Tag Archives: Trees

Autumn Pruning – some Questions and Answers


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 –


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


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



Winter Evergreens in your Garden and in your Home

WP pine

Pine WP

There has been a lot of talk about the garden being ‘a part of the house’ or ‘another room’; at this time of year the roles are reversed as we welcome greenery into our homes as part of our festive celebrations.

There are Christmas trees of pine or fir, Holly, Ivy and Mistletoe. Often other evergreens are added: laurels with their smooth glossy leaves, or Rosemary added to Christmas garlands for scent. Christmas trees are the most obvious festive evergreen that we take into our homes. But do you stop to ask yourself why?

Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, is celebrated as starting the tradition of Christmas trees (fir trees) in Britain in the mid nineteenth century; a tradition brought over from his native Germany.  However, it seems that the custom of decorated fir trees in Germany was begun in the seventh century or thereabouts by the English monk Boniface (later Saint Boniface). Legend has it that during the Winter Solstice, he came upon some pagans who were about to sacrifice a child at an Oak tree. That magnificent tree so beloved of the Druids was chopped down in one fell swoop of his fist by Boniface. (Sounds a bit like our Nathan, who’s well known for lifting tree stumps with his little finger). And lo, at the roots was growing a small fir tree, so Boniface had the fir tree become the symbol for Christmas.

Another suggestion is that the fir tree became the acceptable evergreen for Christmas decorations thanks to Martin Luther (founder of the protestant faith in Germany) in

WP pinetree

pine tree WP

the late fifteenth century. He was walking through the forest at Christmas time and was amazed by the beauty of the stars shining through the evergreen

branches of the fir trees. It reminded him of the Star of Bethlehem and so he cut down a tree, took it home and decorated it with candles so his family could share the delightful sight.

Nathan has added a further Christmas tree legend to this blog. The first Christmas tree was very probably put up and decorated in Latvia or Estonia in 1510 by the gild known as the Brotherhood of Blackheads or Schwarzhäupterhaus. Documentation also suggests that it was taken out into the market square and burnt as part of the celebrations; which brings us back to the pagan rather than Christian winter festivals where fires are lit to encourage the sun to return.

Holly and ivy appear in many Christmas carols and songs and come a close second to the Christmas tree in popularity when it comes to decorating the home.

Holly (Ilex Europea), or “ouch” as it is known at Plews (we often have to prune  Holly; and the leaves stay sharp even when dry) is a festive favourite with its shiny spiky leaves and bright red berries. A small sprig tops off a Christmas pudding, the berries mirroring the red of the cherries in the pudding itself. A welcome addition to garlands, Holly is probably best used where you won’t accidentally walk into it…

Ivy (Hedera helix) is another berry-laden evergreen; its rich black fruits are a delicacy for your garden birds but if you bring them indoors put them out of reach of any inquisitive toddlers, as they are toxic and can cause stomach upsets.

WP Holly_smooth_leaves

Holly_smooth_leaves WP


Both Holly and Ivy developed their spiky and poisonous leaves as a defensive measure, to prevent animals from eating them. Which is why, if you were to cut branches from higher up a holly tree, you would see that the leaves have serrated but not prickly edges. As for the birds eating the berries, they’re not poisoned, because their digestive systems allow them to pass the seed contained within the fleshy, outer part of the berry all the way through and out again.





As this is the last Plews blog of 2012, we’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year from all of us.

And if you have Christmas money to spend, but don’t fancy hitting the sales in the shops, we’d like to remind you about our Special Offers

, Gift Vouchers, maybe for gardening lessons in your own garden; and our  Winter eBook (available from Smashwords or Amazon).

Marie, Nathan and the rest of the Team

WP TrafalgarSquareChristmasTree

Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree WP



Plews Garden Design’s Christmas Tree


ChristmasTreeDec5WPAt the Winter Solstice, we decorated our Christmas tree, thereby covering various religions just in case the end of the world happened as foretold…ChristmasTreeDec1WP

The end of the world didn’t happen as we’re still here, so Plews thought we’d share our decorated tree with you, and wish you all Nadolig Llawen, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Glorious Yule, Winter Solstice joy, Happy New Year and all the good things you wish for yourselves and your gardens.












Plews Garden Design, resolving your gardening issues with a blend of scientific knowhow, creativity and practical application.

