I have had the pleasure of visiting Chelsea a couple of times over the years, sometimes as a visitor, sometimes in a working capacity. Like all shows I’ll admit I have a distinct preference for the actual build process. This to me is a time of magic, from the arrival on site of so many people determined to create structures that give the appearance of having stood forever, the laughing and sharing of biscuits, tea and sometimes plants. The camaraderie that seems to be something special and unique to building show gardens. After all this is an incredibly stressful time for all involved. Months, sometimes years of planning have gone into a single weeks worth of showmanship!
One of my first times building at Chelsea also involved growing the plants for a garden, I’d had experiences at other show builds which fully prepared me for the hiccups and tripfalls to expect but as each garden is different so too are the demands on contractors. I had been asked to help with growing plants for 3 gardens. Firstly for Garden Organics stand in the Floral marquee, secondly for Harrod Horticulture. Their stand was on the outside of the marquee and thirdly for Alitex Glasshouses.
This was to be my special project when it came to the build and I’d prepared thoroughly wrapping each parsley plant individually in newspaper (which I knew I would reuse, stuffed between pots in the actual build, waste not want not!). Transporting the plants is one of the most stressful points as damage done cannot be undone. The memory of a distraught gentleman handing me a Mimosa flower at Hampton court a few years previously, lamenting that this had been its only flower and now everything was ruined always sits at the forefront of my mind.
Myself and a wonderful lady called Helen, who’s tireless cheerfulness was incredibly welcome, set about putting the plants into a half built garden. Sand, dust and noise of machines, drills and builders catcalling each other on a blinding sunshiny day. This is what Chelsea to me is about!
Sadly most of my pictures of this day are lost, it was in the days of pre-digital cameras & limited to just 24 pictures anyway! Alitex were very kind to send me some of their own promotional pics from opening day, these I will always cherish but the serenity they exude doesn’t give you the blood, sweat & tears it takes to build a garden.
My favourite memory of this day was Helen’s panicked realisation that the sweet peas, grown in tubs, would have the pots visible. I had taken this into account and smugly, quietly packed a drill and jigsaw which I then proceeded to happily wield. Cutting through the hard plastic. As you can see from the pics it worked quite well! For this preparation I can only thank a wonderful man called John, whose second name I sadly can’t remember, who had taught me all I needed to know about Show gardens whilst at Photosynthesis. He was ace!
My second favourite memory was of the drive home, at about 2 o clock in the morning. Illuminated by the headlights of a car behind I could see what appeared to be the shadow of a ginormous spider! I nervously asked Helen if she could just check how close it was to me and how big, not realising her phobia was far, FAR worse than mine. She screamed, I screamed, we both sat screaming at 60MPH on the M40!
This went on for a while.
It turned out the spider was tiny
I guess its one way of waking yourself up after a long day!
Anyway, the next time I was to visit Chelsea was as a visitor, albeit a working visitor. I’d just started a job working in a private garden and had been invited by my new employers to accompany them to Chelsea’s opening day. Honestly, I was terrified. I felt totally out of my depth which doesn’t happen to me often! I remember this as being my most stressful Chelsea as I realised my every move would be seen by my new employers and we were going to be introduced to the great and good which if done on my own terms would’ve been fine but rightly or wrongly this felt awkward.
Nevertheless, I dressed up in my best “Head Gardener” togs which involved corduroy, of course, and hopped on a train. The rest of the day became something of a blur but a stand out moment, purely for its weirdness factor, was standing on the “Best in show” garden & being introduced to Ulf Nordfjell. He likely doesn’t remember this given how momentous a day it was for him but for me it was overwhelming.
I stood there in this amazingly glossy garden, its slick, clean lines & amazing construction. Trying to drink in all the details when I realised I felt a bit like a fish in a goldfish bowl! There were hundreds of people all around the edge of the garden, all with cameras and in my own head all going “who the hell is she?”
So I did the only thing which made me feel comfortable! I hid behind my camera and took pictures of them, perfect!
In reality probably no one even blinked an eye at me & its only years later that I realise this. My life experience at that point in time made this so far out of my comfort zone it wasn’t even on my radar. Its only nearly 10 years later I can look back on this experience and realise it for what it was. I was given an amazing opportunity which was a turning point in my life. Its odd though, often when you’re in these iconic moments you don’t realise it and focus on the parts you can understand and deal with… anyway I digress!
The rest of the show was a blur, I wish I’d felt in a position to enjoy more of it in a relaxed manner but then this is Chelsea. Relaxed isn’t really how I’d describe it at any point! After being ferried around and introduced to more people than I could ever hope to remember I was allowed to wander by myself. It was at this point I really started to enjoy myself!
These are a few of my best bits of 2009!
A few years passed, life happened, circumstances changed. I didn’t go to Chelsea, I had a break but continued to watch it on TV. It seemed busier, even more frantic than I remembered?
Then in 2015 I got the opportunity to go again, so of course I did. This time I think I finally got the hang of being a visitor! We arrived as the gates were opening and proceeded to methodically quarter every spare inch of the grounds. From the show gardens to the Marquee not a single millimetre was left unchecked!
So what had changed?
It was just as crowded as I ever remembered it but this time I was able to take some lovely pictures which feel very calm…
It wasnt just the fact I had a swanky new camera, although lets face it that does help! I think something about me and how I viewed Chelsea had changed. I still had a slightly awed, inspired love of the gardens but this time I was able to take a moment to draw back and observe the palettes the designers had used. Pick out the colours that spoke to me, think of how they could be transferred into a real situation.
…and more than that, I now had the confidence I had lacked previously. I was brash & cocky, I probably still am, but now I had the confidence to gently insert myself through the crowds and find the best spot for me to view the garden. Yes, I did get tutted at but that’s ok, I smiled said excuse me but would not be deterred. I saw this as part of my job, it was research.
To that end there were some gardens I had particularly wanted to see, these weren’t the massive show gardens but instead some of the courtyard and artisan gardens. Above all else I wanted to see the Japanese Garden: Edo no Niwa by Ishihara Kazuyuki. So different from anything normally seen in Chelsea.
Apparently so did everyone else!
One look at that heaving crowd and I very nearly turned tail to run but determined I slowly pushed gently through….
