Thompson & Morgan Gardening Blog

Our gardening blog covers a wide variety of topics, including fruit, vegetable and tree stories. Read some of the top gardening stories right here.

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

Geoff Stonebanks Driftwood Garden Update

I saw this posted on social media recently!

“Gardening is an art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas”.

It was credited to Elizabeth Murray. It really tugged at my own perception of how I garden myself. As someone who has no formal background in gardening of any sort, and one who, to be totally honest, struggles to find the patience to grow from seed, this description best fits how I tackle my own garden, Driftwood, and prepare it for the 2,000 odd visitors that come to see it every year! I’ve always said I’m a bit of an instant gardener, as I want the area I’m creating or changing to look like the image I have in my head, instantly.

This description of being a painter and using the plants as paint is something many have said to me over the years. Interestingly, many of the plants I’ve used to paint since 2012 have come from Thompson & Morgan. Looking back to 2013, two of the trial plants I was sent were Dahlia ‘Fire and Ice’ and Tulip ‘Silver Parrot’. The former was the most impressive flower to set the borders alight with some dazzling colour, easy to imagine my brushstrokes creating this dazzling bloom. Likewise with the amazing tulip too.

Dahlia ‘Ice and Fire’ and Parrot Tulips. ©Geoff Stonebanks

In 2014 the standout bit of art for me was the stunning Gazania ‘Tikal Sunbather’, whose dramatic pointed petals really set the garden canvas alive on either side of the tranquil pond. By 2015 we took delivery of the outstanding Fuchsia arborescens. This was a much talked about work of art by many garden visitors, lots of whom had never heard of it. All were captivated by its elegance and its twofold purpose in the garden, producing amazing delicate flowers to paint the borders or containers and then to turn into delicious berries that could be eaten.

Fuchsia arborescens and Gazania ‘Tikal Sunbather’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

2016 saw the stunning Petunia ‘Night Sky’ delivered to Driftwood. These were certainly one of the most talked about pieces of flower art in the garden that year, I had lots of them tumbling out of my 200 or more containers and you could just imagine them painted on a night sky canvas.

2017 saw another gorgeous petunia take the crown for the most commented on plant in the garden. Like the night sky, you could just imaging an artist’s brush delicately painting the heart shapes across the flowers petals. Petunia ‘Amore™ Queen of Hearts’ was a great hit.

Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and Petunia ‘Amore™ Queen of Hearts’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

Moving swiftly on to 2018, the outright winner in the stand out colour and longevity category, without doubt, was the Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ that arrived and was planted into a large container. They started to flower very early on in the season and never seemed to stop until the garden gate was closed in September and beyond. So, what artistic contributions to the garden will 2019 bring? Well I’ve got 13 different plants being delivered by Thompson & Morgan this Spring, 2 are here already, Acanthus mollis and Alstroemeria ‘Summer Red’. But I reckon the stand out plant for me on the artist’s palette this season will be the Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’. You’ll have to watch this space over the summer months to see how it turns out on my garden canvas!

Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ and Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

Interestingly, back in 2017, a visitor to the garden posted this review on Trip Advisor after seeing the garden.

“The garden was a picture created by an artist – a delight of colours, secret glades of surprise, intricacies of fronds and leaves, inspiring and challenging, completely enjoyable”.

Read more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

Not Quite Spring

Hello

As I write this it’s the beginning of March and we’ve had a lovely warm spell but are now experiencing some wetter, cooler weather, and today it is blowing a gale here in mid-Wales. Rain is never a bad thing to be honest, it’s good to have rain sometimes, if not for the fact that the water butts are full again!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

Since I last wrote, I’ve put in the Spring Onion sets, and I finally got round to buying some ericaceous compost so that I could take up the three, small blueberry bushes form the garden. They have now been put into planters and are getting a good rainwater drink as they sit. They have survived the Winter very well and are now happy in the pots.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

In my last, and first, post here I wrote about overwintering a couple of things – so first off let’s chat cabbages! Here are my Cabbages transplanted from the greenhouse. I’m quite chuffed with these as I kept them covered with netting during the latter part of the year ,but after a while, I didn’t expect anything to try and eat them so I didn’t bother. Now they are looking very healthy indeed. I think I may perhaps be able to harvest them in about July.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I overwintered some Pea ‘Meteor’ climbing peas in the greenhouse and, with my hand as a guide, you can see how they are coming on after being planted in the poly house bed. Harvest is set around May time I think.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I also sowed, and left in the greenhouse, some Sweet Peas at the end of September. I think they’re ready to be planted out I would say!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

A couple of failures were Beetroot and Turnip in the greenhouse. I had lots of greenery and leaves grew but nothing underground. Shame as I’ve grown these both outside quite well in the past; never mind, we live and learn.

