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Must-have plants for any garden

My must-have plants for any garden
Gardener Bourne End, garden care Taplow, lawn care Wooburn Green, Hedge triming Cookham, Bourne End Gardener.

I’m often asked about favourite or a must-have plant, but I don’t think there is a singular answer. Many merge together creating the effects I like, and succeed each other in an orchestral fanfare lasting months on end.

But these listed below can form a core that would enable a long featured display from February to December.

Specific varieties are mostly not detailed, that would be part of the colour scheme or them of an individual garden. They could all be a must-have plant.

There are some shrubs for structure, grasses and perennials that will start early in the year, others that will last until Christmas.

And now is the time to consider any new plants for your borders. March and April are best months for planting, and if it gets as hot as last year, May will be too late. Unless you have irrigation installed or area slave to the hosepipe.

My Must-have plants – grasses and shrubs

Cornus, coloured stem dogwoods. Or coloured Willows. These provide basic flowers on fresh leaves, but of managed well offer coloured stems from December to March. They must be maintained annually, else they can grow beyond reach and the task becomes a chore. These are absolute must-have plants.

Phalaris. A vigorous variegated grass that can be divided annually to fill spaces.

Calamagrostis. Super tall grass that forms large clumps, lasts through winter as a frosted statue.

must-have plants
Two striking grass forms together

Miscanthus. Generally softer than above.

Stipa Gigantea. A most imposing grass with open oat flowers.

Black currant. Minimal fuss plant with great rewards. Grows in shade, but better, sweeter fruit is produced in a little more sun.

Essential perennials

Rudbeckia / Echinacea. The basic yellow or purple flowers are tough and will self-seed. They can be temperamental in wet ground. The newer alternative colours are more tender.

must-have plants
Echinacea purpurea, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’

Lupin. A packet of Russel hybrid seeds will see your garden full of flowers for years.

Crocosmia. The fresh dense growth provides a great contrast to most other forms. A few nice flower colours too.

Iris Germanica. Buy from a specialist as bare roots, all the colours you could imagine, various sizes and variegated forms too. The flowers can be shirt lived, but are still must-have plants.

Must-have plants
Bearded Iris provide some of the most intricate flowers in the garden. Short lived in warm periods, but so worthwhile.

Echinops. Spikey blue/purple globes on serrated leaves, can be vigorous.

must-have plants
The spiky foliage and flowers contrast with soft foliage and rounded Achillea

Eryngium. Sea holly, spiky leaves and flowers, great contrast.

Achillea. I love the tall yellow flowered version that look like cauliflower. Other colours are available, but can be more tender.

Must-have plants
Achillea cloth of gold.Tall, log-lasting, contrasting flower and foliage form. A simple must-have plant.

Hemerocallis. Day lillies, a mainstay for any garden. The flowers offer morning and evening therapy, deadheading while checking the rest of the beds. The more you deadhead, the more flowers are produced. So many colours, spreads easily, grows in ditches on freeways in California so is very tough.

must-have plants
An example of some day lily colours.

Verbena Bonariensis. Never be without this plant. I use it with Stipa to form screens through which the garden can be viewed.

Must-have plants
Stipa gigantea and Verbena bonariensis combine beaufifully.

Penstemon. Or this one. It is generally tough when established, many colours that can flower into December. Can be susceptible to drought or waterlogging.

Ground cover must-haves

Ajuga. This is wonderful, all but indestructible ground cover, bronze leaf with blue flowers. Leaf shades, size and flower colour vary slightly.

Heuchera. A wonderful variety of leaf/flower colour combinations mostly for shade or partial sun.

Geranium. The hardy ground cover plant, not tender pelargoniums. They vary by leaf shape and size, and colour, and by flower colour.

Bergenia. A very useful tough ground cover that tolerates shade well. Varying leaf sizes and flower colours.

Replanting a flower bed – Rip it up and start again

Replanting a flower bed – Rip it up and start again relaying flower bed, replanting flower border, dividing perennials, splitting plants

One of the first beds I planted about 6 years ago has looked tired throughout the year. Some of the plants did not really get going, while others seemed swamped. Large daffodils were still going in July, their unruly leaves spilling and spoiling. It just was not working, so it’s time to consider replanting a flower bed.