I was pleased I weathered the storm of bodies, crouching down I managed a few good shots despite receiving a Kath Kidson bag to the back of the head!
Then on to the floral marquee for a smorgasbord of delights!
One of which was of course is Primulas but when presented with so many gorgeous floral displays I realise I have no clear favourites in the botanical world. Each and every plant has something to commend it and the skill of the growers to bring each of them to the pinnacle of perfection is astounding. So I’ll finish up with a few of the best!
Last year I missed Chelsea entirely! Didnt even watch it on the telly *shocked intake of breath!* I know! How could I! Call myself a gardener!
In my defence I had a very good reason!
I was halfway up a mountain in Peru!
With these amazing ladies. Between us we raised around £50,000 for Marie Curie by climbing 3 mountains in 3 days, it was an incredible experience!
This year I’ve just received word I’ll be doing my bit for charity AT Chelsea which I’m hugely excited about! I’ve chosen this year to devote my time to help raising funds for Perennial these guys are awesome, check them out!
So far I’ve sold raffle tickets for them at their ball, I’ve raised a bit of cash for them on the Apple pruning course I ran a while back and now I’ll be part of the Chelsea sell off team! This is going to be SO intense!!
The garden they’re involved in is the Mindtrap Garden designed by Ian Price it has a moving story behind it, please do click on the link to find out more.
This wonderful concept also supports Inspire who support those with mental health challenges, based in Northern Ireland they do some amazing work.
There’s going to be lots of Horti faces there too so if you’re going to buy anything on sell off day at Chelsea make sure it’s from Perennial and help a Horti out!
Michelle is a Garden & Lifestyle blogger at the Bohemian Raspberry. Focused in sharing the experiences and passion for gardening, growing your own food and cut flowers for complete beginners to experienced gardeners alike.
This bubbly Northern lass produces candid and sometimes brutally honest blogs, both written & video clips, relating to her own life and experiences, also some hilarious outtake video blogs.
If you like what you see here go give her a Follow on Twitter or on wordpress.
At this point i’ll shut up & let Michelle talk to you about one of her passions…
The wonderful world of cut flowers has increased in popularity over the last couple of years and for good reasons too. People don’t want air miles adding to their carbon footprints by having exotics flown in from overseas. Some want to help support our wildlife and ecosystems and others want to be a bit more frugal, as having fresh blooms on the table each week soon mounts up in costs.
More and more people are tempted to grow their own beautiful blooms and I understand why, flowers are a very powerful thing. They lift peoples mood, you’ve heard the chatter at the beginning of spring where the anticipation of the first flowers are emerging and the glee and excitement it brings knowing the dark colder months are now a thing of the past. We give flowers to help heal a sick friend, we give flowers to the person who’s affections we are trying to win, birthdays, weddings, celebrations, basically flowers are LOVE and who would not want them as a part of their daily lives to wake up to on a bedside table or admire over dinner, or as welcome home on a sideboard after a long day at the office!
Well I have grown cut flowers for a few years now and I am going to share with you some advice on how to get started yourself.
Designing a cutting patch doesn’t take rocket science, but it does require some common sense. The first thing I suggest to people before they run for the seed catalogues is think about the types of arrangements and flowers they love. Have a flick through Pinterest or your favourite florists gallery and see which flowers twang your heart strings. Next, you want look at what flowers they are teamed with, there is no point in growing flowers that clash with each other. For instance you wouldn’t find a tropical flower like a bird of paradise with a soft English rose, it just wouldn’t work. You also want to be thinking about the seasons too, which flowers bloom when.
Arrangements are usually made up of a showstopper, a middle note and a backdrop and in display a palette from a subdued colour mix, a balanced colour mix to chaotic and flamboyant colour mixes, the choice is entirely yours, but you do need to choose well, so it does pay to do your homework here and when you have made your selection you are good to grow!
Although it is relatively simple to grow cut flowers when it comes to designing your patch there are a couple of things you will need to think about. The first is time. How long do you have to dedicate to your patch? As blooms are pretty straightforward to grow yes, but you will need to dedicate time to dead heading, pruning, watering, feeding and mulching your blooms, especially in the height of the summer months. Once you have established how long daily or weekly you have to dedicate to your cutting patch you can then plan how much space you can give over to growing them. Will you have a patch in the garden, a small patch on the allotment or even a full allotment of cut flowers however the choice is entirely yours and shouldn’t be overwhelming.
Once you have decided the size and time you can devote to your new cutting patch there are a few other considerations to make too. One is site location. Most blooms tend to like the sun, and if you are growing for good stem lengths you will also want t take into consideration wind, is there any protection from strong winds, as the last thing you want is to nurture a plant from a sprout for it to never make the vase due to wind damage. Another consideration is soil. Like most growing, if you want good strong healthy plants then soil is key, most blooms prefer rich free draining soil. So if you feed your patch with a good layer of manure and compost, your blooms will reward you later and if you have heavy clay soil add in some grit for drainage.
You are then ready to plant up, the most cost effective method of growing cut flowers is from seed, if you were to by plugs from a nursery, which there’s no stopping you if you don’t want to faff about with seedlings but it most definitely adds expense to the project. It does bode well to pay attention to the type of plant you are sowing and the care it needs it’s no good sowing tender annuals in March, planting out a couple of weeks later for a late frost to zap them. It’s also wise to make successional sowings so you have a steady supply of short lived plants through out the season by making new sowing every 2 -3 weeks.
Once your plants are growing away you want to feed them, first with a nettle tea solution this will help promote good bushy and sturdy growth and help fight off the slug and other potential pest damage that may threaten them. Then from midsummer once the buds appear you want to be feeding your plans with comfrey tea to encourage strong and abundant bloom harvests.
With regular harvesting your blooms will prolifically perform for you spitting out new shoots for fun, all you need to do is water well twice a week, now I’m talking a good drink not a sprinkle, pick or deadhead and that’s just about it.
Here are some marvellous bloom suggestions that make excellent cut flowers to get you started.
Last time we looked at the guys that made our lives easier in the garden, this time its the guys that make our lives difficult. Whether you’re a veg grower or you love your ornamentals we all have that moment when we just can’t work out what the hell is going wrong, often until it’s too late!
I’m only going to go over a few of the most common pests here, mainly those that affect our vegetable crops but some will go for ornamentals too! If i tried to tackle them all id end up rewriting the Collins book on P&D!
