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Wednesday, 11 May 2016

English Lavender Growing, Planting & Pruning.

 Lavender (Lavandula) is one of the easiest shrubs to grow. It is grown the World over with  well over 200 varieties. Quite a few are stocked by local garden centres here in the UK.  More varieties including dwarf and variegated foliage Lavenders as well as white and pink flowering cultivars that can usually be obtained at specialist nurseries. Popular here in Southern English gardens are the more common violet-blue flowering Lavender angustifolia Hidcote and Lodden Blue, which can grow in excess of 2ft (60cm) in height and width and are ideal for a low border hedge. For a standalone shrub or in a container the smaller more compact Munstead is still a popular choice.  Lavenders greyish leaves remain evergreen in winter and in spring vigorous new growth emerges eventually leading to sprouting stalks of up to approx.12''(30cm) in height on which fragrant flowers begin to bloom in June.

 There are many historical references to Lavender through the ages, indeed it is mentioned in the Christian Bible under the generic name Spikenard, a blend of essential oils which in those days included Middle Eastern Lavender. The Egyptians are thought to have used it as a perfume at the time of the Pharaohs. Traces of Lavender was found in urns discovered among their mummified remains in the tombs of the pyramids. The Greeks also used Lavender in times before Christ.
  It was Romans who really took Lavender to their hearts using it to infuse and scent their bathing water hence the origins of the it's name Lavender coming from the Latin verb 'Lavare' which means 'to wash'. They are thought to have been responsible for introducing the plant to Britain during the Roman occupation which began in AD 43. It was grown in Monastery herb gardens in the Middle Ages, the monks using it mainly for medicinal purposes. And later in England's grand country houses. Queen Victoria is said to have enjoyed a Lavender scented bath. Today one can buy Lavender essential oils to use as a natural soother for a wide range of ailments and indeed to bath in.
Cultivating your Lavender plant is relatively easy. They prefer an alkaline loamy soil so if you have a more clay or peaty garden be sure to work in some loamy sandy soil first. It should be well drained, Lavender does not tend to do well in damp shady areas, indeed you will probably find the roots rot in the winter. So be sure to plant in full sun. Once planted just a light dusting of fish blood and bone fertilizer will help growth in the spring. Pruning should ideally be done in late summer by removing the tall stems of flowers down to the main plant. Sadly Lavender plants only last up to five years before they becoming old and woody. The only option then is to replace them.
Down at Sir Humphrey and Lady Binoche's plans are afoot to create our own Lavender hedge of Hidcote blue.  Lady B and I are down at my one of my favourite nurseries for professionals buying containerised plants and are looking forward to having a heady aroma of scent wafting across the garden on those long summer evenings.

 General discussion and your views are welcome please say hello. I regret however because of my busy schedule, I am unable to answer many questions. Sneaky advertising will be deleted sorry. Thanks so much for visiting my blog today.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Summer flowering purple border plant: Verbena bonariensis (Argentinian Vervain)

Verbena bonariensis lilac-purple flower heads look spectacular swaying gently in the breeze in the late summer sun. It is part of the Verbenaceae family and a wild growing native of South America where it is commonly called Argentinian Vervain. Indeed the name bonariensis is thought to derive from the Latin meaning 'from Buenos Aires'.
 Cultivated here in the UK as a herbaceous perennial, Verbena bonariensis can grow to over 4ft tall given the right conditions, and spread to a large clump of slender stalks which have clusters of flowers at the top which are slightly fragrant and loved by pollinating butterflies and bees.
Verbena bonariensis flowers from August through to October here in Southern England so is ideal if you want to add late summer colour. It is ideally placed in the middle or back of your herbaceous border given it's height. They are reasonably easy to grow, largely pest free although mildly susceptible to powdery mildew in Autumn. Readily available in the UK as a potted plant or from seed they do best in well drained loamy soil in full sun and are fairly drought tolerant. Seeds can be sown directly into the ground in early spring.
Once your semi hardy Verbena has finished flowering and has succumb to the first frost you should cut your plant down two thirds.  Propagating Verbena bonariensis is fairly easy as every following Spring you will find that the dozens of seeds that your plant shed in autumn have sprouted shoots so you should have more than enough to transplant elsewhere or let naturalize if required.
Pictures : Top. The George Inn Pub, North Hampshire, Southern England, pictures 2-6 Verbena Bonariensis, Bottom. Enjoying a pint or a glass of wine at the George Inn.
General discussion and your views are welcome please say hello. I regret however because of my busy schedule, I am unable to answer many questions. Sneaky advertising will be deleted sorry. Thanks so much for visiting my blog today.