Replanting a flower bed
Extended dry periods have taken their toll

What I need to do is dig it all up, remove the weeds that were sneaking in, and replant with a fresh layout. Some bargains from the garden centre will help to diversify and extend the season as well.

Earlier this year I removed a large Stipa Gigantea from this bed, splitting it into five. This left a gap that I filled with Lupins and Achillea, mainly because I had lots of them. Some of them have established, but the dry summer took its toll.I will increase the number of Rudbeckia here, making the drift larger.

When replanting a flower bed the first job is to decide what stays and what goes.  Any surplus – in this case most significantly Crocosmia George Davison – are split and potted up. These are useful for passing on to friends or clients in need of a border filler.

Dig it all out, start again

I split and replanted some Iris siberica, Iris germanica and hemerocalis. Stipa tenuissima have been brushed out and replanted closer to the back.

Daffodils are replanted further back, so wilting foliage will be hidden amongst new growth.

There were also a few large Verbascum – mulleins – that grow over six feet tall with towers of yellow flower. The large leaves smother anything growing close by, so I have trimmed back the foliage and hope they can make do.

The space created allowed for some additional Heleniums to go in, something I have been building stocks of slowly, but not fast enough. The garden centre had some reduced from £9 to £3 in the sale, along with some Helianthus and Kniphofia,

Replanting a flower bed
Tidier, and ready to mulch for winter

I had put off this job, in part due to being busy, but also because such projects can be quite daunting. But it actually only took three hours. Achievable in a morning or afternoon with time to spare!

Local gardener Bourne End, garden design Bourne End, planting plan Bourne End

Hot bed hot colours

Hot bed, hot colours
Creating a tropical garden with hot colours, design cut flower bed

Earlier this year I planted out a secluded south facing bed with a hot and tropical feel, hot bed, hot colours. This tropical feel garden, with hot colours for cut flowers catches the sun all day and would be in view from our main outdoor summer seating area .

This area is currently occupied by lots of Nerines, so flowers for the late summer  were already ahead. A Musa Basjoo Banana (£5 from a nursery at J1 on the M40) was key to the tropical feel. It just oozes tropics. Anchoring the bed at either end are Helianthus Lemon Queen and Romneya, the California Poppy Tree.

Filling in the spaces I used Zinnias grown from seed, Oesteospurmums from cuttings, and lots of bright Dahlias.

The objective of providing cut flowers from this bed would be bolstered by my first attempt at growing Alstromeria, the peruvian lilly. These are included as I read that they stay fresh in a vase for 3 weeks. I bought them mail order, and about half of them grew. Not ideal, but enough growing strongly to make up for losses.

Some Agapanthus I had been given are dotted in, with a view to them establishing to flower in forthcoming years.

So all planted and promises of hot coloured cut flowers all summer.

This bed also happens to be overlooked from my hallway, so is what we see coming downstairs in the morning. And what any visitors see when entering the house.

It started slowly, and I thought the dry summer would wipe out much if it. Not only did it survive, but it has thrived. The area is now our first call for cut flowers. They have been abundant from June and still plentiful going into October.

Hot bed, hot colours, lessons learned

I was caught out by the  late season exuberance, and found many plants were not adequately supported. This meant they leaned forward into the grass path, and left the back of the bed looking open.

Hot bed, hot colours
As the season went on bigger plants leaned in too far. Nerines came out early this year, in the past they’ve not shown until late October.

Some thought into what plants go where, and some discrete canes, should solve that for next year. And some planning to get through the dry weather. I will add further loads of compost. And install a leaky pipe irrigation system there, to make sure the water gets right down below the foliage and into the roots.

And the proof of the pudding? You can see that it is still bringing spectacular colour, especially for a cheap and fast go at a hot bed, hot colours idea. And especially compared to the perennials borders  that lose colour fast from October.

And the great thing is that it will only get better. I love it!

Hot bed, hot colours
Overall it met the brief, hot colours all summer long

Hot bed, hot colours Hot bed, hot colours Hot bed, hot colours

Garden workshops – from the ground up

Garden workshops

Garden workshops  planned
from the ground up garden, FTGU Garden
Garden workshops will be (mostly) held at my Bourne End garden.

