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Posts tagged ‘plants’

27
May

Visiting Gardens – A Great Pasttime

Visiting gardens is a most interesting and a very popular pasttime. Wimpole Hall was the latest we visited end of May, 2012 where it was interesting to see the advanced growth of their onions, whereas ours were mere blips on the landscape by comparison!  We also noted the wild bee houses liberally sited throughout the gardens. A variegated horseradish was much admired by visitors and irises were in full bloom despite the lack of rain for the last week or so. Based in Hertfordshire we tend to spread out north and east, so for us a visit to the Langford village gardens in Oxfordshire on Sunday 17 June between 2 and 6 pm is not really on our agenda. However the gardens sound magnificent and if you are anywhere near do consider a visit.

Young villager, Isabella Potter, helping to prepare the garden of the late Sir Hardy Amies

Young villager, Isabella Potter, helping to prepare the garden of the late Sir Hardy Amies

There are 26 gardens to wander round, both large and small including one created by Hardy Amies, famous for dressing the Queen for more than 55 years. The Grange and Ansells Farm gardens are open for the first time and Lower Farm House, a garden at the medieval end of the village has been completely remodelled.

Garden visiting wouldn’t be the same without tea and homemade cakes and there will be two locations to choose from.

£4.50 per person on entry and children go free!

More information on website

Val Reynolds, Editor

20
May

Verbascum, Cottage garden hardy perennials

I can’t keep up with Thompson & Morgan! Verbascums, a favourite background filler for flowerbeds, have always been yellow! Then last year T&M brought out Clementine, a golden/bronze beauty. The plug plants I received grew strongly are now blooming rather well in May a year later.

Verbascum Clementine flowering in May 2012

Verbascum Clementine flowering in May 2012

Then a blue verbascum, Blue Lagoon, came on the market and I had to have some, especially to plant with Clementine as they would make a great contrast.

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

Verbascum Blue Lagoon

I have always loved delphiniums but like many other gardeners find my slugs love them even more and plants have always been decimated, always when my hopes were riding high for a fabulous display. So I ordered two plug plants £9.99 each or 2 for £17.99 to make up for my disappointing attempts to grow delphiniums. As they only arrived three weeks ago and won’t be anywhere near mature until next spring I will plant them in larger pots for the time being, making sure I use my outstandingly good labeller so they don’t become the pots that I wonder what’s in them!

Blue Lagoon has been developed using specialist micro-propagation techniques. It has the same characteristics as its fellow verbascums: low maintenance and well adapted to growing in poor, stony soils. It should grow to about 30 inches high and spread out for about 12 inches. Flowering from June through to September they like full sun. Although my garden loses it by 2 pm, Clementine is doing very well. Verbascums spread their leaves flat to the ground – a remarkably useful weed control feature.

Pink Pixie 2012 Verbascum

Pink Pixie 2012 Verbascum

Then I heard of yet another new verbascum – Pink Pixie. Spoilt for choice! I’ve decided to get some to grow with the aquilegia Green Apples, again it will be a good contrast and I’m hoping the height difference will add to its impact. I’ll be sure to space the verbascum plants far enough apart so as not to smother the aquilegia.

All the verbascum cost £9.99 each or £17.99 for two plants that come in 7cm pots. See T&M webpages for more details 

Val Reynolds, Editor

14
May

Tutus in your Garden – Miss Huish – A Beautiful Aquilegia

Miss M I Huish, aquilegia vulgaris

Miss M I Huish, aquilegia vulgaris

Miss M I Huish, Aquilegia vulgaris, has a deep crimson flower like a Ballerina’s tutu. Perennials, aquilegias grow up to 2 feet tall and mix well with lighter foliage plants.

I found seed germinated well in May. Planted in the front and back garden around August 2011 about 2 feet apart, they are now flowering in May 2012 and expected to continue on until early June. Apparently they don’t last long as cut flowers, only 3-4 days, but they are very pretty so I’ll probably pick a few short stalks for a small table decoration.

Green Apples, aquilegia vulgaris

Green Apples, aquilegia vulgaris

I sowed seed of Green Apples, Aquilegia vulgaris, at the same time as Miss Huish which had a lower germination rate. They flower initially as white blossoms gradually turning to green.

Both these aquilegia resemble a double clematis but of course nowhere as large a flower. Aquilegias do well in full sun or partial shade, being a meadow and woodland plant. They will seed freely so I’m looking forward to them migrating all over the garden.

