Saturday, 30 May 2009

Guest Blog: Gardenzine

Gardenzine enjoyed this post so much they asked if they could post it on their site.  You can read the full post here.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Half barrel pond

Half barrel ponds are great for small gardens. It just so happened the one I set up last year needed a bit of a facelift.  
Here's how I got on.

As shown in the picture above the area around the pond was covered in gravel.  The whole garden was awash with it when I moved in around two years ago and it has been my mission since then to rid this evil.

The exorcism didn't work so after moving several back breaking buckets of gravel and dead soil the bare bones of the area became visible.

The fish and plants were placed in temporary accommodation, other wise known as a tub-it.  How versatile are these fantastic devices?  I use my three for everything from mixing compost to, well, storing fish apparently!

So two goldfish, Iris laevigata 'Variegata', Gunnera magellanica, Typha minima, Juncus effusus 'Spiralis', Equisetum scirpoides and an unknown Nymphaea were all sweating away in this tight panic inducing bucket.

The area was edged with timber cut at different lengths and placed on end.  I like the informal feel it creates and it matches the rest of the lower garden.  The borders in the lower garden form a spiral around a central paved area and are planted with a great variety of plants to create an informal but modern cottage garden.  Cottage fusion I like to call it. Although at present a lot of the fusion is missing thanks to the Winter!

The ground around the pond was prepared with top soil, compost and some fertiliser in the shape of blood, fish and bone.  Although it smells a little, is it wrong that I quite like the smell?, it is by far one of the best fertilisers available.  On top of this I regularly apply a foliar seaweed feed and mulch anually with compost from the local amenity site.  Food waste is collected fortnightly and composted by the local authoity.  The compost produced seems to be great for the garden and its free!

Finally, the planting began!  I always have an abundance of spare plants hanging around the garden.  I am a massive fan of propagation and collecting plants and as a result I had most of what I needed at my disposal.  Digitalis pupurea, Geum 'Mrs Bradshaw', Astrantia bavarica, Carex buchanii, Leucojum aestivum, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Allium sphaerocephalon and a hardy Geranium were all thrown in.  I'm not a Geranium lover and I'm as surprised as the next person that I've actually planted one.  The bees like them though so I guess thats reason enough for me to include it.

As I needed a little more structure I popped to my local botanical garden, as they have a great weekly plant sale, and I came back with a gorgeous Viburnum opulus, which I've placed behind the pond, a Primula bulleyana, and a Persicaria bisorta 'Superbum'.  And thats it!  I'm really happy with the final result and I'm hoping that it will help to pull in even more wildlife to the garden.

Friday, 22 May 2009

It's war!

It's time to get serious with the  little slimy garden munchers!

So, I've been patient.  I've been nice.  I've even shared my booze with them (unheard of)!  I've thrown everything at them, including the kitchen sink, but nothing works!

I was devastated to discover that they have suddenly taken a fancy to some of my Dactylorhiza species of native terrestrial orchids!!  This is crossing the line!  Not only did they wait for the plants to throw up flower spikes, but they watched me get excited and then hit me hard when I was most vulnerable.  Well, no more!

I have invested in the rather frowned upon blue pellets.  I will also kill on first sight.  No warnings will be issued as in previous years.  Now its personal!  The zero tolerance approach has begun and I WILL succeed!!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Rare Plant Sale

When I see the words 'Rare Plant Sale' my heart skips a beat, my palms get sweaty and my adrenaline is pumping.  I am aware of how strange that sounds but I'm just being honest.

Today was no exception. 

I was hoping to pick up some unnamed beauty from some far flung corner of the world.  Maybe a long lost treasure that has recently been rediscovered and propagated in small numbers.  But it was not to be.  Apparently the words 'Rare Plant Sale' now actually mean 'Not everything here will be at your local garden centre but in fact most are commercially available in large numbers if you look hard enough'.  It doesn't quite live up to the brief but I guess it dragged me in and when it comes to any kind of plant sale I'm like a kid in a sweet shop.  Eyes on stalks and wallet wide open.

