Autumn Pruning – some Questions and Answers

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Plews Weekend Blog

Our regular blog has moved back to the website – or more precisely moved onto the new website!

you can find it here -

http://plewsgardendesign.co.uk/autumn-pruning-questions-answers/

We’re still sorting out a few wrinkles but  you shouldnt have any problems still following the blog; if you do please drop us an email and we’ll do our best to sort it.

To celebrate our new website, there’ll be a special offer in the October monthly e-newsletter; you can sign up and find out what it is on the website: http://plewsgardendesign.co.uk

Your feedback is appreciated

Marie, Nathan and all the Team at Plews Garden Design

Resolving Your Gardening Issues

Plews Garden Design Team including Sharpe

Plews Garden Design Team including Sharpe

Harvest festival and your garden

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gypsophilla

Harvest festivals are traditionally celebrated around the time of the Harvest Moon which is the full moon that occurs closest to the autumn equinox. It’s an important time in the garden as well as on the farms.

Harvest festivals are thanksgiving festivals, a way of showing gratitude to one’s God or gods for a good store of food to keep the people fed through the lean winter months. Historically, Harvest festival was also an opportunity for the Landowner to give a feast for his workers in recognition of their hard work over the growing season. The first new ale would be drunk and loaves of bread made with the freshly gathered and milled wheat.

So why is the autumn equinox important to your plants? The Harvest Moon usually falls as a full moon at the end of September, but occasionally falls at the beginning of October. It’s at this point in the year that the day and night length are equal. The plants in your garden and allotment will notice the difference as they respond to day length.

chrysanthemum

Well actually, it’s not quite that simple, not all plants decide to hibernate once the nights become longer than the days; whether we’re having an Indian Summer or an early hoar frost makes a difference too. So, without dumbing down as you’re an intelligent bunch of readers, let’s have a brief botanical explanation as to why the plants in your garden start behaving differently now we’ve reached the autumnal equinox.

It’s important for a plant’s existence that it knows not to lets its seed germinate during winter, when hard frosts would be likely to kill the emerging seedling. Nor would it be productive to flower when there are no pollinating insects around. Neither is a good plan for survival of the species! There are both internal plant factors, such as the production of particular hormones and external factors that affect plant growth. It is the two major external factors that we’re looking at, and they are, as you’ve probably guessed, light and temperature.

white tulips

Generally speaking, most plants require a certain temperature in order for the seed to germinate and for the plant to grow. Which is why many plants lie dormant or semi-dormant over the winter months. Some plant species require a period of cold to encourage germination of the seed; for example, Tulips. When these plants are grown where the winter is not cold enough, Florida for example, they can be artificially chilled so as to stimulate flowering in the spring.

Photoperiodism, or plants’ response to day length, has been constant over millennia, and it is only recently, over the past couple of hundred years or so, that humans have been successfully able to interfere with the process artificially. Flowering plants are especially sensitive to photoperiodic stimulus; for example, have you ever forced Hyacinth bulbs for Christmas by putting them in a cool dark cellar then bringing them in to the warmth and light to flower?

There are three main grouping of flowering plants in relation to day length and their growth and flowering. Assuming that the plant is sufficiently mature and ready to flower, the day length becomes crucial for many of our favourite garden flowers.

Hyacinths

Short day plants, Chrysanthemum, for example, react to the day length being shorter than a specified time; or put another way, when the hours of darkness are longer than the hours of daylight. So these plants tend to flower later in the season, during late summer and autumn.

Long day plants, such as Gypsophilla, tend to be spring and summer flowering plant; they respond to the day length being longer than a specified amount of time. However, day neutral plants, for example, Viburnum, are unaffected by the length of daylight hours and will flower when they are mature enough to do so.

So this is why the Autumn Equinox, as illuminated by the Harvest Moon, is a crucial turning point in the gardening year.

The cover illustration for our newest eBook “In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design” shows Demeter, who was the Greek goddess of the harvest and fertility and one of the aspects of the Triple Goddess, or Earth Mother, Gaia. An appropriate subject for a book about crops and harvest and food in your garden and allotment, we thought.