Thompson & Morgan offer a dual pack of seeds for £3.49, 70 seeds in total, or separate packs Green Apples £2.99 for 20 seeds, and Miss M I Huish 50 seeds for £1.99.

Val Reynolds, Editor

Link to our front garden website

22
Apr

Successful Watering with Seeper Hose System

Diverter on downpipe and hose to seeper at ground level

Diverter on downpipe and hose to seeper at ground level

Last year I ran the bath water on the front garden via a hose connected to seeper hose but it took a long time for the water to filter through. So I finally got round to organising a watering system for the front and back garden using rain water from the roof and what a difference it has made. All my plants made much better growth than in any previous years.

I don’t have the patience to stand watering the garden with a hosepipe and have never had a spray system, if I had I’m sure I would have left it on by mistake and racked up a terrific water bill – we are on a meter, so a seeper hose system was the obvious answer. It was reassuring to read a typical drip irrigation system uses up to 92% less water than a hosepipe and is a far more efficient way of watering the garden – www.the-hta.org.uk/water.

The system I devised for the back garden, after a lot of head scratching and frustrated thought, was to put in place rain diverters on the downpipes from the roof, attach a hose to that which led to the seeper hose system. When that overflowed the rain was diverted back to the downpipe and on to another diverter that was connected to a water butt. When that overflowed the water then feed back into the downpipe to the main drainage system.

Hose over pergola and down wooden post to seeper hose at ground level - note control tap

Hose over pergola and down wooden post to seeper hose at ground level - note control tap

The roof on a house collects about 85,000 litres of rain each year in the UK which runs straight into the sewers.  This could fill 450 water butts which can be used to water garden lawns, vegetable patches and house plants.

Altogether I used 6 x 15 metres of hose and linked up some small supplementary hose to water the pots on the patio via a separate water butt which made a huge difference to those plants.

Then in times of drought the water butts are linked up to the seeper hose. I generally leave them on for about 4 hours when needed. Now you may feel this sounds all rather complicated and at the time I thought so too, but it in reality it works and is very simple in action. The key is to make sure the water flows in at a slightly greater height than the ground you are watering.

At the moment although there is a hosepipe ban, seeper hose systems are exempt where we are, so when the water butts are empty, I can link the outdoor tap to the seeper hose system and to the water butts. Check the website of the water company in your district to be sure.

Not all parts of the garden need to be watered, for instance the peripheral areas with the wild flowers – bluebells, muscari, oxalis – that look after themselves, so I inserted sections of ordinary hose to bypass those areas. It meant adding connectors which increased costs.

What is important to remember is to cover the hose with mulch or set it into the ground and cover with earth and then mulch – by far the most efficient arrangement, it keeps the moisture in the ground which evaporates very slowly.

Overall, when it rains the garden gets about third extra which is all stored under the mulch. Another important point is to water at night, again to reduce evaporation.

So what plants are important? Fruit trees, crops like peas, climbing beans and broad beans, broccoli, cabbages, spinach, carrots, beetroot, onions, tomatoes, salads, kale. All these came good last year even when we had extended periods of drought. This spring I have noticed the fruit trees all have much more blossom than in previous years.

Honey bee collecting pollen on apple blossom

Honey bee collecting pollen on apple blossom

I have been really interested to see that plants grow slowly but steadily through the winter. I think it might be because the thick layer of mulch keeps the cold off the roots. I try, but seldom succeed, in putting at least a depth of 8-9 inches of mulch/compost/manure, which by spring time has been processed to some extent by the worms which means the ground is very easy to prepare for seedlings and plant plugs.

I sow annuals in with my vegetables to make it look less like an allotment. Nasturiums look really good, loving the extra moisture.

This year I have seeds of african marigold, red cornflowers, calendula, nigella and poppy to scatter through the garden. Attracting beneficial insects makes a difference to the life of the garden, they attract birds, making the garden more alive. Better than just putting out nut and seed feeders.

This year I interplanted self sown garlic plants found all over the garden with Malwinnie strawberries as they help the berries to fight disease. I had tasted these at the 2011 Thompson & Morgan Press Event and they were dribblingly good! Will have to think of some surefire way of keeping away the mice, birds and other creatures that know a good strawberry when they taste one!

