Garden School:


Garden School:
Teaching this week: Rose pruning (as always!) and water management

Friday, 25 March 2016

It's time to spring clean your water butt diverters!

One of my Clients recently had a water butt installed, at my recommendation - well, for heaven's sake, rain water is free, doesn't contain chemicals, is the same temperature as the garden, and is free. They already had a rainwater diverter in place, but it wasn't connected to anything - what a waste! Not to mention that every time it rained, the water dribbled out of the diverter and down the outside of the drainpipe, causing moss and staining on the pipe.

So I suggested that it would be simple to re-fit a new water butt, and indeed it was.

Everyone with any sort of garden should collect rainwater, and to prove that I practice what I preach, I actually have five water butts on my small house - two in series on the front downpipe, one collecting water from a small outhouse, and, my pride and joy, two in series at the end of the back garden.

Why are they my pride and joy? Because there isn't room to have them up by the house: between the window and the patio doors is a small stretch of wall, but as it gets the afternoon sun, I decided it was more useful for supporting fruit trees, so there was no room for a water butt, not even a skinny little space-saver one.

I therefore spent some time setting  up a cunning system to take the water from the house downpipe and run it to the far end of the garden, where there was room for the butts. I wrote about it in the latter half of this article, and now I have detached water butts, invisibly connected to the house, and I am very proud of them!

Anyway, getting back to business, the water butt duly arrived and was fitted in place, and the following week, after some light rain, I went to use the water, only to discover that it was virtually empty.

"Hmm," I thought, "perhaps the tap was left open, so any water than went into it has just passed straight through."

I tested this theory by bringing a canfull of water from the outside tap on the other side of the house, and sure enough, the tap had been left in the open position.

I closed it, laughing sardonically and rolling my eyes at the general level of competence among handymen who don't think to test their installations.

Two weeks later, after heavy rain, I tried it again, expecting it to be full to the brim. But alas, no, it only had a couple of inches of water in it.

How odd.

I looked again at the connections, it all seemed to be fine: none of the joints were obviously leaking, and beside, with all the rain we'd had the previous week, even if the joints leaked, there would still be a butt-full of water.

So I disconnected it, and took out the diverter from the downpipe.

"There's your problem!"

The diverter was stuffed full with debris which had washed down from the roof over the years, and even had a good crop of pale young sycamore trees growing in it!!

All I had to do was scrape out the mini-woodland, turn it upside down and bang it on the wheelbarrow a few times, shaking out all the earth and muck. A quick rinse under the watering can and it was good to go - I slotted it back in place, re-connected the pipe to the water butt, and lo! and behold, the following week, the water butt was nearly full with lovely free water!

So, the moral of this story is that downpipes with diverters are prone to blocking up, and every couple of years it is worth disconnecting them and clearing them out.

Here endeth the lesson!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Germinating Monkey Puzzle: how to grow Araucaria araucana from seed.

"First, collect your seed..."

Back in August of last year, a kind friend gave me a dozen enormous Araucaria araucana (Monkey Puzzle tree) seeds: they are fully 2" long, probably the biggest seeds I have ever seen.

Having done a little internet research, I decided to germinate them using the ice-cream tub method, so I filled an old ice cream tub with clean new compost, nicely dampened but not soggy,  and pushed all 12 seeds into the compost, point first. I then lay the lid on top - but leaving it loose, not clipping it on - put the tub in front of the window, and let it get on with it.

Apparently the idea is to check every week or so by gently lifting one or two of the seeds, to see if they were germinating; if not, to gently replace them in their socket. 

I did this as per instructions, week after week after week, until finally, in, in mid November, hooray!

You can just see that the new root is starting to split the outer cover of the seed.

This means that the seed has successfully germinated, and can now be potted on individually.

Two weeks later, another two had started to produce a root, so they were likewise potted up, and I kept all of them indoors (as it was winter!), planning to put them outside in late spring, once everything has warmed up.

By the end of December, a fourth one was growing well,  and in early January a fifth one was ready to be potted up individually.

Meanwhile, the first three to be potted up were producing a tiny bundle of leaves at the base.

