Tag Archives: garden workshop

Time to be Taking Root Cuttings

Taking root cuttings

Taking root cuttings, when to take root cuttings, how to take root cuttings, time to be taking root cuttings

And you thought there was nothing to do in the garden until spring! But if you want more of you favourite plants,  to add to the impact in your beds without spending a fortune, now is the time to consider propagating those with a fleshy root, time to be taking root cuttings.

Included are oriental poppies, Acanthus, Echinops and  the drumstick primulas. Those are Primula Denticulata, the ones that have a tight cluster of flowers forming a ball at the top of the stem.

Time to be taking root cuttings
Drumstick Primula. Mine grow on the edge of a shaded area, close to the pond, sharing space with Hellebores and snowdrops.

Root cuttings are best taken when the plant is dormant. That may not be so easy to establish, with ground staying warm under a mulch or in a sheltered space. The oriental poppies are notorious for this, and have new growth showing now. This leads you to think that they are growing.  Some others you may not be able to see, relying on your memory of where you last saw them to dig them up.

I know it seems obvious, but gently dig up the donor pant, and after you’ve harvested the roots, carefully replant it into a hole where you’ve loosened the soil, so as it rains the soil is easily washed around the roots. that way you don’t have to risk breaking roots by firming it in too hard.

Take a thick root or two from your donor plant, cut off as close to the plant as possible, and use the parts that are “pencil thick”. Remove any small whispy root attached, and the thin end.

How to go about taking root cuttings

You want sections about between 5 and 10 cm long, To ensure they go in the right way up, cut the top flat, and the bottom on a angle. Insert them into a pot of compost, pointed end first. Because the compost needs to be well drained and coarse, start with just a little compost in the pot. My compost is two parts multi-purpose, one part sand and grit.

Insert you root cuttings into it, and then fill the pot. Or you can use a pencil or dibber to make a hole to drop the cutting into. More often than not they won’t push into the compost without breaking.

Once watered leave in a cold greenhouse or frame until spring. Those that survive can be potted on, and be planted out later in the year. Or at least by next year.

If you have some of these plants, you may well ask why not just buy more if you want impact. But most 9cm pots come at about £4-£5 each, plus postage. How many do you need to have some real effect? maybe 7 – 9 smaller plants, 3 – 5 larger ones. But its a nice way to spend an hour exercising your brain and body. And making some more plants will make a nice contribution to your garden and your pocket.

 

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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Revitalise a flower bed

Revitalise a flower bed for next year

revitalise a flower bed, Planning new flower beds, reworking a flower bed, redesign flower bed, design a flower bed, revive a mature bed
Not so much planning a flower bed, but I have had a plan to rework and revitalise a flower bed for 9 months now. But I could not recall what was growing in there, and was loath to just dig it out and discard anything. So I waited to see what all seasons provided and find out for sure what grows there.

In that time I have grown some Iris and Sedum that I knew would thrive there, and about 40 Buxus plants to use as a backdrop and border. So the time has been useful and saved me about £60 in new plants.

I also used the project as a cost exercise, timing how long each aspect took.

I had to:-

  • remove existing planting
  • clear any weeds and roots
  • rejuvenate the soil with compost
  • dig it over
  • and plant the new plants

Clearing out existing plants took two hours, involving the lifting of huge blocks of Crocosmia, and an invasive ground cover Campanula. The area is overshadowed by a large Pyracantha, which has both sheltered the ground from rain and deposited a deep mulch of dead leaves, making sure no water penetrated.

Revitalise a flower bed
Overgrown border in need of re thinking
Revitalise a flower bed
A small toad emerges during the disturbance. I do everything I can to encourage these slug and snail eaters.

Dig deep

Then digging it over, deep enough to crack the “pan” that has formed about 8 inches down, and adding 200 litres of compost, 3 wheelbarrows full from the compost heap, took another hour. Digging it in so it was well distributed consumed another hour.

It was then ready for new plants. The Buxus where laid out in two tiers, one that will eventually grow higher than the other. And the other plants dependent on where the sun would strike most in the afternoon.

Planting box in straight lines and evenly spaced is essential. If you have concerms about box blight, a reasonable alternative to Buxus for such framework is euonymus microphyllus, I saw it used in some national trust gardens recently.

My plan calls for a small space in front of them for the Iris and Sedum, Digitalis and Lysimachia firecracker. There was also some Convallaria that was salvaged to add back in.

Finally I added about 10 Echinacea plants that I have grown from seed. Six hours in, revitalising a flower bed is not as easy as it might seem.

Plan now to revitalise a flower bed

Draw up plans to show what is growing, what you want to keep and what will be discarded. Consider when is best for you to do it. Allow for weather and how much compost you can generate from your heap. And also plan to have plants ready to fill the empty space.