Carrot, beets, kohlrabi, brassicas, dill, lettuce and tomatoes all do well when interplanted with the onion family.

A water saving tips poster and up to date information on the current water restrictions can be found at www.the-hta.org.uk/water

We have a website where we write specifically about our front garden, read more here.
Val Reynolds, Editor
All photography © Pintail Media
21
Apr

Growing Sweet Peas using a reliable support device

I have never had any success with germinating sweet pea seeds so having a sister who can grow most things was useful. I sent her the packets of sweet peas from Thompson & Morgan, see below, and hey presto, I have some seedlings in my little greenhouse, growing well, even after I cruelly pinched out their central shoots so as they grow they will throw out lateral shoots to give more flowers.

Sweet pea seedlings

Sweet pea seedlings

Now I wait for the roots to show through the bottom of the pots before planting them out. The key to lots of sweet peas is to keep picking the flowers to prevent them from developing seed pods, so I’m looking forward to having a house full of sweet scent. Must remember to cut the plants off at ground level when they are finished so the little nodules of nitrogen are left in the ground to feed the next crop or group of plants. This could be called the lazy gardener’s way of improving the soil!

I have erected a Haxnicks Maypole Plant Support in readiness. Simplicity itself to erect, made from black powder coated steel with rot proof strings and galvanised pegs, it’s a feature in its own right. Designed for any kind of climbing plant, annual or perennial, at 6ft in height it will show off anything you plant. I’ll be getting a couple more for next year to add a clematis in the centre of a bed, and for the most successful climbing bean I’ve ever grown Cobra from Thompson & Morgan. Delicious! Other planting ideas are nasturtiums, a vine, french beans – could even experiment with climbing strawberries.

Haxnicks Maypole plant support

Haxnicks Maypole plant support

Growing Sweet Peas –  Thompson & Morgan

Wiltshire Ripple

Wiltshire Ripple

Val Reynolds, Editor

13
Apr

Indoor Plants – Pest Management & Pollution Control

Scented orchid

Scented orchid

Indoor pest management includes a careful inspection before purchase and when bringing plants in from the garden. Meeting a plant’s environmental needs reduces plant stress and a healthy plant is less vulnerable to attack.

When pest control is necessary non-toxic or less toxic insecticides can offer effective control. Natural pyrethrum spray is relatively safe, synthetic pyrethrum is less desirable. A 0.2 per cent solution of mild washing-up liquid is generally an effective method of washing plant leaves. Cotton buds dipped in surgical spirit is a good way to remove spider mites, mealybugs, scale insects and aphids, although I found scale insects needed this treatment for far longer than I imagined. The only effective method I found was to lever them off with a flat ended knife.

Making your own non-toxic spray: Mix 2 teaspoons (10 ml) vegetable oil, 1/8 teaspoon (0.6 ml) washing-up liquid, 8 fl oz (230 ml) warm tap water is quite rewarding. Shake vigorously.

Not all my plants are strictly houseplants, I raise a lot of fuschias from cuttings. These are wholeheartedly targetted by whitefly so I have an ongoing fight! Now I keep them outside for the birds to take their share right up to the last possible day before frost might wipe them out.

My absolute favourite indoor plant book was written by Wolverton – Eco-Friendly House Plants: How to grow and nurture 50 houseplants to ensure you have clean, non-polluted air in your home and office. Wolverton undertook some pioneering research on clean air in space stations by the US Space Agency. You can read more about his work here.

Of the houseplants that fall into the category of eco friendly according to Wolverton a rubber plant is the most likely to be successful. Bred for toughness, it will survive in less light than most plants its size. It has a high resistance to insect infestation and is easy to grow and, very important, is especially effective at removing formaldehyde most often found in furnishings that take years to cease emitting fumes.

Weeping fig in conservatory

Weeping fig in conservatory

A ficus longifolio alii commonly known as the weeping fig, has proved to be exceptionally hardy in our conservatory. It is sited partially in the sitting room and has tolerated neglect over the past 15 years. Apparently it does like misting – now becoming a bit difficult in view of its size – almost 10 feet high. I spread polythene around and use the step ladder! It is good at removing a range of chemical vapours, is easy to grow and maintain.

Christmas and Easter cactus have the unusual property of removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen at night – the opposite of most plants – which makes them suitable for bedrooms. These plants often become quite large and survive for many years. Easy to propagate from cuttings and very resistant to insect infestation they make a great gift for friends.