Ok this one is being awkward and nestling on some french beans but we all recognise this fluttery pest and we can guess that its prefered victim is members of the Brassica family. Despite its name its babies will happily chow down on broccoli, kale, Cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and Cabbages (and likely more I’ve forgotten).
The trouble with this pest is its one that tugs on our heart strings, it’s a butterfly! Were told to encourage them into the garden, right? Tell me that once you’ve lost an entire crop to them or spent a day squishing the baby caterpillars off your kale! One of the vilest jobs you can ever undertake! Honestly, vile!
So how can we prevent this experience?
Prevention and action really is the key to dealing with this blighter. First protect your crops. creating cages to grow your brassicas under is the ONLY way to go. You need a very fine mesh that allows light and air through but not the butterfly itself. Theres a product on the market called Enviromesh (other suppliers probably do exist) which we used to use at Sissinghurst. I have tried a wider (1cm) netting before but ive seen them push themselves through the gap!
The supports were homemade from canes pushed into the ground then the blue pipe (used to lay water to various taps around the field and water troughs) fitted over them. It worked really well! The mesh needs to be firmly in contact with the ground as the butterflies will find the smallest gap. We had tried various other methods whilst I was there but this was by far the most secure structure.
I revisited recently and a lot of money has been invested in some beautiful cages, which if you have the cash are a gorgeous addition to your plot.
Lets say though your defences havent worked! you can see a butterfly has breached them, the horror!!
First obviously you have to evict them then, and this is the annoying bit, you have to check for eggs…
Above is what we’re looking for, on the underside of leaves, clusters of little yellow cones.
rub them off!
Yes its gross, its icky, im not gonna lie to you but its better you rub them off at this stage than at the next, you have 6 – 10 days max to spot them! The next stage is Caterpillars and by the time you spot them the damage is already done. Squishing Caterpillars is ten times more icky than squishing eggs!
The caterpillars appearance will depend on what type of adult you have, we mainly had the Large Cabbage White (Pieris brassicae) on site but there is also Small cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae).
A cute looking bug really, until you realise the untold damage it can do! Then you’ll want to stamp it out of existence with a hatred bordering on the psychopathic!
You think im joking?
Picture the scene *cue wiggly lines for a flashback* you planted your Asparagus plants out lovingly in ridged rows 2 years ago, patiently waited until that 3rd year before cutting a single spear. The first year they grew strongly, their delicate fronds swaying hypnotically in the breeze. You patiently mulched them that and subsequent winters, resisting the temptation that second spring even though the young spears tempted you sorely with their mouthwatering promise! You did notice a few fronds had died back early but discounted it as maybe wind rock damage until….
This spring as you were bending down to harvest you notice a beetle, an ornately coloured beetle with lovely little domino style spots on its back, lurking near the base of the spears. No matter! You have Asparagus for tea! You cut your spears and head off on your merry way never realising that pretty beetle has already laid its eggs of disaster!
This is the disaster that will befall your poor innocent Asparagus!!
Ok, I may be being slightly overdramatic… a bit… but these guys are so gross its untrue and can strip your asparagus fronds in days and they’re so small you can hardly see them! These are the larvae of the Asparagus beetle, vile creatures!
So what can you do to defend against them?
Know your enemy! First you need to know their habits, their modus operandi!
The adults overwinter in debris and maybe its an unfashionable view at present but im a clean freak when it comes to the veg garden, every dead leaf is a hidey place for these horrors, every unweeded bed a hotel of doom!
They emerge in the spring and head straight for your innocent unprotected virginal spears to munch & gorge themselves on the very flesh of the tenderest tips. Whilst there they viciously deposit eggs with abandon. A single green egg hides amongst the newly emerging fronds practically impossible to see, within a week the vile buggers have hatched and are munching their way to the top heading for the berries but causing untold damage along the way. In just 2 short weeks the damage is done and the larvae drop to the ground to borrow into the soil where they pupate, emerging just 10 days later as adults to continue feeding!
I’m not sure what I hate about them the most, the damage they do to your beautiful Asparagus, weakening it and sometimes killing off or the mess they leave behind whilst feeding! Theres a special term for bug poop, which I don’t think quite captures the revulsion I feel upon encountering it, the term if ‘Frass’.
If you grow Asparagus here’s what the adults look like…
As stated in the first post on bugs, Bugging out! The good guys… the best controls are from your natural predators, ladybirds, lacewings and birds in this case will all feast on Asparagus beetles & their larvae, so put down that spray bottle!
Your next line of defense comes from cultural controls, good plant husbandry. At the end of the season clear that years debris thoroughly leaving no hiding places for overwintering adults. Avoid composting old fronds, instead remove off site or if possible burn, the ash from your burnings can be spread thinly on the soil to add potassium. This will encourage good root growth and fruit set next season or incorporate that into your compost heap.
Whilst harvesting check thoroughly the newly emerging fronds for adults or eggs and squish mercilessly!
To our next predator of plants…
There are a number of these guys that answer to the name of Sawfly, some predate fruit, some veg, others will have a go at your ornamentals. In all case a damned good squishing is called for.
Below is the Gooseberry Sawfly, sitting on my secateurs for scale.
He’s not a massive chap is he, you could pretty much blink and miss him…. until you turn round one day to find not a single leaf left on your gooseberries (or red & white currants which they are quite happy to decimate as an alternative).
Take note of the legs on the sawfly larvae above, caterpillars don’t have legs as such they have something called prolegs which are stumpy little sucker like things but Sawfly larvae tend to have well developed legs. This is a good way of identifying them separate from butterflies & moths.
Another interesting fact about Sawflies is the populations are predominantly female, males are not even needed for procreation!
The Gooseberry Sawfly is who we will concentrate on here though.
It can produce up to 3 generations per year so breaking its cycle is of paramount importance otherwise your bushes will never recover. The larvae will begin to appear in April, feed, pupate, emerge, lay eggs & can carry on till September where the last batch will drop to the ground below, burrow in and pupate till next spring.
I’m rarely if ever going to recommend a chemical control when there are so many easy and better methods to control pests such as this. You have your natural predators, the handy little guys that have got your back but with vast numbers we need to give them a helping hand. It’s just not viable in some cases to squish each single larvae by hand though is it. Youd be there hours!
