bit freer with how we use them- in groups or among other planting in borders.

If you are using a tree as a specimen think about its positioning carefully- if it’s planted by itself without any surrounding planting to soften its impact, it will be a focal point from the start, and as it grows bigger this impact will become even more pronounced.

If planting several trees together, including adding one or two to an existing group, think about their ultimate height and spread. As in nature, some trees grow well together; eg. Betula pendula, or ‘Silver Birch’- see my recent article in the A-Z of Trees series. The wild cherry (Prunus avium), is another example. So as with any other tree planting think carefully about their ultimate height and spread and allow room for them to grow. If you want to give a denser appearance in the time it takes the trees to mature, try growing them closer together, but expect to remove some as they mature to allow the remaining ones to grow to full size.

When planting more than one tree together in an area of grass, the relationship of one to another will determine the effect and this can change depending on where you are in the garden. A good idea is to use large posts or bamboo canes to mark their positions. Try out different positions to see what effect you like the best. Look at the positioning from different places, including from inside the house. and remember to think about their ultimate height and width and what they might obscure or hide.

Chracterisitcs of the White Fir
Chracterisitcs of the White Fir

We tend to think short term when it comes to gardens- we want immediate impact or effect.

The danger here is that you’ll end up with something that outgrows its space and gives you problems- a classic example is the Monkey Puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) that was planted in the front garden of a Victorian terrace house or villa and is now way too large and tottering precariously above and perhaps towards the house! So the speed of growth is also a consideration; very slow growing trees may take  30 years to have a significant impact, so if you want an impact over a shorter period than this, then that’s perhaps a good choice.

If you have a relatively small garden, don’t think that you can’t have any trees. Smaller varieities of many different types are often available, and by choosing trees that have a more conical or upward habit you can achieve an impact without having a major loss of garden space .

Planting trees too near to buildings is another common problem. Some have relatively compact root systems ; e.g. Birch (Betula), Sorbus, Hornbeam and Magnolia are good examples and rarely cause problems. However trees like Willow will seek out water and their roots are liable to invade drains if planted close by.

If an existing tree is of concern seek the advice of a qualified tree surgeon. and if you think a tree may be subject to a Tree Preservation Order, make sure you consult your local authority before doing anything to affect it. And always consider your neighbours- trees planted close to boundaries may look good from your side of the fence, but think about what impact the tree is going to have on your neighbour’s garden and house. The inconsiderate planting of hedges of Leylandii conifers is the most familiar example of the wrong species being chosen to achieve rapid but usually unattractive results. Left to its own device this tree will grow to well over 100′ high and it looks superb, so don’t expect it to enjoy continually being hacked back!

Old School Gardener

Vertical gardens or ‘green walls’ seem to be increasingly popular, from the humble vertical planters made out of recycled materials like pallets, to the enormous ‘frescoes’ seen on new buildings around the world.

This is a testament to their value in both a domestic setting- where they are one way of adding height and so ‘structure’ to a garden as well as providing either a splash of colour or a source of food – and to their role in helping to ‘green’ our cities and other built up areas, managing air temperatures and providing an attractive texture to what might otherwise be a boring facade.

I’ve gathered together a few pictures here of some examples that might inspire you!

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Old School Gardener

Soil that you can  make pots from is a challenge...

Soil that you can make pots from is a challenge…

Having ‘good’ soil is one of the most important elements in successful gardening, though some plants are well adapted to and actually prefer ‘poor’ soils. A good soil is especially important for growing food crops. The terminology and approaches to creating and keeping good soil can be confusing, as this week’s questioner illustrates:

‘My garden seems to have a very heavy clay soil. i want to know what to do to make it easier to work with and I’ve heard the terms like structure, texture and tilth – can you explain what these terms mean and advise me on what to do to improve my soil?’

