Wassand Hall

It’s been a good while since I wrote a blog but this week I finished my last RHS exams. Hopefully, I passed and won’t need to resit. The first exam covered fruit and veg which isn’t my strongest knowledge area but it didn’t feel too bad. The second is on protected environments. They had changed the exam from any of the previous past papers. You usually have a good few questions where you write profiles of particular houseplants. There weren’t any of these questions but a lot more of growing veg in protected structures. A bit disappointed as I know houseplants better but so it goes. Now I’ve got the exams out the way I can get back to actually focussing on my own garden so expect a few updates.

Yesterday I made it out with Alice to Wassand Hall. It’s our closest country house and garden open to the public and we’ve visited it plenty of times before so I’m not going to go into lots of detail about the gardens in this blog. Check the previous blogs for more information. After a few weekends of revision, it was good to get out and to get Alice outside into nature.

Meadows

We began with a walk around the meadow land that surrounds the house. The grassland was filled with butterflies and damselflies. Countless speckled browns and meadow browns and a few more colourful butterflies on the wing. I’ve spotted the deer quite a few times while I’ve been out on my own but no sign today. We did see a good few orchids though.

Alice walked much further than I thought she would, enjoying everything we saw. This area is such a valuable habitat for so much wildlife I’m glad we have it on our doorstep. I’m glad it’s managed as it is creating a variety of niches for different wildlife.

Walled garden

After a snack refuel we headed into the walled gardens. The walled garden is roughly split into four beds with a tropical corner, a more cottage garden feel, a shaded corner and a more mixed one. Alice loves a water feature. Whenever we visit the garden centre she loves spending her time on the water fountain aisle. She spent a good while watching the fish in the central pond.

The tropical corner is probably my favourite area. The large foliage plants mixed with spectacular lilies and dahlias are just so lush to be irresistible.

With the heat, an ice cream break was needed.

Hot house

After cooling off with ice cream we headed into the hot house. Every time we visit I am very envious of the hothouse. They have a fabulous collection of plants growing in there at sizes I could never achieve without the heat and humidity they can create in here. As the last exam was on protected environments it was good to see it all in action.

Alice loved walking through the mist of the humidifier which with the heat outside was quite refreshing. I don’t think Amy will allow me to do this with the summer room though sadly.

Fabulous gloriosa.

Mandevilla growing from a large pot.

The carnivorous pitcher, sarracenia guards the door against insects.

And a few more carnivorous nepenthes protecting the greenhouse from pests.

Back to the outside world Alice was attracted to the rill. As I said she is fascinated by the water features.

Woodland Walk

I thought Alice would have had enough of walking by this point but she was determined to do the woodland walk. It takes you in a circle around the woodland surrounding the walled garden. Along the way you look for animals doors and record the colour on a sheet.

It takes you to the stumpery, which any long term readers will know I like a lot. The mix of ferns and gunnery and wonderful foliage plants makes for a wonderfully calm environment.

I’m glad Alice still enjoys doing activities as basic as these trails. It’s valuable time together and she still found such pleasure in finding each door. At the end, we returned the clipboard to the cafe for a reward of a bag of sweets.

Cactus house

To the side of the cafe is a long thin glass-ceilinged room with the cactus and succulents collection. A stark contrast to the hot house. From warm and humid to super dry. Cactus and succulents are fascinating if strange-looking things. My A-level biology teacher had a love of them and had them dotted around the lab. At least I assume she loved them from the quantity. I also have a suspicion that they were out so the more annoying students would end up touching when they decided to give the furry-looking ones a stroke. She did have a bit of a sadistic sense of humour, though a very good teacher. For adaptations, there are few plants as interesting botanically.

While I’m sure most readers understand the cactus and succulent distinction a few might not. Succulents are defined as plants with water-storing adaptations such as fleshy leaves or fleshy trunks. While cacti are succulents with leaves that have adapted to become spines or scales to suit desert conditions.

While it is only the one stretch of plants there is an amazing variety of plants that have adapted differently for dry conditions. The spines forming micro climates to conserve water and protect the plant from anything that might eat it.

While the succulents have fleshy leaves for water storage in all manners of configurations.

I think this little one was one of my favourites, Mammillaria gracillis. I like how the spines are adapted to flatten over the cactus stems to make a web.

Plant sales

OK, I’ll be honest this was one of the main reasons we came out. I was looking to take Alice out for a nice day but no reason that couldn’t cross over with me seeing some interesting plant stalls. There were a few local nurseries there with a mix of perennials and bedding plants. Long Riston plants are very reasonably priced. The Hardy Plant Society were there with a good selection of perennials. But as we visited the local open gardens a few weeks back I already have a good pile of plants needing planting so I resisted these. I couldn’t resist the Hull branch of the British Cactus and Succulents society stand.

I think they have involvement with the display at Wassand and they had brought out a great selection for the display table.

Alice likes the ones which look like they are covered in wool as mum likes to needle felt and she felt it looked like the wool she uses.

Best of all, all of the pots were £1 each regardless of size and rarity value meaning we could pick many just based on what we liked. We both picked a good few. Then a picked up a not-so-mini tetrapanax. This is capable of becoming a large-leaved tropical-looking tree. In milder areas, they can remain evergreen. I expect mine to be deciduous dying to the ground in winter. Accounts online differ in how it copes with the wind. But I have seen a good few accounts saying it can manage with sea salt winds so I’m going to risk it. If it works out it will make for an impressive specimen within the front garden jungle.