If you need a flower bed replanted or revitalised, call us for a quote. Or email us here.

hedge trimming cutting Bourne end

 

Gardener Bourne End, cutting high hedges Bourne End Marlow Flackwell Heath

Cutting high hedges

Cutting high hedges

Cutting high hedges, trimming high hedges, hedge trimming Bourne End, hedge cutting  Bourne End, Marlow, Flackwell heath
In 2015 I had quotes to have my Leylandii hedge cut. It was not overgrown, but rather tall, and long, and the warm weather really gets it growing.

The prices I got then for my 40 meter long, 3.5 metre high hedge were £80 and £95. For each side!

It sounded a little steep so I tested it with a time and motion study.

When I have cut the hedge myself in the past it has taken over 3 hours to cut each side. This was mainly because of the requirement to constantly climb on to an access platform and then down again to move it along. And the fact that I used a comparatively short cutting blade. 70cms would normally be considered long, but when faced with 140 square metres it’s small.

Cutting high hedges
120 square metres of hedge took me a about 3 hours to cut and more time to clear up.

Cutting the top involves a trapeze act with two ladders. So cutting from the ground instead is infinitely safer, as well as faster.

But that is all in the past. Now From the ground up has long reach and extendable hedge cutters and high access equipment.  These commercial cutters with 30mm teeth made light work of the hedge in an hour and a half total. On my current garden rates that would cost less than £50 per side.

Cutting tougher hedges

But Leylandii is not a measure of robustness, so I took on the neighbours Laurel as well. The machines did not flinch. Memories of struggling to place an access platform between shrubs came back, reminding me of hours wasted and scratches all over me.

Cutting high hedges
Conifer hedges should not be cut after the end of August.

So if you’re fed up of cutting high hedges, and the hedge is up to 14 feet tall, we can cut it well and for a good price.

A hedge that is overgrown and requires larger branches cutting out will inevitably take a little longer. This would be renovation more than a cut or trim.

Hedge trimmings can be taken away, depending on volume and nature. Compostable materials are shredded and taken to our local compost plot,  or put in the green recycling bin. Some residue can be burned, or worst case it will be taken to local authority tip. This is a last resort given the expense.

August and September is the time to cut hedges. Call us for an estimate to cut your hedges now. Or email us here.

 

 

 

Gardener Bourne End, cutting high hedges Bourne End Marlow Flackwell Heath, hedge cutting Cookham, Wooburn Green, Taplow, hedge renovation, hedge trimming, hedge reduction

Collecting leaves

Collecting leaves in autumn

Collecting leaves in autumn, collecting leaves Bourne End, Marlow, Flackwell Heath, leaf collecting Bourne End, remove leaves Bourne End, collect leaves Bourne End
Around this time of year leaves start to fall. First those despatched by trees and shrubs desperate for water, and in just a few short weeks by the majority of the nations trees.

For many gardeners this presents a dilemma. To start collecting leaves “as they fall”, or to wait until they are all down and do it in one go.

Consider then what a carpet of leaves actually does to your lawn. Leaves bind together when wet, especially the larger varieties, making an impenetrable mat that blocks light and air from the grass. That is the two primary sources of life removed. This may cause patches, weakened areas or even kill it off.

Collecting leaves
Another crop of leaves to provide a vital fertility boost to lawns and beds

But grass is tough stuff, it will be back in the spring, right? Maybe, but not for sure. It can take months for grass areas to heal themselves, leaving lawns unsightly and even unusable.

And it’s easy to do something about it.

Fallen leaves are a usable commodity in your garden. Collecting leaves to be part of the regular compost pile, or kept in separate leave bins to create leafmould, will contribute a rich structure and mulching substance for your flower beds over the winter.

Or if you are fortunate enough to have a mulching mower, it will chop it all up and return it to the grass, thereby giving a huge boost to the fertility of the lawn. Otherwise your mower will be able to shred and collect most of the leaves for you to deposit in compost or leafmould bins.

Collecting with a mower or vacuum is easier than raking them up. Leaves that are whole, i.e., not chopped will take a lot longer to break down than the shredded ones.

Collecting leaves action plan

As leaves start to fall collect them regularly, twice a week if possible.

Start a leafmould bin or add them to the compost

As frosts start add them to the flower beds and around trees for the worms to incorporate into the soil.

So far we have not mentioned the other advantages of removing leaves. They are untidy, they blow into the house when its windy, they stick to the dog and cat, they are very slippery on hard surfaces. Trodden in leaves can make a real mess of your carpets too.

So put them to use! Collect them and return their energy to your garden.

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Holiday garden care

Holiday garden care

Holiday garden care
You can be more relaxed about leaving a well established garden while you go on holiday than one recently established.  Or one that has a lot of pots or baskets.

