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Gardening Blog 2017

Ramblings of a Mileham Gardener

April to June 2017

by Kathy Gray

These coming months are some of my favourite, with winter behind us and everything springing into life. Foliage is fresh and green, with the promise of flowers, fruit and vegetables to come. As I write in late March the daffodils are already in flower and primroses have shown their faces in the last week or so, to be followed by cowslips and oxslips. Tulips are beginning to bud up and, in some cases are in flower already. Below is a photo of species tulips and a creeping Euphorbia with wonderful acid green foliage which contrasts so well with the red of the tulip.

I thought in this blog I would look a little at the pruning of shrubs in particular. It seems to be something that worries a lot of people so hopefully this might help. Basically, shrubs that flower between January and mid-July should be pruned/and or thinned immediately after they finish flowering so they can make new growth that will flower in the first half of the following year. Shrubs that flower after July do so on the tips of shoots they make in that current spring/summer, so can be cut back in early spring. Evergreens grown just for their leaves should ideally be pruned as spring warms up. Those grown for their flowers as well should be pruned after their main flush is over. Of course, there is more to it than that but it is, at least, a basic guide. For more information on individual shrubs, try looking at this web site for a handy calendar.

Herbaceous plants are now beginning to grow strongly – I marvel every year that they survive underground, ready to show themselves for another year. It’s not too late in April to divide clumps that are too big, are flowering poorly or have lost shape. Lift the clump and divide using two forks back to back, then replant the portion you want.

It’s also time, as the month progresses, to think about staking/supporting taller plants. If you leave it too late, you end up trying to tie the plants up and it never looks good. Now I know I say this every time, but do discard or give away any plants that are not earning their keep in your garden. I was told recently by an inspirational gardener that you should edit your garden; assess and evaluate! I have been doing that with gusto!!

Before the soil dries out, do try to mulch the beds and borders to keep moisture in and supress weeds. In addition, think about feeding your plants – certainly shrubs benefit from a feed. I have found that Vitax Q4 is very good for this. For roses I have discovered Uncle Toms Rose Tonic. It’s expensive but goes a long way and gives good results. And that is what you want in June when many roses are at their best.

Most important now everything is growing away is the need to weed. If you let them get a hold, life will be much more difficult! April is also the time to pay attention to the lawn. Cut it when necessary and weed and feed with a high nitrogen spring lawn fertilizer. In addition repair lawn edges and any bald or worn patches. If you like growing annuals, sow hardy varieties in pots or, on light soil, direct into the ground a bit later in the month. Also sow half hardy annuals but keep them under cover with some heat.

We all like to buy new plants, especially if we have been editing the garden! There are two good local(ish) Plant Fairs that are worth attending. On Sunday, 30 April, Norfolk Plant Heritage have a Fair at Hethersett Village Hall and field with 20 professional nurseries plus lots more. 10am to 1pm. For more information see www.norfolkplantheritage.org.uk And on Saturday, 30 May there is a Plant Lovers Day at Creake Abbey where there will, again, be a good number of professional nurseries. 10am to 4pm. See www.creakeabbey.co.uk

May is such a lovely month – I think it’s my favourite. Everything is growing apace and it’s so good to see. Make sure you have those plant supports in place and that you continue to hoe out any weeds. You can start planting up hanging baskets, although keep them under cover until any danger of frost is past. I can’t actually remember the last time there was frost in May but you never know! Most of you reading this will know Packwells Nursery in Mileham – they have a wonderful selection of bedding plants at reasonable prices. If you like to use pots to add to your displays think about planting them up as well. Last year I saw some rather nice black containers planted with dark leaved pink Dahlias – they looked really good and sometimes less is more in a pot. Or how about using Artemesia schmidtiana ‘Nana’ – it has soft grey green fluffy foliage and looks great in a pot with soft pink Argyranthemum. The Artemesia has an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS which means it has been extensively trialled and proved itself to be a good plant. It is hardy and can be planted in the garden once the container display is over. If you overwintered Dahlias you have hopefully ‘got them going again’ and they can be planted out later in the month, along with other more tender plants. Lawns should now be mown once a week and keep edges sharp. It really makes such a difference even if you haven’t quite eliminated all the weeds! If you like biennials such as wallflowers, think about sowing them between now and the end of June. They will then make healthy plants by the autumn.

I always think that by June we should be able to relax a bit and just enjoy our gardens. OK – maybe it doesn’t always happen in practice but do step back and enjoy what you have achieved. Lastly, don’t forget that we are having Open Gardens in Mileham on Sunday, 2 July – 11am to 4pm.