Glad I managed to find my favourite cactus from the cactus house. I can see how people become obsessed with collecting and growing these wonderful plants. Their small nature means anyone can fit a good few. The great variety makes them very interesting. I’m tempted to join the society as they look to have a good number of online lectures each month making it easy for me to fit it around Alice. Then they meet once a month close enough for me to get to. If they ever have a press office job going I’d leap at that for the amount of bad puns that can be made. “They’re a bit of a prickly bunch with dry sense of humours.”

It was a great day out and wonderful seeing Alice taking such enjoyment from the wildlife in the meadow, to the plants in the garden, to the woodland trail, to simple pleasures such as watching the water. Despite dragging her around for over 16,000 steps, during the whole day out the only whine was when I said it was time to go.

Stumpery

It’s been a good while since I wrote my last blog but I now have the RHS coursework finished so I have a bit more time to write and record my gardening. I’ve still got two more exams to go before it’s all completed but I have a little less to do. I’ve got a project with a lot of plants so a blog seems like a good plan for making a record. At work, I decided to claim a corner of the outdoor area for a project. It was previously inhabited by chickens, but foxes put an end to them. It’s sat empty for two years with random prunings filling it up. I have spent part of the last week clearing it back to the bare ground. It’s fenced and I’m intending to leave the fence around it so it’s just an area accessed with an adult taking the children in. I’m aiming to make a stumpery with a few fairy elements to use with the kids. The log piles will provide lots of habitats for wildlife and the plants provide a few benefits alongside.

I have found a contact at the local town council for supplies of wood. We’ve had a good lorry load of various sizes dropped off. From the gate, I have used the thinner logs to mark a path going around a central clump of branches and logs. To the left of the gate, I have made a wider border and then the border is a bit thinner around the back edge. The corner holly is providing a good amount of shade. So between the evergreen canopy and the tree roots that corner will be hard to plant much. I may use this corner for a bug hotel or another log pile. Only the toughest plants adapted for dry shade will survive. Combined with the school holidays anything selected must be able to survive with minimal attention. At the moment I have just piled some of the well-rotted logs that were already in the area.

As well as the logs, I received a kind donation of plants from Stagview Nurseries. They have donated a mixture of ferns and hostas. These were really nice healthy plants that should suit the conditions well. In the main border to the left, I have planted a mixture of these with a few of my homegrown plants as well. The logpile at the back is covering a hole in the fence where the chickens used to enter that I’ll be filling. From left to right there are 2 ferns, Dryopteris affinis, that are reliable ferns. They grow to a good half a metre and require little care. In front of them is a Heuchara ‘greenfinch’ I grew a number of these from seed last year and I have them self seeded within every patio pot now. I’m trying a small patch of winter aconites. I don’t know if these will survive so for now I’m just trying a small patch and we’ll see if they spread. Carrying on along, we have 3 Hosta ‘Halycon’. These are medium-sized hostas with blue leaves. They have some resistance to slugs and will make a nice contrast in colour and foliage shape to the ferns either side. To the right of the Halycons is another small patch of Heuchera ‘goldfinch’. Another fern to the back and then another patch of Hostas. This time ‘wide brim’. This is a larger hosta than the halcyon with wider green leaves with a cream edge. Again, it’s adding a bit more variation to the foliage and shades of green.

Up close, the halcyon are coming up well. These are a popular cultivar with their supposed slug resistance. While it all looks a bit bare currently it will fill out to cover the space.

Heuchera ‘greenfinch’ is not necessarily the most exciting heuchera out there. But it has a key advantage that it self seeds lots. As I have suffered with vine weevil again and again this is a useful quality as it means I have a supply to continue to feed the vine weevil. It has small bright white flowers on long stems in summer which will stand out well in the shade. These and the hosta flowers are loved by bees bringing some wildlife benefit to the area.

Wide brim is not showing its cream margin yet, but we’ll see as it develops. It’s currently in good health with minimal slug damage. As each year goes on hostas seem to develop better resistance. I’ll have a look at what I can use as a mulch to deter them. Wool pellets have worked well, but I think we may have some grit kicking around I work I can make use of.

To the left of the birch tree, I have planted another fern, Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata the King’. These is another reliable fern that should survive once it’s established.

To the right of the gate, I’ve laid out logs to mark a small corner bed. I’ve got a Fatsia japonica and Hosta ‘albomarginata’ in so far. The Fatsia will bring some nice large foliage to the area. The hostas will provide a nice contrast in leaf shape and variegation. There is still a gap to the left of the Fatsia. I’m not sure what to use here. I could do with something with a thinner leaf. Maybe Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola gold’ if I can get hold of it. This will add a different colour and leaf shape and should complement each other well.

I have a few ferns left to place and some topsoil to mulch the ground. A good mulch will prove useful in keeping the moisture in the soil for the dryer shaded areas. I will probably divide off some of my Iris foetidissima to add some evergreen sword shapes to the mix and keep a bit more structure when the hostas die down. I have some Ajuga reptans elsewhere on site I can claim to use for a bit more groundcover.