In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Plews Potting Shed – Information for You

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We’re moving this gardening blog onto our new Plews website very shortly. You should be able to find us ok, as we’re hoping to have an automatic re-direct. But we’ll add the link on here as soon the new site is live.

We’ll be celebrating when it’s all done, and we’ll be posting up an offer for you, Gentle Reader as well.

This Harvest and Autumn Equinox weekend will see the Plews Blog still here, so until then, why not click on this link to one of our  ‘how to’ videos  and enjoy a Harvest Festival picture of the Earth Mother , Gaia, from the front cover of  Plews Autumn Almanac. We hope you keep following, reading and viewing us as we’ll still be following you.

Marie, Nathan and the Plews Team

Plews Garden Design – Resolving Your Gardening Issues with Inspirational Ideas and Flexible Solutions
In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design – cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Spring flowering bulbs

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bulbs laid out ready to plant

bulbs laid out ready to plant

Although it is possible to have bulbous plants flowering in your garden nearly all year, most of us in the UK and USA treat spring as the most important season for a flowering bulb display. Although they flower in the spring, these bulbs need to be planted in the autumn; so now is the time to be planning and purchasing your spring flowering bulbs.

At Plews we don’t generally plant too many bulbs at one go. Planting hundreds in one day is a chore we leave to those who have park displays to organise. However, we do offer bulb planning and planting as part of our service to regular clients, as well as part of an overall garden or planting design. Designing and planting containers whether for seasonal variation or for a special occasion is one of those tasks which is pleasant to add into a regular maintenance schedule.

Rather than dashing into spring bulb buying and then regretting the result next year, make yourself a coffee and

“Take the time to plan before you buy. Some questions you may like to ask yourself: are you planting in borders, containers, naturalising in grass? How many containers and how big are they? If in the borders, let’s be practical, consider how many bulbs you have the time to plant. Oh yes, and is there currently room in the border where you’d like to plant or do you still have late flowering Helenium and dahlias in full bloom?

Let’s find some answers. If your borders are still full and looking lovely, then congratulate yourself on a having a fine late display of colour. Make a note to look for and buy later flowering tulips and narcissus (daffodils). These could be planted when your Heleniums have gone over and still flower when they should next year. Another option is to buy the early flowering varieties you covet but plant them in pots. A further choice is to accept that they are likely to flower a bit later as you’ve planted them later.”

(Extract from Plews eBook “In Your Autumn Garden”)

Tulip 'dolls minuet'

Tulip ‘dolls minuet’

As for planting, the rule of thumb is to plant bulbs about three times as deep as the diameter of the bulb. This could be time consuming if you’re going to measure each one! The rough guide we use at Plews is that for larger bulbs, for example, Tulip, Daffodil and Hyacinth, we make a hole about 6-8” or 15-20cm deep. For smaller bulbs, for example, Crocus, Muscari, Bluebell, we make the hole about 4-5” or 10-12cm deep.

So, what are some of the more popular spring flowering bulbs? Some of Plews favourite spring flowering bulbs are:

Narcissus 'jetfire'

Narcissus ‘jetfire’

For vibrant displays:

Narcissus ‘February Gold’ and Narcissus ‘jet fire’ – a mix of to give you a brightly coloured display to liven up your mornings from February to April;

Bright red Tulip ‘Red Riding Hood’ has variegated foliage so extends the interest beyond flowering time; looks good in pots and borders.

Hyacinth 'Delft blue'

Hyacinth ‘Delft blue’

For softer shades:

Tulipa ‘dolls minuet’ has soft crimson red petals, with the subtle markings of the viridiflora tulip group;

Hyacinth ‘delft blue’ has the added pleasure of a delicate scent; plant it near a door so you can enjoy the perfume.

daffodils and pansies in patio container

daffodils and pansies in patio container

Remember to protect your bulbs once planted, so the squirrels don’t dig them up. If you’re planting in pots, we’ve found that adding shallow rooted winter bedding over the top of the spring bulbs generally works. The flowers in your winter display should keep going until your spring bulbs flower; how organised is that!

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design
Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design - cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design – cover illustration by Lucy Waterfield

Planting Ideas for Colourful Autumn Borders

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Dahlia 'Ruskin marigold'

Dahlia ‘Ruskin marigold’

We’re in September; schools have started and university looms; for some people it’s a chance to take a well–earned break away from the crowds; for others it brings an opportunity to spend more time in the garden and on the garden.

