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Garden Tips Week Ending 11th July 2014.

Hello Folks
                  Hope you are not getting too sun burnt with all this lovely sunshine that we have been having just lately after the wet Winter. We have a Calestemon in a big tub on the yard that is loving it because it comes from Australia and is used to the warmth. It is commonly called a “Bottle Brush Plant,” because the flowers look like a bunch of soft bristles on a narrow, rounded, brush. It is full of these strange, but lovely, bright red flowers at the moment making it a real picture, although at the time of writing this one, or two are starting to fade so they won’t last long. The Calestemon is at home in a sunny spot for the Summer, but as it is from Australia it will not stand very cold nights and needs to be taken into the greenhouse for protection during the Winter. We have had ours for several years now and it gets a bit bigger each year.
There are a lot of other unusual plants coming in now from different Countries, but do be aware that some of them need different climates and will not be very hardy. I have a lovely lemon scented Eucalyptus that is lovely to touch, or brush against as it then releases its strong scent. I grew it from seed and it is nice to have something unusual, but like most of the Eucalyptus family, it is not very hardy. I have given one young plant to me eldest son for his big Conservatory where it will love it and it will fill the room with the smell of Lemons every time someone touches it. Abutilons are another semi-exotic that tempt a lot of people to buy them, because of their lovely flowers with their drops of Nectar that you can taste with your fingertip. Again they do need Winter protection, although I did know of one person who had one outside in a sheltered city garden that grew to over 5 feet high and remained outside for several Winters until it did finally die from the cold. We have a smallish one that we take inside every Winter and put out for the Summer. The yellow flowered Mimosa is another tender exotic that is periodically seen at garden centres and is better in a conservatory.

Hardy flowering plants like Wallflower and Sweet William seedlings should be growing well now and should be ready to be planted out in a few weeks as the Autumn comes round. They will of course flower next Spring onwards. The “Universal,” Winter flowering Pansies should also be growing well by now and be planted out in the Autumn, but as the name says they will flower throughout the Winter. You can even sow a few of the hardy, quick growing Annuals such as Poppies and Cornflowers for late Summer colour if you still have some empty patches of border where you normally put flowers.

When cutting Rose flowers for vases you should cut the flowering stem right down to just above the last leaf joint before the branch joint, so that the remaining stem on the plant is only short. This encourages fresh growth and you might even get another flowering stem from it.
Our Alliums haven’t done so well this year because, I think, it was too wet at the wrong time, so we will not have so many seed heads as usual to dry for Christmas and Winter dried flower decorations.
Lillies, on the other hand, seem to have done well this year with the plant of the moment being Alstroemerias, or Peruvian Lilies. Everywhere you go they are on sale, but most of them are the short stemmed ones that are no good for cut flowers.

Lavender is plentiful this year and there are such a lot of different varieties about now, but not all are quite hardy. At Strawberry Garden Centre at Bramshall near Uttoxeter, you can see their Lavender field with over 20 varieties planted in it. If the boss, Russell, is around he organises little free-guided tours on a Saturday and Sunday. Saturdays tour is 11am and 2-30, whereas Sunday is only 2-30pm. The tours run for 3 weeks from 28th June. All Lavenders are not the same as I have a very dark one that is heavily scented and a light pink one that is delicately scented, but looks nice against the bushes. 
Well, that’s all for now. Cheerio. Frances Hartley.


Gardening Tips Week ending 3rd July 2013

Hello Folks
As you will know there is a very bad shortage of Bees this year that help with pollinating a lot of the crops due partly, to bad weather and partly the use of poisonous sprays in gardens and fields etc. There is no real need for most of the sprays in the garden, because if birds are encouraged they will help by eating the Aphids. Other things like beetles and ladybirds will thrive as well if there are no chemicals about and they will eat even more pests. If you must spray use weak, soapy water. We don’t use any sprays at all in the garden and have lots of birds flitting about.

