Tag Archives: seasonal plants

Layering tulips and other bulbs in pots

First published by Rattan Direct on 6 November 2016.

Tulips, daffodils and irises are the bulbs I’m going to plant in layers in a container, to produce wave after wave after wave of flowers in the spring. I’ve waited until November to give the tulips a fair chance of avoiding disease, which should be killed off now by colder temperatures and frost.


Tulips and hyacinths

In September, a long time before the clocks went back, we talked about planting bulbs for spring – in the garden and in pots.

But we didn’t plant tulips or hyacinths in the garden. They are planted now, in November, as a way of avoiding tulip fire, and other viral and fungal diseases that like warm temperatures and damp conditions. The colder temperatures and frosts of November tend to kill them off so it’s worth waiting.

More than one type of bulb in a pot

So I’ve waited, as I want to have tulips as one of several waves of flowers in a container.

The idea is to plant the bulbs in layers: put the bigger bulbs in first, then the next biggest ones and finally the smallest ones. Many people top the container off with some winter pansies but I think slugs and snails would do for them pretty quickly here, based on local experience.

Have a look at this no fuss guide from Gardeners’ World.

My choice of bulbs

I looked in gardens and read around a bit before I made my choice. It’s going to be small irises (flowering in January to February), small daffodils (March to April) and tulips (May).

For planting, tulips go in first, about 15-20cm deep, because they are the biggest. Tulipa Florosa is a pink, cream and green tulip, a lovely combination of colours, and it flowers in May. As the flowers open, the pink intensifies. Tulips like full sun and don’t like strong winds.

Next comes a small and lovely daffodil called Narcissus Toto. It’s yellow fading to cream in colour and has, according to many bulb growers, a slightly windswept appearance. That will match how things are here when it is in flower from March to April. It’s planted about 10-15cm deep.

Last into the pot, 5cm deep, is Iris reticulata ‘Alida’, a mid-blue little iris with splashes of yellow on each fall. Its leaves are sword-shaped. It’s very hardy and flowers from January to February. It likes full sun.

Iris reticulata 'Alida'. Tulips
Iris reticulata ‘Alida’. © Chris Mealy and re-used under CC BY-ND 2.0 licence

Where am I going to put the container?

In my dreams this lovely container greets me at the front door – but my front door doesn’t get full sun in the spring. Perhaps elsewhere in the front garden? But that can be a very windy place in spring as mad March winds race across the Atlantic. Outside the back door, then, could that be a possibility? Maybe but I’d have to move …

Yes, gardening’s full of challenges as we strive for Beauty.




Pot up rooted cuttings, and divide perennials to fill garden gaps

First published by Rattan Direct on 23 October 2016.

Pot up rooted cuttings

Autumn is the time to pot up successfully rooted cuttings, taken earlier in the year. This will give them enough room to stretch out in their own pots and enough time to grow more roots before the winter. As we’ve discussed before, roots are vital to healthy plants.

Despite what we all say to one another about cooler autumn weather, there’s still enough warmth for plants to continue to make roots.

Being organised helps

Interior of the potting shed in the Melon Garden, Heligan, Cornwall. Rooted cuttings
Interior of the potting shed in the Melon Garden, Heligan, Cornwall. The potting up of plants was a major task in such a large productive garden and the potting shed is laid out to enable this work to be carried out in a most efficient manner. © Rod Allday and re-used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic licence.

Whether your space is large or small, being organised helps enormously. Get your pots, compost, small fork (I use an ordinary old dining fork), labels and watering can all ready beforehand.

I lift the rooted cuttings out very carefully with the fork and pot them up in my usual compost mix. Then I water carefully to distribute the compost around the roots. Have a more detailed look at a North Carolina approach here.

Clear a space for them to live as well. I mentioned when talking about garden rooms that this is where my pelargonium cuttings are going to spend the winter, keeping warm with a view of the garden they’ll be in next summer. Other rooted cuttings will be out in the cold frame and still others will be taking their chances in a sheltered spot in the open garden. If you’ve got a greenhouse, that’s a good place too.