Talking of the greenhouse….

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

This is what happened when Storm Eric hit. I was about as devastated as the greenhouse was because I’d hardly made any use of it and had lots of plans for it this year. I intended to grow all my tomatoes in there so as to leave space in the poly house, but that has been put paid to. However, I’ve adapted and bought some Tomato ‘Outdoor Girl’ seeds which I’m told by a friend are a good outdoor cropping variety. I’ll let you know how I get on.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

Over the Winter I thought I’d lost my rhubarb crowns for various reasons, including the area having become very overgrown. But the other day I discovered one, and then the other. I made the decision to clear it and created a frame so they won’t get lost again, or damaged by my husband when outdoor jobs are being done! I built this frame out of ash branches, following him cutting back some trees in the garden. I have to say I love it!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I don’t grow flowers in general although this year I’ve decided to sow some Nigella. Although we have lots and lots of Daffs and Snowdrops in the garden, I’ve sown some Daff and Tulip bulbs in pots and happily found Crocuses pop up with no effort at all!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I think Spring may be on its way but we need to take care when the weather takes a turn and keeps us on our toes.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I look forward to writing again about how the season progresses.

Bye.
Louise

Planting Bare Root Peonies

What a lovely day, a day out of the office and back to the Private Estate where I work as a Gardener.
I have been here for about fourteen years and have seen the garden develop, hedges have been removed, planting changed, refreshed and new borders developed.
It has been an unseasonable day for February, bright skies and warm sunshine, I won’t complain. Spring is around the corner!

So, today’s job was to plant a Tree Peony Collection I had ordered. Within the collection, Paeonia suffruticosa, are ‘Ruby’, ‘White Crane’ and ‘Lu’s Pink’.
I chose this collection as I particularly like the lime green leaves with the rich cerise pink flower of ‘Ruby’ and the double petals of the lovely ‘Lu’s Pink’. ‘White Crane’ has a lovely open habit of the flowers.

Bare Root Peonyx2

©Thompson&Morgan

This is how the Peonies arrive, they need a soak for at least an hour to hydrate the roots.

Right now, is the perfect time to plant bare rooted plants. Bare root plants or trees are supplied in a dormant state and can be transported and planted at this time of year. Then when the warmer weather comes, they can burst into life.

I dug site holes in the border before planting, I removed any weeds from the area around the holes. There is perennial Geranium phaem ‘Mourning Widow’ starting to grow in and around the area I am planting the Peonies. These will look great!
I added some Chicken Manure pellets to the planting hole for a slow release feed as they will be hungry when establishing.

Bare Root Peony

©Thompson&Morgan

All Bare root plants need to be well watered in, and then regularly watered afterwards, while they are establishing themselves during the first season in their new position.

It does look like you are planting a ‘stick’ but I can safely say, you will enjoy seeing your newly planted plant ‘Spring’ into life.

Scent-sational Spring Flowers!

As I stepped into my garden earlier this week, I was captured by a breath-taking fragrance.  I went in search of its source – and there on the other side of the fence was a magnificent Sarcococca! I love this reliable evergreen shrub.  It has an intense (but not overpowering) perfume. Better still, it’s spidery, creamy white flowers are always busy with bees and other insects in early spring.

Sarcococca confusa flowers      ©Thompson & Morgan Sarcococca confusa

Last month was the mildest February since records began, and it seems to have brought out a flurry of early blooms in the garden. A walk around our plant nursery is a treat for the senses!

Old favourites like Mahonia aquifolium and Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ are in full swing. It’s easy to understand why they are so popular. These reliable shrubs are undemanding and their rich perfume will make you want to linger outdoors, even on a chilly day.

Mahonia aquifolium flowers

© Thompson & Morgan Mahonia aquifolium

Now maybe it’s just me, but I have never noticed so many Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ as I have this year – they seem to have taken a real surge in popularity! Not that I’m complaining – they make a handsome shrub, all year round, with their glossy, evergreen foliage.  At this time of the year, they are in their prime. Clusters of sugar pink, star-shaped flowers make an elegant display. Their powerful fragrance fills the garden with a rich, perfume.

Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata' flowers

© Thompson & Morgan Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

One fragrant shrub that deserves to be more widely planted is Edgworthia chrysantha. While wandering the nursery the silky flowers stood out against its bare stems, releasing a gentle scent on the spring breeze. It’s a good choice for a sheltered position in the dappled shade of trees. An absolute treasure in spring!

