Tag Archives: Environment

Gardening tips for watering in the hot weather

oriental poppy

oriental poppy

Many parts of Britain are basking under a summer sun; and our gardens are potentially baking under a summer sun. How do we enjoy the fine weather, keep our flowers blooming , our grass green and still have an easy maintenance garden?

We would all like to have an easy life and a beautiful garden in the hot weather. There is the option of not having any organic planting whatsoever, but I will be looking at zero planted gardens in another blog, so we’ll leave that topic for now.

The two main areas to consider for hot weather gardening are watering and drought planting. Watering your garden during a sustained hot spell or drought is  a short term response to the weather. Drought planting is a longer term design plan to reduce the maintenance requirements of your garden in hot, dry summer weather and in cold icy winter weather.

The short term – what do I do about it now? – tips for reducing the amount of watering that needs to be done in your garden during a drought period can be broken down into three types: re-think what and when you water in the garden; reduce the amount of water needed; re-use water when you can.

As most people would prefer to spend their leisure time enjoying the weather rather than watering the garden we’re concentrating on easy maintenance options.

santolina in need of watering

santolina in need of watering

Focus on the plants that need watering; this sounds obvious, but many people use limited water supplies on tending their established shrubs first and have run out by the time they reach their tomatoes! Food crops have different watering requirements. Fruit bushes and trees need watering at key times such as pollination & fruit setting. Annual food crops such as peas and tomatoes need more frequent watering as they have a shallower root system.

Flower, shrub and tree borders planted this year will need watering too as they won’t have had time to send roots deep into the soil. A thorough watering of the roots is more effective than spraying water all over the soil or plants. Not all of your new plants will need watering everyday even in prolonged hot, dry summer weather if you’re thorough in your ‘root watering’ . Check the soil at root level by gently digging down; if it’s damp then the plant doesn’t need watering.

Established plants should rarely need watering. There will be some exceptions, flowering herbaceous perennials under the shade of a tree, for example. Pot plants and annual bedding will also need watering.

Lawns – when you’re in your local park have a look at the grassy areas. They haven’t been watered. Neither do you need to water your lawn at home; the grass will recover when it rains. Set your mower to a medium rather than short cut as the longer blades of grass tolerate drought better. The only exception is where you have a recently laid turf or seeded lawn. These will need regular watering for about six weeks after installation and will require you to water them during a prolonged period without rain in their first growing season.

newly laid lawn with edges of strips separating - not laid by Plews!

newly laid lawn with edges of strips separating- not laid by Plews!

When should you water? Water in the evening as this reduces evaporation; unless you have a slug/ snail problem in which case watering in the early morning is better. This reduces the moistness around the plants overnight, when those gastropods are most active.

Re-use water; how? Your water butt may be empty, but there’s plenty of spare water in western households. When you’re washing up dishes in the sink rather than the dishwasher, wash them in a bowl instead. The water can be tipped into a bucket outside the back door and used on your ornamental plants once it’s cool.

Put a bowl in the basin so when people wash their hands this water can be used as above. This ‘grey water’ doesn’t store without treatment so use within a day or two.

Do you need to run the tap to get hot water? Make sure the water is running into a basin not straight down the drain! As this is clean not ‘grey’ water it can be used on food crops as well as ornamentals.

tomato tigerella

tomato tigerella

If you need to feed your peppers and tomatoes, water them first, as they then absorb the feed more efficiently.

Whilst we need to get the water to the plants’ roots rather than the top level of the soil, the soil surface shouldn’t be crusted. This will cause both your watering efforts and the rain (when it arrives) to bounce off the surface rather than be absorbed, which is not what is wanted! Break the soil up with a hoe if necessary.

Drought planting or designing a garden which is sustainable in prolonged hot weather is a long term view, something which we would plan for at the beginning of a garden design. Part of the design brief and discussion would be to look at how hot the climate is and for how long; what is the water availability for watering ornamental plants; how much time does our client wish to spend maintaining the garden (watering, deadheading, pruning etc) ; and the size of their budget. It’s an interesting topic, relevant to sustainable gardening and easy or low maintenance gardening and worthy of a blog post in its own right. (Watch this space)

For more tips on watering your garden during a drought, check out our blog archives or drop us an email with your specific query. We like to help.

