Thompson & Morgan Gardening Blog

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Propagation, planting out and cultivation posts from writers that know their subjects well.

Small border planting ideas with high impact

Stock image of an outdoor dining area with table and colourful borders

Use height, structure and colour to create stunning borders in small gardens
Image: photographee.eu

The average length of a UK garden is just 15 metres long, but limited space doesn’t prevent you from having gorgeous borders filled with show-stopping plants and shrubs. We asked Lee Burkhill, the professional designer behind Garden Ninja, for his advice on giving small gardens huge impact.

Here are Lee’s top tips for turning a small garden into an outdoor space with real wow-factor.

Edit your ideas

Garden with ferns, hostas and outdoor chairs

Concentrating on ferns, hostas and a limited colour palette gives this border cohesion
Image: Svineyard

I know just how tricky small gardens can be to design and plant effectively. In fact, I’ve specialised in small and awkward garden design for some years now. The most difficult part is editing your choices to make sure you maintain a consistent style throughout the space.

As eager gardeners we’re all keen to get as much variety as possible, and this can sometimes be our downfall. It’s easy to end up with what I call a ‘pick and mix’ garden that has no real flow or style. Learning to edit is vital in a small space.

Work out your garden’s aspect 

Lee from Garden Ninja planting a south-facing 'hot' border

Lee planting a south-facing ‘hot’ border
Image: Garden Ninja

Before you buy any plants, or reach for your spade, it’s worth spending a little time thinking about the style of garden you want based on its aspect.

The ‘aspect’ of your garden refers to its position in relation to the sun. It’s critical to know how much sun you’ll get so that you can choose the plants that will work best. Use a compass to work out which direction your garden faces and how much sun it gets during the day. South-facing gardens usually get the most natural daylight while north-facing can be quite shaded.

If you’re wanting a hot border, for example, you’ll need to make sure your garden gets enough sun and then focus on hot herbaceous plants like heleniums and grasses. If your garden has lots of shade, then you’ll be looking for fern-like foliage, damp-tolerant plants plus lots of muted colours that thrive in a more sheltered environment. Start with what’s already growing well in your garden to kick off your plans.

Choose a style

Very clear border divide in a garden

Are you drawn to strikingly modern planting schemes or cottage garden pastels?
Image: Del Boy

Saying that you’d “like it to be pretty” is not specific enough I’m afraid! Spending just a couple of hours thinking about what you want will set you up for success.

Are you drawn to formal or informal garden styles? Do you love naturalistic planting, or very modern schemes with striking blocks of colour? Would you prefer a low maintenance, evergreen border or a high impact, high maintenance cottage style?

Researching different garden styles online can really help you work out what look you’re aiming for, and provide much needed inspiration. Skip this step and you run the risk of creating a garden with no identity. I always advise clients to keep it simple and never try to combine two styles at the same time.

Trees in small gardens

Apple ‘Golden Delicious’ (M27 rootstock) from Thompson & Morgan

Growing to no more than 2m, dwarf fruit trees are a lovely addition to a small border
Image: Apple ‘Golden Delicious’ (M27 rootstock) from Thompson & Morgan

Trees are so important – they cool down gardens by providing shade, they feed and shelter wildlife, and they help to slow down the flow of water. There’s definitely a small tree for every sized garden and I’m certainly not the first to advocate this. However, many clients recoil in horror when I suggest trees for their small urban gardens. Even a tiny border can feature a small tree – the trick is to choose the correct type.

Two of my favourite types of tree for small spaces are:

  • Fruit trees on M27 rootstock. These won’t grow much taller than 1.5-2m and you get to enjoy their gorgeous fruits! Apple, quince and plum trees are a doddle to look after once planted – just a light snip here and there is all they need. Or, you could get a stepover fruit tree (trained to grow in a low horizontal line) or an espalier variety to grow against a wall for a real structural statement.
  • Multi-stem ornamental trees. These gorgeous specimens can become the focal point of your border. I love things like Prunus Serrula Tibetica, or even a quince or medlar fruit tree to really wow the neighbours. Their multi-stems allow light to pass through but restrict their overall vigour. Requiring little pruning, their height will also make your garden feel bigger by drawing your eye upwards rather than just across the garden.

Go big with your planting

Small Scottish border brimming with large plant

This small Scottish border is decadently brimming with large plants
Image: Rico Baumann135

If you’ve only got a small border, planting bigger is always better in my experience. Don’t be tempted to use lots of small plants to make your border feel fuller. Instead, go for some larger specimens to add drama. And don’t avoid taller plants. Variety is the spice of life after all.

Here are some of the best, hard-working and visually striking plants that blend with pretty much anything in a herbaceous border:

  • Hebe ‘Mrs Winder’ – This low-maintenance, high-impact evergreen shrub provides year-round structure and flowers.
  • Carex (multiple varieties) – These sedges give year-round colour and interest. Again practically zero-maintenance, and when planted en masse or as an edging plant they are really dramatic.
  • Callicarpa bodinieri – This well behaved, deciduous shrub packs a real punch. With ribbed green leaves throughout spring and summer, during Autumn you get neon purple berries that are a real focal point.
  • Ground cover plants – I can’t stress enough how filling empty spaces with plants such as erigeron (Mexican fleabane), lamium (non-stinging nettle for shade) or a geranium like ‘Johnsons Blue’ brings unity to your border. When you plant these en masse you provide cohesion and consistency to your garden – perfect for bringing a small space to life. Forget leaving spaces for weeds to take root. Pack your borders to get the greatest effect!

Plant groups of threes and fives

Garden order in groups 3s and 5s

No matter what size border you have, plant groups of 3s and 5s
Image: Denise Allison Coyle

My final piece of advice goes for all gardens, no matter what size – plant in groups of three or five. Grouping plants immediately brings a sense of intent to a garden and cohesion to your planting scheme. People often plant one of this and one of that in their borders. I know you want variety, but this approach can make your garden look very disjointed. It sounds counter-intuitive, but having the same plant repeated regularly in multiples around the border gives you a much more effective finish.

‘Pick and mix’ planting breaks continuity and makes your outdoor space feel frantic rather than calming. Unless it’s a specimen tree or shrub, then make sure you use the 3s and 5s rule.

Small gardens rely heavily on flow and unity. When buying plants, keep checking if you’re being consistent. Does it fit with your chosen style, colour scheme and aspect? If not, don’t add it to your basket. Follow these tips and you’ll end up with a strong, well-planned design and a wonderful garden to enjoy for many years to come. 

 

Tough plants for tough places

Sedum 'Herbstfreude' in a garden

Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ is ideal for poor soil and dry conditions
Image: Peter Turner Photography

Many people have a tough spot in their garden – too dry, too shady, or just too exposed to be able to easily grow plants that will thrive. Others have damp, boggy areas or frost pockets that present challenges to plant life. 

