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?

 

Get growing in the garden this Easter!

The long Easter weekend conjures thoughts of Easter egg hunts, family roasts, and the promise of warmer weather. But Easter is also the beginning of the gardening year for many, as they make use of the bank holidays to get the garden sorted – before things really get out of hand!

Easter egg hunt

©Sue Sanderson. Set up an Easter egg hunt for the kids in your garden.

Get mowing!

If you haven’t started already, then it’s definitely time to get the lawnmower out. Your first cut of your grass is probably overdue, so raise the blades to their highest setting and get mowing. While you’re at it, give the lawn a feed to set it up for the season ahead.

Mow the lawn

Begin mowing the lawn again this month – set the blades to their highest setting.

Divide and conquer!

By now, most perennials have poked fresh shoots above ground and new growth is well underway. Now is a great time to tidy up any remaining plant debris from last year and have a good tidy up. Borders that looked tired last year can be given new life with a spring redesign. Lift and divide overcrowded clumps of perennials before they put on too much growth, and then fill any gaps with new plants.

replant perennial borders

©Carly Holloway. Lift and divide perennials now, before they put on too much growth.

Don’t forget that they will need watering while they establish. It’s worth installing a seeper hose now if you live in a dry area – you’ll be glad you did by the middle of July! A layer of mulch will also bring dividends later in the year, providing nutrients and retaining moisture in the soil – as well as making the whole border look much smarter.

Grow, grow, grow!

April is the month for potting up and potting on! Plug plants are the perfect way to get a head start on seasonal bedding. Make sure you have plenty of pots and fresh compost to hand, so that you can get them potted up as soon as they arrive. Never use up half used bags of last year’s compost as this is the perfect overwintering site for pests and diseases. Old compost is best used as a mulch on your borders.

pots of plug plants and seedlings

Pot up plug plants and keep on top of seed sowing throughout this month.

While you’re at the potting bench, it’s time to take out those Dahlia tubers that you were storing overwinter, and start them into growth. Use decent sized pots (2-3 litre) to allow the roots to develop well. If you’ve lost some then there’s still time to replace them with some new Dahlia tubers. Dahlias are having a surprising resurgence in popularity, with events such as the Anglesey Abbey Dahlia Festival which are always popular. Why not create your own festival in your flower borders this summer!

Dahlia flowers

©Sue Sanderson. Create your own Dahlia festival for a fabulous display of colour.

The next 2 months will see a peak in seed sowing – especially for the vegetable growers out there! It’s a good idea to take half an hour to put your seed in order. Keep them in a storage box, ordered by sowing period, with dated dividers. Week by week you can see exactly which seed needs sowing, and this should prevent any being missed.

A breath of fresh air!
Greenhouse with door open

Open greenhouse doors and vents to prevent plants overheating on warm days.

With so many young plants crammed into the greenhouse, it’s important to ventilate, especially as you may well still be using a greenhouse heater at night. An automatic greenhouse vent opener makes a great investment at this time of the year, reducing the risk of your young plants overheating in a hot greenhouse. Open the greenhouse door in the morning, but remember to close it by late afternoon as there is still a nip in the air at night. If you are visited by cats then it’s a good idea to fix a mesh across the door to prevent them snuggling up on top of your new plants!

And relax…

With the garden tidy and everything in order, you can bring out the garden furniture, sit back and relax. Don’t forget to set up that Easter Egg Hunt for the kids. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching the whole family enjoying the outdoor space that you’ve created!

 

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.

Ellen Mary’s Top 5 Houseplants

Houseplants are bang on trend at the moment and rightly so because not only are they aesthetically pleasing and a great way to soften interiors but they are unbelievably good for us to have around. Many house plants remove large amounts of common toxins from the air around us. My own house is full of them; somewhere in the region of 100 plus cuttings, but who’s counting!? There is a plant for everyone, but these are my top five favourites for any home.


Aloe Vera
Aloe vera

Always top of the list! Not only does Aloe look fantastic, but it’s super easy to look after and needs minimal watering. Not only that, but the gel inside those fleshy stems can be scraped out and used to ease numerous skin conditions, heal burns and many other common health complaints. I store some in the fridge at all times. Aloe also helps to remove Benzene from the air which is found in paint and cleaning products.


Senecio String of Pearls
Senecio (String of Pearls)

A perfect trailing plant that looks great on a shelf or in a hanging basket. These always make an impact because they look so cool, especially in a macramé hanger. The long thin stems have small, round, beaded foliage, hence the name. Needing very little water and just indirect sunlight, it will suit most homes and always draws attention.


Monstera deliciosa
Monstera deliciosa

The highly-desired ‘Swiss Cheese plant’ has made a huge comeback. From dark green, glossy foliage to the much-sought-after white Monstera, they are a stunning addition and really very easy to care for. If you place one in bright, indirect sunlight and away from draughts, it will reward you with long climbing stems and huge heart-shaped leaves. If you start with a smaller plant and pot up as it grows, make sure you have the ultimate spot for it because they can get beautifully big.


Strelitzia reginae Bird of Paradise
Stretlitzia reginae

The stunning ‘Bird of Paradise’ is one of my absolute favourite plants. It may take some years to flower, but when it does, it’s so worth the wait! That tropical feel can’t be beaten as the exotic flower head blooms into the shape of a bird. Mine sits nicely in my office which is also a garden room, so ideal for a conservatory and can even go outside in the summer.


Sansevieria trifasciata var. laurentii
Sansevieria or Mother-in-Law’s Tongue!

Here’s another plant that removes toxins from the air. In fact NASA found that just one ‘Mother in Law’s Tongue’ reduced Benzene levels by over 50% and Trichloroethylene by over 13% in just 24 hours. It’s a great plant to have in your bedroom, which is where I have a few, because they are one of the few plants that continues to convert CO2 to oxygen at night time. Sweet dreams!

The list could be endless as I am also a massive fan of orchids, ferns and easy-to-look-after bryophyllum’s. My cuttings are lined up on bookcases and I can’t help but check them every day. It’s exciting to enjoy houseplants and they’re a trend I hope becomes just a way of life for everyone one day.

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