And a quick video tour of the progress so far.

It may not look like much yet but I’m confident it will fill out nicely. The central logs still need to be arranged properly. I may try and make some planting pockets within this. I need to work out what to use along the back fence border which has some of the dryest areas. The robin was keen to get investigating while I had my cup of tea. There is still a good more work to go on this but I feel like I’ve made a good start and it’s an improvement on the dumping area that it had become.

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Six on Saturday: 30.10.21 fruits and berries

Alice survived her Covid isolation fairly well. Two days of her being quite poorly and then a bit of cough. It hasn’t left much time for gardening but the weather has been pretty dreary anyway. I don’t really want to be walking on the wet lawn so best left alone anyway. It is feeling very autumnal in the garden with the leaves changing colour and some dropped already.

Acer

The Acers often have their leaves blown off before I get to enjoy their autumn colour but this year they have thrived.

Honeysuckle

I have honeysuckle in a few spots in the garden. It is a messy sprawling climber but I’ve tried to provide plants that will give the bird a natural source of food rather than me topping up feeders all the time.

Pyracantha

The pyracantha was planted last year and it has taken a while to settle. It was probably bigger than the rootball could support so it hasn’t put on much growth this year. But it has provided a decent quantity of berries for a small plant.

Holly Golden King

The golden king has a few clusters of berries this year. It is still relatively small, maybe just over a metre but it’s good to see the berries as it means there is a male plant near enough to pollinate it.

Salvia amistad

The salvia has gone mad the last few weeks spreading from a few stems to many and flowering profusely. Much appreciated as many other things shrivel down.

Pumpkin Patch

We went out for a trip to the local pick your own pumpkin. They have table after table and crate after crate of pumpkins and gourds on display.

Nice to see them all on display and the amazing variety. I think I’m going to try a few at work next year.

Our haul, back home.

And that’s it for this week. Back to work on Monday after half term. haven’t made a start on bulb planting like I wanted but it can wait. Enjoy your weekends.

Six on Saturday: 9.10.21 bulbs

Well I sat my RHS exam on propagation. I was quite anxious beforehand but I think it went alright. I’m fairly confident I passed and we’ll have to see in December whether I managed the higher level of commendation. This week has been busy with the exam and then catching up on work after all my revision so this week’s is looking at the bulb purchases that have been building up.

Tulip grand perfection

Despite what this week’s blog contains I am not massively bothered by tulips. But they fill a gap between the early spring bulbs and the summer garden so I do usually plant a few. These tulips look like they should be a nice striking one paired with the existing queen of the nights. Though they inevitably won’t flower together throwing off the plan.

Queen of the nights

I already have queen of the night tulips in the ground but they gradually fade in our clay soil. Shrinking, rotting and getting dug up by mistake so it’s always good to top them up.

Giant allium

I’ve had a few taller alliums in the border this year with the Allium forelocks towering over the border and it has been quite good having alliums where I can shoot upwards when taking photos of the bees. They look a bit odd sticking out the border but the bees like them.

Tulips little beauty

These were Alice’s choice. She usually ends up picking red riding hood tulips with the striped foilage but she was taken by the colour of these. They are little short 10cm tulips so I’m not quite sure where we’ll put these so they show. They might need to be in a pot.

Iris danfordiae

I like irises in general but my early spring Iris reticulata pots are largely blue or purple. I saw these and thought it would make a bit of a change. Yellow is a welcome sight in spring standing out well in the darker months.

Tulip canasta

I usually pick a bag of tulips that are different from the more commonly cultivated ones. This has led to some beautiful forms and some fairly rubbish parrot tulips that didn’t hold their form well. These are a fringed tulip that I think will be quite striking.

Hopefully get back to featuring the garden properly next week. I’m working an extra shift at nursery next week so may not find anytime to plant these next week but it’s half term soon so should be able to get them in the ground soon.

Six on Saturday: 11.9.21-New border

I have made it through the first week back at nursery. Looks to be a lovely class this year but it has been tiring being back. I discussed a few weeks back that I was cutting an old rose back. It was taking up too much space to justify the one burst of flowers. I am aiming to train it as a climber at the back. But what this has done is create a new large space to plant. This patch has never quite worked right. The plants have all been in good health but not really combining well. So I have started the process of planting up and filling the gap. I don’t take border shots very often. I tend to focus on individual plants but I am trying to work towards a more cohesive planting and it is useful to look at photos as they show the faults.

An overview

This is the space. To the right is a solid evergreen block of choisya. To the left is a large aster and sambucus. The aster is set to be divided this year. Along the back of the fence arching from the right is a climbing rose. Paul’s Scarlett climber. This has flowered briliantly this year. Also running through there is Clematis montana Marjorie. This a double flower that runs rampant. Moving in from the right on the ground we have the fern Asplenium scolopendrium. This is an evergreen fern with upright sword leaves. It doesn’t do much for most of the year. But it will remain in winter after other plants have shrivelled away. In front of the fern are some chives. These give that swishy foliage you can get from grasses but they are great for pollinators. There is a small Acer that may be removed as it doesn’t quite fit and they don’t really suit my conditions. Some primula denitculata at the front Then moving along there are some echinops. These are not really visible on the photo but these are a tall variety, Echinop ritro and will provide a decent bit of height at the back. They are wonderful pollen and nectar source for the bees. Some tiny wood asters and Erigeron to spill along the front of the border. The rudbeckia I think will contrast well againest the echinops. I have gone with a lot of plants from the Asteraceae family, the daisy family so I’ve added a few Iris sibericas to mix it up a bit.