I have a cunning plan…
Grab yourself an old dustsheet/bedsheet/ newspapers etc. anything you can spread around the base of the plant, completely covering the ground underneath your bush. Get yourself a soft brush (like the type that comes with a dustpan) and starting from the top of the bush working your way down carefully through the levels brush both the top and the bottom of the leaves carefully with enough force to dislodge the nasty little crawleys onto your dustsheet below.
Now comes the slightly gross bit, quickly as they can move with surprising speed, fold the dustsheet in on itself, collecting them in the middle with no means of escape. You have 2 choices at this point you can take them far, FAR away from any form of sustenance & shake the sheet out in the hope that birds will swoop down & devour them. This does of course run the risk that they may find their way home or onto a neighbours bushes which wont go down at all well
And this is my preferred method. Take the sheet to some hardstanding…. AND STAMP ON IT!!
I realise this is a bit of a stomach churner for some of you but once you’ve witnessed the damage they can do in such a short time you may feel differently. I’m a great believer in the size 9 as a form of pest control.
How else can you break the cycle?
This ones easy. Around the base of your plants you need to create a barrier so the larvae are unable to burrow into the soil to pupate. You have several options open to you to do this. A permanent solution is to put down a weed suppressant membrane.
This has certain advantages regarding the fact it stops the larvae and stops weeds but I have a slightly different solution which is cheap easy and allows for a feed of compost/manure to be applied during the winter months. Brown cardboard and straw. The cardboard creates a barrier the larvae are unable to penetrate, the straw acts as a moisture retentive mulch & looks prettier than the cardboard. At the end of the season this can be lifted and added to your compost heap, allowing birds to come and pick the ground clean and you to add well rotted manure to the base of the plants during the winter months.
Its worth, at this point mentioning Rose sawfly as it was very active last year. The rules are very similar to those of the Gooseberry sawfly, here’s what you’re looking for…
This is likely to be Arge ochropus, the rose sawfly but there is another rose sawfly which honestly I couldn’t spot the difference without a book and a magnifying glass called Arge pagana. The adult rolls young leaves into a cocoon and lays her eggs.
Which then munch their way out defoliating your rose as they go. Vigilance is a must for dealing with these guys!
Next up on our most (or least) wanted list is….
This is one I often see misidentified on internet forums, given its size it’s actually one of the easiest! ITS HUGE!!
What does this monster grow into though? This is where i become slightly reluctant to squish as in reality you’ll be very lucky to see its adult form and numbers have declined sharply in recent years. This monster larvae grows up to be the famous Cock Chafer!!
Ok, youve stopped sniggering now, right?
But look at him he’s so cute!! He’s a furry beetle!! How can I tell you he’s a harmful beastie in his larval form!
Ahem, I remind you! MONSTER!!
As a larvae Mr Cock Chafer will munch his way through the roots of your plants and as they spend 3 -4 years of their lifecycle in this form they can do untold damage to a confined area. Before pesticide usage nearly exterminated them completely they were something of a problem. In 1911 swarms of Chafer beetles numbering in their 1000’s were reported! We are unlikely to ever experience this in our lifetime, I have only seen 3 in my entire life, one of which flew past my ear into my kitchen one warm May night with the downdraft and sound of a landing Chinook. Scaring the life out of me & both my cats, who ran for cover leaving me to evict this flying behemoth by myself…. useless cats!
This brings me neatly to the fact I can easily remember easily it was the month of May, how? The adults alternative name is May bug as they emerge from the soil in the month of May and start their short lived quest to find a mate. They live in this form for only 5-7 weeks during which time they mate and the female will lay 3-4 clutches of eggs.
Another weird fact about these critters is they were once such a problem they were put on trial! Yep, on trial…
In 1320, Avignon France they were charged by the courts to cease and desist their activity in nearby fields which was damaging crops and instead remove themselves to a designated field where they would be allowed to live unmolested. The cock Chafers of course have no respect for the law and continued doing what Cock chafers do…. The court enforced its orders by sending people out to collect and kill them.
So what to do, how to deal with this if you come across one?
For once im NOT going to tell you to squish it, pick him up and find a hedgerow, a bit of unloved turf in your local area, somewhere he can feed and complete his lifecycle unharmed and very gently rebury him (don’t pat the soil down after, you’ll end up squishing his soft little body!). He’s struggled enough against pesticides he deserves a break and I’d love for kids of the future generations to get excited at seeing MAHOOSIVE beetles buzzing round their gardens!
This brings me neatly to the pest which the Cock Chafer is usually mixed up with (for the life of me I don’t understand how this works, as you shall see!)
As a kid I would see the adults of these crawling up walls, on plants etc. Not knowing what they were (except that I didn’t like the look of them) I named them Wood bugs as they looked like they were carved from wood & had a great resistance to squishing. Unlike beetles, weevils have a pointy snout and now as an adult im always reminded of my Grandad and him playing me the song ‘Boll weevil’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pe-A-I9sjLU) I’ve got a feeling that there’s a subtext to this song when I listen to it as an adult *cringes given the current political climate* but as a kid it was just a funny song …. anyway! back on track!
Vine weevils do not get the same stay of execution chafer grubs do. For me its all out war on both the adults and the grubs. The attack the choicest, rarest plants in your collection. Zero’ing in on your most beloved of babies, fact!
Ok maybe I exaggerate but it does feel that way. The books will tell you they only attack certain plants but in my experience they will have a good go at anything especially if it’s in a pot. All Vine weevils are female, another example in the bug world where males are redundant, sorry guys! They emerge as adults able to reproduce without the need to waste precious time finding a mate. They cannot however swim or fly! So I guess there are a few checks on their quest for world domination. Smooth glazed pots foil their attempts to climb and plants sat in saucers of water also foil these voracious plant predators.
But below as a comparison for size and also a freaky anomaly of the Vine weevil I caught in its transitional stage from grub to adult with my secateurs for scale.
Compared to the chafer grub it is miniscule! Also I’m pretty sure that this is what the monster from Alien was based on as close up… well judge for yourself…
So if you too are going to call all out war on these guys how can you deal with them?