These garden workshops are based on my own garden diary, so when jobs need doing I use them to demonstrate what I do and why. This therefore makes my schedule for regular tasks firmer, and shares knowledge that makes what seem like daunting tasks much simpler.

Late winter, early spring 2017

Success sowing seeds for earlier planting

Dogwood for winter colour March 2017  (Rose and Dogwood pruning and dogwood cuttings 2016)

Dividing and replanting grasses

Dividing and replanting perennials

Spring

Increasing your Dahlia stock with cuttings

Taking cuttings from perennials

Autumn

Dividing perennials for bulk and “redundancy”

Creating the perfect easy maintenance compost heap

Taking cuttings from perennials

Collecting and storing your own seed

Sowing seeds

Preparing and planning summer bulbs/tubers

Succession planting

Pots – making the most of your garden pottery all year

Taking cuttings from tender plants

Poisonous plants in the garden

Planning next years spring bulbs

Salvaging Dahlias and other tender tubers for winter storage

Register here for upcoming events

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Everyone needs a compost heap

Everyone needs a compost heap

Everyone needs a compost heap
What if I told you there was a cheap and easy way to significantly reduce the amount of work to do in your garden?

Well, there is. It does require an investment in time to start with, but pays in the long term. So if you are a long game player, this can give you time to enjoy your garden rather than be a slave to it.

Gardening here in the Thames Valley in even a modest garden will generate vast amounts of waste vegetative material. You could put in your fortnightly green bin collection, or put the majority of to work to – quite inexpensively – improving your own soil. What everyone needs is a compost heap.

Time – or money – invested in the soil will bring returns through healthy, vigorous and longer lived plants. It does not have to cost anything. A few pallets will cost little, certainly not as much as a purpose made plastic “dalek” compost bin, and will be easier to use.  I prefer to use a little time rather than spend money on compost. Its good exercise too, so no need to buy a gym membership!

The requirements for making a good compost heap

First an incentive. Eventually you’ll be able to forget about having to dig over beds to remove weeds and condition the soil; let nature do it for you. Creating compost is serving your garden a high energy meal, and the various insects that enjoy it will do all the hard work for you.

A compost heap is not going to look pretty, so find somewhere discrete to keep it, even if that means building a screen to hide it. And all it has to do is contain the materials and hold them together so the beneficial bacteria that break down the plant matter can heat up and work effectively. No need to buy anything expensive mail order.

compost heap
Home composting is about recycling, and saving money. No need to buy something to look pretty.

Key to success is allowing air and water into the compost heap. You could regularly turn the compost, allowing oxygen in and the materials to be mixed, but that can be hard work. Your container needs to retain heat and moisture, so the contents can degrade faster. So locating it in direct sunlight can help, though is not essential; mine are all in shaded areas and work fine, if a little more slowly.

A balanced mixture of materials – soft grass and thicker woodier materials – will make it work better and faster. Adding cardboard or paper to separate layers will also help. Having a large amount of grass without other items to let air in will result in a nasty smelly unusable mess. A low-maintenance heap has brown and green plant matter, plus some moisture to keep the good bacteria going. If you have a hedge mow the clippings, and also any fallen leaves, as they contribute to the brown matter. And any not cooked kitchen waste is equally welcome.

Remember to only add materials in combination to keep a good moisture balance and create air pockets.

Compost care.  You’ll have seen on TV programmes how the gardeners have 4 or more cages which empty into each other and hence turn the compost. Back in reality we have no time or space or interest in that. But you can create your heap so that tumbling, turning or rolling it is easier. My article on the perfect compost bin is an example.

Add material regularly to keep feeding the bacteria, and keep the pile covered to retain heat. Turn the heap as it rots down, best about once a fortnight, but at least every 4-6 weeks. Or just add the waste well mixed. Or build an easy to manage heap, as I have experimented with .And keep it damp; dry compost won’t rot down.

You want to create something that looks and smells a little like potting compost you’d buy. Most important is that the right balance of mixed materials allows for air and water penetration. The better that mixture is, the less requirement there is to turn the heap.