A closer lock at the left

You can just see the Aster poking in on the left. The foliage is horrible but it is covered in flower buds ready to bring some colour to autumn. Central there is a tall grass. This should add a bit of contrast between the foliage and it has nice feathery seedheads. The rudbeckia is goldsturm. It is bright and cheerful for the end of summer. It supposedly self seeds quite well so hopefully get some free plants. The big basal leaves are Primula candelabras for some spring flowering interest. Just infront of the primula is Iris foetidissima ‘Aurea’ which is grown for the yellow leaves. This is evergreen and is mainly grown for the foliage rather than the flowers which are quite small. Then central at the front is Iris Karbluey. This is a Siberian Iris that can rise out of the Erigeron as it spreads. I’ve moved a few self seeded verbena into the border that can grow through some of the shorter spring flowering plants.

And the left

This side is a bit more subdued currently but will have colour through the year. The Acer is it remains will grow a few metres. The heuchera is Heuchera ginger ale from a local nursery, Long Riston Plants. Lovely foliage. Then front of the border there are Primula denticulata which are one of the early spring flowering species with lollipop flowers. Then I’m trying a patch of Hemerocallis Always Liberty. This is a pink day lily that should add a bit of excitement in summer. Then there is the evergreen fern previously mentioned to keep some winter interest.

Echinacea ‘white swan’

I’m taking a chance on the Echinacea as they don’t really like clay soil. But this patch has been improved a lot since we moved in so I’m going to try some and see if they return.

Echinacea ‘Prarie splendour’ rose

And my other has been bringing the bees in.

Rudbeckia goldsturm

I am enjoying this currently. The garden is shifting to autumn so some garden areas are looking a bit shabby. But this is providing a bright burst of sunshine. I still have the dahlias flowering and aster and gladioli to go but it is getting darker earlier and this stands out well in the morning and evening.

It may not look like much now but it will hopefully fill out nicely. I think I’ve got a reasonable mix of plants to go across the seasons. There is a bit of bare ground I’ve left for bulbs. I hope you are all doing well. I have plants to shift around the opposite border to get more from it next year. Though I don’t think I’ll get time this weekend. Enjoy your weekends whatever you are up to.

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Six on Saturday: 4.9.21 In-laws garden

Well this has been a good week for my gardening and horticultural interests. I recieved my RHS exam results and I passed the two units I took back in June, recieving a commendation for the soil unit. So, that’s all good. Then we’ve been away to the in-laws who have a lovely garden to enjoy. We even managed a garden visit to Burton Agnes on the way back which was nice to see. I’ve been for the snowdrops and for Halloween but never made it in Summer. I’ve finished my current RHS assignment on plant choice. I just need to write the plant profiles that go with each assignment. My next exam is on propagation so I figure I’ll be taking lots of cuttings to secure the knowledge. If you missed it, I wrote about heuchera yesterday including the propagation methods suitable for them. This week’s six is coming from the in-laws garden.

The apples

They have apples grown in a few different ways, including cordons along the path. But the shed apples were the stand out apples. They set the bar for red apples standing out beautifully along the back of the border.

Roses

There were lots of roses looking great, too many for one blog, so I am just posting a few of my favourites.

Anemones

The anemones grow in a few patches around the garden but they really do come into their own this time of year. Masses of flowers over a good period. One of my favourites but they’ve not grown that well for me. My own white one in the front garden is still quite small and the back garden ones haven’t looked too healthy this year so I am keeping an eye on them.

Birds

The garden sees a good variety of birds visiting. I saw green, bull and goldfinches and multiple tit species while watching the feeders. But I did also spy this sparrowhawk eyeing up the buffet table.

Dahlias

I grew a mass of dahlias in 2019 and I gave a lot away. Two ended up in the in-laws and they are still thriving.

Alice

And last but by no means least, Alice had a good run around in the garden. They have a good bit of space to explore and the garden is divided with gates and fences and island beds, steps up to different levels. So there is lots to enjoy for a little child. She requested her usual photo on the hand chair.

And having a good run about on the lawn.

I’m back to work on Monday after the school holiday so hopefully get a few bits tidied up tomorrow. The garden is holding together alright but I’m preapring for moving a few bits around in the border as we go into autumn. Hope you all have good weekends and don’t forget to check the founder of six on Saturdays blog to see more posts.

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Flowers on Friday: Heuchera

Last week I started a series of plant profiles writing about Echinops. This week I thought I would talk about heuchera, partly because I just bought a new one, but partly because I do actually like their tiny little flowers. The vibrant red spikes of my coral forests are looking particularly nice at the moment. They are a useful plant providing evergreen structure over winter, suitable for pots or the border and filling shaded spots beautifully.

