Category Archives: Flowers

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

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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

Garden Visits: Armadale Castle, Isle of Skye

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the ruined castle Armadale

the ruined castle Armadale

Planting inspiration from the historic Armadale Castle gardens on the Isle of Skye, where the Gulf Stream offers a mild climate and the chance to grow a wide variety of species, including many tender ones.

cat in the gardens castle Armadale

cat in the gardens castle Armadale

Armadale Castle is the home of Clan Donald Lands Trust in South Skye. We visited last summer, on a somewhat damp day. The ruined castle looks across to the mainland and formed the starting point of our walk through the gardens.

white peony

white peony

The yellow themed border with Giant Scabious (Cephalaria gigantea) and tall Elecampane (Inula), Achillea at middle height and low growing Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) was in its early flowering stages when we saw it. This was a good mix of plants, giving flowers from late April through to September, a range of heights that would change over the same period; and a variety of foliage colour and form. It’s the sort of mix that could look a mess unless you find a link between the different plants; here the link was, if I may sound artistic for a moment, that the flowers all had the same tone of yellow as their base, although the shades of yellow were different.

yellow flower border castle Armadale

yellow flower border castle Armadale

 

steps to the woodland walk

steps to the woodland walk

We decided it was a bit too wet to explore the woodland trials as fully as we would have liked, but we did have the opportunity to see the Museum of the Isles which had some fascinating displays and educated us about the Lordship of the Isles. The Raven on the Rock memorial outside the Museum is stunning and eerily lifelike when first viewed through a mist of rain.

Raven of the Rock memorial

Raven of the Rock memorial

The playful otter as a central feature to the pond was a welcome change from the more frequently found fish or small cherub. It is in keeping with the location of the gardens, and would look out of place in an urban garden; but the concept of adding a beautiful statue as the pond’s focal point, something which has meaning for the owner of the garden, is an idea worth considering.

pond with otter

pond with otter

As well as planting inspiration, we came away with two new herbaceous plants, Geranium ‘hocus pocus’ with dark highly serrated foliage and mid purple flowers and Centaurea Montana ‘Jordy’ a perennial cornflower with almost black flowers, both of which we’d seen in the castle gardens. There were quite a few different geraniums in the borders; they do well in the damp conditions being mildew resistant unlike some herbaceous perennials. A factor worth considering if you have a damp shady garden, as many of the varieties will tolerate shade. Many of them will also be happy in dry shade or even a south facing border; you just need to pick the right cultivar.

Geranium 'hocus pocus'

Geranium ‘hocus pocus’

The perennial cornflowers are more often found as blue flowering forms. They can be prone to mildew, and to flopping; the best way to get round this is to cut them hard back after the first flush of flowers just as they’re starting to flop. They will repay you by flowering again in only a few weeks; cutting the flowers to take into the house is another tactic to reduce the flopping tendency – and give you pretty flowers too.

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design

raindrops on Hosta leaf

raindrops on Hosta leaf

 

Patriotic Gardens or how to find Summer Planting Inspiration

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red pelargonium,blue front door

red pelargonium,blue front door

How does your garden grow: colourful in the spring and then all green in the summer? If you missed out on using last year’s Diamond Jubilee as planting inspiration why not celebrate sixty years since the Queen’s Coronation instead?

The plants below flower during the summer months so will brighten up your garden. Plant them in combination: for example, one white rose at the back, three blue delphinium and five low growing red dianthus at the front.

Red roses

Red roses

white iris

white iris

geranium johnsons blue

geranium johnsons blue

red dianthus

red dianthus

white rose

white rose

blue delphimium

blue delphimium

red cytisus (broom)

red cytisus (broom)

white lily

white lily

blue eryngium bourgatii

blue eryngium bourgatii

Some more planting combinations

red persicaria, white geranium, blue pansies

red persicaria, white geranium, blue pansies

white cosmos, red scabious, blue eryngium

white cosmos, red scabious, blue eryngium

You could even have Coronation colours in the vegetable garden with red strawberries, blueberries and white currants…well, at least until you ate them!

Marie

Plews Garden Design offers design and build gardens and planting designs for borders. Drop us an email with your query.