I bought Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum' (above) which I have been after for a little while.  It's a good strong looking plant and is great for beneficial insects.

Right is my impulse buy, Dodecatheon jeffreyi 'Sierra Shootingstar'.  I have been debating with myself, out loud in private and in my head, whether or not to buy one and in my frenzy I gave in.  It was cheap and I couldn't resist.

And a good day was had by all!

The initial picture above is of a great unkown Azalea next to a mossy Silver Birch.

Friday, 15 May 2009

My Guest blog.

Today marks a new step for me in the shape of a guest blog for Fine Gardening Magazine. 

Please take a peek and leave me some comments over at FG:

Guest Blog: Fine Gardening Magazine

For the full article please click on the above screenshot.

Cypripedium calceolus. The experiment!

Over the past couple of years I have become somewhat obsessed with hardy orchids and as I've experienced some success I thought it was time to branch out into new territory.

I have written about Dactylorhiza species in previous posts and following on from this I have decided to dedicate a post to my most recent endeavor.  I am attempting to grow Cypripedium calceolus from newly deflasked seedlings.

I have chosen to grow Cypripedium seedling's as opposed to mature plants for two reasons.  Mature specimens prove to be rather expensive.  A single plant can cost anywhere upwards of £30.  I also prefer to know that the plants I am buying are not supporting an illegal practice.  Many plants are taken from the wild and as these plants are very rare native wildflowers I would hate to think I could be complicit in this awful crime against our landscape.

When growing seedlings of  typical garden plants the process is fairly easy and although some extra care is sometimes required at certain growth points the cultivation of Cypripedium seedlings is a different kettle of fish altogether!  The seedlings I have bought come from a sterile environment, known as a "flask", and as a result planting directly into compost or soil is not possible.  Seedlings need to acclimatise to the outside world and compared to the flask this world is rather hostile and filled with danger.

Specialist substrates are essential in the cultivation of these seedlings.  I use a mix of Perlite and Seramis, although I'm sure you can use other substrates such as vulca.  Perlite acts to improve drainage, whereas Seramis holds on to nutrients and water.  It is very important that organic matter is not introduced to the mix as this can promote mold which inevitably results in the death of seedlings.  A period of exposure to cold temperature is also necessary to break dormancy.  This process of vernalistation takes place over three months and ideally plants should be kept at a temperature below 5 degrees celsius during this time but should not be allowed to freeze.  A slow release fertiliser should be added to the substrate to aid plant development.

I placed five seedlings into terracotta pots which have been treated as discussed above.  All five have now come through dormancy and are starting to leaf out.  I chose to leave the seedlings outdoors over winter and this was sufficient to break bud dormancy.  It may be advisable however, to place seedlings in refrigeration to complete this process.

Siting is also quite important.  These plants require a shady environment and need shelter from the midday sun.  Roots need to be firmed in but also need the freedom to run, so a fairly loose but moist substrate is preferable.

Following a successful first year outside of the flask seedlings can be planted into organic substrates used for mature specimens, however, I have a while until I can do this.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Fork'n Monkey awards

All this blogging malarky is still pretty new to me so it was a surprise to discover that people are recognised for various reasons and are actually given awards!

For those of you who are wondering what I'm on about please continue to read this brief post.  For the rest of you who are up to date on this kind of stuff just head on over to the GM blog to add your nominations.

This is the second year of Fork'n Monkey awards and there are several categories in which to enter your favourite blogs and bloggers.  I feel that I have made an awful faux pas in nominating myself so I apologise for that, although I am quite comforted that several others have now too!

Anyway, go and check out the many categories for awards and add your vote in the comments box!  I have been reliably informed, however, that Nigel Colborn is set to recieve the vast majority of awards for his excellent blog!  Good luck Mr C!

The blog can be found at:

All entries must be in before 17th May.  Get voting and support your fellow blogger, or make fun of them at least!!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Making my own pots from scratch!