Monday, 30 March 2015

White Rambling Roses for walls,trees & pergolas: Rector, Kiftsgate, Bobbie James & Wedding Day

 Rambling Roses as the name suggests are rampant growers, happily climbing on the walls of grand houses, country cottages, barns, trellis, pergolas and stable blocks all over the UK. They are equally at home growing up trees and do particularly well growing through fruit trees in old orchards. They flower usually from late June to mid September in the UK, and some varieties produce small red hips after flowering. Almost all are 'multiflora' that is to say they bear clusters of small flowers. They do best in full sun but will happily tolerate partial or dappled shade.
It's best to ask yourself the question 'have I got enough space' before you consider growing one, as they can grow to 20ft or more tall and wide. Planting: As with all roses make sure the ground is frost free, then dig a hole at least twice the size of the pot for a potted rose or a significantly sized hole to backfill with compost if you have a bare rooted plant. Mix in a handful of fish, blood and bone or similar to your compost and mix well. Most roses have been grafted on to a stock so make sure the union of the bud is buried around 2cm below the soil. Soak the rose in a bucket of water for a while before planting and soak the ground again when planted to give your rose a good start.
The Rambling rector (above 2) is one of our most popular ramblers and is quite sweetly scented. The origins of this rose are somewhat vague but one perhaps can imagine a rather romantic scenario in that it began life in an English village, perhaps in the Vicars garden. Flowering from late June it is a good tree climber and ideal for a wall or pergola. It is shade tolerant and will cope with a North facing aspect and is disease resistant although it's possible some blackspot may occur which will need treatment with a suitable fungicide. If you intend to grow this rose on a wall you should first affix some wires to support the main stems. These should be paced horizontally from 45-61cm  (18-24inches) apart. Tie in the main stems as they grow and remove any dead wood and heads when flowering is finished.
Named after Kiftsgate Court Gardens which is situated near the birthplace of William Shakespeare, Stratford on Avon. The Kiftsgate rambler originated in this lovely Cotswold garden (which is open to the public for information on Kiftsgate Court Gardens follow this link: here). It was planted there by the well known horticulturalist and rose expert Graham Stuart Thomas in 1938 and named by him in 1951. They claim to have the largest Kiftsgate rose in England and say that every year their rose produces huge growth and already covers three trees. It I'm sure is a magnificent sight when in full bloom. Kiftsgate then ( pictured above courtesy Hal Hambrook) is a giant of a rose, so you will need plenty of space for this beauty.  I have two to look after, one on the side of a barn the other on a grand country house. The main stems are sturdier than the Rector but do need support wires. Fairly disease resistant, but some blackspot may occur. The need for pruning is limited to old growth but tying in stems and removal of flower heads and wayward shoots is desirable.
Bobbie James is another of the great classic white ramblers. (above courtesy Kurt Stueber) It has a heady powerful scent from its billowing flowers and is notable for its long rather fierce spines. It is thought that this is another Graham Stuart Thomas rose. He of course being the famous collector of heritage roses of Sunningdale Nurseries whom by chance came to discover this rose in 1961 as a seedling in the garden of Lady Serena James at St Nicholas, her house, nr Richmond in North Yorkshire. Thomas, named it after Lady Serena's husband The Hon. Robert 'Bobbie' James the well known Yorkshire horticulturalist who created the wonderful gardens at St Nicholas. (The gardens are open to the public for information on St Nicholas Gardens follow this link: here )  Suitable for shaded areas, it flowers from late June onwards and is like other ramblers resistant to fungal diseases. Needs support if on walls but will happily climb up trees and over arches.  Lady Serena James incidentally died at the turn of the Millennium aged 99 and Graham Stuart Thomas passed on in 2003 having being awarded the Order of The British Empire OBE.
The Wedding Day rambling rose must surely cover the front porches of many an English cottage since it is so often given as a gift to remind a couple of their special day. (above courtesy Kurt Stueber) It has a small creamy five petal pointed flower which is very well scented. Again this Rose was discovered as a seedling in Worthing, in Sussex England. It is thought that Sir Frederick Stern first introduced the rose some when in the 1950's. Ideally as with all roses it should be planted in a humus rich soil but is really tolerant and will thrive in a north aspect and in partial shade. Eventually your Rambler may need to be restored as over a period of years some of the original stems may get old. It is a good idea every few years then to thoroughly remove any dead wood and strip the main stems back. Cut out approx. one third of the old stems particularly if they are showing signs of dieback or disease to the base, that will encourage new growth.  All roses benefit from a handful of fertilizer in March and again in June, lightly dug in around the base.
Pictures: from top 1 cakes a plenty in celebration of HM the Queens Diamond Jubilee 2/3 Rambling Rector 4 Kiftsgate 5 Bobbie James 6 Wedding Day 7 Afternoon tea on a grand scale outside the village pub in celebration of HM the Queens Diamond Jubilee. General discussion and your views are welcome please say hello. I regret however because of my busy schedule, I am unable to answer many questions. Sneaky advertising will be deleted sorry. Thanks so much for visiting my blog today.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Ground Cover Plants Lily of the Valley

