Six on Saturday: 31.7.21 the wilderness

I have at times made reference to the wild area or the wilderness. This is a much grander title than the reality of this area. It is the path that leads behind the gardens on our street where our neighbours store their bins. It is covered in ivy from the houses behind, nettles, docks and creeping buttercups. Brambles crawl through, although they don’t get to flower much as I have to cut them back to keep a path for the wheelbarrow and neighbours for their bikes. It has a whole host of caterpillar plants with ivy and nettles being good for many moths and butterflies. So, on the whole I don’t tidy it much beyond keeping a functional path. But last year bind weed crept in so I made an effort to clear it as the odd seedling was coming into my garden. I’ve seen a few tufts of it back this year but I think I’m keeping on top of it so it doesn’t flower and set more seed. Having cleared part of it I looked to make the soil less fertile and suitable for certain wildflowers.

  1. The area

The neighbours keep their bins back here whereas I’m too lazy to wheel them round each time so they sit as an eye sore in the front garden. Beyond the bins is a good nettle patch which is harvested periodically for nettle fertiliser and left most of the time for wildlife. The other side was cleared of bindweed and currently is where I throw any pollinator friendly seed packs that come from charities, magazines, etc. Beyond is a wall of ivy across 4 gardens.

2. Poppies

The area has been filled with poppies of various types and colours. This pale pink has been the most numerous. It seems to be favoured by the hoverflies rather than the poppies within my garden which are swarming with bees.

3. Mallow

There are a few dark coloured mallows. I rather like this one. I wouldn’t be upset to have this in the main garden.

4. Cornflowers

Within the garden I’ve got a few different colours but in the wild patch it is just the blue. But it is a brilliant blue.

The bees are enjoying them and the birds will when they go to seed.

5. Teasel

I grew teasel in my garden a few years ago. I’ve not allowed it to return as it is took up a lot space. But it is very good for insects and then the seeds for birds. So I’m glad some of it escaped to the back path where it can grow out of my way.

6. Another poppy

This variety hasn’t been as numerous as the pink but it does stand out.

It’s a messy path but it is doing a lot of good for the biodiversity of the area. I need to cut the ivy back a bit further before the fence collapses. It isn’t really my job to do but if I didn’t we’d lose access to the garden this way. I hope you’ve enjoyed this weeks detour out of the garden. The end of this week has been made up of thunderstorms. A few things are flattened but it’ll bounce back. I hope your gardens are all holding up well and the flooding around the country hasn’t affected any of you too badly.

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Six on Saturday: 10.7.21

This week I have a poorly daughter. Her voice is just about gone and she is very sniffly. She’s in need of lots of cuddles. The garden, however, is in pretty good health. I have spotted vine weevils again. I have done a dose of nematodes recently to try and tackle them with more natural methods and squished the two I’ve found. But the plants they affect seem to still be growing strong. So hopefully keeping them in check currently.

Rose-Peter Pan

I bought this bare root last year as a reward for my first RHS exam results. It is a patio rose described as somewhere between a minature and a floribunda. If you look back at the starting point you can see it’s put on a good amount of growth in one year.

It is covered in small dark red flowers. I still haven’t got my sense of small back fully after covid but this is described as only having light scent. It is more of a visual feast.

And the obligatory raindrops on roses.

Astrantia Alba

I’ve discussed my love of astrantia before. They have pretty flowers, loved by bees, particularly honey bees and they flower over a long period. There is lots to like about them. This patch in the front garden has settled in well and has put on a lot of growth. The front garden is shaded with quite heavy clay soil which is a fairly goo situation for astrantia. They like moisture-retentive, humus-rich soil. They can be grown in sun if kept watered but I think are best for shade. This one is particulalry nice as the white flowers show better in shade. You can also see some of the foxgloves. They’ve been pretty crazy this year reaching great heights and flopping all over the place. We’ve had people knocking on the door to compliment them. I’m just getting started on sowing some more for next year as I haven’t had them self seed reliably.

And a bee enjoying the astrantia. There has rarely been a moment they have not had something visiting this week. Even with the heavy rain this week the foxgloves and astrantia have still seen plenty of bees. A testamant to how even a small front garden can be used to help wildlife.

Flesh fly/Allium forelock

I featured the allium last week but I took this photo on my phone and I was impressed with this little fy with its stylish black and white chequered patterning.