So writes Lise B. Lowe from Hereford. Well Lise, a good way of summarising the different terms is:

Texture = the mix of different types of soil particle

Structure = the spaces between these particles

Tilth = the quality of the structure

The basic types of soil texture

The basic types of soil texture

Texture

Garden soils contain particles of varying size. Clay particles are minute and tend to clog together (which is why your clay soil is so heavy and difficult to work). At the other end of the scale, gravel consists of very large particles; this type of soil drains very easily and so is known as a ‘hungry’ soil. Between these two extremes will be found comparatively small soil particles, known as silt, and larger particles of sand. The majority of soils consist of mixtures of the different sizded particles. The proportions of large, medium and small particles in a given soil determine its texture.

The components of soil structure

The components of soil structure

Structure

A soil has good structure if is contains a balanced range of particle sizes that provide air pockets of a size to accommodate the right amount of air and moisture for healthy plant growth; it drains well; and contains adequate humus (decayed organic material like leaves and stems which will not decay any further) and other organic material.

Tilth

When soil has been forked and raked and its clods have been broken down to a fine, workable structure it is said to have a good tilth. This quality is particularly important when small seeds are being sown, because it enables them to make good contact with the available soil moisture. Too fine a texture does not make a good tilth because such a soil’s surface will ‘cake’ (develop a hard surface or ‘pan’) in the first shower of rain. So working the soil (and adding diffferent materials to it like organic matter, gravel , sand) produces different tilths, some suitbale for seed sowing, others for establishing and growing on different plants etc.

With your heavy clay soil the best approach is to add lots  (and lots) of organic material such as compost, humus, manure so as open up the structure of the soil, making cultivation much easier. Autumn is an ideal time to do this, as once you’ve dug over the soil and incorporated organic matter, the winter weather should help to further break down the larger clumps of soil, making it easier to cultivate in the spring. Regularly adding organic matter before you sow/plant and as a a mulch during the growing season will continue to help improve the structure of the soil and add nutrients too.

Adding compost or other organic material to the soil by digging in or as a mulch is a must...
Adding compost or other organic material to the soil by digging in or as a mulch is a must…

If, on the other hand, your soil, like mine, is on the sandy side, adding organic matter can help with moisture retention and add much-needed nutrients to an otherwise poor soil. I tend to add lower nutrient material such as leaf mould in the Autumn and richer material like compost and manure in the Spring so that the nutrients these contain have less time to wash away and are readily available when plants need them most, as they burst into life. However, if your soil is really in need of improvement then add any organic matter in the Autumn and give it time to break down and blend with the soil. Of course the alternative approach, where possible, is to plant things that are suited to your soil, even if it’s on the ‘poor’ side!

However, you’re probably on to a winner by adding organic material, whatever your soil!

Different soil types

Different soil types

Further information:

Checking your soil condition

Soil structure and formation

The genesis of soil structure

Feed your soil not your plants

Old School Gardener

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IMG_5170As I sit and look out of my window this cold January day, the snow has started to fall once more- looks like the heaviest fall will be later today. So the firewood has been stacked and fortunately the week’s shopping was done yesterday…

At this time of year you could be forgiven for thinking there’s not much of interest in the garden. We tend to focus on the other seasons when we think about (or impulse-buy) plants. The weather itself isn’t exactly encouraging us to visit the nursery or garden centre. And anyway, they seem to be rather  forlorn places at this time of year, especially the bigger ones that have ‘diversified’ into Christmas tat- the shelves are either emptying to make way for spring gardening stock or they’re full of half price Christmas cards and tinsel…

Well, we should perhaps think about how our garden looks in every part of the year, especially the important views into it from the house, road etc. In the winter, it’s these views that count, as it’ s less likely you’ll want to venture into the wet or cold garden itself.

The choices are significant – yes you can have:

  • beautiful flowers
  • powerful fragrance
  • colourful fruit
  • vibrant stems
  • interesting bark
  • strong  form
  • fascinating  foliage

Here are seven examples of the sorts of plants that can be a winter wonder in your garden.

