Journal of a Gardener 15/06/17

Dragonflies

We have a very special visitor to our gardens this week, Sue Rees Evans, of Shropshire Dragonflies, who has very kindly spent her morning identifying the species of common Dragonfly and Damselfly which have made our pond their home.
For those unfamiliar, Dragonflies have narrower front wings (or forewings) than back wings (hindwings), are generally larger than Damselflies and more powerful. When they land they leave their wings outstretched. Damselflies have equal sized forewings and hindwings, are generally smaller and less powerful in flight than Dragonflies. When they land they fold their wings.
Park yourself on the picnic benches by our pond, and you might be lucky enough to see the following’:
Dragonflies
Broad Bodied Chaser
Four Spotted Chaser
Emperor
Damselflies
Common Blue
Blue Tailed
Azure
Red Eyed
Banded Demoiselle
Detailed photographs and information on each species are available on the Shropshire Dragon Fly Society website: http://shropshiredragonflies.co.uk/

Journal of a Gardener 04/05/2017

Protecting your Hostas from snails and slugs

Despite Hostas being truly beautiful, and very practical shade plants, many people are put off growing them by the inevitable annual munching they receive from slugs and snails, to whom Hostas are simply irresistible.

At Country Garden Plant Centre we love Hostas too much to give in to these little trouble makers without a fight! We surround our Hostas with wool pellets, by Slug Gone, which expand when wet to form a mat around the plant, and eventually breakdown into the soil. You must be careful when applying these to make sure that no leaves are touching the mat, or the surrounding ground, providing a bridge for snails and slugs. Leaf debris must be removed from around the bases of the plants, so that there are no hiding places.

This is just one of many, many methods, which exasperated gardeners have come up with.

Below is a brief compilation of some common tips - can you add to it?

  • Encourage birds into the garden, or keep chickens, to eat the slugs (bear in mind the chickens will eat the Hostas too left to roam free!
  • Apply crushed egg shells/coffee/sand around the shoots so that they cannot be climbed up.
  • Apply a garlic wash. The smell discourages the slugs and snails, and its oil kills.
  • Put copper bands around pots to give the slugs an electric shock.
  • Night time slug picking with a torch….possibly not for everyone.
  • Plant Hostas in pots and grease with Vaseline or WD40.

Send us your Hosta protection photographs on Facebook – we are always keen to trade tips!

Journal of a gardener 27/04/2017

How to grow an Acer tree

Garden journal

Garden Journal 27/04/2017 

Acer Palmatum (common name Japanese Maples) cultivars are slow growing, and therefore small, deciduous trees. They are sought after for the stunning colours of their leaves, which make them a centre piece of the garden in spring & autumn.

Unlike many trees, Acers are perfect for growing in containers, although you can of course put them straight into the ground.
Light requirements vary according to the colour of the leaves.

The RHS recommends that red and purple leaved Acers are placed in a sunny spot to develop their hues, whilst green, white & pink leaves are better placed in dappled shade to avoid scorch.

Garden journalThe ideal soil for Acers is slightly acidic, sandy loam, which is well drained.

Do not despair though, as long as your soil is not acidic, very wet or very dry, the Acer should adapt as long as you give it a helping hand.

Break up and condition heavy soil, add bulk to very light soil and mulch.

Bear in mind when planting that as the roots of Acers are shallow, they don’t like too much competition from others plants.

If planting in a container John Innes is ideal.

You may need to wrap containers in the winter to protect the roots from the cold.

All acers like a sheltered spot out of the wind, which can burn their leaves, and if very strong can lead to misshapen growth.

Very little feeding or pruning is required, with any feeding done in the spring and pruning done in the autumn when the plant is dormant.

Journal of a gardener 05/04/2017

Blueberries are a source of vitamin K, vitamin C, fibre and antioxidants.

They can be eaten straight off the bush, cooked, even frozen.

All in all they are an excellent addition to the garden.

We are currently selling the ‘Berkeley’ blueberry at £11.99.

This is a vigorous, upright variety, which has white flowers from May to June and produces large, attractive fruit with a very good flavour in early August.

Green foliage turns red in the autumn before falling. 