The unseen enemy! Difficult to combat but not impossible, there are biological controls available. Whats a biological control? isn’t that a detergent? No, even better, this is a bug that will kill your bug for you (no squishing involved!). In this case its something called Steinernema kraussei, snappy name! This difficult to pronounce, harder to remember name refers to the tiny parasitic eel worms which are more widely known as nematodes. They burrow into the grubs and eat them from the inside out! AWESOME!! Even more gruesome a death than being squished.
This biological control is widely available mail order but must be used immediately as obviously your package contains live insects and they need feeding. Its simple to apply just mix the gloopy stuff up with water at the rates directed on the packet and hey presto water it onto your pots, instant controls in place for months.
The adults though can continue feeding and breeding so if you stop ragged notches taken out of your plants leaves have a good search, look on the leaves, the stems and the soil and when you find them give them the order of the size 9!
My last pest (for now) is one which you may not immediately recognise by the damage it does…
Yep that’s right, heres me saying encourage birds into your garden and now im telling you one of them is a pest!
This mainly applies to veg growers but they will in hard times have a peck at new buds on fruit trees, young seedlings etc…. Still they are better than having bleedin peacocks in the garden! Seriously don’t get me started on the damage those arrogant overblown chickens can do! If you’ve ever had the misfortune of working in a garden that’s had bleedin (this is now a permanent prefix) Peacocks you’ll know what I mean… anyway back to the flying rats… sorry pigeons…
You may initially blame the damage on slugs and snails, this blame and doubt will likely only last a week before your crop is gone, completely. As once they realise that you have something they like and it’s not protected they will hammer it! So how can you tell the difference?
Above are 2 great examples of pigeon damage on brassicas, their preferred crop, notice they tend to peck at the soft bits in between the ribs of the leaf, often leaving the midrib entirely alone. Another clue would be seeing shreds of leaf on the floor around the plant, as they rip sections out with their beaks they will often drop bits, messy eaters!
In the winter especially I would take a walk onto the vegetable garden at Sissinghurst as the sun was rising, this is the time the sneaky buggers would be most active and just the deterrent of a person walking round would be enough to put them (and the errant pheasants) off but this isn’t practicle for most people.
Firstly you need a method of prevention, much like the Cabbage Whites at the start of this piece, netting is your friend! Build cages and net them, pin the nets firmly into the ground. Especially if you can’t check your plot everyday as loose netting can cause deaths. It can catch up songbirds, hedgehogs, rabbits or pigeons and if caught up for days it means certain slow & horrible death.
If pinned firmly though it’s the best investment you’ll ever make!
Another cheap and cheerful method is to get hold of some old CDs, string them up above your crops, the shiny surfaces reflect shards of light convincing the birds a predator is creeping up on them!
Ultimately though vigilance and knowing your enemy in all of these things is your best defence.
Good luck in the coming growing year and remember if you’re not sure… well… you can always ask me 😉
Sometimes it can be hard to tell friend from foe in the garden, there’s your obvious nasties like slugs and snails but….
“Whats that pretty red beetle on my Lilly’s? or that lovely shiny green one on the rosemary? they’ve got to be good ones, they’re so pretty! right?”
Dont be fooled, they’re not!
“Ok, so how about that ugly spiky black and orange one, he scuttles round so fast he makes me feel creepy just looking at him!”
No! Stop! Dont squish him! That’s a baby Ladybird!!
Ok, lets start at the beginning, which bugs are your friends?
The good guys…
We all recognise the humble Ladybird, most of us grew up with the rhyme..
Fly away home,
Your house is on fire
And your children all gone;
All except one
And that’s little Ann,
And she has crept under
The warming pan.
Which is actually quite macabre when you think about it! The rhyme dates back to the 1700’s and probably has some subtle subtext like “Ring’a’ring of roses” which refers to the black death but anyway back to the Ladybird!
The ladybird isnt hatched full formed though and has 3 distinct parts to its life cycle. their year starts around March time when the overwintering adults start to leave their hiding places. They feast upon the early aphid populations, building up their strength and giving us gardeners a much needed helping hand. They start mating around May *starts playing Je t’aime*
Is this too intrusive?
Moving swiftly on! Around the start of June the females start laying their eggs, weirdly this is not something I’ve ever observed. they will pick a plant that has a good host of food for their babies to tuck into as soon as they’re born and oh boy do they eat! The babies are voracious predators but look totally alien, as the photo shows.
They will stay in this form gradually growing larger until July. Thats when they pupate, much in the same way as Caterpillars. So if you see an orange and black blob stuck to a leaf please don’t think its a nasty and hurt it!
This is where they turn into the ladybirds we recognise, they will start to emerge around August and carry on munching those nasty aphids for you. They carry on doing so right up until the temperature drops sometimes as late as October when they hide again ready to start all over next year with a new generation.
If you allow a colony of aphids to live on sacrificial plants in your garden you can ensure a healthy population of these wonderful predators to build up. You will never be entirely aphid free even with chemicals but if you put the spray bottle down for a season and give them a chance these guys will do the work for you. I personally move them round, if I find one plant is starting to get mullered by aphids I’ll stick a few ladybirds on it, it helps. After all, ants move aphids around… but i’ll get to that in a bit!
Good sacrificial plants ive come across are Nasturtiums and Feverfew, both pretty enough to give garden space to and attractive to the pests.
Not all ladybirds are black and red, we have some amazing ones in the UK and here’s a great ident guide of both adults & larvae
Its worth mentioning Harlequins at this point, please don’t worry about killing them, its way too late. They arrived on our shores in 2004 and have been trooping steadily across the country since. Yes they are an invader & yes they will predate our natives but in some parts of the UK they are now the dominant species. If you kill every one you see you will have no predators left. Nature will always find a balance if we don’t interfere.
So onto our next friendly predator.
These beautiful flighty, little chaps are an extra special favourite of mine. If you get them drunk on nectar and hold your finger up alongside the flower they will sometimes drowsily come and have a bit rest on the tip, so cute! I found trailing petunias from a hanging basket are particularly good for this sport of hoverfly charming.
But if they drink nectar how can they be predators I hear you cry!
Like the ladybird the hoverfly has several stages to its life and it’s when it’s in its larval stage it turns into an aphid killing monster and its an UGLY monster! I can’t stress this enough it looks vile, here see for yourself…
It would be easy to mistake this slimy looking thing for a baddy, right!