The following ideas are taken from a chapter in our newly published eBook “In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design”.

“A jewel-box autumn border with contrasts of flower and foliage is easy to plant and enjoy. Why not try some of these suggestions; you may have time to put them in and enjoy this season, but if not, then why not look out for some end of season bargains and snap them up ready for next year?”

Sedum 'purple emperor'

Sedum ‘purple emperor’

Sedum telephium ‘purple emperor’ has flat heads of ruby red flowers and chocolate purple foliage. The seed heads can be left on over winter; they’re very decorative when silvered with frost.

Ceratostigma wilmottianum is the 3 foot tall shrub, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides is the ground covering version. Both have rich, gentian-blue flowers and foliage which becomes redder as autumn progresses. Red and blue together on the same plant – maybe it’s a Crystal Palace Football Club fan?

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

Cotinus coggygria ‘royal purple’ (‘smoke bush’) although deciduous, this bush keeps its red-purple foliage well into October; the leaves are sometimes flecked with shocking pink. Here it has yellow Solidago (Golden Rod) planted in front, which gives definition to the Solidago as it can sometimes be a bit straggly.

Cotinus coggygria ‘royal purple’ and Solidago (Golden Rod)

Cotinus coggygria ‘royal purple’ and Solidago (Golden Rod)

Dahlia ‘Ruskin marigold’ (above) is a really solid orange colour; like all dahlias it will keep flowering until the frosts blacken the foliage. Still with the red spectrum, Helianthemum ‘moorheim beauty’ has yellow/orange / bronze flowers that add depth to an autumn planting scheme (below)

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea

Echinacea purpurea has flat-petalled reddish pink daisy flowers which provide late season nectar for bees. For an architectural dimension Stipa gigantea (giant oats) is stunning against an autumn sky; the rustle of the grass adds sound and movement to a planting scheme.

stipa gigantea

stipa gigantea

And as a backdrop to all this floral exuberance, why not have Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper)? Hopefully this has inspired you into planting an autumn border full of colourful flowers and bright foliage; we like to help! Drop us an email if you’d like to know more.

Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design


Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

Helenium 'moorheim beauty'

Helenium ‘moorheim beauty’

 

 

 

Apples – a bumper harvest expected for 2013

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apples lord lambourne

apples lord lambourne

The poor weather of 2012, particularly the wet summer, was disastrous for the apple harvest. This year looks like being a bumper apple crop.

apple orchard Brogdale

apple orchard Brogdale

So why is there such a difference? Apples evolved in central Asia, probably around Kazakhstan. In order to flower and fruit really well they need to be grown in a continental climate of hot summers and cold winters.

The wild apple cultivar still growing in central Asia, Malus sieversii has recently been shown to be the ancestor of all modern apples. Unlike most domesticated cultivars, the leaves turn red in the autumn before they fall.

apple blossom

apple blossom

The hard winter followed by a late spring and a long warm summer has given the apples and other deciduous fruit the conditions they like to produce good fruits and plenty of them, although most are cropping later due to the late spring.

Michigan is usually the USA’s third biggest producer of apples and is likely to harvest 30 million bushels of apples this year, exceeding its 20 million average. This compares to 2012’s apple harvest of 2.7 million bushels.

step over apples

step over apples

The UK Bramley apple harvest is expected to reach approximately 67,000 tons in 2013, a 14% increase on 2012. Admittedly this is still not as high as earlier years although this is due to reduced orchard acreage rather than weather or climatic conditions.

bramley apples

bramley apples

The following facts are extracts from our new eBook “In Your Autumn Garden with Plews Garden Design”:-

“Apple seeds contain a cyanide compound. However, the tiny amount of poison is locked inside the hard seed coat and as the seed generally passes through your digestive system intact you‘ll be fine. But it’s probably not a good idea to make a habit of eating apple seeds.