It has an ultimate height of 1.5m and a spread of 1m

Blueberries prefer a sheltered spot, in full sun to part shade. The soil should be well drained and slightly acidic. Blueberries can be grown in a container (ideally 18 inches deep) filled with ericaceous compost, or be planted straight into the ground, providing it is sufficiently acidic (a p.H. 5.5 or lower).

Try to water with rainwater, rather than tap water, where possible

Before planting, water the pot and leave to drain. Prepare a hole large enough to avoid damaging the roots, and dig in moist compost or fertilizer (avoid manure, which is too alkaline) into the planting hole. Position the plant, fill with soil mixture, firm in and water well.

Journal of a gardener 29/03/2017

Rhubarb…a uniquely tart and beautifully pink vegetable, which is more versatile than your traditional crumble and custard combination.

A quick online search will throw up countless delicious concoctions to make your mouth water. Rhubarb and goat cheese salad, crusted lamb with roasted rhubarb, rhubarb gin! It really is worth experimenting. Share your rhubarb recipes on our Facebook page. Show off your culinary skills and make our mouths water!

Rhubarb can be forced (grown under pots) for early harvesting, which is available from January to March, or grown outdoors for later harvesting, sold March until June.  The stems of forced rhubarb are pale and tender in comparison to main crop rhubarb, and the flavour is more subtle.   It should be cooked more gently.

At Country Garden Plant Centre we currently have for sale 4 varieties of outdoor grown rhubarb, at just £6.99 each. This is really excellent value for money when you consider the price of cut rhubarb in the supermarket, and that a good quality rhubarb plant should produce crop for 5 – 10 years.

Timperley Early
The earliest variety, which is ideal for forcing. The stems are red.

Pink Champagne
One of the best known rhubarb varieties. The stems are pale pink and are tender and juicy.

Raspberry Red
This variety produces thick red stalks with a sweet taste, which are perfect for cooking.

Victoria
This is a late season variety, with thick stalks which can be harvested well into the summer.

All grow to a height of approximately 50cm, and a spread of 75cm.

One of the most satisfying things about rhubarb is how easy it is to grow. Like most plants, it prefers a sunny spot. It will grow in most soils, but will appreciate the mixing in of compost and a mulch of well-rotted manure when planting. Water it well (always avoiding water logging).  Resist the temptation to harvest the stalks in the first year, and you will be rewarded with a stronger plant and a higher yield in subsequent years.

To harvest, hold the stems close to the ground and pull upwards with a twisting motion. Remember that the leaves are poisonous due to the concentration of oxalic acid, and should never be eaten, although they can be composted. When harvesting never take all the stems, always leave at least 4. Cut the flower stem when it appears in order to avoid it taking energy from the plant. Do not remove any stems after July. Add a general purpose fertilizer once harvesting season is over.

So, now you know the basics get those hands dirty!

Journal of a gardener 16/03/2017

Spring officially began on 20th March. Buds are swelling on Magnolias in preparation for a show-stopping floral display in the coming weeks.

For those of you who do not have one of these beauties in your garden, Magnolias can be trees or shrubs, evergreen or deciduous (most common in the UK). Magnolias flourish in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. Most prefer a neutral or slightly acid soil. Magnolias are fully hardy, but a sheltered position is preferable. Late frosts may damage flower buds, which appear before the leaves.
In stock we have the following:
Genie
A tall deciduous shrub with an ultimate spread of 1.5m and a height of 5m. The spring flowers are dark burgundy.
George Henry Kern
A deciduous shrub spreading up to 2.5m across and 4m high over 10 – 20 years. The early spring flowers are a pale purple-pink.
Heaven Scent
A small deciduous tree, with an ultimate spread of 8 m and a height of 8 – 12 m, taking 10 – 20 years to reach full maturity. Flowers are appear from spring to summer, and are pink with a magenta stripe.
Liliiflora Nigra
A comparatively small deciduous shrub spreading up to 2.5m with a height of up to 4m over 10 – 20 years. Summer flowers are a deep reddish purple.
Leonard Messel
A deciduous shrub with an ultimate spread of 8m and height of 8m. This is a long lived variety, taking from 20 – 50 years to reach maturity. The spring flowers are lilac and are scented.
Star Wars
A deciduous small tree/large shrub with a spread of up to 4m and a height of up to 8m. Again, this Magnolia takes 20 – 50 years to reach maturity. The spring flowers are pink and are scented.
Stella Rosea
A deciduous shrub with a spread of up to 4m and a height of up to 4m, reaching maturity within 10 – 20 years. The flowers are white, with up to 30 petals.
Susan
A deciduous shrub with an ultimate spread of 4m and height of up to 4m, taking 10 – 20 years to reach maturity. The spring flowers are red/purple on the outside and pink within.