Heuchera are part of the Saxifragaceae family which puts them alongside saxifrages (obviously), Astilbes, Rodgersias, Heucherellas, Bergenias, Tiarellas and more in the same family. They are native to North America with most cultivars originating from Heuchera americana. Hybridization is common with around 37 species intermingling. They are distributed across a variety of habitats including mountains and beaches, but in general, they prefer part shade. They can be grown in full sun if they are provided with suitable moisture levels. Some varieties can cope better with the sun. Plantagoggo offers an extensive range and you can filter by conditions. They enjoy moist well-drained soil but can tolerate periods of drought. They will often look the worse for wear after hot weather but they are a tough plant capable of bouncing back with some care.

They are largely grown for ground cover and as foliage plants. The foliage comes in an amazing range of colours from lime greens through orange and reds and dark purples to almost black. They are a garden centre favourite for placing at the front of shops in autumn and winter where they will attract customers. The leaves remain evergreen through winter. Then in spring, they benefit from a spruce up. Pulling away dead leaves, clear the chaff and then a top dressing of compost around being careful not to bury the crown.

The flowers are very popular with bees. It came as a surprise to me how popular when I started growing them but the garden bumblebees love them. They flower for good periods too which is of great benefit to the bees. If you cut the flower stalks down they will often produce more.

While few people grow them for the flowers many are quite attractive, especially where they have a strong contrast to the leaves.

The wide leaves combine well with a lot of different plants within designs. They look good alongside other shade-loving plants like ferns and hostas. But equally, look good with the thinner forms of grasses. They can be grown in a variety of situations. I use them within the border where for much of the year they don’t stand out much. But come winter when much of the border shrivels away they carry on adding structure and colour through the darker months. I use them hidden amongst taller plants where they don’t show for much of the year but come into their own in winter. But I have also had good success growing them in containers as in the hanging basket above. Though, in containers, they are vulnerable to vine weevils.

They are vulnerable to a few pests and diseases with some varieties seeming to be more susceptible. Heuchera rust can be an issue in summer, particularly when warm and damp. This appears first as dimples on the leaves and can affect the look and vigour of the plant. When it strikes you cut the leaves off back to the crown, taking care not to cut the crown and remove them from your garden. Don’t compost them as this may put rust back into your soil in future. Leaves return pretty quickly. Heuchera rust will only affect heuchera so it rarely causes much of a drama. Vine weevil on the other hand love heuchera and can move onto other plants. Vine weevil are a beetle that eats the leaves. The bigger damage comes from the grubs that eat the roots. Often the first sign you get is when you lift part of a plant and the whole plant lifts off the ground. I have written previously about how I tackled them here. So far it seems to be working with the nematodes forming the main defence. My lighter green heuchera such as lime marmalade seem to have been more affected by both rust and vine weevil. It might be a coincidence but it does put off buying more of these cultivars unless cheap. This is a shame as they are some of my favourites as they contrast well against many other plants.

They can be propagated by several methods written about previously. The most common method being division. They spread well over a couple of years. They often get a bit too woody so division is good for refreshing the plant. I did have some success with rooting cuttings, but it was slow with a high failure rate. Divison and cuttings have the advantage that the plant will be a clone of the parent. So, if you want a particular colour you need to use these methods. They do also self-seed quite freely. However most offspring I have ended up with a return to a block colour. The attractive veining on many cultivars hasn’t been present in the offspring. I grew heuchera from seed last year. I tried a few varieties but I think greenfinch was the most successful. Initial germination was high. But many didn’t survive when potted on. Many people reported that they found the seedlings grow so far and halted growth. I found they benefitted from a regular liquid feed to get them past this point. It was worth growing from seed as even with the losses along the way I’ve probably still ended up with double figures of plants.

I hope that was useful to some of you. It’s useful for me to carry on writing them to secure my knowledge ready for RHS exams. It’s a plant I’ve made use of a lot. It’s a good time of year to look for purchasing them as the retailers stock more ready for autumn and winter interest.

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Flowers on a Friday: Echinops

After my attack on bedding plants, I thought I’d look at something a bit more positive and focus on an easy to grow plant that is both ornamental and good for wildlife. I am working through the module on plant choice in my RHS course. The big focus of this unit is plant knowledge, so I’m planning to write in a bit of detail about a few plants to secure my knowledge. Today I am going to focus on Echinops, gloe thistles. They fit well within many styles of garden. Popular in the perennial border both for cottage-style gardening and prairie gardens. Piet Oudolf makes use of the architectural flowers within his designs. Alternatively, they are nice within cut flower arrangements. With a changing climate, they are a tough plant capable of coping with a bit of drought.

They are members of the Asteraceae family with around 120 species. This is the daisy family, though the flowers don’t share the traditional daisy or sunflower shape. They usually form blue or white spherical heads. They have a wide geographical spread with some native to Europe and then ranging across Asia and Africa. The most commonly grown species in the UK tend to originate from southern and southeastern Europe. Countries like Spain and Turkey. So, they have come from hotter dryer climates. Though they can still grow in our wetter conditions. They can be annuals, biennials or perennials, but the main ones for sale are usually perennial. That is they will return year after year for a period. However many self seed so will continue to give you free plants after the initial outlay.

They can grow quite large so they benefit from being given a bit of space and being grown in a clump with a few plants. Of the more popular varieties Echinops bannaticus grows about a metre to a metre and a half. Then Echinops ritro grows at about a metre. Echinops Veitch’s blue is a popular shorter option if space is limited. It is also less prone to self seeding.