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

Marie Shallcross, Senior Partner

Chilean Glory Flower (Eccremocarpus scaber)

Chilean Glory Flower


Is RHS Chelsea Flower Show more eco-friendly than your Garden?

Giant Scabious and spider

Giant Scabious and spider

Answer: in all honesty, probably not. Why? Think of all those mature trees transported in from the continent; all that hard landscaping; all those thirsty plants that need gallons of water as they’ve just been transplanted (if you remember, last year we had the added problem of being in a drought situation); all the lawns that will need re-turfing after the show.

But maybe you don’t think your own garden is very ecofriendly either? You could be surprised, read through ‘The Ten Commandments of Ecofriendly Gardening’ and then you can decide for yourself.

One: Water conservation Parts of the UK have less rain than southern Spain; difficult to believe sometimes, but true. So a water butt is an essential part of your eco-friendly garden. You could also use the grey water from washing up bowls, showers and baths on ornamental plants. Water generously but less often to encourage deep rooting rather than shallow surface roots. Watering in the evening or early morning minimises evaporation, and direct the water at the soil not the plant. You could read one of our water or drought blogs from last year for more ideas.



Two: Right plant; right place This is partly about planting acid loving plants in acidic soil, but also about choosing drought tolerant plants for hot, sunny borders; and shade lovers for under trees. Most plants, once established, will manage with very little attention if they’re in the right location or habitat – easy maintenance gardening!  Right plant; right place is one of the starting points when we’re designing a planting scheme for a client, for it to work we need to know our plants and our soils.

Three: Use alternatives to peat Peat bogs are important ecosystems that took thousands of years to establish; when they’re gone, they’re gone forever. There won’t be peat used at Chelsea Flower Show as the RHS has been among those gardening organisations that now use alternatives. There are some good quality alternatives available, including those based on bark and sheep’s wool.

compost bin made of resycled plastic

compost bin made of resycled plastic

Four: Composting Definitely a holy grail of ecofriendly gardening; this is now actively supported by many local authorities, who collect your food and garden waste if you don’t want to or don’t have the space to.  I would encourage everyone who can to compost; there are different methods so there should be one to suit you, your family and your garden. We’ve talked about different composting systems in other blogs and in the eBooks, if you’d like to know more.

Five: Re-use non-biodegradable products This includes plastic plant pots, plastic bottles and plastic trays which can be used many times before being recycled. It also means, for example, using rubber car tyres as a soft surface under children’s play equipment.

Six: Exclude or at least minimise the use of unfriendly chemicals Is it acceptable in an otherwise organic and ecofriendly garden to use a glyphosate based weed killer to clear the weeds initially? I would say not, but I can understand why people prefer this as a quicker method.

crazy paving path

crazy paving path

Seven: Hard landscaping should be minimised Or to be more precise non-permeable hard landscaping such as pavers set in concrete should be minimised. Purists may be against even decking, but so long as there is plenty of planting as well, there’s nothing wrong and much that is practical and right with permeable hard landscaping. You could use re-cycled pavers for example, rather than letting them go to landfill.

Eight: Lighting is evil Light pollution confuses bats and birds, and can be irritating for your neighbours if it’s overdone. But we need some outdoor lighting, whether for security, for street lighting or because we’d like to enjoy our garden when we come home from work. See if solar lighting would be suitable to reduce electricity usage; and ask your garden designer and electrician to plan the lighting so that every day (or night!) lights are kept to the essentials only; but with plenty of scope for party fun.

Nine: Messy bits Also known as wildlife areas, bug hotels, nettle beds and log piles. These provide habitats for all those essential beasties that eat many of the garden pests. Some endangered species such as stag beetles need those log piles in domestic gardens in order to survive at all. Wildlife areas don’t need to be large so most gardens can find a small corner for a messy bit. You could for example, leave a pile of leaves at the back of a border behind the shrubs; perfect for a hedgehog to hibernate in.

bug hotel

bug hotel

Ten: Grow your own and buy local Growing some of your own food, whether this is a few salad leaves in a shallow tray, some herbs on the windowsill, an espalier apple tree along the fence or a fully fledged ornamental kitchen garden is very satisfying. Plews offers lessons in your own garden which can help a novice gardener learn the right way to hold a spade and to transplant seedlings, and there are plenty of evening courses at colleges around the country too.

raised beds with vegetables

raised beds with vegetables

With ‘buy local’ I’m thinking not so much about the salads as about the trees and other imported plants. We have many excellent nurseries in this country capable of growing most of the ornamental plants we want for our gardens, but sometimes we need to bring in trees or shrubs from elsewhere. If all plants coming into the country were properly quarantined we would not be in the situation that we are in where many of our native species – Ash, Oak, Horse Chestnut for example – are under major threat and may disappear like the English Elm did as a result of the 1980s Dutch Elm disease.

