Archive for the ‘NOVICE’ Category

After a roller coaster RHS Tatton show, birthday/anniversary strewn summer holiday [one every week and consequently far too many cakes] and finally a peaceful week away in Cornwall, life is now getting back to a comfortable humdrum of a routine. The September version of the BL Magazine article is all about ornamental grasses, well, more like a pick of my absolute favourites… to be fair…

Ornamental grasses have become increasingly popular in recent years and I am one amongst the gardening fraternity that has also fallen hook, line and sinker for them. I think my love for them started with discovering the wispy fluffy plumes of Stipa tenuissima many moons ago. The slightest breeze will make them billow and sway, giving planting schemes movement and depth, especially when repeat planted.

Using grasses in perennial schemes is a style that was brought to the forefront of the planting design world by the Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf. His planting schemes are jaw-droppingly sublime, magical and somehow manage to epitomise nature. This ‘naturalistic style’ of planting evolved through observing how grasses and perennials grew in the wild, concentrating on structure and the textural qualities of each plant. It is this link to nature that appeals to many [including me] and is probably the reason why grasses have become enormously popular today.

In true Piet Oudolf style, I will go though some classic ornamental grasses that have become my favourites to use in planting schemes by their structural form. Starting with transparent, and there are many in this category, is a form that tends to include the taller grasses that create a see-through screen. Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’ [ridiculously long Latin name I know] or commonly known as Purple Moor Grass has incredibly elegant feathery spikelets that will catch the slightest breeze. Their fine see-through flowering stems will reach around one meter in height and will contrast beautifully with bolder perennials. It will do well in most soil conditions as long as it is not too dry, will tolerate light shade but does best in full sun.

Stipa gigantea is another transparent grass but instead of a fine fizz of flowerheads this grass has golden oat-like flowers on huge arching stems; once established they can reach 2.5m in height. It is a lovely majestic grass, definitely for the back of a border and will add height and shimmer in the evening summer sunlight. One last transparent must-have grass is Deschampsia cespitosa Goldtau [pictured below]. Another elegant grass with finely textured flowerheads on long slender stems it will give your borders an extraordinarily magical, almost dreamlike quality. Plant as single specimens dotted amongst perennials for maximum sublime effect.

Grasses for foliage texture is another structural form and offers an important contrast to other plants. Carex comans ‘Frosted Curls’ [also pictured below] is a small evergreen grass with silvery leaves that curl at the tips. Its fine, wiry texture looks great next to broader leaf forms like Alchemilla mollis, even the purple sage in the picture, and gives you interest all year round. Also pictured here is another grass Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Variegata’ [these Molinia’s like these long Latin names] which has unusual cream and pale green variegated leaves. This particular grass gives you the best of both worlds, textural leaf contrast as well as the transparent qualities from its purple flower spikelets, which reach around 0.6m high.

One last grass in this category is Hakonechloa macra [again pictured below]. I love this grass and first discovered it only a few years ago in a garden I went to visit [I think it was Dunham Massey, near Altrincham]. The specimen I saw was obviously very happy in its position and very mature as it was a substantial hummock of cascading fresh green leaves. If there is one grass that epitomises nature itself, lush green fields and meadows in the spring, it has to be this grass. On a recent garden design project my client wanted to reduce the maintenance of his garden [bad knee] and decided [begrudgingly] to dig up the lawn, in favour of a more practical patio area. I immediately told him about this grass and suggested we should surround the patio area with borders and plant them en masse with Hakonechloa macra. He went for the idea and now, a year on from planting up, reclining on that patio gives you the impression of a lush green field, albeit in the middle of a suburban garden.

The final category is plumes. This form is a soft, fluffy inflorescence that acts as a great companion to the more bold forms of plants. Astilbes and Filipendulas are classic perennial examples of plume flowers, but there are a couple of grasses that also fit the bill. Stipa tenuissima, which I mentioned at the beginning, creates a plume-like shape, great for softening and blending a planting scheme. Another plume grass is Calamagrostis brachytricha which has rather tall [up to 1.5m] fluffy flowerheads tinged silvery grey with a hint of purple. Use in the middle of a border to soften harder structural forms like Echinops ‘Taplow Blue’.