In Norse mythology, Idun, the goddess of spring and rebirth grew magic apples that gave the gods immortality. The only problem with this is that apples as we know them probably didn’t arrive in Scandinavia until the late Middle Ages.

ripe apples

ripe apples

Etymologically speaking, the word ‘apple’ is rooted in the Indo-European languages,; appropriately so given where the fruit originated. The Romance languages, including Latin, originally used the Greek based word ‘malum’; the botanical Latin is ‘malus’. With the rise of Christian as the official religion of the Roman Empire from the 4th century AD and its symbolic importance of the apple, the word ‘pomum’ began to be used, meaning ‘the fruit of fruits’.

25% of an apple’s weight is air – which is why they float in water making apple bobbing a fun game at Hallowe’en.”

English apples

English apples

Enjoy your daily apple!

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design

Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

step over cider apple

step over cider apple

Turquoise birds and turquoise flowers

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blue pottery bird and geraniums

blue pottery bird and geraniums

“How do you find the inspiration to design gardens?” is a question I’m often asked. So I thought I’d share one of the ways in which this particular garden designer finds her inspiration to create a practical paradise in your ‘back yard’.

A few days away in a different part of the country where ‘things to do’ did not specifically include gardens to visit offered an opportunity to enjoy some different pleasures, including local food and attractions. However, habits are not easy to break, and I still found myself awake early and needing to go out for a run, dog or no dog! The weather was lovely and a walk / run through a local nature reserve was hardly a hardship. On the contrary I had the (for me) rare delight of seeing a Kingfisher; that flash of cyan blue is unmistakable.

These birds are such a stunning shade of turquoise, that later, whilst I was sipping my morning espresso, it made me think; turquoise is not a colour we often find in our garden flowers. It is one of my favourite colours (along with purple) and I began to ponder on whether it would be possible to have a ‘turquoise garden’ along the lines of the ‘white garden’ at Sissinghurst.

Meconopsis betonicifolia ‘lingholm blue’

Meconopsis betonicifolia ‘lingholm blue’

So which flowers could grow in a turquoise garden? Of course I thought of the Himalayan blue poppy, Meconopsis betonicifolia; Meconopsis ‘lingholm blue’ has petals of a particularly good shade of turquoise that retain their brightness. Readers of earlier blogs may recollect I extolled the delights of Meconopsis in Scottish gardens last year and at RHS Chelsea Flower Show this May. Personally, I have not been successful in growing Himalayan poppies; or rather I’ve managed to grow them but not to retain them for subsequent years. They are slightly tricky to establish needing cool damp conditions and an acidic soil; it is the cool damp that I have a problem with but I shall be trying again (although not when we’re promised a long hot summer!)

Around the feet of the poppies I would grow Forget-me-nots or Myosotis sylvatica. These delightful self-seeding annuals are easy maintenance gardening; let a few of them set seed and you have a guaranteed floral carpet the following spring. The petal colours are generally a turquoise blue, but pale blue, white and even pale pink variations are all possible.

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

Another annual flower that self seeds so offers low maintenance gardening is Nigella damascena or Love-in-a-mist. Like the Forget -me-not, there is some variation in the flower colour, especially after a few years, when there seems to be a higher incidence of whites and pale blues amongst the turquoise. This dilution of our chosen jewel colour once a bit of interbreeding occurs can be avoided by preventing the flowers from dispersing their seed. Nigella damascena ‘Miss Jekyll’ has petals that are sky blue but I have in the past found a few rogues in subsequent years to be a cyan tinged sky blue.

Nigella damascena

Nigella damascena

So far we’ve had turquoise flowers in our turquoise garden from April through to July, but the fine weather isn’t over and neither are the turquoise flowers for your garden. We can extend the season with a Hydrangea. There are plenty of blue hydrangeas and some of these do tend towards a turquoise hue. I particularly like Hydrangea macrophylla ‘brestenburg’, one of the mop head Hydrangeas. Those close packed domes of flowers pack a colourful punch at the end of the summer. Holehird Gardens in Cumbria hold one of the National Collections of Hydrangeas.

Like the Himalayan poppies we began with, to get the best turquoise blue hydrangea you need an acid garden soil. But also like the poppies it is possible to grow hydrangeas in a raised bed or (large) pot if your soil is not right. Both the Forget-me-nots and the Love-in-a-mist are easy to give the right soil to as they’re fairly tolerant; to the extent of seeding themselves in the cracks between paving stones. Seedlings in the wrong place are easily lifted and thrown onto the compost heap.