The golden rules of compost heap

Make the heap as big as you can manage, in terms of managing but also in terms of what it will produce. Compost will need a certain amount of mass before it can get going, so don’t skimp.

  • Keep the heap moist. It should feel damp to the touch, like a wrung out cloth..
  • Always combine different materials, even if its just grass and cardboard with a few kitchen scraps.
  • Don’t put in the invasive and difficult weeds or their seeds, they are better in the regular waste collection.
  • The science is simple, and natural. Add materials that will rot when exposed to air and water, mix occasionally and out comes the elixir that makes your garden grow.

In my garden in Bourne End I have a soil that is heavy with clay. It retains moisture, and so many things rot over winter. In the summer it’s impenetrable, like rock. The gradual addition of compost has made the soil a crumbly easy to work texture that allows plants to expand their roots and flourish. Water drains away freely, but enough is retained. It has solved gardening paradox No 1 for me: well drained moisture retentive. I used to get frustrated about how one could find this utopia, but the compost heap has supplied it. And there are other benefits, in addition to the £300 or more that I don’t have to spend on the same volume of bought in compost to put on my beds.

compost heap
Some old pallets for a few pounds each will do just as well, and let you make a heap as you want it.

Benefits of adding compost to your beds

Soil structure is improved, retaining moisture in sandy soils and allowing drainage in sticky or clay soils. Having an open structure prevents the surface from sealing or crusting. Water can penetrate, where a crusted surface just sees water drain off and away from the plants.

An open soil will not compact so easily, which is better for the plants to get roots into, and insects to carry on their livelihoods, working the compost into the soil for you. Depending on what you put into the compost, it can neutralise your soil PH, making it more suitable for more plants.

And it saves you having to buy material to make your garden grow. Just spread it on twice a year and let nature do it for you. The more you do it, the better the garden is for it, and the easier it becomes to work it. And the garden will also generate more materials to go into the compost heap.

And the circle is complete. So if you want to start one autumn may be the perfect time. You’ll have lots of waste to cut down and no room left in the green bin. Its easier and quicker than taking it to the dump, and it’ll save you a packet next year. After a couple of years you’ll have less hard digging to do, and less plants to throw away that have died through too much or not enough water. Win, win, win.

June when borders are without flower Week 23

June when borders are without flower

June when borders are without flower
Mind the June gap. I have only become aware of this supposed null period in the borders in the last few years, but I have to ask “what gap?”

June gap refers to a period, usually June when borders are without flower.  It is the time after spring bulbs have gone, and before the herbaceous border kicks in. This is, in theory, boring for plantsmen and gardeners, and critical for bee keepers. Bees without flowers to feed on can be a catastrophe.

But in my Thames Valley plot I have to ask “what gap?” I am not without flower in any of my  borders with any aspect. In fact, I can already barely keep up with dead heading day lillies. It is a great chance to spend 10 mins morning and evening with a cup of tea (or glass of something cool later) taking in what is actually going on.

I have found one or two plants not maturing as they should, and hence being fenced in by their more vigorous neighbours. And a couple of gaps where there should have been something by now; that is where my pots of Dahlias will come into their own, as gap pluggers.

Non-stop flowering

Roses are starting to flower freely, there are foxgloves everywhere. Geranium Wargrave Pink is so prolific that I have had to make the first cut backs.

Not a “Chelsea chop”, but more a back to earth and start again.

There are late contributions from bulbs in the form of Camassia leichtlinii Alba, a happy mistake of packing as I am sure I ordered blue. The cream white flowers that progress up the stem ave reached halfway, whereas the blue form were finished in early May.

And the Alliums are in various stages of growth; Purple Sensation out and some nearly done, and Christophii just emerging.

June when borders are without flower
The East border with plenty of flower for bee and gardener

Plants to fill the June gap

Otherwise perennials have taken over with Digitalis, Verbascum, Geranium, Iris Siberica, Antirrhinum, Lupin and Papaver leading the way.

June when borders are without flower
Delphinium and Lychnis ready to join Iris and Geranium in flower

Here is a list of other plants that can help fill the gap.

 

Garden springs into growth Week 21

Garden springs into growth

Garden springs into growth
With temperatures up and the recent rain the garden will really spring into growth. Most of the later planting is done, but I still have a few more Dahlias and Cosmos to plant out.