These rooted cuttings have been potted on. © peganum and re-used under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.
These rooted cuttings have been potted on. © peganum and re-used under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence.

Fill the gaps

I like to spend a little time each day walking round the garden taking stock. I look for what’s doing well and what’s struggling, and I try to work out why. I notice gaps where some plants didn’t make it through the winter and their gap wasn’t filled by neighbours, or this year’s plants just failed to thrive. These are the spaces that I’ll fill with perennials I’ve divided or with bigger and stronger cuttings that are ready now and keen to make their own way in the world.

Sometimes, for a touch of excitement, I use ‘mystery plants’ for this. In rescuing some nerines, I found myself with a tiny scrap of a geum. Potted up, it’s grown like mad and its roots would be very much happier in the ground over winter than exposed to the cold in a pot. I’ll have to keep an eye on it though. Firstly, I may not like what I’ve found! And secondly, it’s clearly vigorous so it might start to take over and become a garden thug.

Geum - is mine going to be like this? Rooted cuttings
Geum – is mine going to be like this?
© zenbikescience and re-used under CC BY 2.0 licence.

This summer I also discovered some Japanese anemones cadging a lift with some other plants. They are the pink sort and I’ve always rather hankered after the white sort but we gardeners are notoriously reluctant to look a gift horse in the mouth. I’m thinking about putting them near the bay tree where there is a rough pile of this and that. This is where I grew nasturtiums, very successfully, this year to cover the rough pile of this and that. Big mistake! That’s because nasturtiums are loved by the large and small ‘cabbage white’ butterflies which then got the bit between their teeth, as it were, and moved onto my brassicas.

Well, we live and learn, which is one of the reasons I love gardening.

Plant trees now, and celebrate Apple Day!

First published by Rattan Direct on 21 October 2016.

Trees have so many benefits that if they didn’t exist we’d have to invent them! Plant one this year to enjoy next year. And 21st October is Apple Day, celebrating the hundreds of apple varieties that grow in this country.

Beech and spruce tree canopies in Malý Blaník Nature Reserve, Benešov District, Czech Republic. Trees
Beech and spruce tree canopies in Malý Blaník Nature Reserve, Benešov District, Czech Republic. © Juan de Vojníkov and published under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

The many benefits of trees

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

When Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote this sonnet she could have been writing of trees and the benefits they offer.

Above all, beauty.

And trees play a part in:

  • ecosystems and microclimates
  • cooling by providing shade
  • warming by protecting against cold winds>

They contribute to our:

  • health
  • relaxation and calm
  • enjoyment
  • gardens
  • community wellbeing.

They help to:

  • link us to past and future generations
  • define space and screen unattractive views
  • reduce erosion
  • save money.

They give us:

  • fruit
  • nuts
  • firewood
  • timber.

Indeed, without trees we’d be a bit stuck. So if you can, plant a tree for next year – even in a pot.

How to plant a tree or large shrub

Prepare the ground

Trees grow well where the soil contains some air and is not too wet nor too dry. Prepare your tree planting hole with four simple steps.

  1. If you are planting in the lawn think about mowing: circles are easier to mow around, but square holes are better for roots. Go wild – dig a square hole but remove turfs to make a circle around it.
  2. Dig a hole that is slightly deeper than the pot or rootball of the tree, and over an area at least three times as wide.
  3. Break up the sides of the hole with a strong fork so the roots can get into the surrounding soil.
  4. Dig in a bucketful of well rotted garden compost

Small and young trees don’t need staking unless they are in very windy sites. If you need a stake plant it very firmly at least 20cm/8in from where the trunk will be.