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘brestenburg’

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘brestenburg’

So a turquoise flowering spring and summer garden is possible. As for what other flowers and foliage would complement or contrast the turquoise – well, why not drop us an email and ask about our planting design service?

I couldn’t finish this blog about turquoise flowers without mentioning the (not quite turquoise) Jade Vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys). This tropical beauty, seen here in the RHS Wisley glasshouse where it has produced a record number of hanging flower trusses this year. This climbing Philippine native produces flowers of a stunning aquamarine colour; you can see it at Wisley, Kew and in the botanic gardens of Oxford and Cambridge Universities; it flowers from April – July.

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design
Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

Jade Vine

Jade Vine

Rose gardens – can you smell the scent of paradise?

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Hever Castle rose garden

Hever Castle rose garden

Roses are one of those flowers that need to have a perfume. There’s such a choice from delicate through to musky that it seems a waste of the olfactory sense not to have aromatic roses. Roses have a long history in our gardens, and while Rose gardens waver in and out of fashion; roses themselves never totally leave the worldwide top ten favourite flowers list.

Southsea rose garden -Rosa rhapsody in blue

Southsea rose garden -Rosa rhapsody in blue

This is a small selection of some of the rose gardens we’ve visited in the last year or so. They are gardens which are purely a rose garden, or are a separate rose garden within larger gardens. Unfortunately the internet doesn’t yet have a ‘scratch and sniff’ facility, so you’ll need to use your imagination, but the warm sun certainly brought out the exotic and subtle scents for us to enjoy when we visited these rose gardens.

Southsea rose garden

Southsea rose garden

Southsea Rose Garden in Portsmouth has been developed on the site of a Victorian fort – ‘Lumps fort’ on the esplanade. High walls surround the roses, and this helps retain their delightful scent, as Portsmouth is notoriously gusty! Not all rose varieties like the salty air but this garden has a selection well beyond the trusty Rosa rugosa. Good use is made of the brick pergolas with roses climbing up and over these; and the axis of the main avenue has the sea beyond as its focal point.

Southsea rose garden - pergola

Southsea rose garden – pergola

The Rose Garden in Greenwich Park lies next to the eighteenth century Rangers House, at the top of the hill; more Blackheath than Greenwich. The arc shaped beds give a long vista of roses and allow a strolling between borders with opportunity to stop and sniff.

Greenwich Park rose garden

Greenwich Park rose garden

Greenwich Park rose garden - Rosa loving memory

Greenwich Park rose garden – Rosa loving memory

We visited after the ‘Run for Life’ in aid of cancer and were particularly pleased to find that our favourite rose for scent and colour combined was Rosa ‘loving memory’.

Greenwich Park rose garden -sniffing the roses

Greenwich Park rose garden -sniffing the roses

In Nymans rose garden (a rose garden within a larger garden) it was interesting to see the use of some companion planting; in this case, Nepeta, or catmint.

Nymans rose garden - underplanting with nepeta

Nymans rose garden – underplanting with nepeta

Roses, like many plants, thrive when planted in a community rather than as a single species. Nepeta offers both aesthetic companion planting with soft foliage and purple blue flowers complementing all the roses in the garden, but also ‘true’ companion planting, as it helps deter pests.

Nymans rose garden

Nymans rose garden

Still with the companion planting, we spotted this standard rose surrounded by lavender in Hever Castle gardens, although not in their delightful walled rose garden.

Hever Castle garden - rose underplanted with lavender

Hever Castle garden – rose underplanted with lavender

At Penshurst Place, the rose garden also sports companion planting. Furry leaved Stachys byzantina offers a silver ground covering carpet with purple flowers spikes in summer.

Penshurst Place rose garden - underplanting with stachys

Penshurst Place rose garden – underplanting with stachys

Paired with white flowering standard roses this is a subtle combination and one to copy in any sunny border; perhaps one rose at each end of the border with Stachys below, then the rest of the border filled with Santolina, Lavender and white Lychnis coronaria: lovely.

Penshurst Place rose garden - sundial

Penshurst Place rose garden – sundial

The silver foliage planting I’ve just suggested as a design idea for a south facing border would look good all year as, except for the rose, the planting is all evergreen. The bees would love it too.

