Thursday, 19 October 2017

Another interesting article....

... on Anne Wareham's excellent website, ThinkinGardens.

Anne is a very interesting lady and garden owner: she opens her garden, at Veddw House (pronounced Vedd-oo, she assures me) to the public through the summer months, and she has written several gardening books.

The one that caught my eye was "The Bad Tempered Gardener". The title made me laugh, firstly because it's uncompromising in rebutting the usual airy-fairy "oh, gardening is so lovely and wonderful and good for the soul, and everyone who gardens is an angel," , and secondly because it seemed, to me, to be having a sly dig at Christopher Lloyd and his "Well Tempered Garden".

Having read her book, I can certainly say that I don't agree with all of her views, but I respect her like heck for having them, and for having the nerve to declaim them. In particular, Anne despairs at the way reviewers (or visitors) describe all gardens as "lovely" despite the evidence in front of them. I'm moderately outspoken on the same subject - you are most welcome to read through some of my garden reviews, if you have an hour or so spare:  just look to the right of this pane, there is a heading "Frequently Covered Subjects!" under which you can see Garden Visit. Click on that and you'll see what I mean.

I can't quite remember how, but we made contact via social media, and I think Anne was quite pleased to find someone else who was prepared to be rude - where appropriate - about other people's gardens.  It was a great pleasure to finally meet her in real life, when I visited Veddw House gardens earlier this year. Or was it last year?

(short pause for some panic-stricken paging though the Garden Visit posts.... oh no! It was indeed last year! I started to write the review and decided it was too late in the year to publish it: better to hold it over until spring,  so that anyone reading it would be able to go and visit more or less straight away. And then I forgot! Oh woe! Anne, please forgive me! Not least for all these exclamation marks!!)

Anyway, we've been friends ever since, and from time to time I submit an article to her for inclusion on ThinkinGardens, and I'm always thrilled when one gets accepted.

Today's one is a thought-provoking piece about children and gardening. I love being a professional gardener, and between mentoring, writing a book about it, and giving workshops on How To Be A Successful Self-Employed Gardener, I'm clearly all in favour of encouraging people to take up this profession.  But I'm somewhat dubious about the wisdom of forcing the government to add it to the curriculum: gardening as a compulsory once weekly lesson, yes. Gardening as an after-school activity, yes. But gardening as a career choice? I'm not so sure.

Why all this doubt? Surely I should be keen to get the next generation of gardeners up and at 'em?

Well, yes, but it's a bit like doing a degree in Klingon: where is the job, afterwards? What about all the graduates, clutching their degrees in Media Studies while they wait for an interview at a fast food joint? What about that recent headline story about the girl with the geography degree, refusing to take temporary shelf-stacking work while she waited for a job which was "more suited to her qualifications?"

This will apply ten-fold to professional gardeners, as there is hardly a stately home in the country which is expanding the gardening staff. Most of them are laying off staff, reducing team size, downgrading jobs, bringing in contractors and volunteers (don't get me started on volunteers...) and thus reducing the number of experienced, qualified staff required.

There will always be some youngsters who are passionate about gardening, and who are determined enough to get the qualifications, find someone to give them experience, and who will forge their own way into this profession.  Yay! for them, I say: well done, good choice.

But I don't think there is any point in forcing the schools to push it as a career.

Read it for yourself, and let me know what you think:

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

New Year, New Botany Courses!

Well, ok, it's not actually "new year"  yet, but they are now available for booking, so don't miss out!

Next year I will again be running three Tree ID courses for the FSC - Field Studies Council - at their London facility in Bushy Park, which is quite near to Hampton Court. And we all know a song about that, don't we children? (sings  "oh, the day Good King Henry got his Hampton Court") (What? Don't you remember that?  "Carry on Christmas" from 1969, available for viewing on youtube, if you google it. Go on, you know you want to!)

Er hem.

Right, back to the courses: in February I'm doing the incredibly hard Tree ID in Winter course, with impossible tasks such as identifying trees without any leaves. Actually, it's not that difficult, and is rather fun, once you get going. And my job is to get you going, so book yourself onto that one for a good start to the year.