Ornamental grasses offer garden plantings a wealth of additional qualities that traditional plant types like perennials, roses and shrubs just cannot give. From majestic to magical, textural to just plain practical, there is one out there that will convert you; it’s just a matter of time.

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Adapted from December article for BL Magazine.

The thought of pottering about in the chilly, damp [sometimes frozen] old garden is probably the last thing on our minds at the moment. Most normal people will quiver at the prospect and opt for the cosy, Christmasy warmth of our homes. If you are bold and mad enough [and glamorously wadded in thermal layers  + earmuffs] to venture out on one of the least harshest days, there is still stuff to be getting on with at this time of year… from de-cluttering the side of the house [mine especially] to attempting to sharpen tools and if you’re really keen, re-organising borders.

Lately, as growth in the gardens has slowed, I’ve found myself  being pre-occupied with composts. Looking at cheap ways to create a stonking 3-binned system; renovation ideas for a rather hap-hazard one that lives in one of my customer’s gardens; and a mental note to make more effort at turning them all [including mine]! Consequently, I’ve been doing a bit of research, refreshing memories and literally delving into crumbly composts, nearly [but not quite] spearing frogs and scaring away families of mice. Lovely.

Despite all the creepy crawlies, composts are the supreme powerhouses for our gardens and no true gardener should be without one. If by some incredible reason you don’t possess one, getting one should be at the top of your to-do list [or Christmas wish-list!].

Composts are remarkable eco-systems of decomposition. Billions of micro-organism [bacteria, fungi, yeast] along with the humble earthworm will transform all your garden clippings and vegetative kitchen waste into beautiful luxurious, dark, nutritious-rich soil.

The whole process is free [apart from the initial buy of the bins if you don’t go down the do-it-yourself route] and it is the best form of soil enricher. Garden compost is the equivalent of our five-a-day balanced diet. It provides plants with all the essential nutrients [nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium] in a form that is easy for them to take up. What’s more the expert decomposers, the miniscule microbes, come with the compost and continue the breaking down of organic [and inorganic] materials…providing the best slow release fertiliser you can possibly have!

And there’s one other thing…because of the light and airy texture of garden compost it helps to improve the structure of your soil at the same time – aiding the drainage of clay soils and bulking up sandy soils to help them retain more moisture. Perfect.

Ok RHS notes to the side. Onto the bins, which can be very cheap and easy to make…with a little bit of imagination and, in some cases, muscle. Wooden pallets are one option, which can be sourced [with a lovely cheeky smile – sorry girls I admit to using it every now and then] from your local builder’s merchant or scavenged from skips [if you like doing that sort of thing]. Three pallets would set you up with one decent-sized, open-fronted ‘bin’ and five will give you two, which is essential when you come to ‘turn’ the heap. With seven pallets you’ll have an impressive three-bin composting system that would make your neighbour’s [and me] jealous. Tip: to secure the sides together, super quick and fuss-free, use some extra extra large zip-ties or rope [go for natural brown coloured rope not the bright blue towing rope I did].

For another cheap and easy-to-make compost bin get yourself four posts and a stylish roll of chicken wire, aim for a square around 3ftx3ft. Or, if you want something that actually does exude real style and sophistication and you don’t mind paying a few quid, there are lots of gorgeous, purpose-built, FSC wooden compost bins available. Check out http://www.recycleworks.co.uk/ for some beautiful top-of-the-range examples like the one pictured below [and if you’re feeling flush order one for me too]. You can also buy plastic compost bins [I have one of these], usually at a discounted rate, from your local council so it might be worth checking them out too.


So, you have your compost bin insitu and are eager to start filling with lots of yummy organic material to jump-start that nifty decomposing eco-system? [Picks up RHS notes again], without getting too scientific about it all there are a few things that will help determine what should be put in. It is best remembered as ‘green stuff’ [green leaves, plant/grass clippings, raw vegetables/fruit] and ‘brown stuff’ [chipped wood, dry grass/plant stems, sawdust, shredded newspaper, egg boxes]. The ‘green stuff’ provides the protein and nitrogen for the little micro-organism guys, while the ‘brown stuff’ gives them the carbon and energy they need to do their magic.