Happy sniffing!

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design
Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

Sitting in the garden enjoying the sun or sitting on a cool veranda in the shade?
“In Your Summer Garden with Plews Garden Design” – the newest in our series of Gardening Almanacs makes good reading wherever you are.

Hever Castle rose garden - falling petals

Hever Castle rose garden – falling petals

Summer gardens – summer holidays – architectural plants that can cope without watering

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teasels in bud

teasels in bud

Most established planting, both shrubs and herbaceous perennials, should be fine without watering by you, whether you’re at home or away. This does assume that the soil is good and that the plants have been chosen correctly, shade lovers in a sunny border are not going to be happy, for example.

This isn’t a blog about drought tolerant planting (that’s another one) but some suggestions for planting that will be quite happy if you ignore it and don’t water it, don’t deadhead it but simply admire it. I was considering the idea from a ‘going on your summer holiday’ perspective, but the plants are easy maintenance once established so would of course be happy in your garden at all times of the year.

persicaria red dragon

persicaria red dragon

The term architectural planting generally describes tall, statuesque plants often seen in very contemporary gardens, although it also includes ornamental grasses, Phormiums and bamboos. People are often put off from choosing some of these plants, concerned that they may not fit into a mixed border, or might be too big for their garden. Generally speaking though, adding a ‘wow’ plant can really lift a border, giving it a new lease of life.

Architectural plants may be herbaceous perennials, annuals and shrubs as well as ornamental grasses and bamboos, and it is herbaceous perennials that I’ll be suggesting as if it’s your first foray into architectural plants you may feel reassured by the domestic familiarity of plants which die back over winter and shoot up in the summer.

acanthus mollis

acanthus mollis

The plants will work as part of cottage style planting, minimalist and contemporary gardens, many historically inspired schemes (the Victorians in particular were great Plant hunters and introduced quantities of species to Britain). They’ll also be useful in potager and ornamental kitchen gardens as pollinating insects and predator insects will be encouraged in by their flowers.

persicaria

persicaria

Persicaria are members of the knotweed or Polygonaceae family, but are now often referred to as smartweeds, rather than knotweeds to distinguish them from their invasive cousins. Persicaria like a moist or damp soil and will tolerate shade partial shade and sun, but this latter with moist soil, or it will droop and look unhappy. There are a range of varieties to choose from, with the dark pink flowered Persicaria ‘firetail’, the bronze leaved Persicaria microcephala ‘red dragon’, and the edible Vietnamese coriander, Persicaria odorata.

acanthus flower

acanthus flower

Acanthus mollis, ‘bear’s breeches’ is a wonderfully architectural herbaceous perennial that is drought tolerant, so will not notice if you’re away on your holidays and haven’t watered it. What Acanthus is not so keen on though, is being under the shade of evergreen trees, where it has to fight for its water and nutrients; it grows to a large plant and doesn’t do so well with competition. However, it will cope with being grown against a wall, so long as the soil is humus rich at root level. With its glossy green leaves and tall flower spikes Acanthus mollis suits both modern and cottage garden planting. Acanthus spinosus has similar leaves but with a spine at the tip – hence ‘spinosus’.

giant scabious in garden

giant scabious in garden

Giant scabious (Cephalaria gigantea) is a plant that is happy in the Isle of Skye, Cornwall, Greater London and all gardens in between. With large heavily dissected foliage and soft yellow flowers that are fascinating from bud stage to seed head this plant has to be a winner. Bees and pollinating insects also adore the flowers, whilst birds enjoy the seed heads. The flowers are carried on long stems and may need staking in very dry conditions, so if you’re growing it against a wall or fence where it may not benefit from rainfall, be sure to dig in lots of organic matter into the soil when first planting.

giant scabious flower

giant scabious flower

Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is a British native species. I’ve cheated a bit as this is a bi-ennial not herbaceous perennial, but once established by sowing seed two years running you will have plants every year. As with the Giant Scabious, Teasels are a popular feeding plant for wildlife. The seed heads often last right through to the following spring, although the birds will have eaten the seed off well before then. One lovely feature of these plants is the way rain water collects in the cup like depression of the leaf where it meets the stem. Both stem and leaves are covered with prickles, so it’s a good idea not to plant too near a path or seating area.

teasel with water in stem cup

teasel with water in stem cup

When established, Giant Scabious and Teasel both have a tendency to self seed with enthusiasm but the seedlings are easily recognisable and simply removed by hand or with a dandelion trowel.