In March you have another chance to attend my greatly-acclaimed Intro to Conifers course: conifers are a lot more interesting than you would think, and by the end of this course  you will be able to identify 23 genera of Conifers with ease. Honest.

March is a busy month for me, as I am also giving an evening talk to the Sunningwell Garden Club, as well as running a repeat of my one-day workshop on How To Be A  Successful Self-Employed Gardener, which was a hoot last time: one delegate submitted feedback that said it was worth the course fee just to see the demonstration of how to pee in public. Well, that's lovely, but I do hope they got more out of the course than just that one topic! (Although it did provoke rather a lot of giggling and shrieking, I must admit.) We haven't confirmed the date for that one, but it will be a Saturday in early March.

April is another evening talk, this time to the Wallingford Garden Club, and in May we have the very easy Tree ID in Summer course, which is pure enjoyment as  the leaves do make it fairly easy, once you know what you are looking for. If you struggle to tell the difference between an Oak and a Sycamore, come along to this course: it's fun, you will learn a lot, and it's very satisfying to be able to spot one tree from another.

Then in June comes a new course, How To Use A Dichotomous Key, which is an essential skill for anyone with the slightest interest in Botany, but it's a hard thing to learn. This course will take you by the hand and lead you gently through using botanical Keys, their uses, and their limitations.   Like all the ID courses, we'll be doing as much practical work as we can, so you can expect a lot of outdoor work, with our bottoms in the air!

More details of all these courses are on the Events page, just click on the tab above.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Salix Kilmarnock - Dwarf version

Well, here we are talking about Salix caprea 'Kilmarnock' again: this time, a dwarf version.

A while back, a nice lady called Sally sent me some pictures of her tiny Kilmarnock, with a question about pruning, and why it hadn't grown any taller.

I've done several articles about this particular tree: it's very popular, but it's not a "normal" tree, it's a very specialised type of tree where the nursery takes one type of willow - a weeping form, whose branches droop decorously and languidly downwards - and graft it onto the trunk of a normal upright willow.  Why? Two reasons; the weeping type of willow is HUGE: and secondly, they take many, many years to reach a size where they weep properly.

And most people don't want a HUGE willow tree, they want something small and manageable, hence the grafted tree.

The nurseries can choose how high up the trunk to set the grafts, so they can dictate the height of the tree: the idea is that the main trunk never grows any higher, so the tree never outgrows the garden.

But the branches do continue to grow (because they think they belong to a tree which is 60' off the ground) and this can lead to confusion, and to armadilloes crawling into the shrubbery. (see link for explanation!)

Here is Sally's super-dwarf Kilmarnock:

As you can see, it's been planted as a feature at the edge of a small bed, surrounded by a colourful mix of what look like Begonias etc.

Frankly, it's a bit lost.

And as you can see in the photo above, the branches of the tree are so long that they are crawling across the paving.

Sally was concerned because she wanted to prune it -  understandably, not too keen on the whole crawling-across-the-paving look - but wasn't quite sure how, and didn't want to make it any shorter than it already is, as she was a bit disappointed that it wasn't making as much of a feature as she had hoped for.

Here's a close-up - right - of the top part, showing how the grafted weeping branches curl straight over and head for the ground.

You can also see the label, which describes it as growing to 1m high. That's only a little over 3', so actually the tree is doing exactly what it should be doing.

However, please note the picture on the label:

Not a very clear picture, but you can see that the seller has presented the plant as being in a pot, all alone, with the stem clearly visible and nothing else around it.

My advice to Sally, therefore, was that she should consider digging up the little tree and putting it in a large, decorative pot, in order to see the true beauty of it.

She could also consider putting the pot on a stand or a pedestal of some kind, to give extra height, and to bring the flowering portion of the tree up to eye height, instead of being down there at knee level.

She will then be able to carry out the "under-pruning" which I describe in detail in the armadillo article, which should leave her with a feature tree that looks very much like the one on the label.

Instead of looking like an armadillo crawling off into the hedge!


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