The leaves have the standard look of thistles. They are serated building to the point. While they look spikey they aren’t massively harmful. They grow best in free draining soil in full sun. When planting you can improve draiange with the addition of some organic matter. But they will tolerate clay building long tap roots. Just, ensure water doesn’t sit around the surface of the plant. After watering in initially they will need watering while settling. But, once they are established they are fairly drought tolerant and don’t need any additional feed to keep them going. They generally disease free but can suffer with aphids. After the first flowering of the year they can be cut to the ground to encourage a second burst of flowers.

The flowers are rich in pollen and nectar making them an excellent choice for wildlife gardening. The seeds, if left, are a food source for birds. However, some people don’t like them self seeding so dead head before.

They look good as a clump on their own in gravel gardens. When combined in the garden they work well with echiverea. Pink ones complimenting quite well. Alternatively large grasses are often used. Cardoons work quite nicely giving you different heights of ball flowers. Piet Oudoulf made use of agastache with it’s upright blue spires of flowers to compliment the balls of the echinops.

Propagation is pretty straight forward. They can be sown by seed in spring or self seeders collected and moved to the desire locations. They can be divided in early spring or autumn. Or root cuttings can be taken when dormant in winter.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little examination of echinops. Hopefully I’ll write a few more detailed profiles of plants to help build my knowledge before the RHS exam for this unit.

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Environmental Gardening: Bedding Plants

Recently there has been a lot of discussion on social media about how we, as gardeners, can cut back our environmental damage. How can we garden smarter? Garden to have a positive impact, not a negative impact. I have cut down my use of bedding plants but I haven’t really gone into detail of why. Horticulture is, in general, very damaging to the environment. Plants are transported predominantly from Holland and abroad. They are still mainly grown in peat, the damage from peat is well documented. The boom for houseplants has fuelled plants being removed from the wild. There are many aspects of horticulture that are incredibly damaging to the environment. Many would probably surprise many gardeners who think they are doing their bit by planting things. I’m going to discuss bedding plants as in my mind they are one of the more damaging sections of the industry and one that is pretty easy to come up with alternatives. This may start off quite preachy but I am going to be moving onto positives. I will be touching on climate change which I know a small handful of readers are climate change deniers. However, much of what I am talking about has the advantage of being thriftier as well as positive for the environment.

It has been estimated that home owners spend £30,000 on our gardens over our lifetimes. I can’t find the figures for how much is spent on bedding plants each year but my guess would be it would be high. From working in a garden centre I know it made up a large part of the sales. Bedding plants are a large part of the horticulture industry with seasonal bedding plants keeping people returning to garden centres. To give an idea of the amount York City planned to spend £70,000 pounds on bedding plants over four years. So, what’s the problem with this?

Bedding plants are largely grown in peat. Peat makes up one of our greatest carbon sinks. It is keeping carbon locked up to help prevent climate change. Much of the large scale production of bedding plants makes use of peat compost. This has many hidden environmental impacts. The peat compost is delivered in plastic wrapping that isn’t recyclable. It goes straight in the bin for landfill. The peat itself is often travelling long distances to the growers. The bedding plants themselves often undergo multiple journeys to the consumer. The plants may be started as cuttings or seed in one location, say in Holland. These plugs are then transported to another location, say in the UK. The plugs are grown and sold to the consumer. These may be sold as grown in the UK when in reality they are only ‘grown on’ in the UK. But the consumer thinks they are buying local. Within each stage of transport there is a good amount of wastage. Some plugs arrive dead, some are die during growth and some die transported to garden centres. These will usually end up in the bin. Not to be composted or put to use. Just pure waste. The plants need to be grown in greenhouse with carefully controlled temperatures, again requiring a high energy input. Then once out of the greenhouse and into people’s garden they will often sulk.

On top of the damage done by peat. Many of the plants will be sprayed with lethal cocktails of insecticides, pesticides and fungicides. The plants may still be sold as being of benefit to wildlife while the chemicals on them are causing harm. These can still cause damage when the plant gets to the consumer with the chemicals leaching into the gardens soil. In order to keep many of the plants looking their best they need regular feeding. Many of the commercial fertilisers have a high energy cost to their creation. We can create our own fertilisers through wormeries and homemade alternatives like nettle tea. But by and large people aren’t going to do this. Many bedding plants end up grown in pots. This means more feed, but also more watering which is becoming an issue with dryer summers and areas facing water shortages in the future.

Many bedding plants are bred to be sterile. This means no pollen. No benefit to wildlife. Little purpose in existing beyond looking pretty. But by and large they are not the richest source of food for pollinators. For the environmentally conscious gardener, the space could be better used on a plants that will attract pollinators. There is also the issue of native vs non-native plants. Most bedding plants will be non-native and won’t feed into the larger ecosystem or caterpillar host plants and feeding birds.

My main issue with bedding plants is just the disposable nature of them. They are grown for one season. So all the mass amount of environmental damage discussed so far goes towards one season of having a plant that may look pretty. It probably won’t though as they are sulky plants that need care: watering, feeding, deadheading, etc. So they may not even last a season. If you are lucky they may survive a mild winter to then look too leggy the next year. If you are dedicated (I’m not) you may protect them over winter digging them out, putting them in greenhouses or taking cuttings. So all this effort and they are then binned. If they are lucky composted. It’s disposable culture at its worst. Lots of attention has been drawn to single use plastic bottles. The bedding plant industry is undoubtedly worse. Right down to the plastic pot the plant came in that probably won’t be recycled.