A cautionary note to finish on perhaps, but there is a positive, as if you were to start following only one or two of ‘The Ten Commandments of Ecofriendly Gardening’ you would be making a difference. After all, even oak trees start as acorns…

Marie, Senior Partmer, Plews Garden Design

If you’d like an ecofriendly garden designed,  gardening lessons or gardening advice on any of the topics covered, please get in touch:
Email: info@plewsgardendesign.co.uk
Or ring us: 020 8289 8086



Compost – the smell of a successful Garden


serious composting in a large garden

Clay soil, sandy soil, whatever the soil in your garden, it can be improved by adding compost, aka organic matter.

Garden compost should be rich and dark, smelling almost sweetly of earth; if it smells ‘off’ or rancid then there isn’t enough oxygen in the compost, and it probably isn’t decomposing properly. The texture of compost which is ready to use on your garden soil is crumbly, like breadcrumbs, and it’s acceptable to have some bigger pieces of twig or leaf in the mix. Compost should be slightly damp, and warm, especially if it’s from a newly turned heap. If it’s too dry, add some water and allow time for that to soak through before adding the compost to your soil.



So why would you want to add compost to the soil? It’s plant food. Well, strictly speaking, its soil food, but the plants benefit. Dug into the soil it improves the drainage of heavy clay soils and the water retention of sandy ones. It provides food for the earthworms who do all sorts of wonderful things to improve soil quality, not least helping with the release of essential nutrients from the compost into the soil. This in turn benefits the plants, enabling their roots to soak up all that composted goodness, which leads to both better food crops and ornamental plants.

But if you don’t want to, or are not able to dig your garden compost into the soil at root level, then you could use it as a soil and plant mulch instead. Applied as mulch onto the soil surface, compost can reduce the need for watering; keep plants cool in summer and warm in winter.

If you only have small quantities of compost then you need to direct it where it will do the most benefit. Using organic compost as a mulch in planting holes and as mulch around hungry food crops and specimen ornamentals is more effective than throwing it around willy–nilly.

compost bin and fuschia

compost bin and fuschia

Check out our linked ‘compost’ video on YouTube; where Nathan demonstrates how to turn compost and check it for quality and readiness for use.

Whatever your soil, sometimes there is a need for digging in some black gold. Do you really want to be faced with this when you go to plant the lavender bush you were given for your birthday?

Did you know that the first organised landfill was happening c5000 years ago in Crete? Now we’re running out of landfill space at a frightening rate, it seems crazy not to compost kitchen & garden waste, thereby reducing the quantity of material needing landfill.


compost layers

Plus, the more we compost, the more we reduce the methane gas leaching from landfill into the atmosphere and so help reduce global warming.

If you’re not able to compost your kitchen and garden waste then see if your local council offers a collection service – and if not petition them to start – it really is a waste not to!
An earlier blog on the website explaining different ways of composting in your garden can be found here

Or treat yourself to one of the Plews eBooks“In Your Winter Garden” where we have even more on compost, soil and the worms in your garden, is currently reduced in price.

And if you need help with composting or any other gardening issues, why not get in touch? At Plews we love to Resolve Your Gardening Issues



Spring Gardens: “sow” much to do



Feeling overwhelmed with spring cleaning tasks in the garden? Why not take some time out to relax with Plews & discover how soap is made from your garden plants; you do after all need soap in order to get things clean.

Spring cleaning in your garden is one part of the general tidying and cleansing that we indulge in or make ourselves take part in over the year. Spring cleaning as a tradition has a number of origins, from ritual cleansing for religious festivals such as the Jewish Passover to the more mundane reasons of March being warm enough to have the windows and doors open to sweep the winter dust away.

In the garden this may include spring lawn tasks such as scarifying, last minute pruning of apple trees, buying seeds and cleaning pots and seed trays. Because there are so many potential chores that need our attention, I thought a quick foray down memory lane to look at some garden plants that have been used for spring cleaning in the past.