Agapanthus

I have been growing agapanthus for a few years now. They were bought as bare root stock and I knew it would take a little while for them to bulk out enough for a decent display. The last few years I’ve just had a single blue flower. There are two varieties in the pots polar ice and queen of the ocean. This year is looking more hopeful for seeing both varieties finally.

Scabiosa butterfly blue

We went to the garden centre last week to get some potting compost and I was taken in by this plant. Scabiosa are great for insects and the display was covered in butterflies. I couldn’t resist. We have lots of flowers that are great for bees but not as much for butterflies. So far, in my garden, it has only been visited by the bees that I’ve seen but the butterflies will come. With dead heading it should carry on producing flowers for a while. I’ve put it in a pot near the house as it likes free draining soil and I thought it would show better there than in the border.

Wall poppy

This is a self seeded poppy finding a home in the crack in the wall. But even a little flower like this is still helping the bees.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s six. I’m taking a lot of pleasure from the garden currently. There is a lot to enjoy and even the jobs of seed sowing and weeding have been pleasant. So far this week the “weeds” have included a dog rose I’ve potted up and a holly. Hope you are enjoying your gardens currently and have wonderful weekends.

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Six on Saturday: 3.7.21

So we move onto a new month and I can see a shift into summer now. More of the summer flowers are coming into flower now I’ve cleared the spring forget-me-nots. The roses are hitting their peaks. The foxgloves are towering high. Lots to enjoy. Having got another round of RHS exams out the way I’ve had lots of enthusiasm for getting out in the garden and I’ve got on with a good bit of maintenance work this week.

Charles DeMills

This is an old rose I planted a few years ago as I wanted the added disease resistance that comes with many old roses. They don’t generally repeat flower but they put on a single decent show and are usually strongly scented. It has however failed to flower all that well previous years as it has suffered from rose balling. The petals have got wet from rain and then they fail to open. This year it is up to a size where it has managed a decent display of flowers. They apparently smell wonderful but I haven’t got my smell back fully since Covid. They open up to form a flat flower head and it opens up to a more ruffled afair. Then it starts to disentegrate and needs dead heading.

While I have managed to achieve more flowers from it, it is still a fairly shapeless shrub with little to recommend it the rest of the year. It may not stay. As I go on in gardening the more I agree with Christopher Lloyd that rose worship should be abandoned to treat them like any other shrub. The odd one is nice but not in every garden.

Cornflowers

I bought a cheap little pollinator planter from Tesco’s. So far it has mainly been a pretty mix of different coloured cornflowers. I haven’t actually seen any pollinators on them. But they’ve got a lot of other choices in the garden to pick from.

They may still prove useful for the birds though. Previous years the goldfinches have enjoyed the seeds. The blue ones are probably the standout colours. The pinks are pretty enough but a bit washed out for my taste.

Allium christophii

These are a reliable favourite allium. They have large rounded heads. Also known as star of Persia. You can see form the structure why. The bees love them and so do I. Never enough alliums.

Allium forelock

I think these were forelock which I planted last autumn. These are a new addition to the garden. They have however grown to about 2m. They are taller than me which places them twice the height on the pack. But I don’t have anything else that quite looks like this so I think they must be forelock. They open to form the round ball leaving the white tufts sticking upwards.

Allium nigrum

These are a favourite allium of mine. I like the white heads. They form a half dome and work best in combination with other plants. The contrast making the other plants shine out.

Petunia-constelation

We went to a table top slae last week. There were plant sales outside. I didn’t purchase any but Alice wanted this one. I don’t really bother with this sort of annual plant but Alice wanted it and it’s pretty enough. It has gone in a hanging pot on the log store.

I grew these last year while I was working as a grower at the garden centre. They are a popular choice. The speckles are interesting and they stand out well.

We’ve got a fairly quiet weekend ahead so hopefully have a good bit of time to get on with catching up on garden jobs. I’m also enjoying a bit of garden reading. I’m dipping in and out of “the flower yard” by Arthur Parkinson. He gardens in pots. It’s had a few useful tips but it’s not really my way of gardening. I like a spread of flowers through the year to have maximum impact for wildlife whereas Arthus gets a wow factor for spring and summer. The sort of gardening of emptying pots, annuals is heavy on environmental impact with a lot fo compost getting used as well as using annuals and bulbs that have to be replaced fairly regularly. But the pot combinations he comes up with are very pleasing. An instagram gardener. Apart from anything I’ve shifted more out of the pots to save the time watering as the pots require that extra time watering more regularly than plants in my clay soil. Anyway, hope you enjoy your weekends whatever you are up to.