Roses are red; violets are blue

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red-rose-bushes

red-rose-bushes

The modern Valentine’s Day may or may not be named or based on the actions of an early Christian martyr.
But we owe our red roses and blue violets to Spenser’s ‘The Faerie Queen’:-

“She bathed with roses red and violets blue, and all the sweetest flowers that in the forest grew”

However, if it’s a mixed bouquet of red roses and blue violets that you’re after to give to your beloved on Valentine’s Day, you may have given yourself a quest as difficult as any that Spenser’s knight had to overcome.

Red roses and sweet violets (viola odorata) are traditional floral gifts for Valentine’s Day but you’ll be struggling to find any naturally outdoor flowering roses in the in February if you live in Britain or northern Europe or the United States. There may be a few still on an unpruned rose bush, looking like an icing sugar confection all rimmed with frost. Or more prosaically like a chewed tennis ball the dog was playing with on the lawn and then forgot about.

I don’t think those flowers would be appreciated by your loved one. If its roses you’re after they’ll have to be the expensive imported hot house ones. Although on the bright side, whilst they cost you round about £125 for a dozen the price has been fairly constant over the last 10-15 years – which makes a change.

If the supermarket rather than florist variety is your style try to be ‘green’ and ethical and buy Fairtrade roses. They’re more likely to have been grown sustainably, which is better for the environment here and in Africa, particularly Kenya – where Valentine’s Day roses can be a major part of a small farmer’s or grower’s annual income. The use of that rare African resource – water – for growing roses for export to Britain and Europe is, however, questionable. It has been suggested that a ‘water ecological footprint’, ie a label on the pre-packed bouquet of roses, would help shoppers to realise the situation. It may also encourage the Valentines Day buyer of red roses to use their economic clout and demand that funding is used to sustain Lake Naivasha and encourage more growers to use hydroponics as a means of production for those delightful Valentine’s Day red roses.

sweet-violets-variegated

sweet-violets-variegated

If all this politics is too much for you, why not give your beloved violets instead? The Victorians were especially fond of sweet violets and included them in posies on Valentine’s Day. Their heart shaped leaves make violets especially apt as a lover’s token on Valentine’s Day. Some of those Victorians may have raised the violets in their conservatories, so that rather than the British native sweet violet (viola odorata) which may just be flowering for February 14th, they were giving their Valentine viola ‘parma violet’. In my opinion this has the most divine scent of all the violets, and can equal a lily’s punch packing aroma for all it is much smaller.

The ’Violet capital of the world’ during the nineteenth century was in New York state. Rhinebeck earned the name of ‘The Crystal City’ as a result of the vast number of glasshouses largely growing violets for the Valentine’s Day, Mothering Sunday (or Mother’s Day) and Easter markets. Violets were worn as corsages on ball gowns year round but the flower was especially popular at Valentine’s Day. Today there are barely any violets grown in Rhinebeck, although a handful are still available for those romantics and traditionalists who prefer their sweetness to the red rose’s gaudiness.

For more on Valentine’s Day, Lupercalia, Roses and violets why not pick up a bargain? Our eBook “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” has been seriously reduced in price as our new eBook “In Your Spring Garden” comes out in a couple of weeks. You can buy it on Amazon and Smashwords

penstemon-and-lilies

penstemon-and-lilies

Gardens of Remembrance

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The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Even gardeners stop for two minutes to observe the silence.

Remembrance Sunday is about gratitude and respect for those who gave their lives to protect us. The planting around the headstones and in the graveyards is in the charge of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

Sir Frederic Kenyon summed up his vision for the Commission cemeteries in February 1918 thus:

“The general appearance of a British cemetery will be that of an enclosure with plots of grass or flowers (or both) separated by paths of varying size, and set with orderly rows of headstones, uniform in height and width.”

Many of you will be surprised to learn that the CWGC is one of the world’s leading horticultural organisations. To keep the cemeteries looking good seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year in all weathers is not an easy task. Not only does the planting need to offer something in all seasons, but the number of visitors in all weathers puts particular stress on the turf paths and lawns.

The headstone borders are generally planted with a mix of roses and herbaceous perennials. Of these latter some will die back over winter and regrow in the spring; others will retain their foliage year round; the Heuchera in the photograph is an evergreen herbaceous perennial except in the hardest of weather. Care is taken in choosing plants for each cemetery, for example, there are Maples from Canada at Dieppe.