We asked The Sunday Gardener, Carol Bartlett, to share her expert advice on tough plants for tough locations. Here are some of her top suggestions for plants with the stamina and staying power to fill your tricky spots.

Shrubs for exposed areas

Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ from Thompson & Morgan

The silvery variegated foliage of euonymus brings all year round interest to tricky corners
Image: Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ from Thompson & Morgan

A blustery corner of the garden could be the ideal spot for a tough shrub such as cotoneaster. There are lots of different varieties in this group of shrubs, and an ideal sized variety that grows to around 2.5m is C. Amoenus. It’s tolerant of all soil types and copes well with partial shade and blustery conditions. An evergreen shrub, its lovely white flowers in the late spring and early summer are attractive to bees.

These are followed in the autumn and winter with masses of red berries – a feast for wild birds, and especially loved by blackbirds. It’s a tough shrub and will grow wherever you plant it, except in wet conditions.

Another tough shrub which is very hardy and tolerant of most conditions is elaeagnus. Most attractive are those with variegated leaves such as ‘Limelight’ and ‘Gilt Edge’ which has the RHS award of garden merit. Equally tough, with bright variegation is Euonymus fortunei. ‘Emerald and Green’ which has golden green leaves, and ‘Emerald Gaiety’ with white and green variations are good varieties to grow.

If you’re looking for a tough shrub with flowers, Viburnum tinus is an ideal choice. It has pretty, white-tinged, pale pink flowers in the spring and it tolerates most soil conditions, sun and shade.

Buddleja davidii is another hardy and easy to grow shrub that’s tolerant of all conditions, except wet and boggy soils. Buddleja is often called the ‘butterfly bush’ as its aromatic flowers attract a wide variety of butterflies into the garden.

Grasses for exposed areas

Carpet of pink achillea

A carpet of achillea is the perfect partner for grasses
Image: The Sunday Gardener

As an alternative to shrubs, you might like to try some of the hardier plants and grasses, but bear in mind that windy positions will cause tall grasses like Cortaderia selloana (Pampas grass) and Miscanthus to shed their lovely plumes.

Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass) is an attractive, compact grass that grows to around 35cm. Ideal in harsher conditions, and with masses of soft fluffy plumes, it combines beautifully with achillea in a dry spot. Achillea’s large, flat, long-lasting flower heads continue to look good as the flowers fade.

Another plant that combines well with shrubs or grasses is nepeta. Tougher than lavender, and tolerant of different conditions including semi-shade and damp, it brings clouds of blue to your borders, from pale mauve through to deep indigo.

For excellent ground cover and as an edging for paths, Alchemilla mollis tolerates full sun, full shade and everything in between. Extremely hardy (to -20 degrees C) and tolerant of all soil types, it’s an ideal plant for tough areas. However, you’ll need to keep it in check as it’s vigorous, almost to the point of being invasive.

Plants for dry soils and rockeries

In dry poor soils, or for the small spaces between paving slabs and in rockeries, Erigeron karvinskianus is an excellent choice with its lovely pale pink and white daisy-like flowers. It will grow in many awkward areas and, once established, re-appears reliably each year.

Equally tolerant of dry conditions, if provided with a sunny spot, is sedum. This group of plants contains many different varieties including larger, upright specimens such as Herbstfreude with its familiar red and rosy pink flowers so loved by pollinators, to tiny ground-hugging plants with small but attractive flowers.

Plants for dry shade

English ivy in a garden

English ivy is a native plant loved by wildlife
Image: The Sunday Gardener

One of the trickiest conditions to successfully garden, and requiring a very tough plant, is dry shade. I recommend trying vinca, commonly known as periwinkle, which has lovely blue flowers to brighten up the gloomy areas.

Equally happy in these conditions is the English ivy Hedera helix. When mature this plant produces late autumn flowers that provide high quality nectar for bees and pollinators just when they need it, before winter hibernation. The flowers are then followed by purple berries loved by blackbirds, thrushes, blackcaps and wood pigeons. It’s a native plant with great wildlife value, as is Hawthorn, which will also tolerate difficult conditions.

With stunning lime green foliage, euphorbia is another ideal plant for dry shade. Varieties such as Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae retains its lovely fresh, lime green leaves and combines well with the blue flowers of Vinca to provide bright colour in a dry shady area.

Plants for damp shade

Hosta in a garden

Slug-resistant varieties of hosta thrive in damp shade
Image: The Sunday Gardener

A tough condition that’s slightly easier to accommodate is damp shade. One of my favourite stand out plants for a darker damp corner is Astilbe. The strong white plumes of Astilbe ‘Professor van der Wielen’ are particularly good.

Astilbe combines well with ferns and hostas which thrive in damp shade. Try planting some of the more slug-resistant hostas such as Big Daddy, Gold Regal, Liberty, Halcyon, and Silvery Slugproof to keep the pests away.

Conservatory flowers

Geranium ‘Moulin Rouge’ F1 Hybrid

Smothered in scarlet blooms, this was the most outstanding pelargonium in T&M’s trials
Image: Geranium ‘Moulin Rouge’ F1 Hybrid

Finally, are you fed up of composting dead and diseased conservatory plants? If the toughest place to grow successfully in your garden is your conservatory, take a look at pelargoniums. These non-hardy geraniums not only withstand the extreme heat of your conservatory – they positively bask in it. They’ll also survive the winter in an unheated conservatory. Tolerant and forgiving, just give them a regular water and occasional feed (tomato food is fine) and geraniums will flower away from March to November. I have to make myself cut them back in November when they’re often still in flower, knowing that this will improve the plant for next year.

Geraniums have many different flower types, some with amazing scented leaves, that will happily live in your conservatory for several years. When they get leggy, simply take a cutting and start again with a fresh plant.

Geraniums really brighten up a conservatory and are one of the few flowering plants which will take the very hot temperatures unscathed.

We hope this has given you plenty of food for thought and lots of ideas for those tricky areas in your gardens. Let us know how you get on over on Facebook or Twitter. We love to hear from you!

 

Late summer sophistication with rudbeckia 

Photo of Rudbeckia 'Savannah Mixed' mix in Nic Wilson's garden

Nic has planted Rudbeckia ‘Savannah Mixed’ alongside grasses in her own garden
Image: Nic Wilson of dogwooddays

Midsummer is a time of plenty in the garden with roses blooming, sweet peas in their prime and borders a riot of colour. But as summer progresses and cottage garden stalwarts begin to fade, there are some fantastic late-flowering plants ready to carry the torch into autumn. 

We asked professional garden designer, Nic Wilson of dogwooddays, to share her thoughts on rudbeckia, one of our favourite ways to add a splash of late summer sophistication to any garden.

