Tag Archives: USA

Spring flowering bulbs

bulbs laid out ready to plant

bulbs laid out ready to plant

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tulip 'dolls minuet'

Tulip ‘dolls minuet’

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

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

Narcissus 'jetfire'

Narcissus ‘jetfire’

For vibrant displays:

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

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

Hyacinth 'Delft blue'

Hyacinth ‘Delft blue’

For softer shades:

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

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

daffodils and pansies in patio container

daffodils and pansies in patio container

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

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

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

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


Strawberries and Wimbledon

strawberries in strawberry pot

strawberries in strawberry pot

Summertime brings major tennis tournaments for us to watch whilst eating the fruit of our labours in the garden; strawberries, raspberries, salads. In Britain we host Wimbledon for a couple of weeks in June and July.

One of the delights of a summer garden has to be picking your own strawberries and eating them straight away, sweet and still warm from the sun. Strawberries do well in containers, and in small areas; special strawberry pots with holes around the sides or hanging baskets both maximise space and are often easier to keep slug free. These could be kept outside or kept in a cool greenhouse for an earlier crop.

Kent growers supply virtually all the 8000 punnets of strawberries that tennis watchers eat daily throughout Wimbledon fortnight. Yes, you did read that right, nearly 8000 punnets of strawberries a day. On the positive side, they are local fruit, Wimbledon being in the South West of Greater London (or in Surrey, or London Borough of Merton, boundaries sometimes being in question) so it rubs geographical shoulders with The Garden of England.

strawberry flowers

strawberry flowers

Strawberries were eaten by the Greeks and Romans. This wasn’t the cultivated ‘garden’ strawberry (Fragaria ananassa) that we know today, but a much smaller fruit, the wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca). Although they’re both members of the rose family, the garden strawberry is a hybrid. It was first bred in Brittany, France in the 1750s, and then further developed in America; its parents are from both South America and North America. Nowadays, Kentish strawberries at Wimbledon are world famous, so it’s turned into a very cosmopolitan fruit!

Strawberries are also seasonal; ie this is the time of year for strawberries in the UK; which is why the legend of King George V introducing the eating of strawberries and cream whilst watching tennis at Wimbledon is so popular. In 1907, George V, then Prince of Wales attended Wimbledon and did eat strawberries and cream. But it is perhaps more memorable a date for being the first time the Centre Court was protected by a tarpaulin. Typical British summer weather, then!

pink roses

pink roses

As for the tradition of eating strawberries and cream, according to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, it started with the first Wimbledon tournament in 1877. So why strawberries and cream in particular? Well, we’re back to seasonality. We may now be able to eat strawberries year round, transported from various parts of the globe; back in 1877 it was a different story. Although frozen meat was beginning to be transported by this time (mutton was first shipped from Argentina to France in 1877) it involved quantities of ice. The first refrigerator patent was licensed in Germany in 1877; but it took a while for this to become a reliable method of preserving food. Strawberries are more difficult to transport any distance, as soft fruit is easily bruised and it’s more difficult to freeze them without causing discolouration and loss of taste, for example.

So what is the connection between tennis and the Monarchy? Apart from strawberry eating that is. ‘Real’ or ‘royal’ tennis is so-called to distinguish it from ‘lawn’ tennis – which is the game played at Wimbledon. There are ‘royal tennis’ clubs in both Boston (home of the Tea Party) and Washington in the USA. It’s known as ‘court tennis’ in America, to distinguish it from lawn tennis.

Hampton Court Palace royal tennis court

Hampton Court Palace royal tennis court

In Britain, Hampton Court Palace has its own indoor Royal Tennis Court, the oldest surviving ‘real’ tennis court still in regular use in England. It was part of the original Palace as rebuilt for Cardinal Wolsey in the early sixteenth century; before he thought it politic to give it to his lord and master Henry VIII. Henry Tudor must have played ‘real’ or ‘royal’ tennis in this court; he was quite an athlete in his youth. The court was last refurbished in the reign of Charles I, another tennis loving monarch.

Hampton Court is also known for its maze, its vine; its haunted gallery and the Royal Horticultural Society’s Flower Show in July; but that’s another blog…

Marie, Senior Partner, Plews Garden Design

Resolving your Gardening issues with inspirational ideas and flexible solutions

Are you on Facebook? We have a daily tip and photo you might enjoy – why not have a look?

strawberries in pot with birds

strawberries in pot with birds

Roses are red; violets are blue



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.



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



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’

Pumpkins, Hallowe’en and the Three Sisters Garden #2


Are you ready for the ‘trick or treat’ mob? Maybe this year you should quiz them in the uses of pumpkins and apples before handing out the sweets…or should I say turnips?
In the last post we looked at cultivating pumpkins, in this we look some of the links between pumpkins, apples and Hallowe’en.

Jack o’lantern is a term commonly used for the carved pumpkin faces seen at Hallowe’en. It originally described the eerie lights seen over marshes and peat bogs. These are also known as will o’ the wisp or ignis fatuus, literally ‘foolish fire’ or ‘false fire’. The lights are actually gases (including methane) caused by decaying organic matter – but I don’t think you’ll see them over the compost heap!