Designing the planting requires thought to the length of flowering season, of foliage interest, so that visitors have something to see. It also needs to be reasonably low maintenance, both for the border planting and for the turf, or grass. Not merely from a time and therefore economic perspective, but also because it would interrupt the mood for those paying their respects to have a gardener trundling around with a mower for a couple of hours. These particular pressures have encouraged the War Grave horticulturalists to be innovative in planting designs and in the equipment they use. Petrol lawn mowers were introduced in the 1920s; and many of the mechanical tools developed for the CWGC have since become standard domestic gardening tools and equipment.

Climate change has its own requirements and a proactive approach has been taken. Drought tolerant planting, including turf have been introduced and trialled.

So next time you buy a poppy for Remembrance, important though it is as a symbol, remember it’s not the only flower that grows in Flanders fields.

 

 

 

For garden design and planting ideas; or Christmas gift vouchers for garden lessons in your own garden from a qualified teacher, why not drop us an email? info@plewsgardendesign.co.uk

Plants that tell the time

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Mirabilis jalapa

Or should that be “Plants that tell the ‘thyme’”?

The Victorians loved their bedding plants, and parks and private gardens would have intricate designs made from flowers; including clocks and the royal coat of arms. But this blog isn’t about flowers displayed as a giant timepiece in your garden, although that would make an interesting change in a front garden.

In fact, in some ways it’s a misnomer, as all plants can tell the time; possibly better than many of us with our dependence on watches and mobiles for alarms to wake us up. Perhaps we should be using a dandelion clock? Not quite, blowing the seeds off a dandelion head is more accurate for increasing the spread of the dandelion than telling the correct time by the number of puffs it takes.

So when your dahlias start waking up an hour before the sun rises – everyday they’re in bloom, regular as clockwork – and you struggle with the snooze button…how do they do it? Quite clever really, there’s a pigment in the plant that reacts to the increase or decrease in the amount of daylight; well to be more precise, the lack of light or darkness of night. This enables plants to open their petals at sunrise and close them at sunset. It is also part of the system whereby plants live their lives; knowing when seeds need to germinate and when leaves should fall.

Some flowers are really accurate in their sun watching. Sunflowers track the course of the sun as it moves across the sky, turning those beautiful heavy heads of yellow to mirror the golden sun. There are many plants and flowers which seem to have a favourite time of day to open their blooms or close their leaves. A favourite of mine is the ‘Four o’clock plant’ or Mirabilis jalapa. This beauty has fragrant flowers in the evening, and can be grown as an annual or a tuberous perennial (like dahlias). It is a stunner at this time of year in particular, cheerfully throwing out petals of yellow, pink and cream all blending together on the same plant and even on the same flower.

Mirabilis jalapa also known as ‘Pride of Peru’ opens its flowers in the late afternoon – hence ‘four o’clock plant’. It was introduced into Britain around 1633 by John Tradescant the Younger and has been around ever since, although subject as many plants have been, to the vagaries of fashion. The Tradescants, father and son, were instrumental in discovering many plants from the Americas – the brave new world – and bringing them back to the homeland. As early plant hunters in the Americas, Russia and North Africa we owe many plants in our gardens to their discoveries. We also owe thanks to the gardeners and botanists who took the seeds and plants and grew or tried to grow these strange herbs and trees in their own gardens and estates.

The botanist John Gerard was said to have grown the ‘four o’clock plant’ in his London garden. However, this might have been a different member of the mirabilis family as Gerard died in 1612. Of course the Spanish had been to Mexico and Peru  in the late sixteenth century and could well have returned with some seeds, which, courtesy of Drake and the other English privateers of Elizabeth Tudor’s reign , could have found their way into English gardens.

One last note about those ‘Pride of Peru’ seeds: black and hard coated they are poisonous, so don’t mistake them for seeds of the onion family. Store them in a safe place and sprinkle around in spring and you will have your scented, colourful timepiece in the garden. As for thyme, planted with the ‘four o’clock plant’, it would add a decorative and evergreen contrast.

For planting ideas or a re-design of your garden, why not drop us an email to talk about it?