Prairie-style planting

Prairie style planting

Prairie style planting displays provide long-lasting colour and attract pollinating insects
Image: Lukasz Stefanski

It’s at this time of year that North American perennials and annuals really come into their own. Unlike meadows in the UK which generally peak at midsummer, North American grassland reaches its zenith around late summer or early autumn, making prairie flower displays ideal to keep the colour in the garden going well past the summer equinox. The daisy flowers of echinacea, helenium, aster and rudbeckia are also fabulous sources of nectar for pollinating insects.

Best varieties of rudbeckia

Red rudbeckia flower in the garden

The striking red of this rudbeckia flower is a glorious addition to any planting scheme
Image: Nic Wilson of dogwooddays

Rudbeckia (commonly known as coneflower or black-eyed Susan) was named after Olof Rudbeck (senior), the Swedish Professor of Medicine and polymath who founded the Uppsala Botanical Garden in 1655.

All rudbeckias prefer an open sunny spot with soil that has been improved with organic matter. They can be planted in spring or autumn, or sown from seed. Charismatic Rudbeckia hirta is a valuable annual to add to container displays and to the late summer border, often flowering up until the first frosts. There are many annual cultivars to suit different colour schemes:

One of the most popular perennial rudbeckia varieties is R. fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ – a robust and reliable flower that likes to be kept moist in summer. The open yellow petals contrast with the dark central eye, making it a striking bloom, especially when planted in swathes through grasses or with other prairie flowers like echinacea and heleniums.

Sophisticated ‘savannah mixed’

Rudbeckia 'Savannah Mixed' from Thompson & Morgan

Opening in gentle lime green, petals mature to wine-red and burnt orange as summer progresses
Image: Thompson & Morgan’s new half-hardy annual R. ‘Savannah Mixed’

This year I’ve planted Thompson & Morgan’s new and exclusive, half-hardy annual R. ‘Savannah Mixed’ from their own breeding programme. Beautiful colour-changing double flowers with petals in shades of yellow-green, wine-red and burnt orange, ‘Savannah Mixed’ evokes the subtle colours of the grassy African plains and brings real elegance to late summer displays. It looks best planted en masse in containers or borders, where the flowers combine to create a sophisticated scheme.

In my garden, I’m planting R. ‘Savannah Mixed’ with grasses (Briza maxima, Deschampsia cespitosa and Stipa tenuissima) and with other late-bloomers like Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’. The muted lime, burgundy and copper tones of the rudbeckia add touches of colour without disturbing the soft mood created by the grass seed heads gently swaying in the breeze. And as the flowers age the colours deepen, providing an effortless transition to autumn in your late summer borders.

Selection of rudbeckia images from Nic Wilson from dogwooddays

Image: Nic Wilson of dogwooddays

Drought-proofing my garden

The recent dry spell has really made me think about the plants I am growing. The drought has taken its toll on a favourite tree in my garden.  In truth, it has been many years since it performed at its best.  This year, I’ll be lucky if there are any leaves left come autumn! I’m blaming my thin, silty soil and a lack of regular rainfall, coupled with hot, drying winds over the past few weeks.

This has had me pondering – do I take some softwood cuttings now to replace it if it dies? Or is it better to accept what nature has given me; to find plants that naturally cope well under drought conditions. After all, the Trachycarpus (Windmill Palm) growing close by is positively flourishing.

Contrast between trees surviving drought

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Sorbus vilmorinii (left) is suffering drought, while Trachycarpus (right) flourishes.

 

Preparing for dryer weather conditions

I’m a great believer in choosing the right plant for the right position. Why spend hours nurturing a moisture-loving plant that will never thrive on a dry soil? Unfortunately it’s far too easy to be led astray by a pretty flower in the garden centre. I’m sure I’m not the only one! So I’ve decided to let nature take its course and start planning for a more drought resilient garden…

 

Limit your plant choices

A good starting place is to look at what thrives in your garden already, and let these plants become the basis of your planting palette. This will often mean a smaller range of plants used in larger, bolder groups. Apart from being more in tune with the natural order of things, I find that planting in this way is often more attractive than a jumble of individual species, all fighting for attention.

Sempervivums (Houseleeks) are definitely ‘in’ this year. Mine seem to be flourishing since repotting them into a gritty soil mix, and ‘pups’ are popping up all over the place!

sempervivum

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Sempervivums are resilient little plants that cope well with dry conditions.

These resilient little plants are steeped in folklore! They have been used throughout history for medicinal purposes such as using the sap from their fleshy leaves to soothe burns and abrasions – an outdoor Aloe vera, if you like!

Sempervivums come in a surprising range of colours too, like T&M’s Chick Charms Collection which would look great inserted into the cracks in my garden walls.

Sempervivum 'Chick Charms'

©Newey Plants – Sempervivum ‘Chick Charms’ will add colour to wall crevices.

 

Encourage the colonisers

Speaking of cracks in the walls, these Hart’s Tongue Ferns are definitely some of the top performers on my plot! One small plant that was introduced over a decade ago, and now they have colonised the length of the steep steps that descend to the bottom of my garden.

Take advantage of natural colonisers

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Take advantage of natural colonisers, such as Hart’s Tongue Ferns (left) and Trachystemon (right).

Another big coloniser is my garden is Trachystemon orientalis with its coarse, heart-shaped leaves and pretty Borage-like flowers in spring. This is a great performer for dry shade and creates dense ground cover. In very dry weather the leaves will flop, but generally there is little that upsets it.

It’s related to the white flowered Symphytum orientalis, another success story that’s growing in the thin, dry soil around the edge of my pond. Both are from the Boraginaceae family, and provide a valuable supply of nectar for pollinating insects in early spring. Clearly this is a group that is worth exploring in my new planting palette!

Stipa tenuissima does well for me too. This billowing grass adds movement to borders. It self-seeds freely but is always easy to manage.

Stipa and Bergenia

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Stipa tenuissima (left) adds texture, while Bergenia (right) makes good ground cover.

Geranium phaeum and Bergenia cordifolia have really found their stride this year too. I planted a few Bergenia many years ago and they have finally bulked up to create a pleasing clump of glossy foliage, which makes excellent ground cover.

 

Plant drought tolerant species

There has been huge interest in drought tolerant species this year, particularly succulents such as Hylotelephium takesimense ‘Atlantis’ (known to most of us as Sedum). This showy plant was awarded the prestigious honour of RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019 and it certainly is eye-catching.

Sedum Atlantis

©Plantipp / Visions BV, Netherlands – RHS Chelsea Plant of the Year 2019 award went to drought resistant Sedum ‘Atlantis’

There are plenty of other Sedum available too. Given a sunny spot with good drainage, they are always happy to tough it out at the front of my dry borders, attracting pollinating insects as an added bonus!