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Six on Saturday: 36.6.21 RHS Harlow Carr

Last Monday I had my next round of RHS exams. I think the soil module went well. I may have managed a commendation, not so sure about plant health. I think I passed but not sure of what level. But I had less interest in learning about chemical controls I have no intention of using. On the way to my exam, I stopped off for a quick visit to RHS Harlow Carr. It’s the first time I’ve visited. I want to try and make use of my student RHS membership while I get it cheap. Sadly most of the gardens are open for RHS members on workdays so I rarely get to take advantage. The weather was good, cloudy but warm. Nice for walking around a garden. Not ideal for photos but I got some wildlife shots I’m quite proud of. My six are going to go beyond six photos into six categories because there were far more than six things to enjoy.

Wildlife

The gardens are providing for a rich and diverse variety of wildlife. I saw a good number of birds species, bees and butterflies. The combinations of stream, woodland, meadows and wildlife friendly plants provides a good range of habitats for wildlife. My wife is teaching more photography next year and I’ve been taking some pointers and it’s paying off.

A small tortoiseshell in the scent garden.

A blue tit near the bird hide. There were a lot of bird feeders around though most were empty. I think they are still probably getting by on lower staff numbers with Covid. The bird hide feeders were stocked and swamped by squirrels with a few birds venturing on.

A crow and ferns. I like corvids. They are beautiful birds in their satorical eleagance. Combined with ferns for a nice background.

Squirells were hovering up food all other the place.

Irises

I love an iris and right now there many at their best. Harlow Carr had a great numbe of beauties.

Iris robusta gerald darby

Iris chysographes. A stunning dark beauty.

The alpine house

I’ve never been that interested in alpines and rockeries. I grow a few but as I have put much my effort into my shaded front garden with thick clay they don’t have much place there. But it was interesting to see and alpine house. None of the local gardens we visit regularly have one so it made a change.

It was interesting seeing how some are planted in a roughly natural setup spreading through the rocks while others are contained in their pot.

And an orchid.

Meadows

A lot of the outer areas had been left to go to meadow which was being visited by a few different insects even on a fairly grey day.

One of our native orchids.

The stream

The stream runs down the middle of the garden and had some of the most concentrated planting. This was very much to my taste. Lots of lush foliage with punctuations of flowers. The visitor boards explained how they are climate proofing the gardens by planting suitable plants and making use of the water and drainage.

The primula candelabra are what I will probably remember the garden for. These had been used in big blocks along a lot of the border. At the end of my visit I intended to buy some but I didn’t see any for sale. But it’s probably for the best as they worked so well here as they had been planted in large blocks, not just one or two.

The meconopsis were also looking grand, but I know their reputation for being awkward to grow to even consider spending the time on.

The inevitable purchases

Obviously, it was unavoidable that some plants would come home with me. The plants were largely at the silly price you would expect from an RHS garden. In some cases 3 times what I think I’d pay locally but there was some perennials at a reasonable price. I went with two salvias. Hot lips which I know many people dislike as there are now better lips on the market. But it is popular with bees and nice spilling out at the edge of a border. If they had amethyst lips I would probably have gone for that, but not available. I also went with one I know nothing about Salvia greggi mirage cherry red that looks to be a good vibrant red. This looks be a nice in your face colour. Then as the irises had been one of the stand out plants I went with iris Benton deirdre. This was a Cedric Morris bred iris with white petals with maroon feathery edging. It looks to be quite dramatic. The last purchase was a cheaper one on the way home from a toilet stop-off. I got a primula vialli. This was instead of the candelabras I had seen at Harlow Carr. This will fit better amongst my existing plants though I could probably do with another pot or two. But it will gradually spread.

I hope you have enjoyed my Harlow Carr visit and I make no apologies for featuring more than six photos. There are still lots more I could show off.

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Six on Saturday: 28.11.20

Alice has still been off school part of this week so the garden has largely been neglected but the small time we’ve had on garden jobs has been enjoyable.

