Gardeners’ Questions

A couple of years ago the first meeting of the year was our version of gardeners’ question time, and it was very popular. Since then we’ve all had time to come up with lots more garden problems, so we had another session with three local experts as our panellists.

We had a range of queries. How, for example, can you ensure narcissi, especially the multi-flowered ones, look their best at the spring show?

show bench

Several useful tips emerged. Firstly, do not use jam jars, go for narrow vases instead. Secondly, don’t pick them in the middle of the day – evening is best – and cut the stems at a 45-degree angle, on the green and not the white. Then condition them: put them in deep cold water, by themselves (narcissi sap can affect other things); keep them at the same temperature they are likely to be in the Hall, and use a flower food as a supplement.

Other questions covered fuschias which appeared to be dying (possibly the result of recent weather as the stems were green; give them more air as it could be a form of mildew) and alternatives to box because of the blight issue (Euonymous fortuneii ‘happiness’; Lonicera nitida).

The question of roses got several people involved, as they can be tricky round here.


That’s partly because of our very clean air, which seems paradoxical – but all black-spot diseases are indicators of good-quality air… There are some which do well, however, and the rose which clambers up the front of the Vic in Llanbedr was commented upon. It’s a climber called Cliff Richard, and it receives a really early, heavy, annual prune, right back to the framework (it’s been pruned like this for year after year). It also gets feed and manure at the base, so that’s worth emulating.

A few more. Does scarifying a lawn do any good when it comes to moss? Well, it can spread it, because moss is another thing which flourishes in our warm, wet local climate – and the general conclusion was that scarifying keeps you fit, but is probably unlikely to help a lot. Two of the panel recommended lawn sand, but essentially the feeling was that trying to eliminate moss round here (unless you’re dealing with sports turf) is a way of exercising and little else. Scarifying does, however, break up the thatch that forms.

If you buy plants from a garden centre, is it good practice to pick the flower head out to encourage better growth? Yes, definitely.

It’s just about time for all the Clematis montanas to flower round here, and there are some wonderful ones. So when is the best time to prune one, and how much should you take it down?


Generally, agreed the panel, they shouldn’t be cut but (and the questioner’s C. montana has spread into nearby trees) one can stand a hard prune, and it won’t kill it; it will just break out again. Timing? well, the next couple of months. And newer varieties are not as bonkers as the older ones…

We had a thoroughly informative evening. Huge thanks to our panel, Guy, Reg and Sheena, and enormous thanks to the members who provided such a range of questions – far more than can be covered here.


Dyffryn Gardeners’ Question Time

January is always a bit off-putting in the garden: it’s cold, it’s squishy underfoot unless the ground is rock hard and/or covered in snow. But it is a perfect time for assessing things and sorting out problems. So we began the year with our very own version of Gardeners’ Question Time, only without Bob Flowerdew and the the rest. We had our own team of experts: Guy, Sheena and Karen, all professional gardeners, and Tony, our previous chairman, to keep order.

Dyffryn GQT

We’d asked for questions in advance, so our three experts could at least do a little research (the same thing happens on the radio programme, as those of us who attended the recording at Portmeirion last year will know).

So what did we learn? Among other things…

  • The only real solution to a giant pampas grass too close to the house is a mini digger.
  • Now is the time to lime the soil if you have had stunted vegetables in the past (we have acid soil here) – but not for spuds.
  • Wood ash from a stove is good as a slug preventer, but not particularly thrilling as fertiliser. However, wood ash from a bonfire is much better as the soil-nutrition benefits are in the green wood, which is normally part of a bonfire.
  • Kiwis come in male and female – though there are some exceptions -and if your kiwi is failing to fruit it may be a lonely male (there’s more information about growing kiwis here).
  • Never overcook a sprout if you want to ensure it’s edible, along with several other tips. Interestingly, we did a headcount of the people in the room who loved or hated sprouts, and by far most people liked them – in defiance of reported statistics.
  • When to prune azaleas, and how to prune them into the delicate layered shapes beloved of Japanese gardeners.
  • Possible help for an extremely exposed hedge in which most of the plants specifically recommended for wild and windy coastal conditions had died. Elaeagnus was suggested, along with planting a shelter belt of willow.
  • When to plant gladioli in order to get the best blooms for the Show (this was answered very carefully – not that there’s an element of competition, oh no…)
  • Ways of stopping mildew affecting hollyhocks too badly.
  • How to identify bacterial canker on fruit trees (a sample was provided).
  • And you cannot use an overflowing septic tank as fertiliser (happily, a sample was not provided)!

It was a great evening, enjoyable as well as informative. Many people said afterwards that they wished they had asked a question in time, so we’re intending to repeat our own GQT. And January is the prefect time.