Plant it

  1. Soak the tree in its pot or soak a bare-rooted tree in a bucket of water for about 30 minutes before you remove it from its pot or wrapping.
  2. Loosen any roots that have become crammed together in pots and spread out the roots of bare-root trees.
  3. Holding the tree upright, place it carefully into the planting hole so that the very top layer of roots are level with the soil surface when you have filled the hole. You may need to scrape away top layers of compost on container grown plants to find the top roots. Don’t plant the tree any lower – it will be vulnerable to disease.
  4. If your soil is poor, throw a handful of mycorrhizal fungi (e.g. Rootgrow) over and in contact with the roots.
  5. Refill the planting hole carefully, placing soil between and around all the roots.
  6. Firm the soil gently, avoiding compacting the soil into a hard mass, and water it in well.

Have a look at this YouTube clip for more advice.

A Chinese proverb is always a good way to end. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.

Apple Day

Many, many different types of apples grow in this country. Hundreds of them. There are eaters. There are cookers. There are dual-purpose apples. And there are cider apples. Oh, and crab apples.

Their colour, shape, size and taste vary. Their names are those of old friends or new friends to be discovered and made. One variety is actually called Discovery. And meet Annie Elizabeth (she’s lovely), Beauty of Bath, James Grieve (we go back a long way), Blenheim Orange, Bardsey and Lord Derby. Can I introduce you to Charles Ross (I’ve known him since I was little), Bloody Ploughman and Lemon Pippin? Also Scotch Bridget and Reverend W. Wilks.

Supermarket shopping rather narrows the focus with regard to apples. Apple Day pulls in the opposite direction, broadening horizons and introducing us to all kinds of apples that grow locally.

Colwall Quoining. One of many varieties of apples on display at Colwall's 2011 Apple Day, Herefordshire. Trees
Colwall Quoining. One of many varieties of apples on display at Colwall’s 2011 Apple Day, Herefordshire. © Bob Embleton and published under CC BY-SA 2.0 licence

Apple Day is 21st October but really it’s a moveable feast, reflecting different harvest times from year to year, and from place to place. (Where I live, the 2016 harvest is two weeks later than usual.) Apple events in some areas go on all month.

Apples are for chutneys, jellies and pies, for eating with pork and bacon, for fruit juice, cider and calvados. Enjoy!


Sedum spectabile brings Autumn Joy: colour, bees and butterflies

First published by Rattan Direct on 9 October 2016.

The ice plant, Sedum spectabile, is a magnet in autumn for beautiful and beneficial insects like red admiral butterflies and bees. I like the variety ‘Autumn Joy’, a wonderful rose pink in colour.

My garden plans went awry

Today we are looking at the wonderful Sedum spectabile, sometimes called showy stonecrop, ice plant or butterfly stonecrop.*

Once upon a time, I had a plan to edge a border with Sedum spectabile. Specifically ‘Autumn Joy’. The reason was that I wanted to attract bees and butterflies to my garden (and I still do) and it’s an excellent and attractive plant for this. It has light green leaves and starry flowers which open from greenish-pink buds, and change rapidly from pale to deep rose.

S. spectabile Autumn Joy's green, then pink buds. Autumn Joy
S. spectabile Autumn Joy’s green, then pink buds

I started well but Life had other plans, as so often seems to happen, and the border had to drop down the priority list for quite some time. ‘Autumn Joy’ became pushed out by other, more thuggish plants. Bear’s breeches, Acanthus mollis, I’m looking at you.

Happily, things have changed again and the spectacular spectabile (it means ‘showy’) border is once more on the cards. A few ‘Autumn Joy’ plants have survived in that area of the garden and they are a magnet for insects. These are insects of the beautiful and beneficial kind like red admiral and small tortoiseshell butterflies which lift the spirits in the autumn, and industrious bees going about their business.

Small tortoiseshell on ice plant, near Biddulph, Staffordshire. Autumn Joy
Small tortoiseshell on ice plant, near Biddulph, Staffordshire
© Seo Mise and published under Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 2.0.

Oh no!

This summer I’ve been quite virtuous in mowing the lawn. I have a push mower without a grass box and using it can be a good workout in itself. And then I have to rake up the clippings with a spring-tine rake. I have one word to say to you: abs.