1. Breakfast birdwatch

On Wednesday we had Alice’s last day of home-schooling before her year group reopened. It has been closed after another child tested positive. But they’ve had their isolation period and she can return. I posted last week that we have been doing breakfast birdwatches but I wanted to post about it again as she drew such lovely pictures.

We have found a lot of feathers through the week on the lawn. I need to set up the trail camera to see what is responsible. It may just be birds scrapping or it could be the neighbour’s cat or the sparrowhawk.

And a mouse fallen victim. As we have remains left I suspect the cat as the sparrowhawk would have taken it.

2. Sparrowhawk

I did spy the sparrowhawk catch a sparrow last week. It zoomed in and snatched one and was out. I just managed a picture through the window before it was off. But I’m not sure it’s responsible for all the damage.

3. Sprouts

The sprouts were devastated by caterpillars earlier in the year but wasps then devoured them all and they have recovered. I’m not sure if we’ll have a crop for Christmas but it would be nice.

4. Front garden lights

Friday would have been the Christmas light turn on in my town. But they haven’t had the chance to raise the money this year so they are lower key. So, there has been a community push to place lights outside peoples own homes. In the front garden, I have used some solar-powered wire LEDs. They have a backup battery for dull days. I have stuck to the white lights in the front garden.

5. Back garden lights

In the back garden, we have lots of battery-operated coloured lights. I’m using rechargeable batteries as they do need recharging a few times over the month they are up.

6. Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’

This is an Algerian Iris that normally flowers January to February time. I’d bought two varieties earlier in the year as I’d been taken by other peoples. It’s nice to have a flower in that winter window where little else is flowering. But this seems to have got started early.  These are flowering at the base of the stems so I don’t know if I’ll get some larger ones in future years.

We will be going out of lockdown next week and into Tier 3 lockdown so there won’t be any changes for us. But seeing as we are both still working, Alice is at school and the garden centre is still open it doesn’t really affect my life much. I hope you are all keeping well.

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Six on Saturday: 26.9.20

It’s been a week of contrasts. The first half of the week was glorious sunshine. The second half of the week has been hailstones, torrential rain and strong winds. This has put a halt to the building work. They made a good start but they can’t do the render until there are a few dry days together. The wind has crushed a few plants but hopefully most will recover alright.

1. Tulip pot

Alice bought her tulips last week but she wanted a really nice pot. She won a garden centre voucher back in May for National Children’s Gardening Week that we hadn’t spent yet. So, we went to the local garden centre and she chose this bee pot and we got the tulips planted last Sunday before the weather turned.

2. Wild about weeds competition

I also had some good news this week that I came 2nd place in a competition! I entered Jack Wallington’s wild about weeds competition. The aim of the competition was to show a weed within a plantings scheme. This was the photo I entered showing Asplenium within the front garden.

3. Sambucus racemosa

I planted this earlier in the year. It’s still only small but the lovely bright foliage is stunning right now. The foliage is working well against the darker dahlias foliage.

It is looking particularly nice against the Fuschia next to it.

4. Hanging basket

The hanging basket was replaced with a few fuschias I grew from cuttings. They’ve been slow to get going but they have finally realised I am growing them for their flowers.

5. Leptinella squalida and Acer palmatum ‘seiryu’

I have combined this Acer with Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s black’.

‘Platt’s black seems to be getting marketed as black moss. It isn’t really a moss but it does act as a ground cover plant. The foliage is small and fern-like in appearance. It’s actually part of the Asteraceae family, the daisies. It does flower with small brown flowers. Hopefully, it will spread to fill the base of the pot.

I wanted to see if the finer filigree leaves hold up better to my drying sea winds. It will still need a sheltered spot. But in theory, small leaves of this nature should lose less water and be more tolerant of the winds though it will still need a sheltered spot.

6. The dry garden

I have volunteered to tidy several of the planters at work. They have got a bit worn over the last year and just need a bit of a spruce up. They are outside the nursery and have a compost mix of sand and soil in. They are in full sun and will not see much watering for periods. Currently, there are a few lavenders healthy enough and a few sempervivums, a broom and a patch of Festuca grass. So I figure it makes sense to plan for dry garden conditions. The existing plants are mainly silver as many drought-tolerant plants have silver foliage. I have started reading Beth Chatto’s book, “The dry garden” to gain better knowledge. I largely garden on clay and my favourite area to work is my shaded front garden. So these planters are pretty much the extreme opposite of what I normally work with. I grow a few alpines and succulents in pots. I think it would look nice to find the handful of darker options to contrast with the existing silver plants. I’ve got a few stonecrops and sempervivums that can be split to use. It does feel a bit ironic to be planning a dry garden during the wettest week in months.