Some varieties reach such sizes when mature, that we would recommend planting them straight into the ground. However, with careful pruning and aftercare they may be grown in a pot. Trees can be planted with a stake, but ensure that you place the stake in the hole when planting rather than after, as this could lead to damage of the roots.

Journal of a Gardener 15/02/2017

This week at the Country Garden Plant Centre we have been tidying up ready for spring.

As the beds are now clear, we have considered what worked and didn’t work last year, and have moved some of the miniature conifers that were being overwhelmed by larger shrubs into a newly established bed, where we hope they will have space to shine.

Floribunda and Hybrid Tea roses have received their last pruning. Any dead, dying, crossing or thin stems were cut out to leave a strong framework with good air circulation. This should help to prevent the development of fungal diseases during the growing season. The strong remaining stems were cut back hard to an outward facing bud in order to encourage vigorous growth. This was done with a sloping cut to prevent any water settling on the wound and causing the wood to split. Any remaining old leaves have been stripped from the rose and destroyed. We have started our pruning a little earlier than we would recommend, simply because of the number of roses we have to prune. In a domestic setting you can wait until March.

It is essential when pruning, particularly thick stems, that your secateurs are sharp, as blunt blades will crush or split the stems, making them vulnerable to disease. Also ensure that when pruning multiple roses that you clean your secateurs in between each, to avoid spreading any disease that may be present.

We have applied a mulch about 2-3” thick in a ring around the base of the rose 3 or 4 inches clear of the stems. The reason we leave a gap is that manure which is insufficiently rotted could be acidic and may ‘burn’ the stems. We are using well-rotted manure. However it pays to be cautious.

Our ornamental deciduous grasses have been cut down to approximately 30cm from the ground allowing the new shoots to rise up unobscured.

Buttercups and Nettles are starting to put on growth now. We have dug them out before they have a chance to re-establish themselves.

Finally the beds have been hoed and raked over. This serves two purposes. Firstly, loose top soil will make weed pulling much simpler, as they appear in the spring. Secondly, it just makes everything look so much tidier! Like they say the quickest way to make a garden look tidy is to edge the lawn. Well the same applies to the borders. Tidy the soil and the whole thing looks neater.

Journal of a Gardener 01/02/2017

This week in the Country Garden Plant Centre it is getting warmer at last.

The bulbs in our gardens are starting to peek their heads out, and snowdrops and crocus are starting to flower. Spring is finally on its way! If you are now regretting your decision not to plant bulbs in the autumn or just didn’t find the time, don’t worry, it’s not too late. Spring bulbs which have been grown on in pots are now available at Country Garden Roses. These can be used for creating container displays or planting out into beds and borders. Our personal favourites include the following perennial bulbs:

One of the first flowers of spring and worth getting on your hands and knees to gaze up at the beautiful patterns of the flower. A native woodland plant, snowdrops like partial shade and are fully hardy. They flower from late January through February and will readily multiply. If you wish to split a clump, this is best done in the green when they have finished flowering.

Iris Reticulata

An early flowering (late January/early February) dwarf variety of Iris. They like to be planted in sun with well-drained soil. If you find that your soil holds the water you may consider putting some grit in the bottom of the hole, to aid drainage before you plant.