Dogwoods provide wonderful winter stem colour

Dogwoods provide wonderful winter stem colour

1. Dogwoods (Cornus species)- vibrant stem colours make this a winner especially where you can group several plants together and maybe combine them for subtle effects (try C. alba ‘Sibirica’ (red) surrounded with C. sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’– amber- orangey red). Prune the stems back to the base of the plants in spring or leave one or two stems to grow taller and then pollard it for extra height (prune ‘Midwinter Fire’ less)- you will also get some lovely autumn leaf colour.

Witch Hazels- magical spidery flowers

Witch Hazels- magical spidery flowers

2. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis in many different varieties)- beautiful spidery-like flowers are magical in woodland edges. Grow as specimens or focal points under trees or in open ground – will grow about 2 metres high and wide over time.

Crab apple 'Red Sentinel'- plum-sized fruits that birds seem to avoid

Crab apple ‘Red Sentinel’- plum-sized fruits that birds seem to avoid

3. Crab apple (Malus species and cultivars – but not the ‘orchard’ apple Malus x domestica)- some of these smallish trees are suitable for smaller gardens with their columnar growth – e.g. M. tschnoskii (which can grow to 12 metres high but only 7 metres across). The main reason for growing them, in my view, is their fruit. Plum – sized apples which seem to be just the right size to not interest birds, so you’ll hopefully be left with a great show throughout winter. I particularly like M. x robusta ‘Red Sentinel’ (can grow to 7 metres high and wide). And Crab apples give great spring flowers and autumn colour too.

Mahonia x media- black fruits follow the flowers

Mahonia x media- black fruits follow the flowers

4. Oregon Grape (Mahonia species and some cultivars)- this is a winner on several counts, but mainly through its winter flowers and foliage. It’s evergreen  leaves (some spiky) will burnish orangey-red if exposed to the sun. My favourite is the hybrid M. x media ‘Charity’ which is an erect evergreen shrub with sharply toothed leaves and dense yellow flowers that cascade from the stems. One ideally for part shade, so a woodland edge is perfect.

Viburnum x bodnantense- wonderful scented flowers

Viburnum x bodnantense- wonderful scented flowers

5. Viburnum x  bodnantense ‘Dawn’ there are many different Viburnums, and they make a wonderful addition to the garden for their flowers, fragrance and foliage at different times of the year. This one is a hybrid and is chiefly grown for its wonderful scented flowers which grace the medium-sized deciduous shrub through winter on bare stems.

Box- small leaves make it ideal for strong  topiary shapes

Box- small leaves make it ideal for strong topiary shapes

6. Box (Buxus sempervirens or if you want a slower growing, more compact form go for the variety ‘Suffruticosa’)- one of the great plants for shaping into strong forms that help to carry your garden’s structure through the winter months. Also, don’t forget that some perennials will add form and structure to your garden through their dead stems and shapes. For Box start growing small and gradually develop your desired form, or buy (at some expense) some of the ‘ready- to – rock’  topiary at nurseries and garden centres. There are some wonderful examples of historic topiary in Britain such as Levens Hall, Cumbria.

320px-Paperbark_Maple_Acer_griseum_Bark_3008px

Paper-bark Maple- bark peels into subtle tones

7. Paper bark Maple  (Acer griseum)- a fantastic, slow growing tree which can reach 10 metres high and broad. Like most Acers it gives great autumn leaf colour, but it’s main attraction is the peeling bark which looks especially magical with low winter sun shining through it.

Further information;

Guardian online

Winter containers

Winter vegetables

Quizzicals:

answers to the last two-

  • Our monarch continues to work hard – Busy Lizzie
  • Nasty spot causing urination problems – Bladderwort

A couple of gardening ditties:

‘Whose sorrel now?’

‘Don’t leaf me this way’

(thanks again to buddie Les for these)

Old School Gardener

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