It’s hard work, especially if the grass has grown long, as it loves to do when the weather is s wet and warm. Anyway, one day I was pushing away with the mower in a particularly difficult area of lawn and found, oh no!, that I’d knocked off a chunk of ‘Autumn Joy’. Even more upsetting was that I realised that, this year, I seem to have far fewer AJ plants than I used to, once upon a time.

Grow new ‘Autumn Joy’ plants – it’s easy

To cut a long story short, the cloud had a silver lining. I used the broken-off piece of plant as a cutting. All I did was:

  • tidy it up a bit by cutting the end off neatly and cutting off the lower leaves
  • put it in a pot of some gritty compost
  • placed it in the cold frame in the garden.

(Do not think that the cold frame is a magnificent piece of garden equipment because it isn’t. It’s a fairly pleasant box which used to be a kitchen cabinet. It has glass doors which fit nicely over the top in cooler weather, perched on battens of wood to allow ventilation.)

The cutting ‘struck’, as we gardeners say. That means it rooted well. And it has gone on to grow well. I potted it on into a larger pot and now it’s flowering like mad. Why haven’t you planted it out in the border, I hear you ask. Because that border hasn’t been sorted out yet…  Pressure of work, other responsibilities, this and that. But it will get done and the border will eventually be my dream edged with S. spectabile from one end to the other, struck from cuttings by me. And butterflies and bees will flock to it.

S. spectabile 'Brilliant'. Autumn Joy
S. spectabile ‘Brilliant’
By Rob Hille. Public domain

* Old friend Sedum spectabile has been reclassified and renamed recently although its old name lives on. It now sometimes flies under the name of Hylotelephium spectabile, but it’s still a member of the stonecrop family and it still brings autumn joy to all who know it.

Yet more about the excellence of this herbaceous perennial here.

Michaelmas daisies boost the garden with warm autumn colour

First published by Rattan Direct on 25 September 2016.

Michaelmas daisies can provide warm autumn colour in late summer and autumn when most flowers are coming to an end. Bees love their open flowers.

Michaelmas daisies

Michaelmas daisies (sometimes called asters) are perennials which grow in clumps. I am an old romantic and I love those tall, abundant swathes of purple that take you unawares as you turn a corner in older, sometimes neglected, gardens. They are a wonderful cut flower and can last more than a fortnight in a vase, if kept cool.

Michaelmas Daisies at Old Court, near Colwall Stone, Herefordshire
Michaelmas Daisies at Old Court, near Colwall Stone, Herefordshire, the birthplace of the modern Asters hybridised by Ernest Ballard in the early 20th century.
© Copyright Barrie Jenkins and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

Michaelmas daisies flower around the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, or Michaelmas, which falls on 29th September. This celebrates the Archangel Michael who fought against Satan and his evil angels. St Michael became the protector against the dark of the night, and Michaelmas daisies thrive in sunny positions.

In general, they are pretty tough and will grow almost anywhere although they like fairly moist soil and flower best in full sun. And the bigger ones should be staked to hold them up, which I often forget to do. Divide plants regularly in early spring to keep them healthy and vigorous.

A mixed press

They have a mixed press, it must be said. We’ll talk about two main types here: the New York and the New England. (Their names give away that they were introduced to Europe from North America in the 1700s, although they now seem to be quintessentially olde worlde.)

In their favour, the New York asters (the novi-belgii group, for the hard core) come in a wide range of jewel-like pink, plum and purple colours. They flower for weeks in the autumn. On the other hand, they can suffer from a white powdery deposit called ‘powdery mildew’. Weed-free flower beds will help air circulation and keep mildew at bay but really, if you’ve got it, the only solution is to spray with fungicide which I’m not very keen about.

Michaelmas daisies near Thursford Green, Norfolk
Michaelmas daisies near Thursford Green, Norfolk
© Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

The New England asters (novae-angliae) are more pest and disease-resistant – good! On the downside there is less of a choice of colour (mostly pastel with some strong colours), a short flowering season and some baldness in the lower stems.

