As this is my first blog, ever, I thought I would start by reflecting a little on where our gardening world has been going since the Second World War and, of course, where we are on the journey now!
Immediately after the war our successive Governments, of a variety of political persuasions, encouraged farmers and growers to maximise the cropping potential of every acre of land they could make productive. This move, in turn, caused what became known as the chemical treadmill. Where we applied stronger and stronger chemical products to kill off pests, diseases and weeds; that dared to attack our ever increasing acreages of crops. By the time we reached the 1970’s we had food mountains and wine lakes and had, without realising it, started to kill off wild flowers, insects, birds and wild animals in numbers that are now causing us serious concern.
Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower ‘Honey Bee Mixed’
When Rachel Carson wrote ‘The Silent Spring’ in 1962 few people listened to her concerns about the excessive use of chemical pesticides across the developed and developing world. When Dr. Chris Baines got the BBC to make the film ‘Bluetits and Bumblebees’ in the early 1980’s we all watched it but did not pick up the message. The Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), started in 1954 by Lawrence Hills has been encouraging amateur and professional growers to steer away from inorganic pesticides for over 60 years but who has been listening?
Now that scientific evidence and advanced knowledge of the damage that we have done to our planet over the last 60 + years has come into the public’s view, our Seed companies, breeders, researchers, nurseries and growers are seeing the potential market in offering us new strains of old favourites that require less and less pesticide attention.
Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 Hybrid
Scanning through the first eleven pages of Thompson and Morgan’s 2016 Seed Catalogue, I have found five cultivars of popular vegetables that have known resistance to one problem or another. Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ F1 is resistant to early and late blight; Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 is resistant to carrot root fly; Parsnip ‘Gladiator’F1 is resistant to Parsnip canker; Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 and Courgette ‘Defender’ F1 are both resistant to powdery mildew.
Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ F1 Hybrid and Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 Hybrid
Maybe someone will find strains of Impatiens and Aquilegias that are not devastated by Downy mildew in the future and Ash trees that are resistant to Ash dieback.
Busy Lizzy ‘Divine Mixed’ and Aquilegia ‘Swan Mixed’
This is all fantastic work on the part of breeders and growers and I feel sure that the list will get longer over the years as the pesticides gradually disappear from our Garden Centre shelves and pests and diseases become more resistant to them.
This cultural method of reducing the impact of pests and diseases should now be at the forefront in our battle with Mother Nature and, if we use physical barriers to help prevent attacks alongside the occasional use of biological control methods, we should be able to stop the use inorganic pesticides altogether.
Ground cover plants are useful in the garden for covering bare patches of soil beneath trees or shrubs or for covering steep banks where access is difficult. Their roots also help to stabilise soil on steep slopes. Ground cover plants brighten up otherwise dull areas and will suppress weeds, making them ideal for a low-maintenance garden. We’ve put together a list of some of the best ground cover plants, which are fast-growing and make an effective dense covering.
Ground cover plants for shade
From foliage to flowers there are plenty of colourful ground cover plants to light up a shady spot in your garden. Even vigorous plants may grow more slowly in heavier shade so don’t be too concerned if they are taking their time to spread. You may need to be more vigilant in weeding whilst these plants become established as the soil will be bare for some time. Once they do establish however, they will form an impenetrable mat.
Bergenia ‘Dragonfly Sakura’
Bergenia ‘Dragonfly Sakura’ is a hardy evergreen ground cover plant with incredible winter colour! The pretty blooms provide invaluable food for pollinating insects early in the year, and make dainty cut flowers too. Plant Elephant’s Ears in any well-drained soil in sun or dappled shade.
Heuchera ‘Patchwork’ Mix are prized for their colourful leaves, these versatile semi-evergreen perennials make excellent drifts of ground cover, adding a distinctive splash of colour to the front of borders, or even brightening winter containers.
Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley is a scented ground cover plant. Each delicate arching stem carries a flurry of snow-white, bell shaped blooms with a powerful, timeless fragrance. Set against of a carpet of lush green foliage, the exquisite blooms of Convallaria majalis make a wonderful cut flower for scented, springtime posies.
Ground cover plants full sun
From annual to evergreen ground cover plants, there are plenty of options for a sunny spot in the garden. Plants growing in full sun benefit from mulching in their first year to help retain moisture at their roots. If the weather is very hot and dry make sure you water your new plants regularly to help them establish. It’s also essential to keep on top of weeds so there is no competition for nutrients and water.