Marie, Nathan and the rest of the Team

And not forgetting our Best Worker of 2012: Sharpe ChristmasTreeDec3WP


Plews Garden Design: inspirational ideas; flexible solutions


Holly: a useful Christmas evergreen in your garden

WP espresso coffee cup

WP espresso coffee cup

This year’s weather has had a detrimental effect on the coffee bean crop: bad news for coffee lovers. Strictly speaking, coffee is from the beans of the Coffea shrub, a tropical evergreen. But there may be an alternative evergreen growing in your garden. Did you know that certain Holly leaves can be brewed to make a caffeine rich drink?

The leaves of several species of Holly (Ilex) contain caffeine and are used to make a stimulating drink. Holly is a species of both evergreen and deciduous broad leaved trees, shrubs and climbers ranging across both tropical and temperate zones. Whilst many readers will be thinking of either the European Holly (Ilex aquifolium Europea) or the American Holly (Ilex aquifolium opaca) it is the tropical and sub tropical species that are the richest (if that is the phrase) in caffeine.

WP holly variegated

WP holly variegated

The best known caffeine drink from Holly is yerba maté, made from the leaves of Ilex aquifolium paraguayensis. This South American sub tropical species grows naturally in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. Although the Spanish ‘yerba’ suggests it is an herbaceous plant, it is an evergreen tree. The leaves are not the prickly edged ones most Europeans and North Americans think of when visualising holly, but are glossy green with softly serrated edges. The berries or fruits are dark purple/red; an attractive contrast to the leaves.

As well as containing caffeine (rich in anti antioxidants), Holly leaves have anti-inflammatory properties and a high levels of vitamins. The beneficial properties of yerba mate don’t stop there. If normal coffee keeps you awake, may find these particular caffeine rich Holly leaves more to your taste. Although there are high levels of caffeine, enough to give you that ‘buzz’, the brew doesn’t seem to cause the ‘jitters’ that some people find an unwelcome side effect of coffee drinking.

The Maté tree has also been cultivated in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, where the refreshing brew is a popular drink. Yerba mate has quite a grassy taste, so not what you’d expect from coffee, more as you would expect from green tea; but with that caffeine ‘kick’ of course.

And as for the decorative and wildlife friendly uses that Holly can be put to in your garden, well, that’s another blog…or why not have a read of our eBook?

For more tales of Christmas evergreens, planting ideas for your winter garden, and a gallery of photographs and original sketches, why not add our eBook “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” to your Christmas present purchases? Available from Amazon and Smashwords in formats to suit PC, iPad and Kindle.

If you would like some garden design advice, so your winter garden looks like a wonderland, get in touch: info@plewsgardendesign.co.uk

WP Holly 'ferox'

WP Holly ‘ferox’

Christmas Trees and Cut Flowers


ChristmasTree2Some people like to buy their Christmas trees this weekend, at the beginning of December, around Advent Sunday, which this year is December 2nd. Those of you who are not fond of Christmas, Winter Solstice and Yule celebrations may wonder why having a needle –dropping plant in the house for four weeks could be seen as a good thing. So what could be done to reduce the needle dropping issue?

Firstly, if you are after a real not artificial tree, and needle dropping is an issue; look for a Nordman fir (Abies nordmanniana). This gorgeous pyramid shaped tree has luxuriant dark green needles which are less prone to dropping even when you forget to water it. However, the Nordman takes up a fair bit of room, being wide at the bottom. The Norway spruce (Picea abies) is slimmer and has that lovely resinous, “piney” aroma but does have a tendency to drop needles as soon as you look at it.

The majority of people who buy a real tree buy a cut tree rather than a rooted one, ie one still with its roots which continues to grow; so we’ll look at cut trees. Let’s say you’re after a six foot cut tree. If you from a reputable source, then it will be a farmed resource, by which I mean that it was grown specifically to be cut for Christmas. The tree will have been grown from seed for up to eight years in the open before being cut for the Christmas tree market. It will have been fed, watered and probably pruned to get that good traditional shape; lovingly nurtured, even. From a ‘green’ perspective, it will have been soaking up a lot of carbon dioxide in that time, so this should balance some of the carbon outlay in transporting it from the field to your home.IslBG

Your Christmas tree is a not so much a tree as a bunch of lilies from the florist -in so far as a cut tree is like a cut flower and needs similar treatment. Those needles are the tree’s leaves, which have been adapted over thousands of years to suit the habitat that pine and fir trees –conifers – grow in. Our Christmas tree is an evergreen, meaning it always has leaves and so has high water demands throughout the year. The narrow, resinous leaves have a reduced area for water loss through evaporation. But like the leaves in a bunch of cut flowers, the pine needles will wilt and die if they’re not given enough water and that’s up to us to provide, having cut off the trees roots.