The origin of Hallowe’en dates back at least 3,000 years to the Celtic celebration of Samhain. This celebration, the Feast of the Dead, was held on October 31st and was a not a morbid festival, but one that honoured those loved ones who had died. It was one of the turning points of the Celtic year, the change from light to dark, from summer to winter. This was an agricultural society and the changing seasons were important markers in the year.

On the night of Samhain, glowing jack-o-lanterns, carved from turnips or gourds, were set on porches and in windows to welcome deceased loved ones and to act as protection against malevolent spirits. If you’re wondering why turnips, this is because pumpkins were introduced from the ‘New World’ by Christopher Columbus in the late 15th century, whereas turnips were grown throughout most Europe from Roman times or earlier. Oh and ‘jack o’ lantern’ when applied as a description to the carved out pumpkins dates from the 19th century.

Games were played, including one similar to the apple bobbing we indulge in now. The apple was important in Celtic mythology, an apple tree was found on the Isle of the Blessed. And the ‘bobbing’ may have reflected the heroes journey to obtain the magic apples. More prosaically, the apple harvest would be finished by Samhain so there would be plenty of apples to eat.

Pumpkins – winter squash – are an excellent crop for storing and will keep until February in the right conditions, cool, dark and frost free. As for what you do with the flesh scooped out from your Hallowe’en lantern, you could try pumpkin soup; a recipe we use can be found here.

For planting ideas to grow your Jack o’ lanterns for next year, why not drop us an email? info@plewsgardendesign.co.uk

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.

Tennis, bees, and the American connection


I’m torn this week between extolling the delights and gardens of RHS Hampton Court Flower Show, which finishes today, or the possibly less obvious attraction of July 4th and Washington’s ancestral home with its lovely Northumbrian garden.

Washington old hall gardens

With the Wimbledon finals happening as I post, Hampton Court, at least, can claim a tennis connection. The Palace has its own indoor Royal Tennis Court, the oldest surviving ‘real’ tennis court still in regular use in England. It was part of the original Palace as rebuilt for Cardinal Wolsey in the early sixteenth century; before he thought it politic to give it to his lord and master Henry VIII. Henry Tudor must have played ‘real’ or ‘royal’ tennis in this court; he was quite an athlete in his youth. The court was last refurbished in the reign of Charles I, another tennis loving monarch.  ‘Real’ or ‘royal’ tennis is so-called to distinguish it from ‘lawn’ tennis – which is the game played at Wimbledon.

Interestingly, as American Independence Day occurred during this last week, there are ‘royal tennis’ clubs in both Boston (home of the Tea Party) and Washington in the USA. It’s known as ‘court tennis’ in America.

Which sort of brings us to Northumberland, specifically Tyne & Wear, as the home, or at least part progenitor, of American Independence; George Washington’s family came from this beautiful part of the North East of England. Not that there’s a tennis court in the gardens, the place is less palatial and more approachable. They have a spade though, used by President Jimmy Carter in the garden when he visited; I guess his days as a peanut farmer came in useful with the digging. Thomas Jefferson, another US President, was also a peanut farmer. Not that the soil around Washington Old Hall would be good for growing peanuts; they do best in a more sandy soil. There is a nuttery within the gardens though; with Hazel trees, fruit trees and wild flowers to encourage and feed the bees that live in the hives there.

Although Jimmy Carter’s peanuts aren’t actually nuts –but I have promised you a blog on fruits and vegetables that aren’t what they claim to be, so that can wait… back to the nuttery and gardens. Meandering paths through the wild flowers and hazel trees, purple and green (Corylus avellana, for those who like to know the Botanical Latin) were perfect for slowing us down so we could watch as well as listen to the many birds living there. The gardens are set out as a parterre, as they would have been in the seventeenth century. This formal layout allows for both formal and informal planting inside the hedges and is a ‘look’ which translates well to the twenty-first century garden. Much inspiration and pleasure was found in a relatively small space.

Smaller spaces were also an attraction at Hampton Court Flower Show. The larger show gardens are lovely to wander through

Coral desert 

and admire, but the conceptual gardens have the ability to focus one’s mind on a particular idea. We both had favourites but were agreed that the Coral Desert in its blue glass tomb for coral reefs was very evocative in getting over the point that coral reefs will become dead deserts if climate change and pollution are not got under control and fast. Cacti and succulents acted the part of the endangered coral – it would have been a bit pointless to have dragged coral off its reef for the show…

We were also intrigued by coppiced eucalyptus (we will be trying this) and the purple water seen in a few of the gardens. Yes, you did read that right, purple water, with a bubble fountain so you could see it was really purple.  Finally, it was quite special to watch a new worker bee emerging from her cocoon of wax to join her sisters in the hive. Worker bees live for only 6 weeks and boy do they work hard; without them we wouldn’t have so much of the food and flowers we take for granted; and bees like coral are at risk of extinction.

And George Washington talked to the bees in his garden; well, he probably did… On which note, enjoy your garden!

If you’d like to talk to us about bee –friendly gardens, trees that have got too big for your garden or whether your lawn will cope with being under water if you’ve had floods, get in touch