This is one of the reasons it’s so important to be able to identify your garden inhabitants & their lifecycles. In the UK we have 270 known species of hoverfly and they are valuable not only as predators in their larval stages but also as pollinators. About 110 of the known species produce larvae that feed on aphids but not all do. So little is known about hoverflys though including the impact they make on plant pollination.
I am a toad and I live in a hole!
And they do! This chap nearly got himself buried whilst I dug over a border in the middle of summer. If any of you garden on clay you’ll know that during dry spells it can develop some impressive cracks. They can become valuable homes for these friendly predators. Toads spend a lot of their adult lives away from water and will clear your garden of all those nasty slugs and anything else that’s foolish enough to crawl into its range. They can move surprisingly quickly if needs be but always keep an eye out for a hiding Toad when digging or clearing leaves. They prefer damp conditions and will take up residence in piles of detritus under hedges and in corners you don’t normally touch.
I’ve had “pet” toads that took up residence in polytunnels and glasshouses too, always a welcome houseguest!
Another amphibian worth mentioning which is a good indication of your gardens health are Newts, not so much of a predator of pests more of a sign of a healthy ecosystem… and supercute!
For those of you with phobias BRACE!!
(but please keep reading as I saved a cutey for our last garden friend I promise!)
Now I’m not the biggest lover of these 8 legged freaks but we’ve come to an understanding, stay out of my face & I won’t kill you!
I swear they know, I rarely get attacked by one now they know I can fight back!
These chaps in their myriad guises are a gardeners best friend, not all of them spin webs some hunt on the foot…feet…legs… oh god stop!
What you may not have noticed though are their nurseries. A ball of baby arachnids!
Dont do what i did the first time I spotted one, I poked it to investigate what it was and it EXPLODED!! Baby spiders EVERYWHERE!!! (and me running down the garden screaming like a Banshee, true story). Leave them alone and let them do their thing, ugly as sin but twice as effective against Aphids!
Come September though you will see me walking round the garden like some kind of ‘en guarde’ ninja, hand held vertically a foot in front of my face to break any errant webs before they touch me…. better that than the flailing windmill I resemble if they do!
One last creepy crawley which may make you shudder a bit….then a cutey!
Snakes & Slowworms
I personally love and adore these guys but I understand not all of you do
Snakes in the UK eat mainly small mammals and amphibians, so they are good at keeping the population of mice in check, if you’ve ever lost a crop of broad beans or peas to them you’ll appreciate that. I had a resident grasssnake in the polytunnel one summer, I’m pretty sure she laid her eggs in our compost heap, sadly I disturbed them when turning the heap. I did try to rebury but im not sure I did it right?
If you do come across these whilst turning the heap try to replace them as they need a small amount of warmth to hatch.
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, in the height of summer you will see a grass snake taking a swim (so cute… if you like that sort of thing)
Slow worms are even better!
These dudes are SO COOL!!
They really do chow down on the slower moving pests in the garden such as slugs and snails. They can grow up to 50cm so the chap in my pic is just a baby. If you find one don’t move it just leave it alone.
Technically not a snake, a legless lizard if that makes you feel any better?
The only snake you need be wary of in the UK is an Adder and in all my years of searching I’ve only seen one which disappeared before I could get close. It really is a case of they’re more scared of you than you are of them…. honest!
and so to my last goody!
These once prolific visitors to our gardens in the UK are having a hard time.
Good solid fences are not their friends, they need an entrance into your garden, a gateway or even a small hole at the bottom of a fence can make a real difference. Somewhere to hibernate is also essential (maybe behind the shed?) so think about installing a Hedgehog hidey hole? One of the worst thing in recent years though are slug pellets, a slow, horrible death for these cute little chaps ensues after eating poisoned slugs. If you must have a fight with slugs and snails try to do it in such a way that it doesn’t harm your other garden wildlife. The decline of birds and Hedgehogs can be linked directly to the rise of chemical use in our gardens. These guys eat your pests so if you eliminate them completely they have no food. To garden in a wildlife friendly way you need to find a balance, to have predators there has to be some pests. If you find your pest levels are getting out of hand its a warning that maybe you’re overfeeding your plants (soft sappy growth is more likely to fall victim) and you’ve killed off your predators by spraying insect killer, taken away overwintering areas or poisoned them off.
Hedgehogs can be seen as an indicator species, if you have a happy healthy population keep doing what you’re doing, otherwise reassess how you garden.
If you’d like to help Hedgehogs in your area these guys can give you great advice…
I’m going to attempt to make this a quick short blog post.
I saw on a forum a chap was concerned about his apple tree & confusion as to what was going on with it had caused people to jump to the conclusion it was Canker. Understandably he was concerned but he really didn’t need to be, the tree was perfectly healthy it was just displaying signs of epicormic growth.
What is Epicormic growth?
Epicormic growth is when dormant buds underneath the bark of the tree are stimulated, often through stress, into growth. Often creating a knobbly raised area which i guess to the untrained eye can look a bit sinister. These happen a lot on fruit trees due to the nature of pruning them they are often stimulated to produce new growth. We prune fruit trees to an open shape for ease of picking and to help fruit ripen but left to their own devices they, like all trees want to reach to the sky. When we remove the topmost growth they produce water shoots, strong upright growth from areas that over time will grow to look like this…
As you can see the water shoots have been cut flush over a number of years creating a gnarled knobbly appearance with sunken areas on what is effectively scar tissue, this is fine, the cuts are clean.
As you can see above an old tree over time will develop huge knobbles and still be perfectly healthy. Even a tree with Canker will continue to survive for a very long time so long as it is managed well.
So what is Canker?
Infections on Apple and Pear trees is fungal Canker (bacterial affects stone fruit) Neonectria ditissima is the culprit and causes brown peeling sunken patches on stems, limbs and in worst cases the trunk of the tree. Most times if caught early it can be pruned out easily and new shoots trained in, winter pruning is a good time to do this as winter pruning encourages new growth.
But what does it look like?
Depending on the stage it has reached it can have a variety of similar appearances illustrated below….
The 2 examples above are the early stages of Canker as it progresses it will begin to look like this…
Even at this stage the tree has healthy fruit producing shoots at the end of the limb but the limb will have to go.