We are planning a visit to Scampston Walled gardens tomorrow so hopefully, the weather will hold off long enough for us to have a nice day. The gardens include both Capability Brown designed areas and Piet Oudolf designed areas so a bit of a contrast. I’m sure I will end up reporting back on it if we do go. Enjoy your weekends whatever you are up to.

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Saving pollinators

This week a new label for plant sales has been launched by the National Botanic Garden of Wales to help protect pollinators from plants containing insecticides. The story has been picked up on nationally though I think the significance of the story may be lost on some.

Currently, many plants are sold as being beneficial for pollinators. If you go shopping at a garden centre or nursery you may see labels with the RHS Plants for pollinators badge on. This is a very useful resource listing plants the RHS have deemed to be useful for pollinators. The lists are very useful. They list plants by season that are beneficial. This allows you to plan your garden to have plants in flower through the year to help the pollinators in your garden. Which is all great!

However, many of the plants sold with the RHS ‘plants for pollinators’ label may have been grown using pesticides. This will mean that the plants you are buying to help may actually be harming the wildlife. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and all that. In tests where plants bought with the perfect for pollinator label, 76% contained at least one insecticide and 38% contained two or more insecticides. The RHS has been discussing changing the label since 2017 but has shown little leadership in making the change. I imagine it would ruffle too many feathers withing the Horticulture Trade Association and the RHS sponsors. But it is a change that needs to come so consumers can buy without engaging in a Russian Roulette of whether they potentially harm the insects they are trying to help.

The plants containing pesticides causes harm to the pollinators and has been linked to colony collapse disorder. But it can also affect food up the food chain. Birds and mammals such as hedgehogs can be affected by eating these poisoned pollinators. It has been hypothesised that eating the infected insects may lead to the birds becoming denourished. It has also been shown that birds eating the neonicotinoids directly may lead to bird deaths. You would have thought we would learn from our past mistakes where the pesticide Organochlorine led to a decline in birds of prey as the eggshells ended up thinner but we obviously haven’t. On top of the decline of birds, many of these pesticides have been strongly linked to cancer in humans. While glyphosate was banned here in the UK companies like Bayer have just developed alternatives that are likely to be as harmful.

So having painted a rather gloomy picture there I hope you can see why the Botanic Gardens new ‘saving pollinators’ logo on plant sales is so significant. The label will indicate that these plants have been grown without any pesticides whatsoever. This will give consumers peace of mind that the plants they are buying are beneficial for pollinators and they don’t have any hidden surprises. Currently, the new label is being taken on by a series of Welsh nurseries but it would be great to see this go national.

In the meantime what can you do to ensure the health of your plants for pollinators? You can buy direct from several nurseries. More and more nurseries are advertising the fact that they are pesticide-free and peat-free. Alternatively, you can grow from seed. While some seeds sold are coated in pesticides this is used more in agriculture than horticulture. But again, companies advertising their eco-credentials. A number of the nurseries on Dog Wood Days Peat-free list state that they don’t use pesticides. The RHS plants for pollinators lists are still a valuable resource for planning for wildlife gardening but the label isn’t a guarantee of safety. Hopefully, in time, we can see the Welsh saving pollinators badge adopted nationwide.

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Further reading

https://botanicgarden.wales/press/science-fact-fuels-campaign-to-stamp-out-pollinator-friendly-fiction/

http://www.sussex.ac.uk/lifesci/goulsonlab/blog/bee-friendly-flowers

Wassand Hall

Today we headed out to Wassand Hall. I haven’t been to the gardens for two years and never in high summer. The whole set up is pretty much outside so Corona precautions are pretty straightforward and social distancing is easy enough. There were a few other people checking out the gardens but it was easy enough staying apart. Alice’s leg is still hurting so we didn’t want to take her for a day out which was going to strain her too much. The gardens here are not massive so we thought this would be about right.

The walled gardens are largely in three sections. One part is a run of formal box hedges with perennials growing inside. This was mainly heuchera, salvias and hostas currently.