As you can see, there is still a large green stem going into the seed case:  I had assumed that these trees grew like sweet peas - once the case splits off, larger leaves unfold.

However, even though they are all making this strong-looking little sprout at the base, they all still having the thick green stem going into the seed. Is the little sprout the new tree? Or will the seed case yet split open? Ah, the joys of germination.


Being of an inquisitive mind, I cut one of the seeds open at the top, to see if it was now just an empty case, but to my horror it was still a tightly-packed white, fleshy mass. Eek! Have I killed that seedling? Luckily, it does not seem to have noticed, and it is now the largest of the five early ones.

Here's a close-up view of the chopped-off top of the seed, you can see the inner mass is shrinking away from the sides of the seed, but it is still firm, and is certainly not shrivelled up and dead-looking.

So should they be cut off? Are they essential to the seedling? How long will the seedlings need them?

There were no answers to be found on the internet (I can't be the only person to do this, surely?), so, putting aside these concerns, winter continued, and I continued to check the seeds in tub from time to time, and yesterday I found that another one had put out a root, so that makes 6: 50% germination!

As you can see - left - the first ones to germinate are growing strongly and are 4" high: that's the new one, the light brown one in the middle, which does not have any green growth as yet. It has about 3" of thick fleshy root, but of course that is under the soil.

Of the remaining six seeds, at least two of them are showing signs of swelling and splitting, so I am expecting a couple more successes - but I am beginning to think that six might be enough, as they are going to take up a lot of space!

Already, even at this size, the leaves are strongly spined and sharp to the touch.

And as for the "should I chop off the seed pod" debate, well,  I observed the following:

... yes, one of the strongly-growing ones is finally showing a shrivelled-up seed stem, so it clearly no longer needs the seed.

It therefore seems likely that it is best to leave the seed joined by the green stem until such time as the stem goes brown, at which time it can safely be removed.

Maybe, if one more germinates, I will sever the seed stem as soon as the plant produces some proper leaves, and see if it has any effect on the growth of the seedling.

Don't you just love botany!

Friday, 11 March 2016

The importance of labelling plants

ThinkinGardens is a great website, run by Anne Wareham - who you might remember is the author of the wonderfully-titled "The Bad Tempered Gardener" - in which she brings together intelligent viewpoints about gardening.

These are wildly varied, both in subject matter, and in fame or otherwise of the contributor: there are not many situations where I can claim to have been given equal prominence with people like Monty Don, Alys Fowler and Germaine Greer, to pick three at random from the list of contributors, but here I am on ThinkinGardens again, writing about the importance of plant labelling in public gardens.

Anne herself currently won't label the plants in her garden: but after this article, will she change her mind?

And what do you think about plant labels, when you visit a garden? Do you like to know what the plants are? Do you not care? Do you hate the sight of ugly, intrusive labels?

I'd love to know!







Wednesday, 9 March 2016

The day the fruit tree fell off the wall.

I know, that does sound a bit extreme, and it's not quite the full story...  ("Blogger Guilty Of Exaggerated Headline")

... so this is what actually happened.  I arrived at work one day last summer to find the client in a distressed state, because one of the fruit trees had, quite literally, fallen off the wall.

I rushed round to the fruit wall to assess the damage, and this is what I found:

Yikes!

The Apricot had, indeed, fallen off the wall!

The attachment points were ancient, to be fair - remaining rusty slivers of nails originally banged in to a not-very-substantial red brick wall, probably forty or fifty years ago.

I suppose we can't blame them for eventually giving up the ghost, but it was particularly annoying for me, as I had spent the last five years getting these wall-trained fruit trees back into good condition.

And now there was one of them, lying on the grass!

First job: remove all damaged wood.

Everything that had been snapped, scraped, or badly bent had to go. Then, a handful of hammer-in vine eyes and ten minutes up a ladder, to make some new fixing points.

Next job, take what was left of the tree and carefully lever it upright, then tie it in to the wall. A close inspection of the main trunk showed that it had managed to bow over without pulling itself out of the ground, but I stamped around the base just in case.

Finally, a careful going-over with the secateurs to remove any small damaged parts: there is no point leaving them, they won't flourish and broken bark is just an invitation for disease and pests to crawl inside and set up shop, so it's better to be firm, and remove them all.