So what can you do to keep your garden living while you go away?

A well-established garden- over three years old – should be able to hold its own. Even in a mid- to high twenties summer week. It may even deal with two weeks. If plants have not established for at least two years they will likely feel the strain of an extended period sans water.

In theory the easy solution is to get someone in- a relative or neighbour – to take care of it for you. But what if you are a very particular gardener, and your friends don’t share the same passion – and ultimately care – that you do?

Then you need your local garden service to come it for you. As long as they are not just grass or hedge cutters and have some horticultural experience, they will know how to provide holiday garden care.

They water yours, you water theirs

An agreement between near neighbours could work well. I am very lucky, in that I have friends that are interested and knowledgeable gardeners. I can trust them.

But I still want to make it relatively simple for them too. You can’t expect someone to spend the same time that you would walking around the plot with a watering can.

I group my vulnerable pots and baskets together, so that there are fewer places to go with hose or can. Grouping pots closer together also maintains a more humid atmosphere for longer.

It’s also much easier to give the pots the required soaking when they are closer together. Remember that it’s better to give one or two good soakings a week than a little every day. 

I hang baskets in towers of two or three, so the water from the top one cascades down to the next ones, saving time and water.

But perhaps with the exception of certain key beds or plantings, it’s not reasonable to have someone chasing around all of your garden unless you’re prepared to pay for holiday garden care. But they do need to have an idea of how much water to use.

From the ground up can take care of your garden while you away. The service is available in the Bourne End – Marlow – Wooburn Green areas.

The upside of a dry week

A dry week or two will show you where plants are vulnerable. Therefore you’ll know where to direct your attention as far as improving the water retention in the soil. You can do this by mulching, or even re-digging the bed with more compost.

Some plants that are suffering in the heat may just be slow to stablish. I have two Astrantias that have taken ages to get going in a west facing bed.

Holiday garden care
Even plants that thrive in well drained or dry conditions like Sedum can suffer.

The two beds that I had dug last October – in the hope of winter frosts breaking down the clay – have many distressed plants.

Tender perennials like Dahlias seem to be OK. And the Lillies and Cannas. But Penstemons planted in spring have suffered, along with Achillea and Buxus.

But the bed planted with a Mediterranean or drought resistant theme has managed well in its first year.

A large top dressing of compost will be applied to these beds this weekend. I will slowly be returning pots and baskets to their places.

Dry weather planning

Consider getting a contingency to the hosepipe too. An extended dry period may result in a hosepipe ban.

Fixed installed irrigation is exempt. Drip and micro irrigation systems, and leaky pipes laid throughout the beds can still be used. You can also have these automated, so they will take care of the garden when you are away.

But back it up with  rainwater collection systems such as water butts. I say “butts”, as one will not last long if there is no rain for a few weeks.

Storing more water will make keeping your garden alive more cost effective.

Garden care, garden service, garden maintenance, gardener, Bourne End, Marlow, Flackwell Heath, Wooburn Green, garden services

Effect of hot weather on your pond

Watch out for the effect of hot weather on your pond

Effect of hot weather on your pond
The recent hot weather has re-enforced my concerns about pond aeration.  The hotter it gets the less oxygen there is for your your fish.

And that can start a chain reaction in your pond with disastrous consequences.

In general fish need more than 5 parts per million of dissolved oxygen. At 90 degrees F, 32 degrees C, the maximum that the water can hold is 7 PPM.

So sustained high temperatures will increase the water temperature reducing the oxygen available. It will also increase evaporation, further impacting the fish.

There is therefore little margin for error.

And pond plants may start to grow faster, further competing with the fish.

And even if the fish don’t die of oxygen deprivation, they will become more vulnerable to  parasite attack. Or become stressed, the No.1 fish killer. Your fish will be stressed if the temperature is over 90 degrees for any sustained period.

In my experience koi are much more vulnerable to low oxygen levels. Don’t let them succumb to the effects of hot weather on your pond.

Should fish die when you are away, the rotting corpse will contaminate the water further, adding to your problems.

How to safeguard your pond from the effect of hot weather

The water needs to be shaded from the sun. Your pond is where it is, so unless you planned it to have shade you may not be able to quickly introduce any.

  • Make sure that two thirds of the surface is covered by large leaves like water lillies.
  • Moving the water pump to produce more water circulation will also help, as will creating a waterfall or fountain.
  • If you don’t have an air pump get one installed. They can be bought for as little as £20.
  • Reduce the amount of food, and the frequency of feeding. Also try to feed only when the water is cooler, early in the morning or later in the evening. Decomposition of food in warmer water will cause problems with ammonia and oxygen levels.