Source: Eco-Friendly House Plants by B C Wolverton How to grow and nurture 50 houseplants to ensure you have clean, non-polluted air in your home and office.

THIS IS THE ONE BOOK I WOULD NEVER EVER BE WITHOUT! and when my copy lent to a friend wasn’t returned I looked on Amazon and found a used copy at £2.01+£2.80 pp.

It has been recently updated as How Grow Fresh Air

Val Reynolds, Editor

Photography Pintail Photo

29
Mar

Attracting wild bees to your garden – Result!

Insect Hotel

Insect Hotel

I put the Neudorff Insect Hotel on 26 March and today, 29 March I saw a tiny bee crawling into one of the holes!

Bee crawling into hole

Bee crawling into hole

We have a welcome guest. How good is that! Little did I expect such a fast response.

You can read our article about attracting Mason and other bees here.

We have an Insect Hotel to give away – details on the same webpage.

Val Reynolds, Editor

28
Mar

Attract Wild Bees in your Garden with an Insect Hotel

It is time of year when I reinstall the bee nest boxes kept in our dry cool garage since last autumn, into the garden. I bought my nest kits some years ago from the Oxford Bee Company, which sadly is now defunct.

7 cm bee nest

7 cm bee nest

The Oxford Bee nests I have are two sizes: 7 cm and 12 cm

12 cm bee nest

12 cm bee nest

As the tubes the bees use to lay their eggs degrade over time and sometimes fall out and get wet, or birds pecking at the tubes make them fall out – some folk have trouble with woodpeckers – I had to search around for a website where I could get replacement tubes.

Red Mason bees use the tubes to lay their eggs and the most curious fact is that the first egg they lay emerges last? How can that be? Evolution I know – perhaps there’s some kind of chemical difference in the nectar moistened pollen used that delays development. Honey bees feed their queens 100% on what is known as royal jelly, a high protein secretion the worker bees produce from their heads, a somewhat less amount is fed to the drones, and even less to the workers.

7 cm bee nest with red mason bee

7 cm bee nest with red mason bee

This year I transferred most of the tubes from the smaller pipe to replace those gaps and degraded tubes in the larger pipe. So I decided to add some dried stalks of fennel and hollyhock that I left standing for insects to overwinter. Here is the result, a bit raggedy but useable. Another of my cunning plans – code for hopeful experiment! I use a pipe support for the pipes to rest on and then use wire to keep them in place.

A mix of ready made tubes and dry plant stalks

A mix of ready made tubes and dry plant stalks

When I need more I’ll make them from plastic water piping. One end would have to be blocked off to mimic the Oxford design.

In my search for replacement tubes I came across the Schwegler bee nesting box which has fascinating see-through tubes, the eggs and pollen can be clearly seen. And I found this really interesting website about bees – the drawings are delightful.

Here’s a link to info about Red Mason Bees http://www.hedging.co.uk/acatalog/Mason_Bee_FAQ.html

Here is a Google page with lots of references to Red Mason Bees.

Neudorff Insect Hotel

Neudorff Insect Hotel

Our Neudorff Insect Hotel is now erected. We have placed it near the greengage tree and look forward to watching the insects inspecting it!

Helping insects find a safe haven in your garden for nesting and hibernation isn’t just good for the environment – it helps your garden, too. Ladybirds and lacewings munch greenfly and blackfly, while mason bees pollinate fruit blossoms as do lacewings.

Neudorff’s new insect hotel offers a stylish way of greening your garden. Designed to attract ladybirds, lacewings, mason bees, digger wasps, wild bees and hibernating butterflies like Peacocks, Brimstones, Small Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals, its wooden structure features different rooms to suit insects’ varying needs, such as hollowed out wood for mason bees and a central space for butterflies to seek shelter.

It’s also a great educational and instructive device that fascinates young children from age of three upwards. Great for school projects too!

For more information, visit the Neudorff site.

GIVEAWAY

UPDATE: We now have TWO Neudorff Insect Hotels to give away to In Balance readers. All you have to do to enter the draw is send an email to:

editorinbalance@me.com

With Neudorff Insect Hotel in the Subject box and your contact details including telephone number in the text box

Only one entry per household will be accepted and must have a UK or Forces postal address.

Last date for entries has been extended to 10 June 2012.

Val Reynolds, Editor

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