A small fountain fills one wall.

With some stunning water lilies.

A climbing hydrangea Seemannii is spilling over one wall. This a different version to the one I grow as this one is supposedly evergreen. Either way, it has been allowed to romp away and is spectacular for it.

A formal pond fills the middle of this section.

There is a nice run of rose arches and clematis. Many of the roses had finished flowering but there were a few late-flowering clematises hanging on. This one is Doctor Ruppel.

We have continued Alice’s training. Hydrangeas are for having photos taken in front of.

Hydrangea Annabelle has been used a lot but then it is a beauty and easy to propagate.

To the side is the veg patch. Some of it looking a bit sorry for itself in the heat but some good obelisks.

And a good cutting patch of sweet peas.

Then a few flowers for cutting are arranged around the edge. The cactus dahlias proving popular with the bees.

The main walled courtyard is centred around a fountain complete with fish.

Then the borders seem to have been roughly split in four with a tropical border, a white area, a pollinator-friendly area and the shade border. I’m not sure if this is how they’d classify their planting but this is how it came across to me.

The tropical corner is thriving. Massive cannas, verbena and dahlias. Lots of Christopher Lloyd inspired schemes.

The cannas are truly enviable. A picture of health as opposed to my runt.

The shaded border is full of many of my favourites with foliage being key. Lots of hostas and ferns. It was also the nicest place to sit. When we set out it was grey and clouded but the sun came out as we wandered and the shade was appreciated.

The white border. As in Vita’s it is really a green border. It’s nicely done but it doesn’t excite me personally as much as other areas.

Though the agapanthus was spectacular.

It was good to see lots of bees and butterflies enjoying the garden. I saw both small and large white, peacocks, and gatekeepers while we were in.

We left the gardens for the cool of the woodland walk.

We told the story of the Gruffalo while we walked.

This took us round to the wilder ponds. A few moorhens looked to be hidden around the edge. A few dragonflies were flitting along the edge. I managed a few shots though none that great. Not as good as the shots I’ve been getting in my garden but nice to see a different dragonfly. I think this a common darter but if anyone knows better please feel free to comment.

They had a plant bench laid out. Mostly well priced for the size of the plants. They had a few of the hydrangea Annabelles for sale, a few interesting hardy geraniums, fuchsias and a few other bits. I picked up some cheap hakonechloa macra aureola for two-thirds of the price it is costing online. I’m not sure if I’ll use this bulking out my existing patch or possibly in a pot with one of the Acers that requires potting on. Then a small eucomis. Though I’m not sure whether it is labelled right. I like the spotty underside of the leaves. These grow a kind of pineapple-shaped flower. Quite exotic looking though supposedly quite easy to grow.

A nice afternoon out. The gardens aren’t massive. But, it was about the limit of what Alice could manage on a poorly leg and Amy’s back is aching too. Though she doesn’t know what she’s done. Always nice to see other gardens and see a few different plants in different combinations.

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Six on Saturday: 11.7.20 soil science

I have been working on the next unit of my RHS Level 2 in Horticulture and I am currently looking at soil. So to gain a better understanding, I am looking at some of what I learnt to discuss my own garden. The hope being writing about it will cement some of the ideas in my head.

1. Soil type-Clay

My soil in both the front and back garden is clay. If you look at the geological map of my area my street is on a border area where it changes from sand to clay. But mine is definitely clay. You can dig it out and you can mould it into shapes. On the ribbon test, there is no doubt about what I’m working with.  The front is worse than the back but the back has been worked more since I moved in and had lots of homemade compost and other top dressings added. Clay soil is made up of fine particles. This makes it prone to waterlogging. It can be slow to warm up. Clay is usually high in nutrients, although sometimes these are in forms the plants can’t take in. When it is dry it is very difficult to dig as it dries like the bricks that are made out of it. By and large, I have followed Beth Chatto’s creed of ‘right plant, right place’. I have tried to plant things which suit my soil. I have tried plants in the past such as lavender which like a free draining soil by digging in lots of grit and sand. They survive but they don’t thrive so these have largely been removed to grow suitable plants. Plants such as hostas, astrantias and geraniums which are happy in these conditions.