It’s not all ground cover perennials in my garden. Euonymus is another genus that thrives here. Deciduous Euonymus europaeus is best known as our native Spindle Tree. The curious pink fruits and vibrant autumn colour make it a lovely focal point in autumn. I’m always surprised at how well this tree copes – it seems to thrive on neglect!

Euonymus plants

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Euonymus europaeus (left) and E. japonicus (right) are surprisingly drought tolerant species.

For year round reliability, you can’t beat the variegated evergreen foliage of Euonymus japonicus ‘Ovatus Aureus’. This tough, resilient plant provides structure and colour throughout the winter months, tolerating the dry summer without issue.

 

Put the pretties in pots!

Of course, we all have to have a few delicate ‘pretties’ in our gardens, but I tend to grow mine in pots close to the house. Not only do I get to appreciate them more, but it also allows me to focus all my watering efforts in one place. As one pot fades, another fresh pot can take its place, and the tired plants can be retired to a less visible spot.    I also use saucers under each pot during the summer to catch the escaping ‘run-off’ and save on water wastage.

Flower in containers

©Sue Sanderson, T&M – Grow flowering plants close to the house to make watering less challenging.

Do you have any top tips for gardening drought-proofing your garden? We’d love to hear about your favourite drought resistant plants. Why not share your tips and pictures with us on our Facebook page?

 

Gardening without plastic

plastic free gardening

A few small changes can make a big difference 
Image: Garden Ninja

We’re flooding the planet with plastic, and there’s currently a huge focus on how much ends up in our oceans. But as gardeners, what can we do about it? Traditionally, plant care and propagation have always relied heavily on plastic – it’s cheap, durable and easy to use. However, the lack of recycling options often means it ends up in landfill or as a pollutant. 

We asked Garden Ninja, Lee Burkhill, a professional garden designer who’s passionate about the environment, what he’s doing to tackle this problem. Here are Lee’s top tips for reducing your use of plastic – with just a few small changes to everyday tasks we can all make a difference…

Plan alternatives to plastic in advance

Boxes full of plastic plant pots

Plastic plant pots in a shed 
Image: corners74

Plastic is incredibly durable, but it can take centuries to fully break down – a problem made even worse when it’s not correctly recycled. Last year I counted somewhere near 400 plastic plant pots in my own shed, along with old compost bags. Although I reuse these pots and bags each year until they’re no longer fit for purpose, it prompted me to think about plastic-free alternatives so that I’m ready to switch to a biodegradable solution when the time comes.

Sow in wooden seed trays

Wooden trays with sown seeds

Seed sowing in wooden trays
Image: Garden Ninja

Seed sowing is one of my favourite activities and, looking around at my online gardening peers, it seems to be a shared passion. Creating and growing from seed greatly increases the variety of plants available. It’s also better for the environment as it reduces the ‘food miles’ travelled by plants, flowers, fruit and vegetables.

I’ve been using a range of different plastic-free growing containers this year and the results have been really positive. Wooden seed trays have been a real winner. Not only do they look absolutely lovely compared to a sea of black plastic, but they heat up really quickly – great for seed germination! They’re also really breathable, meaning that the roots on my seedlings have been far stronger than their plastic counterparts.

I experienced zero damping off or humidity-related issues when using wooden seed trays compared to plastic. They do cost more initially and don’t stack inside each other, which is a slight drawback. However, they should last me close to 20-30 years if I look after them, bringing a better economy to their purchase.

Sow in homemade newspaper pots

Homemade plant pots made from biodegradable newspaper

Making your own pots from biodegradable newspaper is quick and easy
Image: Garden Ninja

The next surprise winner has been homemade newspaper pots. Yes, you read that right. I’ve been using a round jig to make pots from strips of newspaper to pot on my seedlings.

I know they won’t last longer than a few months before breaking down. But for annuals and vegetables that I’ll be planting out as soon as they’re strong enough, they are unbeatable. What’s even better, you can fit 24 of these paper pots into one of the wooden trays, which makes moving and hardening plants off really easy. I love things that are multi-purpose.

Like the idea but don’t have time to make your own? Thompson & Morgan sells packs of 48 fibre pots – you can plant out the whole pot when you’re ready and it will naturally biodegrade into the soil.

Reuse and recycle

48-pack biodegradable fibre grow pots from Thompson & Morgan

Use recycled yogurt pots or buy biodegradable pots online
Image: 48-pack biodegradable fibre grow pots from Thompson & Morgan

Finally, reusing plastic containers from the house does deserve a rightful mention. Yogurt pots, vegetable packaging and other plastic containers all make great seed trays or starter pots. I’d always advocate reusing as much as possible before these end up in the waste. In fact, I’d argue there’s actually no reason to buy plastic seed pots and containers if you carefully watch what you’re throwing away from inside and then reuse!

Make your own compost

Compost in a wooden compost bin

A rotating composter will last a lifetime and can produce compost in less than 8 weeks
Image: Stonel

Compost is an easy way to achieve plastic-free credentials – provided you have the space to make your own. Once you get into the rhythm of making your own compost you can, in theory, provide enough for your growing needs. It can be tricky for new gardeners to get the right balance for perfect compost. I’ll be the first to admit I have to tweak my recipes each year. Patience is key with home composting (that and the mythical perfect nitrogen to carbon ratio!)

If you don’t have the space or time to compost, the alternative is buying it in thick plastic bags. Often these bags are classed as ‘single use’ i.e. they can’t be recycled and end up in landfill. I tend to reuse these bags around the garden when weeding or clearing up, but there are other alternatives for empty compost bags. Weed bags for life, if you will!

There’s also been an increase recently in the number of local independent nurseries that provide a ‘loose’ compost scheme. You take along your own bag or container and pay for your compost by weight. What a great idea! I’d urge you to research your nearest loose compost provider. That way your bags can live on!

Another great use for compost bags is as an alternative weed membrane. If you’re thinking of putting down weed membrane matting (which itself is usually plastic based) in a low maintenance bed, why not cut open your old compost bags and reuse them? First pierce the bags, like you would a microwave meal, to allow for drainage and airflow. Then overlap them on the area to be covered and top with a healthy layer of either compost or earth. Cut planting holes through the bags to allow plants to grow whilst suppressing weeds. Yes, it may take more time than rolling out a huge carpet of membrane, but you’re helping to reduce your landfill waste and saving money.

As gardeners we have a first-hand understanding of the delicate and beautiful ecology that our gardens contain. By considering alternatives to plastic, and spending a little more time thinking about where our plastic ends up, we can start to make changes. These ideas might seem small – but they’re a good step in the right direction to reduce waste, limit pollution and inspire others to make similar changes. 