It could be fun and economical to use homemade soaps and cleaners to clean both your house and garden; by garden, I’m thinking mainly about paths, patios, decking, greenhouses; garden tools and of course plant pots and seed sowing equipment. Alternatively, you may just enjoy reading about it and letting someone else do the hard work! Museums and historic houses frequently use the softer traditional alternatives to modern detergents for washing delicate fabrics, so if you’re a devotee of vintage clothing, you may like to try out them out too.

We have been using soap, rather than just water, for cleaning at least 5000 years. Archaeology also shows that the Romans used to plant Soapwort (Saponaria officianalis) near their bathhouses to use the leaves as part of washing themselves clean. If you fancy a go at making your own soap with Soapwort, the process is quicker using the leaves than the roots, although the roots would seem to make the more efficient soap.



The Romans also used the oil from Olive trees (Olea Europea) as a soap base. If your Olive tree has fruit you may like to try the following (the extract is taken from our eBook “In Your Spring Garden”)

“Olives, the quintessential tree of sun drenched Mediterranean slopes and groves are relatively hardy in more temperate areas of Europe and North America. Olive oil was the main ingredient in the original ‘castille’ soap. Mixed with a little wood ash it makes an historical and fairly useful soap. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and Beech (Carpinus betulus) are both good ash to use, but Apple (Malus) results in a paler soap. The resulting soap is abrasive, so if preferred the oil can be strained; add scented oils or dried flowers for perfume.”



old toothbrushes for cleaning seed trays

old toothbrushes for cleaning seed trays




This homemade soap could be used for cleaning out your seed trays ready for sowing those seeds that need to be started indoors. An old toothbrush is good for getting into the crevices so that no old soil or growing media is left that might cause problems.

For cleaning larger decks and patios for clients, our Nathan likes a pressure washer to be used. In keeping with the ‘homemade’ theme, he suggests that vinegar can be used with a stiff brush to remove mould and moss from a wooden shed. The addition of vinegar helps reduce the likelihood of them returning, as vinegar is a weed killer.

For more on seed sowing there’s a short blog on the website but for more information and gardening tips about your garden in spring, why not look at our new eBook “In Your Spring Garden”

“In Your Spring Garden” eBook would make a good Mothers Day or Easter present for the gardener in your life.



Recycling in your Garden

a heap of plastic pots

a heap of plastic pots

Why not make a New Year’s resolution for your garden that’s easy to keep, good for your purse and good for the planet?

Recycling, although a better phrase for it may be ‘re-using’, is easy to accomplish with minimum effort, certainly once you’re in the habit. So if you were to start today, it would be a habit by the end of the month, and so virtually second nature. Smug expressions all round?

To begin then; lets outline a few different types of recycling.  Composting is the most obvious method of re-using ‘waste’ and turning it into something useful. Rather than repeat myself, our blog with more details on compost can be found here and in the archives, and there’s more in our eBook “In Your Winter Garden” too. Briefly then, compost is where waste food, dead flowers, prunings, lawn clippings and so on, are turned by worms into a rich substance that improves and enriches your soil and enables you to grow food crops for your table and flowers for adornment.

compost bin made of resycled plastic

compost bin made of resycled plastic

All you basically have to do is layer green, nitrogen rich items (grass, vegetable peelings) with brown, carbon rich ones (paper, dead twigs) in  a compost bin (bought or made); add worms and wait.  However if you don’t have the room for a compost bin, many local councils now both offer food and garden waste collections, so you can still develop the good habit.

Cardboard egg boxes can be added to your compost or paper recycling, but why not use them as containers for chitting your seed potatoes first? Placing the potatoes, bud uppermost, in the egg compartments keeps the delicate newly formed buds on the potato safe. Chitting, by the way, is where you start off your early potato crop before planting them in the ground by encouraging little shoots and roots to form from the buds or ‘eyes’ on the potato tuber first.

egg boxes waiting to be re-used

egg boxes waiting to be re-used

Another use for egg boxes is as mini plant pots, once the seedlings get going, the seedling and ‘pot’ can be transplanted together into a bigger pot or seed bed. Watering the seeds and seedlings will of course cause your egg boxes to get soggy and potentially fall apart, even if you use the lid as a base. The answer? Put the egg box into an empty plastic meat or mushroom container – the perfect drip tray and another method of re-using items! Naturally these plastic trays can be used as drip trays for pots and plastic seed trays too. They’re also useful when you go away on holiday (ski-ing anyone?) as they can act as water reservoirs for house plants and in the greenhouse.