So, preaching over, I want to look at how we can garden with lower impact on the environment. Bedding plants are usually used to provide a burst of seasonal colour or fill gaps in the border. Many of the areas they would be placed can be filled with annuals sown direct in the soil. Plants like Nigella, Calendula, and Nasturtiums all grow easily when the seeds are scattered directly on the soil. This cuts out all the transportation issues, chemical use and peat issues around bedding plants. Plus, most of these have some benefit to wildlife. Some of these will self-seed or the seed can be saved for the next year.

Many self seeders can fill gaps in the border. I make use of a lot of self seeders. Ox-eye daisies, forget-me-nots, cornflowers, poppies all fill gaps in the border. Self-seeders take over any bare ground making sure my borders are always full. Over time I’ve learned to recognise the seedlings coming through and then I thin them out or move them to suitable locations. In spring the forget-me-nots fill many of the border gaps providing for a whole range of insects with a carpet of blue.

In order to avoid the disposable nature of bedding plants my borders are predominantly shrubs and perennials that will last a good few years. Many will spread and with division should outlive me. Perennials may cost slightly more than bedding plants initially but long term you save money with them returning each year. You may even be able to divide your plants to spread further around your borders or pass to other people. I make use of a lot of hardy geraniums that have spread and been divided many times.

Many common garden perennials can be grown from seed. While this obviously takes longer than buying a fully grown plant is a cheap way of producing a large number of a plant with low environmental impact. It doesn’t need to take up a lot of space either. I have a mini greenhouse. It fits neatly against a wall. Within it I’ve grown a good number of Digitalis lutea, heuchera, poppies and more. Currently I am growing several types of primulas and a few foxgloves. Many bedding plants can be grown from seed as well. Short dahlias, violas and pansies are all fairly easy to grow. This cuts out many of the damaging aspects of bedding plants and generally will give you more for a lower cost.

I know many of you won’t want to part with your treasured bedding plants but I hope I’ve provided some food for thought. Reducing the number of temporary plants you can make a difference. It can reduce your carbon footprint and with reduced sales it shifts the horticultural industry to change its practises and what it focuses growing on. I’m sure not everyone will agree but change is coming to the industry whether it wants it or not. Peat is being phased out and people are becoming increasingly aware of the damage done by chemicals. I’d rather work towards a positive change.

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Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens

Last Friday I made it to Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens. I had seen them on Twitter for a while but hadn’t really connected that it was fairly close to me. But, while sourcing a plant I realised they were close enough for a visit at just over an hour away. The garden is an absolute treat with the nursery having a focus on perennials. I arrived for opening at 1 and I’m glad I did. It gave me a chance to do a loop of the gardens while it was still quiet and see more of the wildlife. It was a bit of a grey day so there wasn’t as much about as there would have been on a sunnier day but still plenty to enjoy.

The cafe courtyard

The cafe courtyard was lovely and peaceful when I entered. Quite a shaded spot with a nice mix of foliage plants around the edges.

The steps were lovely with the pots and plants spilling out the brickwork. I didn’t note what it was at the time but looks like creeping toadflax.

A pair of doves were going in and out of a window at the top of the cafe.

I was happy to see a pot of podophyllum after seeing it in a recent lecture from Phillip Oostenbrink.

Bird feeders

There were two paths out from the courtyard and I chose the one less travelled as the view looked inviting. More people were heading out the other way. This took me to the bird feeders.

There was a nice mix of birds visiting. Several types of tits and robins.

Though the arrival of the slinky cat put them off.

From the feeders, I found some deep pink dahlias.

And anemones.

The rill garden

I think I’ve missed the peak of the rill garden flowers. It looked like Nigella, love-in-a-mist had gone over in many of the planters. But the water tinkling through is always a pleasant sound.

On a sunnier day, I imagine this catches the light beautifully.

The pond

The pond had some nice tall planting surrounding it with a few views in.

A waterlily set to unfurl.

The meadow area

From the pond, I headed around the woodland meadow area. This is made up of many hardy geraniums with other plants mixed in. A nice mix of spreading plants. They had a few hives hidden away. I didn’t notice any honey for sale sadly as I do like a souvenir pot of honey.

There was a good number of small and large white butterflies about and the odd peacock. As I said, it was quite a grey day so not as much moving in the meadow as there would be a sunnier day.

Wonderful peeling bark.

I rather like the tansy flowers in the meadow, Tanacetum vulgare. Lovely little yellow balls. I was tempted by a pot in the nursery but I don’t think it would gel with my other plants.

The long border

From the house, there is a long border with clipped bushes along the middle. I realise looking back at my photos I didn’t take a decent long shot. I possibly didn’t want to annoy visitors photographing them or getting them to move. These borders were spectacular filled with lots of perennials. It’s always good to visit other gardens as this when you see plant combinations that work well. Stillingfleet had lots of effective combinations. Some are plants unsuited to my soil and conditions but still lovely to see.