Delosperma ‘Hardy Mixed’
Delosperma ‘Hardy Mixed‘, Hardy ice plant, is fantastic for those hot, dry problem areas where many other plants would fail to establish.
Lily ‘Colour Carpet™ Mixture’
Lily ‘Colour Carpet™ Mixture’ is the only ground cover Lily that will flower within 10 weeks. These short stemmed dwarf lilies are a ‘must have’ for creating vibrant ground cover in exotic gardens, or edging paths and borders.
For more information take a look at our ground cover plants guide.
There is nothing more frustrating for a gardener than purchasing, growing and nurturing a plant for it to be destroyed by pests or disease. As gardeners we strive to protect our crops and this can be an enormous challenge especially when we have to try identify what has caused the damage. Even more frustrating, those shifty beasties are often hidden and not noticeable without a thorough search.
I have collated my top 5 tips to help you reduce the chance of infestation, and due to the overwhelming questions asked by our Facebook and Twitter followers, I will discuss the most common concerns which will hopefully solve your gardening concerns too.
Sometimes there is no right or single answer to getting rid of pest and diseases so these tips are intended to help reduce the risk of attack of any pest and disease in your garden;
- By covering your crops with fleece you will prevent pests from reaching your crops.
- Keep your eyes peeled for the earliest signs of attack and take action. Have a good look at your plants and if there is an infestation don’t let the problem get out of hand.
- Know your enemy. Certain pests and diseases are specific to a particular crop, so make sure you identify yourself with the most likely kind to attack your crops.
- By encouraging natural predators to your garden such as Ladybirds and Lacewings you will reduce pest and disease in your garden. They will happily munch their way through aphid colonies, preventing the spread around your garden.
- Be careful not to spread disease, many diseases can be prevented by practising good garden hygiene and keeping your garden well maintained.
Our facebookers and tweeters took to social media to ask their pesky queries; from slugs to mildew we had it all. It soon became clear that our gardeners need help with preventing and eliminating pests and diseases to save their garden.
Slugs and snails are probably the most common pests that will attack your crops, and by the time you notice their damage they are often long gone. No wonder gardeners resort to throwing them over fences – which is another discussion we had on Horticultural etiquette! So, how do you prevent snails and slugs from attacking your crop? You can use beer traps, or apply sharp scratchy mulch such as gravel to deter them. For a more targeted approach try using Nemaslug, which is completely safe around children, all animals, birds and wildlife – except for slugs and snails.
Ants can also be a nuisance although they don’t directly damage your plants. They often set up farms of sap sucking aphids, from which they gather sugary honeydew. You can try applications of ant deterrent around their nests and watch to see where they move to. If you keep applying it wherever they move, then sooner or later they will find somewhere to live which will be less of an inconvenience to you. It is also well worth encouraging insectivorous birds to your garden who will help to keep the ant population down.
Diseases such as Powdery Mildew and Downy Mildew affect a wide range of plants. Many plants are now bred with Mildew resistance to help combat the disease. Good air circulation and watering
For more information view our full pests and diseases guide.
Companion planting has been around for a long time and is a really good way of using Mother Nature to deter pests and improve pollination.
We’ve put together a Companion Planting Guide which you can find on the Thompson & Morgan website and use to help you plan your vegetable patch.
The guide, written by our horticultural experts, is full of great advice when it comes to growing your crops. For example, many of us grow vegetables in rows, known as ‘monoculture‘. However, pests generally have a favourite crop and this method helps them locate and infest it. Mixing plants up confuses the pests and you’re more likely to have a more successful harvest.
Intercropping is another way to make the most of the available space and is particularly useful when growing Brussels sprouts or parsnips which take a long time to grow. Sow the seeds and while you’re waiting for the them to germinate and grow, sow fast-growing vegetables like salad leaves and radishes and not only will you save a lot of space, you’ll be keeping weeds at bay – less weeding can only be a good thing!
Grow marigolds with tomatoes
Herbs are a great weapon against insects – their pungent scent deters them. Try growing basil, mint and chives near your tomato plants, as well as marigolds, to deter whitefly and aphids. Be cautious when growing mint though, it’s invasive and grows quickly, so it’s best in a container where you can, well, contain it!
Growing onions next to carrots benefits both crops – carrot fly is repelled by the smell of onions, and onion white fly is put off by the scent of the carrots.