Some methods to avoid introducing Canker are
Always clean your tools between pruning different trees, white spirits and a toothbrush are perfect for this.
Practice good hygiene around your trees, don’t leave prunings, fallen apples or leaves lying around, all a source for reinfection. Dont compost, either burn or send offsite.
Make your cuts clean when pruning, sharp tools are a must!
Remember all wounds are a source of infection so when picking fruit don’t pull off the tree, lift and roll. If it doesn’t come it’s not ready. Leaf fall, harvest and pruning are the time your trees are most at risk of infection.
To any of you who havent stumbled on me before let me take a moment to say Hi & welcome!
I asked Twitter what they would like me to blog about & gave 3 options, this was the one that quite frankly came out streets ahead, which of course is the one I was most dreading writing.
This may sound odd coming from me but the concept of a garden totally skewed towards the winter months was something that until recently hadn’t really come up in my radar. Why? I’m not quite sure?
In most of our gardens it would be nigh on impossible to dedicate an entire garden or even section of garden to just plants that look or smell good in the winter. Most urban gardens just don’t have the scale needed for this but what we can do if we want to incorporate this into our lives is perhaps take one or two of the choicest plants and use those.
A common misconception with gardens in winter is everything stops, nothing grows, nothing changes and nothing flowers. This simply isn’t true. Winter can be an amazing time to be out in the garden and if planned correctly can be full of scent, colour and flowers from December through to the end of February when Spring creeps up on quiet feet.
Part 1 (which can be viewed here The winter garden – part 1 )looked at the trees and shrubs which make the cold dark days a little brighter. In part 2 we will look at the smaller denizens and its structure.
Eranthis hyemalis – Winter Aconite
I’ll be the first to admit that im not totally in love with acid yellow flowers but for the bravest intrepid bees that venture out on the odd bright warmish day we get in the winter these are absolute stars! Bees are attracted to yellow flowers over any other colour, weirdly they apparently see it as blue (im not sure who worked this out or how?) which means also that blue flowers work well for them too… but im digressing again!
Eranthis is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculacea) and like a lot of plants can be poisonous. Dont panic, it’s not going to jump out of the flower bed and force itself down your throat… at least I don’t think so? It, like all plants, needs to be treated with respect. I know a lot of people get extraordinarily worried about poisonous plants being grown in their gardens but a good rule of thumb is just dont eat them! Teach your pets and children not to eat stuff and everyone is happy. I grew up in a garden filled with toxic plants as did our pets, none of us died. My mum taught us from before I can remember to treat plants with respect. Too often I see children in public gardens running over carefully weeded & dug borders, snapping plants & generally running riot. Is this a new thing? I know that we as children would have been given a sharp clart for wrecking someones hard work in this way never mind the potential danger of running into a plant with virtual teeth… ooh, I think im having a soap box moment… apologies, I’ll get back to the Aconite!
Eranthis is a european native and has been known and used for centuries. Gerards Herbal, one of my favourite “mad” books includes it under the title of ‘English wolfsbane’ and gives it the title of Aconitum hyemale due to its leaf shape and seed head which are not dissimilar to those of the Aconite family. It grows from tubers in deciduous woodland so is tolerant of a little shade.
Erica – Winter Heather
As the name suggests the Erica family has slightly special needs in the form of ericaceous (acidic) soil but if you’re a gardener who lives on chalk, fear not you can easily grow them in pots of ericaceous compost but the Erica family is more tolerant than the Calluna family of Heathers of less acidic conditions.
Unbelievably, considering I worked in a garden which had an entire area devoted to Heathers called ‘The Policy’ ( I never did find out the reason it was called this, supposedly it was because that’s the Scottish name for a heather garden? I’ve always understood thats the highlands? 😉 ) I haven’t ever really got excited about them and consequently haven’t taken many pictures of them.
That said when you get a good display together it can be very impressive, even the odd Erica dotted around can be exceptional in its small way. So a few Heather facts!
Calluna is a distinctively different species from Erica as it flowers in autumn as opposed to Erica which flowers in spring but there are many that will flower a bit earlier and make a wonderful addition to your winter garden. In particular look out for cultivars of Erica carnea, Erica x darleyensis and Erica erigena.
One of the most important things for keeping your heathers looking good is consistent pruning. This should be done directly after flowering, if you have a small patch I would use secateurs (but be very careful not to catch your other hand with them, it’s easily done!) for a larger patch shears or even a hedge cutter. Cut right back to the point where you can still see growing leaves but a warning, don’t cut into old wood. like many small shrubs they won’t regenerate! Its well worth doing though as it keeps your heathers youthful and giving a good, compact flower display.
Now THIS is where i get a bit* excited!
I’m not even sure I can put my finger on the moment this happened exactly, maybe it was the moment i was given some double snowdrops from ryton, maybe even before then? I can tell you when my appreciation became full-blown though, working with Quentin Stark at Hole Park, his love of them is infectious. A true Galanthophile!
I don’t even count myself as a Galanthophile more an avid lover of these beautiful, delicate, transient, denizens of our gardens that hail the coming of spring. I’m unable to tell one from the other… unless its ‘Mr grumpy’… or ‘flora pleno’…. but then they’re easy!
There are also some amazingly beautiful ones with a yellow ovary instead of the usual green or glaucous tint. 2 of the most easy of these to get hold of & the most reliable are G. plicatus ‘Wendy’s Gold’ and G. nivalis ‘Sandersii’ syn.’Lutescens’. The gold snowdrops can be a little unstable and subject to reversion but that makes them all the more desirable to collectors. Their rarity pushes the price they can command and if you can breed a stable form you could almost retire on it. There is one I would love to see in the flesh and that’s a double yellow called Galanthus nivalis ‘Lady Elphinstone’ Cadwalader, amazing! For all I’ve just raved about these yellow snowdrops I’ve never actually seen any! I’m hoping this will change this year though as Im going to Chelsea physic gardens snowdrop fair.
A quick latin bit! Galanthus literally means Milk Flower, love it, Gala = Milk & Anthos, the second part slightly mangled to fit = Flower. When followed by nivalis = ‘of the snow’
I wish I could remember everything Quentin tried to teach me so I could relay it to you with confidence but I do remember clearly the passion he spoke about them with, which somehow communicated itself to me to the extent that you will see me crawling round on the ground, camera in hand squinting to try to spot the miniscule differences between one little white flower and another almost exactly identical little white flower.