Plants for drying, to fill empty vases in the Winter will soon be ready for cutting. Alliums make a nice head that dries well - just cut with a good stem and hang upside down in an airy place. Honesty, or Silver Dollar also makes a nice, silvery show. I shall try a few Geums, Teasels and probably cornflowers this year as well as look for others. Another one that dries well, but from a pot plant and not from the garden, is Aspidistra leaves. Herbs can also be cut and dried ready for use in the kitchen in the Winter. We use herbs instead of sauces to flavour things as it is a lot healthier. Cut the herbs and place the heads in a paper bag that should then be hung up until the seeds have dropped out and the store them in small jars. Oregano, Thyme and Parsley are easy ones, but why not try Mint as well.

Some of our nurseries that grow cut flowers are struggling to keep going now as there are so many cut flowers from abroad flooding our markets. We should be asking for English grown ones instead. There is plenty of choice and you can put some easy ones in the garden that will come up every year: - Margarites, Geums, Corn Flowers, Pyrethrums and Rudbeckia to name a few. There are plenty of other plants with flowers suitable for cutting that can be grown and that need only a little more attention such as Roses, Dahlias, Chrysanthemums and Sweet Peas. There is also a perennial Sweet Pea and Wallflower that are available now to save re-planting each year. You just them cut back each year at the end of the season.

In the greenhouse, if Tomatoes are setting, you should start feeding with a Potash feed such as Tomerite which is on offer at a number of places now and you must make sure that the plants never get dry, even in hot weather.
If the greenhouse can be watered in the morning it is better than doing at night as water left on leaves can cause Mildew and then lead to other diseases. If the weather turns very hot it is better to damp down the floor as well.
Many years ago my husband had a Melon and Cucumber greenhouse built for me that was half the depth of a normal greenhouse with the roof above the ground and the other half of the greenhouse below the ground with a couple of steps down into it. The sides were actually about 2, or 3 feet above ground with the roof above and the gangway was dug in about 3 or 4 feet below ground level. In the Summer when it was really hot, I threw a bucket of water down onto the slab floor for humidity and some days you could almost see the steam rise. We did have lovely Melons and long straight Cucumbers though.

Well that’s all for now.
Cheerio Frances Hartley.


Gardening Tips For week Ending July 6th 2012.

Hello Folks

                    Once again it’s 2 or 3 days with your Summer clothes on and then it’s back to Autumn weather with lots of wind and torrential rain. I won’t grumble too much though as the garden flowers are still looking lovely even if they are quite bedraggled.

If you like flowers for the house and like to grow some of your own there are quite a few easy perennials that are ready to plant and on sale in the garden centres now. But you can easily grow your own from seed if you prefer, however, they need to go in as soon as possible and it is a bit late for some varieties. Many seedlings of perennials are best kept in a cold greenhouse or frame for the Winter and then planted out the second year. We have a good selection in the garden for cutting now, which were grown from seed last year. The trailing Lysymachia, or creeping Jenny makes a real splash of bright yellow in tubs and baskets in sun or shade. It is always on sale in garden centres, but if you plant a bit in the corner of your garden you can keep it growing on for cuttings next year. It will almost root itself as it trails across the garden and all you have to do is dig up some pieces early on in the season and pot them up to bring them on for your baskets and tubs. There is also a tall variety that grows to 2 ft 6 or 3 ft high and is just as bright, so don’t get them confused as this type might look a bit silly in a hanging basket!

I have just re-done my vases of flowers for the house with flowers out of the garden, including Pyrethrums, Marguerites and Campanulas that are commonly called Canterbury Bells of which there are a rich blue and white. I also have Monarda Didyma, or Bergamot seedlings coming on that will be planted out next year. The Gladiola are starting to come into flower now and they are ideal for cutting as they last well in water.

On the kitchen window ledge there are 3 Amaryllis bulbs in flower and they flower each year even though all of the bulbs are 5 or 6 years old. The bulbs are of course potted in pots that are only just big enough for them and planted so that they are half above the compost to discourage “Pups” from forming. They get a good baking on the upstairs window ledge in full sun after flowering, when the leaves are allowed to slowly die off and are kept dry in the same pots until Spring. Then they are gradually woken up with a little water. There is also a Hibiscus on the kitchen windowsill that I keep taking cuttings off. The Hibiscus looks so bright and being in line with the front door it makes a cheery greeting as most people look straight ahead when entering the hall.

The Tomatoes are growing well in the greenhouse now and often get a gentle tap to disturb the pollen and set the fruits in case there are no bees about.