After than, all I had to do was give it a good watering - and I'll be keeping a close eye on it for the next few months - and clear up the mess.

When the excitement was all over, this is what had to be sacrificed: three barrow-loads of limbs and branches, off to the bonfire heap.

Once they were out of the way, a quick go-round with the rake removed the last of the evidence, and there! you'd never know that we started the day with a disaster.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Plant Labels: cute and quirky

What do you think of these?

Cute, huh?

I've been working on expanding my range of plant labels this winter, and now I have nine or ten (depending on how you count them) different types and styles.

I made the upright "flag" ones in the left-most pot a while ago - I tried hand written painted ones, which were very nice, easy to read: then I tried my wood burning kit, and made some - er, not engraved, what's the word?  *hasty googling* - pyrographic ones, but I wasn't convinced about how long they'd last outdoors.

These ones are a nice compromise - the printing of the lettering is irregular enough to be artisan and a bit quirky, but neat enough to be legible.

They won't last forever, of course: for that, you'll need to wait for my impressive embossed metal plant labels, available shortly in aluminium and copper....

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Hooray for Dracunculus vulgaris!

"What's that?" I hear you say.

Oh, it's a wonderful, scary, spooky thing: not to everyone's taste, and I'm sure that in years to come I will regret planting it, as once established, it can be quite persistent: but I love the mad, spotted sheaths of the new growth.


Here's an established potful, just starting to poke their noses above the soil - quite brave of them, considering the filthy weather we've been having recently.

I mean, we are now into March, it's officially Spring, and I'm not back in shorts yet!



Just look at the beauty of that spotted sheath - lovely, isn't it?

Combined with the fresh green leaves, I find this irresistible.



This - left - is what they'll look like in a couple of weeks' time: aren't those leaves just lovely?

The only other plant I know with three-part leaves like this is Trillium, and I have never been able to grow them in any of "my" gardens as our soil is not sufficiently acidic around here: I'm still searching for a garden with the right type of woodland so that I can get some of them started.

In the meantime, I have to make do with this chap instead - and who could resist a plant with such a great name? Dracunculus - with overtones of Dracula and Harry Potter - followed by vulgaris which just means "commonly found or used" in botanical terms, but still has a delicious, slightly decadent whiff of "vulgar" about it.

If you are not familiar with this plant, I'm sure you are wondering what it's going to turn into, and what the flower is going to be like: well, if you look on the internet you'll find it variously described as "well known and bizarre", "a dramatic, good looking plant", and "the most impressive of the European aroids". The common name of Dragon Lily or Dragon Arum might give you a clue: it's big, black and scary-looking.

Well, ok, not black-black but in some lights... ok, dark purple, then.

I've seem them growing in the wild and attaining heights of, well, more than waist high: and the flowers can be 2' in length.

Fun, huh?

The bad news is that the flowers want to be pollinated by flies, so they exude a foul stench of rotting meat in order to attract them.

But the good news is that, once pollinated, they stop stinking!!

Now all I need to do is figure out how to manually pollinate them as soon as they start to flower...




Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Auriculas - time to tidy them up for spring!

I've just written a short article about the early spring tidy-up for Auriculas, you can read it here, at GreenPlantSwap (a great place for swapping plant info as well as plants!) and if you have any of these in your garden, now is the time to get out there and tidy them up.

Last  year's leaves are all slimy and brown now:

..as you can see (left).

Here's a close-up of one of the shoots - you can see clearly all those dead brown leaves.

They are not doing any good at all - they are not protecting the new leaves from frost or damage, all they are doing is providing a nice hiding place for slugs and other nasties, while also providing them with a mid-snooze snack.

So out come the scissors!

Snip!


There, much better!




And here is the finished article: all old brown leaves removed, any weeds etc ejected, pots all top-dressed with compost nuts to keep the weeds at bay, and to make them look fresh and clean for the spring.

They should be starting to flower in April - weather permitting, ha ha - and they will be for sale then, as I like to sell them when they are actually flowering, so people know what they are getting.

To buy these plants, or to see all of my plant listings, pop over to this page at GreenPlantSwap.