Garden School:


Garden School:
Teaching this week: Rose pruning (as always!) and leaf mold.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Alchemilla Slaughter time!

Yes, it's that time of year: the Alchemilla mollis is starting to change from bright yellow to mucky brown, and that is the sign that it is seeding, and therefore it's time to get out there and chop it, before it sets seed everywhere around the garden, which means that you will spend the next seven years weeding out the seedlings.

What - hadn't you heard that phrase? "One year seed, seven years weed." That's what they say.

So, Alchemilla - how do we do this, then? There are two ways - well, three really.

1) Carefully dead-head each flowering stalk back to one or two leaves.

2) Chop everything back right to the bone.

Both of those two options have plus points and minus points.

Carefully dead-heading does give a better immediate effect, in that it leaves you with a fair bunch of leaves. But it takes a long, long time to do, if you have any  number of the plants. (And if you have one A.mollis, there is a very good chance that you have a lot of them...)

Chopping right back is quick and easy, but it leaves it looking awful for a couple of weeks, until the new flush of fresh lovely young leaves arrive to give you pretty domes of foliage again.

So the in-between stage, option 3) is to cut back all the flowering stalks right to the base of the plant, but to leave as many of the individual leaves as look fresh and respectable, removing any browned, floppy or tatty ones.

It's easy to get the flowering stalks: if you part the plant in the middle - and most of them have been parted what you might call naturally, by the rain - and trace one of the flowering stems right to the bottom, you will see that it has a number of brown collars around it. So just find all the thick stems with these brown collars, and chop them off as close as you can to the base.

Then go round again, removing tired leaves, but leaving any that seem quite fresh.

Here I am back at the Prairie Beds again, the Alchemilla is just starting to go over, and you can see that the poppies are pretty much done.
Here we are, ten minutes later.

Oh my! What a difference!

I know, it looks all bare and tatty, even though I have exercised option 3 and have left a few of the freshest leaves.

But look! Clumps of red grasses are emerging from being completely smothered.

And within a couple of weeks, they will be looking smart again.

To finish this section, I also removed the fringe of small poppies at the front, as they look so scruffy. We leave the big ones in place to go to seed, the idea being to encourage the biggest and best of them each year.

So there you are, five minute lesson in How To Chop Alchemilla mollis. Basically, just be brave!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Fish, Newts and the Yard

Whew, I believe this what is called a "busy period".  I've had a shed-load of work to do, I have a botany exam coming up in less than three weeks, I've just completed my final Plant Stall of the year, and I've finally managed to do a stock-check of the Yard.

Firstly, the Yard.

All is going well: I now have 485 plants up there, and it's starting to look like a proper nursery (albeit one run on a shoestring). I was having problem with the wind blowing the plants over, so I spent some time putting "backs" onto as many of the benches as possible.

Here they are, showing the cunning construction technique of "nailing bits onto a pallet".

Not exactly skilled carpentry, and my father would be turning in his grave if he could see it, but hey, it was cheap! It was quick! It works!

The amount of falling plants has been substantially reduced.

The yard is a bit of a wind-tunnel, I am discovering, but there's not a lot I can do about that.

Meanwhile, the Tank continues to work well: I fixed up a strainer to the downpipe, to avoid ever having to bail the thing out again, and it works really well. Every so often, particularly after a downpour, I just tip out the contents.


Here's a typical strainer-full after a lot of rain.

As you can see, all sorts of stuff gets washed down.

And what of the fish?

Well, since the "soup" incident I've left a board across the top of the tank, shading about a third of it, which might have helped to reduce the general green-ness of the water.


To prove that they really exist, here they are just after I put them back in the cleaned-out tank: can you see them?

Scott is the big one at the bottom, then there's Bill facing the other way, then above them - I'm looking down from above, obviously - is Bram Tanking, the pale orange one.

They seem to be perfectly happy in murky water, and on sunny days they float around in the sunlit sections, racing for cover at the slightest movement.

As they have completely cleared the mosquito larvae away, I have now taken to feeding them a pinch of fish flakes every day or so, and they seem to appreciate them. It's hard to tell, with fish.

So, incredibly long story made short: keeping a goldfish or two in your water tank will indeed keep the mosquitoes away.

While on the subject of Natural History:  at home, I moved a tray of plants onto the bench for potting on, and look what I found underneath the tray:


Can you see them? Yes, newts, common newts in fact, five of them. They just love my front yard, and I have no idea why. It's entirely shingled, there's no pond, no soil, just an awful lot of things in pots.

I can only assume that they like sheltering under the pots, so the birds can't get them: and when I water, presumably enough water gets over-spilled - not that I am wasteful with my watering, please be assured - to maintain a sufficiently damp environment for them.  I have no idea what they find to eat.

Now, a minor horticultural diversion, isn't this a lovely sight?

Its a very old Mulberry tree, which suffered a great deal over the winter, and the client concerned has just finished the task of winching the branches and propping them up.

He used sections of tree trunk from an earlier felling of a pear tree that was no longer producing, and the effect is strangely attractive.