As in life, you are aiming for a balance. Work in a layer of greens, then a layer of browns and keep alternating…if the heap heats up and you can see the steam rising, whoop whoo. If not, add more green stuff! Should your heap start smelling [like cat wee they say], do the opposite and add more of the brown stuff. 

Like us, microbes also like a bit of water and some fresh air. Water sparingly to keep moist and be careful not to over water – they don’t like it too wet. For the aeration part, turning the heap every few days will really speed up the rotting process…keeping you fit and fresh aired too. Turning everyday is unlikely and completely unrealistic, I know. You could do it every few weeks instead. Or if you’re really lazy/busy and don’t turn it at all you’ll still get some crumbly compost … you’ll just have to wait about a year and a half for it! If, however, you can’t wait to get your hands on some of this golden compost… doing the deed every few days will speed up the process so much so that, hey presto, 3-4 weeks and it’s there! Now that’s fast food for plants.

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 Article adapted from November issue of BL Magazine.

I have a not-so-secret mission to temp and persuade as many people as possible to grow fruit. Any birthday presents I give tend to be of the fruiting kind, pots stuffed with strawberries, a pair of blueberry bushes, a fan-trained cherry, each adorned with a great big bow. I haven’t had any complaints yet. And the best thing is is that these gifts will continue to fruit their socks off for years to come, perhaps a lifetime. Perfect.

Part of this mission involves conquering those that are non-gardeners by giving them a little insight into choosing, buying and planting a fruit tree, without frightening them away.  Now happens to be the perfect time to do this, buying and planting trees that is… unless you are frozen solid in a winter wonderland!  The dormancy that winter brings allows fruit tree growers a great window of opportunity. Over the next few months sleeping specimens can be carefully dug up, with roots loosened of any soil [hence ‘bare root’] and transported far and wide, without causing too much trauma to the plant.

Buying bare root at this time of year gives you the most choice in terms of varieties and will be cheaper as there is less packaging and so lower transport costs. Choosing the variety of fruit will be the most challenging decision and I would recommend requesting a plant list from a specialist nursery or doing some research on the internet [see contacts at bottom].

Once you have set your heart on a particular type and variety, just check which pollination group it falls into or whether it is self-fertile. The pollination group is categorised by numbers [1 to 7] and refers to the time the variety blossoms. The idea is to choose another variety in the same blossom time to ensure pollination or, if self-fertile, a better crop.

One last decision to make is what form of tree to buy and how big you want it to grow. For a smaller garden you may want to buy a ‘trained’ form like a fan or a tiered espalier, or if you prefer the standard tree form choose a less vigorous rootstock.

Rootstocks!?  Without getting too technical here…fruit trees [mainly apples and pears] are propagated by joining two separate trees, one being the variety you want to eat and the other being the rootstock which determines how big the tree will grow. The clever part is…you can have your favourite variety of fruit on any of the available rootstocks.

There are a number of rootstock definitions that specialist growers will be very familiar with and they will be more than happy to advise you. However, to give you some examples [and make you sound knowledgeable] for apples ‘M106’ is a semi-dwarfing stock that is suitable for small gardens [up to 3m], ‘Quince A’ is the best dwarfing stock for pears and quinces [up to 3-6m] while ‘St Julian A’ is the best dwarfing for plums [up to 4m].

 The next step is to order your bare root specimen[s] and wait, patiently, for them to arrive. As soon as it is delivered, unwrap and plant out. If you’re unable to do this straight away make sure you keep the root system moist and protect from frost.

When you do find the opportunity to plant, there are a couple of things to remember. Dig a hole slightly larger than the root system. Fork over the bottom to open up the soil [roots don’t like compacted soil]. Make sure the trunk isn’t sitting too low, aim for the same level it was planted at the nursery [ look for  the ‘join’ of the rootstock and variety and make sure this is clear of soil level].  Back-fill, firming soil so there are no air pockets left between the roots. Stake, I opt for the angled approach [facing into wind so it pushes the stake into the ground].

That’s it. A fifteen minute job and a lifetime of pleasure to look forward to. You’ll be tentatively watching for the first blossom to erupt in spring, the first bee to pollinate, the fruitlets to develop, the swelling and changing of fruit shape and colour and finally the first taste…for many many moons to come.


Orange Pippin Fruit Trees  

RV Rogers 

Ornamental Trees

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