In the months of June, July and August everything is in full growth in the garden as well and there is always lots of tidying up to do. Flowers should be dead-headed regularly to stop seed pods forming which will halt flowering and bushes and hedges made up of Privet, Buxus, or Lonicera Nitidia should be trimmed as well as conifer hedges.

Well that’s all for now. Cheerio.
Frances Hartley


Gardening Tips For Week Ending July 3rd. 2011

Hello Everybody

                    I think some places were getting desperate, but at last we had some rain on and off last month. Some people were putting sprinklers on their lawns which is not necessary especially on established ones, because even if they go a bit brown and discoloured, they will soon recover again with a quick shower of rain. We have kept the birds fed and watered during the dry weather, but they have rewarded us by pinching bits of the coir liners out of my baskets for their nests. My wire stand and hanging basket have had to be re-done with some more moss to fill in the spaces as the cheeky birds had taken so much lining the soil was all running out. I suppose it was a nice soft and easy source of nesting material for them.

Last Autumn, some Alyssum plants that had gone to seed, were left in a narrow border for the birds. A lot of the seed must have escaped being eaten and started germinating on its own early in the Spring and now we have a lovely, solid carpet of white filling the bed which looks very nice and bright. Bedding plants generally, are coming on well now, but there are still plenty for sale as well as lots of vegetable plants. Why not try a few such as Lettuce, Spring Onions, Courgettes, the round Carrots, or the small Cucumbers, in large pots, or boxes from the green grocer. Beetroot could also be grown in the flower border as the leaves look nice and give a different colour.

If you are growing Tomatoes in the greenhouse it can be a good idea to gently tap the stems to disturb the pollen in case there are no bees about to pollinate them. If you have planted young fruit trees, or bushes, scatter a little slow release fertiliser such as “Growmore” around them and then water well and cover the soil with bark chippings to keep the soil damp and suppress the weeds. My peach tree was carrying lots of small peaches, so I removed one or two from along each of the branches with lots of fruit on to thin them out and to help the remainder grow bigger. Other fruit may need thinning as well, but some, like Pears and Apples, often thin themselves with what is called June Drop.

Many exotic fruit trees are leafing up now, although they are coming late, including my Pomegranate plant which spent its first winter outside this year. What a bad choice of winter I chose to plant it, although surprisingly, it has come through. It has got some die back, but the buds are bursting into new leaves and more are also coming on nice new stems produced from ground level. Some Figs, Bays and Eucalyptus, which looked quite dead after the winter, are also doing the same now and producing new growth from dormant buds that are often below the soil. Any dead branch tips without buds showing signs of life, can now be safely cut off.

If you have an outside grapevine with bunches of grapes just forming it is a good idea to cut the stems above the grapes. Pruning the stem just above the first leaves that have grown above the grapes makes the plant put more energy into the grapes instead of making more stem.
Well that’s all for now.
Frances Hartley

Tips For Wk Ending  July 2nd 2010.

Hello folks

                    One of the new fruits we are growing this year is the Tomatillo which is in the same family as the Golden Berry, Physallis or Cape Gooseberry, (depending on which name you prefer to call them) We are growing them like ring culture Tomatoes and they are flowering quite happily now. Tomatillo’s are supposed to be a little bit spicy so should be nice in a mixed vegetable dish. The Courgettes that did nothing last year, are romping away in a grow-bag as well on the greenhouse floor and fruiting already this year. It seems that they are not too happy with the extra damp in the greenhouse as some of them are getting Blossom end rot, but according to the experts a regular watering with a Seaweed feed should cure the problem.  My Tomatoes are setting well and will need a feed regularly with a high potash feed such as Tomorite. My Runner Beans are flowering, but my Meddlar and Peach trees finished flowering some time ago and have lots of fruit growing very nicely. My Fig tree is loaded as usual, but we need a bit more rain to make the fruit swell!