Ok, you’re sitting there, reading this and thinking “that’s all very well, but what do I do with that teetering pile of plastic plant pots?” One solution coming up: sort through them, putting split, or really dirty ones to one side in a recycling box as they are recyclable, either collected from your house or taken to your local depot. Then go through what’s left, being ruthless about how many you really need. Those you don’t need put in a bin liner, then go onto a recycling site such as Freecycle and offer them to others who may need them; or offer them to a local charity, school or church that does plant sales. If nobody wants them then recycle with the broken pots: sorted.

These are only a couple of ideas – we have plenty more! But ‘little by little’ or ‘every little positive action helps’ are not bad principles. So if you’d like us to share some more of our re-using tips – just ask/ comment below – we’ll be happy to oblige.
Continue to email us with your queries at info@plewsgardendesign.co.uk and we will continue tohelp resolve your gardening issues, on and off site in 2013.



Water in the Garden


Water has been something of a headliner in Britain this year. Too much water covering the soil and most plants will drown but what about the soil itself?

If, like some of our clients, your garden is in a high water table area, you may find the winter rains bring a period of standing water to your garden. Or your concern may be for the flooding that you’ve suffered this year and the effect it will have on your garden and the plants not just in the short term, but next year.

Standing water is a term more scientifically used to describe a permanent feature, for example, a brackish water pool in a peat bog (dystrophic standing water, if you’re interested in the scientific definition). The standing water can be a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) if providing a habitat for interesting or rare fauna (animals, including invertebrates) and flora (plants). For example, standing water which is classified as eutrophic water is very rich in minerals, plant and animal life. Many of these are large lakes and are worryingly under threat from pollution, especially from the over use of agricultural fertilisers which then seep into the water.

The term standing water also covers the small pond in your garden and the reservoir that was at very low levels this spring and is now full. You may not be bothered about your pond lapping at the lawn edges but you may well be concerned with the longer term effect that those other puddles of standing water in your garden will have on your plants, from the lawn to the apple trees.

If you have well-drained soil, the water will find its way through even though it takes awhile. And because your soil is fundamentally free-draining there should not be too much damage to your plants and lawn in the longer term. So those of you on a light, sandy don’t need to worry about the plants drowning. However, you do need to worry about the nutrients being washed away with all the excess water. Plan to add plenty of organic matter (OM) once the threat of standing flood water has gone. This will improve the overall water retentive equalities of your soil as well as replacing those essential Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium (NPK) minerals needed by all plants.

Those of you with heavy clay soils, the sort that sticks to your wellies and might be better used to make pots than grow carrots, have a problem. NormallyI wouldn’t suggest going near your wet clay soil with a spade, but this is one of those times when you should. If you have any choice plants that you really don’t want to lose – and assuming we’re not talking about a 30 foot tall tree or a well established shrub – then digging it up for the short term is a solution. Put it in a pot with some good, peat free potting compost so it can, quite literally, breathe again.

Next look to your soil and the worms living in it. Why worms?

Extract from eBook –worms…
“Worms are brilliant. But why are worms so important? Briefly, their burrowing in the soil to move around creates channels for air to circulate and water to drain through. Some of the tunnels can be a few feet deep, this especially important for those who garden on heavy, clay type soils as such deep and constant activity really improves the soil quality. Plants need air at their roots in order to breathe and they need water; soil air and soil water fit in the spaces between the soil particles. Worms help to create those spaces and maintain them.”

And worms can drown in standing water. You may not be able to rescue them individually, but by planning to add plenty of OM to your soil once the floods subside you’ll give them a better chance of survival next time. And those worms who survived the overdose of water will thank you for the yummy worm food which OM is by helping to spread it through your soil; which is of course good for your plants too.

If you have a wormery, and you know that a lot of rain is forecast, it is a good idea to provide a cover as even worms in a wormery may drown (I have seen this, not a pretty sight). A slightly raised waterproof cover is best, as a tightly fitting plastic tarpaulin could suffocate the worms if you forget to remove it.