Monty Don talks about how he realised he had an aster-shaped gap in his borders. He also mentions two other types of aster: Aster amellus and Aster x frikartii.

Change of name!

With much more powerful microscopes, plants are often being reclassified and that’s what’s happened to the Michaelmas daisies and the asters. Louise Mitchell talks about this and tells us her favourites.

I love the warm boost that Michaelmas daisies give the garden and, despite their challenges, I welcome them with open arms.


Pelargoniums really thrive in hot summers

First published by Rattan Direct on 3 July 2016.

The rain is sheeting down outside as I write and I’m seriously wondering whether summer is over. I’m not alone in doing this, of course. We all know that these thoughts are a traditional part of the British summer!

Anyway, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that scorching days are ahead. Which plants will do well in your garden and in mine?

Pelargoniums love hot, dry weather

Pelargoniums can cope with hot, dry weather better than many plants. They are very straightforward to grow: all most of them ask is plenty of light and a freely draining soil. They have very few pests and diseases. Water them occasionally (they hate damp conditions and poor air circulation) and if the weather is very dry, give them a good soaking. Feed them occasionally with potash-rich fertiliser (like tomato feed) and deadhead to encourage flowering.

Although they are often grown as annuals, pelargoniums can happily be perennial, given the right conditions. Help outdoor plants make it through the winter by taking cuttings, putting them in an unheated spare room or cold greenhouse, or putting them into a semi-dormant state.

Bedding, hanging basket, statement plants

There are several different types of pelargonium and each has a large range of varieties. There’s bound to be something that will suit you.

The zonal pelargonium has a horseshoe shaped mark (the ‘zone’) on the leaf. They are used for park and garden bedding displays but are also good indoors. Zonal pelargoniums will flower as long as there is good light and the temperature is at least 7-10°C. (A local café grows some inside against the front window as floor-to-ceiling perennials, in flower all year round.) There’s a huge range of fancy-leaf zonals, grown more for their coloured leaf marking than their flowers.

Red zonal pelargoniums, Peaks Parkway, Grimsby.
Red zonal pelargoniums, Peaks Parkway, Grimsby. © Steve Fareham and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

The regal (or show) and angel groups have shrubby growth, saw-edged growth and large bi-coloured ruffled flowers. These are best grown indoors or in partial shade outdoors. They make a good statement plant on a window sill.

The ivy-leaved pelargonium has fleshy leaves on trailing, slightly brittle, stems. In Britain these tend to be grown in hanging baskets and pots but they’re used as ground cover in countries with relatively dry and frost-free climates. I have these pelargoniums outside the back door: a white one in a dark green pot and two very dark red ones in black pots.

Ivy-leaved pelargoniums at a window on the west side of Chateau de Monsec, Mouzens, Dordogne, France.
Ivy-leaved pelargoniums at a window on the west side of Chateau de Monsec, Mouzens, Dordogne, France. ©Père Igor and licensed for re-use with the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence

Finally, scented-leaved pelargoniums like the rose geranium* are mainly grown for their fragrant leaves, often distinctly lobed, toothed or incised, or variegated.

* Pelargoniums are commonly called ‘geraniums’ but that’s not really their correct name. True geraniums are hardy herbaceous plants.

Pelargonium 'Mint Rose' at Ryton Organic Gardens, near Rugby, Warwickshire. Pelargoniums.
Pelargonium ‘Mint Rose’ at Ryton Organic Gardens, near Rugby, Warwickshire. ©TMcB23 and licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International licence.

What’s the long-range forecast for our pelargoniums and us?

We’ve still got two or three more months of summer, depending on how you’re counting. Here’s the long-range weather forecast for the rest of summer 2016. Fingers crossed!


Seasonal plants: think about hydrangeas

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 26 June 2016.

Why think about hydrangeas?