 

12 more gardening YouTubers

Woman filming herself repotting plants on YouTube

Get your gardening questions answered by some of the best green-fingered YouTubers
Image: Elnur

Are you always on the lookout for inspiring and informative gardening YouTube channels? Last time we featured some of the best gardeners of the vlogosphere, we were overwhelmed by your response. Here then, is a selection of vloggers we missed first time round – 12 more gardening YouTubers who know their onions – and a lot more besides…

Alternative Smallholding

Jaz holding up a oversized onion from Alternative Smallholding

Even while on holiday, Jaz couldn’t wait to get back to her allotment
Image: Alternative Smallholding

Do you find it hard to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings? When Jaz, the ‘Alternative Smallholder,’ was on holiday recently, she lay awake wondering how well her onions and garlic were faring under their protective enviromesh cover. No wonder that as soon as she got back, she went straight to her allotment to check!

You know your onions and garlic are ready to harvest when the tops begin to wilt and turn brown, explains the Alternative Smallholding family. This is one of our favourite vlogs – a “journey towards living a simple, happy life through growing our own food, raising tiny raptors (aka chickens) & dreaming of our own smallholding.” That onion harvest? Bumper.

Castle Hill Garden

Cliff from Castle Hill Garden standing in front of his tomato plants

Cliff has green-fingered advice for gardens of all sizes
Image: Castle Hill Garden

As you water your greenhouse tomatoes, you’ll notice two things, says Cliff, the Castle Hill Gardener. First, that the lower leaves can get in the way of watering, and second, that over time, the compost washes out, leaving roots exposed to the air. The answer? Trim and top up – without removing too much.

The Castle Hill Garden vlog shows you exactly what to do. Friendly, and informative, it’s ideal for anyone new to gardening, plus those looking to pick up extra tips from someone whose chatty, down to earth style makes the information so much more accessible.

Dave’s Allotment

Dave from Dave's Allotment in his greenhouse

Dave’s down to earth YouTube channel is chock full of advice
Image: Dave’s Allotment

Fish blood and bone – dried blood – just what every plant needs for a good start in life, says Dave, of Dave’s Allotment. Today he’s planting cucumbers in his greenhouse in buckets with the bases cut off, inserted into a deep raised bed. Cucumbers don’t like to sit around in too much water, so the buckets help to direct the water to the roots.

First I’ll get the kettle on,” is Dave’s approach to gardening. Here you’ll get a super-friendly vibe from the North East of England, plus gardening tips and insights galore. Brand new to allotmenteering? Check out Dave’s Back to Basics series – everything you need to know to get started.

Digging for Dinner

Joe from Digging For Dinner holding secetaurs

Want to grow the best tomatoes ever? Then make sure you follow Joe’s advice
Image: Digging For Dinner

Know the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes? Joe from Digging for Dinner shows you the difference, plus how to get the best harvests.

Indeterminate tomatoes keep on growing, so take off anything too low that’s of no benefit to the plant. Determinate tomatoes, Digging for Dinner says, need little intervention – just snip off anything in contact with the soil to prevent disease.

The fact that tomatoes are Joe’s favourite allotment crop, plus his great attention to detail, mean that this video really does live up to the promise of helping you to “Grow the Best Tomatoes Ever.” Digging for Dinner is proof of what’s possible with a little know how and elbow grease.

Erica’s Little Welsh Garden

Runner Bean 'Firestorm' from Thompson & Morgan

Make planting beans exciting with Erica’s methods
Image: Runner Bean ‘Firestorm’ from Thompson & Morgan

Are your beans boring? Erica’s were, but she’s put some more thought into it this year – ‘Black Coco’ dwarf French beans, ‘Simm’s Corsair’ runner beans, and ‘Brecon Black’, a variety from a Welsh seed library. Fascinating stuff, and we look forward to seeing how the different runner bean varieties fare in Erica’s Little Welsh Garden.

Or course, with growing more than one variety of bean, there’s always the distinct possibility of cross-pollination, but here too, Erica shares her tips for minimising the risks. A great channel – Erica is a friendly presenter with lots of great info to share.

Byther Farm

Liz from Byther Farm sitting in her garden

Updating tri-weekly, Liz’s channel covers life on an organic farmstead
Image: Byther Farm

Looking for some easy perennial veg to grow year-after-year? How about Taunton Deane Kale? Cabbagey and sweet but not overly strong, says Byther Farm’s Liz Zorab. Also try Eyptian walking onions – you can use the leaves and the bulbs. And how about Walking Stick Cabbage which can grow to a staggering 10 feet high.

Catch up on the latest gardening action on an organic farmstead in rural Monmouthshire – the scene for Liz and her partner’s gardening exploits. Byther Farm is an excellent channel for anyone interested in organic growing. Fancy making your own chive blossom vinegar? Liz shows you how to make this gorgeous pink condiment.

Homegrown Garden

Katrina from Homegrown Garden holding a plastic bottle

Katrina uses 2 litre water bottle as a nifty gardening hack
Image: Homegrown Garden

Find out all about companion planting to help stop bugs and pests getting at your tomatoes. From her new polytunnel, Katrina takes you right through planting and tying indoor tomatoes – her tip – bury a 2 litre water bottle with holes beside each tomato plant – by topping up the bottle, she delivers fluid direct to the root.

Three years with no blight shows this is a winning idea, and it’s just one of a wealth of tips you’ll discover courtesy of allotmenteer, Katrina. With no garden of her own, Katrina has taken to the allotment with great enthusiasm and creates a fascinating video diary to share her Homegrown Garden exploits.

Jane Kelly

Jane Kelly sitting in the garden

Jane’s friendly demeanour makes learning new gardening tricks fun
Image: Jane Kelly

Wondering about the best way to create an asparagus bed? Let Jane show you how as she creates one – something she’s always wanted but never got round to before. You’ll need a trench, some well rotted manure, a sprinkling of fertilizer, and of course your “spiders from Mars.”

Space your crowns a foot apart, spread the tendril-like roots and, after you’ve covered them, give the plants a good water. You’ll love Jane Kelly’s channel – with her warm and friendly style, she makes learning fun. Oh, and check out her shed – the perfect place to drink tea!

Lavender and Leeks

Katie from Lavender & Leeks picking mint from her garden

If you fancy going plot to plate, make sure you tune into Katie’s recipe vlogs
Image: Lavender and Leeks

Growing is only one half of the allotment equation – the other is eating your produce. Join Lavender and Leeks creator, Katie as she shares delicious dishes made from tasty fruit and veg from her own patch. Rhubarb crumble cake sound tempting? Join Katie in her beautiful little 6 x 4 shed as she cooks up a storm for you.