2. Soil pH

I bought a soil probe to get an idea of my soil pH. I’ve tried it around the garden and my soil seems to be coming out around 5.5 placing it more on the acidic side of things. I don’t think it’s accurate though as this would mean my hydrangeas would come out blue and they come out pink. But it is nice to know as most of the larger plants I have should be comfortable within a range of neutral to 5.5 with the exception of the lilac which seems happy enough.

3. Peat free

A lot of the advice on improving soil online and in books still refers to using peat to improve the structure. Using peat is highly damaging to our environment. Peat is one of our best carbon stores so destroying peatland potentially increases climate change. So all my plants grown from seed, potted on and planted up in pots are grown in peat-free compost. I have used two main brands this year. Miracle-gro peat-free has been more readily available again and has been excellent. It has been selling outside Tesco recently which is good to see supermarkets starting to offer peat-free. It would be nice to know the plants they are selling are also peat-free The rate of germination for seeds has been great and plants in pots have grown well.

The second brand I use is Dalefoot composts. They offer compost for specific purposes growing seeds, veg, tomatoes and clay busting. The wool compost has been particularly good for the pots as it holds water well. If you look back on last weeks six you can see some dahlias thriving in it.

4. Clay buster

My front garden soil is compacted clay. When I first started the process of renovating it I had lakes forming in one corner each time it rained and the rate of drainage was incredibly poor. I do want a pond but not one that close to the front door. To improve the situation I did drill a number of holes that were filled with rubble and sand to create drainage spots. In the past, people would have double digged it in. The RHS course does go into the details of how to dig your two trenches, turn the soil, add more organic matter and fill your trenches but this is back-breaking work and evidence suggests it isn’t necessary apart from in the most severely compacted areas. By adding organic matter on the top the worms and other life in the soil will help take it in naturally. I added a top dressing in spring and it has helped. Adding in mulch in this way seems contradictory in some ways as adding a mulch improves water retention but also helps soil structure improving drainage. But the plants here seem to be growing happily and the ground does seem to stay moist now but not waterlogged. The true test will be autumn when we potentially get weeks of rain.

One of the best solutions I’ve found for the clay is adding Dalefoot’s clay buster. This is made from composted bracken. It helps improve the soil structure while also helping release the nutrients in the clay. In theory, a dressing like this only needs applying every other year but this was heavily compressed under gravel and weed matting for a decade or more so it is in need of a bit more work.

I had also left a bit of a dip having dug the dogwood out last week to replace with the Sambucus so I have used some of this to top-dress to feed the new growth and bring the soil level back up. When planting shrubs I normally avoid using compost in the planting hole as this can discourage the plant from rooting properly. If the plant is sat in nutrient rick soil it won’t bother to grow out so I tried to make sure it was sat in the existing soil and then used the fresh compost around the plant to encourage the roots to spread.

5. Ericaceous compost

While I have generally planted plants that suit my soil and conditions, there are some plants I like that don’t suit my conditions. I particularly like Acers though they don’t suit my conditions perfectly. While they are fine with the clay soil unless it is completely waterlogged and they are ok with the pH of my soil which seems to be slightly acidic they don’t like the winds much. For this reason, I have a number in pots where they can be moved to more sheltered positions than I can allow in my borders. Acers prefer more acidic soil so by growing them in a pot I can give them ericaceous compost to give them the most suitable conditions. This is my first time using Dalefoot’s ericaceous. It is made from sheep’s wool and bracken. This is supposed to contain a good level of nutrients suited to Acers as well as having the moisture retention they need. The pot is glazed. This makes it less breathable than a plain terracotta pot which lose more water from the sides. This should help with the water retention to help with the water loss from the sea winds.

6. Sequestered iron

I have had a number of acid-loving plants that have suffered from yellowing leaves, particularly those in pots. I believe this may be down to chlorosis, a lack of iron. This can be caused by a number of factors such as poor drainage or that the nutrients are in the soil but in a form the plants can’t access. In my case with my clay soil, I think poor drainage and possibly overwatering may be to blame. It has been so windy recently I have been watering to try to prevent the scorched leaves and crisped edges. To try to rectify the problem I have given the plants a liquid feed with sequestered iron to try to get the darker foliage back. The bottle suggests a feed every 2 weeks during the growing season so I’ll see how these are doing in two weeks.