Some of the more tender shrubs, including one or two Hebes and Penstemmons, did not survive this winter, but those that did are flowering well. When these early flowering shrubs have finished flowering they should be cut back as soon as possible. My Rhododendron has been really good this year and when the flowers have finished, if like me, your soil is not very acid, it is a good idea to give them a feed of Sequested Iron. This counteracts any lime in the soil to make it more acidic, and it helps if you always use rainwater when possible for watering. This treatment also includes Azaleas as well and some fruit, such as Cranberries and Blueberries, also like to be treated the same. It has been suggested that a few pine needles occasionally scattered around the plants will do the job as well as they are acidic, but don’t over do it. Hydrangeas are another plant that can benefit from acidic soil to bring out the true colour of the flowers. Hydrangeas are making a show now, but if the heads are not wanted for drying when they have finished flowering, just snap dead flowers off as close as possible to the flower, as next years flowers form just below the old ones.

Maybe it is a bit early to think about next year, but it is a good time to decide whether you want to continue putting in Summer Bedding plants in your borders forever, or change to Perennial plants that come up each year. There is a much wider range of “Herbaceous plants” about now, with many improved varieties, than there used to be. Mature plants are in the garden centres now with some in flower, or if you fancy growing some from seed, it is not too late to sow some of them, but they should be sown as soon as possible. Perennials are grown one year to flower the following year and will continue to come up and possibly divide each year. Bi-annuals grow one year to flower the next year only. (Bedding Wallflowers sold in bare root bunches in the autumn are a good example) Annuals grow and flower in the same year. I know most of you will know all that, but I still sometimes get asked what the differences are by people who are new to gardening. One thing about buying perennials is that sometimes you can divide the whole plants into two as soon as you have bought them. It must be done with care though, or otherwise you can often take small pieces from round the edges of the main plant and grow them on in pots.

Well that’s all for now. Enjoy your gardening.
Frances Hartley.


Gardening Tips Week Ending July 4th 2009

Hello folks

                    The gardens are all looking good now as bedding plants in the borders, tubs and baskets are growing well and coming into full flower with masses of colour.

In fact everything is growing vigorously in our garden including the lawn and to save the everlasting job of edging it all round the flower beds, my son has been putting green plastic lawn edging down. It is rather awkward to put down, but the job is much easier after some heavy rain, because then it almost taps into the ground with a rubber mallet, or can even be pressed in with a well placed boot. Put in properly, so that the top is just below the lawn edge, it keeps the edge of the lawn tidy, stops the roots from the lawn coming through and the lawn mower will still go over it. We have put the edging in because our lawn is full of “Twitch” or “Couch Grass” as some people call it and the plastic edging stops the shallow “Twitch” roots from spreading into the borders. The edging is a bit expensive at about £5 for a 30 foot roll, but it will last for many years.

After putting in the edging and digging the borders we had some heavy rain, so we put a thick layer of bark chippings on the beds. It not only keeps the moisture in, but will improve the soil as the worms will gradually pull the chippings down into the soil over the coming months.

We have 4 water buts installed on all the down spouts of the house and with the changeable weather up until now, as they have been emptied for watering the tubs etc, one days rain has filled them up ready for the next few days sunshine.

Most of the garden plants seem to like the changeable wet and dry spells this year with the shrubs especially putting on a lot of growth and they have made lovely splashes of colour with both their early flowering and foliage.

Dahlias though, have been very slow to come into growth this year. In fact if they were left in the ground over Winter, even in well drained sandy soil, they could well have rotted with all the wet we had, so it is worth checking.

There are still flowering bulbs on sale which have been reduced, but do check that the bulbs, tubers or corms have not dried out or shrivelled up while they have been on sale in the shops. If they have, save your money as they will do no good.

Well that’s All For Now. Cheerio.

Gardening Tips week Ending 7th July.

It is supposed to be Summer time now and everywhere bright and cheerful with flowers, but enough said about that.

It is a good time to take cuttings of shrubs now, soft tip cuttings or semi-ripe are the easiest. You can buy small bags of cutting compost, but I prefer ordinary compost with either extra fine grit added or I just use compost with a thinnish layer of silver sand on top so that when pushing cuttings in the sand goes in as well. Don’t use builders sand as there will probably be lime in it and it will burn the tender stems.

Take cuttings 2 or 3 inches long, trim off to just below a leaf joint, take off excess leaves leaving just 2 or 3 small ones, if remaining leaves are large cut them in half. Cuttings can then be dipped in rooting powder and put in the pot you have ready prepared. It is best to use a dibber,  old biro, or pencil to make a small hole for each cutting, then firm the soil round them. You can put several round the edge of the pot as they seem to root better in company. Cuttings should be put in an unheated propagator or in a polythene bag, but leave some air in the bag and tie the top and stand it in a shady, fairly cool place.