There are many reasons why you might have a problem with standing water in your garden; from an underwater stream to next door’s extension and huge patio. We can help with resolving the issue, beginning with a consultancy or advisory visit and possibly progressing on with a redesign to include raised beds and rain gardens.


Our eBook “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” would make a great present – downloads are available for kindle, iPad, & PC on Smashwords and Amazon

For garden advice visits or design and planting ideas drop us an email with your needs: info@plewsgardendesign.co.uk

Apples:Designing the Garden of Eden?


Designing a garden to include lots of fruit is always satisfying: at this time of year my imagination leaps off the page and sees next year’s mini orchard in full harvest. Apple trees are especially popular – did you know that Britain is “apple monarch of the world” with over 2000 varieties available?Image

This year’s weather has affected the apple harvest, by reducing the quantity and quality, and generally giving a later harvest. A single apple tree can produce up to 200 apples and live for 100 years, so there is time for another harvest, a better harvest.

Not sure when to pick your apples? If they’re dropping to the ground as ripe rather than unripe ‘windfalls’ then it’s time to start picking. Cup the apple in your hand and twist gently; they should drop easily into your hand. Not all the apples may be ripe at the same time, so it may take 3 ‘goes’ at picking before the whole tree has been cropped.

What if you don’t have an apple tree of your own? If you’re thinking of buying one or two, now is an excellent time to taste different varieties and see which you prefer. You may find a good selection of apples at your local farmers market or farm shop. If you fancy them fresh off the tree why not find out if there’s an apple tasting day near you?

There are apple festivals aplenty – including one at Brogdale, home of the National Fruit Collection, where they’re also celebrating their diamond jubilee this year, just like Queen Elizabeth II. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale houses the world’s largest collection of temperate fruit on a single site. To see row upon row of apple trees is an impressive sight. And then you move on to the pear trees, the quince, the medlar, the plums, the cherries…

Choosing an apple tree isn’t just about taste of course, the size of the tree, whether you’d like a free standing tree or a trained form are also important considerations. Trained forms are particularly suitable for smaller areas as they make use of often overlooked space, for example, training an espalier along a fence. Single cordon apples can be grown in a large pot, ideal for a patio; I remember seeing some of these at Trinity Buoy Wharf many years ago, as part of ‘growing food in the city’ project.

But perhaps you fancy a tree with history? If you’re a scientist perhaps the Isaac Newton tree might appeal? The story an apple landing on his head in 1667 thus leading to Newton’s laws on gravity may tempt you to have an offspring of the same tree. The original tree stood in the garden of Newton’s home at Woolsthorpe manor, in Lincolnshire, and over the years grafts have been taken to grow new Newton trees. It is claimed that the original is still there, having regrown after falling over in a storm.

ImageThe Egyptians were among the first people to grow apples – apart from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, I suppose. But the first person to grow the world famous Bramley cooking apples was Mary Ann Brailsford in the family home in Nottinghamshire in the early 19th century. If you’re wondering why they’re not called ‘MaryAnn’s’ that’s because the family moved away and it was a man called Bramley who owned the tree when some fifty years later a local nurseryman took cuttings and grew the fruit and trees commercially.

So what else do you need to know? Apple trees are sold as scions or grafts onto a rootstock. Basically, the rootstock determines the ultimate size of the tree whilst the scion will give you the variety of fruit. You’ll also need more than one, or need your neighbours to have a tree as well, as apples are not self-fertile.

In the meantime, taste away!Image

Water, water everywhere


With British rowers winning the first gold medal for the UK in these Olympics, my thoughts turned to water as inspiration for this week’s blog.

We certainly seem to have had a lot of issues with water in Britain this year, drought, hosepipe bans, floods, Wales and Northern Ireland had their wettest June since 1910 and even the Olympic flame got doused. We should have known that once we declared a drought we’d get a flood…

When we knew we were short of water, with many reservoirs only half full after a dry couple of winters, some of us planned ahead. Water butts came into their own in gardens and on allotments, and various water conservation and recycling tips were to be had – not least from Plews Garden Design, determined to keep your gardens growing.

Rainwater, pouring off roofs and into gutters then diverted from downpipes into water butts and carefully conserved.  Then the stored water was used to irrigate food crops, new plantings, ‘fussy’ plants such as camellias that find tap water too full of chlorine and other chemicals and of course the water was also to keep ponds topped up so fish, newts and tadpoles survived.