I’ve just about finished the assignment for this part of the unit. I just have my plant profiles to work on over next week. So I’ll be looking at another 14 plants in-depth. My plant knowledge is increasing rapidly. I need to cover a variety of plants. So far I haven’t done enough annuals of roses so may need to look at more of them.

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Propagating heuchera

I had posted on Twitter to say my heuchera cuttings were coming along well and  I was asked how I had grown them. I started these a few months back and they are starting to root. Heuchera are super foliage plants and make up a good part of the permanent foliage tapestry in my front garden. The leaves are usually evergreen and normally manage to stay looking good through winter. They work well in pots on their own or as part of pot displays. However, after a few years, they can get a bit woody and leggy so it is useful to keep a supply on the way as it can be costly to replace some varieties. Heuchera are also vulnerable to vine weevil. So if your plants are attacked it can be a way to provide insurance for their survival.

1. Propagate by division

The easiest way has to be by division. If you have a nice big clump that has been growing a few years you can dig around it and lever it out. Then slice the root ball into several parts. I favour doing this in spring so the divided plants have time to put down roots before the next winter. Once you’ve dug out a section you can either dig the divided parts back in around the border or grow them on in pots. Either way, I aim to keep the root ball slightly above the soil surface to avoid rotting. I generally divide leaving a big section in the space it came out of and then pot up the smaller sections in pots. This way I can make sure they remain moist while they put on roots. I like to water in trays so the soil gets to soak up the water but without getting waterlogged. This is probably one of the easiest and most reliable methods for dividing but you will only get a few extra plants a year. So it is quite slow. For most people, this won’t be an issue as you probably only want a small number of extra or ones to replace leggy ones.

I divided this heuchera marmalade in early spring. It had claimed a good section of the border and I wanted to clear the space for another plant. Rather than waste it, I divided it leaving a section of the heuchera in the border.

Then the divided section has been grown in a pot where I can keep an eye on it to ensure it isn’t drying out while it forms roots.

2. Propagate by seed

If you are looking for a mass of heuchera you can grow from seed. You can get hold of seed either by collecting seed from your plants or you can buy seed. If you collect seed they generally won’t come true from seed, so the offspring may not look like the parent. Palace purple is one of the exceptions that I have found self-seeds from time to time. If you want to buy seeds Chiltern Seeds offer a few varieties in several colours and I’ve generally found reliable. To grow the seed they need a free-draining seed mix. The seeds themselves just need to go on the surface, a light watering and then a tray lid on. They normally take around 10 days to germinate. If they don’t you can place them into a colder space for 4-6 weeks before returning to warmth. While it may take a year or so to get plants up to size this gives you the option to grow a large number of plants. However, there isn’t the selection of buying from a nursery.

3. Propagate by cuttings

I have been growing my heuchera cuttings in a really useful box. I mixed a compost using a peat-free multipurpose, a little bit of grit, and some perlite to help water retention. The compost mix goes in the bottom of the tub and the lid seals in the moisture. I watered before taking cuttings so the cuttings were going into moist but not waterlogged compost. I took cuttings in spring. Some sources recommend autumn after flowering. However, I prefer spring as the cuttings then have the warmer period of the year to put on roots. I only take cuttings from plants that have plenty of growth on that can spare a few stems. I take cuttings from the younger growth choosing smaller leaves. These won’t lose as much water and the juvenile growth seems to root better. I make holes in the compost mix with a small skewer. The cuttings are dipped into rooting powder and then placed into the holes. I try to position them almost on the soil. Leaving just a small gap so they aren’t resting on the compost to avoid rotting. The box lid can go on and then the box needs to go somewhere shaded. This went under my plant display table and has been left there for a few months. Every so often I’ve lifted the lid just to check they are ok and removed the ones which have shrivelled. The majority of the cuttings seem to have taken and I can see roots three months on. These will be grown on until I can either see they have a decent root structure or that they are putting on new growth.

I hope that’s helpful to those of you who asked. Heuchera are great foliage plants. As I said already, they are great for pots and for winter interest. They work well in shade and are great for wildlife. There is lots to like about them and they come in a whole kaleidoscope of colours. If you are looking to buy some I would wholeheartedly recommend Plantsagogo. Vicky and Richard offer an amazing range and they hold the National Collections for heuchera, heucheralla and tiarellas. An impressive feat for a very wide-ranging species. And they are always very helpful in offering advice. They are very useful plants and I wouldn’t want to be without them.

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