Edgeworthia chrysantha flowers

© Thompson & Morgan Edgeworthia chrysantha

Spring perfume doesn’t need to be reserved for the garden. There are plenty of bulbs that will deliver a powerful punch indoors each spring. Fragrant Narcissus are some of my favourites. The scent is subtle with a delicate floral note, and the flowers are relentlessly cheerful!

Double Narcissus flowers

© Thompson & Morgan Double Narcissus

Hyacinth bulbs make a showy display indoors too, but I do find that they suffer from the Marmite effect. Love them, or hate them – you will definitely notice the powerful perfume if you welcome them into your home. Personally I will be leaving my Hyacinths just outside the back door for now!

How to attract birds to your garden all year round

Redwing bird on berries - photo from Nic Wilson at dogwooddays

This waxwing is a regular visitor to Nic’s garden
Image: dogwooddays

In January, Nic Wilson of dogwooddays was astonished to see a female blackcap in the garden during the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch. It was a new species for her and, even better, it turned up at just the right time to be counted! She also has regular winter visits from redwing, feeding on next door’s cotoneaster, and waxwing in the birch trees behind her house.

Here are Nic’s top tips for attracting birds to your garden, including plants that they particularly love…

How to attract birds

Ivy berries on ivy bush - photo from Nic Wilson at dogwooddays

Plan to include a few more berry-bearing plants such as Nic’s beautiful ivy
Image: dogwooddays

In the winter and early spring it’s crucial to provide food for birds, to help them survive the colder months. This can be in the form of seeds and nuts – in our garden the finches love sunflower hearts and starlings flock to feed on the fat balls – but berries, seedheads and overwintering insects also offer hungry birds sustenance in the garden.

Winter is also an ideal time to plan simple changes to your garden that will encourage birds to visit throughout the year. It’s estimated that there are 400,000 hectares of garden habitat across the UK, and this could make a real difference if it were used creatively to support birdlife.

Stock up feeding stations

redwing sitting on a bush with red berries and green leaves - photos by Nic Wilson at dogwooddays

A redwing pauses for brief respite
Image: dogwooddays

The RSPB advise us to feed birds throughout the year, but winter is a key time to keep bird feeding stations topped up and ensure that there’s plenty of fresh water to drink. In colder months, fill feeders and bird tables with sunflower and niger seeds, or a quality wild bird seed mix.

Peanuts are a good food source, but they shouldn’t be provided whole. Only purchase peanuts from a quality retailer who guarantees that they’re free from aflatoxin, a natural toxin that can kill birds. Fresh mealworms, fatballs (remove any nylon meshbags first) and fruit – soft apples and pears cut in half, or bananas – are also ideal winter fare. It’s essential that feeders are kept clean or you can do more harm than good.

Growing your own seed-bearing plants is a great way to feed birds throughout the year. Sunflowers provide huge heads of seed, while poppy, teasel, allium, echinacea, phlomis and many other garden favourites also have seeds that can be left over winter to attract birds like finches to the garden. As I write, a charm of goldfinches has descended on our verbena, bouncing on the seedheads as they pick out the seeds.

Provide nesting places

Gardman Multi-Nest Box With Apex Roof by Thompson & Morgan

Mount bird boxes in quiet, sheltered spots
Image: Thompson & Morgan’s Gardman Multi-Nest Box With Apex Roof

Supplying bird boxes is the easiest way to encourage birds to nest in the garden. We regularly hosted blue and great tits as they nested in boxes my children had made with their grandad.

Hedges and trees are important as they offer sheltered spots for birds to nest. Just be sure to avoid cutting hedges in the breeding season (early March – end of August) to protect any nests that might be in use during this period.

Encourage insects

long tailed tit on a branch photographed by Nic Wilson at dogwooddays

Birds like this long tailed tit are attracted to gardens with lots of insects
Image: dogwooddays

The more insects in your garden, the more birds will be attracted to feed. Avoid chemical products and use organic growing methods to encourage healthy ecosystems that will support large numbers of minibeasts.

A perfect, tidy garden isn’t ideal for wildlife – creating ‘wild’ areas with piles of logs, sticks and stones helps to encourage a range of insects. Leave stems and seedheads over winter to offer shelter to insects during the cold winter months.