I met a wonderful Hydrangea paniculata last summer at Greencombe gardens, West Porlock, in Somerset. This small garden, designed and planted by Joan Lorraine, is an inspiration in many ways. But it was a graceful example of this hydrangea that set me thinking about what we do wrong with hydrangeas.

We all see them: a dusty, dry and, somehow, unloved shrub with big flower heads that seem too big for the small front garden they sit in. Garden centres sell them by the dozen, small and neat, looking lush and colourful and many gardens we visit have banks of healthy hydrangeas to tempt us.

Pots of mop head hydrangeas, for sale in garden centres can, with the right care, reward us for many years. Sarah Buchanan.

So what’s going wrong with hydrangeas at home?

Like so many plants, in the right place and with the right care hydrangeas are wonderful. The small pots for sale hide their potential to grow to good sized shrubs covered in blooms for months on end. We see them at full growth in small front gardens because they do well with some shelter, and in the mix of sun and shade offerred there. But they love a moist soil with plenty of garden compost mixed into it. And that’s where we go wrong – not enough moisture. Hydranges also like light shade and some protection from late frosts, so a moist front garden can be ideal. Kept well, their flowers last for months, and when left on the plant for the winter they sparkle with frost until you ‘deadhead’ in spring.

So, if you want a hydrangea in your garden: choose a spot with some shelter (from trees, fences or buildings) from cold winds and too hot sun, make sure the soil is moist (dig in lots of garden compost), and that you can easily add water in hot dry spells. To help your front garden hydrangea, add a mulch around the plant in spring and be ready with buckets of water in hot sunny weeks.

Which variety? Would you like an ice cream cone?

There are 80 or more to choose from, offering different shapes, sizes, leaf forms and flower colours. Hydrangeas are a plant for every part of your garden. Three major varieties are likely to suit a moist soil in a sheltered spot in most gardens: mop heads, lace caps and ice cream cones.

Hydrangeas with domes or balls of white, pink, red, blue or mauve flowers are ‘mop head’ hydrangeas. ‘Lace cap’ hydrangeas have a more open and flatter flower head (which is preferred by bees). The proper name of both these varieties is Hydrangea macrophylla. These are the variety most often for sale in small pots in garden centres. Depending on where you live, they flower from late May to early autumn. Different forms offer different colours but in all the colour of the flowers is affected by the soil: an acid soil supports blue flowers, an acid to neutral soil supports mauve and an alkaline soil supports pink but white flowers tend to stay white, regardless of soil.

Pink ‘mop head’ hydrangea. Image by DonBanana, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

If you want to buck the effect of your soil you must treat it. To create a more acid soil and blue flowers, water the plant with sequestered iron or use a blueing compound (available in garden centres). For a more alkaline soil and pink flowers, add lime or chalk (also from a garden centre). Using rainwater to water hydrangeas is important: if you have ‘hard’ (limey) tap water this may turn blue flowers mauve or pink.

Hydrangea petiolaris is a friend of north facing fences and walls, clinging without the need for wires or trellis. Bright, pale green leaves, darken in summer and turn yellow in autumn. Greeny white flowers in spring mean this plant can brighten up a darker spot where other plants may struggle. Like all hydrangeas it likes some shelter – so don’t plant it in the teeth of a North or East wind. It is likely to need pruning every few years once established (after a year or two of growth), and will reward you with years of pleasure. Depending on where you live, flowering starts in May and goes on through the early summer.

Hydrangea petiolaris, climbing up and over a garden wall, Somserset. Sarah Buchanan

Hydrangea paniculata is sometimes called the ‘ice cream cone’ hydrangea, because the flowers are shaped like that. With flowers that start a creamy white and turn pink over time, this plant is a joy from August to October. It likes more sun, and flowers start a little later, than the ‘macrophylla’ varieites, so this plant will suit a different part of your garden.

Locally grown plants
A border of hydrangea paniculata, the ice cream cone hydrangea. Frank Vincentz. Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 and Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.

Now, are you tempted to think about planting a hydrangea this autumn?