When you get the tree home, take it into the garden; slice a section off the bottom of the trunk, just like you would cut the dried stem end from a bunch of flowers, this helps the tree to take up water. Remove the net the tree was wrapped in and give it a shake; the branches will start to return to their original lushness fairly quickly. Then put your Christmas tree in a bucket of water so it can have a good long drink to freshen up.

Keeping the tree outside or in a cool conservatory for as long as you can will help reduce the needle dropping and overall lifespan. Remember it will need water. When you’re ready to bring your tree indoors, try not to place it near a radiator or fire; display it in a stand that has a water reservoir, being sure to keep this topped up. Just like a vase of flowers. Decorate and enjoy.

For more tales of Christmas trees and mistletoe, planting ideas for your winter garden, and a gallery of photographs and original sketches, why not add our eBook “In Your Winter Garden with Plews Garden Design” to your Christmas present purchases? Available from Amazon and Smashwords in formats to suit PC, iPad and Kindle.


Woodland Highlights: December


Woodland Matters

Image: Annick Monnier Wikimedia CommonsDecember may be chilly but our woods still offer beauty. Frost is certain to be spreading its icy fronds across fallen leaves and branches this month. Hoar frost can be exquisitely intricate, its interlocking crystals form feathery, fern-like patterns.

Trees/shrubs… The holly tree is one of our only native evergreens. Its berries are a symbol of the festive season and are an important source of food for many birds and small mammals.

Plants… Mistletoe is another seasonal favourite. This semi-parasitic plant can be found on many trees, but favours cultivated apple trees, limes, poplars and hawthorn. It is more often found on open trees. In Britain it is most abundant in the south and west midlands. Ferns, mosses and lichens still adorn trees and woodland, these include the hart’s tongue fern with its long slender green leaves.

Fungi… Most seasonal fungi have disappeared, but wood blewitt’s may still be seen in December. Other fungi can be spotted all year round…

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A Jubilee celebration ‘wood’ be fine


Patriotic planting was the theme of last week’s blog and in some ways we ‘keep calm and carry on’ as the Jubilee Woods take centre stage – lots of newly planted trees in sixty Jubilee woods to celebrate the second monarch to reach her Diamond Jubilee.

In a spirit of biodiversity and patriotism, with a sense of community and history, the encouragement of both flora and fauna by the Woodland Trust is taking the form of a positively Triffid like invasion of trees across Britain, over 250 in total.  Although unlike the Triffids in John Wyndham’s tale of mobile alien plants that blind humans and then eat them, these many new trees include fruit trees for us to eat the fruit from.

All of the individuals and communities who planted trees to celebrate the Coronation of George VI in 1937 were making a statement of hope, that there would be people, their descendants and others, who would see those young saplings in their mature growth. King George’s daughter, our current Queen, was a sapling at her father’s coronation; now she is a mature tree, having reigned over us, sheltered us under her boughs, if you like, for 60 years. Time enough for any tree to grow and thrive. 

Designing a garden or landscape with trees in should be about the future as much as about the present. There was so much hype around the Chelsea Flower Show trees this year – fully grown trees to give the wow factor – that we could forget how long these remarkable plants take to grow. How, by our giving care to ensure they thrive, the trees repay us by soaking up CO2, by sheltering us when it rains, by offering shade on hot days, by feeding us with fruit…

Espalier fruit trees, trained fan-like against a wall or fence are a beautiful and bountiful sight and easy to fit in even small gardens; majestic oak trees need a bit more space than most of us have, but if you’d like one there are Royal Oak saplings to be had, grown form acorns on the Royal estates.

If you plant a tree, you’ll certainly have pleasure from it, but even those mature specimens may outlive you, so have the future in mind; it may be our children or their children who are able to fully enjoy the beauty and bounty. “I think that I will never see, a poem lovely as a tree” is a quote known to many, written by Joyce Kilmer and whether you like poetry or not, whether you’re a royalist or a republican, you’d be a fool not to appreciate trees.

If you’d like to know more or are thinking about planting trees do get in touch – arboriculture is the study, planting, maintenance, of trees shrubs and all woody perennials – and at Plews we love our plants.

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?