Bring on the berries

red pyracantha hedge photographed by Nic Wilson at dogwooddays

This pyracantha hedge looks gorgeous and provides a feast of winter berries
Image: dogwooddays

Trees and plants with berries offer rich pickings for birds, and they add colour to the garden during the bleakest months. More unusual garden birds like fieldfare, redwing, mistle thrush and waxwing love to visit berry-laden shrubs, giving us fabulous views of these beautiful birds. Try planting:

If your garden is too small for trees or large shrubs, try climbers like honeysuckle ‘Hall’s Prolific’ or ivy ‘Glacier’ that grow vertically and provide nourishing berries for the birds throughout the autumn and winter.

Hedge Funds!

After a frozen start to the month, this week has brought sunshine and birdsong – spring is definitely in the air! As the weather improves, the sap begins to rise, and before you know it there will be a new flush of foliage everywhere you look!

This signals that the bare root season will soon be drawing to a close. But there’s still time to plant bare root shrubs and trees if you’re quick about it.

Hedging plants

©Thompson & Morgan Hedging plants

Bare roots are often far cheaper than potted plants. These young ‘whips’ establish quicker than more mature specimens, and will soon catch up in size. Bare root hedging is by far one of the greatest savings you can make in the garden.

Given the quantity of plants that are normally required to create a hedge, it’s a ‘no brainer’ to buy your plants as bare roots. Time to spend that hedge fund!

I often think the value of hedging is overlooked by many gardeners. Hedges provide the bare bones of the garden creating structure, securing boundaries and providing a backdrop for your borders. The right hedging plants will attract wildlife and create wind breaks in gusty locations.

Beech is one of my favourites – it forms a dense deciduous hedge that stays neat and manageable, but retains its tawny brown autumn leaves for months over the winter. So you are never faced with completely bare branches.

Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea

© Shutterstock Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea

If you prefer an evergreen hedge then Yew is the traditional choice for a formal look, or try Privet for a quick growing, trouble free hedge that will thrive in most conditions. Box is always a popular choice, but in recent years the fungal disease Box Blight has decimated Box hedges up and down the UK. A good alternative, with a similar growth rate and appearance, is Ilex crenata or Euonymus japonicus.

Euonymus japonicus Jean Hughes

© Shutterstock Euonymus japonicus Jean Hughes

Wherever possible, choose species that will benefit wildlife. Hedges are essential wildlife corridors allowing birds, mammals and insects to travel freely between areas. Hawthorn and Blackthorn both provide berries for birds, nectar for insects, and shelter for many different species. Better still, these thorny plants also make very effective security hedges too.

Prunus spinosa

©Shutterstock Prunus spinosa

Whatever type of hedge you need, there are plenty to choose from at Thompson & Morgan. Take a look at our range of hedging plants online. For advice on how to plant a hedge, check out this helpful guide

Five tips for planting for pollinators

peacock butterfly against a green background

Important pollinators like bees, butterflies and moths are in decline
Image: Marek Mierzejewski

Bees, butterflies and other pollinators are under threat, so there’s never been a better time for gardeners to help by adding a few plants to support them. Here, Mandy Bradshaw from The Chatty Gardener shares five simple tips to help make your garden a refuge for pollinators.

1. Be part of the solution

bumblebee on a yellow foxglove

Residential gardens and allotments are an important lifeline for pollinators
Image: Paul Stout

I love watching the bees in my garden squeezing into a foxglove flower, noisily feasting on opium poppies in the veg plot or enjoying the winter honeysuckle.

Gardening without chemicals and trying to choose nectar-rich flowers means bees and other pollinators are often buzzing around my plot – good to watch and helping my flowers and veg set fruit or seed.

Increasingly, our gardens are becoming an important lifeline for these beneficial insects and go some way to counter the effects of natural habitat loss and the use of pesticides.

A recent study found that urban allotments and gardens are vital sources of food for pollinators – especially when they have native plants such as brambles and dandelions, and traditional favourites like lavender and marigolds.

So, to hear the sound of bees in your garden, make the decision to actively support our pollinators – it’s the first important step.

2. Choose the right plants

bench in the middle of a wildflower garden in England

A quiet corner of this walled garden has been dedicated to wildflowers
Image: Shutterstock

The very best plants for pollinators are ‘species’, as modern cultivars can be sterile or have low nectar and pollen levels. If you grow vegetables, try to include some heritage varieties among the modern cultivars.

When it comes to the flower garden, plants with open, single blooms are better than double flowers where the nectar can be difficult to reach.