When Prince William married his bride Kate Middleton at the Royal Wedding in Westminster Abbey in London, one of the five flowers in Kate's bouquet was Lily of the Valley  (Convallaria majalis).
It is a native of the more temperate parts of the northern hemisphere and can be found in some regions growing wild in the clearings of woods and forests, since it tends to do best in partial or full shade. The national flower of Finland it is sometimes commonly called Mary's tears, this is because it is said that when Jesus died his Mother Mary cried at the foot of his cross and where her tears fell Lily of the Valley grew on the ground in abundance. Interestingly the name Convallaria majalis probably gets its name from the Latin convallis meaning steep or deep valley hence 'of the valley' and the Latin word maius meaning May which perhaps points to its flowering time in that month.  
 Once established Lily of the Valley it is a prolific spreader, so is an ideal ground cover plant. However it should be noted that because of the denseness and spread of its roots, in my experience, I have found it quite difficult to dig up and remove in it's entirety so make sure when you plant it, that's where you want it. The plant is highly toxic so obviously it is not wise to ingest any of it's leaves or flowers and sensible to wear gloves and thoroughly wash hands after handling.
Lily of the valley sprouts single flower stalks among it's many green leaves. Each stalk usually produces 8-12 bell like white flowers that are very sweetly scented which is much of the plants appeal. There are other cultivars notably 'Rosea' which have pink flowers.  After flowering it produces green berries that ripen to orange or red fruits which are equally poisonous. Growing this plant is very easy, it will tolerate heavy clay or lighter loamy soils whether they are acid or alkaline. The only real note to mention is to plant it in a dappled shady spot which is mostly moist.
Pictures: 1 Westminster Abbey in London scene of the Coronations and weddings of the British Royal Family. The Abbey was begun in 1245 on the orders of King Henry III  Pictures: 2 Lily of the Valley. General discussion and your views are welcome please say hello. I regret however because of my busy schedule, I am unable to answer many questions. Sneaky advertising will be deleted sorry. Thanks so much for visiting my blog today.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Allium Bulbs Spring Flowering Eye Catchers

Alliums make a wonderful addition to the late Spring garden, their eye catching  flower heads make for a striking impact to a perennial border and they are equally as dramatic in a deep pot or trough. Allium is the classical Latin name for garlic which is one of over 700 species of the genus which includes Leeks, chives, shallots and onions which is why cultivated alliums are sometimes commonly named ornamental onions. They come in white, yellow, and blue but by far the most popular colour grown is in a range between lilac and purple. 

They are very easy to grow and since they are readily available in the UK in collections or individually, it is simply a matter of choosing the variety or mix that you want and planting the bulb in the soil with a trowel or bulb planter. Most Alliums tend to do best in well drained loamy soil in a fairly sunny position, but because there are many varieties some will tolerate cooler more shady spots.  It is worth paying attention to the overall height of the variety you have chosen, particularly if you intend to grow them in a border. I usually scatter plant them across the whole bed in twos and threes which looks very effective.
 Alliums flower in late Spring here in the UK and when finished dry off and produce lots of small black seeds.  These can be left to fall into the border if required and will grow in following years as new plants. They can also be harvested when you remove the dead stems and grown in trays or pots. It can take up to three years for them to mature and flower. In addition Allium bulbs produce offsets, that is to say small bulb-lets on the side of the original. I usually lift my Alliums gently after a few years to separate these and make a cluster of flowers especially in a border.
 Pictures from top: crowds at the lake during the annual Badminton horse trials one of the most prestigious in the World. Spectacular clusters of alliums in a woodland setting. Allium Giganteum white. Gentlemen stewards of the course in red livery. Allium Ampeloprasum. Allium Cristophill. Badminton House in Gloucestershire, country seat of the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort.
General discussion and your views are welcome please say hello. I regret however because of my busy schedule, I am unable to answer many questions. Sneaky advertising will be deleted sorry. Thanks so much for visiting my blog today.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Partial shade perennial flowering wet & pondside garden plants Astilbe