This collection and use of what would otherwise be wasted clean water straight into the sewage system is something that many of us partake in. we do it regardless of rain, flood, drought because it seems an obvious thing to do, an easy task to accomplish, an environmentally sound pursuit, an occupation to be praised.

After all, no-one else is going to use the rainwater are they? It doesn’t belong to anyone in particular, it belongs to all of us and none of us; it just falls from the sky and is either soaked up by plants and soil or runs off hard surfaces into the drains. By collecting it and using the rainwater in our own gardens we’re reducing the amount of water that gets washed away.

May I suggest that you don’t move to the State of Oregon in the USA. “Oregon law that says all of the water in the state of Oregon is public water and if you want to use that water, either to divert it or to store it, you have to acquire a water right from the state of Oregon before doing that activity.” This law includes rainwater that falls on your land. Interestingly, if you collect the water from your roof as many of us do, that’s ok. But if the rain is collected in your pond, or sits in puddles on your lawn then it doesn’t belong to you.

An interesting concept?  Or a crazy law? Could it happen here? You tell me.

If you would like some design advice, or a consultancy on how to manage the water – or lack of it – in your garden, we have the inspiration and the know- how to help you ‘go for gold’

A Weed is a Plant in the Wrong Place


A truism that we gardeners are guilty of quoting too often; I think I prefer the advice we give to ‘newbies’:  “If it pulls out easily, it wasn’t a weed” – generally as they stand there looking as pathetic as the weeded bit of flora in their hand; nature can be cruel…

I posed the question “is it a weed?” in an earlier blog and promised a follow–up – which this is. So what is a weed? It might be a plant in the wrong place; it could be a species native to Britain – a wild flower that attracts bees and butterflies.

But is it a weed? If we assume for now that a weed is a plant growing where it’s not wanted in a garden situation, then we see a lot of weeds during our working week! The’ ‘most wanted’ list includes ivy, bindweed, dandelion, nettle, green alkanet, bramble and ground elder. These are all perennial weeds with strong root systems, which is why they’re successful at colonising less cultivated areas of a garden, and why they’re difficult and time consuming to get rid of.  Let’s look at a couple of the climbers which cause problems.


Ivy, Hedera helix, common or English ivy, is native across much of Europe and is often grown as an ornamental. Its berries are

a good winter food source for many birds and the flowers are nectar rich. So why is it a weed? In many parts of Australia and the USA  it is labelled as an invasive species; in the states of Oregon and Washington, sales of it are banned and it is listed as a noxious weed – as Japanese knotweed is in the UK.

Ivy is a survivor, it can spread easily through seed dispersal (birds and small animals are the main agents here). The stems have short root like growths but these only enable it to cling to tree trunks, fences and so on. Although it is not a parasite, the density of growth is what causes the problem. The thick cover of ivy covering the ground prevents other plants from taking root and growing and it has the ability to spread quickly over large areas. Kept in check in a garden situation it can be beneficial, offering evergreen cover to disguise ugly vertical spaces and shelter for wildlife.

Bindweed & Clematis

The bindweed mostly found in gardens is Calystegia sepium, hedge bindweed, rather than Convolvulus arvensis which is the field bindweed. This latter has smaller, pink tinged flowers as compared to the white flowers of hedge bindweed. A pretty looking climber, the common name gives the clue as to why they’re not good to have romping through your borders! The stems can strangle clematis, sweet peas, French beans and the new growth on shrubs. Bindweed is tricky to get rid of because it entangles around other plants, a quick yank can pull up your pea plant as well as the bindweed. A better ploy is to snap the stem off near the ground, let it wilt and loosen its hold and then gently pull. Even then you may need to break the stem in a few places if it’s seriously intertwined with your wanted plant. The roots are white, regenerate from the smallest of pieces and may go down as far as 15 feet.

There are different methods of removal, but these will take two or more years, assuming that the bindweed isn’t coming into your garden from a patch of wasteland the other side of the fence. A week’s holiday could mean you return to bindweed as an uninvited guest. But don’t be disheartened. Painting the young leaves with an organic herbicide early in the season is a start; as is vigilance to pullout stems as soon as they’re spotted in the border. The pulled up and dug out stems, leaves and roots can be turned into a compost tea but remember not to put them directly into your compost bin!