Incorporate some wildflowers in your garden, or even leave a corner where you allow weeds such as nettles and dandelions to thrive. Let your grass wait a little longer before you get the lawnmower out, to allow the clover to flower. Allowing ivy to flower will also provide important food for bees.

Think about adding a few flowers to your vegetable patch to help pollinate your crops. I edge my beds with the common marigold (Calendula officinalis). It looks pretty and draws in those helpful insects.

3. Give a good mix

Mahonia x media collection from Thompson & Morgan - available now

The mahonia’s large yellow flower spikes bloom from November through to March
Image: Mahonia x media collection from Thompson & Morgan

Different insects like different plants, so make sure you have a range of flower shapes to ensure your garden helps them all. Some bees, for example, have long tongues to cope with plants such as aconitum.

Grow a mix of perennials and annuals and don’t forget trees and shrubs. Both can be excellent sources of nectar for bees and butterflies.

Think about planting to cover the seasons. Like the gardener, pollinators need food all-year-round, so it’s important to plant for more than just the summer! Early spring and autumn are the seasons when nectar can be particularly short in supply, but adding just a few of the right plants can make all the difference. Good spring plants are crocus and hellebores, while a winter feast can be provided by snowdrops, mahonia or sarcococca.

Take a look at Thompson & Morgan’s Perfect for Pollinators range which includes a selection of seed and plant varieties known to attract bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects.

4. Ditch the pesticides

Achillea millefolium 'Summer Pastels' (Yarrow) from Thompson & Morgan - available now

Yarrow attracts ladybirds and hoverflies
Image: Achillea millefolium ‘Summer Pastels’ (Yarrow) from Thompson & Morgan

Try to garden without using pesticide sprays as they often kill beneficial insects alongside the pests.

Instead, encourage birds, ladybirds and other gardeners’ friends in to deal with any problems. For instance, the larvae of hoverflies voraciously consume aphids. Similarly, when they hatch, ladybird larvae can eat up to 5,000 aphids as well as attacking red spider mites.

To attract these helpful insects plant things like marigolds, alyssum, cosmos, dill, yarrow, penstemon and fennel.

5. Give them a home

Garden Life Wooden Insect Hotel from Thompson & Morgan - available now

Insect hotels are beautiful and functional
Image: Garden Life Wooden Insect Hotel from Thompson & Morgan

Make or buy an insect house to give solitary bees and others somewhere to nest. Something as simple as an old terracotta plant pot filled with lengths of bamboo can be used as a bee hotel.

I hope this has given you plenty of food for thought. Just a few simple changes can turn your garden into a wildlife sanctuary that provides vital food and shelter for our precious pollinators.

How to grow Heuchera

multicoloured heuchera plant - Heuchera 'Patchwork' Mix available from Thompson & Morgan

Cultivate heuchera to spice up the darker corners of your garden
Featured Image: Heuchera ‘Patchwork’ Mix from Thompson & Morgan

If you’re looking for a wonderful shade plant to add colour and interest to the darker corners of your garden, look no further than heuchera. This hardy native of North America can withstand the cold, offers a wide range of colourful foliage all year round, and wispy flowers on long stems in the spring. Also known as coral bells or alumroot, this evergreen perennial is a must, and as an autumn bedding plant, is hard to beat. Here’s how to grow and care for it.

About heuchera

collection of brightly coloured heuchera plants

Heuchera comes in a variety of colours – ideal for any planting colour scheme.
Image: Buquet Christophe

Heuchera grows in a wide variety of habitats in its native North America, from the salty shores of California to arid Arizona and New Mexico. It likes shade and semi-shade best, but some varieties will grow in full sun. It’s not particularly fussy about soil type either, although it doesn’t like to get too wet or too dry..

Growing from a crown at ground level, the foliage is this plant’s main attraction. Think purples, red, and burnt umbers at one end of the spectrum, and limes, yellows, and greens at the other, with every kind of variegation you could possibly wish for.

Firm favourites

green and grey variety of heuchera - Heuchera 'Stormy Seas' available from Thompson & Morgan

Try the moodier palette of Heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’ for a subtle flash of colour.
Featured Image: Thompson & Morgan

Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’ is a real treat. With its pink leaves and claret veins, it offers a vibrant splash of colour which only deepens as the foliage darkens through late summer and into autumn and winter. Come the spring, you’ll find this plant’s creamy white flowers a delight and a true contrast against the bright leaves.

Fancy something to suit with a verdant palette? Take a look at this Heuchera/ Tiarella hybrid, ‘Solar Power’. With its evergreen yellow lime foliage mottled with dark red markings, it’s a great way to liven up a shady border.