I seem to have seen Monarda a lot this year. I’m not sure whether it’s just that I’ve noticed it or that more people are using it. There was a stand on the BBC coverage of RHS Tatton Park talking about them. It is a lovely vibrant plant and loved by bees. In the mint family with quite a pleasant smell to my mind.

The wasps were loving the echinops. They are very rich in nectar so I don’t know if that’s the draw. I only have one of the smaller varieties but I could be tempted with some of the taller types.

There was plenty of dahlias dotted around.

And plenty more visual treats.

On the way around the house, I spotted a little trough of pitcher plants, Sarracenia. This is a carnivorous bog plant. It’s usually grown as a house plant or in greenhouses, but it can be grown outside as its native range is across North America. I meant to ask someone what soil they were growing it in and what drainage they’d given it but I forgot by the time I got around to any of the staff.

Wire sculptures

Dotted around the garden there were sculptures by Chris Moss. I saw lots of visitors eyeing them up. The robin on a spade seemed to be very popular. I saw lots of people checking the price while I had a cup of tea in the cafe courtyard.

The stock gardens

I actually really enjoyed looking in the stock gardens. A lot of gardens hide them away or keep them private but it’s nice seeing the plants growing in masses and the many different varieties. The entrance was covered in honeysuckle giving you a nice waft of scent to put you in a spending mood.

The agapanthus was the standout plant. They seem to be having a good year from many peoples accounts. I was very tempted to add a few more when I got to the nursery sales but I resisted. I spoke about mine in yesterday’s six on Saturday.

Twister was one of the finest available in my opinion. The two colours are very attractive.

Though there was some dark beauties set to unfurl.

There was a good section of borage in the stock area. This is such a good plant for bees as it refills its nectaries within two minutes. Anyone keeping honeybees should have it around to avoid honey bees depleting flowers from native wild bees. The flower is also edible. It looks particularly pretty in ice cubes.

The robins were serenading visitors around all areas of the garden but they were posing for photos in this area.

A peacock enjoying the buddleia.

The inevitable plant purchases

Obviously I wasn’t going to come away with no purchases. The range of plants they stock is amazing. Download the catalogue and feel envious. The main focus is perennials with an amazing collection of hardy geraniums and pulmonarias. It was a pleasure to see such choice when I’ve become accustomed to garden centres stocking smaller and smaller ranges. During my last outing to the local garden centre I asked for directions for an astrantia and hardy geraniums and it was clear none of the staff had any knowledge of plants. They openly admitted they didn’t know what these were. It strikes me as strange that you can work in a garden centre without knowing what you are putting on the tables. The equvialant would be a supermarket shelf stacker who didn’t know where to direct you for baked beans. But that’s all the garden centres are now is supermarkets for plants. The plant space is getting cut down in my closest to make room for more scented candles, bath bombs and other gifts. They are places for people to go for a day out and have a slice of cake. The plants are becoming an inconvinient nuisance that need looking after. So, now I’ve put my plant shopping experiences in context you can see why Stillingfleet was such a joy.

I had specifically gone to obtain Iris foetidissima lutescens. They are the only stockist of the plant in the whole country. It is much like any other Iris foetidissima. It has the strap like evergreen leaves but has an all yellow flower, a little bigger maybe than the normal variety. It’s reckoned to be slightly more tender than the normal version but being a pretty bomb proof plant to start with I’m feeling fairly confident it will be alright. I’ve now ended up with six of the nine varieties of Iris foetidissima that the RHS lists. I’ve still got my eye on trying to get hold of the variegated one next year. It might seem like an odd plant to decide to collect varieties of as it is far from the prettiest iris around. The main interest comes from the berries in winter. But it is one of only two native irises to the UK and I feel it’s worth preserving. I’ve recently joined plant heritage who work conserving rare plants in cultivation. With more and more nurseries closing it seems important to try and keep these more unusual plants in circulation. Like I said, the garden centres are offering less and less choice so supporting nurseries that offer more is important. For the long term we need a great variety of plants to survive whatever may happen with our climate.

I also picked up two varieties of sea holly ready for our anniversary. They formed part of our wedding flowers, but they are also wonderful plants for wildlife on top of that. Eryngium bourgatii picos amethyst looks to be a darker more vibrant blue than my existing ones.

And Eryngium giganteum ‘silver ghost’. This is described as growing as a biennial by most sources but should hopefully self seed. It’s a tall white sea holly offering great spikey architectural flowers.

And the final purchase for me, a Persicaria ‘purple fantasy’. I’ve cavorted a persicaria and this had such stunning foliage. I’ve put in a pot for now while I decide where it will go. They have a reputation for spreading rapidly beyond where they are wanted but I believe this is meant to be quite a well behaved one. I could have come away with a lot more, but I wanted an anniversary the next day, not a divorce. Got my eye on the pulmonaria list for future visits.

I really enjoyed my trip to Stillingfleet. The gardens are very much to my taste with lots of informality. Lots of the plants are spreading and sprawling out of gaps in paving and into each other. But it’s absolutely lovely. There are a lot of Capability Brown landscape gardens around me on far grander scales, but these largely leave me cold. I like plants, and ideally plants rammed in thickly. The intimacy of this little garden was fantastic. The plant range immense, a plantsperson’s dream. Well worth a visit.

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