Ramblings of a Mileham Gardener

January to March 2017

by Kathy Gray

I was looking back at the blog I wrote this time last year and noted that much was out in the garden because of the mild weather. Well, it’s not quite as floriferous this time and, indeed, the last few days of 2016 were cold. However, I do have primroses in flower and a snowdrop or two, with many more poking their heads through the earth. Snowdrops are such lovely plants, giving us hope at the bleakest time of year that spring will arrive and to see them in great drifts is wonderful. Lexham Hall has a good show each year and they are open on Sunday, 5 February. The type you will see there are mainly Galanthus nivalis or the ‘common’ snowdrop; I should say here though, there is nothing common about them! However, Galanthophiles, the people who collect snowdrops, purchase many different types, often at great expense and, contrary to popular belief, they do not all look the same! See the photos for a couple of examples.

Other gardens will be open for snowdrops in February; for details look at the NGS website (www.ngs.org.uk)  

A little bit here about taxonomy or the naming of plants. We all have our favourite plant names – perhaps Bear’s Britches or Lords and Ladies - but a name in one country may refer to a completely different plant somewhere else, which leads to confusion. In the 1700’s Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, developed the binomial system, based on certain plant characteristics such as how the leaves are arranged on the stem or how many petals the plant has. The system was adopted worldwide to eliminate confusion and is still in use today. Briefly, each plant has a generic name and a specific epithet. In the case of snowdrops, the generic name is Galanthus and nivalis is the specific epithet. There can also be varieties and cultivars that are added after the epithet.

OK – lecture over! This is, however, the time of year when it’s good to be making plans for the garden. Get out there when the soil is workable, but spend time planning when it is not. As I said last year, think about what works and what doesn’t and try to give each plant its own space. It’s hard to take out plants you may have had for years, but if they are not earning their keep, be ruthless! It’s good in a garden to have a proportion of evergreen plants to maintain interest all year round. Those that flower early are of particular benefit to wildlife so consider planting an evergreen shrub or two. Perhaps a Daphne? They are my favourites (where have I heard that before!). Or a Mahonia? How about Hollies? They are great in shade and tough on windy sites. One of the best evergreen plants for wildlife is arboreal ivy. It forms lovely evergreen hummocks and is great food for late pollinators and provides berries for the birds.

Jobs to do in January include renovating overgrown deciduous shrubs, climbers and hedges, such as beech, hazel, roses and Virginia Creeper. If you have deciduous grasses in the garden you can start to cut them back. If this job is left too long, the new shoots will start coming through and pruning is then very difficult. If the weather allows, recut lawn edges which will immediately make the garden look smarter! If you enjoy growing vegetables, plan a crop rotation system; leave two years before replanting crops in the same place if at all possible. Pinch out the tips of autumn sown sweet peas. And don’t forget to feed the birds and look out for winter migrants such as redwings, fieldfares and waxwings.  Also, make sure wildlife has access to fresh water. On cold, wet days browse through the seed catalogues to decide what you want to grow. I have mentioned Chiltern seeds before and if you look on their website (www.chilternseeds.co.uk) you will find lots of useful information about what to plant now, flowers for cutting, vegetables and herbs etc. They issue two catalogues, one for flowers, one for veggies and even have special mixtures for pet owners to grow in order to keep their rabbits, guinea pigs and tortoises happy!

In February I know we can still be in the depths of winter but things in the garden will already be picking up pace. You can prune winter flowering shrubs that have finished flowering by removing all dead, diseased and damaged stems and by removing a third of growth down to ground level. This keeps them open and well shaped. February is the time to divide bulbs such as snowdrops; congested clumps of Galanthus will not flower well. Also, plant new acquisitions ‘in the green’, when they are likely to establish more successfully.  Finish cutting back deciduous grasses and those such as Stipa gigantica will also want cutting back to 6” crowns to keep plants fresh.

By March, the gardening year is really under way! It’s so exciting to see new growth and the promise of what is to come. Now is the time to lift and divide overgrown clumps of perennials to reinvigorate them, increase flowering and make more plants for other parts of the garden or to pass onto friends. Use a couple of garden forks back to back to ease congested clumps apart, or if the worst comes to the worst, chop into sections with a spade. It’s amazing what plants will tolerate. Replant sections with some fertilizer in the soil and water well. Weeds will now be growing – well, they seem to grow all year in my garden – so deal with them before they get out of hand. Open up the greenhouse doors and vents on warm days to keep air fresh and prevent a build-up of fungal disease on new growth.

Of course, I have only scratched the surface of the jobs that need doing but hope, nevertheless, the above will be helpful. I also hope to see you at the Upper Nar Gardeners’ forthcoming talks.  Above all, enjoy your gardening.