Many of the Astilbes found in the British Isles today are hybrids. That is to say that they are a cross between two or more of the original wild species brought here by plant collectors from across the Far East where they are native.  Astilbe's were first introduced here in the 1800's largely from Japan and Korea where the species were predominantly white. In 1842 the Treaty of  Nanking was signed to bring an end to the first opium war between Britain and the Qing Dynasty, which then opened up China to British plant collectors and travellers and it is then that pink species found there were introduced here. Possibly by Robert Fortune a famous plant hunter who was sent to China around that time by the Royal Horticultural Society. Most notable in the development of the Astilbe cultivars we find in our gardens today however, was probably a German nurseryman called Georg Arends (arendsii cultivars) who began crossing those early species in the 1900's. and is probably responsible for over seventy varieties.  There are today Astilbes from pure white,shades of pink to deep red and mauve.

Perennials, Astilbes do best when planted in humus rich, moist boggy situations. Around ponds are ideal.  They prefer light to partial shade but will tolerate full sun if kept well watered. They are kept at there best by giving them a feed with a compound fertilizer in the spring.  Astilbe's are very low maintenance. There are not any real pest or disease problems affecting Astilbes so if yours are looking a little sad, start with a moisture check, and then giving them a feed should perk them up in most cases. Flowering takes place from late spring through the summer months, the feathery blooms still looking good after they have died and dried.  Old  or unwanted broken stalks can be cut and tidyed in late winter ready for the new spring growth.
Pictures: top/bottom Narrowboat on The Kennet and Avon Canal, in Hungerford Berkshire. Opened in the 1700's it was used by canal narrow barges as a transport link from Bristol to the Thames in Reading. to find out more visit the Kennet and Avon Canal trusts website: here  Middle pictures: Arendsii Astilbes, lilac prachtspiere Astilbe
General discussion and your views are welcome please say hello. I regret however because of my busy schedule, I am unable to answer many questions. Sneaky advertising will be deleted sorry. Thanks so much for visiting my blog today.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Hollyhock flowers ( Alcea rosea) full sun cottage garden & herbacous border plants

Hollyhocks are a charming sight growing in front of English country cottage's and make a wonderfully tall colourful addition to any garden, coming in a beautiful array of different colours from pastel pinks to deep purples, reds, white and pale yellow.  Flowering from July through to September they are mostly thought of as a biennial, that is that the plant will flower on it's second year of growth.  What this means in practice is that once your hollyhock has flowered through the summer it will shed a mass of seeds (in Autumn) which if left in situ' or potted up grow on to become small hollyhocks in spring. These new plants, which are very easy to grow,will produce abundant foliage but, somewhat frustratingly will not flower until the following year. However it will be well worth the wait!  The Original plant should have all its old woody flowering stems cut down to the crown of the plant. Generally the original will last several seasons but can sometimes die off completely especially if winters are severe. This is why it is sometimes refered to as a short lived perennial.
History is littered with references to hollyhocks. Pollen from hollyhocks were found in soil samples taken from the Shanidar cave, a Neanderthal (50,000BC) buriel site in Iraqi Kurdistan, although there is some debate as to whether the pollen entered the grave by burrowing rodents or was from flower heads ritually put in by relatives during burial. A native to China, Central and Southwest Asia, the Chinese used hollyhocks in culinary receipes as well as for medicinal purposes. It is thought that the hollyhock may have been introduced to Medieval England as early as 1290 by Eleanor of Castile queen to Edward I. Certainly in Tudor England (1485-1603) the dried roots were used to stave of strokes and miscarriages.
Hollyhocks prefer a good loamy well drained soil. One should endeavour to plant them in a position that gets full sun although light shade will be tolerated.  Despite their obvious height hollyhocks seldom require much staking except in excessive stormy conditions.  They are well adapted to long dry periods but will not tolerate water logging especially over winter. Without doubt the problem that affects hollhocks the most is the dreaded rust. This appears as yellow- orange spots and splodges on the leaves and as the summer progresses will cover the whole plant. Treatment however is relatively straight forward. Since the rust is a fungus spraying a systemic fungicide early in the season as foliage appears should do the trick. Also removing any infected leaves and burning them will help with prevention.
Pictures: Top to bottom beautiful hollyhocks sway in the summer breeze outside a brick and flint cottage in the southern English county of Hampshire (copyright simon tinks davis) General discussion and your views are welcome please say hello. I regret however because of my busy schedule, I am unable to answer many questions. Sneaky advertising will be deleted sorry. Thanks so much for visiting my blog today.