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.

rose

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?

montana

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.

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Gardening by the sea

Our September meeting focused on something which concerns most of us round here to some degree – trying to garden effectively within sight of the sea. Quentin Deakin is from Cambrian Coast Gardens in Tywyn, and himself lives within 150 metres of the coast, so he knows the problems: high winds, salt, sand, intense rain, intense sunshine…

But there are advantages too. By and large, coastal climates are milder, with cleaner air, good levels of sunshine and seaweed available as a fertiliser (only in moderation, see below). He tests various things in his own garden, and is using Rosa rugosa

rosa rugosa

as a hedge, though he is also experimenting with tamarisk, pruned to shape. Windbreaks, as he stressed, are essential – he pointed to the way trees will grow better close to the coast when protected by something like the gable end of a ruined farm building – and density of planting can also help.

When it comes to plant choices that will cope with the demands of a seaside garden, Mr Deakin stressed the value of looking at wild plants that flourish in our environment, whether that’s things like sea pinks,

sea pinks

seen here on the Mawddach Trail, or various sedums and sempervivums,

which can do very well indeed. What other plants are worth thinking about? Well, among others, buddleias and hydrangeas (he suggested some of the more unusual varieties) can cope, as can grasses (Zebra grass generally stays upright, often in the face of high winds) and things like cordylines. He also recommended chokeberry, and pointed out that cotton lavender often thrives as well. He has had success with hollyhocks, somewhat out of fashion at the moment, but spectacular, and with all sorts of sea hollies. He brought along one, E. agavifolium,

which went onto the raffle table and led to more ticket sales! (the photograph is courtesy of Beth Chatto gardens, who have it for sale… just saying, for those who didn’t win the raffle).

Footnote: using seaweed.
The collection of seaweed is illegal, but the laws are really designed to stop commercial, widescale depletion; the key, says Quentin Deakin, is not to be greedy. You have to rinse the salt off or expose it to rain, and then let it rot down, either in the compost bin (in smaller quantities) or in its own bin – he generally keeps seaweed separate. It can be used as a concentrated fertiliser. dug in to the soil in January or February, 

Back for 2016 – with plants, wildflower seeds and solitary bees

It’s the start of our gardening – and meetings – year. The AGM is over, the new schedule is up and looks fab, but unfortunately our May speaker developed food poisoning the day before and couldn’t make the meeting. So, at very short notice, our President Guy Lloyd stepped in. And we had a fabulous evening.

It started with one of our members introducing Kew’s ‘Grow Wild / Tyfu’n Wyllt’ boxes, part of their ‘flowers to the people’ campaign, which encourages people to plant wild flower patches (seeds included), and create homes for solitary bees (the kit is in the box too):

solitary bee house

Several people took the boxes, and it will be interesting to see what comes up from the free seeds, and whether any solitary bees take up the offer of accommodation.

Then Guy took us through some of his favourite plants for this time of year, and also gave us some great tips. They included tips about vegetables (still time, just, to plant squashes and runner beans), recommendations of some more ordinary plants (narcissus, but a good late variety in a lovely pale lemon, Pipit), and of some rarer ones like Drimys winterii:

Drimys winterii(image courtesy of the RHS)

Another shrub – or small tree – which was new to many of us was Exochorda macracantha ‘The Bride’, which is certainly spectacular.

Exochorda

(image courtesy of Plant World Seeds)

This shrub has a rather loose habit and takes its time to get going; though it can get floppy, it can also be cut back for better shape over the winter (though, like many shrubs, that might involve sacrificing the flowers for the following year). And then there was a recommendation for something rather smaller – Brunnera macrophylla, but not ‘Jack Frost’ which is commonly available. Instead, Guy went for ‘Looking Glass’:

brunnera

Clematis montana can be somewhat rampant round here, and Guy was able to recommend Freda as a variety which was controllable, and had good darker flowers; another member suggested Warwickshire Rose.

Some specimens were passed round the room, and one which caused quite a stir was Euphorbia mellifera, the honey spurge.

honey spurge

Guy said it that this was a very good year for this markedly honey-scented shrub, and indeed it is. This photograph and the one below come from Plas Cadnant, the location for our club’s outing next month. Hopefully the honey spurges will still be in flower, because they are fantastic.

honey spurge again

We were all making notes, and several of us will be trying to track down unusual plants (and sneaking the last squashes into a seed box). What a lovely evening, even if it wasn’t quite as predicted. We look forward to welcome the speaker who should have been with us, Paul O’Byrne from Plas Newydd, next year. And we wish him a speedy recovery!

(Incidentally, those members coming to Plas Cadnant should note that bringing walking boots / sensible non-slippy footwear is a good idea if you want to explore the wooded areas of the garden. It’s possible without, but better with…)

Football clubs and other gardening questions

Our January meeting was something we’d not tried before: a gardeners’  quiz night.

quiz1

We were split into groups by colour card, given out in a random order as we came in, so we couldn’t all try and be on the same table as the most knowledgeable among us. And – after considerable chatting – we soon got going.

Try a few. The answers are at the end of the post – NO, don’t scroll down! (For those who were there, some of these questions didn’t get asked because we ran out of time.)

1a. Solanum tuberosum is the Latin name for what vegetable?
b. What are the main attributes of Cornus alba and Cornus sanguinea?
c. Which fruit has the highest oil content?
d. Maximus, Montgomery and Bedford are varieties of what?

quiz 22. a: From which shrub do we get tea?
b: In WW2, two cartoon characters were created to encourage children to eat vegetables – gardeninghat were they called?
c: What is the fruit of humbles lupulus?
d: Which Premier League football club are known as ‘The Cherries’?

3. a: Red core is a disease of which fruit?
b: Common, Blue, Brandling and Cockspur are all varieties of what organism?
c: What sort of tree is a Gean or Mazzard?
d: Which weed is called ‘poor man’s weatherglass’ because its flowers close when rain is imminent?

quiz 3

We also had a seed identification test, which was worrying – especially to those of us who confused tomatoes and parsnsips. That could explain a lot!

Finally, the winners were the Purple People Eaters – congratulations and bottles of wine to them – who won, essentially, because one of them knew the answer to 2d. Nobody else had a clue!

Answers:
1a: Potato b: coloured stems in winter,  c: the olive,  d: Brussels sprout
2a: Camellia sinensis,  b: Potato Pete and Dr. Carrot, c: the hop, d: Bournemouth AFC
3a: Strawberry; b: worms, c: cherry, d: scarlet pimpernel