We have other ways of making most weeds turn into something useful as well as getting them out of your garden, but then, you’d expect us to, wouldn’t you?

If you would like some advice, perhaps a consultation visit on how to de-weed and de-pest your garden in an easy, environmental way  giving yourself more time just to sit and enjoy the sunshine, get in touch.

Show Chelsea a Flower


There is, funnily enough, a showy element to this week’s blog. It is that time of the year again after all, when the media and the Garden Design world all start patting each other on the back or sniping behind the aforesaid backs. Chelsea Flower Show can bring out both the best and worst in people.

Show Chelsea a flower and she may start sneezing; many people are allergic to pollen from one or more plant species. The London Plane trees that line the avenue at Chelsea (a permanent feature) are known to cause grief to many visitors as this is the exact time of year when the Plane trees’ pollen brings out the sneezes and wheezes; the infamous ‘Chelsea cough’.

Trees have been something of an issue at the Show this year; some of the designers have trawled the world, it seems, for the tallest or widest specimens; thereby causing a few headaches for those organising the event as some of the aboricultural delights only just fit through and on site. Importing trees for a short time in this way has to raise questions about sustainability and the environment.   Not just trees of course; importing Chinese slate when we have Welsh slate near to hand belongs to a similar dispute. But it is the trees that have made the headlines. At a time when London and the south east is suffering from a drought which was pretty much on the cards when this year’s gardens were being designed, was it a responsible action? Not only have the trees been imported (carbon footprint etc, etc, etc) but as they are such large specimens and have been recently transplanted they will require gallons and gallons and gallons more of water.

As someone who designs largely drought tolerant gardens (which fall nicely into the ‘easy maintenance’ brief of many of our clients) and who knows many other designers and landscapers who likewise incorporate a raft of environmentally friendly aspects into their work, one can be majorly irritated by the display of showmanship or see it as childishness. But there are plenty of designers showing at Chelsea who have not succumbed to this attitude. Their trees are native species, or sourced from nearer to home; or smaller specimens; or no trees at all, just shrubs and flowers. These, perhaps are the gardens to praise, these are the gardens that delight in showing that size is not everything…

Chelsea Flower Show is a showcase; it should be an inspiration – for designers, creatives, and for the ‘general public’ (whoever they are). It usually is an inspiration. It should also be an education; and yes it is, there are gardens and displays that tell us how we can live a life that balances computers and smart phones with bee friendly outdoor spaces.

Back to those pollen laden plane trees that are making Chelsea sneeze…Platanus x hispanica is found across London and other cities. It is very tolerant of pollution and of the root compaction that urban trees also have to deal with. Root compaction from the amount of hard surfaces rather than soil surrounding them and from the constant flow of traffic pounding the earth into a hard state.  Deciduous, so showing a tracery of branches over the winter and with palmate, ie hand-like, leaves and a peeling bark which is its most appealing feature (!) this tree is not native to the UK. Colloquially known as the ‘London Plane’ it has become a largely accepted immigrant, although there is still not full agreement on its antecedents; the ‘x hispanica’ nods in the direction of one of its most likely parents, the Spanish plane tree. Flowering time? May –June, of course: just in time for the Chelsea Flower Show!

It is of course a patriotic year, with both the Queen’s Jubilee and the Olympics appearing on the national calendar. So in her hunt for flowers, our Chelsea is likely to make a bee-line for the Great Pavilion and probably need a sniff of Rosa ‘Queens Jubilee Rose’ and Rosa ‘Royal Jubilee’. These are obvious contenders for RHS ‘Plant of the Year’ award. Roses, also being pollen bearers, may cause an allergic reaction, as may the perfume, either to nose or skin. But hopefully, these celebratory roses, whilst scented, will not cause too many sneezes or skin itches. They are lovely looking roses and their scent promises to be good too.

Oh and while Chelsea does like her flowers, she’s also into hair styles – so let’s hear it for the Chelsea Fringe – a series of events and open gardens running from today (May 19) until June 10. http://www.chelseafringe.com

And whether you’re seeing Chelsea for real, watching it on TV or your computer, Plews can help you with the view you see every day – your own garden. For ideas that are inspired not just by Chelsea but by the many wonders of the world around us,  why not contact us and let us design and build you a sneeze free garden?