Slightly cramped the shed might be – especially with lemon balm hanging from the roof to dry – but you’ll be surprised and inspired by what you can do with such a small space. And while she’s waiting for the crumble to cook, it’s back out to take care of the gardening. Fun, informative and definitely tasty, Lavender and Leeks is a must.

Muddy Bootz

Nigel from Muddy Bootz in his garden

Nigel likes to start his gardening at daybreak
Image: Muddy Bootz

If you want to join Nigel, aka Muddy Bootz, at his allotment, you’ll have to get up early. “It’s just gone five o’clock, and it’s only just me and the birds out” – he says – “and it’s fantastic!” That’s one way to get your tomatoes in “early.”

After a quick cuppa, it’s on to planting cucumbers and tomatoes in the greenhouse – this year this allotmenteer is trialing heritage tomato ‘Harbinger’ along with old favourites, ‘Mountain Magic,’ ‘Crimson Crush’ and ‘Sweet Million’. You’ll discover great gardening here, and an engineering solution to prevent your plant halos getting clogged with soil during planting.

What Vivi Did Next

Vivi sitting in her garden with lavender in the background

Follow Vivi’s frugal smallholding lifestyle for money-saving tips
Image: What Vivi Did Next

Could you live off the land? Former nurse, Vivi was forced to quit her job in her late forties because of her dodgy knees. So what did Vivi do next? She took to a frugal goodlife and has thrived ever since.

The “Good Life” is hard graft, but it has its compensations – like harvesting lavender which, Vivi says you should do when the flowers have budded but not yet opened – that’s when the essential oils are at their most concentrated. What Vivi Did Next is full of frugal tips, and growing wisdom, but more than that, it’s a window into an alternative lifestyle that’s cash poor, but all the richer for it.

The Small Garden Channel

George from The Small Garden Channel

Let veteran gardener George solve your small gardening dilemmas
Image: The Small Garden Channel

Watch as George gives growing courgettes in a bale of straw a try. First, wet your bale for three or four days to get it to begin composting, then leave for six days to heat up. The result? The courgettes were something of a triumph, but that’s not all.

The straw is an excellent source of carbon for the compost heap, and when strewn over the lawn before mowing, mixes with grass clippings to make it instantly compostable. After running a 22 acre estate, retired George now tends a small garden and shares his many years of knowledge on The Small Garden Channel. Wonderfully warm and informative, George is as charming and erudite a YouTube presenter as you could wish for.

That’s it for now – but if you’re keen for more, check out our original post called 10 top gardening YouTube channels and bookmark the ones.

10 bloggers who review gorgeous gardens to visit

English garden in full bloom

Spend your time in some of the nation’s best gardens
Image: Yolanta

Did you know that the gardens at Chatsworth are being transformed? Have you always wanted to immerse yourself in the jungle at The Lost Gardens of Heligan? Visiting gardens is something of a national occupation for us Brits. And with good reason, because here in the UK we have some of the most beautiful stately homes, gardens, and parks to be found anywhere. To give you a taste of the best of the best gardens, here we present our pick of bloggers who review gorgeous gardens – enjoy. 

Susan Rushton

The Dorothy Clive Garden with a laburnum arch

Magical – the Dorothy Clive Garden’s laburnum arch in all its glory
Image: Susan Rushton

A laburnum arch in full flower? You’ll have to time your visit just right if you want to see the one at the Dorothy Clive Garden in Shropshire. Garden, nature, and photography enthusiast, Susan Rushton just missed it in 2015, but saw it in all its glory this year – and has this beautiful photograph to prove it.

Think rhododendrons are a little too showy? Check out Susan’s incredible photography – she used to think so, but not any more. Her visit to this atmospheric garden proved to her that: “rhodis can be as ethereally lovely as any plant you’ll find in a shady spot.

The Green Fingered Blog

Abbey House Garden – clever use of planting makes the most of the ruin
Image: The Green Fingered Blog

‘Borrowing the landscape’ is a well known garden design trick, but they way it’s done here is cleverer than most.” So says Paul at The Green Fingered Blog. His visit to Abbey House Gardens in Malmesbury in Wiltshire just goes to prove how visiting professionally designed gardens can help provide the inspiration you need to get the most out of your garden at home.

At Abbey House, it’s the planting that leads the eye to the Abbey ruins next door that has Paul excited. And then there’s the use of focal points and the curve of the lawn. We can’t all live next door to a spectacular ancient ruin, but we can benefit from this blogger’s beautifully considered Abbey House Gardens masterclass.

Pumpkin Beth

The Victoria Garden, Farnham
Photo © David960 (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Isn’t a peaceful retreat at the heart of a busy town centre, exactly what every shopper needs? In Farnham – there is just such a place. The Farnham Swimming Baths Trust is a charitable organisation that has created a truly magical garden from the town’s derelict Victorian outdoor swimming pool.

With mosaic hopscotch for the children, and for the adults, rose-covered arches and sculptures to enjoy – there really is something for everyone at the Victoria Garden. As for Pumpkin Beth – a self-confessed “gardening evangelist”, she grows the best organic pumpkins around!

Haarkon

Lost Gardens of Heligan from Haarkon

The nearest you’ll get to a jungle in the UK – the Lost Gardens of Heligan
Image: Haarkon

It’s probably one of the most romantic names for a garden imaginable – The Lost Gardens of Heligan – in deepest, darkest Cornwall. They’re actually not that lost, according to India and Magnus of Haarkon – in fact they’re very much found. All the same, expect to discover “the closest we’ve been to an outdoor jungle in this country”.

Haarkon is all about celebrating “people, processes and the often-overlooked details of life”, and the result is a completely unique blog experience which features some truly incredible photography from all around the world. Thinking of making the trip to Cornwall’s most famous lost garden? Find out what lies in store right here.

Garden Visit

Visit Sandy Lodge to discover how to make your garden more bird-friendly
Image: E Gatehouse

Take a stroll around a wildlife garden in the heart of Bedfordshire. The grounds of Sandy Lodge, the home of the RSPB, take the concept of bird-friendly to a level you won’t find elsewhere, and so they’re well worth a visit for anyone interested in tempting bird life to their patch.

Garden Visit is a superb resource for anyone interested in exploring UK gardens and parks – and has plenty of information about far flung botanical treats too. A site where you’ll find concise reviews along with opening times and directions, Garden Visit is a must for gardeners everywhere.

The Frustrated Gardener

Visit Cornwall’s Morrab Gardens to see sub-tropical plants flourish!
Image: Giz Edwards

Walking towards Morrab House one passes through a damp glade filled with enormous tree ferns,” says The Frustrated Gardener, Dan. Morrab Public Gardens in Penzance are testament to the Victorians’ obsession with collecting, there being a sizeable ensemble of sub-tropical plants gifted by some of Cornwall’s most famous plant collectors.