Hopefully this selection has given you some inspiration for adding a different type of plant to your garden – one which once established you can wave goodbye to when you venture on your summer holiday, knowing it will be quite happy while you’re away.

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design
Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

teasel flowers

teasel flowers

Sitting in the garden enjoying the sun or sitting on a cool veranda in the shade?
“In Your Summer Garden with Plews Garden Design” – the newest in our eBook series of Gardening Almanacs makes good reading wherever you are.

Allotment Gardens

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sunflowers on allotment

sunflowers on allotment

Many allotments are under attack from councils and developers wanting to build houses, shops offices and generally concrete over the area. Why is this a bad idea?

There are historical, ecological, community and health reasons why we should be finding more land for allotments and community gardens not trying to squeeze them out of existence.

What is an allotment? Allotments are generally understood to be individual plots cultivated for private use, grouped together on a larger parcel of land. A Community Garden is generally a parcel of land which is cultivated by a group together as a whole plot. Most allotments forbid any permanent structures, for example sheds cannot have a concrete base or be larger than a specified size. There are some differences in the terms used internationally, but we’ll use the above.

allotment beds

allotment beds

Allotments are found in many countries; for example, UK, USA, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Philippines and Malta. These latter two are twenty-first century start-ups. Malta’s aim is to encourage more young people to take up organic farming. In the Philippines the allotments offer a means of growing their own food to poor urban families. The countries with long established allotments often started offering such land as a result of the increasing urbanisation of the population which left them without gardens in which to grow their food. The land itself was donated by private philanthropists and landowners or by local councils, on a leasehold rather than freehold basis.

Historically allotments have played an important role in feeding the various nations. They’re also important in showing how society has progressed at grass roots level (sorry for the pun). When the majority of the population was rural based, there was frequently a productive garden around the home and often an acre or more to provide vegetables and keep chickens and a pig. Well, there was until enclosures of common land from the mid eighteenth century onwards. These days most of us live in towns and have small gardens or balconies and probably not enough time to tend an acre after work; but we could manage to till an allotment.

swiss chard on allotment

swiss chard on allotment

Allotments can encourage and support local communities; the majority of plot holders will live within walking or cycling distance so may know each other away from the allotments and are encouraged to get to know each other with regular social events and general conversation when working on their plots. Community gardens can be even better at generating the neighbourly feeling as leisure space as well as productive space is shared.

The health benefits of gardening and being outside are as applicable to allotments as they are to your own private garden. Exercise, fresh air, natural sunlight (vitamin D) and fresh food plus the known advantages of the soil itself, as research has shown that soil micro-organisms could help lift our mood.

Ecologically and environmentally, allotments maintain an important diverse range of plant species and varieties within a species. They are a green space within urban areas, helping to reduce mean temperatures; providing a permeable surface to diminish the effects of water run-off and flooding; and improving air quality as plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen.

mixed calendula and brassicas

mixed calendula and brassicas

I think one of the delightful aspects of British allotments is that the parcel of land you are given is measured in ‘rods’. A rod is 5 ½ yards and was quite literally a rod used by surveyors to measure a plot of land; rods were joined together for measuring longer areas. The usual size of an allotment plot is 10 rods or about the size of a doubles tennis court.

The week 5- 11 August is National Allotment Week in Britain, run by the National Allotment Society. Many local allotment groups are having open days – so why not visit an allotment site near to you and see what they get up to? You could put your name down for a plot – or at the very least support allotment sites such as Farm Terrace so they don’t get built on; they are far too precious a resource as they are.

Marie Shallcross

Plews Garden Design - Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

Sitting in the garden enjoying the sun or sitting on a cool veranda in the shade?
“In Your Summer Garden with Plews Garden Design” – the newest in our series of Gardening Almanacs makes good reading wherever you are.

sweetcorn on allotment

sweetcorn on allotment