And there ARE differences! The picture above shows that clearly and compare to the one below…
Snowdrops aren’t native to Britain though as much as we think of them as a naturalised wildflower. Some think that the Romans introduced them, others will tell you they weren’t introduced from Europe till the 16th or possibly 15th Century, depending on who’s telling you.
Sometimes called the giant snowdrop (or spring snowflake) as it stands at about 30cm and being related, Leucojum flowers slightly later which gives you a marvellous continuity when planning your garden. They will tolerate shade quite happily & waterlogged soils a rare and valuable trait for difficult areas.
They will flower right through from February till April giving bees a good source of nectar. Various members of the Leucojum genus have recently been moved to the Acis genus but Leucojum vernum & it’s later flowering cousin L. aestivum (summer snowflake) have remained for which I’m very glad as I adore saying the name, try it! It’s a wonderful word!
It’s a much underused plant, I’ve rarely seen them grown but once established is pretty much bomb-proof!
This is a massive subject! I’m going to try to stay tightly focussed & not ramble too much… but this is me and … well, forgive me if I do because they are SO beautiful!
The genus consists of around 20 species of both herbaceous and evergreen plants so there literally is a Hellebore for every situation.
22 species are recognised and divided into 6 sections.
These four species have leaves on their flowering stems (in H. vesicarius the stems die back each year; it also has basal leaves).
Other species names (now considered invalid) may be encountered in older literature, including H. hyemalis, H. polychromus, H. ranunculinus, H. trifolius.
As you can see it’s a big subject! So for the sake of this blog we’ll stick with the orientalis and their hybrids. I remember clearly my very first Hellebores. I bought them as little tiny plugs. I didn’t realise I wasnt supposed to just stick them straight in the ground. I had decided to revamp a border that had been full of an awful euphorbia. I dug it out, plonked some ferns in the deep shade then my hellebores, poor tiny things they were, guessing how much space they would eventually need. In my inexperience at the time I thought it would be a marvellous idea to move a large peony that had sat in the back garden to the front where it would be in partial shade. I didn’t know it wasnt supposed to like being moved. I popped it in and hoped for the best as to be fair it had done nothing in the back garden. Looking back I have no idea how I achieved it but not only did they all survive but in fact thrived! So much so I converted my Dad to loving hellebores too (that was next years birthday present sorted!) The peony incidentally flowered its head off producing huge highly scented blooms of the very palest pink, I’ve never been able to replace it, every year the local kids would come and ask me for one or two of them to give to their girlfriends or mums etc. I loved getting them involved, they were good, if a little misdirected kids…. but that’s for another story!
There have been some amazing advances in the breeding of hellebores giving us a colour pallete that spans from an almost black right through to pure white with reds, pinks and even yellows in between. Not just the colour range but also the flower shapes, singles, doubles even anemone flowered, it’s incredible!
Whilst at Hole Park we entered a few of the classes in the local flower show, this is a great way to see some of the best on offer, especially if your flower club has enthusiastic members.
As you can see we only came 3rd but the level of competition was high.
I also visited Great Dixters plant fair that same weekend where they had a selection of amazing doubles, one of which now resides outside my old cottage…
THIS is the hellebore that if I could only pick one is the one though, it’s gorgeous picotee edge, delicate colouring and the shape, wonderful…
Hellebores are subject to a few odd myths, apparently they are used in the summoning of devils, who knew, they have also been used to “cure madness” but honestly I don’t think I’d try either!
Theres a couple of important things to remember with this type of hellebore, come December cut all the leaves off, completely. Be very careful not to damage the flowering spike which will just be starting to emerge. The reason we do this is threefold.
To prevent infection from fungal diseases such as Hellebore leafspot, this not only looks awful turning the old leaves black in splotches but can also given the chance mar the flowering spike. By removing old leaves you are removing the chance of fungal spores spreading but remember dont compost them otherwise they will just return!
Removing the leaves prevents a wee timorous beastie from hiding under them and making a feast of your flowers! For mice, hellebore flowers are a valuable source of food. Removing the leaves makes it more difficult for them to use them as camouflage from predators.
Removing the leaves allows us to appreciate the beauty of these winter treats with an unencumbered view and does the plant no harm, so make this one of your December “To-Do’s”
Finally we reach the wonderful, delicious Iris. Unlike the summers blousy displays of bearded Iris the delicate Iris reticulata, the dwarf Iris, gives a show which bewitches and enchants all in its own right. Originating in Russia it’s well able to thrive in cold conditions but appreciates having dry feet through the summer. Once established you will find that flowering will improve with a hot dry summer, which mimics it’s natural environment. Planted in a south-facing border will also increase the flower power.
I would recommend planting en masse if at all possible, 1 or 2 in a pot look fine but in a border they can very quickly get lost and lose their impact
If I had to pick just 1 climber to include in the winter garden forget Jasminum nudiflorum – Winter Jasmine, its acid yellow flowers are too much for me and lets face it you see it everywhere but consider this gorgeous alternative. A gentle lemony scent accompanies these understated freckled bells. As if these weren’t enough to recommend this wonderful plant the flowers are followed by lovely fluffy seed heads which are a great attractant for finches to feed on or birds to use as nest material, amazing!
Grow it against a south-facing wall where the winter sun can encourage it’s scent and enjoy this low maintenance climber throughout the year.
Other things to consider in the winter garden
It’s not just flowers that make a garden interesting in winter though, the gardens bare bones are exposed so when planning consider how it will look when stripped down.
Hedging and topiary are of incredible importance in this situation, they will provide focal points and backdrops that create interest and lead the eye, structures like rose arches and in fact the roses themselves can be used to bring interest if pruned and trained in a creative way. Waterperry’s near Oxford is a great example of how this is done, Sissinghurst adopted these techniques as previous Head Gardeners were trained there. I myself used these techniques at Hole Park.
Consider also how some plants can be used, phlomis and globe artichokes in particular look amazing in the snow.
As do grasses, so think about leaving a few things around that can stand till spring to bring movement and structure to your winter landscape.
Finally I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite wintery pics! I’ve got spring seed sowings on my mind now…