For more subtle coverage of difficult spots, give Heuchera ‘Stormy Seas’ a try. This hardy perennial features maroon and green leaves with silver variegation and creamy white flowers which bloom on tall spikes during the summer.

Where to plant heuchera

mixed perennial border with hostas, heuchera and day lily

Heuchera normally prefer shade, but some varieties can cope with higher levels of sunlight.
Image: Maria Evseyeva

Heuchera is a shade-loving plant, but with so many varieties to choose from, there is considerable variation in terms of how much sunlight different specimens can cope with. As a rule of thumb, the colour of the leaves gives you a good clue as to where to site your plant; darker leaves are better at withstanding the sun’s rays.

A great plant for those who garden in coastal areas where salt-laden winds are an issue, the only thing heuchera really doesn’t like is heavy, wet ground which causes the crown to rot, or very sandy soils which can quickly dry out. Improve your soil by adding plenty of organic matter, choose well-drained soil, and water regularly but sparingly.

When to plant heuchera

Closeup of man in green welly boots digging hole in the ground ready for planting

Dig a hole that’s twice the size of the root ball for planting.
Image: Shutterstock

You can plant heuchera any time the soil’s not waterlogged or frozen, but for best results, put yours in the ground during the spring or early autumn to allow it to establish without risk of frost damage. Dig a hole about twice the size of the root ball and add a handful of organic matter or blood, fish, and bone to give your plant a good start.

Remove your heuchera from its pot and gently massage the roots to separate them before planting and covering until the soil reaches the same level as it did in the pot. Avoid covering the crown itself or there’s a chance it will rot.

How to prune heuchera

closeup shot of leggy heuchera getting pruned by gardening secateurs

Prune your heuchera to keep it from getting leggy
Image: GardenTags

After a couple of years your heuchera may start to become rather clumped and leggy. When you part the leaves, you’ll discover woody stems that lead back to the crown of the plant. To prune, cut the stems back to a just above buds of fresh growth at the top of the crown.

To propagate your cuttings, snip away any dead wood until you come to the sappy part of the stem before planting in potting compost; general purpose compost with added grit and a slow release fertiliser will also work. Roots will develop in three to four weeks.

Heuchera rust

image of dark red heuchera plants in a border

Ensure you don’t introduce infected Heuchera plants into your garden.
Image: AliScha

Although it’s a tough plant, in recent years, the fungal disease, Puccinia heuchera, otherwise known as heuchera rust has become widespread in the UK. It’s a particular problem during wet summers and appears mainly as sunken spots on the top of leaves with orange rust coloured pustules on the underside.

If you’re buying new plants to supplement other, uninfected, heuchera in your garden, it’s a good idea to quarantine the new plants for three to four weeks to be sure they are unaffected. Check your plants regularly for signs of the disease, removing any affected material and destroy rather than compost it.

Because heuchera rust likes damp conditions, pay close attention to soil drainage, plant your heuchera where there’s plenty of air circulation, and water early in the morning so the leaf surfaces have a chance to dry during the day.

You can’t beat heuchera for glorious foliage which provides both vibrant colour and structure to your autumn planting scheme.

For further flower growing advice, check out our collection ‘How to’ gardening guides.

Spread The Love

I’m really not a fan of the aforementioned festive season, but I’ve suddenly realised that I lurve January! The inclement weather gives me the perfect excuse to be bone idle guilt free. Mind you, some things can’t wait, especially when you are up against the horticultural prowess of Diane, she of the London Gardens Society Best Large Back Garden 2016/17/18. (When will it end?) The task at hand is simple muck spreading. (Some might say we are experts in the wider sense already!) So I was galvanised into action after a phone call from Diane on New Year’s Day to tell me, smugly, that she had managed to lay seven bags of well-rotted horse manure over her borders that very day. And I, readers, hadn’t even placed my order yet! Quelle horreur! Within the week I had spread three-bags-full but more supplies were required on both sides so off we went to Crews Hill, Horticultural Retail Epicentre of The World. A dozen bags duly loaded into the vehicle, off we went to Myddleton House, home of celebrated horticulturalist E A Bowles, (ancestral connection with our very own Duchess of Cornwall having never occurred to me before).