Tomatoes should be setting well now so they should be given a potash feed such as Tomorite, as that encourages the fruit, where as a nitrogen feed encourages more growth, if you want to grow perennial seeds for flowering next year, now is the time to sow them. These include primroses and primulas, winter pansies, penstemons and foxgloves. There are more, but I will leave it at that. Runner beans are making good growth but I haven’t seen many bees about yet for pollination. Let’s hope the weather will warm up and dry up soon.

Bye for now Frances Hartley.


Gardening tips week Ending July 13th 2008

Hello folks

                    The months are passing by so quickly we shall be seeing Christmas cards and crackers in the shops soon, but we have had no Summer where we could laze in the garden and listen to the birds and bees yet.

If you have tomatoes in the greenhouse it is wise to give the canes a gentle shake each day to distribute the pollen as there doesn’t seem to be many bees about. Another little reminder for you is it’s a good idea to start giving tomatoes a weekly feed with a high potash fertilizer such as Tomorite when the young fruit are like small marbles.

If you are going on holiday and cannot get a friend or neighbour to do any necessary watering for you, you can get drip hoses to connect to the tap to water tomatoes etc in the greenhouse. Some seep hoses as they also called can be bought to fit on water tubs rather than the tap. Or another idea is to put a large tub of water with a piece of very thick string or even rope (not Nylon) dangling with one end in the tub and the other end trailed through the soil where the tomatoes are. This is not ideal but will help. Also you should shade the greenhouse and make sure there is plenty of ventilation to keep the temperature down, but ensure that the windows are secure in case the wind gets up while you are away. If you place a really wet, dripping, thick towel or small blanket in the bath with a small amount of water in the bottom as well, house plants that have to be left, can be stood on it. Of course the pots should be well watered first, and if the bath is not suitable and the kitchen sink is not in full sun, you can use that instead.

Now is the time to trim conifers and tidy them up. Winter and spring flowering shrubs should have all been trimmed by now, but Spring flowering perennials that have finished flowering can be lifted and divided. The whole clump should be uprooted and split with the old central piece discarded on the compost heap. When replanting the new young pieces they should be well watered to give them a start and not forgotten if we have a dry spell. Hostas are better divided earlier in the Spring and things like Polyanths in the autumn, but things like Lupins and Red Hot Pokers (Kniphophias) should be finishing flowering about now.

Well that’s all for now

Cheerio, Frances Hartley

Gardening Article 15/7/06

Hello folks –

         This is not really for the garden, but felt I had to write this as I have heard quite a lot of people say Amaryllis bulbs won’t flower a second time. At the moment I have one bulb out with two stems each holding 4 large flowers. It was a dormant bulb when I had it and it is in flower for the third year. I have another different bulb also in bud for the 3rd year. With a little T.L.C. Amaryllis will flower every year for as long as you have them.

When the flowers have died, snap off the heads and leave the stems on 'till they start to go yellow. If you don’t remove them, the old heads might set seed and that drains the energy from the bulb. Later cut the yellow stem down and give the leaves a foliar feed, then water sparingly till the leaves go yellow as well. When they have yellowed give them a very gentle pull and if they don’t come away leave them as they are still feeding the bulb. When all the leaves are off stop watering, peel off any crisp brown bits on the bulb and keep the bulb in full sun for as many hours a day as possible for several weeks. They like a real baking. Do not water at all until you see a green shoot coming up from the centre of the bulb at the start of the next season. Then water sparingly until in full growth. Flowers usually come before the leaves.

When re-potting do not over pot the bulb. There should be barely enough room to put two finger widths between the bulb and pot each side, or you will get lots of babies come up round the bulb and no flowers. When potting these bulbs, half the bulb should be above the compost.

I have flowered Amaryllis from seed which takes about 5 years, and that is why they are so expensive to buy in the shops. If the bulbs are in flower at Christmas it means they have been forced and may miss their natural flowering time, which is round June-July, but if you treat them as described before they should flower the next year.

Well, good luck with them. More gardening next month.