And decisions need to be taken about those Dahlia and Canna roots that have not done anything. It’s always a puzzle that some perfectly healthy looking specimens just refuse to shoot.

Those that have gone soft have already been discarded, but the remaining few still take up space. I should adopt a time limit for them, rather than allow them to clutter up the planting plans for other beds and the greenhouse.

This week I watched daily as the greenhouse springs into growth. I have sown some French Marigold specifically as companions for them, and they are now planted, along with Coriander and Basil  to keep the Cucumbers and Chillis free from at least a few bugs.

In the borders the task of dead heading has started. Hemerocalis, Iris Siberica and the bearded Iris all need attention. Poppies are another that will flower all summer if they can. Leave some pods to turn though, and let them self sow through out the border.

Many “annual”  plants have made it through the last few winters here, including Poppy Papaver Comutatum, the one with black spots like a ladybird. Snapdragons and Scabious are also popping up where I had them last year, a most welcome and pleasant surprise.

Garden springs into growth
Ladybird poppies are a spectacular red

Early crops a winner

The peas I started in the greenhouse have produced an early crop, and encouraged me to make it really worthwhile next year. those outside are not really far behind. The broad beans though are several weeks ahead, and the first pods are ready to pick now.

Other crops have started to bolt with the extra heat, and so they should have a planting companion to provide shade. Not quite sure what that is yet though.

Now I am watching for fading planting and the inevitable “June gap”.

 

 

Spring planting Week 19

Spring planting – again

Spring planting
The warm weather – tempered by a couple of chilly nights last week – has really sprurred the garden along. Much needed rain was the catalyst to kick-start growth, with many perennials noticeably taller. Lupins, Delphiniums, Digitalis  and Rudbeckias have almost doubled in size over a few days

And now the ground is wet and warm I can get a few more projects under way.

A narrow south facing bad seems ideal for some tropical plants. It has a dry and a damp end, so will acomodate a wide range of plants. I have a banana – Musa Basjoo – and Cannas fr that tropical leaf feel, and colour from Dahlias and Callas. Some previous residents will stay, including Nerine Bowdenii, Helianthus Lemon Queen, several Penstemons and a Phlox.

For spot plants I have some Lilly Regale and Tiger Lillies. This is also the spot I like to try to grow the best sunflowers, and they disguise an ugly downpipe as well.

Agapanthus – a trade in at the last plant swap – and Alstromeria provide additional interest, and  the latter hopefully long-lasting cut flowers. The slightly banked front will be covered by Osteospermum, Alchemilla Mollis and Sedums.

Finally a few Mammoth sweet peas for scent.

Food glorious food

In the kitchen garden I have planted out the Chard, Pak Choi and about a million beetroots. There are four varieties, one of them a golden one that I have never tried before.

Potatoes were another benefactor of the rain last week, requiring earthing up already.

And the peas in the greenhouse experiment has worked, to the degree that we have mange tout to eat from the garden for the first time. The broad beans in the greenhouse beds are pinched out and all  in flower.

 

The main flower border is now storming ahead.

Spring planting
The main front border on April 17th

Spring planting
And the same border 4 weeks later

The bad news is though… that there are only 4 weeks until midsummer.

Spring planting Week 16

Spring planting

Spring planting
The last two weeks have mostly been put to use in clearing and tidying. That took care of the jobs that either the cold or water in the soil prevented.

That has involved some hard landscaping, replacing a slippery path with something more stable, cutting and edging lawns. I have also been potting on plants grown from seed and cuttings. And setting out Dahlias to start sprouting in the greenhouse.

Spring planting
These alpines were in need of tidying and redressing. Now they’re ready to go out.

And the beds have have a good clear out too, with the last of the winter structure removed. That included any detritus that had been previously left as protection. I also used the opportunity to remove some of the very invasive bluebells that can colonise the front of borders. Finally another mulch of rough garden compost and its ready to start growing. Some of it’s off to  a great start.

Spring planting
Two weeks after splitting the Delphiniums are growing stronger than ever

A late spring?

This year seems to be about 3 weeks later than last year after the warm early spring we had in 2015. That always leads to an anxiety about where certain plants are, have they appeared yet, will they appear?