Well worth a look if coastal gardening is your yen – Dan himself gardens a seaside plot in Broadstairs, Kent, and his own efforts are well worth a look. The highlight of Dan’s visit to Morrab? “Succulents, including the mighty Agave Americana, opuntias, aloes and aeoniums.

The Chatty Gardener

Chatsworth House from The Chatty Gardener

Chatsworth in all its glory as the transformation of the gardens begin
Image: The Chatty Gardener 

Get the lowdown on the Chatsworth House transformation. It’s a work in progress says The Chatty Gardener, Mandy, but you can already catch a glimpse of how it’s going to look when complete. These alterations will be the “biggest since changes by Joseph Paxton more than 200 years ago.”

Exciting times – the developments at the great Derbyshire estate are well worth discovering for yourself. Four new glades and a bog garden are just two of the planned works, says Mandy, a dedicated gardener and 2018 PPA Garden Journalist of the Year.

Kevin Gelder

The stunning hot border at Renishaw
Image: Kevin Gelder

Looking for inspiration for your summer herbaceous borders? Take a turn around the gardens of Derbyshire’s Renishaw House with gardener, blogger, and writer, Kevin Gelder. Full of pinks, purples and blues, the Renishaw borders are “almost overwhelmingly beautiful”, crescendoing from the lawn-edge planting to the yew hedges behind.

You’ll also find a sparkling “white garden”, as well as a perfectly stunning hot border featuring nasturtiums, white buddlejas, roses and clematis. And before you leave, Kevin says, do stop to admire the statuesque lilies which, planted alongside roses, are a scent sensation not to be missed.

Carrots and Calendula

Ruined Nymans in its autumn splendour
Image: Carrots and Calendula

How about some theatrical beauty? Overlooking the South Downs, Nymans, replete with romantic ruins, must be one of the loveliest gardens to visit any time of year. Catch it in summer for its blazing borders, or go there during the autumn when you’ll be rewarded with beautiful salvias offset against the flame colours of the trees in the background.

A serious fire ravaged Nymans during the late 1940s, but the family still live in the usable part of the house. A visit should include a browse around the second-hand bookshop and – of course – the plant shop. When she’s not visiting gardens, Ciar of Carrots and Calendula cultivates a sunny suburban plot in East Sussex.

The garden gate is open

Wander the paths of this extraordinary healing garden in the heart of Chelsea
Image: The Garden Gate is Open

Now for a “remarkable garden originally created in 1673 by the Apothecaries in which to grow medicinal plants.” When Julia, the blogger behind The Garden Gate is Open had a few hours to spare during a visit to London, she decided to call in at the Chelsea Physic Garden – four acres of calm in the heart of the busy metropolis.

Look out for beautiful woven sculptures by Tom Hare, a stunning collection of cacti, a fernery, and much more. And if you’d like to know more about the wonderful plantings at this historic garden, an audio tour will keep you informed as you wander. This blog is full of wonderful gardens to visit – take a look and you’ll discover some gems.

Did we miss one of your favourite blogs or gardens to visit? Drop us a line via our Facebook page and we’ll try to feature it next time.

How to prepare your garden for a holiday

Car packed full of holiday luggage

Plan ahead to help your garden survive your summer holiday
Image: Africa Studio

You’ve invested blood, sweat and tears into your garden, so it’s perfectly natural to worry about leaving your plants while you enjoy a break from the day-to-day routine. 

We asked garden designer, Nic Wilson of dogwooddays, for her professional advice on how to keep things looking their best for when you return. Here are six practical suggestions to help prepare your garden before you go on holiday:

1. General care

Closeup of lawnmower and cutting grass

Cut and edge the lawn before you leave
Image: kurhan

I’m looking forward to some time away to relax with my family this summer, but at the back of my mind I can feel a niggling anxiety – how will my plants cope while I’m away? Will the lettuces bolt and the sweet peas set seed? How will the dahlias survive if there’s a heatwave? Last year we returned to find that wasps had devoured almost every greengage. Unfortunately, the whole crop was ruined.

To keep things tidy while you’re away, take care of a few general tasks before you leave. Weed borders and paths, and cut the grass in any areas that you’re not growing long for wildlife. Make sure that any top-heavy plants are staked to avoid high winds causing damage to stems while you’re gone.

2. Containers

Pots and containers in Nic Wilson's dogwooddays garden

Group pots and containers together in a shaded spot
Image: dogwooddays

Group all your containers together in a shady spot and provide automatic watering via an irrigation system. Failing that, sit the containers in trays of water.

Take down any hanging baskets and place them with your other containers in the shade. Terracotta pots dry out more quickly than plastic ones, so make sure they’re well watered before you leave.

3. Greenhouse

Stock image of a greenhouse with door open

Nic leaves her greenhouse open while she’s away
Image: a40757

Ensure that your greenhouse plants have adequate shade and that the windows, vents and doors are open during the day. With a small greenhouse like mine, I leave the doors and windows open when we go away in the summer to avoid my plants overheating.

Water all your plants well and stand the pots on capillary matting so they can take up water slowly from the base reservoir. Plants can also be watered with an upside-down drink bottle with a drip end attached, or from a self-watering globe, or a mighty dripper.

4. Fruit and vegetables

Basket of harvested plums from dogwooddays

Nic harvests as many plums as possible before she leaves
Image: dogwooddays

Pick as much as you can before you go – our last job will be to harvest, eat and freeze our ‘Opal’ plums if they ripen in time. Ask a friend or neighbour to visit every few days to harvest crops so the plants will continue to be productive.

By thoroughly watering and mulching the beds before you leave, you can make sure that the soil stays moist for as long as possible. Protect your crops with specialist netting to avoid damage from pigeons and cabbage white butterflies.

5. Flowers

Image of Happy Single Date dahlias

Nic removes the heads from her ‘Happy Single Date’ dahlias before setting off
Image: dogwooddays

Summer-flowering plants like dahlias, sweetpeas, osteospermum and zinnias might be covered in blooms now, but these will have faded by the time you return and the plants will be starting to set seed. Although it might seem counter-intuitive, remove open and spent flowers before you leave and feed plants to encourage a flush of new blooms upon your return.

6. Biosecurity

Oranges infected with CVC, a disease caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa

Oranges infected with CVC, a disease caused by the bacterium Xylella fastidiosa
Image: Alf Ribeiro

Don’t bring back plant material back from your holidays, for the long-term health of your own garden and all plants across the UK. Diseases like Xylella have the potential to cause devastation to a huge range of cultivated and wild plants, so return with photos and memories, not with the plants themselves.

 

DIY Dahlia Festival

It always intrigues me how different plants come in and out of fashion. Dahlias are one such plant that has ridden the roller coaster of popularity over the last century – but right now, they are definitely on the up!

 

Dahlias at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Dahlias at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire.