To think that you can actually make pots from clay!  It's amazing isn't it?!

On my recent work away day we spent the afternoon, after the business bit, with a potter.  Naturally I knew exactly what I wanted to make and of course it was linked to horticulture.  I love handmade pots.  I love simplicity and the rough nature of such items and of course mine was going to be rough!

After throwing the clay it was centred on the wheel and I began to turn the clay to form a little mound.

The glasses were a bit of a problem, constantly slipping down my nose, luckily I had a helper on hand to push them back up.

After making the small mound of clay it was time to start making the pot.  A small hole was made in the clay and this stopped around 1-2 centimetres from the base.

The nearly finished pot complete with me gurning like an idiot.  Apparently I do this when concentrating!

And here is the finished article complete with lip!  It was so rewarding making a pot by hand and now i've got the bug.  I want to make all my pots by hand, not to mention my plates, mugs, jugs, bowls, etc!

Well, maybe one day!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

A snow white beauty!

This stunningly beautiful arachnid has eluded me on many occasions as it is camera shy and cannot stand the paparazzi!

Introducing another of my garden helpers.  The Crab Spider (Misumena vatia).  

This spider is a regular feature in my garden.  Yesterday I saw it on a Strawberry plant but it was too fast for me to photograph.  The beauty I came across today was more than happy to pose for pictures for a while but then once it knew I had my shots it was off.

These spiders look so exotic that when I first saw it, a number of years ago, I thought I had stumbled upon a foreign stow away which must have come in on a Banana shipment from some far flung sun soaked destination, well maybe I got a bit carried away, but you can see my point.

This spider looks so incongruous in a British garden.  Well that is when its away from plants whose flowers are matched to the colour of the spider itself.  These spiders can vary in colour from shades of white, yellow and pink.  This helps enormously when the spider lives on flowers of these colours.  Quite what my spider was doing on Bluebells is another matter!

The reason that camouflage is so important is that not only does it keep the predators away but it helps the spider get to grips with its food.  You see, this spider is an ambush predator and as a result it relies heavily on it's camouflage to get up close and personal with prey which often includes Bees, Butterflies, and Hoverflies amongst other insects.  Unlike a lot of spiders this one wanders and does not rely on spinning a web to catch its prey.

So next time your in the garden get up close and personal with your flowers and look for this great little garden helper!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

The candy-floss tree.

In my opinion this has got to be the best tree available for the garden and the best kept secret in horticulture.

Introducing Cercidiphyllum japonicum or as it's commonly known the Katsura or Candy-floss tree.

As the name implies this tree originates from Japan and is particularly good when planted in a woodland setting on neutral to acid soil.  The tree is decidious and provides a great deal of structure and interest in the garden all year round.

Here you can see the leaves of a mature tree (pictured left).  The leaves are heart shaped to ovate and in my young plant they are fringed with a thin red vein.

During the autumn this tree provides the most exquisite focal point.  When young the leaves are bronze but turn pale yellow to pink in autumn and colour up best on a good acid soil.  But the crowning glory can be fully appreciated when the leaves fall.  The air is suddenly filled with an amazing smell of burnt sugar, hence the other common name of 'Candy-floss tree'.

I first discovered this tree one autumn a couple of years ago when out walking the dogs.  We have a mature specimen in our local park which I was blissfully unaware of at the time (pictured right, complete with Maggie my Border Terrier).  This is great as the park is literally at the end of our road.  Initially I did not recognise the tree but the smell of burnt sugar was so amazing that I was led straight to it.  Since that day I have always wanted one of my own.

As documented in my last blog entry I have found a perfect specimen.  I was so happy to find the specimen and for a bargain price too!

So if you are looking for a great tree to provide a great deal of late season interest as well as all year round structure I would strongly suggest you hold out for this fantastic tree.  It's likely that you will be the only one in your social circle to own one and in autumn you will be inundated with visits from people wanting to smell the candy-floss tree!
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