I have  kept an air pump in my pond as an emergency back up for some time. In the event the circulation or aeration from the filter is reduced or stops the air stones provide oxygen to the water.

Ponds are vulnerable when you are away

Your pond is in danger when you go away on holiday. If the power goes off having a pump will make no difference. Unless it’s solar powered. These are available for about £50.

Arguably the most logical solution to have a solar powered pump, which will be powered when it is hot – when it’s needed – and off when it isn’t needed. And it provides a backup in the event of power failure too.

In the US where it is consistently hotter than the UK a common way to keep the pond area cooler is by misting. A fine mist around the pond can lower the temperature by up to 20 degrees F.

Effect of hot weather on your pond
One of my wildlife ponds that has an air pump to keep oxygen levels up in hot weather

You may have invested a lot of time, money and passion in your pond. Planning for the effect of hot weather on your pond, and a contingency in case of power failure makes sense given the relatively low cost.

Probably less than the cost of replacing just one 12 inch koi.

 

Right plant right place

Right plant right place?

Right plant right place
You’ve heard the adage before. You may have the RHS tome that describes what plants will grow in what conditions.  Right plant, right place makes it sound like any given plant will only grow when the conditions are perfect.

And there are some that are just like that. But there are many more that are extremely tolerant and can be put virtually anywhere.

You can try some plants in lots places, and they might just grow. Don’t be slave to convention, try moving a few around. Repeating a plant in design helps link it together, regardless of soil condition.

I happen to have three plants in my garden that are “fillers”. They grow everywhere, and I use them to fill gaps until I have the plants and the plan to create the bed properly.

These fillers are Crocosmia Masoniorum – montbretia -; a prolific pink flowered cranesbill – Geranium; and a knee-high yellow Hemerocallis – day lilly.

As an experiment I have tried them out in every condition I have. From full shade – wet or dry – to full sun damp next to the pond or dry under the umbrella of a conifer. And to varying extents they all work.

And its not just limited to these three. Many others work well in three or four places. They do need support to get established in the drier areas though.

Right plant, only place

Those that I can only get to survive in one place include Echinacea. I have grown hundreds from seed, only to be disappointed year after year when they fail to reappear. I have therefore This has forced me to condition the soil quite precisely before planting them. This year I will try to get them into more places, making sure the drainage is sharp. And that there is some protection from frost. And I will stick to the tried and trusted standard purple and white flowered varieties. Not one of the other yellow, red or orange ones has ever survived wherever I have planted them.

Right plant right place
I stick to the purple and white varieties now

So don’t be put off if your garden conditions don’t meet what the Right plant, right place book says they must be for a plant to grow.

As long as they have some decent soil that meets gardeners paradox No1 – well drained, moisture retaining – try them anywhere. So long as the soil has some life in it there is a good chance plants will grow in it.

Pond pump stopped working

My pond pump stopped working

pond pump stopped working
I have had a niggling problem with  my pond electrics for about six months. At first I thought it was the skimmer. 

I had tested everything, and when the skimmer was turned on the house went dark. My test meter showed a slight earth feedback, enough to trip the RCD. So out came the skimmer and all was well for five months.

Now it has happened again, but this time the pond pump stopped working.  But an electrical problem with one pond motor is unlucky, two just seems to be very unlikely.

So I have dug up the conduit, disconnected the wiring from the external five port switch, and wired the pump into a 13 amp plug to plug in outside.  And the pond pond is up and running again

And all is well again.

Pond pump stopped working
Under that net is a pond. And I have to find somewhere to run the cables

But the prospect of being without water movement for days as I sought a new pump was quite scary. This pond is well stocked and relies on good water movement as well as the filtration. But my ace-in-the-hole is my aerator, a £20 twin outlet Hozelock pump that come complete with airstones and air tube. I keep it on a low flow rate in the pond all the time, but while the pump was off it was turned up to max to keep air flow up and the water moving.

If your pond pump stopped working, an air pump will keep your fish alive

I figure it should keep the fish alive for a few days at least, enough time for a replacement pump to arrive should I need one.

During my investigations I discovered that the IP56 dual socket had a seized terminal, making one of the two outlets unusable. Onto eBay to find something to replace it, and I find an RCD protected IP66 socket for less than £20. Using this would mean that should another problem arise only the socket would be switched off, not the entire circuit or house.

And while I am at it, how much would a new 8000ltr per hour pump cost me? Too much is the answer, with prices ranging from £150 to £300. So getting one in “just in case” wasn’t an option.

Another search led me to Swell UK, and their own brand pumps that are reduced in price for the summer, with an 8000lph replacement for mine just over £70.  At that price it’s worth getting one for redundancy.

Have a plan in case your pond pump stopped working. An airpump can save the fish stock for at least a few days. And a replacement pump can be had for less than you might think.

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.