 

I for one, am glad of their revival. So are the huge numbers of visitors to Anglesey Abbey’s Dahlia Festival, in Cambridgeshire each September.  I’ve visited on several occasions with my equally plant-obsessed friend who lives next door, with all kids in tow. In fact, it’s become a bit of an annual event for us all!  Each time these magnificent plants astonish me with their vibrant colours and huge variety of flower shapes.

It’s not just the plants that impress me. The gardeners that grow them to perfection deserve enormous credit, and the creativity with which they are displayed is breath-taking.

 

Dahlias decorate the trunks of trees at Anglesey Abbey.

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Dahlias decorate the trunks of trees at Anglesey Abbey.

 

You might think that taking young children to a flower festival would be a recipe for disaster – I know I did. How wrong I was! In addition to the borders, many of the displays use cut Dahlia flowers placed into test-tube style vases. These can be attached to trees, inserted into lawns and displayed in all manner of other creative ways. It makes for a much more interactive experience which appeals to the children and grown-ups alike.   

 

Dahlias appeal to young and old

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – A creative display of Dahlias appeals to young and old!

 

Sadly we missed it last year, but as luck would have it, my friend was bequeathed an enormous number of rather large Dahlia tubers. They were unwanted by their previous owners.  Crazy, I know! So, it was decided … this year she would create our own Dahlia festival!

 

Dahlia tubers were potted up

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Dahlia tubers were potted up in late spring.

 

The Dahlia tubers overwintered in crates in the greenhouse, and she planted them up into large pots this spring.  When they emerged from the greenhouse the Dahlia plants looked quite magnificent.  They were planted with care, watered well and given a good mulch of manure.  Sturdy stakes were inserted in the ground to support them as they grow.

 

Rows of Dahlia plants in the garden

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Rows of Dahlia plants have been planted in the garden.

 

On a side note, if you are wondering what the straw-like material is; it’s just a pile of dead weed and grass that was cleared from the site. When my friend went to remove it we discovered ground-nesting bees had made a home there.  Always keen to live and let live, the bees and their nest have been left well alone. These helpful little insects are under threat and need all the help we can give them.

However, there are other garden creatures, that we could well do without.  Slugs and snails thrive in our gardens, and unfortunately they have a particular taste for Dahlias!

 

Slug damage on Dahlia plant

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Slug damage on Dahlia plant.

 

With the Dahlia festival under threat, it was necessary to take sensible precautions! A combination of slug pellets and copper slug collars has been put in place, and so far there has been very little damage.

 

Slug and snail control around Dahlia plants

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Slug and snail control around Dahlia plants.

 

By September, there should be a fabulous display of dazzling Dahlias. Whilst not on the same grand scale as Anglesey Abbey, I’m certain that it will still be impressive. 

Are you growing Dahlias this year? Let us know how you are getting on at our Facebook page.

 

Heavenly Hydrangeas!

If there’s one genus that I am utterly in love with then it’s Hydrangeas! Every year as we head into ‘Hydrangea season’ I begin muttering eulogies to these beauties… ‘What a stunner!’ ‘Isn’t it gorgeous?’ ‘Wow, look at the flowers on that!!!’

I don’t really know when my love for Hydrangeas began. I bought my first, Hydrangea ‘King George V’, many years ago and it still sits in a big pot outside my back door. Its performance always reflects the care (or neglect) that it receives throughout the year. In a good year it is fabulous, covered in white buds that open to reveal rosy, pink-edged blooms.  The flowers darken as they age to rich red-pink.  

 

Pink Hydrangea flowers of 'King George V'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea macrophylla ‘King George V’

 

It’s always at its best, if it has been repotted in the spring and fed and watered liberally. Sadly this year it has been plagued with Hydrangea Scale and looks pale and chlorotic, with few flowers forming.  Scale insects suck the sap of plants, weakening their growth.

 

Hydrangea Scale insect

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea Scale insect can be seen on plants in early summer.

 

I’ve been squishing the white waxy clusters that cover the eggs whenever I see them. I usually leave the stems and flowers intact over winter, but this Autumn I will cut them all back to destroy any overwintering nymphs.  Fingers crossed for a better display next year!

Luckily, it’s better news on the other side of the patio where Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Madame Emile Mouillère’ is flowering her heart out.  I found her years ago on a visit to the nursery at Great Dixter Garden in East Sussex.  It’s funny how plants remind you of people and places that you’ve know, isn’t it?

 

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Madame Emile Mouillère'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Madame Emile Mouillère’ in full bloom.

 

This really is an elegant variety with large flower heads that open apple green and mature to dazzling white, before taking on a gentle pink tint to the oldest flower heads.

I’m rather excited about my latest acquisition of Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Princess Diana’. Now I know they look small right now – but given a few years of TLC they will produce fabulous double, pink flowers with an unusual star shape. I’ve only ever seen this variety in pictures so I can’t wait for the real thing!

 

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Princess Diana'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Princess Diana’ will produce starry, double flowers at maturity.

 

My enthusiasm for Hydrangeas is being fueled by these two beautiful specimens on display here at T&M. Sadly I can’t tell you the variety as they are unlabelled, but there is no denying that they really are magnificent. One plant is so large that I asked my colleague, Sonia to appear in the picture for scale! Both are grown in large pots, and fed and watered liberally – it just goes to show how a proper care can make all the difference.

 

Spectacular Hydrangeas grown in large pots

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangeas make superb container plants.

 

You may have noticed that I haven’t included any blue Hydrangeas in this blog so far. The soil in my garden shows no hint of acidity! An acid soil will turn the blooms of most pink macrophylla varieties to varying shades of blue or purple.  I could pot a Hydrangea plant into ericaceous John Innes compost, water only with rainwater, and apply regular drenches of colourant… but I learned long ago that I’m rather a lazy gardener, so I prefer to work with what nature has given me!

It doesn’t stop me from admiring blue hydrangeas though. Here’s a stunning example from our ‘Your TM garden’ photo competition by this month’s winner, Diana Eastwood.

 

Beautiful blue Hydrangea flower

©Diana Eastwood – Hydrangea macrophylla sp. produce blue flowers on acid soils.

 

Hydrangeas really do have a lot to offer. Aside from the large, flamboyant blooms in summer, they also have lovely autumn colour.

In fact, I think they make the perfect gift plant. Here’s a double one that I recently gave for a friend’s birthday called Hydrangea macrophllya ‘Mademoiselle’ – I hope she gets as much enjoyment from Hydrangeas as I do!

 

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Mademoiselle'

©Sue Sanderson, Thompson & Morgan – Hydrangeas make wonderful gift plants.

 

Have I missed one of your favourite varieties? Why not share your beautiful Hydrangea pictures with us on our Facebook page?

 

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