Myddleton House Border

Myddleton House Border.
© Caroline Broome

What a lovely way to spend a dull January morning. The grounds were empty bar a couple of in-house landscapers who were rebuilding a dry-stone wall. We wandered around admiring the snowdrops and hellebores in the crisp echoey stillness of a typical winter’s day, the fragrance of hamamelis contorta and chimonanthus praecox filling the air. Mistletoe was abundant in the tree canopies but also at ground level, where we were fascinated to see how it grafts naturally onto its host. The ornamental grass borders looked so orderly combined with sedum spectabile – my sedum never looks that erect even when it’s in its prime. The hot houses were full of exotic succulents, tillandsias and cacti in pristine form. Reminded me of when I was a gel; I lived opposite Broomfield Park in North London and used to love to sneak into their huge lofty greenhouse. Somehow it seemed forbidden and eerie, with its seemingly bottomless irrigation channels sunk into the floor under the benches. (Didn’t care a hoot about the plants but just loved the otherworldliness of it.)

Contorted hazel, mistletoe and tillandsias at Myddleton House

Contorted hazel, mistletoe and tillandsias at Myddleton House. © Caroline Broome

…But the rivalry doesn’t end there. There’s even Green Bin One-Upmanship! With the regular collections having been suspended for six weeks over the New Year, it’s a competition as to who’s created the most waste: “I’ve filled up my two garden bins as well as my two allotment bins.” “Well, I’ve filled up our bin and ALL the other neighbours’ bins in the entire street!” And now she informs me she’s had her silver birch trimmed. I tell you, she doesn’t let the grass grow under her feet (boom boom!)

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. There’s something so satisfying about spreading the mulch. Apart from the opportunity it gives you to get up close and personal with your plants, to get a sneak preview of spring as bulbs, shoots and buds start appearing, the borders look so finished once its down. (Reminds me of the flattering effect a layer of moisturising foundation can bring to one’s tired and dull complexion, my dear!) Mind you, it seems impossible to imagine the garden at full tilt in high summer with so much bare earth exposed right now. And of course there is the small matter of my digging up half the garden last autumn ‘cos I was bored with it all. Pity the poor transplanted perennials cowering their pots, exposed to the elements, until I’m ready to replant. (Hmm, wonder how soon I can start – steady on, its not even Valentine’s Day yet!) Seems everyone’s at it now, Rosie’s been out mulching the borders in her garden in all weathers. I really can’t be lagging behind so it‘s off to the nursery to buy bark chippings for the fernery and gravel for the stumpery.

Every year, a clever acquaintance makes a note of all plants flowering in her garden on New Year’s Day. Wish I’d the wits to think of that. So here’s my list of flowers for mid-January instead, some bang on target, some way off the mark seasonally speaking:

  • Hesperantha Major formerly known as schitzostylus (so annoying all these name changes.)
  • Salvia Black and Blue insinuated itself up the fence alongside a variegated trachylospurnum, its flowers cascading like wisteria. Hope I can bring that through the frosts, what a combination!)
  • Salvia confertiflora
  • Salvia Uliginosa
  • Coronilla glauca Citrina
  • Rosa Mutabilis ish, one or two bedraggled blooms amongst the orange hips.
  • Viburnum tinus Eve Price
  • Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise aptly named and much admired in the front garden, underneath the contorted hazel.
  • Fuchsia thalia on the patio
  • Fuchsia thymifolia
  • Snowdrops
  • Aconites
  • Melianthus major no natural timing this one, always produces buds just before the first frosts!
Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise and Caroline's front garden border.

Hellebore hybrid Spring Promise and Caroline’s front garden border. © Caroline Broome

There are an amazing amount of little treasures to be seen out there if you go looking. Over the holiday season David and I did our usual New Year’s Resolution walks in Kenwood on Hampstead Heath. Some might find the low light levels rather bleak but I love the paired down landscape, the bare trees, clear ponds and uninterrupted views of The City. You share your strolls with every dog and his man, chitchatting with owners and catching snatches of conversation as your pass. Cormorants and parakeets, magpies and crows, sparrowhawk.

Kenwood, Hampstead Heath

Kenwood, Hampstead Heath. © Caroline Broome

Talking of birds, I’m looking forward to introducing three newcomers to the results of my Big Garden Birdwatch: goldfinches, starlings and a black cap. Must be the extensive array of seeds on offer, costing me a fortune. Black sunflower seeds, white sunflower hearts, meal worms, three flavours of fat block, oh and mixed birdseed for the squirrels. So worth it.

I feel quite inspired now, so it’s back to the T&M Spring Catalogue to place my Trial Plant Order. Colour colour colour 2019.