Who can resist the cheerful yellow of the common Daffodil after the bleak winter months? Daffodils have a relatively long life, flowering from February to May. They will grow in full sun to light shade, are generally fully hardy and very easy to grow. Many varieties have a sweet, pleasing scent that will have you being led by your nose to find the source. A perfect choice for amateur and professional gardeners alike.

russiansnowdropPuschkinia scilloides var. libanotica
(Also known as the Russian Snowdrop)

Longing for something a little more exotic? Originating from South West Asia, these plants have pale blue star-shaped flowers, with a dark blue central stripe to each petal. They have a shorter flowering period, from March to April, but they’re worth if for such spectacular flowers. They will fill the gap perfectly between the snowdrops going over and the bluebells coming into flower. Again, they will grow in full sun or light shade and are generally hardy. They will also multiply freely.

A shallow, bowl shaped flower available in blue, red and white. Anemone coronaria flowers from March to April. Or June to July if planted in the spring. They like to be in full sun, and are fully hardy. As well as container plants, these Anemones make beautiful cut flowers.

bulbs
You may wish to have a single type of bulb in each pot for a strong impact, or mix different types of bulbs for a longer lasting display. When planting up, remember to give some thought to the varying heights and flowering times of the bulbs and place accordingly. Ensure that your pot is watered on a regular basis. To ensure a good display the following year make sure that you dead head and feed the bulbs once they have finished flowing. Don’t cut back the leaves. Allow them to die down and return the goodness back into the bulb.

Journal of a Gardener 26/01/2017

This week at the Country Garden Plant Centre Winter Visitors.

You can now cut back your perennials that were left standing over winter, as the birds have collected all they can from the seed heads by now. The same goes for any deciduous grasses. Do this now before the new shoots start to appear.

Enrich your beds and borders with well-rotted farm yard manure. A good couple of inches will suppress any weeds and give good moisture retention as the weather warms up (which feels like a lifetime away!) Not only that but it’s a good quick fix to give the garden a neat appearance.

Apple and pear trees can now be pruned to shape and to open out the centre of the tree. This will allow good airflow to the centre of the tree.

Further guidance can be found in “The Fruit Expert” by Dr.Hessayon, available to purchase in the Garden Centre Shop.

Autumn fruiting raspberries can be cut right to the ground as, unlike summer varieties, they will fruit on this season’s growth. Summer flowering raspberries fill fruit on the previous season’s new growth, so just cut out any old looking stems from the base leaving the fresh green stems to fruit.

Whilst on the subject of fruit, why not try forcing some rhubarb for an early treat! Use a traditional rhubarb forcer or an inverted pot will do the same job. The trick is to block out all the light so that the stems strain upwards seeking the light. This in turn will also blanch the stems making them sweet and tender. Pick the stems when they are 20-30cm, but this should only be done with established crowns. If you try this with newly planted rhubarb you will exhaust the plant. Start getting your vegetable gardening going.

It’s not too late to plant garlic and if you get them in now, you will have a taste of the Mediterranean come the summertime! Place your seed potatoes in an old egg box to start them into growth. This is called chitting. The aim is to get short green growths from the eyes of the potato, which can be done by placing them in a light frost free place. If the growth is leggy, move to a brighter spot. They should be ready to plant by March. If you have a greenhouse or cold frame you can sow salad leaves which will be ready for cropping as baby leaves in no time.

A job that I have been busy doing in my own garden is what I call “the hermit crab shuffle”. Moving plants from one pot to the next. Giving them a new home in the next size up whilst removing the top couple of inches of compost and replacing with fresh. This task is also a good opportunity to give them a trim, tidy up or re-shape. Keep an eye out for vine weevil grubs. Treat with a systemic pesticide if found. These little grubs will nibble away at roots causing the plant to wilt and eventually die.

This time of year can be particularly hard going for our feathered friends as they start to exhaust their natural food stocks. Think about installing a bird table or even a plate on a garden table will suffice in a fix. Keep the food topped up as the birds will come to rely on this larder and will even visit on schedule as they become accustomed to the time that you feed them. Much enjoyment can be had from watching the birds tussle for a turn at the table. At this time of year, high fat foods are what they’re looking for. Fat balls, suet and peanuts are perfect. Robins and Blackbirds are particularly partial to mealworms which can be strewn across the lawn for them to forage. Ensure that your bird bath is unfrozen for them to have a drink with their meal.

When all your work is done (if you have any energy left) why not take a walk in the woods on the hunt for snowdrops? The first ones are beginning to appear now, a comforting sign that spring is not too far away!