The obvious things so far missing are Heleniums – three differerent ones not so far seen – a couple of Echinaceas, and Achillea and all the Hostas. I went to an open garden in Cookham on Sunday and the Hostas  where all showing nicely.

The cold blast due this week will certainly slow progress down a bit more. So those plants potted and ready to go out will have to wait a week or more than expected before they can be planted.

The main flower border is not looking too bad though so far.

Spring planting
This south and east facing bed is the first to show colour

Spring planting Dahlias

I have some greenhouse borders that are spare before tomatoes are due to go in. These will be used for the Dahlia tubers, laid out and gently watered to stir them into life. That way I can see what is growing before setting them in beds or pots; nothing worse than carefully planning where to put them and finding nothing grows.

So far about 10 of 80 are shooting, with more showing every day.

Spring planting vegetables

Not too much more on this front, but the broad beans are all out. Peas are planted in between potatoes, and many leaf and salad veg are ready in pots to go out. they too can wait until the cold spell passes.

Dividing perennials

And the process of creating more and better stronger plants goes on. Last weekend a friend came over with a couple of chunky Salvias – not something I’d grown before – so they could be split. They were tough to break, with the carving knife not being man enough I resorted to a spade. She took the main divisions and I kept one, plus all the bits that fell off.

I have planted them in a sharp draining compost and kept in the propagator for a few days. It looks like 90 per cent or so will be good. That’s a good block for the garden beds and some for the Plant swap on May 7th.

 

 

 

 

 

How to divide perennials Week 14

Divide perennials

Divide perennials 
Knowing how and when to divide perennials is key to productivity in your garden. It enables the stock to increase in numbers, both for better display and impact, and cheaply insure against loss through slugs, deer, excess wet or cold winter. And dividing will increase the vigour of the plants for better flowering.

Having more enables you to repeat a plant in a border or garden plan – a keystone in garden design – making a connected theme and a more attractive display.

Knowing how to divide perennials will make this easy.  Faced with digging up a prized plant that is doing fine, doubts can set in.

This is how I tackled one of my prize Delphiniums this week. I say “prized” because it took a long time, and probably more dead plants than I care to recall before I got Delphiniums to grow well. And they do grow very well. In fact they are virtually unstoppable.

I started by digging out a clump that had about six shoots showing.

How to divide perennials

A large delphinium in need of splitting

How to divide perennials
The Delphinium freshly dug up

It was not clear what it looked like under the soil, so I washed it off for a better look.

How to divide perennials
Washed off to reveal the extent of the plant

Underneath was covered in shoots, with the strongest at the outside. I know that this plant had not been split since I planted it three years ago, so I was not sure how tough it would be. I decided to try a knife first rather than a spade, and it worked just fine.

How to divide perennials
Splitting it with a carving knife was easy.

I cut it into four even pieces, each with several shoots and plenty of root.

How to divide perennials

Before putting the pieces back I dug the hole deep with a fork, and put in a bucket full of rough compost. You can almost see the clay turn into perfect soil as you do it.

How to divide perennials
I would say that the continual addition and digging in of compost was the most significant factor in making the clay soil here viable.

And after planting them back I gave them a light mulching of more compost, just in case we get another frost.

When to divide perennials

The basic rule I apply is that if the flower in spring, wait until afterwards, otherwise spring is better than autumn. But there are exceptions. Hemerocallis is one, and Hostas too seem to perform post spring splitting.

They must also be shooting. Some perennials like Helenium are still dormant in my garden.  They must not have any flower spikes showing, as the Kniphofias do already.

The Delphiniums here have flowered better each years since I put them in, with an earlier start and later finish – some were still flowing in December 2015. So when to divide is a judgement call.

Another “rule” is to wait until after flowering, which is technically what I have done. When plants are as strong as these you can be more confident about doing it.

Other ways to create more plants

Dividing perennials is for more more about the health of the plant than creating more. Dividing – like taking cuttings – does assure the same variety of course, where seed produces all sorts of strange versions.

So combining some division, some cuttings and some seed sowing allows increasing stock, better healthier more vigorous plants, and a better display for your enjoyment.