Roll on Spring! Love, Caroline

Ducks, B-sides and Blackadder

White Duck

© Alison Hooper

We’re in that slow part of the year when not much appears to be happening. Leaves have fallen, fruit and veg long since picked. It’s all a bit grey and samey, like the turgid mid-section of an album’s B-side. You love that album, but frankly there are eight tracks to get through before you get to the A-side again where all your favourites live. And seeing as the seasons aren’t yet available for digital download, we have to listen and go through it one track at a time, a day at a time and take the positives where we find them.

Anyway, much as this is a bit of a reflection on the passing and transformation of the seasons, I don’t intend to get all heavy and depressing and stuff. I pledge there will be *cute animals* further down this piece. Adorable, cute and fluffy animals which go quack. But more of that later.

 

 

Fun facts!

1. Back to the autumn and something for word nerds everywhere now. I was pleased, more than I should be most likely, to discover that the word ‘Fall’, which we commonly think of as an Americanism for the ‘English’ word ‘Autumn’, is in fact…not. Fall was the word used back in 16th century England before it hopped on board ship and travelled across the Atlantic where it took root and flourished, just as we back home had our head turned by the chiselled Roman good looks of the word Autumn and dropped it sharpish

2.One for any foragers who have ever had purple-stained fingers. The study of blackberries is called batology. You’re welcome.

Enough verbiage. The point of this rambling – there is one, trust me – is that things progress, change, appear to be completely separated but then turn out it’s all interconnected and reliant on its constituent parts and processes to work. So there is beauty in decay, amazement in atrophy.

Take this Rhus typhina. This one is in our back garden, it’s super common and you may well have one too.

Rhus typhina leaves and a conker

Rhus typhina leaves and a conker – © Alison Hooper

Arguably, it’s at its best in autumn for a vanishingly short period before all that colour disappears. Leaves turn from green to yellow to red. As sunlight fades, chlorophyll levels drop meaning the other leaf pigments present get to take centre stage. Exit green, enter yellows and oranges, purples and reds. Those dazzling colours had always been there all along, and if I were more philosophical that could be quite poignant.

Also, the humble horse chestnut. The tree is at its best when the candle-like flowers give way to shiny conkers in their bright green spiky cases (which always strike me as a prototype for some kind of medieval weapon. Just me?) Without this, there is no regeneration.

And then there’s that extraordinary quality of light you get in autumn. Amid the long bleak periods, a sudden surprising beam of crystal clear warm brightness, illuminating everything around to remind us of what has been and what is to come again.

And so to winter when the garden is put to bed.

Bare exposure reveals the true state of the garden. Branches bereft, revealing the hidden underpinning structures, shapes and – whilst we’re on about honesty – all that plastic garden junk which seems to mass throughout the year. Maybe work on reducing that waste in 2019. That same light which, sometimes joyous, sometimes a bit embarrassing, also shines a little too intensely on your recycling bin full of post-Christmas clanking empties.

So, like dry January, the intervening months of autumn to winter have a transformational effect. Very brown, the only colour making an effort now is the Winter Jasmine and the grass has been left long ahead of the expected frosts.

But just as the garden hits its weary head to the pillow – and I did promise you cute animals – we take noisy delivery of four ducks. Yard ducks to be precise, a cross somewhere between a mallard and Indian running ducks. They’re on loan to us for ten days whilst their proper owners go on holiday, and we naively and excitedly volunteered to look after them in our small back suburban garden. Frankly it’s a bit of a social let down for them, but that’s life.

Winter Jasmine and Ducks

Winter Jasmine and Ducks – © Alison Hooper

Just as the mood of this blog was getting a little quiet and contemplative, the arrival of these ducks punctures all of that with a huge, celebratory QUACK. Picture Blackadder’s Lord Flashheart crash landing by means of a rope swing into a genteel Edwardian tea room. Pearls may be clutched. Or picture something worse. The same, but with the kids.

The ducks are somewhat non-plussed at having us as their temporary landlords, and a bit huffy at having children intermittently race around them excitedly and at speed, taking shelter in their cage when it all gets a bit much.

As pest control goes, they’re as eco as it gets. They hoover through what surely must be thousands of slugs between them, and even turn the soil over. Great job, Flashhearts.

And the best part about duck sitting is being able to hand them back at the end of their stay. They’ve done an excellent job and all that really remains is the garden is literally covered in feathers, like someone shot a duvet there. So they’re constantly snacking, a bit noisy from time to time, a lot cute and leave loads of mess behind. So that kids analogy is still working for me. Like doting grandparents, we miss them already. I’d pour a small glass of Baileys as a toast to them, but it turns out the bottle’s in the recycling.

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