Possibly the use of real tree trunks, rather than block of concrete, is what makes the difference.

Finally for today, Prairie Planting Starter Packs.

Ever wanted your own Prairie bed?

Intrigued by my constant references to Prairie Planting?

Well, fear not, the effect can now be yours, I have a number of types of grass available for sale, all grown by me from seed.

The mixed pack shown here features a selection of the following grasses, from left to right:

Spanish Oat Grass or Stipa gigantea. Forms a stately clump, with long, arching, graceful flower heads.
Carex buchananii - stiff upright red grass
Stipa tenuifolia - pretty green grass with purple flowers, which flows and floats in the breeze.
Carex testacea - curving red grass
Juncus effusus or Soft Rush: evergreen stiff upright grass.

I've sold quite a few of these, and I offer the option to mix and match amongst these grasses, and to include some other plants which I think go well in a Prairie setting, such as Echinacea purpurea - Cone Flower - and Sanguisorba officinalis "Arnhem" which is a sturdy version of this popular plant, with wine-red flowers and which can easily grow 4-5' high. But as the leaves are so delicate, it maintains an appearance of being airy and spacious.

And of course the old favourite, Verbena bonariensis - no prairie planting is complete without this one! I also have, to make a change, Persicaria bistorta 'Superba' as ground cover to go around the clumps of grasses.

All these can be mixed and matched: £2 per plant, pack of 10 for £15.

In addition, I also have several larger grasses to really "make the statement" including some lovely Miscanthus types.

Whoops, turning into an advert, sorry!

Well, the last Plant Stall of the year went well, I was in the garden of Penny Spink's fantastic garden again, for the fourth year running, so a big thank you to Penny for her hospitality, and "hello" to everyone I met on the day.

Her garden is well worth a visit, by the way, and it's open under the NGS Yellow Book scheme.

No photos do it justice, so here's just one to get you interested!

It's called Woolstone Mill House, the village is Woolstone and it's just under the White Horse at Uffington. For some reason it's always described as "near Faringdon" but to me, living in Wantage, it's "near Wantage". The garden is open on Wednesday afternoons from April to September, and it's lovely!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Iford Manor - the Peto Garden

I've been doing some garden visiting recently, and yesterday I went to Iford Manor, which is tucked away somewhere near Bath.

Foolishly, I trusted the SatNav and it took me there via the middle of Bath, hmmm, with the final access being down a road so narrow that greenery brushed both sides of the car. I would recommend approaching from the Trowbridge side, if you get a choice.

It's advertised heavily as a Peto garden - and in case, like me, you have no idea who Peto is, then in their words:

"The Grade 1 Italianate garden at the Manor is famous for its tranquil beauty and was designed by the architect and landscape gardener Harold Ainsworth Peto who lived here from 1899 to 1933. A unique and romantic hillside garden, it is characterised by steps, terraces, sculpture and magnificent rural views and is open to the public from April to October."

("tranquil beauty"? Not when there is a baby alternately screaming or breast-feeding... and it's owner complaining loudly and constantly about the difficulty in getting the buggy around the garden. No matter where I went, I couldn't escape these wretched people! )

What they forget to mention is the Mr Peto was of the opinion that gardens should not be about flowers, but should be a careful balance of stone - both hard landscaping and in the form of buildings, colonnades, viewing points, statuary, fountains, etc - and greenery.

So for a gardener, it's not the most exciting of gardens. Not a label to be seen! And I didn't take a single photo, which says something about it.

However, the topiary has inspired me, and has made me realise that I have been too modest in my ambitions. Warning to all my clients: there might be the sounds of shears clip, clip, clipping!

Here is his version of a knot garden: beautifully clipped box hedges and corners, plus a selection of other topiary.

(photos pinched from the internet, not my own)

I have to say, I've seen five gardens in the last five weeks - yes, I get around - and this one had the best clipped topiary of the lot, far and away the best. Some of their topiary was huge, looming way above me, and I'd quite like to see their guys up ladders working away on them.


It's a useful garden to look at if you are located on any sort of hillside, as it is a sort of master-class of terracing.

They have steps regular, and irregular: safe and very much not safe: and a lot of water features, if you can call them that.

Not so much "features" in the artificial Ground Force sense, but water appearing as ponds, rills, hidden streams etc just all over the place, which I liked very much.

In fact, the sound of trickling water is very much the sound of this garden.

At one point I found what looked like an Ice House (I have a fascination with Ice Houses) but it had the overflow from one of the ponds leading down brick steps into it! I have no idea why, there was no-one around to ask.

And unlike Bourton House gardens, all the paths lead somewhere! In fact, without a garden map - and no, they didn't have any garden maps, shame - it's not possible to know if I actually saw all of it. There may well be parts that I missed. Well, I didn't bother with the woodland paths towards the top, as the day was getting on and the black clouds were threatening.

So, a fair trek to get there, but a good place to go if you like steps and water, and don't mind having to constantly go up steps, or down steps. Not so good if you are a bit rickety on your pins, as it were.